by: Nathaniel Parker Willis
- HE waters slept. Night's silvery
veil hung low
- On Jordan's bosom, and the eddies curled
- Their glassy rings beneath it, like the still,
- Unbroken beating of the sleeper's pulse.
- The reeds bent down the stream: the willow leaves
- With a soft cheek upon the lulling tide,
- Forgot the lifting winds: and the long stems
- Whose flowers the water, like a gentle nurse
- Bears on its bosom, quietly gave way,
- And leaned, in graceful attitude, to rest.
- How strikingly the course of nature tells
- By its light heed of human suffering,
- That it was fashioned for a happier world.
- King David's limbs were weary. He had fled
- From far Jerusalem: and now he stood
- With his faint people, for a little space,
- Upon the shore of Jordan. The light wind
- Of morn was stirring, and he bared his brow,
- To its refreshing breath; for he had worn
- The mourner's covering, and had not felt
- That he could see his people until now.
- They gathered round him on the fresh green bank
- And spoke their kindly words: and as the sun
- Rose up in heaven, he knelt among them there,
- And bowed his head upon his hands to pray.
- Oh! when the heart is full,--when bitter thoughts
- Come crowding thickly up for utterance,
- And the poor common words of courtesy,
- Are such a very mockery--how much
- The bursting heart may pour itself in prayer!
- He prayed for Israel: and his voice went up
- Strongly and fervently. He prayed for those,
- Whose love had been his shield: and his deep tones
- Grew tremulous. But, oh! for Absalom,--
- For his estranged, misguided Absalom,--
- The proud bright being who had burst away
- In all his princely beauty to defy
- The heart that cherished him--for him he poured
- In agony that would not be controlled
- Strong supplication, and forgave him there,
- Before his God, for his deep sinfulness.
- * * *
- The pall was settled. He who slept beneath,
- Was straightened for the grave: and as the folds
- Sank to the still proportions, they betrayed
- The matchless symmetry of Absalom.
- He hair was yet unshorn, and silken curls
- Were floating round the tassels as they swayed
- To the admitted air, as glossy now
- As when, in hours of gentle dalliance, bathing
- The snowy figures of Judea's girls.
- His helm was at his feet: his banner soiled
- With trailing through Jerusalem, was laid,
- Reversed, beside him: and the jeweled hilt
- Whose diamonds lit the passage of his blade,
- Rested like mockery on his covered brow.
- The soldiers of the king trod to and fro,
- Clad in the garb of battle; and their chief,
- The mighty Joab, stood beside the bier,
- And gazed upon the dark pall steadfastly,
- As if he feared the slumberer might stir.
- A slow step startled him. He grasped his blade
- As if a trumpet rang: but the bent form
- Of David entered, and he gave command
- In a low tone to his few followers,
- And left him with his dead. The King stood still
- Till the last echo died; then, throwing off
- The sackcloth from his brow, and laying back
- The pall from the still features of his child,
- He bowed his head upon him, and broke forth
- In the resistless eloquence of woe:
- "Alas! my noble boy! that thou should'st die,--
- Thou who wert made so beautifully fair!
- That death should settle in thy glorious eye,
- And leave his stillness in this clustering hair--
- How could he mark thee for the silent tomb,
- My proud boy, Absalom!
- "Cold is thy brow, my son! and I am chill
- As to my bosom I have tried to press thee--
- How was I wont to feel my pulses thrill,
- Like a rich harp string, yearning to caress thee--
- And hear thy sweet 'My father,' from these dumb
- And cold lips, Absalom!
- "The grave hath won thee. I shall hear the gush
- Of music, and the voices of the young:
- And life will pass me in the mantling blush,
- And the dark tresses to the soft winds flung,--
- But thou no more with thy sweet voice shalt come
- To meet me, Absalom!
- "And, oh! when I am stricken, and my heart
- Like a bruised reed, is waiting to be broken,
- How will its love for thee, as I depart,
- Yearn for thine ear to drink its last deep token!
- It were so sweet, amid death's gathering gloom,
- To see thee, Absalom!
- "And now, farewell! 'Tis hard to give thee up,
- With death so like a gentle slumber on thee;
- And thy dark sin--oh! I could drink the cup
- If from this woe its bitterness had won thee.
- May God have called thee, like a wanderer, home,
- My lost boy, Absalom!"
- He covered up his face, and bowed himself
- A moment on his child: then giving him
- A look of melting tenderness, he clasped
- His hands convulsively, as if in prayer:
- And as if strength were given him of God,
- He rose up calmly and composed the pall
- Firmly and decently,--and left him there,
- As if his rest had been a breathing sleep.
MORE POEMS BY NATHANIEL PARKER WILLIS
"Absalom" is reprinted
from One Hundred Choice Selections. Ed. Phineas Garrett.
Philadelphia: Penn Publishing Co., 1897.