Against the sunset’s glowing wall
The city towers rise black and tall,
Where Zorah, on its rocky height,
Stands like an armed man in the light.
Down Eshtaol’s vales of ripened grain
Falls like a cloud the night amain,
And up the hillsides climbing slow
The barley reapers homeward go.
Look, dearest! how our fair child’s head
The sunset light hath hallowed,
Where at this olive’s foot he lies,
Uplooking to the tranquil skies.
Oh, while beneath the fervent heat
Thy sickle swept the bearded wheat,
I’ve watched, with mingled joy and dread,
Our child upon his grassy bed.
Joy, which the mother feels alone
Whose morning hope like mine had flown,
When to her bosom, over-blessed,
A dearer life than hers is pressed.
Dread, for the future dark and still,
Which shapes our dear one to its will;
Forever in his large calm eyes,
I read a tale of sacrifice.
The same foreboding awe I felt
When at the altar’s side we knelt,
And he, who as a pilgrim came,
Rose, winged and glorious, through the flame.
I slept not, though the wild bees made
A dreamlike murmuring in the shade,
And on me the warm-fingered hours
Pressed with the drowsy smell of flowers.
Before me, in a vision, rose
The hosts of Israel’s scornful foes,–
Rank over rank, helm, shield, and spear,
Glittered in noon’s hot atmosphere.
I heard their boast, and bitter word,
Their mockery of the Hebrew’s Lord,
I saw their hands His ark assail,
Their feet profane His holy veil.
No angel down the blue space spoke,
No thunder from the still sky broke;
But in their midst, in power and awe,
Like God’s waked wrath, our child I saw!
A child no more!–harsh-browed and strong,
He towered a giant in the throng,
And down his shoulders, broad and bare,
Swept the black terror of his hair.
He raised his arm–he smote amain;
As round the reaper falls the grain,
So the dark host around him fell,
So sank the foes of Israel!
Again I looked. In sunlight shone
The towers and domes of Askelon;
Priest, warrior, slave, a mighty crowd
Within her idol temple bowed.
Yet one knelt not; stark, gaunt, and blind,
His arms the massive pillars twined,–
An eyeless captive, strong with hate,
He stood there like an evil Fate.
The red shrines smoked,–the trumpets pealed
He stooped,–the giant columns reeled;
Reeled tower and fane, sank arch and wall,
And the thick dust-cloud closed o’er all!
Above the shriek, the crash, the groan
Of the fallen pride of Askelon,
I heard, sheer down the echoing sky,
A voice as of an angel cry,–
The voice of him, who at our side
Sat through the golden eventide;
Of him who, on thy altar’s blaze,
Rose fire-winged, with his song of praise.
“Rejoice o’er Israel’s broken chain,
Gray mother of the mighty slain!
Rejoice!” it cried, “he vanquisheth!
The strong in life is strong in death!
“To him shall Zorah’s daughters raise
Through coming years their hymns of praise,
And gray old men at evening tell
Of all he wrought for Israel.
“And they who sing and they who hear
Alike shall hold thy memory dear,
And pour their blessings on thy head,
O mother of the mighty dead!”
It ceased; and though a sound I heard
As if great wings the still air stirred,
I only saw the barley sheaves
And hills half hid by olive leaves.
I bowed my face, in awe and fear,
On the dear child who slumbered near;
“With me, as with my only son,
O God,” I said, “Thy will be done!”