Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Syria: Mizpeh
Jephtha’s Daughter
Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)
 
SHE stood before her father’s gorgeous tent,
To listen for his coming. Her loose hair
Was resting on her shoulders, like a cloud
Floating around a statue, and the wind,
Just swaying her light robe, revealed a shape        5
Praxiteles might worship. She had clasped
Her hands upon her bosom, and had raised
Her beautiful, dark Jewish eyes to heaven,
Till the long lashes lay upon her brow.
Her lip was slightly parted, like the cleft        10
Of a pomegranate blossom; and her neck,
Just where the cheek was melting to its curve
With the unearthly beauty sometimes there,
Was shaded, as if light had fallen off,
Its surface was so polished. She was stilling        15
Her light, quick breath, to hear; and the white rose
Scarce moved upon her bosom, as it swelled,
Like nothing but a lovely wave of light,
To meet the arching of her queenly neck.
Her countenance was radiant with love.        20
She looked like one to die for it,—a being
Whose whole existence was the pouring out
Of rich and deep affections. I have thought
A brother’s and a sister’s love were much;
I know a brother’s is, for I have been        25
A sister’s idol, and I know how full
The heart may be of tenderness to her!
But the affection of a delicate child
For a fond father, gushing as it does
With the sweet springs of life, and pouring on,        30
Through all earth’s changes, like a river’s course,
Chastened with reverence, and made more pure
By the world’s discipline of light and shade,—
’T is deeper, holier.

                The wind bore on
The leaden tramp of thousands. Clarion notes        35
Rang sharply on the ear at intervals;
And the low, mingled din of mighty hosts
Returning from the battle poured from far,
Like the deep murmur of a restless sea.
They came, as earthly conquerors always come,        40
With blood and splendor, revelry and woe.
The stately horse treads proudly,—he hath trod
The brow of death as well. The chariot-wheels
Of warriors roll magnificently on—
Their weight hath crushed the fallen. Man is there,—        45
Majestic, lordly man,—with his sublime
And elevated brow, and godlike frame;
Lifting his crest in triumph, for his heel
Hath trod the dying like a winepress down!
 
  The mighty Jephtha led his warriors on        50
Through Mizpeh’s streets. His helm was proudly set,
And his stern lip curled slightly, as if praise
Were for the hero’s scorn. His step was firm,
But free as India’s leopard; and his mail,
Whose shekels none in Israel might bear,        55
Was like a cedar’s tassel on his frame.
His crest was Judah’s kingliest; and the look
Of his dark, lofty eye, and bended brow,
Might quell the lion. He led on; but thoughts
Seemed gathering round which troubled him. The veins        60
Grew visible upon his swarthy brow,
And his proud lip was pressed as if with pain.
He trod less firmly; and his restless eye
Glanced forward frequently, as if some ill
He dared not meet were there. His home was near;        65
And men were thronging, with that strange delight
They have in human passions, to observe
The struggle of his feelings with his pride.
He gazed intensely forward. The tall firs
Before his tent were motionless. The leaves        70
Of the sweet aloe, and the clustering vines
Which half concealed his threshold, met his eye,
Unchanged and beautiful; and one by one
The balsam, with its sweet-distilling stems,
And the Circassian rose, and all the crowd        75
Of silent and familiar things stole up,
Like the recovered passages of dreams.
He strode on rapidly. A moment more,
And he had reached his home; when lo! there sprang
One with a bounding footstep, and a brow        80
Of light, to meet him. O, how beautiful!
Her dark eye flashing like a sunlit gem,
And her luxuriant hair!—’t was like the sweep
Of a swift wing in visions. He stood still,
As if the sight had withered him. She threw        85
Her arms about his neck,—he heeded not.
She called him “father,”—but he answered not.
She stood and gazed upon him. Was he wroth?
There was no anger in that bloodshot eye.
Had sickness seized him? She unclasped his helm,        90
And laid her white hand gently on his brow,
And the large veins felt stiff and hard, like cords.
The touch aroused him. He raised up his hands,
And spoke the name of God, in agony.
She knew that he was stricken then, and rushed        95
Again into his arms; and, with a flood
Of tears she could not bridle, sobbed a prayer
That he would breathe his agony in words.
He told her,—and a momentary flush
Shot o’er her countenance; and then the soul        100
Of Jephtha’s daughter wakened; and she stood
Calmly and nobly up, and said ’t was well,—
And she would die.
*        *        *        *        *
                The sun had wellnigh set.
The fire was on the altar; and the priest
Of the High God was there. A pallid man        105
Was stretching out his trembling hands to heaven,
As if he would have prayed, but had no words.
And she who was to die, the calmest one
In Israel at that hour, stood up alone,
And waited for the sun to set. Her face        110
Was pale, but very beautiful,—her lip
Had a more delicate outline, and the tint
Was deeper; but her countenance was like
The majesty of angels.

                    The sun set,—
And she was dead,—but not by violence.        115
 
 
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