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: Gilboa
Saul
Robert Browning (1812–1889)
 
SAID Abner, “At last thou art come!
  Ere I tell, ere thou speak,—
Kiss my cheek, wish me well!” Then I wished it,
  And did kiss his cheek:
And he, “Since the king, O my friend,        5
  For thy countenance sent,
Nor drunken nor eaten have we;
  Nor, until from his tent
Thou return with the joyful assurance
  The king liveth yet,        10
Shall our lip with the honey be brightened,
  The water be wet.
 
“For out of the black mid-tent’s silence,
  A space of three days,
No sound hath escaped to thy servants,        15
  Of prayer nor of praise,
To betoken that Saul and the Spirit
  Have ended their strife,
And that faint in his triumph the monarch
  Sinks back upon life.        20
 
“Yet now my heart leaps, O beloved!
  God’s child, with his dew
On thy gracious gold hair, and those lilies
  Still living and blue
As thou break’st them to twine round thy harp-strings,        25
  As if no wild heat
Were raging to torture the desert!”
  Then I, as was meet,
Knelt down to the God of my fathers,
  And rose on my feet,        30
And ran o’er the sand burnt to powder.
  The tent was unlooped;
I pulled up the spear that obstructed,
  And under I stooped;
Hands and knees o’er the slippery grass-patch—        35
  All withered and gone,—
That leads to the second enclosure,
  I groped my way on,
Till I felt where the foldskirts fly open;
  Then once more I prayed,        40
And opened the foldskirts and entered,
  And was not afraid;
And spoke, “Here is David, thy servant!”
  And no voice replied;
And first I saw naught but the blackness,—        45
  But soon I descried
A something more black than the blackness;
  The vast, the upright
Main-prop which sustains the pavilion,—
  And slow into sight        50
Grew a figure, gigantic, against it,
  And blackest of all;—
Then a sunbeam, that burst through the tent-roof,
  Showed Saul.
He stood as erect as that tent-prop;        55
  Both arms stretched out wide
On the great cross-support in the centre
  That goes to each side:
So he bent not a muscle, but hung there
  As, caught in his pangs        60
And waiting his change, the king-serpent
  All heavily hangs,
Far away from his kind, in the pine,
  Till deliverance come
With the spring-time,—so agonized Saul,        65
  Drear and stark, blind and dumb.
 
Then I tuned my harp,—took off the lilies
  We twine round its chords
Lest they snap ’neath the stress of the noontide,—
  Those sunbeams like swords!        70
And I first played the tune all our sheep know,
  As, one after one,
So docile they come to the pen-door
  Till folding be done;
They are white and untorn by the bushes,        75
  For lo, they have fed
Where the long grasses stifle the water
  Within the stream’s bed;
How one after one seeks its lodging,
  As star follows star        80
Into eve and the blue far above us,—
  So blue and so far!
Then the tune for which quails on the cornland
  Will leave each his mate
To follow the player; then, what makes        85
  The crickets elate
Till for boldness they fight one another;
  And then, what has weight
To set the quick jerboa a-musing
  Outside his sand house,—        90
There are none such as he for a wonder,—
  Half bird and half mouse!—
God made all creatures, and gave them
  Our love and our fear,
To show we and they are his children,        95
  One family here.
 
Then I played the help-tune of our reapers,
  Their wine-song, when hand
Grasps hand, eye lights eye in good friendship,
  And great hearts expand,        100
And grow one in the sense of this world’s life;
  And then, the low song
When the dead man is praised on his journey,—
  “Bear, bear him along
With his few faults shut up like dead flowerets;        105
  Are balm-seeds not here
To console us? The land is left none such
  As he on the bier—
O, would we might keep thee, my brother!”
  And then the glad chant        110
Of the marriage,—first go the young maidens,
  Next, she whom we vaunt
As the beauty, the pride of our dwelling:
  And then, the great march
When man runs to man to assist him,        115
  And buttress an arch
Naught can break … who shall harm them, our friends?
  Then, the chorus intoned
As the Levites go up to the altar
  In glory enthroned,—        120
But I stopped here,—for here, in the darkness,
  Saul groaned.
 
And I paused, held my breath in such silence!
  And listened apart;
And the tent shook, for mighty Saul shuddered,—        125
  And sparkles ’gan dart
From the jewels that woke in his turban,—
  At once with a start
All its lordly male sapphires, and rubies
  Courageous at heart;        130
So the head,—but the body still moved not,
  Still hung there erect.
And I bent once again to my playing,
  Pursued it unchecked,
As I sang, “O, our manhood’s prime vigor!        135
  No spirit feels waste,
No muscle is stopped in its playing,
  No sinew unbraced;—
And the wild joys of living! The leaping
  From rock up to rock,—        140
The rending their boughs from the palm-trees,—
  The cool silver shock
Of a plunge in the pool’s living water,—
  The haunt of the bear,
And the sultriness showing the lion        145
  Is couched in his lair:
And the meal,—the rich dates,—yellowed over
  With gold-dust divine,
And the locust’s-flesh steeped in the pitcher,
  The full draught of wine,        150
And the sleep in the dried river channel
  Where tall rushes tell
The water was wont to go warbling
  So softly and well,—
How good is man’s life here, mere living!        155
  How fit to employ
The heart and the soul and the senses
  Forever in joy!
Hast thou loved the white locks of thy father
  Whose sword thou didst guard        160
When he trusted thee forth to the wolf-hunt
  For glorious reward?
Didst thou see the thin hands of thy mother
  Held up, as men sung
The song of the nearly departed,        165
  And heard her faint tongue
Joining in while it could to the witness
  “Let one more attest,
I have lived, seen God’s hand through that lifetime,
  And all was for best.”        170
Then they sung through their tears, in strong triumph,
  Not much,—but the rest!
And thy brothers, the help and the contest,
  The working whence grew
Such result, as from seething grape-bundles        175
  The spirit so true:
And the friends of thy boyhood—that boyhood
  With wonder and hope,
Present promise, and wealth in the future,—
  The eye’s eagle scope,—        180
Till lo, thou art grown to a monarch,
  A people is thine!
O, all gifts the world offers singly,
  On one head combine,
On one head the joy and the pride,        185
  Even rage like the throe
That opes the rock, helps its glad labor,
  And lets the gold go,—
And ambition that sees a sun lead it,—
  O, all of these,—all        190
Combine to unite in one creature—
  Saul!
 
 
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