Poems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume II.
Part 7 out of 8
To thy great father, when he peaceably
Did send to take her,' Then I answered, 'Pass,'
And they went on; and I did lay mine ear
Close to the earth; but there came up therefrom
No sound, nor any speech; I waited long.
And in the saying, 'I will mount my beast
And on,' I was as one that in a trance
Beholdeth what is coming, and I saw
Great waters and a ship; and somewhat spake,
'Lo, this shall be; let him that heareth it,
And seeth it, go forth to warn his kind,
For I will drown the world,'"
"Sir, was that all that ye went forth upon?"
The master, he replieth, "Ay, at first,
That same was all; but many days went by,
While I did reason with my heart and hope
For more, and struggle to remain, and think.
'Let me be certain'; and so think again,
'The counsel is but dark; would I had more!
When I have more to guide me, I will go,'
And afterward, when reasoned on too much,
It seemed remoter, then I only said,
'O, would I had the same again'; and still
I had it not.
"Then at the last I cried,
'If the unseen be silent, I will speak
And certify my meaning to myself.
Say that He spoke, then He will make that good
Which He hath spoken. Therefore it were best
To go, and do His bidding. All the earth
Shall hear the judgment so, and none may cry
When the doom falls, "Thou God art hard on us;
We knew not Thou wert angry. O! we are lost,
Only for lack of being warned."
That He spoke not, and merely it befell
That I being weary had a dream. Why, so
He could not suffer damage; when the time
Was past, and that I threatened had not come,
Men would cry out on me, haply me kill,
For troubling their content. They would not swear,
"God, that did send this man, is proved untrue,"
But rather, "Let him die; he lied to us;
God never sent him." Only Thou, great King,
Knowest if Thou didst speak or no. I leave
The matter here. If Thou wilt speak again,
I go in gladness; if Thou wilt not speak,
Nay, if Thou never didst, I not the less
Shall go, because I have believed, what time
I seemed to hear Thee, and the going stands
With memory of believing,' Then I washed,
And did array me in the sacred gown,
And take a lamb."
"Ay, sir," Niloiya sighed,
"I following, and I knew not anything
Till, the young lamb asleep in thy two arms,
We, moving up among the silent hills,
Paused in a grove to rest; and many slaves
Came near to make obeisance, and to bring
Wood for the sacrifice, and turf and fire.
Then in their hearing thou didst say to me,
'Behold, I know thy good fidelity,
And theirs that are about us; they would guard
The mountain passes, if it were my will
Awhile to leave thee'; and the pygmies laughed
For joy, that thou wouldst trust inferior things;
And put their heads down, as their manner is,
To touch our feet. They laughed, but sore I wept;
Sir, I could weep now; ye did ill to go
If that was all your bidding; I had thought
God drave thee, and thou couldst not choose but go."
Then said the son of Lamech, "Afterward,
When I had left thee, He whom I had served
Met with me in the visions of the night,
To comfort me for that I had withdrawn
From thy dear company. He sware to me
That no man should molest thee, no, nor touch
The bordering of mine outmost field. I say,
When I obeyed, He made His matters plain.
With whom could I have left thee, but with them,
Born in thy mother's house, and bound thy slaves?"
She said, "I love not pygmies; they are naught."
And he, "Who made them pygmies?" Then she pushed
Her veiling hair back from her round, soft eyes,
And answered, wondering, "Sir, my mothers did,
Ye know it." And he drew her near to sit
Beside him on the settle, answering, "Ay."
And they went on to talk as writ below,
If any one shall read:
"Thy mother did,
And they that went before her. Thinkest thou
That they did well?"
"They had been overcome;
And when the angered conquerors drave them out,
Behoved them find some other way to rule,--
They did but use their wits. Hath not man aye
Been cunning in dominion, among beasts
To breed for size or swiftness, or for sake
Of the white wool he loveth, at his choice?
What harm if coveting a race of men
That could but serve, they sought among their thralls,
Such as were low of stature, men and maids;
Ay, and of feeble will and quiet mind?
Did they not spend much gear to gather out
Such as I tell of, and for matching them
One with another for a thousand years?
What harm, then, if there came of it a race,
Inferior in their wits, and in their size,
And well content to serve?"
"'What harm?' thou sayest.
My wife doth ask, 'What harm? '"
"Your pardon, sir.
I do remember that there came one day,
Two of the grave old angels that God made,
When first He invented life (right old they were,
And plain, and venerable); and they said,
Rebuking of my mother as with hers
She sat, 'Ye do not well, you wives of men,
To match your wit against the Maker's will,
And for your benefit to lower the stamp
Of His fair image, which He set at first
Upon man's goodly frame; ye do not well
To treat his likeness even as ye treat
The bird and beast that perish.'"
"Said they aught
To appease the ancients, or to speak them fair?"
"How know I? 'T was a slave that told it me.
My mother was full old when I was born,
And that was in her youth. What think you, sir?
Did not the giants likewise ill?"
I have no answer ready. If a man,
When each one is against his fellow, rule,
Or unmolested dwell, or unreproved,
Because, for size and strength, he standeth first,
He will thereof be glad; and if he say,
'I will to wife choose me a stately maid,
And leave a goodly offspring'; 'sooth, I think,
He sinneth not; for good to him and his
He would be strong and great. Thy people's fault
Was, that for ill to others, they did plot
To make them weak and small."
"But yet they steal
Or take in war the strongest maids, and such
As are of highest stature; ay, and oft
They fight among themselves for that same cause.
And they are proud against the King of heaven:
They hope in course of ages they shall come
To be as strong as He."
The Master said,
"I will not hear thee talk thereof; my heart
Is sick for all this wicked world. Fair wife,
I am right weary. Call thy slaves to thee,
And bid that they prepare the sleeping place.
O would that I might rest! I fain would rest,
And, no more wandering, tell a thankless world
My never-heeded tale!"
With that she called.
The moon was up, and some few stars were out,
While heavy at the heart he walked abroad
To meditate before his sleep. And yet
Niloiya pondered, "Shall my master go?
And will my master go? What 'vaileth it,
That he doth spend himself, over the waste
A wandering, till he reach outlandish folk,
That mock his warning? O, what 'vaileth it,
That he doth lavish wealth to build yon ark,
Whereat the daughters, when they eat with me,
Laugh? O my heart! I would the Voice were stilled.
Is not he happy? Who, of all the earth,
Obeyed like to me? Have not I learned
From his dear mouth to utter seemly words,
And lay the powers my mother gave me by?
Have I made offerings to the dragon? Nay,
And I am faithful, when he leaveth me
Lonely betwixt the peaked mountain tops
In this long valley, where no stranger foot
Can come without my will. He shall not go.
Not yet, not yet! But three days--only three--
Beside me, and a muttering on the third,
'I have heard the Voice again.' Be dull, O dull,
Mind and remembrance! Mother, ye did ill;
'T is hard unlawful knowledge not to use.
Why, O dark mother! opened ye the way?"
Yet when he entered, and did lay aside
His costly robe of sacrifice, the robe
Wherein he had been offering, ere the sun
Went down; forgetful of her mother's craft,
She lovely and submiss did mourn to him:
"Thou wilt not go,--I pray thee, do not go,
Till thou hast seen thy children." And he said,
"I will not. I have cried, and have prevailed:
To-morrow it is given me by the Voice
Upon a four days' journey to proceed,
And follow down the river, till its waves
Are swallowed in the sand, where no flesh dwells.
"'There,' quoth the Unrevealed, 'we shall meet,
And I will counsel thee; and thou shalt turn
And rest thee with the mother, and with them
She bare.' Now, therefore, when the morn appears,
Thou fairest among women, call thy slaves,
And bid them yoke the steers, and spread thy car
With robes, the choicest work of cunning hands;
Array thee in thy rich apparel, deck
Thy locks with gold; and while the hollow vale
I thread beside yon river, go thou forth
Atween the mountains to my father's house,
And let thy slaves make all obeisance due,
And take and lay an offering at his feet.
Then light, and cry to him, 'Great king, the son
Of old Methuselah, thy son hath sent
To fetch the growing maids, his children, home.'"
"Sir," quoth the woman, "I will do this thing,
So thou keep faith with me, and yet return.
But will the Voice, think you, forbear to chide,
Nor that Unseen, who calleth, buffet thee,
And drive thee on?"
He saith, "It will keep faith.
Fear not. I have prevailed, for I besought,
And lovingly it answered. I shall rest,
And dwell with thee till after my three sons
Come from the chase." She said, "I let them forth
In fear, for they are young. Their slaves are few.
The giant elephants be cunning folk;
They lie in ambush, and will draw men on
To follow,--then will turn and tread them down."
"Thy father's house unwisely planned," said he,
"To drive them down upon the growing corn
Of them that were their foes; for now, behold,
They suffer while the unwieldy beasts delay
Retirement to their lands, and, meanwhile, pound
The damp, deep meadows, to a pulpy mash;
Or wallowing in the waters foul them; nay,
Tread down the banks, and let them forth to flood
Their cities; or, assailed and falling, shake
The walls, and taint the wind, ere thirty men,
Over the hairy terror piling stones
Or earth, prevail to cover it."
"Husband, I have been sorry, thinking oft
I would my sons were home; but now so well
Methinks it is with me, that I am fain
To wish they might delay, for thou wilt dwell
With me till after they return, and thou
Hast set thine eyes upon them. Then,--ah, me!
I must sit joyless in my place; bereft,
As trees that suddenly have dropped their leaves,
And dark as nights that have no moon."
The hope o' the world did hearken, but reply
Made none. He left his hand on her fair locks
As she lay sobbing; and the quietness
Of night began to comfort her, the fall
Of far-off waters, and the winged wind
That went among the trees. The patient hand,
Moreover, that was steady, wrought with her,
Until she said, "What wilt thou? Nay, I know.
I therefore answer what thou utterest not.
_Thou lovest me well, and not for thine own will
Consentest to depart_. What more? Ay, this:
_I do avow that He which calleth thee,
Hath right to call; and I do swear, the Voice
Shall have no let of me, to do Its will_."
Now ere the sunrise, while the morning star
Hung yet behind the pine bough, woke and prayed
The world's great shipwright, and his soul was glad
Because the Voice was favorable. Now
Began the tap o' the hammer, now ran forth
The slaves preparing food. They therefore ate
In peace together; then Niloiya forth
Behind the milk-white steers went on her way;
And the great Master-builder, down the course
Of the long river, on his errand sped,
And as he went, he thought:
[They do not well
Who, walking up a trodden path, all smooth
With footsteps of their fellows, and made straight
From town to town, will scorn at them that worm
Under the covert of God's eldest trees
(Such as He planted with His hand, and fed
With dew before rain fell, till they stood close
And awful; drank the light up as it dropt,
And kept the dusk of ages at their roots);
They do not well who mock at such, and cry,
"We peaceably, without or fault or fear,
Proceed, and miss not of our end; but these
Are slow and fearful: with uncertain pace,
And ever reasoning of the way, they oft,
After all reasoning, choose the worser course,
And plunged in swamp, or in the matted growth
Nigh smothered struggle, all to reach a goal
Not worth their pains." Nor do they well whose work
Is still to feed and shelter them and theirs,
Get gain, and gathered store it, to think scorn
Of those who work for a world (no wages paid
By a Master hid in light), and sent alone
To face a laughing multitude, whose eyes
Are full of damaging pity, that forbears
To tell the harmless laborer, "Thou art mad."]
And as he went, he thought: "They counsel me,
Ay, with a kind of reason in their talk,
'Consider; call thy soberer thought to aid;
Why to but one man should a message come?
And why, if but to one, to thee? Art thou
Above us, greater, wiser? Had He sent,
He had willed that we should heed. Then since He knoweth
That such as thou, a wise man cannot heed,
He did not send.' My answer, 'Great and wise,
If He had sent with thunder, and a voice
Leaping from heaven, ye must have heard; but so
Ye had been robbed of choice, and, like the beasts,
Yoked to obedience. God makes no men slaves,'
They tell me, 'God is great above thy thought:
He meddles not: and this small world is ours,
These many hundred years we govern it;
Old Adam, after Eden, saw Him not.'
Then I, 'It may be He is gone to knead
More clay. But look, my masters; one of you
Going to warfare, layeth up his gown,
His sickle, or his gold, and thinks no more
Upon it, till young trees have waxen great;
At last, when he returneth, he will seek
His own. And God, shall He not do the like?
And having set new worlds a-rolling, come
And say, "I will betake Me to the earth
That I did make": and having found it vile,
Be sorry. Why should man be free, you wise,
And not the Master?' Then they answer, 'Fool!
A man shall cast a stone into the air
For pastime, or for lack of heed,--but He!
Will He come fingering of His ended work,
Fright it with His approaching face, or snatch
One day the rolling wonder from its ring,
And hold it quivering, as a wanton child
Might take a nestling from its downy bed,
And having satisfied a careless wish,
Go thrust it back into its place again?'
To such I answer, and, that doubt once mine,
I am assured that I do speak aright:
'Sirs, the significance of this your doubt
Lies in the reason of it; ye do grudge
That these your lands should have another Lord;
Ye are not loyal, therefore ye would fain
Your King would bide afar. But if ye looked
For countenance and favor when He came,
Knowing yourselves right worthy, would ye care,
With cautious reasoning, deep and hard, to prove
That He would never come, and would your wrath
Be hot against a prophet? Nay, I wot
That as a flatterer you would look on him,--
Full of sweet words thy mouth is: if He come,--
We think not that He will,--but if He come,
Would it might be to-morrow, or to-night,
Because we look for praise.'"
Now, as he went,
The noontide heats came on, and he grew faint;
But while he sat below an almug-tree,
A slave approached with greeting. "Master, hail!"
He answered, "Hail! what wilt thou?" Then she said,
"The palace of thy fathers standeth nigh."
"I know it," quoth he; and she said again,
"The Elder, learning thou wouldst pass, hath sent
To fetch thee"; then he rose and followed her.
So first they walked beneath a lofty roof
Of living bough and tendril, woven on high
To let no drop of sunshine through, and hung
With gold and purple fruitage, and the white
Thick cups of scented blossom. Underneath,
Soft grew the sward and delicate, and flocks
Of egrets, ay, and many cranes, stood up.
Fanning their wings, to agitate and cool
The noonday air, as men with heed and pains
Had taught them, marshalling and taming them
To bear the wind in, on their moving wings.
So long time as a nimble slave would spend
In milking of her cow, they walked at ease;
Then reached the palace, all of forest trunks,
Brought whole, and set together, made. Therein
Had dwelt old Adam, when his mighty sons
Had finished it, and up to Eden gate
Had journeyed for to fetch him. "Here," they said
"Mother and father, ye may dwell, and here
Forget the garden wholly."
So he came
Under the doorplace, and the women sat,
Each with her finger on her lips; but he,
Having been called, went on, until he reached
The jewelled settle, wrought with cunning work
Of gold and ivory, whereon they wont
To set the Elder. All with sleekest skins,
That striped and spotted creatures of the wood
Had worn, the seat was covered, but thereon
The Elder was not; by the steps thereof,
Upon the floor, whereto his silver beard
Did reach, he sat, and he was in his trance.
Upon the settle many doves were perched,
That set the air a going with their wings:
These opposite, the world's great shipwright stood
To wait the burden; and the Elder spake:
"Will He forget me? Would He might forget!
Old, old! The hope of old Methuselah
Is all in His forgetfulness." With that,
A slave-girl took a cup of wine, and crept
Anear him, saying, "Taste"; and when his lips
Had touched it, lo, he trembled, and he cried,
"Behold, I prophesy."
Then straight they fled
That were about him, and did stand apart
And stop their ears. For he, from time to time,
Was plagued with that same fate to prophesy,
And spake against himself, against his day
And time, in words that all men did abhor.
Therefore, he warning them what time the fit
Came on him, saved them, that they heard it not
So while they fled, he cried: "I saw the God
Reach out of heaven His wonderful right hand.
Lo, lo! He dipped it in the unquiet sea,
And in its curved palm behold the ark,
As in a vast calm lake, came floating on.
Ay, then, His other hand--the cursing hand--
He took and spread between us and the sun.
And all was black; the day was blotted out,
And horrible staggering took the frighted earth.
I heard the water hiss, and then methinks
The crack as of her splitting. Did she take
Their palaces that are my brothers dear,
And huddle them with all their ancientry
Under into her breast? If it was black,
How could this old man see? There was a noise
I' the dark, and He drew back His hand again.
I looked,--It was a dream,--let no man say
It was aught else. There, so--the fit goes by.
Sir, and my daughters, is it eventide?--
Sooner than that, saith old Methuselah,
Let the vulture lay his beak to my green limbs.
What! art Thou envious?--are the sons of men
Too wise to please Thee, and to do Thy will?
Methuselah, he sitteth on the ground,
Clad in his gown of age, the pale white gown,
And goeth not forth to war; his wrinkled hands
He claspeth round his knees: old, very old.
Would he could steal from Thee one secret more--
The secret of Thy youth! O, envious God!
We die. The words of old Methuselah
And his prophecy are ended."
Then the wives,
Beholding how he trembled, and the maids
And children, came anear, saying, "Who art thou
That standest gazing on the Elder? Lo,
Thou dost not well: withdraw; for it was thou
Whose stranger presence troubled him, and brought
The fit of prophecy." And he did turn
To look upon them, and their majesty
And glorious beauty took away his words;
And being pure among the vile, he cast
In his thought a veil of snow-white purity
Over the beauteous throng. "Thou dost not well,"
They said. He answered: "Blossoms o' the world,
Fruitful as fair, never in watered glade,
Where in the youngest grass blue cups push forth,
And the white lily reareth up her head,
And purples cluster, and the saffron flower
Clear as a flame of sacrifice breaks out,
And every cedar bough, made delicate
With climbing roses, drops in white and red,--
Saw I (good angels keep you in their care)
So beautiful a crowd."
With that, they stamped,
Gnashed their white teeth, and turning, fled and spat
Upon the floor. The Elder spake to him,
Yet shaking with the burden, "Who art thou?"
He answered, "I, the man whom thou didst send
To fetch through this thy woodland, do forbear
To tell my name; thou lovest it not, great sire,--
No, nor mine errand. To thy house I spake,
Touching their beauty." "Wherefore didst thou spite,"
Quoth he, "the daughters?" and it seemed he lost
Count of that prophecy, for very age,
And from his thin lips dropt a trembling laugh.
"Wicked old man," quoth he, "this wise old man
I see as 't were not I. Thou bad old man,
What shall be done to thee? for thou didst burn
Their babes, and strew the ashes all about,
To rid the world of His white soldiers. Ay,
Scenting of human sacrifice, they fled.
Cowards! I heard them winnow their great wings:
They went to tell Him; but they came no more.
The women hate to hear of them, so sore
They grudged their little ones; and yet no way
There was but that. I took it; I did well."
With that he fell to weeping. "Son," said he,
"Long have I hid mine eyes from stalwart men,
For it is hard to lose the majesty
And pride and power of manhood: but to-day,
Stand forth into the light, that I may look
Upon thy strength, and think, EVEN THUS DID I,
IN THE GLORY OF MY YOUTH, MORE LIKE TO GOD
THAN LIKE HIS SOLDIERS, FACE THE VASSAL WORLD."
Then Noah stood forward in his majesty,
Shouldering the golden billhook, wherewithal
He wont to cut his way, when tangled in
The matted hayes. And down the opened roof
Fell slanting beams upon his stately head,
And streamed along his gown, and made to shine
The jewelled sandals on his feet.
The Elder cried aloud: "I prophesy.
Behold, my son is as a fruitful field
When all the lands are waste. The archers drew,--
They drew the bow against him; they were fain
To slay: but he shall live,--my son shall live,
And I shall live by him in the other days.
Behold the prophet of the Most High God:
Hear him. Behold the hope o' the world, what time
She lieth under. Hear him; he shall save
A seed alive, and sow the earth with man.
O, earth! earth! earth! a floating shell of wood
Shall hold the remnant of thy mighty lords
Will this old man be in it? Sir, and you
My daughters, hear him! Lo, this white old man
He sitteth on the ground. (Let be, let be:
Why dost Thou trouble us to make our tongue
Ring with abhorred words?) The prophecy
Of the Elder, and the vision that he saw,
They both are ended."
Then said Noah: "The life
Of this my lord is low for very age:
Why then, with bitter words upon thy tongue,
Father-of Lamech, dost thou anger Him?
Thou canst not strive against Him now." He said:
"Thy feet are toward the valley, where lie bones
Bleaching upon the desert. Did I love
The lithe strong lizards that I yoked and set
To draw my car? and were they not possessed?
Yea, all of them were liars. I loved them well.
What did the Enemy, but on a day
When I behind my talking team went forth,
They sweetly lying, so that all men praised
Their flattering tongues and mild persuasive eyes,--
What did the Enemy but send His slaves,
Angels, to cast down stones upon their heads
And break them? Nay, I could not stir abroad
But havoc came; they never crept or flew
Beyond the shelter that I builded here.
But straight the crowns I had set upon their heads
Were marks for myrmidons that in the clouds
Kept watch to crush them. Can a man forgive
That hath been warred on thus? I will not. Nay,
I swear it,--I, the man Methuselah."
The Master-shipwright, he replied, "'Tis true,
Great loss was that; but they that stood thy friends,
The wicked spirits, spoke upon their tongues,
And cursed the God of heaven. What marvel, sir,
If He was angered?" But the Elder cried,
"They all are dead,--the toward beasts I loved;
My goodly team, my joy, they all are dead;
Their bones lie bleaching in the wilderness:
And I will keep my wrath for evermore
Against the Enemy that slew them. Go,
Thou coward servant of a tyrant King,
Go down the desert of the bones, and ask,
'My King, what bones are these? Methuselah,
The white old man that sitteth on the ground,
Sendeth a message, "Bid them that they live,
And let my lizards run up every path
They wont to take when out of silver pipes,
The pipes that Tubal wrought into my roof,
I blew a sweeter cry than song-bird's throat
Hath ever formed; and while they laid their heads
Submiss upon my threshold, poured away
Music that welled by heartsful out, and made
The throats of men that heard to swell, their breasts
To heave with the joy of grief; yea, caused the lips
To laugh of men asleep.
Return to me
The great wise lizards; ay, and them that flew
My pursuivants before me. Let me yoke
Again that multitude; and here I swear
That they shall draw my car and me thereon
Straight to the ship of doom. So men shall know
My loyalty, that I submit, and Thou
Shalt yet have honor. O mine Enemy,
By me. The speech of old Methuselah."'"
Then Noah made answer, "By the living God,
That is no enemy to men, great sire,
I will not take thy message; hear thou Him.
'Behold (He saith that suffereth thee), behold,
The earth that I made green cries out to Me,
Red with the costly blood of beauteous man.
I am robbed, I am robbed (He saith); they sacrifice
To evil demons of My blameless flocks,
That I did fashion with My hand. Behold,
How goodly was the world! I gave it thee
Fresh from its finishing. What hast thou done?
I will cry out to the waters, _Cover it_,
_And hide it from its Father. Lo, Mine eyes_
_Turn from it shamed._'"
With that the old man laughed
Full softly. "Ay," quoth he, "a goodly world,
And we have done with it as we did list.
Why did He give it us? Nay, look you, son:
Five score they were that died in yonder waste;
And if He crieth, 'Repent, be reconciled,'
I answer, 'Nay, my lizards'; and again,
If He will trouble me in this mine age,
'Why hast Thou slain my lizards?' Now my speech
Is cut away from all my other words,
Standing alone. The Elder sweareth it,
The man of many days, Methuselah."
Then answered Noah, "My Master, hear it not;
But yet have patience"; and he turned himself,
And down betwixt the ordered trees went forth,
And in the light of evening made his way
Into the waste to meet the Voice of God.
Above the head of great Methuselah
There lay two demons in the opened roof
Invisible, and gathered up his words;
For when the Elder prophesied, it came
About, that hidden things were shown to them,
And burdens that he spake against his time.
(But never heard them, such as dwelt with him;
Their ears they stopped, and willed to live at ease
In all delight; and perfect in their youth,
And strong, disport them in the perfect world.)
Now these were fettered that they could not fly,
For a certain disobedience they had wrought
Against the ruler of their host; but not
The less they loved their cause; and when the feet
O' the Master-builder were no longer heard,
They, slipping to the sward, right painfully
Did follow, for the one to the other said,
"Behoves our master know of this; and us,
Should he be favorable, he may loose
From these our bonds."
And thus it came to pass,
That while at dead of night the old dragon lay
Coiled in the cavern where he dwelt, the watch
Pacing before it saw in middle air
A boat, that gleamed like fire, and on it came,
And rocked as it drew near, and then it burst
And went to pieces, and there fell therefrom,
Close at the cavern's mouth, two glowing balls.
Now there was drawn a curtain nigh the mouth
Of that deep cave, to testify of wrath.
The dragon had been wroth with some that served,
And chased them from him; and his oracles,
That wont to drop from him, were stopped, and men
Might only pray to him through that fell web
That hung before him. Then did whisper low
Some of the little spirits that bat-like clung
And clustered round the opening. "Lo," they said,
While gazed the watch upon those glowing balls,
"These are like moons eclipsed; but let them lie
Red on the moss, and sear its dewy spires,
Until our lord give leave to draw the web,
And quicken reverence by his presence dread,
For he will know and call to them by name,
And they will change. At present he is sick,
And wills that none disturb him." So they lay,
And there was silence, for the forest tribes
Came never near that cave. Wiser than men,
They fled the serpent hiss that oft by night
Came forth of it, and feared the wan dusk forms
That stalked among the trees, and in the dark
Those whiffs of flame that wandered up the sky
And made the moonlight sickly.
Now, the cave
Was marvellous for beauty, wrought with tools
Into the living rock, for there had worked
All cunning men, to cut on it with signs
And shows, yea, all the manner of mankind.
The fateful apple-tree was there, a bough
Bent with the weight of him that us beguiled;
And lilies of the field did seem to blow
And bud in the storied stone. There Tubal sat,
Who from his harp delivered music, sweet
As any in the spheres. Yea, more;
Earth's latest wonder, on the walls appeared,
Unfinished, workmen clustering on its ribs;
And farther back, within the rock hewn out,
Angelic figures stood, that impious hands
Had fashioned; many golden lamps they held
By golden chains depending, and their eyes
All tended in a reverend quietude
Toward the couch whereon the dragon lay.
The floor was beaten gold; the curly lengths
Of his last coils lay on it, hid from sight
With a coverlet made stiff with crusting gems,
Fire opals shooting, rubies, fierce bright eyes
Of diamonds, or the pale green emerald,
That changed their lustre when he breathed.
Feathered with crimson combs, and all his neck,
And half-shut fans of his admired wings,
That in their scaly splendor put to shame
Or gold or stone, lay on his ivory couch
And shivered; for the dragon suffered pain:
He suffered and he feared. It was his doom,
The tempter, that he never should depart
From the bright creature that in Paradise
He for his evil purpose erst possessed,
Until it died. Thus only, spirit of might
And chiefest spirit of ill, could he be free.
But with its nature wed, as souls of men
Are wedded to their clay, he took the dread
Of death and dying, and the coward heart
Of the beast, and craven terrors of the end
Sank him that habited within it to dread
Disunion. He, a dark dominion erst
Rebellious, lay and trembled, for the flesh
Daunted his immaterial. He was sick
And sorry. Great ones of the earth had sent
Their chief musicians for to comfort him,
Chanting his praise, the friend of man, the god
That gave them knowledge, at so great a price
And costly. Yea, the riches of the mine,
And glorious broidered work, and woven gold,
And all things wisely made, they at his feet
Laid daily; for they said, "This mighty one,
All the world wonders after him. He lieth
Sick in his dwelling; he hath long foregone
(To do us good) dominion, and a throne,
And his brave warfare with the Enemy,
So much he pitieth us that were denied
The gain and gladness of this knowledge. Now
Shall he be certified of gratitude,
And smell the sacrifice that most he loves."
The night was dark, but every lamp gave forth
A tender, lustrous beam. His beauteous wings
The dragon fluttered, cursed awhile, then turned
And moaned with lamentable voice, "I thirst,
Give me to drink." Thereon stepped out in haste,
From inner chambers, lovely ministrants,
Young boys, with radiant locks and peaceful eyes,
And poured out liquor from their cups, to cool
His parched tongue, and kneeling held it nigh
In jewelled basins sparkling; and he lapped,
And was appeased, and said, "I will not hide
Longer, my much desired face from men.
Draw back the web of separation." Then
With cries of gratulation ran they forth,
And flung it wide, and all the watch fell low,
Each on his face, as drunk with sudden joy.
Thus marked he, glowing on the branched moss,
Those red rare moons, and let his serpent eyes
Consider them full subtly, "What be these?"
Enquiring: and the little spirits said,
"As we for thy protection (having heard
That wrathful sons of darkness walk, to-night,
Such as do oft ill use us), clustered here,
We marked a boat a-fire that sailed the skies,
And furrowed up like spray a billowy cloud,
And, lo, it went to pieces, scattering down
A rain of sparks and these two angry moons."
Then said the dragon, "Let my guard, and you,
Attendant hosts, recede"; and they went back,
And formed about the cave a widening ring,
Then halting, stood afar; and from the cave
The snaky wonder spoke, with hissing tongue,
"If ye were Tartis and Deleisonon,
Be Tartis and Deleisonon once more."
Then egg-like cracked the glowing balls, and forth
Started black angels, trampling hard to free
Their fettered feet from out the smoking shell.
And he said, "Tartis and Deleisonon,
Your lord I am: draw nigh." "Thou art our lord,"
They answered, and with fettered limbs full low
They bent, and made obeisance. Furthermore,
"O fiery flying serpent, after whom
The nations go, let thy dominion last,"
They said, "forever." And the serpent said,
"It shall: unfold your errand." They replied,
One speaking for a space, and afterward
His fellow taking up the word with fear
And panting, "We were set to watch the mouth
Of great Methuselah. There came to him
The son of Lamech two days since. My lord,
They prophesied, the Elder prophesied,
Unwitting, of the flood of waters,--ay,
A vision was before him, and the lands
Lay under water drowned: he saw the ark,--
It floated in the Enemy's right hand."
Lord of the lost, the son of Lamech fled
Into the wilderness to meet His voice
That reigneth; and we, diligent to hear
Aught that might serve thee, followed, but, forbid
To enter, lay upon its boundary cliff,
And wished for morning.
"When the dawn was red,
We sought the man, we marked him; and he prayed,--
Kneeling, he prayed in the valley, and he said--"
"Nay," quoth the serpent, "spare me, what devout
He fawning grovelled to the All-powerful;
But if of what shall hap he aught let fall,
Speak that." They answered, "He did pray as one
That looketh to outlive mankind,--and more,
We are certified by all his scattered words,
That HE will take from men their length of days,
And cut them off like grass in its first flower:
From henceforth this shall be."
That when he heard,
The dragon made to the night his moan.
They said, "that He above would have men know
That He doth love them, whoso will repent,
To that man he is favorable, yea,
Will be his loving Lord."
The dragon cried,
"The last is worse than all. O, man, thy heart
Is stout against His wrath. But will He love?
I heard it rumored in the heavens of old,
(And doth He love?) Thou wilt not, canst not, stand
Against the love of God. Dominion fails;
I see it float from me, that long have worn
Fetters of flesh to win it. Love of God!
I cry against thee; thou art worse than all."
They answered, "Be not moved, admired chief
And trusted of mankind"; and they went on,
And fed him with the prophecies that fell
From the Master-shipwright in his prayer.
He lay, for he was sick: at every word
Prophetic cowering. As a bruising blow,
It fell upon his head and daunted him,
Until they ended, saying, "Prince, behold,
Thy servants have revealed the whole."
He out of snaky lips did hiss forth thanks.
Then said he, "Tartis and Deleisonon,
Receive your wages." So their fetters fell;
And they retiring, lauded him, and cried,
"King, reign forever." Then he mourned, "Amen."
And he,--being left alone,--he said: "A light!
I see a light,--a star among the trees,--
An angel." And it drew toward the cave,
But with its sacred feet touched not the grass,
Nor lifted up the lids of its pure eyes,
But hung a span's length from that ground pollute,
At the opening of the cave.
And when he looked,
The dragon cried, "Thou newly-fashioned thing,
Of name unknown, thy scorn becomes thee not.
Doth not thy Master suffer what thine eyes
Thou countest all too clean to open on?"
But still it hovered, and the quietness
Of holy heaven was on the drooping lids;
And not as one that answereth, it let fall
The music from its mouth, but like to one
That doth not hear, or, hearing, doth not heed.
"A message: 'I have heard thee, while remote
I went My rounds among the unfinished stars.'
A message: 'I have left thee to thy ways,
And mastered all thy vileness, for thy hate
I have made to serve the ends of My great love.
Hereafter will I chain thee down. To-day
One thing thou art forbidden; now thou knowest
The name thereof: I told it thee in heaven,
When thou wert sitting at My feet. Forbear
To let that hidden thing be whispered forth:
For man, ungrateful (and thy hope it was,
That so ungrateful he might prove), would scorn,
And not believe it, adding so fresh weight
Of condemnation to the doomed world.
Concerning that, thou art forbid to speak;
Know thou didst count it, falling from My tongue,
A lovely song, whose meaning was unknown,
Unknowable, unbearable to thought,
But sweeter in the hearing than all harps
Toned in My holy hollow. Now thine ears
Are opened, know it, and discern and fear,
Forbearing speech of it for evermore.'"
So said, it turned, and with a cry of joy,
As one released, went up: and it was dawn,
And all boughs dropped with dew, and out of mist
Came the red sun and looked into the cave.
But the dragon, left a-tremble, called to him,
From the nether kingdom, certain of his friends,--
Three whom he trusted, councillors accursed.
A thunder-cloud stooped low and swathed the place
In its black swirls, and out of it they rushed,
And hid them in recesses of the cave,
Because they could not look upon the sun,
Sith light is pure. And Satan called to them,--
All in the dark, in his great rage he spake:
"Up," quoth the dragon; "it is time to work,
Or we are all undone." And he did hiss,
And there came shudderings over land and trees,
A dimness after dawn. The earth threw out
A blinding fog, that crept toward the cave,
And rolled up blank before it like a veil,--
curtain to conceal its habiters.
Then did those spirits move upon the floor,
Like pillars of darkness, and with eyes aglow.
One had a helm for covering of the scars
That seamed what rested of a goodly face;
He wore his vizor up, and all his words
Were hollower than an echo from the hills:
He was hight Make. And, lo, his fellow-fiend
Came after, holding down his dastard head,
Like one ashamed: now this for craft was great;
The dragon honored him. A third sat down
Among them, covering with his wasted hand
Somewhat that pained his breast.
And when the fit
Of thunder, and the sobbings of the wind,
Were lulled, the dragon spoke with wrath and rage,
And told them of his matters: "Look to this,
If ye be loyal"; adding, "Give your thoughts,
And let me have your counsel in this need."
One spirit rose and spake, and all the cave
Was full of sighs, "The words of Make the Prince,
Of him once delegate in Betelgeux:
Whereas of late the manner is to change,
We know not where 't will end; and now my words
Go thus: give way, be peaceable, lie still
And strive not, else the world that we have won
He may, to drive us out, reduce to naught.
"For while I stood in mine obedience yet,
Steering of Betelgeux my sun, behold,
A moon, that evil ones did fill, rolled up
Astray, and suddenly the Master came,
And while, a million strong, like rooks they rose,
He took and broke it, flung it here and there,
And called a blast to drive the powder forth;
And it was fine as dust, and blurred the skies
Farther than 'tis from hence to this young sun.
Spirits that passed upon their work that day,
Cried out, 'How dusty 'tis.' Behoves us, then,
That we depart, as leaving unto Him
This goodly world and goodly race of man.
Not all are doomed; hereafter it may be
That we find place on it again. But if,
Too zealous to preserve it, and the men
Our servants, we oppose Him, He may come
And choosing rather to undo His work
Than strive with it for aye, make so an end."
He sighing paused. Lo, then the serpent hissed
In impotent rage, "Depart! and how depart!
Can flesh be carried down where spirits wonn?
Or I, most miserable, hold my life
Over the airless, bottomless gulf, and bide
The buffetings of yonder shoreless sea?
O death, thou terrible doom: O death, thou dread
Of all that breathe."
A spirit rose and spake;
"Whereas in Heaven is power, is much to fear;
For this admired country we have marred.
Whereas in Heaven is love (and there are days
When yet I can recall what love was like),
Is naught to fear. A threatening makes the whole,
And clogged with strong conditions: 'O, repent,
Man, and I turn,' He, therefore, powerful now,
And more so, master, that ye bide in clay,
Threateneth that He may save. They shall not die."
The dragon said, "I tremble, I am sick."
He said with pain of heart, "How am I fallen!
For I keep silence; yea, I have withdrawn
From haunting of His gates, and shouting up
Defiance. Wherefore doth He hunt me out
From this small world, this little one, that I
Have been content to take unto myself,
I here being loved and worshipped? He knoweth
How much I have foregone; and must He stoop
To whelm the world, and heave the floors o' the deep,
Of purpose to pursue me from my place?
And since I gave men knowledge, must He take
Their length of days whereby they perfect it?
So shall He scatter all that I have stored,
And get them by degrading them. I know
That in the end it is appointed me
To fade. I will not fade before the time."
A spirit rose, the third, a spirit ashamed
And subtle, and his face he turned aside:
"Whereas," said he, "we strive against both power
And love, behoves us that we strive aright.
Now some of old my comrades, yesterday
I met, as they did journey to appear
In the Presence; and I said, 'My master lieth
Sick yonder, otherwise (for no decree
There stands against it) he would also come
And make obeisance with the sons of God.'
They answered, naught denying. Therefore, lord,
'Tis certain that ye have admittance yet;
And what doth hinder? Nothing but this breath.
Were it not well to make an end, and die,
And gain admittance to the King of kings?
What if thy slaves by thy consent should take
And bear thee on their wings above the earth,
And suddenly let fall,--how soon 't were o'er!
We should have fear and sinking at the heart;
But in a little moment we should see,
Rising majestic from a ruined heap,
The stately spirit that we served of yore."
The serpent turned his subtle deadly eyes
Upon the spirit, and hissed; and sick with shame,
It bowed itself together, and went back
With hidden face. "This counsel is not good,"
The other twain made answer; "look, my lord,
Whereas 'tis evil in thine eyes, in ours
'Tis evil also; speak, for we perceive
That on thy tongue the words of counsel sit,
Ready to fly to our right greedy ears,
That long for them." And Satan, flattered thus
(Forever may the serpent kind be charmed,
With soft sweet words, and music deftly played),
Replied, "Whereas I surely rule the world,
Behoves that ye prepare for me a path,
And that I, putting of my pains aside,
Go stir rebellion in the mighty hearts
O' the giants; for He loveth them, and looks
Full oft complacent on their glorious strength.
He willeth that they yield, that He may spare;
But, by the blackness of my loathed den,
I say they shall not, no, they shall not yield;
Go, therefore, take to you some harmless guise,
And spread a rumor that I come. I, sick,
Sorry, and aged, hasten. I have heard
Whispers that out of heaven dropped unaware.
I caught them up, and sith they bode men harm,
I am ready for to comfort them; yea, more,
To counsel, and I will that they drive forth
The women, the abhorred of my soul;
Let not a woman breathe where I shall pass,
Lest the curse fall, and that she bruise my head.
Friends, if it be their mind to send for me
An army, and triumphant draw me on
In the golden car ye wot of, and with shouts,
I would not that ye hinder them. Ah, then
Will I make hard their hearts, and grieve Him sore,
That loves them, O, by much too well to wet
Their stately heads, and soil those locks of strength
Under the fateful brine. Then afterward,
While He doth reason vainly with them, I
Will offer Him a pact: 'Great King, a pact,
And men shall worship Thee, I say they shall,
For I will bid them do it, yea, and leave
To sacrifice their kind, so Thou my name
Wilt suffer to be worshipped after Thine.'"
"Yea, my lord Satan," quoth they, "do this thing,
And let us hear thy words, for they are sweet."
Then he made answer, "By a messenger
Have I this day been warned. There is a deed
I may not tell of, lest the people add
Scorn to a Coming Greatness to their faults.
Why this? Who careth when about to slay,
And slay indeed, how well they have deserved
Death, whom he slayeth? Therefore yet is hid
A meaning of some mercy that will rob
The nether world. Now look to it,--'Twere vain
Albeit this deluge He would send indeed,
That we expect the harvest; He would yet
Be the Master-reaper; for I heard it said,
Them that be young and know Him not, and them
That are bound and may not build, yea, more, their wives,
Whom, suffering not to hear the doom, they keep
Joyous behind the curtains, every one
With maidens nourished in the house, and babes
And children at her knees,--(then what remain!)
He claimeth and will gather for His own.
Now, therefore, it were good by guile to work,
Princes, and suffer not the doom to fall.
There is no evil like to love. I heard
Him whisper it. Have I put on this flesh
To ruin his two children beautiful,
And shall my deed confound me in the end,
Through awful imitation? Love of God,
I cry against thee; thou art worst of all."
Now while these evil ones took counsel strange,
The son of Lamech journeyed home; and, lo!
A company came down, and struck the track
As he did enter it. There rode in front
Two horsemen, young and noble, and behind
Were following slaves with tent gear; others led
Strong horses, others bare the instruments
O' the chase, and in the rear dull camels lagged,
Sighing, for they were burdened, and they loved
The desert sands above that grassy vale.
And as they met, those horsemen drew the rein,
And fixed on him their grave untroubled eyes;
He in his regal grandeur walked alone,
And had nor steed nor follower, and his mien
Was grave and like to theirs. He said to them,
"Fair sirs, whose are ye?" They made answer cold,
"The beautiful woman, sir, our mother dear,
Niloiya, bear us to great Lamech's son."
And he, replying, "I am he." They said,
"We know it, sir. We have remembered you
Through many seasons. Pray you let us not;
We fain would greet our mother." And they made
Obeisance and passed on; then all their train,
Which while they spoke had halted, moved apace,
And, while the silent father stood, went by,
He gazing after, as a man that dreams;
For he was sick with their cold, quiet scorn,
That seemed to say, "Father, we own you not.
We love you not, for you have left us long,--
So long, we care not that you come again."
And while the sullen camels moved, he spake
To him that led the last, "There are but two
Of these my sons; but where doth Japhet ride?
For I would see him." And the leader said,
"Sir, ye shall find him, if ye follow up
Along the track. Afore the noonday meal
The young men, even our masters, bathed; (there grows
A clump of cedars by the bend of yon
Clear river)--there did Japhet, after meat,
Being right weary, lay him down and sleep.
There, with a company of slaves and some
Few camels, ye shall find him."
And the man
The father of these three, did let him pass,
And struggle and give battle to his heart,
Standing as motionless as pillar set
To guide a wanderer in a pathless waste;
But all his strength went from him, and he strove
Vainly to trample out and trample down
The misery of his love unsatisfied,--
Unutterable love flung in his face.
Then he broke out in passionate words, that cried
Against his lot, "I have lost my own, and won
None other; no, not one! Alas, my sons!
That I have looked to for my solacing,
In the bitterness to come. My children dear!"
And when from his own lips he heard those words,
With passionate stirring of the heart, he wept.
And none came nigh to comfort him. His face
Was on the ground; but, having wept, he rose
Full hastily, and urged his way to find
The river; and in hollow of his hand
Raised up the water to his brow: "This son,
This other son of mine," he said, "shall see
No tears upon my face." And he looked on,
Beheld the camels, and a group of slaves
Sitting apart from some one fast asleep,
Where they had spread out webs of broidery work
Under a cedar-tree; and he came on,
And when they made obeisance he declared
His name, and said, "I will beside my son
Sit till he wakeneth." So Japhet lay
A-dreaming, and his father drew to him.
He said, "This cannot scorn me yet"; and paused,
Right angry with himself, because the youth,
Albeit of stately growth, so languidly
Lay with a listless smile upon his mouth,
That was full sweet and pure; and as he looked,
He half forgot his trouble in his pride.
"And is this mine?" said he, "my son! mine own!
(God, thou art good!) O, if this turn away,
That pang shall be past bearing. I must think
That all the sweetness of his goodly face
Is copied from his soul. How beautiful
Are children to their fathers! Son, my heart
Is greatly glad because of thee; my life
Shall lack of no completeness in the days
To come. If I forget the joy of youth,
In thee shall I be comforted; ay, see
My youth, a dearer than my own again."
And when he ceased, the youth, with sleep content,
Murmured a little, turned himself and woke.
He woke, and opened on his father's face
The darkness of his eyes; but not a word
The Master-shipwright said,--his lips were sealed;
He was not ready, for he feared to see
This mouth curl up with scorn. And Japhet spoke,
Full of the calm that cometh after sleep:
"Sir, I have dreamed of you. I pray you, sir,
What is your name?" and even with his words
His countenance changed. The son of Lamech said,
"Why art thou sad? What have I done to thee?"
And Japhet answered, "O, methought I fled
In the wilderness before a maddened beast,
And you came up and slew it; and I thought
You were my father; but I fear me, sir,
My thoughts were vain." With that his father said,
"Whatever of blessing Thou reserv'st for me,
God! if Thou wilt not give to both, give here:
Bless him with both Thy hands"; and laid his own
On Japhet's head.
Then Japhet looked on him,
Made quiet by content, and answered low,
With faltering laughter, glad and reverent: "Sir,
You are my father?" "Ay," quoth he, "I am!
Kiss me, my son; and let me hear my name,
My much desired name, from your dear lips."
Then after, rested, they betook them home:
And Japhet, walking by the Master, thought,
"I did not will to love this sire of mine;
But now I feel as if I had always known
And loved him well; truly, I see not why,
But I would rather serve him than go free
With my two brethren." And he said to him,
"Father!"--who answered, "I am here, my son."
And Japhet said, "I pray you, sir, attend
To this my answer: let me go with you,
For, now I think on it, I do not love
The chase, nor managing the steed, nor yet
The arrows and the bow; but rather you,
For all you do and say, and you yourself,
Are goodly and delightsome in mine eyes.
I pray you, sir, when you go forth again,
That I may also go." And he replied,
"I will tell thy speech unto the Highest; He
Shall answer it. But I would speak to thee
Now of the days to come. Know thou, most dear
To this thy father, that the drenched world,
When risen clean washed from water, shall receive
From thee her lordliest governors, from thee
Daughters of noblest soul."
So Japhet said,
"Sir, I am young, but of my mother straight
I will go ask a wife, that this may be.
I pray you, therefore, as the manner is
Of fathers, give me land that I may reap
Corn for sustaining of my wife, and bruise
The fruit of the vine to cheer her." But he said,
"Dost thou forget? or dost thou not believe,
My son?" He answered, "I did ne'er believe,
My father, ere to-day; but now, methinks,
Whatever thou believest I believe,
For thy beloved sake. If this then be
As thou (I hear) hast said, and earth doth bear
The last of her wheat harvests, and make ripe
The latest of her grapes; yet hear me, sir,
None of the daughters shall be given to me
If I be landless." Then his father said,
"Lift up thine eyes toward the north, my son"
And so he did. "Behold thy heritage!"
Quoth the world's prince and master, "far away
Upon the side o' the north, where green the field
Lies every season through, and where the dews
Of heaven are wholesome, shall thy children reign;
I part it to them, for the earth is mine;
The Highest gave it me: I make it theirs.
Moreover, for thy marriage gift, behold
The cedars where thou sleepedst! There are vines;
And up the rise is growing wheat. I give
(For all, alas! is mine),--I give thee both
For dowry, and my blessing."
And he said,
"Sir, you are good, and therefore the Most High
Shall bless me also. Sir, I love you well."
And when two days were over, Japhet said,
"Mother, so please you, get a wife for me."
The mother answered, "Dost thou mock me, son?
'Tis not the manner of our kin to wed
So young. Thou knowest it; art thou not ashamed?
Thou carest not for a wife." And the youth blushed,
And made for answer: "This, my father, saith
The doom is nigh; now therefore find a maid,
Or else shall I be wifeless all my days.
And as for me, I care not; but the lands
Are parted, and the goodliest share is mine.
And lo! my brethren are betrothed; their maids
Are with thee in the house. Then why not mine?
Didst thou not diligently search for these
Among the noblest born of all the earth,
And bring them up? My sisters, dwell they not
With women that bespake them for their sons?
Now, therefore, let a wife be found for me,
Fair as the day, and gentle to my will
As thou art to my father's." When she heard,
Niloiya sighed, and answered, "It is well."
And Japhet went out from her presence.
Quoth the great Master: "Wherefore sought ye not,
Woman, these many days, nor tired at all,
Till ye had found, a maiden for my son?
In this ye have done ill." Niloiya said:
"Let not my lord be angry. All my soul
Is sad: my lord hath walked afar so long,
That some despise thee; yea, our servants fail
Lately to bring their stint of corn and wood.
And, sir, thy household slaves do steal away
To thy great father, and our lands lie waste,--
None till them: therefore think the women scorn
To give me,--whatsoever gems I send,
And goodly raiment,--(yea, I seek afar,
And sue with all desire and humbleness
Through every master's house, but no one gives)--
A daughter for my son." With that she ceased.
Then said the Master: "Some thou hast with thee,
Brought up among thy children, dutiful
And fair; thy father gave them for my slaves,--
Children of them whom he brought captive forth
From their own heritage." And she replied,
Right scornfully: "Shall Japhet wed a slave?"
Then said the Master: "He shall wed: look thou
To that. I say not he shall wed a slave;
But by the might of One that made him mine,
I will not quit thee for my doomed way
Until thou wilt betroth him. Therefore, haste,
Beautiful woman, loved of me and mine,
To bring a maiden, and to say, 'Behold
A wife for Japhet.'" Then she answered, "Sir,
It shall be done."
And forth Niloiya sped.
She gathered all her jewels,--all she held
Of costly or of rich,--and went and spake
With some few slaves that yet abode with her,
For daily they were fewer; and went forth,
With fair and flattering words, among her feres,
And fain had wrought with them: and she had hope
That made her sick, it was so faint; and then
She had fear, and after she had certainty,
For all did scorn her. "Nay," they cried. "O fool!
If this be so, and on a watery world
Ye think to rock, what matters if a wife
Be free or bond? There shall be none to rule,
If she have freedom: if she have it not,
None shall there be to serve."
And she alit,
The time being done, desponding at her door,
And went behind a screen, where should have wrought
The daughters of the captives; but there wrought
One only, and this rose from off the floor,
Where she the river rush full deftly wove,
And made obeisance. Then Niloiya said,
"Where are thy fellows?" And the maid replied,
"Let not Niloiya, this my lady loved,
Be angry; they are fled since yesternight."
Then said Niloiya, "Amarant, my slave,
When have I called thee by thy name before?"
She answered, "Lady, never"; and she took
And spread her broidered robe before her face.
Niloiya spoke thus: "I am come to woe,
And thou to honor." Saying this, she wept
Passionate tears; and all the damsel's soul
Was full of yearning wonder, and her robe
Slipped from her hand, and her right innocent face
Was seen betwixt her locks of tawny hair
That dropped about her knees, and her two eyes,
Blue as the much-loved flower that rims the beck,
Looked sweetly on Niloiya; but she knew
No meaning in her words; and she drew nigh,
And kneeled and said, "Will this my lady speak?
Her damsel is desirous of her words."
Then said Niloiya, "I, thy mistress, sought
A wife for Japhet, and no wife is found."
And yet again she wept with grief of heart,
Saying, "Ah me, miserable! I must give
A wife: the Master willeth it: a wife,
Ah me! unto the high-born. He will scorn
His mother and reproach me. I must give--
None else have I to give--a slave,--even thee."
This further spake Niloiya: "I was good,--
Had rue on thee, a tender sucking child,
When they did tear thee from thy mother's breast;
I fed thee, gave thee shelter, and I taught
Thy hands all cunning arts that women prize.
But out on me! my good is turned to ill.
O, Japhet, well-beloved!" And she rose up,
And did restrain herself, saying, "Dost thou heed?
Behold, this thing shall be." The damsel sighed,
"Lady, I do." Then went Niloiya forth.
And Amarant murmured in her deep amaze,
"Shall Japhet's little children kiss my mouth?
And will he sometimes take them from my arms,
And almost care for me for their sweet sake?
I have not dared to think I loved him,--now
I know it well: but O, the bitterness
For him!" And ending thus, the damsel rose,
For Japhet entered. And she bowed herself
Meekly and made obeisance, but her blood
Ran cold about her heart, for all his face
Was colored with his passion.
He said, "My father's slave"; and she replied,
Low drooping her fair head, "My master's son."
And after that a silence fell on them,
With trembling at her heart, and rage at his.
And Japhet, mastered of his passion, sat
And could not speak. O! cruel seemed his fate,--
So cruel her that told it, so unkind.
His breast was full of wounded love and wrath
Wrestling together; and his eyes flashed out
Indignant lights, as all amazed he took
The insult home that she had offered him,
Who should have held his honor dear.
The misery choked him and he cried in pain,
"Go, get thee forth"; but she, all white and still,
Parted her lips to speak, and yet spake not,
Nor moved. And Japhet rose up passionate,
With lifted arm as one about to strike;
But she cried out and met him, and she held
With desperate might his hand, and prayed to him,
"Strike not, or else shall men from henceforth say,
'Japhet is like to us.'" And he shook off
The damsel, and he said, "I thank thee, slave;
For never have I stricken yet or child
Or woman. Not for thy sake am I glad,
Nay, but for mine. Get hence. Obey my words."
Then Japhet lifted up his voice, and wept.
And no more he restrained himself, but cried,
With heavings of the heart, "O hateful day!
O day that shuts the door upon delight.
A slave! to wed a slave! O loathed wife,
Hated of Japhet's soul." And after, long,
With face between his hands, he sat, his thoughts
Sullen and sore; then scorned himself, and saying,
"I will not take her, I will die unwed,
It is but that"; lift up his eyes and saw
The slave, and she was sitting at his feet;
And he, so greatly wondering that she dared
The disobedience, looked her in the face
Less angry than afraid, for pale she was
As lily yet unsmiled on by the sun;
And he, his passion being spent, sighed out,
"Low am I fallen indeed. Hast thou no fear,
That thou dost flout me?" but she gave to him
The sighing echo of his sigh, and mourned,
And he wondered, and he looked again,
For in her heart there was a new-born pang,
That cried; but she, as mothers with their young,
Suffered, yet loved it; and there shone a strange
Grave sweetness in her blue unsullied eyes.
And Japhet, leaning from the settle, thought,
"What is it? I will call her by her name,
To comfort her, for also she is naught
To blame; and since I will not her to wife,
She falls back from the freedom she had hoped."
Then he said "Amarant"; and the damsel drew
Her eyes down slowly from the shaded sky
Of even, and she said, "My master's son,
Japhet"; and Japhet said, "I am not wroth
With thee, but wretched for my mother's deed,
Because she shamed me."
And the maiden said,
"Doth not thy father love thee well, sweet sir?"
"Ay," quoth he, "well." She answered, "Let the heart
Of Japhet, then, be merry. Go to him
And say, 'The damsel whom my mother chose,
Sits by her in the house; but as for me,
Sir, ere I take her, let me go with you
To that same outland country. Also, sir,
My damsel hath not worked as yet the robe
Of her betrothal'; now, then, sith he loves,
He will not say thee nay. Herein for awhile
Is respite, and thy mother far and near
Will seek again: it may be she will find
A fair, free maiden."
Japhet said, "O maid,
Sweet are thy words; but what if I return,
And all again be as it is to-day?"
Then Amarant answered, "Some have died in youth;
But yet, I think not, sir, that I shall die.
Though ye shall find it even as I had died,--
Silent, for any words I might have said;
Empty, for any space I might have filled.
Sir, I will steal away, and hide afar;
But if a wife be found, then will I bide
And serve." He answered, "O, thy speech is good;
Now therefore (since my mother gave me thee),
I will reward it; I will find for thee
A goodly husband, and will make him free
Then she started from his feet,
And, red with shame and anger, flashed on him
The passion of her eyes; and put her hands
With catching of the breath to her fair throat,
And stood in her defiance lost to fear,
Like some fair hind in desperate danger turned
And brought to bay, and wild in her despair.
But shortly, "I remember," quoth she, low,
With raining down of tears and broken sighs,
"That I am Japhet's slave; beseech you, sir,
As ye were ever gentle, ay, and sweet
Of language to me, be not harder now.
Sir, I was yours to take; I knew not, sir,
That also ye might give me. Pray you, sir,
Be pitiful,--be merciful to me,
A slave." He said, "I thought to do thee good,
For good hath been thy counsel"; but she cried,
"Good master, be you therefore pitiful
To me, a slave." And Japhet wondered much
At her, and at her beauty, for he thought,
"None of the daughters are so fair as this,
Nor stand with such a grace majestical;
She in her locks is like the travelling sun,
Setting, all clad in coifing clouds of gold.
And would she die unmatched?" He said to her,
"What! wilt thou sail alone in yonder ship,
And dwell alone hereafter?" "Ay," she said,
"And serve my mistress."
"It is well," quoth he,
And held his hand to her, as is the way
Of masters. Then she kissed it, and she said,
"Thanks for benevolence," and turned herself,
Adding, "I rest, sir, on your gracious words";
Then stepped into the twilight and was gone.
And Japhet, having found his father, said,
"Sir, let me also journey when ye go."
Who answered, "Hath thy mother done her part?"
He said, "Yea, truly, and my damsel sits
Before her in the house; and also, sir,
She said to me, 'I have not worked, as yet,
The garment of betrothal.'" And he said,
"'Tis not the manner of our kin to speak
Concerning matters that a woman rules;
But hath thy mother brought a damsel home,
And let her see thy face, then all is one
As ye were wed." He answered, "Even so,
It matters nothing; therefore hear me, sir:
The damsel being mine, I am content
To let her do according to her will;
And when we shall return, so surely, sir,
As I shall find her by my mother's side,
Then will I take her"; and he left to speak;
His father answering, "Son, thy words are good."
Night. Now a tent was pitched, and Japhet sat
In the door and watched, for on a litter lay
The father of his love. And he was sick
To death; but daily he would rouse him up,
And stare upon the light, and ever say,
"On, let us journey"; but it came to pass
That night, across their path a river ran,
And they who served the father and the son
Had pitched the tents beside it, and had made
A fire, to scare away the savagery
That roamed in that great forest, for their way
Had led among the trees of God.
Shone on the river, like a silver road
To lead them over; but when Japhet looked,
He said, "We shall not cross it. I shall lay
This well-beloved head low in the leaves,--
Not on the farther side." From time to time,
The water-snakes would stir its glassy flow
With curling undulations, and would lay
Their heads along the bank, and, subtle-eyed,
Consider those long spirting flames, that danced,
When some red log would break and crumble down;
And show his dark despondent eyes, that watched,
Wearily, even Japhet's. But he cared
Little; and in the dark, that was not dark,
But dimness of confused incertitude,
Would move a-near all silently, and gaze
And breathe, and shape itself, a maned thing
With eyes; and still he cared not, and the form
Would falter, then recede, and melt again
Into the farther shade. And Japhet said:
"How long? The moon hath grown again in heaven,
After her caving twice, since we did leave
The threshold of our home; and now what 'vails
That far on tumbled mountain snow we toiled,
Hungry, and weary, all the day; by night
Waked with a dreadful trembling underneath,
To look, while every cone smoked, and there ran
Red brooks adown, that licked the forest up,
While in the pale white ashes wading on
We saw no stars?--what 'vails if afterward,
Astonished with great silence, we did move
Over the measureless, unknown desert mead;
While all the day, in rents and crevices,
Would lie the lizard and the serpent kind,
Drowsy; and in the night take fearsome shapes,
And oft-times woman-faced and woman-haired
Would trail their snaky length, and curse and mourn;
Or there would wander up, when we were tired,
Dark troops of evil ones, with eyes morose,
Withstanding us, and staring;--O! what 'vails
That in the dread deep forest we have fought
With following packs of wolves? These men of might,
Even the giants, shall not hear the doom
My father came to tell them of. Ah, me!
If God indeed had sent him, would he lie
(For he is stricken with a sore disease)
Helpless outside their city?"
Then he rose,
And put aside the curtains of the tent,
To look upon his father's face; and lo!
The tent being dark, he thought that somewhat sat
Beside the litter; and he set his eyes
To see it, and saw not; but only marked
Where, fallen away from manhood and from power,
His father lay. Then he came forth again,
Trembling, and crouched beside the dull red fire,
And murmured, "Now it is the second time:
An old man, as I think (but scarcely saw).
Dreadful of might. Its hair was white as wool:
I dared not look; perhaps I saw not aught,
But only knew that it was there: the same
Which walked beside us once when he did pray."
And Japhet hid his face between his hands
For fear, and grief of heart, and weariness
Of watching; and he slumbered not, but mourned
To himself, a little moment, as it seemed,
For sake of his loved father: then he lift
His eyes, and day had dawned. Right suddenly
The moon withheld her silver, and she hung
Frail as a cloud. The ruddy flame that played,
By night on dim, dusk trees, and on the flood,
Crept red amongst the logs, and all the world
And all the water blushed and bloomed. The stars
Were gone, and golden shafts came up, and touched
The feathered heads of palms, and green was born
Under the rosy cloud, and purples flew
Like veils across the mountains; and he saw,
Winding athwart them, bathed in blissful peace,
And the sacredness of morn, the battlements
And out-posts of the giants; and there ran
On the other side the river, as it were,
White mounds of marble, tabernacles fair,
And towers below a line of inland cliff:
These were their fastnesses, and here their homes.
In valleys and the forest, all that night,
There had been woe; in every hollow place,
And under walls, like drifted flowers, or snow,
Women lay mourning; for the serpent lodged
That night within the gates, and had decreed,
"I will (or ever I come) that ye drive out
The women, the abhorred of my soul."
Therefore, more beauteous than all climbing bloom,
Purple and scarlet, cumbering of the boughs,
Or flights of azure doves that lit to drink
The water of the river; or, new born,
The quivering butterflies in companies,
That slowly crept adown the sandy marge,
Like living crocus beds, and also drank,
And rose an orange cloud; their hollowed hands
They dipped between the lilies, or with robes
Full of ripe fruitage, sat and peeled and ate,
Weeping; or comforting their little ones,
And lulling them with sorrowful long hymns
Among the palms.
So went the earlier morn.
Then came a messenger, while Japhet sat
Mournfully, and he said, "The men of might
Are willing; let thy master, youth, appear."
And Japhet said, "So be it"; and he thought,
"Now will I trust in God"; and he went in
And stood before his father, and he said,
"My father"; but the Master answered not,
But gazed upon the curtains of his tent,
Nor knew that one had called him. He was clad
As ready for the journey, and his feet
Were sandalled, and his staff was at his side;
And Japhet took the gown of sacrifice
And spread it on him, and he laid his crown
Upon his knees, and he went forth, and lift
His hand to heaven, and cried, "My father's God!"
But neither whisper came nor echo fell
When he did listen. Therefore he went on:
"Behold, I have a thing to say to thee.
My father charged thy servant, 'Let not ruth
Prevail with thee, to turn and bear me hence,
For God appointed me my task, to preach
Before the mighty.' I must do my part
(O! let it not displease thee), for he said
But yesternight, 'When they shall send for me,
Take me before them.' And I sware to him.
I pray thee, therefore, count his life and mine
Precious; for I that sware, I will perform."
Then cried he to his people, "Let us hence:
Take up the litter." And they set their feet
Toward the raft whereby men crossed that flood.
And while they journeyed, lo, the giants sat
Within the fairest hall where all were fair,
Each on his carven throne, o'er-canopied
With work of women. And the dragon lay
In a place of honor; and with subtlety
He counselled them, for they did speak by turns;
And they being proud, might nothing master them,
But guile alone: and he did fawn on them;
And when the younger taunted him, submiss
He testified great humbleness, and cried,
"A cruel God, forsooth! but nay, O nay,
I will not think it of Him, that He meant
To threaten these. O, when I look on them,
How doth my soul admire."
And one stood forth,
The youngest; of his brethren, named "the Rock."
"Speak out," quoth he, "thou toothless slavering thing,
What is it? thinkest thou that such as we
Should be afraid? What is this goodly doom?"
And Satan laughed upon him. "Lo," said he,
"Thou art not fully grown, and every one
I look on, standeth higher by the head,
Yea, and the shoulders, than do other men;
Forsooth, thy servant thought not thou wouldst fear,
Thou and thy fellows." Then with one accord,
"Speak," cried they; and with mild persuasive eyes,
And flattering tongue, he spoke.
"Ye mighty ones,
It hath been known to you these many days
How that for piety I am much famed.
I am exceeding pious: if I lie,
As hath been whispered, it is but for sake
Of God, and that ye should not think Him hard,
For I am all for God. Now some have thought
that He hath also (and it, may be so
Or yet may not be so) on me been hard;
Be not ye therefore wroth, for my poor sake;
I am contented to have earned your weal,
Though I must therefore suffer.
One cometh, yea, an harmless man, a fool,
Who boasts he hath a message from our God,
And lest that you, for bravery of heart
And stoutness, being angered with his prate,
Should lift a hand, and kill him, I am here."
Then spoke the Leader, "How now, snake? Thy words
Ring false. Why ever liest thou, snake, to us?
Thou coward! none of us will see thee harmed.
I say thou liest. The land is strewed with slain;
Myself have hewn down companies, and blood
Makes fertile all the field. Thou knowest it well;
And hast thou, driveller, panting sore for age,
Come with a force to bid us spare one fool?"
And Satan answered, "Nay you! be not wroth;
Yet true it is, and yet not all the truth.
Your servant would have told the rest, if now
(For fulness of your life being fretted sore
At mine infirmities, which God in vain
I supplicate to heal) ye had not caused
My speech to stop." And he they called "the Oak"
Made answer, "'Tis a good snake; let him be.
Why would ye fright the poor old craven beast?
Look how his lolling tongue doth foam for fear.
Ye should have mercy, brethren, on the weak.
Speak, dragon, thou hast leave; make stout thy heart.
What! hast thou lied to this great company?
It was, we know it was, for humbleness;
Thou wert not willing to offend with truth."
"Yea, majesties," quoth Satan, "thus it was,"
And lifted up appealing eyes, and groaned;
"O, can it be, compassionate as brave,
And housed in cunning works themselves have reared,
And served in gold, and warmed with minivere,
And ruling nobly,--that He, not content
Unless alone He reigneth, looks to bend
O break them in, like slaves to cry to Him,
'What is Thy will with us, O Master dear?'
Or else to eat of death?
"For my part, lords,
I cannot think it: for my piety
And reason, which I also share with you,
Are my best lights, and ever counsel me,
'Believe not aught against thy God; believe,
Since thou canst never reach to do Him wrong,
That He will never stoop to do thee wrong.
Is He not just and equal, yea, and kind?'
Therefore, O majesties, it is my mind
Concerning him ye wot of, thus to think
The message is not like what I have learned
By reason and experience, of the God.
Therefore no message 'tis. The man is mad."
Thereat the great Leader laughed for scorn. "Hold, snake;
If God be just, there SHALL be reckoning days.
We rather would He were a partial God,
And being strong, He sided with the strong.
Turn now thy reason to the other side,
And speak for that; for as to justice, snake,
We would have none of it."
And Satan fawned:
"My lord is pleased to mock at my poor wit;
Yet in my pious fashion I must talk:
For say that God was wroth with man, and came
And slew him, that should make an empty world,
But not a bettor nation."
"Truth, dragon, yet He is not bound to mean
A better nation; may be, He designs,
If none will turn again, a punishment
Upon an evil one."
And Satan cried,
"Alas! my heart being full of love for men,
I cannot choose but think of God as like
To me; and yet my piety concludes,
Since He will have your fear, that love alone
Sufficeth not, and I admire, and say,
'Give me, O friends, your love, and give to God
Your fear.'" But they cried out in wrath and rage,
"We are not strong that any we will fear,
Nor specially a foe that means us ill."
And while he spoke there was a noise without;
The curtains of the door were flung aside,
And some with heavy feet bare in, and set
A litter on the floor.
The Master lay
Upon it, but his eyes were dimmed and set;
And Japhet, in despairing weariness,
Leaned it beside. He marked the mighty ones,
Silent for pride of heart, and in his place
The jewelled dragon; and the dragon laughed,
And subtly peered at him, till Japhet shook
With rage and fear. The snaky wonder cried,
Hissing, "Thou brown-haired youth, come up to me;
I fain would have thee for my shrine afar,
To serve among an host as beautiful
As thou: draw near." It hissed, and Japhet felt
Horrible drawings, and cried out in fear,
"Father! O help, the serpent draweth me!"
And struggled and grew faint, as in the toils
A netted bird. But still his father lay
Unconscious, and the mighty did not speak,
But half in fear and half for wonderment
Beheld. And yet again the dragon laughed,
And leered at him and hissed; and Japhet strove
Vainly to take away his spell-set eyes,
And moved to go to him, till piercingly
Crying out, "God! forbid it, God in heaven!"
The dragon lowered his head, and shut his eyes
As feigning sleep; and, suddenly released,
He fell back staggering; and at noise of it,
And clash of Japhet's weapons on the floor,
And Japhet's voice crying out, "I loathe thee, snake!
I hate thee! O, I hate thee!" came again,
The senses of the shipwright; and he, moved,
And looking, as one 'mazed, distressfully
Upon the mighty, said, "One called on God:
Where is my God? If God have need of me,
Let Him come down and touch my lips with strength,
Or dying I shall die."
It came to pass,
While he was speaking, that the curtains swayed;
A rushing wind did move throughout the place,
And all the pillars shook, and on the head
Of Noah the hair was lifted, and there played
A somewhat, as it were a light, upon
His breast; then fell a darkness, and men heard
A whisper as of one that spake. With that,
The daunted mighty ones kept silent watch
Until the wind had ceased and darkness fled.
When it grew light, there curled a cloud of smoke
From many censers where the dragon lay.
It hid him. He had called his ministrants,
And bid them veil him thus, that none might look;
Also the folk who came with Noah had fled.
But Noah was seen, for he stood up erect,
And leaned on Japhet's hand. Then, after pause,
The Leader said, "My brethren, it were well
(For naught we fear) to let this sorcerer speak."
And they did reach toward the man their staves,
And cry with loud accord, "Hail, sorcerer, hail!"
And he made answer, "Hail! I am a man
That is a shipwright. I was born afar
To Lamech, him that reigns a king, to wit,
Over the land of Jalal. Majesties,
I bring a message,--lay you it to heart;
For there is wrath in heaven: my God is wroth.
'Prepare your houses, or I come,' saith He,
'A Judge.' Now, therefore, say not in your hearts,
'What have we done?' Your dogs may answer that,
To make whom fiercer for the chase, ye feed
With captives whom ye slew not in the war,
But saved alive, and living throw to them
Daily. Your wives may answer that, whose babes
Their firstborn ye do take and offer up
To this abhorred snake, while yet the milk
Is in their innocent mouths,--your maiden babes
Tender. Your slaves may answer that,--the gangs
Whose eyes ye did put out to make them work
By night unwitting (yea, by multitudes
They work upon the wheel in chains). Your friends
May answer that,--(their bleached bones cry out.)
For ye did, wickedly, to eat their lands,
Turn on their valleys, in a time of peace,
The rivers, and they, choking in the night,
Died unavenged. But rather (for I leave
To tell of more, the time would be so long
To do it, and your time, O mighty ones,
Is short),--but rather say, 'We sinners know
Why the Judge standeth at the door,' and turn
While yet there may be respite, and repent.
"'Or else,' saith He that formed you, 'I swear,
By all the silence of the times to come,
By the solemnities of death,--yea, more,.
By Mine own power and love which ye have scorned,
That I will come. I will command the clouds,
And raining they shall rain; yea, I will stir
With all my storms the ocean for your sake,
And break for you the boundary of the deep.
"'Then shall the mighty mourn.
Should I forbear,
That have been patient? I will not forbear!
For yet,' saith He, 'the weak cry out; for yet
The little ones do languish; and the slave
Lifts up to Me his chain. I therefore, I
Will hear them. I by death will scatter you;
Yea, and by death will draw them to My breast,
And gather them to peace.
"'But yet,' saith He,
'Repent, and turn you. Wherefore will ye die?'
"Turn then, O turn, while yet the enemy
Untamed of man fatefully moans afar;
For if ye will not turn, the doom is near.
Then shall the crested wave make sport, and beat
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