With the dawn of a new church year, we have launched a new feature on our website, a weekly post of poetry that resonates with the lectionary readings for that week (Revised Common Lectionary).
*** Revised Common Lectionary ***
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Nathaniel Parker Willis
THE waters slept. Night’s silvery veil hung low
On Jordan’s bosom, and the eddies curled
Their glassy rings beneath it, like the still,
Unbroken beating of the sleeper’s pulse.
The reeds bent down the stream: the willow leaves
With a soft cheek upon the lulling tide,
Forgot the lifting winds: and the long stems
Whose flowers the water, like a gentle nurse
Bears on its bosom, quietly gave way,
And leaned, in graceful attitude, to rest.
How strikingly the course of nature tells
By its light heed of human suffering,
That it was fashioned for a happier world.
King David’s limbs were weary. He had fled
From far Jerusalem: and now he stood
With his faint people, for a little space,
Upon the shore of Jordan. The light wind
Of morn was stirring, and he bared his brow,
To its refreshing breath; for he had worn
The mourner’s covering, and had not felt
That he could see his people until now.
They gathered round him on the fresh green bank
And spoke their kindly words: and as the sun
Rose up in heaven, he knelt among them there,
And bowed his head upon his hands to pray.
Oh! when the heart is full,–when bitter thoughts
Come crowding thickly up for utterance,
And the poor common words of courtesy,
Are such a very mockery–how much
The bursting heart may pour itself in prayer!
He prayed for Israel: and his voice went up
Strongly and fervently. He prayed for those,
Whose love had been his shield: and his deep tones
Grew tremulous. But, oh! for Absalom,–
For his estranged, misguided Absalom,–
The proud bright being who had burst away
In all his princely beauty to defy
The heart that cherished him–for him he poured
In agony that would not be controlled
Strong supplication, and forgave him there,
Before his God, for his deep sinfulness.
* * *
The pall was settled. He who slept beneath,
Was straightened for the grave: and as the folds
Sank to the still proportions, they betrayed
The matchless symmetry of Absalom.
He hair was yet unshorn, and silken curls
Were floating round the tassels as they swayed
To the admitted air, as glossy now
As when, in hours of gentle dalliance, bathing
The snowy figures of Judea’s girls.
His helm was at his feet: his banner soiled
With trailing through Jerusalem, was laid,
Reversed, beside him: and the jeweled hilt
Whose diamonds lit the passage of his blade,
Rested like mockery on his covered brow.
The soldiers of the king trod to and fro,
Clad in the garb of battle; and their chief,
The mighty Joab, stood beside the bier,
And gazed upon the dark pall steadfastly,
As if he feared the slumberer might stir.
A slow step startled him. He grasped his blade
As if a trumpet rang: but the bent form
Of David entered, and he gave command
In a low tone to his few followers,
And left him with his dead. The King stood still
Till the last echo died; then, throwing off
The sackcloth from his brow, and laying back
The pall from the still features of his child,
He bowed his head upon him, and broke forth
In the resistless eloquence of woe:
“Alas! my noble boy! that thou should’st die,–
Thou who wert made so beautifully fair!
That death should settle in thy glorious eye,
And leave his stillness in this clustering hair–
How could he mark thee for the silent tomb,
My proud boy, Absalom!
“Cold is thy brow, my son! and I am chill
As to my bosom I have tried to press thee–
How was I wont to feel my pulses thrill,
Like a rich harp string, yearning to caress thee–
And hear thy sweet ‘My father,’ from these dumb
And cold lips, Absalom!
“The grave hath won thee. I shall hear the gush
Of music, and the voices of the young:
And life will pass me in the mantling blush,
And the dark tresses to the soft winds flung,–
But thou no more with thy sweet voice shalt come
To meet me, Absalom!
“And, oh! when I am stricken, and my heart
Like a bruised reed, is waiting to be broken,
How will its love for thee, as I depart,
Yearn for thine ear to drink its last deep token!
It were so sweet, amid death’s gathering gloom,
To see thee, Absalom!
“And now, farewell! ‘Tis hard to give thee up,
With death so like a gentle slumber on thee;
And thy dark sin–oh! I could drink the cup
If from this woe its bitterness had won thee.
May God have called thee, like a wanderer, home,
My lost boy, Absalom!”
He covered up his face, and bowed himself
A moment on his child: then giving him
A look of melting tenderness, he clasped
His hands convulsively, as if in prayer:
And as if strength were given him of God,
He rose up calmly and composed the pall
Firmly and decently,–and left him there,
As if his rest had been a breathing sleep.
*** This poem is in the public domain,
and may be read in a live-streamed worship service.
In the roomy oak among the fluttering leaves
and the shadows and the apertures in motion
where the nestling sparrows chirrup in commotion and hop about in fright,