Elizabeth Stoddard

1823-1902

 

A Unit

by Elizabeth Stoddard

When I was camping on the Volga's banks,
The trader Zanthon with a leash of mares
Went by my tent. I knew the wily Jew,
And he knew me. He muttered as he passed,
The last Bathony, and his tusks are grown.
A broken 'scutcheon is a 'scutcheon still,
And Amine's token in my caftan lies, --
Amine, who weeps and wails for his return.

He caught my eye, and slipped inside the tent.
Haw, Zanthon, up from Poland, at your tricks!
How veer the boars on old Bathony's towers?
True to the winds that blow on Poland's plains?

They bite the dust, my lord, as beast to beast.
When Poles conspire, conspiracy alone
Survives to hover in the murky air.
My lord, Bathony's gates are left ajar
For you to enter, or -- remain outside
The forest holds the secret you surprised,
And men are there, to dare as they have dared.

Haw, Zanthon, tell me of the palatine.
The air of Russia makes a man forget
He was a man elsewhere: the trumpets' squeal
I follow, and the thud of drums. You spoke
As if I were of princely birth: hark ye,
Battalion is the call I listen to.

My lord, the cranes that plunder in your fens,
The doves that nest within your woods I saw
Fly round the gaping walls, and plume their wings
Upon your father's grave. Do you know this?

A token, Zanthon? so -- a withered flower!
You think I wore one in my sword-hilt once?
Methinks there is no perfume in this flower.
Watch, while I fling it on the Volga's tide.
The chief, my father, sent me with a curse
To travel in the steppes, and so I do.
The air of Russia makes a man forget
He was a man elsewhere, for love or hope,
And as he marches, he becomes but this.
Haw, Zanthon, would you learn the reason why?
Search on the Caucasus, the northern seas,
Look in the sky or over earth, then ask,
The answer everywhere will be, The Tzar.

Source:

Poems
Copyright 1895
Houghton, Mifflin And Company, Boston And New York
 
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