Henry Kendall

(18 April 1839 – 1 August 1882 / Ulladulla, New South Wales)

Rizpah - Poem by Henry Kendall

SAID one who led the spears of swarthy Gad,
To Jesse’s mighty son: “My Lord, O King,
I, halting hard by Gibeon’s bleak-blown hill
Three nightfalls past, saw dark-eyed Rizpah, clad
In dripping sackcloth, pace with naked feet
The flinty rock where lie unburied yet
The sons of her and Saul; and he whose post
Of watch is in those places desolate,
Got up, and spake unto thy servant here
Concerning her—yea, even unto me:—
‘Behold,’ he said, ‘the woman seeks not rest,
Nor fire, nor food, nor roof, nor any haunt
Where sojourns man; but rather on yon rock
Abideth, like a wild thing, with the slain,
And watcheth them, lest evil wing or paw
Should light upon the comely faces dead,
To spoil them of their beauty. Three long moons
Hath Rizpah, daughter of Aiah, dwelt
With drouth and cold and rain and wind by turns,
And many birds there are that know her face,
And many beasts that flee not at her step,
And many cunning eyes do look at her
From serpent-holes and burrows of the rat.
Moreover,’ spake the scout, ‘her skin is brown
And sere by reason of exceeding heat;
And all her darkness of abundant hair
Is shot with gray, because of many nights
When grief hath crouched in fellowship with frost
Upon that desert rock. Yea, thus and thus
Fares Rizpah,’ said the spy, O King, to me.”

But David, son of Jesse, spake no word,
But turned himself, and wept against the wall.

We have our Rizpahs in these modern days
Who’ve lost their households through no sin of theirs,
On bloody fields and in the pits of war;
And though their dead were sheltered in the sod
By friendly hands, these have not suffered less
Than she of Judah did, nor is their love
Surpassed by hers. The Bard who, in great days
Afar off yet, shall set to epic song
The grand pathetic story of the strife
That shook America for five long years,
And struck its homes with desolation—he
Shall in his lofty verse relate to men
How, through the heat and havoc of that time,
Columbia’s Rachael in her Rama wept
Her children, and would not be comforted;
And sing of Woman waiting day by day
With that high patience that no man attains,
For tidings, from the bitter field, of spouse,
Or son, or brother, or some other love
Set face to face with Death. Moreover, he
Shall say how, through her sleepless hours at night,
When rain or leaves were dropping, every noise
Seemed like an omen; every coming step
Fell on her ears like a presentiment
And every hand that rested on the door
She fancied was a herald bearing grief;
While every letter brought a faintness on
That made her gasp before she opened it,
To read the story written for her eyes,
And cry, or brighten, over its contents.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 7, 2010



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