David's Lament For Absalom

By N.P. Willis

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—where bitter thoughts
Come crowding thickly up for utterance,
And the poor common words of courtesy,—
Are such a 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 prayed,
In agony that would not be controll’d,
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 their still proportions, they betrayed
The matchless symmetry of Absalom,
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 the 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 were 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 those 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
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.

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