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Israel In Egypt. Book Twenty-Seventh. - Poem by Edwin Atherstone

Hasty, and fierce,--
Though like a shower of fire the sunbeams poured,--
Pharaoh drove onward, till both horse and man
With toil were faint, panting, and bathed with sweat;
With thirst nigh frenzied. But yet onward--on,
Pointed the guides,--still on,--till gleamed, at length,
Nor distant, a broad stream; and, nigh its banks,
Fresh grass, trees overhanging, and thick groves,
Where night seemed hiding. To the cool shade come,--
They slacked the armour,--laid aside the helm,--
With food, and drink, themselves and steeds refreshed--
Sank on the ground, and slept. Four hours they slept;
Then, with new strength, set forth. Once more, at foot
Of the great mountain barrier, they made pause;
Again took food, and rest,--that man, and horse,
With full force might fall on; then, while the sun
Yet two hours had to travel,--at high speed,
Burning to slay, or capture, through the pass
Began to thunder. Meantime, all that day,
Till toward the evening, in calm confidence,
And full content,--still trusting in their God,
Israel had rested. From that rock--girt plain,
Toward Horeb journeying, how they might go out,
Curious to know,--many at morn had sped;
And every rock, and hill, from end to end,
Heedfully searched: but, that one pass except,
Through which by night they had entered, none had found.
To all the people soon had this been told:
Yet, for awhile, mere wonder did it raise,
And busy talk: for, of pursuit, no fear
Now had they; and in Moses put firm trust:
Nay, willingly, in that sweet solitude,
Weeks would have passed; clambering the rocks for flowers,
Unknown before; or, newer pleasure still,
Along the sea beach wandering. But, at length,
A faithless few, who rather in the gods
Of Egypt had believed,--from infancy
Instructed so,--than in the one sole God,--
Doubts and fears raised among them. ``Wherefore here
Hath Moses brought us?'' said they: ``If the king,--
As oft before,--repent him, and pursue,
Escape for us is none. Through that same pass
Whereby we entered, 'gainst us will he come:
And, like pent sheep, here must we wait the knife;
Or, as a flock, driven by his dogs of war,
Go back to bondage. If, as Moses said,
To Horeb are we bound,--wherefore, we ask,
To this mere cage conduct us,--this rock--net,--
This trap for a whole people,--this broad pit,
Leading to nothing? Why, no foot of way
Toward Horeb can we go, till, step by step,
We tread back all the march of yesterday.
Plain 'tis that, of himself, he knoweth not
Aright to guide us; and that marvellous voice,--
God's, as he thought,--which hither bade us come,
Perchance a dream was, only. Fit it were
He should be questioned, wherefore to this den
He hath brought us; how long here shall we sojourn
And by what way depart.'' With words like these,
Much discontent, and doubt, and dread, they raised;
And, gathering round them soon a multitude,
To seek him hastened. Close unto the shore
Had Levi, first arriving, pitched their tents:
And Moses, at that hour, on the steep beach
Seated at ease,--to Zipporah his wife,
And his two sons; to Kohath, Malachi,
Sarah, and Rachel, and Reuben, held discourse
On the great wonders of the sea; and, chief,
Of the vast ocean deeps; to which compared,
That Red Sea were a streamlet: but, through all,
Still pointing out the wisdom, and the might
Of Him who all created. While he spake,
Came one who said, ``The people ask for thee,
O Moses; wilt thou come, and speak with them?''

Then the great leader rose; and, without word
Of question, followed. To the open space,
'Twixt tribes of Levi, and of Benjamin,
When he had come,--behold, a concourse great,
Restless, and noisy; hundreds of quick tongues
Talking together. But, as he drew nigh,
The hubbub ceased; and when, with gentle tone,
He spake; enquiring wherefore him they sought,--
So, by the majesty of mien, and voice,
O'erawed were they, that, for awhile, none there
The offensive word dared speak. At length stood forth
Pildash,--a headstrong, discontented man;
Ever the first, against authority,
To wag the tongue: and, with what face he might,
That nobleness confronting, sourly thus.

``Our thoughts are troubled, Moses; for much doubt
Is come among the people, lest, perplexed,
Or ignorant of the way, into a trap
Thou have misled us. If to Horeb bound,
Ere Canaan entering,--as thyself didst say,--
Why hither are we brought; from our straight course
So wandering; and by long, and weary way,
Which all must be retrodden, ere again
To the right path we come; and where, meanwhile,
If Pharaoh fall upon us, we must die
As cattle in the shambles. Furthermore,
The people murmur,--asking how long here
They shall be prisoned: and by what way hence
They may escape, if through that one sole pass,
Known to us all, the enemy should come.
Surely, though none else know it, thou must know
Some way of safety for us! Madness, else,
Stark madness only, to a pit like this
Could have led Israel; to a very trap,
Wherein, if Pharaoh find us, every soul
He may smite dead; or scourge with whips of steel,
And drive back to yet heavier slavery.
So in their trouble do the people talk:
And now they call upon thee, to expound
Wherefore it thus hath been; and what the next
Thou dost design for them.'' With solemn voice,
And look severe, then Moses made reply.
``Not Israel speaketh thus, but thou thyself,
And some few like to thee,--infirm of faith,
Of spirit fractious: ever, in the best,
The worst espying: honey into gall
Eager to turn; sunshine to stormy night.
To you I speak no more; or not as yet,
Till the dark spirit leave you; and your eyes
Be opened, and your turbulent hearts be stilled.
But, to you, men of Israel, half seduced
By these bold impious into discontent,
And fear, now speak I. Wherefore cry ye out,
Echoing these reasonless, that ye are brought
Into a snare? By clear command of God,
Here are we camped! How long we shall remain,--
Whither we next shall go,--and by what way,--
Leave we to Him; who, when the hour hath come,
The word will send unto us; and the sign
To lead us on. By day, a pillar of cloud,
By night, a pillar of fire, before us went,
Hither to bring us;--and that sign again,
Doubt not, when He so ordereth, will appear,
Hence to conduct us. And, where'er it guide,--
Though over mountains, must we follow it;
Though o'er the waters of the sea it go,--
Even on the waters must we plant the foot,
Fearless; for, wheresoe'er it leadeth,--there,
Be sure, God will uphold us. Rest ye then,
In quietness of soul; and humbly wait
What things soever He may do for us.
Care for your women, and your little ones,
That they lack nothing: and yourselves take rest;
And be in all things ready; for the hour
No man can tell, when hence we must depart;
Or if in peace, or if before the sword;
Nor what may be the labor of the way.
List not again to words of discontent,
From unbelieving lips; but worship God;
In Him place all your trust: for, be assured,
Though ye the way see not, His gracious hand
Is over us, our deliverance working out.
Now, all who hear me, go among the rest,
And bid their hearts be still.'' These gentle words,
With a mild dignity spoken, struck with shame
The discontented; and the weak made strong;
The doubtful made assured. Forthwith they went,
And mingled with their brethren; and spake out
The words of Moses: and, in little while,
All were again at peace. But, brief the calm!
While in their tents at evening--meal they sat,
Quiet, and happy,--suddenly, a dread shout,
Wild, horrible,--for demons swelled the cry,--
Tore through the air. Upstarting, pale with dread,
Forth hurried they; and lo! on a great height
Midway the pass,--red in the westering sun,
Like hurricane of flame,--the shining cars
And steel--clad horse of Egypt rushing on!
Spears and swords shaking aloft, exultingly
On came they; mad for vengeance; yelling aloud:
For, though in shadow of the mountains lay,
The myriad tents, yet the keen vulture eyes,
Outpeering, had beheld; the iron beaks,
The wide--spread talons, longed to clutch, and rend.

As though by palsy stricken,--a brief while,
Speechless, and trembling, Israel stood, and gazed;
Then a great wail sent up,--for all saw death
Immediate coming on them. To the ground
Some cast themselves; some beat upon their breasts,
And tore their hair, and gnashed their teeth, and cursed;
Some rent their garments, running here and there;
Women and children shrieked out franticly;
And the whole multitude swayed to and fro,
Like forest in the storm. Soon rose again,
But louder far, clamors of discontent
'Gainst Moses; ``who to that perdition had brought
The foolish, credulous people;'' ``Let us go
And curse him,'' cried out some, ``for he alone
Hath led us to this death; trusting in dreams,
And voices, madness--gendered.'' ``Let us run
And stone him,'' Pildash bellowed. ``Hear him first,''
Cried others; ``for a way he yet may know
To lead us hence.'' ``Then must he bore the hills,
Or float us o'er the waters,'' came reply;
``For other way is none.'' ``Still trust in God,''
Spake out aloud one voice; ``in God still trust,
And in His servant Moses. Hearken not,
Children of Israel, to the wicked tongues;
For they are stings of scorpions. Be ye men;
And have good heart,--whether to live, or die.
Be silent, and be firm; and, orderly,
Let us go on, and hear what shall be said
By Moses, and by Aaron: better they
Will teach us, than these ignorant, and mad,
Spiteful, and full of lies.'' ``He speaketh well,''
Cried many. ``Nay, he speaketh like a fool,''
Pildash called out, ``a poor deluded fool;
And fools ye, if ye hearken. But, away;
Let us find Moses,--talk if ye must have,--
And hear what he can say: rare comfort now!''

Thousands of voices clamoring eagerly,
Then went the people on. Throughout the camp,
In like way, toward the tents of Levi pressed
The strong men; but the agëd, and the weak,
The women, and the children, stayed behind,
Weeping and wailing,--all eyes terror--fixed
On the great living cataract of war,
Speeding to bury them. To the open place
Where stood the car which bore the honored bones
Of the great patriarch, hastily had sped
Moses, and Aaron, with the Elders, and priests
Of Levi; and, of other tribes at hand,
Elders, and priests, no few: and, from the rest,
Still came they in; and multitudes besides,
With a great clamor running; crying aloud
On Moses; some, imploring,--cursing, some;
All thrusting, struggling, who should nighest stand,
That they might hear him speak. Tents were o'erthrown
By the fast swelling flood, and trampled on:
Women, and children, shrieked, and wildly ran,
As from the sword. Confusion, and dismay,
Worse than of Babel was. But, mid the storm,
On a low mount,--far seeing,--seen from far,
Serenely still stood Moses: at his side,
Aaron alone; and, 'neath them, round the base,--
In silence, but with troubled countenance,
A throng of priests, and Elders. Bitter words
Flew from the multitude,--``traitor, dreamer, fool!''
Some bellowed; ``Israel's blood is on thy head!
Thou hast betrayed us!'' ``Stone him!'' Pildash yelled:
``He hath slain us all,--let him the first be slain!''

``Were there no graves in Egypt?'' others cried,
``That in the wilderness we are brought to die?''
``Why hast thou thus dealt with us?'' ``Said we not,
Let us alone, that we in Egypt may serve?''

``And better far for Israel had it been,
To serve the Egyptians, than that we should come
To perish in the wilderness.'' But then
Rose other voices. ``Moses, speak to us;
For yet we trust in thee, and in our God.''

``Be silent, men of Israel; and stand still,
That we may hear.'' Then Moses stretched his arms,
Attention asking: but, when yet the din
Abated not, toward heaven his face he raised,
And clasped hands, as in prayer. The sun had set;
Twilight to dusk was hasting; yet, distinct
As though a beam from heaven had kindled it,
Brightly his countenance shone. When that they saw,
Silence fell on the people. Moses then,
Pointing toward heaven, with power spake out, and said.

``Know ye who made the sun, the stars, the moon,
All yon vast arch of Heaven? Know ye the hand
That fashioned earth; and with his waters filled
The beds of the deep seas?....Is He not God,
Yea God of Israel?....Think ye that yon king
Is greater yet than He?....A thousand years
The might of all the Pharaohs, first, and last,--
To the full put forth,--hath but few pyramids, towers,
And cities built: but the sole word of God,
In six days made the heavens, the earth, the sea,
Sun, moon, and stars; and every thing that is.
Can, then, one Pharaoh do, against you, more
Than, for you, God?...`But, will God help?'--ye ask.
Ah! men of little faith! have ye not seen
The wondrous things already for us done?
Ten plagues,--the like of which, through all the earth,
Never were known before, hath He not sent
On Egypt, to force Pharaoh let us go?
When all the waters of the land were blood,--
Egypt even mad for thirst,--gave He not us
Of crystal springs to drink? When frogs, lice, flies,
Tormented them,--touched they one Israelite?
Of murrain when their beasts by thousands died,--
Fell there of ours even one? When Egypt burned
With ulcerous blotches,--was one Hebrew foul?
When the hail slew its thousands, men and beasts
Of Egypt,--harmed it one of Israel?
Mid the thick darkness over all the land,
When Pharaoh and his people were as blind,--
Had ye not in your houses pleasant light?
And, when the angel of God the first--born smote
Of all the Egyptians,--of yours died there one?...
Such marvellous things beholding, can ye ask,
Will God give help to us? Hath He not given?
Who, think ye, save Jehovah, these things did?
And, having so far wrought, can ye believe
He would forsake us,--lacking strength, or will,
All to accomplish? Can ye think that God
Like man is,--weak in counsel,--changeable
In purpose,--one day willing; and, the next,
Unwilling,--doubtful, or irresolute,
Or fearful to perform? Nay,--for, with Him,
To will,--to do,--are one. That which He bids,
Is done in the bidding; though a thousand years
Lie 'twixt the word, and act. When first the voice
Of the Lord God on Horeb spake to me,
Commanding that to Pharaoh I should go,
And out of Egypt bring forth Israel,--
Even in that moment Israel was brought forth!
Ye see it not as yet; for, bit by bit,
Man's weak eye noteth,--even as, foot by foot,
Distance he measureth. Long, to us, the path
From Zoan hither,--trodden step by step;--
But, had the lightning that way travelled, lo,
Here, and in Zoan, at same point of time,
Men had cried out, `it lightens!' So, with God,
Present, and future, as one moment are:
With HIM, a thousand years, as but one day;
One day as a thousand years. What is begun,--
With HIM, is finished. Our deliverance, then,
Assured is as the thing done ages back.
God sees all things complete,--in progress, man:
And, in that progress, now, such fearful thing
Do ye behold, that all the wonders past
Seem blotted from your sight; as if the spears,
The arrows, swords, the chariots and the horse
Of Pharaoh, mightier than Jehovah were;
And all that He hath done, must be as nought!......
Ay--ye hear now the thunder of their wheels,
And their horse--trampling: with one ear, to me,
Speaking of Him Omnipotent, ye list;
But, with the other,--as though God were none,
Or impotent to save,--ye drink in dread
From a poor mortal clamor! Be ye sure,
That for Jehovah's purpose, not their own,
Hither they come against us. Factious men,
And unbelieving,--with the words of scorn,
And bitter malice, have cried out on me,
`Why hast thou hither brought us? to this place,
Wherefrom is no escape: on three sides, rocks
Impassable; and, on the fourth, the sea;
And, now, behind us, Pharaoh and his host?'
Not I have brought you, men of Israel,
But THE LORD GOD! For, both to me He spake,
Commanding us the way; and His own sign,--
A pillar of cloud by day, of fire by night,--
Sent to conduct us. Is there of you one,
Who this great marvel saw not? Yet, alas!
Though clear as noonday sun ye must behold
That God is for us,--let but Egypt's king
Rattle the sword against you,--and ye sink,
Fear--palsied, and the Omnipotent forget!
Ah! murmuring that hither are ye brought,
Not against me ye rail, but 'gainst your God!
Had my poor wisdom ruled,--to any place,
Rather than this, had I conducted you:
For well, of yore, I knew it, as a pit
Wherein, defenceless as a flock of sheep
Penned up for slaughter, verily must they lie,
'Gainst whom should come the enemy.--But, think not
That therefore do I fear; or doubt the end;
Or, if I could, would fly; or, if my word
Could rend the rocks, and leave you passage free,--
That I would speak it! No. Though Pharaoh's might
Could dash this Red Sea over Sinai's brow,--
Yet, trusting in the promise of our God,
Nought would I fear him! To this perilous spot,--
Of all within the realm most perilous,--
By the plain hand of God have we been brought:
And here, then, be ye certain, greatest is
Our safety; greatest, too, will be the victory!

``Even yet hangs terror o'er you, like thick night:
But the day cometh. Have ye never heard,
How, when this earth was without form and void;
And darkness on the face of the great deep,--
God said, `Let there be light,'--and there was light?
Even so on your thick darkness a great light
Soon will burst forth. In whatsoever way
His will may work,--sure as yon heaven above,
This earth beneath,--deliverance draweth near;
Yea, a complete deliverance. From the sky,
Chariots innumerable, and horses winged,
May come to bear us hence:--mountains may sink,
And leave us level way:--deep into earth
The sea may dive; or be dried up like dew,
That we may pass:--on Pharaoh, and his host,
Hills may come down,--earthquake may swallow them,--
The deep may leave its bed, and cover them:--
Work howsoe'er He may,--deliverance swift,--
Yea, even this night,--God will to Israel bring!
Lift then...'' With more than prophet's ardor, and tone
Thrilling as victory--trumpet, speaking thus,--
Suddenly mute, he sank; and, face to earth,
Lay prostrate: for, from highest heaven, again
Came down to him the Voice. ``Why unto me
Thus criest thou? To the children of Israel speak,
That they go forward. But, lift thou thy rod,
And stretch thine hand out, and divide the sea;
And through the midst thereof, upon dry ground,
My people shall pass on. Hard are the hearts
Of the Egyptians: they will follow quick,
To slay them. Then, on Pharaoh, and his host,
His chariots, and his horsemen, will the hand
Of God fall heavily! So all men may know,
That, before Him, the mightiest are as dust.''

Save Moses, no man heard: but, in great awe
Stood all the people;--for, while spake the Voice,
Earth, and air, trembled. In the silence deep,
Louder, and nearer, heard they the horse--clang,--
The thunder of the chariots, hurrying on,--
The uproar of fierce voices: yet no eye,
Turned toward them now: astonished, motionless,
As in a trance seemed all,--their heads bowed down,
Their clasped hands quivering. But, in little while,
Moses stood up; his countenance yet more bright;
His voice loud, and exultant; and thus cried.
``Fear ye not, children of Israel; but stand still;
And the salvation of the Lord behold,
Which even this day will He show unto you:
For the Egyptians whom ye have seen today,
Them shall ye see again no more for ever.
God will fight for you; ye shall hold your peace.
Now, all ye people, to your tribes go back:
Strike every tent: in order set yourselves;
Your flocks, and herds, your camels, oxen, wains;
And toward the seashore march: then shall ye see
How God will lead us forth.'' Like men from sleep,
And fearful dreams awaked; and, with new hope,
And strength, on some bold enterprise intent,--
Those great words having heard, each to his task,
The people hasted. Since the noon, had blown
A mighty strong east wind; but not a cloud
As yet had come; and, with unwonted light,
Blazed out the stars; so that, with ease, and speed,
Their work was done. Then, all along the shore,
Tribe behind tribe, in orderly array,
They gathered; and stood still. With long, sharp slope,
The lofty plain down to the sea--marge fell;
So, with clear view, rank over rank might look
On the vexed deep beneath. With heavy roll,
Wave after wave,--jet black, or smeared with gleams
Of glittering starlight,--on the sandy beach
Broke, foaming; and dragged back; and burst again,
With noise like far--off thunder. Thus stood they,
Mute, and prepared; waiting some marvel to come.

But, suddenly, from the whole multitude burst
Cries of amazement; for, as from the depths
It had upstarted,--the great pillar of fire
Stood blazing on the waters! Every eye
Shut, as at lightning--flash. Man, woman, child,
Throughout the host had seen it: yet again,
Lids quivering, all looked out,--eager to see
If aright they had seen,--though plain as mid--day sun,
Before them had it stood; as if to sign
Their path across the deep!--a miracle,
Could it be done, beyond all miracles else.
Yea,--rightly had they seen,--there stood it still,
Dashing the billows with fire; and all the air
Flooding with glory! But great terror then
On thousands came; for, looking back, they saw
Mountain, and rock, as to a new--risen sun,
Radiantly glowing: and full surely, now
Pharaoh, they thought, would waken, and leap up;
And see their plight; and fall upon them yet.

But nought feared Moses. Clear had been command
What he should do: and, for the rest, to God,
Unquestioning, all he left. But, when he saw
That in deep silence paused the multitude,
Gazing upon him, waiting what should come,--
To a low rock above the waves he walked:
Stood, looked to heaven, and lifted up his rod,
And stretched it o'er the sea. As though a plough,
Titanic, lightning--swift, from shore to shore,
To its bed had ploughed the deep,--leaving agape
The monstrous furrow; and the white sea sands,
All glistening--so, at falling of the rod,
Rent were the waters, and the depths were bared!
Thundering, to right and left the billows ran;
Reared up, and stood like walls; like ice--cliffs stood:
And lo! betwixt them, far as eye could reach,--
Down in the heart of the sea, a broad bright path;
A highway for a nation! But, behold!
Again a marvel: for, while yet they gazed,--
Deep in the chasm,--as with a voice from heaven
Calling them on,--blazed out the pillar of fire!

As earth had opened, or heaven's arch come down,
Astounded stood the people; motionless;
Almost of sense bereft. A maiden first,
Upon a milk--white mule, before the rest
A few steps moved, and paused: toward Moses looked;
Then heavenward, as in prayer; bowed her meek head,
And down the steep bank rode. Close after her,
On a hot steed, a youth; two aged men,
And one weak woman, followed. Burst out then
From the whole multitude, a voice of joy;
And, forward pressing, every head bent low,
Down the steep shore they went. 'Twixt wall, and wall,
Thousands abreast, on the bright glistening road,
Down went they; horsemen first; the cattle then;
The laden camels, and wains; then those on foot:
Tribe after tribe, all orderly, all mute,
All worshipping their God,--to the sea--depths
Fearlessly down they went. Their children and wives
With Levi having sent, that, unperplexed,
Themselves might all direct,--last of the host,
Moses and Aaron, with their heads bent low,
And glad hearts praising God, together rode.
Thus, all in silence, as through dell profound
Amid the mountains, Israel went on,
Treading the shining bottom of the deep!

Meantime, the Egyptians slumbered. From the pass
Ere half could issue, darkness had come down:
And word from Pharaoh, therefore, had been sent,
That, till the dawn, the sword should be at peace.
In Migdol, and in Pi--hahiroth, some
Couched for the night: but on the dewy grass,
Sore wearied, sank the rest; even than revenge,
Sleep deeming sweeter. But the unwearied ones,
The Spirits of Evil, slept not. On the camp
Of Israel, till night fell, had they looked down,--
Seeing the mortal terror; all athirst
For the great consummation,--Israel swept
From off the face of earth; or backward led
To old captivity,--and God so foiled.
But, suddenly, when came the Voice Divine,
To Moses speaking,--unendurable all
They felt that Presence;--and, as darkness flies
From sunbeams, so fled they: nor, till by Heaven
Permitted, could return; or, through the gloom
'Twixt them and Israel, pierce. But power, at length,
Restored they felt; and toward the camp looked out.
Lo! the vast plain was empty!--to its bed,
The stormy sea rent open!--far away,
A great light in its depths;--and all the host
Of Israel marching on! Satan himself,
In that same instant, stood beside the king,--
In form, and voice, a captain of his guard,--
And cried aloud; ``O Splendor of the Sun,
Awake, awake! Thy chariots, and thy horse,
Call up; and thunder on false Israel!
The sorcerer hath channelled the deep sea;
And the slaves go onward dry--shod!'' Like a shaft
Loosed from the bow, sprang Pharaoh. ``Haste,'' he cried;
``Bid sound the trumpets: run throughout the camp:
Cry, `Up! The slaves escape! To the sea, the sea!'''

Speaking, himself ran out, and called aloud.
But Satan, where most numerous lay the host,
Flew; and, tower--statured, stood; and sent abroad
Voice so terrific, that, from cloud to earth,
The air was shattered; and the very ground,
As with great blows was shaken. ``Wake! awake!
Up, every horse, and chariot, and pursue!
The sea--bed is laid bare, and Israel flies!
Up, Up; pursue, and slay!'' Down in the depths,--
Like to articulate thunder over head,--
Even to the van of Israel reached the cry!
Sound so tremendous never ear had heard;
And, of the horsemen, many from the rest
Dashed onward, terror--struck. But that gentle maid,
Still with the foremost riding fearlessly,
Though silent, and awe--filled,--the secret bed
Of the deep beholding, and the watery cliffs
By Power Divine upheld,--upon the youth
At her left hand smiled lovingly, and said;
``Call out unto them--`Be ye not afraid:
Is not God with us?''' Her encouraging words
With loud voice Reuben echoed: and, as he,
So cried out thousands aloud; that, to the rank,
Rode back the flyers, ashamed. With steady pace,
Again then all went on. But, while to these,
At distance, such the terror of that shout
Demoniac,--to the Egyptians, underneath
The living crater, terrible more than roar
Of battling thunders was it. Man, and horse,
In a moment sprang to their feet; the heaviest sleep
Gone,--even as darkness, at the opening lid.
No trumpet needed now,--like hounds let loose,
Away to the chase they flew. Each, as to horse,
Or car he sprang,--untarrying rank to take,
Or hear command,--captains and soldiers mixed,--
Headlong urged onward. Even for the king
None waited: and, of horsemen, many there were
Who, ere into his chariot he could mount,
Far on the plain were flying. But, erelong,
Borne by his wind--swift steeds, in midst of them
Flashed he; burning with fury; clamoring loud:
And, of his chosen chariots, after him
Soon came on many; all at tempest speed
Battering the ground; the scourges whirling high;
Cries going up, and curses terrible
Against perfidious Israel. In brief time,
With noise as of a hurricane, all the horse
And chariots tore the plain. But, foremost far,
Flew Pharaoh now; and, soon above the brink
Of the steep shore arriving,--hurriedly stopped;
And looked down on the troubled sea; and saw
A wide road therein; and, to either hand,
The billows sharply curbed; and like huge cliffs
Upstanding: and, far onward, and deep down
Within the chasm,--as in a very blaze
Of sunshine all distinct,--the countless host
Of Israel wending on! Amazement great
Fell on him. With wide--opened eyes, he stood,--
As doubting what he saw: such wonderment
Of magic seemed it: for, of God's own hand
Therein displayed, even yet believed he not;
Blind to the last. With fiery speed, came soon
Chariots, and horse; and close upon the brink
Stopped also; and looked down, in wonder and fear:
The void so awful; so death--threatening
The watery heights; held up, in that vexed sea,--
They doubted not,--by sorcery alone;
And, by same terrible power, to be let loose,
At the dread sorcerer's will. ``Hold, Pharaoh, hold!''
Cried Hophra; from his chariot leaping down,
And running toward the king: ``I like it not.
Magic most damnable this, in one great trap
To catch all Egypt! Fling not life away
On this false road; but let the Hebrews go!
We cannot match yon wizard. All our art
Not for a moment could hold back those deeps,
If he would hurl them on us! To leave pass
For Israel only, hath he scooped the sea,
And piled its waters. If thou enter in,
Oh Pharaoh, thou art lost!'' Like one long shriek
Sounded his warning cry. But, demon--fired,
Cared not the king. ``Down, down!'' madly he cried;
``They crawl on foot: with horse, and chariots, we
May sweep on them like wind! Away, away!
Down on them, every chariot, every horse!
On, on! smite, trample, and slay!'' Thus calling out,
In his own hands the reins and scourge he caught;
And whirled on high the thong, and smote the steeds,
And drove them thundering down into the depth!
Fired by the sight, and by the maniac cry,--
The charioteers, and horsemen, yelling aloud,
Rushed after him headlong down to the bed of the sea!

In line direct as if by sunbeam drawn,
Before them lay the road; and, far thereon,
The Israelites: yet not a doubt had they
Soon to o'ertake, and slay them. With wild cries,
As at the hunt of beasts, they rent the air;
Breasting the strong east wind; and through the sands,
That sank beneath the wheel, and stamping hoof,
Urging their panting horses. But, erelong,
Yet other hindrance found they: ponderous clouds
Suddenly filled the air; the steady blast,
Like a struck lion, roared out angrily:
Sharp sloping from the sky, came down large rain:
The clouds hailed lightnings; thunders rocked the air:
Yet still, all demon--maddened, drove they on,
Down, down to the deep; for still, in every pause
Of wind and thunder, Pharaoh's voice was heard,
Calling them onward: and,--in outward form
Of charioteer, and horseman,--demons, too,
Soul--maddening yells sent up. But, more and more
Heavily dragged the wheels: deeper the hoofs
Sank in the sand: louder the pantings rose.
The tempest also, through the great sea--gorge,
As through a deep defile among the hills,
Fiercer and fiercer smote them. In the roar
Of wind, and thunder, at length, and dash of rain,
The mad king's shriekings,--even the demon--cries,--
By few were heard at all: and a dark fear
Crept over them, when,--lower going down
Into the depth,--quick glances they cast up,
And saw the o'erhanging waters, higher and higher
Still towering; in the lightning, and the glare
Of the fire--pillar, like to cliffs of flame.
Nathless, still urged they on the terrible chase;
Still on the Israelites gaining rapidly:
Till, toward the middle of the midnight watch,--
Within few bow--shots come; and confident now
That in the very midst soon should they be,
Smiting, and trampling,--such wild yell they raised,
That, through the thunder, wind, and roar of wave,
To the foremost of the Israelites it reached;
And with cold terror smote them, that their hearts
Sank, as at death--touch; and, for flight itself,
Strength had they none. But still that gentle maid,--
Alway in foremost rank,--looking around,
Spake cheeringly. ``Father, lift up thy voice,--
And thou, too, Reuben,--cry unto the men,
`Be not afraid; put all your trust in God.
Hath He not opened for you the sea--depths,
That ye may pass? and shall man hinder Him?'''

Her stirring words from rank to rank flew quick,
And many a heart made joyful. In like way,
Unto the rear, on whom worse terror was,
Spake Moses, and Aaron, riding rapidly
To right, and left; and, with a voice of power,
Bidding them fear not. Still the maniac cries
Louder they heard,--nearer, and nearer yet;--
The wheels harsh grinding, and the tramp of horse;--
Yet, in protection of Jehovah's might
Confiding, and fulfilment of His word,
Nought feared at all; but, with untroubled soul,
The end awaited. Within bow--shot now
Of Israel drove the Egyptian thunder--cloud;
And from the king, and all his men of war,
Louder and louder came the savage yells,
Curses and threats,--when, suddenly, behold!
Darkness, like a thick pall, dropped over them!
Their clamor ceased on the instant: every horse
Stood fixed; and every man for terror gasped;
And not a tongue could speak! On Israel, too,
Came darkness: for, behold! the pillar of fire,
Which still before them, as their guide, had gone,--
Even in the twinkling of an eye, removed,
And went behind them! so that blackest night
Awhile encompassed them; and mortal dread
O'ershadowed. ``God hath left us!'' they shrieked out;
``We are delivered up unto the sword!''

``God is aye with us,''--in triumphant tone
Cried Rachel,--``our salvation is at hand!''

``God is aye with us,''--shouted Reuben then;
``Salvation is at hand!'' Then Kohath, too,
And Malachi, and others who had heard,
Lift up their voices: rank to rank called out
The inspiring words: and, even while yet they cried,--
Sight gathering strength,--from the great glory behind,
Soon, as in sunrise, seemed they; and went on
Rejoicing; for Jehovah's outstretched hand
They saw, deliverance bringing. From first step
Of that night's wondrous march, strength had all felt,
Unknown till then; lightness of heart, and limb,
That bore them swiftly on: but, now, even more
Uplifted felt they; and, with rapid strides,
Swept o'er the sands; which sank not to their tread,
But, rather, seemed, as with a living power,
To raise, and press them onward. Wherefore thus
The fiery pillar had behind them gone,
Reasoned as yet but few: for most, enough,
That surely had God ordained it; and that, so,
Best must it be. But instantly knew they,
The sons of Amram,--when, like new--risen sun,
Close in the rear it shone,--that, to divide
Egypt from Israel, had the angel of God
The pillar of fire removed; thus to keep back,
As with a wall of flame, their enemies.
But evën they knew not that, while great light
It gave to Israel,--from its face of cloud,
On Egypt it poured blackness; and brought down
Fear, and confusion. As in sunshine, then,
Lightly and swiftly went the Hebrews on;
Hearing, indeed, the thunder, and the roar
Of waters overhead; yet, by no stroke
Of lightning troubled, nor one drop of rain.
But,--for the host of Egypt,--tempest, and rain,
And thunder staggered them; and darkness thick,
By lightnings only kindled. Mortal fear
Sank every heart: their blowing horses reeled;
Their chariots dragged on heavily: yet still
Forward they pressed; unknowing that in light,
As of the morn, went Israel; and full sure,
Even with their out--worn steeds, soon to o'ertake
Men slowly toiling on foot. But now no more
Clamors of hate and vengeance were sent up:
In gloomy silence they all labored on;
Staring aghast,--as deep, and deeper yet,
Down went they,--to behold the watery cliffs,
Higher, and higher, towering, right, and left;
Pitch--black, or lightning--fired; but evermore
Looking down death upon them. By command,
In chariots nigh the king his sorcerers rode;
And, in brief silence of the thunder, thus,
Lifting his voice to the height, he questioned them.
``Where be the slaves? But now, as in broad day,
Clearly we saw them, scarce a bow--shot off,--
Yet, now, with keenest out--look, not one man
Or beast we see; but, in their place, thick cloud;
A blackness solid as earth; ay, even like that
Which three days tombed all Egypt. Can ye not
One ray of light call up to kindle it,
And show the bondsmen? Why, a very sun,
To guide them, Moses called: not even the light
Of one poor torch can all your art bid forth?
Heard I not clearly, at times, the neigh of horse,
And even but now the outcry of the men,
Verily should I doubt if magic power
Had not their whole host carried through the air;
Or underneath the earth.....What! not one word
Have ye in answer?....Hophra, speak out thou.
Thou, who to life couldst summon back the dead,
Surely on darkness mayst bring light enough
To pierce yon cloud; and let us see the slaves.''

With stern and solemn voice, to Pharaoh then
Hophra made answer. ``King--thy slaves are free!
Are lost to thee for aye! Crown, sceptre, throne,
Kingdom, and life are lost! Ah,--cried I not
In anguish to thee, from this fatal trap
To keep thy foot; and let the Hebrews flee?
Were't not that, surely, more than half--way o'er
We have journeyed,--lived there but a shadow of hope,
Even yet might I implore thee to turn back,
And let the Israelites go. But, ah! O king!
Do now whatso' thou wilt! Go on,--go back,--
Stay where thou art,--alike must be the end!
Look to the watery mountains overhead;
And think what 'tis upholds them; what will loose!
See the foam quivering on their angry lips!
They roar,--they gnash the teeth, and spit at us:
They know us for their prey: they long to leap!
Could we outspeed the hurricane,--neither shore
Now might we reach! their jaws would swallow us!''

``Coward, and fool!'' cried Pharaoh: ``On, press on:
Perchance even now, though we behold them not,
Our horses graze their heels. Ply scourge, drive spur;
Away, away! Yet look forth heedfully:
And who first sees them,--loudly on the king
Let him cry out; then come before his face,
For thanks, and guerdon; even the richest gem
On Pharaoh's finger.'' Of the charioteers,
And horsemen, at these words, went out no few,
Spurring, and scourging: but, in thickest night
Quickly bewildered,--stopped, and stirred no more,
Till the dread cloud had passed; and, close at hand,
They spied the horse, and chariots. With them then
They mingled; and not one again went forth.

Thus, till the morning watch, through tempest, and rain,
Lightning, and thunder, did they labor on;
Awe--struck, and silent; save when, man to man,
Desponding spake they, wondering what should come.

But heavier, now, and heavier dragged the wheels:
Deeper, and deeper in the sand 'gan sink
The straining horses; and, like second storm,
Sounded their pantings; for, up hill, at length,
Nearing the land, they clomb; and harder toiled,
And slower still made way. With boastful voice,
At length cried Pharaoh, ``We shall smite them yet:
Nigh to the shore we draw. Once on firm ground,
Soon shall we be among them. At the most,
One hour can we hold onward.....Hark!--Ye gods!
We are upon them now! Hear ye not plain
The lowing of their oxen? On! away!
Heed not the darkness! plunge into it deep.
'Tis but the trick of magic,--a false cloud,--
Burst through it, and fall on. Once with them mixed,
The sorcerer will not dare call down the waves,
Lest Israel, too, should perish. Lift now up
Your voices all together in a shout
Shall loose their joints. Spur then, and smite your steeds,
And drive into the blackness; and stop not
Till in the midst ye come, and trample them.''

So Pharaoh, by the Arch--Fiend to frenzy fired:
And, by a legion possessed,--both men, and steeds--
Chariots, and horse, in a moment thundered on,
Tearing the sands; men yelling like wild beasts;
The horses madly shrieking. But, behold!
Even in a moment,--as a heavy weight
Drops on the ground,--so, a dead silence fell,
And the wild hurly crushed. The demons fled:
In full career, trembling, the horses stopped:
Men shrank back, shuddering: rain, and roaring wind,
Stayed in mid blast: the billows overhead
Sank voiceless: half--way down from heaven,
Died out the bolts: a stillness of the grave,
And darkness, shadowed earth, and sea, and sky:
And, lo! from out the cloud,--lightning his eyes,
His brow piled thunders,--the great angel of God
Looked down upon the host! Breath, motion, stopped:
The men became as stones! The very steeds
Felt Supernatural Presence; and recoiled,
Staring, and trembling. But, anon, went up
A cry that shivered the air,--``Turn back! turn back!
Let us flee from the face of Israel! The Lord
Fighteth for them against the Egyptians! Turn,
Turn back, and flee!'' At that terrific cry,
Sharply the horses were turned,--horse against horse
Dashing, and casting down! Wheel inside wheel
Entangling, grinding horribly, was torn off:
Axles were snapped, and chariots flung to the ground;
Yet on flew the horses still. In one dense mass,--
Confusion infinite,--down to the deep--down--down--
They tore along the sands. But, heavier soon
The chariots dragged; deeper sank hoof, and wheel:
The panting coursers staggered, stopped, and groaned.
Vain were the driver's curse, the stamping foot,
The prick of spear, the sharply hissing scourge.
One car except, all at the last stood still,--
Steeds fallen, and dying; or, with vain attempt,
Struggling a step to move. In wild despair,
Men cried aloud; and lifted up their hands,
Calling on Egypt's gods: some, to the ground
Headforemost leaped; with mad hope, even on foot,
To path the sea--depths: but, at every step,
Deeper and deeper they sank,--as though the sands
Knew them, and clutched their prey. Then did they howl,
And curse themselves, and Pharaoh, and Israel,
And their own gods, who saw, and would not help;
And call upon the lightnings to come down,
And blast them. But the curse, and prayer, alike,
In wind and thunder were lost. Pharaoh, meantime,
Alone within his chariot, labored on,
Frenzied with terror. But, still more and more,
The wheels sank, and the horse--feet,--till, at last,
To the axles buried,--as in rock hard fixed,
Stood the car, motionless. On the cavalry, then,
Short space before him,--crowded, and confused;
Driving the spur, but deep, and deeper still,
Sinking at every step, and floundering,--
In pauses of the thunder, and the wind,
Cried he incessantly; ``A horse, a horse,--
It is the king who calls. A horse--The king--
A horse for Pharaoh!''--But they heard him not;
Or did not heed. For his own life alone
Cared each man now: to right and left they glared
On the death--boding waters; and not one,
The king of kings to save, would backward look.

Meantime, with vigorous limb, and cheerful heart,
Still pressing onward,--Israel the steep shore
Had mounted; every man, and woman, and child,
And every beast. Fled then the pillar of fire,
And the grey dawn appeared. The cattle first
Driven forward,--all along the edge of the sea,
Crowding the high steep land, the people stood,
Silent, and pale, awaiting what should come:
For, that the Hand Omnipotent, in that hour,
A mighty work to accomplish, was put forth,
Doubt had they none. On Egypt, punishment,
Sudden and fearful, looked they to behold:
But, unto Israel, as the promise had been,
Salvation brought; yea, full deliverance.

Silently then they stood; down the great chasm
With strained eyes looking. In that depth, as yet,
The grey light pierced not; and dusk horror filled
The fearful void; save when a lingering bolt
For a moment fired the darkness, and flashed back
From arms and chariots. In the brief gleam, then,
They saw that, not pursuing, but in flight,
The Egyptians toiled, and fear--struck; for, like howl
Of wintry tempest, hideous wailings rose;
Outcries of uttermost horror and despair,
As when the drowning sink. All shuddering,
Pallid, and speechless, gazed the Israelites:
For the great billows,--to the very brink
Of the dread sea--chasm rushing, leaning o'er,--
At every heave, seemed frantic to break loose
From the Power that held them back; and the piled deeps
Hurl down into the void. But, rapidly
Day brightened: and, when rose the sun, and shot
Right in the depth of the gorge his level rays,--
Clearly then saw they the Egyptian host,--
So terrible once,--in dire confusion now,
And horror infinite; with vain attempt,
Struggling to fly: their chariots all firm fixed;
Their horsemen, as through quagmires, laboring;
Their men on foot, nigh to the knee sunk down;
And all with arms and faces lifted up
To the overhanging deeps. With hands hard clasped,
White lips, strained eyeballs,--shuddering, breathing quick,
Long stood they gazing; listening the wild shrieks;
Beholding the death--struggle. But, at length,
Face to the ground sank Moses,--for the Voice
Again came down to him,--to him alone,
Thus saying; ``Stretch out thine hand over the sea;
That on the Egyptians may the waters come,
Upon their chariots, and upon their horse.''

O'erawed awhile he lay; then slowly rose,
Pallid, and trembling. A brief time he stood,
On the depth gazing, and the agonized host;
Then looked to heaven, and lifted up the rod,
And stretched it o'er the sea. The piled--up waves
Expecting stood: they knew the sign, and sank!
Headlong on both sides of the chasm at once,
Like a thousand hurricanes roaring, down they sank:
Fierce as destroying demons met in the midst:
Clashed,--leaped,--swept back;--in mountain ridges again
Upgathered, foam--crowned as high cliffs with snow:
Again plunged down,--shocked,--broke,--arose anew,
Hill lashing hill;--roared, reeled, and rocked, and boiled;--
All the great deep shaking in every limb,
Like maniac in his frenzy's agony!

At their first stamp, the mighty armament
Of Egypt, like a spark, was trodden out!
The dust of their great battle reached the clouds;--
Their shouts were as thronging thunders: with their crash,
All the shores trembled, and the eternal hills!

Shuddering, and faint, and heart--sick; with raised hands,
Faces like death, eyes gleaming, shaking knees,
The Hebrews gazing stood. A wonderment
Beyond all wonders past had they beheld:
The might of God, as though with visible arm
From heaven put forth, smiting their enemies:
Pharaoh, his men of war, chariots, and horse,
Buried for ever; and, above their grave,
The enormous waves exulting: the whole sea,
Far as the eye could reach, a battle--field
For clashing mountains! Gazing, long they stood,
Bewildered, mute with awe: but, when, at length,
The uproar slackened, man to man cried out,
In words of joy and thankfulness; ``Our God,
Hath now indeed His mighty hand put forth,
To strike the oppressor, and His people save!
Glory and praise to Him for evermore!''

Then Moses spake aloud; ``Call hither now
The priests, and Elders; the musicians all,
And singers; for a great song will we sing
To God for our deliverance.'' Soon came they:
And, when he saw that all awaited him,--
With sudden inspiration filled, his voice
He lifted up, and sang: and all the rest,
Like inspiration catching, mightily
Sent forth the voice; that, as at trumpet--blast,
Leaped every heart of Israel. Thus they sang.

``I will sing unto the Lord,
For He hath triumphed gloriously;
The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea!
Pharaoh's chariots and his horse
Hath he cast into the sea;
His chosen captains hath He drownëd.

``The depths have covered them!
They sank into the bottom as a stone!
They sank as lead in the mighty waters!
The floods stood upright as a heap;
The depths were congealed in the heart of the sea!

``Who is like unto Thee, O Lord,
Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders!
The Lord shall reign for ever and ever!''

Then Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aaron, took
A timbrel in her hand; and, after her,
The women all, with timbrels and dances went;
And Miriam sang aloud, and answered them:
``Sing ye unto the Lord,
For He hath triumphed gloriously;
The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea!''

Then, when the song had ended, once again
With clear voice Moses spake. ``Pitch now your tents,
Ye men of Israel; and take food, and rest:
Even till the ninth hour rest. But gather then,
That all our voices may go up in prayer,
And praise, and glory unto God, who thus
Hath smitten the oppressor, and brought forth
His people out of bondage. Two days more
Here will we rest; that, all in health and strength,
Into the desert of Shur we may go on,
Toward Horeb;--for, as ye before have heard,--
Upon that holy mountain while by night
I watched my father's flocks,--from the burning bush
Thus the Lord spake to me: `When thou hast brought
The people out of Egypt, on this hill,
Shall ye serve God.' Toward Horeb, therefore, first,
Our way is: onward thence to that fair land,
Flowing with milk and honey,--wherein, at length,
As in their home, after long exile past,
The bones of our loved Joseph may be tombed;
In peace for ever to sleep;--that Canaan,
Whence into Egypt holy Abraham came;
Wherein,--so was it promised him--should dwell
His sons, a numerous people.....And, behold!
Even now begins fulfilment of that word!
Here we, his sons, and daughters, a great host,
By God Himself conducted, ready stand
Thither to journey!....Perils may we meet;
Hunger, and thirst, the pestilence, and the sword:
Even our own sins, of enemies the worst,
May fight against us: none the end can se.....
Who shall arrive,--who perish by the way,
God only knoweth!....But, great things indeed,
For us, His favored children, hath He done;
And will not, like to changeful man, his face
Turn from us, if from Him ourselves turn not.
Our God He hath been,--is,--and aye will be,
While we His people.--Glory, honor, and power,
In Heaven, and earth, to Him for evermore!''


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Poems About God

  1. 1. Israel In Egypt. Book Twenty-Seventh. , Edwin Atherstone
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