Vashti
Frances E. W. Harper

She leaned her head upon her hand
   And heard the King's decree--
"My lords are feasting in my halls;
   Bid Vashti come to me.

"I've shown the treasures of my house,
   My costly jewels rare,
But with the glory of her eyes
   No rubies can compare.

"Adorn'd and crown'd I'd have her come,
   With all her queenly grace,
And, 'mid my lords and mighty men,
   Unveil her lovely face.

"Each gem that sparkles in my crown,
   Or glitters on my throne,
Grows poor and pale when she appears,
   My beautiful, my own!"

All waiting stood the chamberlains
   To hear the Queen's reply.
They saw her cheek grow deathly pale,
   But light flash'd to her eye:

"Go, tell the King," she proudly said,
   "That I am Persia's Queen,
And by his crowds of merry men
   I never will be seen.

"I'll take the crown from off my head
   And tread it 'neath my feet,
Before their rude and careless gaze
   My shrinking eyes shall meet.

"A queen unveil'd before the crowd!--
   Upon each lip my name!--
Why, Persia's women all would blush
   And weep for Vashti's shame!

"Go back!" she cried, and waved her hand,
   And grief was in her eye:
"Go, tell the King," she sadly said,
   "That I would rather die."

They brought her message to the King;
   Dark flash'd his angry eye;
'Twas as the lightning ere the storm
   Hath swept in fury by.

Then bitterly outspoke the King,
   Through purple lips of wrath --
"What shall be done to her who dares
   To cross your monarch's path?"

Then spake his wily counsellors--
   "O King of this fair land!
From distant Ind to Ethiop,
   All bow to thy command.

"But if, before thy servants' eyes,
   This thing they plainly see,
That Vashti doth not heed thy will
   Nor yield herself to thee,

"The women, restive 'neath our rule,
   Would learn to scorn our name,
And from her deed to us would come
   Reproach and burning shame.

"Then, gracious King, sign with thy hand
   This stern but just decree,
That Vashti lay aside her crown,
   Thy Queen no more to be."

She heard again the King's command,
   And left her high estate;
Strong in her earnest womanhood,
   She calmly met her fate,

And left the palace of the King,
   Proud of her spotless name--
A woman who could bend to grief,
   But would not bow to shame.

According to Megillath Esther, Vashti was the first queen of King Ahashverosh (Xerxes) of "Paras u'Madai" (Persia-Media). He threw a huge party, at which he entertained the women and she entertained the men, and on the seventh day of the party, "whem the heart of the king was merry with wine", he commanded her to come and dance for him and his guests, wearing her crown (some say, wearing only her crown), "for she was beautiful". She refused. Ahashverosh asked his advisors what he should do, and Memucan told him that since "the queen's deed will go forth to all women, making their husbands comtemptible in their eyes", the king should dethrone Vashti, and take a new queen, and send out an edict to proclaim that "every man should rule in his own home". All this was done.

(Poor Vashti, she was way ahead of her time.)

Incidentally, the Midrash, always keen on keeping women in their place- see the creation of woman- utterly demonizes Vashti. (The Midrash is a term for a general category of Jewish tradition/story. It uses hyperbole and fiction inserted into the Biblical narrative, to get a message across.) She was so cruel, she forced her Jewish maidservants to work on Sabbath. And she was lewd, she would have loved to dance naked for her husband and all her guests, except that when he sent for her she grew pimples and a tail. To this day, Jewish children dressing up as Vashti on Purim put on pimples and a tail (as if to say, look at the ugly feminist). And the general assumption, based on nothing in the text, is that she was executed.

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