A Story Of Doom: Book Vi. - Poem by Jean Ingelow
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-belov餠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 man餠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.'
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