by: Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867)

      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.

"Absalom" is reprinted from One Hundred Choice Selections. Ed. Phineas Garrett. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing Co., 1897.




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