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

Israel In Egypt. Book Twenty-First.

On the next morning, early, to the house
Of Kohath, riding on a mule, there came
What seemed the holy Moses;--Satan himself
So feigning, in his damnable attempt,
By human means,--since the Fallen Spirit had failed,
And all his own temptation come to nought,--
The virgin pure to stain.....For, in the reach
Of Sethos could he lure her,--well he knew,
That, like gaunt wolf upon a lamb, would he
Madly spring on her; and with violence tear,
And scatter to the wind that heavenly flower,--
Never to bloom again: so, in His aim,
Through her, great good to bring unto mankind,
Omnipotence might be foiled. The morning meal
Had passed; and, worship ended, silent sat
The pious family; when, at the door,
As with an old friend's privilege, unannounced,
He stood; and with a kindly greeting spake
To each, and all. Though none did he embrace;
To none, as custom was, even proffer hand,--
Yet marvel raised it not; for much fatigue
He pleaded, and a sudden weakness, fallen
That day upon him; therefore on a couch
At once he sank; and, with a languid voice,
Thus spake. ``My venerated friends; and thou
My daughter,--for in spirit so thou art,--
Of things momentous to all Israel
Come I to speak; and patiently, I know,
Will ye give ear to me. A mighty wrath
In Pharaoh is, because of what hath passed
'Twixt him and you. Needs not that I recall
That which he offered, and which ye refused.
In full to me all told he; and besought
That, seeking you, I would to wiser course
Strive to persuade you; showing that, for dross,
Ye had pure gold rejected. Harder toil,
In his great ire, on Israel hath he put;
And harder yet doth threaten, if ye stand
As enemies fixed against him. To the storm
What will not bend at all, too oft is snapped,
And cast to earth for ever. Ill to do,
That good may come,--ne'er would I counsel you.
The world--unequalled offer of the king,
His son and heir, with thee, blest maid, to join
In marriage,--for the present, promising
Riches unbounded; and, for time to come,
The queenly crown,--even as at once thou didst,
So still must thou refuse; both, that thy faith
To Reuben thou hast pledged; and that thy love
To him alone is given; and, most of all,
Because thou canst not,--as Egyptian law
Sternly demands, ere to Egyptain prince
Thou couldst be wed,--the God of Israel leave,
And bow to Egypt's gods. Firm as a rock,
In this great thing, to thy resolve abide.
But, there immoveable, in smaller things
Wise may it be to bend. Unkind it seems,
All proffered favors sternly to refuse:
And even hearts the gentlest, when their love
Rudely hath been rejected,--but too oft,
Most hate, what most they loved,--as sweetest wine,
To vinegar sharpest turns. But, well ye know
That not of nature gentlest is the heart
Of the great Pharaoh; so that terrible wrath
Well may ye dread; not only 'gainst yourselves,
But 'gainst all Israel, if too absolute
And stern ye stand against him; every good,
Offered by him, rejecting. And, though sure
As that the morning will succeed the night,
Am I of that time coming, when our God
Shall lead us out from bondage,--yet, the day,
The week, the month, the year, He hath not told;
And who can know with what dire ills, meantime,
To the height incensed, Pharaoh may visit us!
Some sign of gratitude for kindness meant,
Wise were it, then, to show; nor only wise,
As 'vantage to us bringing,--but a debt,
Justly laid on us; since, for kindness given,
Kindness should still be paid. If Reuben, then,
The royal boon accepting, to this king,--
As, to the Pharaoh of a former day,
Was our great patriarch Joseph,--would become,
Though but for brief time, the chief minister;
And if thou, blessed Rachel, his desire
To see and know thee more, wouldst gratify,
By his queen's guest becoming,--for, of thee,
Ever, of late, to her hath he discoursed,
Till, with a very mother's love, she longs
To see, and to embrace thee,--these slight shows
Of kindness, tenfold kindness in return
May bring to you, and us: nay, blessing to all,
Of Egypt, and of Israel: for, good done,
Is good received. And even when, at last,
The irresistible truth shall on him come,
That,--though the law of Egypt would permit,--
Still, Rachel with his Sethos cannot wed,
Because that Israel's law, fixed as the heavens,
Forbiddeth Hebrew maiden to espouse
Who Israel's God refuseth,--yet, his wrath,
Ere that time, would be less; and more his love,
As thou to him more known; and he would see
That but the impossible thou didst refuse,--
All else conceding freely. And, perchance,--
For, who the changeful heart of youth can know?
The hot love of the prince, like fever's fit,
To cold may turn: or toward some other maid
The flame may point; and so the discord end
'Twixt thee, and him, and Pharaoh: or, perchance,--
Yet better ending,--ere that time shall be,
The day of our deliverance may come,
All evils finishing thus. Howe'er may close
The time of trial,--meanwhile,--steering thus
Through sea of difficulty,--happier days,
Or weeks, or months, or years, will be for all.
Ponder on this, my friends; and, if like mine
Your judgment be,--with Reuben reason then,
And with his parents; so that, to himself,
Great power, and wealth, and glory, may there come;
And great good to all Israel. For your part,
Dear friends of old; and thou, though new, yet dear
As my own child,--from you, opposal none
I look for: Pharaoh's gentle courtesy,
Gently ye'll answer. Nor, of conduct safe
For Rachel, need be fear. Whene'er ye will,--
So ye but signify unto the queen,
Or Pharaoh, that on such day, at such hour,
Your daughter will set forth,--at that same hour
A royal chariot at your gate will be;
And guard, befitting queen. Nay, haply, too,--
For so spake Pharaoh,--even the queen herself,
Or her fair daughters, may ride forth, to bear
The loved one safe to Zoan: and, like way,
When homeward she would go, chariot, and guard,
And kind friends would attend her. His own words
Now have I said. For token of his love,
A gem that once the royal crown adorned,
He sendeth thee, blest Rachel; with it, words
Of father's kindness: and, though fierce of heart
Well do I know him; and that falsely oft
To Israel's God he hath spoken,--yet, in these,--
So on the words did gesture, look, and tone,
Stamp truth's clear impress,--simple verity
Alone I see. `Tell her,' he said, `that, warm
As the bright gem I give her, is the love,
The fatherly love I feel; as durable, too,
And strong,--so she herself will love return;--
Even slight; an echo only unto mine,
Far off, and faint; yet tuned to the same tone
Of heart--affection.''' Speaking the last words,
He rose; and, from a small bright case of gold,
A ring brought forth. As if the setting sun
A beam of ruby glory had shot in,
All the air caught sudden radiance. With a step
Slow and majestic, toward the maiden then
He walked; and, bending his tall form, held forth
The glowing stone--fire. But she also rose;
And, lowly bowing, with calm tone, and soft,
Yet firm, thus spake. ``The favor of the king
Gratefully own I. Yet, but one kind deed,
To even the lowliest done, were, in my sight,
More estimable than a royal crown.
Would the king have so poor a maiden's love,--
Let him show justice to the wronged; give help
To those who suffer. Nought that I have done,
Or could do--for such price might quittance be:
And I would not be debtor, save to one
Who, for the debt, himself indebted feels;
Grateful to be the server. When the king
Hath freed the slave; and, to the wronged, given back
What tyranny had taken,--then, to him,
My love, and full obedience,--yea, the love
And full obedience of all upright hearts,--
Freely poured forth will be. Till then, the gems
Of all the earth from me no love could buy:
For pure love hath no price. In every breast,
Methinks, love lies,--but sleeping, till 'tis stirred
By the right quickener: as fire sleeps in wood,
Till rightly touched. Steel will not force it wake,
Nor gold, nor jewels tempt: thunder, and wind,
And earthquake cannot stir it,--for their might
Of other nature is:--but the small spark
Of fire, like--natured, the deep slumbering heat
Wakes quickly; and the cheering flame ascends.
So, in the heart, love, or the deeds of love,--
Of mercy, justice, piety, and truth,--
All fruits from that great tree, the love of God,--
Alone can call to life true human love.
To offer gold for stars, were not more vain,
Than for pure love. Since, then, I cannot yield
What Pharaoh so would purchase,--for a price
It hath, or would have, though, in form, mere gift,--
Let him forgive me, that I cannot take,
What on my spirit would a burthen be;
A debt could ne'er be paid; or wage received
For work could ne'er be done.'' Ceasing, she bent
Her graceful head, and sat. Her voice, though soft,
Spake granite--firm her purpose. To its case
Satan the ring returned; and, with calm tone,--
Love and approval beaming from his eyes,--
Still standing nigh her, bowed his lofty head,
And spake. ``Of worldly wisdom, more have I,
Than thou, blest Rachel: yet, best wisdom is,
Not worldly, but of heaven; and, therein, thou
Show'st me, perchance, in darkness. Whatsoe'er
The voice within doth bid thee,--that still do;
For truth, in thee, is instinct; o'er all force
Of subtlest logic mighty. The wise man,
With wordy flood may strive to overwhelm
Thy simply--uttered thought; may say 'tis dream,
Error, old prejudice, or aught beside,
Unworthy thy regard: but, when the stream
Hath spent its force, firm stands thy pure thought still,--
Bright, clear as rock of crystal after storm.
For, reasoning power 'twixt truth and error goes,
Listening to both,--the umpire in their strife;
And sometimes, in confusion, the one voice
Mistakes for the other, and wrong judgment gives:
Or whisper from some restless passion hears;
Or blind self--craving,--thinking justice speaks;
And that way rules amiss. But the great law
Of God, within the spirit placed, stands fixed
As everlasting mountain; its high top
Far o'er earth's clouds, and pointing still toward Heaven.
Error, or passion, moves it, as the wind
Moves Lebanon's foundation. To that law
Within thy soul, trust ever; wisest words
Against it weighing, as earth's feeble fires
Against the sky--throned sun. For Pharaoh, then,
Do as thy soul directs thee: but, meantime,
As for myself,--though good to thee, and thine,
More than to me, 'twould bring,--a boon I ask.
By her good deeds, and name, at least, thou know'st
That gracious princess who,--when, death--devote,
On Nile, in rushy cradle, I was launched,--
Her father's law defying, rescued me;
Long time concealed; and, with a mother's love,
Reared me, and taught; and,--as in years I grew,
And understanding,--in the deepest lore
Of Egypt had me lessoned; and to rank
Among the noblest raised me; yea, so high,
That, as ye know, even with the king himself,
Much favor found I. Ah! to her I owe,
All that above the lowliest of the earth
Hath lifted me: and, verily, my life
For her would I lay down; debtor, even then,
For kind deeds numberless. On her behalf,
A suitor now I stand. From Pharaoh much,
And from the wretched Sethos, hath she heard,
Touching thyself, and thy rare qualities;
And great desire hath, with the eye and ear,
To test, and prove its truth. As thou to her
A daughter wert, lost even from thy birth,--
So longeth she to see thee, and embrace.
But age and weakness chain her: she would, else,
With me have journeyed hither: and her prayer
Now is,--and mine, my warm and anxious prayer,--
So in my soul I reverence her, and love,--
That even this day,--though but for few short hours,
Thou wouldst her guest be. `Tell the Hebrew maid,'
Smiling, she said, `that I have all prepared
For my heart's daughter; welcome such to give,
As fondest mother to an only child,
Long parted from her. If she love me not,
Let her not come again.' So she: but love,
To heart like hers, thou never couldst refuse,--
As this day well will prove,--for sure I am
Thou wilt go with me, and her soul make glad.''

To Kohath and to Sarah turning then,--
``I will myself,'' with fatherly tone he said,
``Safely our loved--one guide; throughout the day
Be ever nigh her; and, ere evening fall,
Myself restore her to you. For this night,
I then may be your guest: but, with the morn,
To Zoan must haste back; lest for his work
The Lord require me, and I absent be.
Good unto all, my venerated friends,
From this may come; and evil can be none.
The stubborn Pharaoh, to the gentle voice
Of his loved father's sister listens oft,
When all else he rejects. Even I myself,
To my fond mother--so I call her still,
As me her son she calls,--to her alone
Owe, that in Pharaoh's presence I first stood
To plead for Israel; and fair audience had,
Though by his priests insulted, and reviled,
Traitor, and murderer called; and, as they said,
Law--doomed to death. The good Thermuthis, then,--
Both as my more--than--mother, and as friend
Of Israel, in the past, and still--to--come,--
For much may be her aid,--ye will not grieve,
By such slight boon refusing. Ah! I see
Your hearts are willing; yet an anxious eye
On your blest child ye cast; as though some fear
Of possible ill ye felt. Dismiss it quite.
No peril whatsoever need ye dread.
Close to her mule all day myself will be,
From common harm to shield her; and the eye
Of God will be upon her evermore.''

He ceased, and all sat silent. A faint dread
Disturbed the loving parents; yet, so faint,
And seeming causeless, that they shamed to speak
Objection: and, for Rachel, though fear none
Had she, yet her fine delicate nature shrank
From the fair--seeming Moses, as from touch
Of the hot finger shrinks the sensitive--leaf,--
And not more knowing wherefore: for, though words
Like flatterer's he had spoken, yet the voice,
And look, had earnest seemed, and grave, like his
Who the heart's--truth doth speak: and, though she felt
Of all unworthy; pain, not pleasure, felt,
From praise unmerited,--yet, for distaste
Toward one, long deemed the holiest, the chief hope
Of Israel, poor excuse indeed were this.
Sinful must be that feeling; and by force
To be suppressed. Thus thinking, she looked round.
All eyes on her were bent; on every face,
Was smile of love; a look that said, ``we wait;
Thine 'tis to answer.'' To her parents then
Gently she spake. ``No evil do I fear;
And toward that gracious princess my heart yearns
With strong affection. If ye, then, approve,
Cheerfully will I go.'' Well pleased were all;
And with glad voices spake. In little while,--
Serenely beautiful, from out the gate,
On her swift milk--white mule rode forth the maid,
Image of holiness more of heaven than earth;
And, at her side, a spear's length scarce apart,
Silent, and anxious, the dread king of hell:--
Anxious, and silent, lest the sun--beam eye
Of greater angel, hovering in mid heaven,
Through that fair garb of sanctity should pierce,
And see the demon, and his wiles defeat:--
Silent, and anxious; with far--reaching look,
Striving to see the invisible: for, by sense
Spiritual wholly, and to flesh unknown,
A Presence, somewhere under cope of sky,
He felt,--as by man's soul the shadow is felt
Of evil threatening. Nor the spirit--touch
Wrongly informed him: for, beside the moon,
In her dark shadow, looking on him, stood
Gabriel, and Zophiel,--of his bad intent
Forewarned; and ready, from Satanic harm,
The chosen maid to guard. Though thus far off,
Yet, by the Power of hell, some adverse Power,
Heavenly, was feared on watch; so that in awe,
Silent, and anxious,--as with myriad eyes,
All parts of space transpiercing, whence might come
The adversary,--hell's dread king rode on.

In thoughts of God, and holiest things, deep rapt,
Nought did the maiden note that bearing strange
Of the true--seeming Moses: and the gate
Of Pharaoh's palace close before them stood
Ere either silence broke. From off his mule
Gravely alighted he; and she, all grace,
Lightly descended also: then at once,--
Few words, with fatherly kindness, having said,--
Through the self--opening door the demon went;
And she, the holy, unsuspecting maid,
With light heart followed. Though to every eye,
Save hers, with darkness had he girt him round,
That even from ken angelic clearest, safe
He hoped himself,--yet glad was he that now
Nigh was the time when to his proper form
He might return; for the true Moses lay,--
As well he knew,--even then upon the mound
Without the city, listening to the Voice,--
Myriads of mighty angels looking down,
All evil quick to see. No warning now
For the false king vouchsafed, to Moses thus
Came the command. ``Stretch out thine hand toward heaven;
That darkness over all the land may be,--
Even darkness that may be felt.'' Trembling he heard,
And worshipped: then, when from the ground he rose,
Toward heaven his hand stretched out. Air knew the sign,
And instantly 'gan thicken. Cloud was none,
Distinct of shape; but the whole cope of sky
Seemed cloud becoming. Motion of the air
None was; but great stagnation,--as the winds
Were dead, and stiffening; life--blood growing thick.
Deep silence fell on all things. In mid song,
The bird paused, fluttering: voice of man, and beast,
Sank, as in fear. The eagle from his height
Dropped rapidly, and to his aerie fled.
The wild beast of the desert, in his den
Sleeping, bestirred himself, waked by the gloom,
And oped his fiery eyes, thinking 'twas night.
In one same moment, over all the land,
Save in the happy Goshen, fell the shade.
All who in houses were, marvelling went out,
To look upon the sky: they who on road,
Or plain, were journeying, hastened on their way,
Eager for shelter: who within the fields
Labored, or on the public works, peered round,
Anxious, and fearful; for a second hail
And thunder they feared coming. One brief glance,
Awe--stricken, on the darkening sky and earth,
Cast Moses; then, with quick foot, through the gloom,
To the house of Aaron went; and with hushed voice,
To all the family told the wondrous thing
Had come to pass; and what was still to come.
And, after he had spoken,--mute with awe,
They sat together, looking toward the sky,
Where Day lay dying; even in strength of noon,
Trampled by ghastly Night. But he, meantime,
The phantom Moses, his bad work to end,
Eagerly sped. As yet, the sun shone clear;
But well he knew pitch--blackness soon would fall;
And hailed its coming, omen of success
To his vile purpose. Unsuspiciously
By the pure maiden followed,--passage, and hall,
And stair, he trod; till, at a door arrived,
Gently he opened wide; and, smiling, said,
``Enter, beloved of heaven; and brief time wait,
While to my reverend mother I make speed,
And tell her thou art come.'' Bowing the head,
She entered: he the door behind him closed:
Swifter than sun--glance from a falling sword,
Vanished;--and in the chamber of the prince,
To sight, a servant of the palace, stood.

By foul dreams, and foul thoughts, to frenzy driven,--
Like a caged leopard panting with great heat,
And eager to spring forth,--with long, quick strides,
Therein walked Sethos; resolute once again
With arm'd men to go out; and pluck by force
The flower whose perfume maddened him. Till then,--
Harmed by the hailstone that had stricken him,
And by the stun of his great overthrow,--
Strengthless upon the bed, by night and day,
Had he lain prisoned; but, that morning, healed
By power Satanic, full of vigor and health
Had risen: and, forthwith, order once more sent,
That men and steeds should wait his going forth
Toward Goshen; for no power of earth, or heaven,
Swore he, again should balk him. Bending low,
Before the prince the feigning demon stood,
And humbly said: ``A Hebrew maid, my lord,
From Goshen hath arrived; and of the king,
Or of thyself,--such honor may she have,--
Audience imploreth. Rachel is her name;
Daughter of Kohath.'' ``Bring her hither straight,''
With joy and wonder stricken, cried the prince:
``Or, stay; I will attend her; for she comes,
I know, on a great matter; and, beside,
Is worthy of honor. Lead me to her, then;
And, till I call, let no man trouble me.''

Low bowed the seeming servitor; and, still
Low bowing, walked, till he the door had gained
Of the great chamber of state; wherein the maid
Patiently waited. With a noiseless hand,
He opened it; with a like gentleness,
When the hot prince had entered, closed again:
Then, instantly invisible,--for he feared
The nigher coming of some heavenly Power,--
Thought--swift, down to earth's burning centre shot:
There, mid the sea of fire, and light intense,--
If eye had watched him,--hoping to be lost,
By vision even the keenest. But, meantime,
Awaiting his return,--of nought afraid,
Nothing suspecting,--with a pleased surprise,
A gentle childlike wonder, Rachel gazed
Around that sumptuous chamber; the chief boast
Of Pharaoh's palace, for all things most rare,
Costly, and beautiful, which labor, art,
Riches past count, and judgment the most nice,
From the whole earth could gather. As a child
In a fair garden, walked and wondered she;
Pleased by whate'er was beauteous; but, for show
Of kingly pomp and riches, caring nought;
Of nought possession craving; thinking not,
For even one moment, on the promise made
By him who Pharaoh had seemed, that,--would she wed
With Egypt's heir, all this, and ten times more,
Hers should become. The beautiful alone
Her nice sense touched: yet, highest joy of sense,
Though of heaven savoring, but brief while could draw
From God, and things all heavenly, her pure thoughts;
And soon,--the gorgeous scene forgetting quite,--
Midst of the chamber, with eyes downward cast,
Silently musing stood she; and heard not
The softly opened door; nor the quick step
That entered, and drew near. Thus, statue--like,
When her exceeding beauty he beheld,
And purity angelic,--on the heart
Of Sethos, for a moment, fell a power
That him, too, fixed like statue. Breathing not,
All eye he stood; drinking the beauty--draught,
As the parched dreamer seems a brook to drink,
Yet still, unsated, thirsts. But soon arose
The carnal passion: crown to foot, he shook,
Longing to clasp her: yet the gross desire
Dared not at once betray; with courteous guise
Of look, and word, and tone, hoping awhile
His foulness to conceal; till, bolder grown,
All he might sue for; or, repulsed, might seize:
For seize he would, so driven, though instant death
Should follow the wild joy. With bow, and smile,
And hand outstretched, as to a dearest friend,
Toward her he hastened. ``Twice, then, doth a sun
This happy day arise; and twice more bright
The second than the first,'' he cried,--her hand,
Snow--pure, within his palm, flame--hot, and foul,
Striving to grasp: but she, astonished, shrank,
A pace withdrawing; and, in calm tone, thus:
``I pray thee, prince, remember who I am;
A simple Hebrew maiden, who plain truth,
And manners plain, am bred in; knowing nought,
And nought esteeming, of court flatteries.
Invited by herself, I hither come......''

Impatiently upon her speech he broke.
``Whatever brought thee, ten times be it blest;
Ay, more than though a goddess it had brought;
For beauty like to thine, not heaven could boast;
Nor music like thy voice.'' His burning looks,
And tones, displeased her; but their wicked bent
She knew not; and no terror felt at all;
Knowing that evermore within the eye
Of God she was; and that, against His will,
No harm could touch her. From the frantic prince
Turning away,--his stream of passionate words,
She heard not, heeded not; more than the hum
Of babbling brook she had heeded. As alone,
Or of no presence conscious,--to and fro,
With arms crossed lightly, at slow pace she walked:
Now, toward the door a calm glance casting; now,
Toward the fast darkening sky. Each look he watched,
While pouring his vile love--strain; and, at length,
When with long gaze he saw her face upturned,
``Ah! sweetest one,'' he cried, ``here must thou stay,
Or bide a storm. I, too, must prisoner be;
For, verily, a frown the sky puts on,
Might threaten second hail--plague. Blest the cause,
Loveliest, that hither brought thee! blest the chance
That kept me from the chase! and ten times blest
The clouds that bring this darkness! for my tongue,--
A very coward when broad daylight falls
Full on thy sun--bright beauty,--in the shade,
Bold will become, and eloquent to tell,--
Thou marvel of all woman--kind,--the love,
O'erwhelming, maddening, that I feel for thee.
Since first I saw thee, no breath have I drawn,
That brought not thought of thee: no life have had,
Save what remembrance of thy beauty gave.
Without thee, henceforth, earth is but a tomb:
Food, wine, are nauseous; sweetest breath of flowers
Hath death--scent! brightest sunshine is black night!
Be thou my wife,''--more near her drawing now,
He cried; and fell upon the knee, and clasped
His hands imploringly; ``be thou my wife;
And, sometime, Egypt's queen.'' At quiet pace,--
As though she saw him not, nor heard at all,--
Still walked she on; but, at the chamber's end
Made pause, at length; and in deep awe looked forth;
For, so thick fell the darkness suddenly,
Twilight seemed dropped on noon. Yet terror none
Came on the sensual prince,--so his whole frame
With foul desire was burning. That strange gloom,
To him, was brightness; for it made him bold
To dare what, in broad daylight, he had feared.
``Proud, scornful beauty,'' thought he, to his feet
Upstarting; ``if thou still refuse my love,
By all the gods of Egypt, I will seize,
And rend the fruit from off the tree; and feed
To very surfeiting!'' With hurried step
Then to the door he went; the silver bolt
Slid noiselessly; and turned to seek his prey.
But, at the spacious chamber's farther end,
Invisible was she now; in darkness wrapped,
As in a robe. Even in his madness, struck
By a brief terror, toward a window nigh
He looked; and saw what seemed a solid mass
Of blackness falling,--as if Chaos, once more
Rampant o'er heaven, mountains of thickest night
Were hurling 'thwart the sky. But soon again,--
Fear chased by passion,--through the obscure he groped;
Hoping, though utterly from sight concealed,
Yet that some sound,--perchance a sigh, a word,
A motion,--might reveal her. A faint light,
As of a glowworm's beam, at length he saw;
And toward it moved: but, ere a second step
His slow foot trod, the living lamp beheld,
Whence came that radiance,--the heaven--lifted face
Of the pure virgin. Like embodied air,
Touched by the star of evening's silvery beam,
Softly it shone; beauty celestial all.
Yet, in the frantic youth, nought stirred it now
But foulest fire of earth. Stone--still she stood,
Seeing him not; for, through the window yet,
Skyward she looked; with hope some quickening beam
To spy in the grave--like blackness. One step more,
And he might seize her: yet, so dead the hush
Had suddenly fallën, that he feared to stir,
Almost to breathe, lest her keen sense should catch
Note of his presence near; and, terrified,
In the darkness she should plunge, and baffle him.
So, glaring on her, silently he stood;
And, in his foul heart, thus. ``Enchantress bright
Thine own sweet witchery betrayeth thee.
Spite of thyself, from out thine exquisite flesh
Beameth celestial light; and thou know'st not
What eye beholds thee; what foot standeth near.
Ah! in these arms let me once prison thee;
Never, while life lasts, shall the chain be slacked.
Bosom to bosom, lip to lip, close pressed,
Till death comes will I lock thee. Turn aside,
Witch, goddess, turn aside; for yet thine eye
O'erawes me: turn aside; that I may spring
Unseen upon thee; and, on earth, find heaven.''

With fingers clawlike spread, eager to clutch,
From head to foot all quivering, he stood;
Burning to seize, yet fearing. Not one tinge
Of day now visible,--window, wall, and sky,
Alike one solid blackness,--her raised face
She lowered: a moment, as if listening, stood,
And turned her delicate head. The madman saw;
Drew in his breath; his arms outstretched,--and sprang.

But, as beneath his foot the floor had sunk,
Down in a heap he dropped. No mortal might
Had stricken him; no stroke at all he felt;
Yet, like a broken thread, cast from the hand,
Strengthless utterly fell he. Still was sense
Unstunned;--hellish desire still burned within,
And deadened him to fear. Toward his lost prey
Eagerly staring--sight that maddened him more,--
A wondrous flame he saw, steady and mild,
Smooth gliding as a marsh--fire in dark night,
O'er some far distant vale; and, close behind,
The maiden, slowly following. One short glance
The thick air suffered him; then all was lost.
In agony of rage, he strove to rise;
Strove to cry out: voice, limbs, were paralyzed;
And, helpless, he lay struggling. But, meantime,
To the awe--smitten, yet nought--fearing maid,
An instant 'mid the blackness had appeared
A form of purest light; a countenance
Beauteous, yet sad; and, faint as softest sigh
Of evening, yet within her very soul
Deep felt, a voice had come, ``Blest child of heaven,
Follow thou me.'' And, without word, or thought
Of questioning,--all trustful as the babe
Its mother follows, even so followed she.
But now no more the countenance, or form,
Was visible; and the voice no more was heard.
A mild, clear light alone before her moved;
And, wondering, yet all trusting in her God,
Serenely she went on. With steady foot,
Down the great stair she trod; each step made plain
By the descending beam: through passage, and hall,--
As in a torch--lit rift right through the heart
Of a black rock--walked on: but sounds of dread,
Above, below, to either hand, still heard:
Voices of men, and women, in great woe;
Some, crying out that they were smitten blind,
And help imploring; some, in ghastly tone
Of supernatural horror,--prayer and shriek
Commingled strangely,--calling on their gods:
Some, shouting, as if mad: some, groaning loud,
As in death--agony. Still glided on
The clear, mild light; still, trustful as a child,
Calmly the maiden followed. Soon came sound
Of a great portal opening; and then stood
Before her, like a figure painted white
On ground of deepest black, her milk--white mule:
Visible solely that. Downward she looked,
But saw no earth: to right, and left, she looked;
But walls of solid darkness only saw:
Toward heaven she turned; but, close above her head,
As she might touch it, hung what seemed a roof,
Black and substantial as a grave--stone, cast
O'er the dead world! Awe--stricken, silent stood
The holy maiden; on that wondrous sight
Gazing, and pondering. Why distinct shone out,
The patient beast,--as if to invite her thence,
Though all path was invisible as the rocks
Leagues under ground,--she marvelled: yet, the face
So beautiful, though sad; the voice so sweet,
So soft and plaintive, she recalled, and thus:
``Surely an angel of the Lord hath come,
To lead me forth this peril. But, where, then,
Where is the holy Moses? Aught could I
Him aid, by here abiding? Truly no:
The Gracious Power which me protecteth,--him,
In its own way, will care for. Not for me
Fit is it, then, to question; but to do
Even as 'tis shown unto me.'' Thinking thus,
Lightly the maiden mounted; and at once
Again the pale flame moved; the gentle beast,
Unbidden, followed. Meantime, far above
Earth's tomb--like blackness,--in the bright serene
Of heaven's pure air, the mighty angels hung,
To whom it had been given, from power of hell,
Or power of man, hell--taught, the maid to guard.
Through that thick darkness,--to all mortal sight
Impenetrable as the solid globe,--
So by power special gifted, their keen eyes,
As if in sunshine, all things clearly saw:
And, to his bright companion, Gabriel thus.

``A wonder see, O Zophiel! From the snare
Laid by the king of hell, that purest one
Through human violence to foul,--behold,
Even he, the Spirit chosen from them all,
As potent most to lure her into sin;
Now leads her forth, in a great dread lest sin,
By force should come upon her. That to stay,
Our task is: but, Oh, blessed is the sight
Of yon repentant fallen--one,--our work,
Of his own will performing! Seest thou not
His spirit--anguish? hear'st thou not his sighs?
Ah! he would pray; but, in his ignorance,
Deemeth the All Merciful, All Wise, All Just,
But the inexorable Omnipotent.
He fears his night eternal; joys of heaven
For ever past,--even as the ages past
Are gone for ever. But we better know
God's inexhaustible mercy unto all:
How, in progression of eternity,
Within His kingdom all will meet again:
Those lost ones numberless,--even like drops of rain
In fathomless ocean,--to the blessed depths
Falling of His illimitable love.
Go on, poor Spirit: turn thou never back
To bad allegiance,--or through failing joy
In good, now moving thee; or from the fear
Of hell's dread wrath: and, surely, in due time,--
When strong repentance hath within thee worked,
And from thy burning spirit hath gone up
Incense of prayer sincere,--God's eye of love
Again will look upon thee; and heaven's gates
Stand wide to give thee welcome. But, meantime,
Hard trial waiteth thee. Before the eyes
Of thine incensed companions must thou stand,
Mark for their hatred.....Zophiel, notest thou
Where, wrapped in darkness,--even to eye of God
Invisible, as he thinks,--Hell's dreadful lord
Glares on the poor repentant; wroth to see
That, whom to ruin, solely was he sent,
Her now he strives to save? Ha! on that spot
Gladly he'd wither him; but that he feels
Celestial Powers not distant; and his rage
Fears to let loose. And yet, a time will come
When even he,--yea, most of all--will joy,
For his vile end thus thwarted. Last, perchance,
To feel repentance, as the first to sin;
But sure, at length, with agony infinite,
To see his wickedness; in remorse to groan;
To cry aloud for pardon; to implore
That, even among the lowliest of the low,
Again into God's presence he may come,
And feel His infinite grace. Ah Lucifer!
How, once, by all wert thou admired, and loved:
Eldest, and greatest of Spirits; to the throne
Admitted nearest; in the Effulgency
Of Glory Divine, the brightest of heaven's host!
What art thou now! In place of that pure love
Which, like a spring exhaustless, from thee poured
On even the humblest angel,--now, behold,
From eyes like very fire, pours wrath red--hot
On a meek Spirit, because thy bad command
He disobeyeth; striving good to do;
Turning from loathëd hell repentant looks
Toward the far--off,--nay, as he wrongly thinks,
For him, the ever unapproachable heaven.
Ah! change most sad, when angel angel hates,
For good act, or pure thought! But see, two more,
And of hell's mightiest,--Beelzebub,
And that fierce spirit, Moloch, with their chief
Now stand; and others are there, gathering round;
All hot as flame against that humble one,
Who their bad service leaves. What worst they can,
Be sure, they'll do against him. But their spite
Will be controlled; their evil bring forth good.
For, though of heaven's forgiveness hoping not,
Yet, so to do as in his Maker's sight
Once would have been well pleasing,--firm is he,
Though all hell's malice crush him: and we know,
That still accéptable to the God of love
Will be the good intent; from whomsoe'er,
Or whencesoe'er it come;--heavenly its source,
Though rising even in hell.'' So these. Meantime,--
As though, by miracle, through substantial rock,
As in air, moving,--through the solid night,
In perfect quietness of soul; her trust
Wholly in God,--the gentle maid rode on.
The mild light, like a steady star, still went
Before her: as by hand invisible led,
The patient mule still followed. Every beast
Which, in the common night--gloom, clearly saw
To roam abroad, and seize upon his prey,--
As if stone--blind was now; nor dared to stir,
Or utter noise at all: no watch--dog barked;
No horse, or ox, or other thing, dared move;
No bird dared flutter wing: air, sound, seemed dead;
Crushed by the curdled blackness. Earth, sky, sun,
All blotted from Creation might have been;
Primeval Night the Universe! But still
Serenely on the gentle virgin rode;
Awe--filled, yet fearing not; for, mid the dark,
Unutterable, and the tomb--like hush,
Heaven's glories she beheld; and heard the voice
Of the innumerable angels round the throne,
Chanting their hymn of joy. So hours passed on,
Hours that might days have seemed: but, suddenly,--
As though the coffin--lid of the dead earth,
Had been uplift, and let noon--glory in,--
All in a moment, like a mighty wave,
Full sunshine burst upon her. Sharply stopped,
The mule stood trembling: she her eyelids closed,
And covered with both hands; as if by flash
Of lightning dazzled. But the mule again,
Recovering first, went on: by slow degrees,
Her tender eyes she opened, and looked forth,
And saw her own loved Goshen; and, far off,
The low of oxen heard, the bleat of sheep,
And happy human voices. Turning then,
Backward she looked; and, even from earth to heaven
Upreaching,--like a wall of blackest rock,
The unearthly darkness saw. With folded hands,
And face low bent,--to that All Merciful God,
Who her deliverance, through angelic power,
Surely had wrought,--her fervent thanks she breathed:
Raised then her head; looked round her; smiled anew
At sight of her loved land, and hastened on.
But the pure light, the sad, yet beauteous face,
No more she saw; no more the sweet voice heard.

Gayly as captive from his prison loosed,
Bounded away the mule. In loving arms
Of parents, soon the loving child was locked;
And all the wonders she had witnessed, told:
How Moses she had lost; how, by a Power
Angelic, surely, she had been brought forth;
And how even yet, perchance, o'er all the land
'Twixt Zoan and their Goshen, darkness lay,
Like a deep pitch--black lake. Ecstatic joy
Filled the repentant Spirit, when he saw
The chosen virgin, in the light of day
Secure, and homeward speeding: for a sense
Obscure he long had felt, of hostile Power,
Beyond compare his mightier, not far off;
And dreaded lest, with interruption sharp,
He should be stopped; and all his good intent
For her, made vain; while on himself should fall
Anger, and hate, and bitter punishment.
Faintly, and trembling, then, a thought he breathed:

``Omnipotent, All Pure! a Spirit lost,
Humbly dares thank Thee, that one deed of good,
'Gainst hell's command, hath been permitted him!''

More durst he not: but, in the eternal book
Of Mercy was it written; never more
To be effaced. Thoughts different far came next;
Of instant danger threatening; future ills,
Such as even boldest Spirit might appal:
And, with himself communing, thus he said.

``Ah! whither may I fly? 'Gainst hell a crime
Past pardon have I done; and from its wrath
Must hide myself; or suffer what of worst
Hate can inflict. Had but one faintest glimpse
Of God's approval, possible been to me,--
That wrath I had defied: but, to re--live
The cycles gone, not more impossible is,
Than to regain the love of God, sin--lost,
By sin annulling! Even Omnipotence
Perchance no power hath to recall the past!
The deed done, for eternity is done!
The darkness of all Chaos, close conglobed,
Never could hide it! Oceans of all worlds
Never could wash it out! The gathered suns
Of all the Universe, in one keen point
Concentrating their fire, could never burn
That indestructible! Oh God! Oh God!
Canst THOU expunge it!'' With the agony
Of sharp remorse, more fierce than bodily pang
Of nerve, fire--touched, while quivering thus he stood,--
His whole Essential torment; suddenly,--
Even as a dove, seized by the eagles' claws,--
Beneath the power of Spirits, strongest, worst,--
Though touched not, threatened not, by word, or look,--
Captive he felt himself; all strength to fly,
To stir, to speak, gone from him. The dead stone
Beneath the sculptor's hand, as easily
Might from its place fly up, and path the heavens,
As that poor Spirit, from the hill of power
Laid on him, 'scape. Yet,--marvel to himself,--
Calm was he;--not one throb of fear he felt.
Was it, perchance, the numbness of despair
That tranquil held him, when such monstrous storm
Of all hell's congregated scorn and hate
Soon would be loosed against him? Or some hope,
Though shadowy, imperceptible, could he have,
That, after brief flame, would the fire of wrath
Die of itself,--against a Spirit so weak,
Unworthy to be cherished? No,--he felt,
That not despair's dead touch that calm had brought
Nor the dim dream of hope; that hell's fierce ire,
Sure as the coming of the hour, would burn
To the last against him. Solely was he firm,
By one great thought sustained: 'gainst bad command,
An act he had done, which, ere from heaven cast out,
Approved had been of God. No gracious sign
Of approbation looked he now to see;
Of pardon he dreamed not; less of reward,
From his offended Maker: and, from those,
His fellow Spirits Fallen, hatred, and scorn,
And vengeance he expected, infinite.
Yet, calm he was,--nay, glad: for its own sake,
Good had he done; and, in that blessed thought,
All his reward would find; his comfort, and strength;
Though with heaped wrath, as with rock hurled on rock,
Hell should o'erwhelm him. While in high mood thus,
Motionless stood he,--to the Fallen Host,--
Throughout the universe scattered,--summons went
To council, instant: and, like smallest mote
Before the tempest,--swift as flight of thought,
The contrite Spirit, by those fearful ones,
His conquerors, through the immense of space was borne.

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