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

Israel In Egypt. Book Twenty-Sixth.

For, day and night, by restless demons stirred,--
Like many fires in one combustion joined,--
King, sorcerers, priests, rulers, and captains all,
One monstrous yell of wrath and hate sent up,
'Gainst Israel, 'scaped at last! ``Ah infamous!''
Roared out the king: ``poison, or spells alone,
Those murders did,--no god: ye have no god,--
Yours only: nay, a veritable god
Such deed had scorned. Reptiles detestable!
I will fall on you: I will root you out;
Destroy you to the last,--man, woman, and child:
Or bring you back, with cord, and whip, and chain,
To your old slavery. Ho! send instantly;
And summon all my chariots, and my horse.
I will pursue. Haply in Goshen still
Some days they'll tarry. As the ox the corn,
So will I trample them. Send out,--send out.
Who knoweth of them,--by what way they went,
And whither bound?'' Promptly a voice replied:
``Toward Goshen went they, Splendor of the Sun;
Bound, as they said, to Canaan; by the land
Of the Philistines. Swords will strike them there;
And save our labor,'' ``Nay, nay,'' stormed the king;
``With my own sword I'll strike them,--I alone:
Vengeance is mine, not the Philistines. Scum!
I'll sweep them from the earth. Even stay they not
One day in Goshen,--yet, ere the dull snake
To Gaza creep, our lion shall spring on,
And seize it, fang and claw.'' While yet he spake,
Entered in haste two men; and toward the throne
Advanced, and bowed, and stood as they would speak.
Faces like flame they had; and from their brows
Sweat like great rain--drops fell: from head to foot,
Mere dust their raiment seemed. With eyes fire--bright,
And quivering lips, upon the king they looked,
Anxiously waiting. Their disordered state
Told plainly, that of some momentous thing
Came they to speak: therefore at once the sign
Permissive gave he; and at once bowed both;
Both in quick speech began: but then the one,
Frowning, his comrade silenced; and, again
Toward Pharaoh looking, spake. ``O, Light of Day,--
Surely the gods of Egypt have at last
Arisen, to lift thee up, and strike to earth
The miscreants who have plagued us! Mad, or blind,
Of their own will into a net they go,
Where easily every man, woman, and child,
Horse, ox, mule, camel; all the silver, and gold,
And precious stones,--yea, all that they have begged,
Or stolen, may thou seize! Wilt thou believe,
O Pharaoh, that the cunning sorcerer
Such folly could do? Yet, as I live, 'tis so!
South, toward the Red Sea, hath he led them on:
And even this night, 'twixt Migdol and the shore,
Near Pi--hahiroth, and right opposite
To Baal--zephon, will all Israel camp.''

``How know ye this?'' with hurried speech, and eyes
Eager and flashing, cried the impatient king.
``Light of the Sun,'' came forth the quick reply,
``With our own ears we heard it; and by mouth
Even of Moses spoken. Through report
Had it come to us, we had shut the sense,
As 'gainst a lie; for the mere fool alone,
Or madman, so could stumble. Dullest beast
Would not walk open--eyed into the trap:
Yet so doth Moses: for, throughout the earth,
Had he searched for it, spot he had not found,
Wherein so utterly, as in a net,
All Israel might be taken. Rock, and hill,
Impassable even to goat, or wilder thing,
On three sides gird that plain,--and, on the fourth,
The waters of the sea. By one sole pass
Can it be reached; by that alone be left.
If, therefore, when the slaves therein are trapped,
Thou wouldst destroy them, needeth but few spears,
To bar escape,--and famine will slay all.
If, rather, to just servitude again
Thou'dst force them,--when for hunger they shall howl,--
On hand and knee crawling, let them come forth,
And lick the dust before thee. They are thine,
O Pharaoh, body and soul; to slay, or take.
But, as the lightning must thy vengeance fly,
Or they will 'scape thee: for, tomorrow's sun
Quickly will show them in what pit they have fallen:
And, verily, far swifter than they went,
Will they speed back: and if, on the open plain,
At distance first they see thy coming on,--
Like small birds, when the eagle's shadow falls,
Wide scattering they'll fly off; and leave behind
The old and feeble only; then....'' ``Stay, stay,''
Cried Pharaoh, frowning;--``what the king should do,
Needeth he not be taught. But tell me now,
And briefly,--where was Moses, when these words
Ye heard him speak? Moreover, by what chance,
Among the Hebrews were ye?'' ``Light of Day,''
Quick was the answer; ``curious to behold
How they would fare, and whither they would go,
We with the Israelites journeyed. The first night,
At Succoth camped they: on the second night,
At Etham: on the third,--even this day's night--
Near to Azotus purposed they to lie.
But other course, meantime, had been resolved.
Ere yet 'twas sunrise, the whole camp was up:
For all the priests, and Elders, and chief men,
To Moses had been summoned. Following them,
Went we; and, on the outskirts of the throng,
Unnoted stood, and heard. Of slight account
The things that first were spoken; but, at length,
Mountain--high grew they; and on memory pressed,
Like horse--foot on soft clay: and, word for word,
O king, thus Moses spake. `Again the voice
Of the Lord God, even in the night just gone,
Hath come unto me, saying; At morn speak thou
Unto the children of Israel, that they turn
Toward Pi--hahiroth; and before it camp,
'Twixt Migdol and the sea; right opposite
To Baal--zephon: by the seashore there
Before it shall ye camp.' ``Needed no more
That we should listen; for the place we knew,
Well as this Zoan: natives thereof, both;
And therein dwellers till these ten years past;
And knew that, entered, 'twould a prison be,
Stronger than walls of stone, and fetters of steel,--
Barred thou the outlet. Not a moment more
Tarried we then; but, at our swiftest, sped;
Sprang on our steeds; and never bridle drew
Till nigh unto the gate. Our own feet then
Deeming the swifter,--so the wearied beasts
Stumbled, and reeled,--down leaped we, and ran on;
Of our soiled garments heedless,--even though here
Into thy presence coming,--when the thing
We had to tell, must be as life, or death,
Unto thine enemies.'' ``Rightly have ye done;
And shall have honor,'' said the king, well pleased.
``But tell me truly now. The whole way hence
To yonder pass, and through it to their camp,
So surely know ye, that your lives ye'll gage,
Down on them suddenly to bring us all,
Both horse and chariots?'' ``Come not second plague
Of hail, or darkness, or like sorcery,--
Though ten lives had we, Splendor of the Sun,
All would we peril. Every brook, and hill,
And landmark by the way, to Migdol hence,
Well as this city know we.'' ``Then at dawn
Be ye at hand. With chariot near the king's
Shall ye be honored: and, ere set of sun,
If ye bring Pharaoh on them,--all your lives
Shall be a summer. Lords, and rulers, hence.
Wherever they may lie, send ye the word;
Commanding every chariot, every horse,--
This day, or in the night, or by grey dawn,--
To the plain east of Zoan. Long ere sun
Touch point of pyramid, will the king appear,
To lead them on.'' That said, down from the throne
He hurried. Lords, priests, captains, sorcerers, then,
All talking loud, all mad with joy, rushed forth.

Soon flew command; and proclamation went
Throughout the city, and the lands around;
Till, with the din of gathering,--like a camp
For battle arming in haste,--half Egypt rang.

But, these sad tidings when the queen had heard,
Terror, yea even a quaking of the soul,
Came on her,--as though voice from heaven itself
Pharaoh's death--doom had spoken! Trembling, pale,
She hastened; on her knees before him fell;
Wept, prayed, nay shrieked in her great agony:
``Oh Pharaoh, Pharaoh, hear me! If again
Thou mock the God of Israel, never more
These eyes shall see thee; never more thine eyes
Will on thy children look, thy once loved wife!
The grave will swallow thee! I see black Death
Standing to smite! Loved Pharaoh, go not hence!
Remember how the threats of Israel's God
All were fulfilled: and that last terrible threat,--
Last, and most terrible,--sure as stroke of fate
Will fall upon thee, if again thou sin!
Hearken the words, O Pharaoh; as with fire,
They are burnt in me: `Let not thy finger stir;
Speak thou not word,--make sign,--give look,--think thought,--
Aiming to bring back Israel, once gone forth;
Or, as the earth by deluge overwhelmed,
Beneath destruction infinite wilt thou lie,
Buried for ever!''' Roughly from his knees
Pharaoh her hands shook off,--then backward drew,
And with stern voice exclaimed; ``A fool thou art;
Vex me no more: if god the Hebrews had,
Here was his power: elsewhere as nought it is.
But, over those vile slaves, here, everywhere,
My power shall be. No! finger I'll not stir;
Make sign, think thought against them; but I'll take
Chariots, and horse, and trample them to dust.
Then let their god destruction infinite
Send on me, if he can! Away, away:
Plead thou no longer: see my face no more,
Till, victor, I come back. I hear thee not:
I will not hear: farewell.'' With hurried step,
Thus speaking, from the chamber he went forth:
And the queen fell upon the floor, and wept.
Throughout the day sternly did he refuse,
When messenger she sent, with humble prayer,
That she might visit him: his loved daughters, too,--
Urged by the queen to implore him,--with harsh words,
Drove he away: for, demon--fired he was,
And rushing on destruction. Through that night,
Round Zoan was the sound of gathering war;
Voices of men; the neigh and tramp of steeds;
The roll of wheels: and, with first grey of dawn,
All the eastern plain was thronged; in panoply
Of battle bright stood so great armament.
Six hundred chosen chariots; and, with them
The chariots of all Egypt; and the horse,
Five times ten thousand,--such the number was,--
All men of war, and thirsting for their blood,
Whom now, against defenceless Israel,
The mad, doomed monarch led. Like to the sound
Of flooded cataract was their setting forth.

Crowding the eastern wall, women and men,
With anxious looks,--silent, or talking low,
Gazed after them; some, hoping vengeance sharp
Would fall on guileful Israel; many, in doubt
Lest on all Egypt even worse plagues might come;
And many, pale with terror, lest some ill,--
They knew not what,--but horrible and strange
Beyond all else,--on Pharaoh, and his host,--
Through sorcery, or from Israel's wrathful God--
Destruction utter should bring. Till from their sight
The rearmost rank had vanished, thus they stood;
Then hurried from the wall: and in the streets,
And public places, gathering into groups,
Their thoughts spake one to the other. Voices loud,
And rough, at times were heard; but, more and more,
As the day waned, they sank: and when, at length,
The sun went down, and men 'gan homeward walk,--
So dark a terror crept upon them all,
That through the city was one sound alone;
A low deep murmur, as of voices hushed
In chamber of the dead.

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