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Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, we raised not a stone,
But we left him alome with his glory.
HELPS TO STUDY Charles Wolfe, a British clergyman, was born at Dublin, December 14, 1791, and died at Cork, February 21, 1823. His poem, “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” is the only one of his works now widely read.
Historical: Sir John Moore, an English general, was killed (January 16, 1809) in an engagement between the English and the army of Napoleon at Corunna, in Spain. In accordance with an expressed wish, he was buried at night on the battlefield. In St. Paul's Cathedral, London, a monument was erected to his memory, and a stone also marks the spot where he was buried on the ramparts, at Corunna. Note that it was from this port that the Spanish Armada sailed.
The 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 attitudes 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 rest,
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 he 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 an empty 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
Sunk to the still proportions, they betrayed
The matchless symmetry of Absalom.
His 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 fingers of Judea's daughters.
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 shouldst die!
Thou, who wert made so beautifully fair!
That death should settle in thy glorious eve.
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 I was 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 !
"But death is on 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
"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 hee
May God have called thee, like a wanderer, home,
My lost bov, 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.
Nathaniel Parker Willis was born in Maine in 1806.
He was a graduate of Yale and was an early contributor to various periodicals, including the “Youths' Companion,” which magazine had been founded by his father. The selection bere given is regarded as the poet's masterpiece.
Historical: Absalom, the son of David, King of Israel, rebelled against his father. David sent his army to put down the rebellion, but said to his captains, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom." In spite of this entreaty, Absalom was slain by Joab, a captain in David's army. The first forty-one lines relate to events preceding the battle, the remainder to events following the battle. Read 2 Samuel XVIII.
“melting tenderness” 'fashioned for a happier world's “lifting winds", “mantling blush” straightened for the grave" “estranged” "breathing sleep” “ resistless eloquence" <bruised reed” "still proportions'' “Whose diamonds lit the passage of his blade'