Women of the Early Harlem Renaissance: African American Women Writers 1900-1922

Before the Feast at Shushan (poem by Anne Spencer)

[published in The Crisis, February 1920]

(Esther 1)

Garden of Shushan!
After Eden, all terrace, pool, and flower recollect thee:
Ye weavers in saffron and haze and Tyrian purple,
Tell yet what range in color wakes the ye;
Sorcerer, release the dreams born here when 
Drowzy, shifting palm-shade enspells the brain.
And sound! ye with harp and flute ne'er essay
Before these star-noted birds escaped from paradise awhile to
Stir all dark. And dear and passionate desire, till mine
Arms go out to be mocked by the softly kissing body of the wind--
Slave, send Vashti to her King!

The fiery wattles of the sun startle into flame
The marbled towers of Shushan:
so at each day's wane, two peers--the one in
Heaven, the other on earth--welcome with their 
Splendor the peerless beauty of the Queen.

Cushioned at the Queen's feet and upon her knee,
Finding glory for mine head,--still, nearly shamed
Am I, the King, to bend and kiss with sharp
Breath the olive-pink of sandaled toes between;
Or lift me high to the magnet of a gaze, dusky,
Like the pool when but the moon-ray strikes to its depth;
Or closer press to crush a grape 'gainst lips redder 
Than the grape, a rose in the night of her hair;
Then--Sharon's Rose in my arms.

And I am hard to press the petals wide;
And you are fast to suffer and be sad. 
Is any prophet come to teach a new thing
Now in a more apt time?
Have him 'maze how you say love is sacrament;
How says Vashti, love is both bread and wine;
How to the altar may not come to break and drink,
Hulky flesh nor fleshly spirit!

I, thy lord, like not manna for meat as a Judahn;
I, thy master, drink and red wine plenty when
I thirst. Eat meat, and full, when I hunger.
I, thy King, teach you and leave you, when I list.
No woman in all Persia sets out strange action
To confuse Persia's lord--
Love is but desire and thy purpose fulfillment;
I, thy King, so say! 

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