Said Abner, "At last thou art come! Ere I tell, ere
Kiss my cheek, wish me well!" Then I wished it, and did
kiss his cheek.
And he, "Since the King, O my friend, for thy countenance
Neither drunken nor eaten have we; nor until from his tent
Thou return with the joyful assurance the King liveth yet,
Shall our lip with the honey be bright, with the water be
For out of the black mid-tent's silence, a space of three
Not a sound hath escaped to thy servants, of prayer nor of
To betoken that Saul and the Spirit have ended their strife,
And that, faint in his triumph, the monarch sinks back upon
"Yet now my heart leaps, O beloved! God's child with
On thy gracious gold hair, and those lilies still living and
Just broken to twine round thy harp-strings, as if no wild
Were now raging to torture the desert!"
Then I, as was meet,
Knelt down to the God of my fathers, and rose on my feet,
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 on the slippery grass-patch, all withered
That extends to the second enclosure. I groped my way on
Till I felt where the foldskirts fly open. Then once more
And opened the foldskirts and entered, and was not afraid
But spoke, "Here is David, thy servant!" And no
At the first I saw naught but the blackness; 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
Grew a figure against it, gigantic and blackest of all.
Then a sunbeam, that burst thro' the tent roof, showed Saul.
He stood erect as that tent-prop, both arms stretched out
On the great cross-support in the centre, that goes to each
He relaxed not a muscle, but hung there as, caught in his
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, drear and stark,
blind and dumb.
Then I tuned my harp,--took off the lilies we twine round
Lest they snap 'neath the stress of the noontide--those sunbeams
And I first played the tune all our sheep know, as, one after
So docile they come to the pen-door till folding be done.
They are white and untorn by the bushes, for lo, they have
Where the long grasses stifle the water within the stream's
And now one after one seeks its lodging, as star follows star
Into eve and the blue far above us,--so, blue and so far!
--Then the tune, for which quails on the cornland will each
leave his mate
To fly after the player; then, what makes the crickets elate
Till for boldness they fight one another: and then, what has
To set the quick jerboa a-musing outside his sand house--
There are none such as he for a wonder, half bird and half
God made all the creatures and gave them our love and our
To give sign, we and they are his children, one family here.
Then I played the help-tune of our reapers, their wine-song,
Grasps at hand, eye lights eye in good friendship, and great
And grow one in the sense of this world's life.--And then,
the last song
When the dead man is praised on his journey--"Bear, bear
With his few faults shut up like dead flowerets!" Are
balm-seeds not here
To console us? The land has none left such as he on the bier.
"Oh, would we might keep thee, my brother!"--And
then, the glad chaunt
Of the marriage,--first go the young maidens, next, she whom
As the beauty, the pride of our dwelling.--And then, the great
Wherein man runs to man to assist him 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.
But I stopped here: for here in the darkness Saul groaned.
And I paused, held my breath in such silence, and listened
And the tent shook, for mighty Saul shuddered: and sparkles
From the jewels that woke in his turban, at once with a start,
All its lordly male-sapphires, and rubies courageous at heart.
So the head: but the body still moved not, still hung there
And I bent once again to my playing, pursued it unchecked,
As I sang,--
"Oh, our manhood's prime vigor! No spirit feels waste,
Not a muscle is stopped in its playing nor sinew unbraced.
Oh, the wild joys of living! the leaping from rock up to rock,
The strong rending of boughs from the fir-tree, the cool silver
Of the plunge in a pool's living water, the hunt of the bear,
And the sultriness showing the lion is couched in his lair.
And the meal, the rich dates yellowed over with gold-dust
And the locust-flesh steeped in the pitcher, the full draught
And the sleep in the dried river-channel where bulrushes tell
That the water was wont to go warbling so softly and well.
How good is man's life, the mere living! how fit to employ
All the heart and the soul and the senses for ever in joy!
Hast thou loved the white locks of thy father, whose sword
thou didst guard
When he trusted thee forth with the armies, for glorious reward?
Didst thou see the thin hands of thy mother, held up as men
The low song of the nearly departed, and hear her faint tongue
Joining in while it could to the witness, 'Let one more attest,
I have lived, seen God's hand thro' a lifetime, and all was
Then they sung thro' their tears in strong triumph, not much,
but the rest.
And thy brothers, the help and the contest, the working whence
Such result as, from seething grape-bundles, the spirit strained
And the friends of thy boyhood--that boyhood of wonder and
Present promise and wealth of the future beyond the eye's
Till lo, thou art grown to a monarch; a people is thine:
And all gifts which the world offers singly, on one head combine!
On one head, all the beauty and strength, love and rage (like
That, a-work in the rock, helps its labour and lets the gold
High ambition and deeds which surpass it, fame crowning them,--all
Brought to blaze on the head of one creature--King Saul!"
And lo, with that leap of my spirit,--heart, hand, harp,
Each lifting Saul's name out of sorrow, each bidding rejoice
Saul's fame in the light it was made for----as when, dare
The Lord's army, in rapture of service, strains thro' its
And upsoareth the cherubim-chariot--"Saul!" cried
I, and stopped,
And waited the thing that should follow. Then Saul, who hung
By the tent's cross-support in the centre, was struck by his
Have ye seen when Spring's arrowy summons goes right to the
And some mountain, the last to withstand her, that held (he
While the vale laughed in freedom and flowers) on a broad
bust of stone
A year's snow bound about for a breastplate,--leaves grasp
of the sheet?
Fold on fold all at once it crowds thunderously down to his
And there fronts you, stark, black, but alive yet, your mountain
With his rents, the successive bequeathings of ages untold:
Yea, each harm got in fighting your battles, each furrow and
Of his head thrust 'twixt you and the tempest--all hail, there
--Now again to be softened with verdure, again hold the nest
Of the dove, tempt the goat and its young to the green on
For their food in the ardours of summer. One long shudder
All the tent till the very air tingled, then sank and was
At the King's self left standing before me, released and aware.
What was gone, what remained? All to traverse 'twixt hope
Death was past, life not come; so he waited. Awhile his right
Held the brow, helped the eyes left too vacant, forthwith
To their place what new objects should enter: 'twas Saul as
I looked up, and dared gaze at those eyes, nor was hurt any
Than by slow pallid sunsets in autumn, ye watch from the shore,
At their sad level gaze o'er the ocean--a sun's slow decline
Over hills which, resolved in stern silence, o'erlap and entwine
Base with base to knit strength more intensely: so, arm folded
O'er the chest whose slow heavings subsided.
What spell or what charm,
(For, awhile there was trouble within me) what next should
To sustain him where song had restored, him? Song filled to
His cup with the wine of this life, pressing all that it yields
Of mere fruitage, the strength and the beauty: beyond, on
Glean a vintage more potent and perfect to brighten the eye,
And bring blood to the lip, and commend them the cup they
He saith, "It is good:" still he drinks not: he
lets me praise life,
Gives assent, yet would die for his own part.
Then fancies grew rife
Which had come long ago on the pasture, when round me the
Fed in silence--above, the one eagle wheeled slow as in sleep;
And I lay in my hollow and mused on the world that might lie
'Neath his ken, tho' I saw but the strip 'twixt the hill and
And I laughed--"Since my days are ordained to be passed
with my flocks,
Let me people at least, with my fancies, the plains and the
Dream the life I am never to mix with, and image the show
Of mankind as they live in those fashions I hardly shall know!
Schemes of life, its best rules and right uses, the courage
And the prudence that keeps what men strive for!" And
now these old trains
Of vague thought came again; I grew surer; so, once more the
Of my harp made response to my spirit, as thus--
"Yea, my King,"
I began--"thou dost well in rejecting mere comforts that
From the mere mortal life held in common by man and by brute:
In our flesh grows the branch of this life, in our soul it
Thou hast marked the slow rise of the tree,--how its stem
Till it passed the kid's lip, the stag's antler; then safely
The fan-branches all round; and thou mindest when these too,
Broke a-bloom and the palm-tree seemed perfect: yet more was
E'en the good that comes in with the palm-fruit. Our dates
shall we slight,
When their juice brings a cure for all sorrow? or care for
Of the palm's self whose slow growth produced them? Not so!
stem and branch.
Shall decay, nor be known in their place, while the palm-wine
Every wound of man's spirit in winter. I pour thee such wine.
Leave the flesh to the fate it was fit for! the spirit be
By the spirit, when age shall o'ercome thee, thou still shalt
More indeed, than at first when, inconscious, the life of
Crush that life, and behold its wine running! Each deed thou
Dies, revives, goes to work in the world; until e'en as the
Looking down on the earth, tho' clouds spoil him, tho' tempests
Can find nothing his own deed produced not, must everywhere
The results of his past summer-prime,--so, each ray of thy
Every flash of thy passion and prowess, long over, shall thrill
Thy whole people, the countless, with ardour, till they too
A like cheer to their sons: who in turn, fill the South and
With the radiance thy deed was the germ of. Carouse in the
But the license of age has its limit; thou diest at last.
As the lion, when age dims his eyeball, the rose at her height,
So with man--so his power and his beauty forever take flight.
No! Again a long draught of my soul-wine! Look forth o'er
Thou hast done now with eyes for the actual; begin with the
Is Saul dead? In the depth of the vale make his tomb--bid
A gray mountain of marble heaped four-square, till, built
to the skies,
Let it mark where the great First King slumbers: whose fame
would ye know?
Up above see the rock's naked face, where the record shall
In great characters cut by the scribe,--Such was Saul, so
With the sages directing the work, by the populace chid,--
For not half, they'll affirm, is comprised there! Which fault
In the grove with his kind grows the cedar, whereon they shall
(See, in tablets 'tis level before them) their praise, and
With the gold of the graver, Saul's story,--the statesman's
Side by side with the poet's sweet comment. The river's a-wave
With smooth paper-reeds grazing each other when prophet-winds
So the pen gives unborn generations their due and their part
In thy being! Then, first of the mighty, thank God that thou
And behold while I sang ... but O Thou who didst grant me
And before it not seldom had granted Thy help to essay.
Carry on and complete an adventure,--my shield and my sword
In that act where my soul was Thy servant, Thy word was my
Still be with me, who then at the summit of human endeavour
And scaling the highest, man's thought could, gazed hopeless
On the new stretch of heaven above me--till, mighty to save,
Just one lift of Thy hand cleared that distance--God's throne
from man's grave!
Let me tell out my tale to its ending--my voice to my heart
Which can scarce dare believe in what marvels last night I
As this morning I gather the fragments, alone with my sheep,
And still fear lest the terrible glory evanish like sleep!
For I wake in the gray dewy covert, while Hebron, upheaves
The dawn struggling with night on his shoulder, and Kidron
Slow the damage of yesterday's sunshine.
I say then,--my song
While I sang thus, assuring the monarch, and, ever more strong,
Made a proffer of good to console him--he slowly resumed.
His old motions and habitudes kingly. The right hand replumed
His black locks to their wonted composure, adjusted the swathes
Of his turban, and see--the huge sweat that his countenance
He wipes off with the robe; and he girds now his loins as
And feels slow for the armlets of price, with the clasp set
He is Saul, ye remember in glory,--ere error had bent
The broad brow from the daily communion; and still, tho' much
Be the life and bearing that front you, the same, God did
To receive what a man may waste, desecrate, never quite lose.
So sank he along by the tent-prop, till, stayed by the pile
Of his armour and war-cloak and garments, he leaned there
And sat out my singing,--one arm round the tent-prop, to raise
His bent head, and the other hung slack--till I touched on
I foresaw from all men in all time, to the man patient there;
And thus ended, the harp falling forward. Then first I was
That he sat, as I say, with my head just above his vast knees
Which were thrust out each side around me, like oak roots
To encircle a lamb when it slumbers. I looked up to know
If the best I could do had brought solace: he spoke not, but
Lifted up the hand slack at his side, till he laid it with
Soft and grave, but in mild settled will, on my brow: thro'
The large fingers were pushed, and he bent back my head, with
All my face back, intent to peruse it, as men do a flower.
Thus held he me there with his great eyes that scrutinized
And oh, all my heart how it loved him! but where was the sign?
I yearned--"Could I help thee, my father, inventing a
I would add, to that life of the past, both the future and
I would give thee new life altogether, as good, ages hence.
As this moment,--had love but the warrant, love's heart to
Then the truth came upon me. No harp more--no song more!
"I have gone the whole round of creation: I saw and
I, a work of God's hand for that purpose, received in my brain
And pronounced on the rest of his handwork--returned him again
His creation's approval or censure: I spoke as I saw,
Reported, as man may of God's work--all's love, yet all's
Now I lay down the judgeship he lent me. Each faculty tasked
To perceive him has gained an abyss, where a dewdrop was asked.
Have I knowledge? confounded it shrivels at Wisdom laid bare.
Have I forethought? how purblind, how blank, to the Infinite
Do I task any faculty highest, to image success?
I but open my eyes,--and perfection, no more and no less,
In the kind I imagined, full-fronts me, and God is seen God
In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the
And thus looking within and around me, I ever renew
(With that stoop of the soul which in bending upraises it
The submission of man's nothing-perfect to God's all complete,
As by each new obeisance in spirit, I climb to His feet.
Yet with all this abounding experience, this deity known,
I shall dare to discover some province, some gift of my own,
There's a faculty pleasant to exercise, hard to hoodwink,
I am fain to keep still in abeyance (I laugh as I think),
Lest, insisting to claim and parade in it, wot ye, I worst
E'en the Giver in one gift.--Behold, I could love if I durst!
But I sink the pretension as fearing a man may o'ertake
God's own speed in the one way of love; I abstain for love's
--What, my soul? see thus far and no farther? when doors great
Nine-and-ninety flew ope at our touch; should the hundredth
In the least things have faith, yet distrust in the greatest
Do I find love so full in my nature, God's ultimate gift,
That I doubt His own love can compete with it? Here, the parts
Here, the creature surpass the creator,--the end, what began?
Would I fain in my impotent yearning do all for this man,
And dare doubt He alone shall not help him, who yet alone
Would it ever have entered my mind, the bare will, much less
To bestow on this Saul what I sang of, the marvellous dower
Of the life he was gifted and filled with? to make such a
Such a body, and then such an earth for insphering the whole?
And doth it not enter my mind (as my warm tears attest),
These good things being given, to go on, and give one more,
Ay, to save and redeem and restore him, maintain at the height
This perfection,--succeed with life's dayspring, death's minute
Interpose at the difficult minute, snatch Saul the mistake,
Saul the failure, the ruin he seems now,--and bid him awake
From the dream, the probation, the prelude, to find himself
Clear and safe in new light and new life,--a new harmony yet
To be run and continued, and ended--who knows?--or endure!
The man taught enough by life's dream, of the rest to make
By the pain-throb, triumphantly winning intensified bliss,
And the next world's reward and repose, by the struggles in
"I believe it! 'Tis Thou, God, that givest, 'tis I who
In the first is the last, in Thy will is my power to believe.
All's one gift: Thou canst grant it, moreover, as prompt to
As I breathe out this breath, as I open these arms to the
From Thy will stream the worlds, life and nature, Thy dread
_I_ will?--the mere atoms despise me! Why am I not loath
To look that, even that in the face too? Why is it I dare
Think but lightly of such impuissance? What stops my despair?
This;--'tis not what man Does which exalts him, but what man
See the King--I would help him, but cannot, the wishes fall
Could I wrestle to raise him from sorrow, grow poor to enrich,
To fill up his life, starve my own out, I would--knowing which,
I know that my service is perfect. Oh, speak thro' me now!
Would I suffer for him that I love? So wouldst Thou--so wilt
So shall crown Thee the topmost, ineffablest, uttermost crown--
And Thy love fill infinitude wholly, nor leave up nor down
One spot for the creature to stand in! It is by no breath,
Turn of eye, wave of hand, that salvation joins issue with
As Thy love is discovered almighty, almighty be proved
Thy power, that exists with and for it, of being Beloved!
He who did most, shall bear most; the strongest shall stand
the most weak,
'Tis the weakness in strength, that I cry for! my flesh, that
In the Godhead! I seek and I find it, O Saul, it shall be
A Face like my face that receives thee: a Man like to me,
Thou shalt love and be loved by, forever: a Hand like this
Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee! See the Christ
I know not too well how I found my way home in the night.
There were witnesses, cohorts about me, to left and to right,
Angels, powers, the unuttered, unseen, the alive, the aware:
I repressed, I got thro' them as hardly, as stragglingly there,
As a runner beset by the populace famished for news--
Life or death. The whole earth was awakened, hell loosed with
And the stars of night beat with emotion, and tingled and
Out in fire the strong pain of pent knowledge: but I fainted
For the Hand still impelled me at once and supported, suppressed
All the tumult, and quenched it with quiet, and holy behest,
Till the rapture was shut in itself, and the earth sank to
Anon at the dawn, all that trouble had withered from earth--
Not so much, but I saw it die out in the day's tender birth;
In the gathered intensity brought to the gray of the hills;
In the shuddering forests' held breath; in the sudden wind-thrills;
In the startled wild beasts that bore off, each with eye sidling
Though averted with wonder and dread; in the birds stiff and
That rose heavily, as I approached them, made stupid with
E'en the serpent that slid away silent--he felt the new law.
The same stared in the white humid faces upturned by the flowers;
The same worked in the heart of the cedar and moved the vine-bowers;
And the little brooks witnessing murmured, persistent and
With their obstinate, all but hushed voices--"E'en so,
it is so!"