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: Gibeah, the Mount
Rizpah with Her Sons
Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)
 
The Day before They Were Hanged on Gibeah

“BREAD for my mother!” said the voice of one
Darkening the door of Rizpah. She looked up,
And lo! the princely countenance and mien
Of dark-browed Armoni. The eye of Saul,
The very voice and presence of the king,—        5
Limb, port, and majesty,—were present there,
Mocked like an apparition in her son.
Yet, as he stooped his forehead to her hand
With a kind smile, a something of his mother
Unbent the haughty arching of his lip,        10
And through the darkness of the widow’s heart
Trembled a nerve of tenderness that shook
Her thought of pride all suddenly to tears.
 
“Whence comest thou?” said Rizpah.

                            “From the house
Of David. In his gate there stood a soldier,        15
This in his Land. I plucked it, and I said,
‘A king’s son takes it for his hungry mother!’
God stay the famine!”

                    As he spoke, a step,
Light as an antelope’s, the threshold pressed,
And like a beam of light into the room        20
Entered Mephibosheth. What bird of heaven
Or creature of the wild, what flower of earth,
Was like this fairest of the sons of Saul!
The violet’s cup was harsh to his blue eye.
Less agile was the fierce barb’s fiery step.        25
His voice drew hearts to him. His smile was like
The incarnation of some blessed dream,
Its joyousness so sunned the gazer’s eye!
Fair were his locks. His snowy teeth divided
A bow of love, drawn with a scarlet thread.        30
His cheek was like the moist heart of the rose;
And, but for nostrils of that breathing fire
That turns the lion back, and limbs as lithe
As is the velvet muscle of the pard,
Mephibosheth had been too fair for man.        35
 
As if he were a vision that would fade,
Rizpah gazed on him. Never, to her eye,
Grew his bright form familiar; but, like stars,
That seemed each night new lit in a new heaven,
He was each morn’s sweet gift to her. She loved        40
Her firstborn, as a mother loves her child,
Tenderly, fondly. But for him,—the last,—
What had she done for Heaven to be his mother!
Her heart rose in her throat to hear his voice;
She looked at him forever through her tears;        45
Her utterance, when she spoke to him, sank down,
As if the lightest thought of him had lain
In an unfathomed cavern of her soul.
The morning light was part of him, to her
What broke the day for but to show his beauty?        50
The hours but measured time till he should come;
Too tardy sang the bird when he was gone;
She would have shut the flowers, and called the star
Back to the mountain-top, and bade the sun
Pause at eve’s golden door, to wait for him!        55
Was this a heart gone wild, or is the love
Of mothers like a madness? Such as this
Is many a poor one in her humble home,
Who silently and sweetly sits alone,
Pouring her life all out upon her child.        60
What cares she that he does not feel how close
Her heart beats after his,—that all unseen
Are the fond thoughts that follow him by day,
And watch his sleep like angels? And, when moved
By some sore needed Providence, he stops        65
In his wild path and lifts a thought to heaven,
What cares the mother that he does not see
The link between the blessing and her prayer!
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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