Verse > Phillis Wheatley > Poems on Various Subjects
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Phillis Wheatley (1753–1784).  Poems on Various Subjects.  1773.
 
Goliath of Gath
 
1 SAM. Chap. xvii.

YE martial pow’rs, and all ye tuneful nine,
Inspire my song, and aid my high design.
The dreadful scenes and toils of war I write,
The ardent warriors, and the fields of fight:
You best remember, and you best can sing        5
The acts of heroes to the vocal string:
Resume the lays with which your sacred lyre,
Did then the poet and the sage inspire.
 
  Now front to front the armies were display’d,
Here Israel rang’d, and there the foes array’d;        10
The hosts on two opposing mountains stood,
Thick as the foliage of the waving wood;
Between them an extensive valley lay,
O’er which the gleaming armour pour’d the day,
When from the camp of the Philistine foes,        15
Dreadful to view, a mighty warrior rose;
In the dire deeds of bleeding battle skill’d,
The monster stalks the terror of the field.
From Gath he sprung, Goliath was his name,
Of fierce deportment, and gigantic frame:        20
A brazen helmet on his head was plac’d,
A coat of mail his form terrific grac’d,
The greaves his legs, the targe his shoulders prest:
Dreadful in arms high-tow’ring o’er the rest
A spear he proudly wav’d, whose iron head,        25
Strange to relate, six hundred shekels weigh’d;
He strode along, and shook the ample field,
While Phœbus blaz’d refulgent on his shield:
Through Jacob’s race a chilling horror ran,
When thus the huge, enormous chief began:        30
 
  “Say, what the cause that in this proud array
You set your battle in the face of day?
One hero find in all your vaunting train,
Then see who loses, and who wins the plain;
For he who wins, in triumph may demand        35
Perpetual service from the vanquish’d land:
Your armies I defy, your force despise,
By far inferior in Philistia’s eyes:
Produce a man, and let us try the fight,
Decide the contest, and the victor’s right.”        40
 
  Thus challeng’d he: all Israel stood amaz’d,
And ev’ry chief in consternation gaz’d;
But Jesse’s son in youthful bloom appears,
And warlike courage far beyond his years:
He left the folds, he left the flow’ry meads,        45
And soft recesses of the sylvan shades.
Now Israel’s monarch, and his troops arise,
With peals of shouts ascending to the skies;
In Elah’s vale the scene of combat lies.
 
  When the fair morning blush’d with orient red,        50
What David’s fire enjoin’d the son obey’d,
And swift of foot towards the trench he came,
Where glow’d each bosom with the martial flame.
He leaves his carriage to another’s care,
And runs to greet his brethren of the war.        55
While yet they spake the giant-chief arose,
Repeats the challenge, and insults his foes:
Struck with the sound, and trembling at the view,
Affrighted Israel from its post withdrew.
“Observe ye this tremendous foe, they cry’d,        60
Who in proud vaunts our armies hath defy’d:
Whoever lays him prostrate on the plain,
Freedom in Israel for his house shall gain;
And on him wealth unknown the king will pour,
And give his royal daughter for his dow’r.”        65
 
  Then Jesse’s youngest hope: “My brethren say,
What shall be done for him who takes away
Reproach from Jacob, who destroys the chief,
And puts a period to his country’s grief.
He vaunts the honours of his arms abroad,        70
And scorns the armies of the living God.”
 
  Thus spoke the youth, th’ attentive people ey’d
The wond’rous hero, and again reply’d:
“Such the rewards our monarch will bestow,
On him who conquers, and destroys his foe.”        75
 
  Eliab heard, and kindled into ire
To hear his shepherd-brother thus inquire,
And thus begun? “What errand brought thee? say
Who keeps thy flock? or does it go astray?
I know the base ambition of thine heart,        80
But back in safety from the field depart.”
 
  Eliab thus to Jesse’s youngest heir,
Express’d his wrath in accents most severe.
When to his brother mildly he reply’d,
“What have I done? or what the cause to chide?”        85
 
  The words were told before the king, who sent
For the young hero to his royal tent:
Before the monarch dauntless he began,
“For this Philistine fail no heart of man:
I’ll take the vale, and with the giant fight:        90
I dread not all his boasts, nor all his might.”
When thus the king: “Dar’st thou a stripling go,
And venture combat with so great a foe?
Who all his days has been inur’d to fight,
And made its deeds his study and delight:        95
Battles and bloodshed brought the monster forth,
And clouds and whirlwinds usher’d in his birth.”
When David thus: “I kept the fleecy care,
And out there rush’d a lion and a bear;
A tender lamb the hungry lion took,        100
And with no other weapon than my crook
Bold I pursu’d, and chas’d him o’er the field,
The prey deliver’d, and the felon kill’d:
As thus the lion and the bear I slew,
So shall Goliath fall, and all his crew:        105
The God, who sav’d me from these beasts of prey,
By me this monster in the dust shall lay.”
So David spoke. The wond’ring king reply’d;
“Go thou with heav’n and victory on thy side:
This coat of mail, this sword gird on,” he said,        110
And plac’d a mighty helmet on his head:
The coat, the sword, the helm he laid aside,
Nor chose to venture with those arms untry’d,
Then took his staff, and to the neighb’ring brook
Instant he ran, and thence five pebbles took.        115
Mean time descended to Philistia’s son
A radiant cherub, and he thus begun:
“Goliath, well thou know’st thou hast defy’d
Yon Hebrew armies, and their God deny’d:
Rebellious wretch! audacious worm! forbear,        120
Nor tempt the vengeance of their God too far:
Them, who with his omnipotence contend,
No eye shall pity, and no arm defend:
Proud as thou art, in short liv’d glory great,
I come to tell thee thine approaching fate.        125
Regard my words. The judge of all the gods,
Beneath whose steps the tow’ring mountain nods,
Will give thine armies to the savage brood,
That cut the liquid air, or range the wood.
Thee too a well-aim’d pebble shall destroy,        130
And thou shalt perish by a beardless boy:
Such is the mandate from the realms above,
And should I try the vengeance to remove,
Myself a rebel to my king would prove.
Goliath say, shall grace to him be shown,        135
Who dares heav’ns monarch, and insults his throne?”
 
  “Your words are lost on me,” the giant cries,
While fear and wrath contended in his eyes,
When thus the messenger from heav’n replies:
“Provoke no more Jehovah’s awful hand        140
To hurl its vengeance on thy guilty land:
He grasps the thunder, and, he wings the storm,
Servants their sov’reign’s orders to perform.”
 
  The angel spoke, and turn’d his eyes away,
Adding new radiance to the rising day.        145
 
  Now David comes: the fatal stones demand
His left, the staff engag’d his better hand:
The giant mov’d, and from his tow’ring height
Survey’d the stripling, and disdain’d the fight,
And thus began: “Am I a dog with thee?        150
Bring’st thou no armour, but a staff to me?
The gods on thee their vollied curses pour,
And beasts and birds of prey thy flesh devour.”
 
  David undaunted thus, “Thy spear and shield
Shall no protection to thy body yield:        155
Jehovah’s name——no other arms I bear,
I ask no other in this glorious war.
To-day the Lord of Hosts to me will give
Vict’ry, to-day thy doom thou shalt receive;
The fate you threaten shall your own become,        160
And beasts shall be your animated tomb,
That all the earth’s inhabitants may know
That there’s a God, who governs all below:
This great assembly too shall witness stand,
That needs nor sword, nor spear, th’ Almighty’s hand:        165
The battle his, the conquest he bestows,
And to our pow’r consigns our hated foes.”
 
  Thus David spoke; Goliath heard and came
To meet the hero in the field of fame.
Ah! fatal meeting to thy troops and thee,        170
But thou wast deaf to the divine decree;
Young David meets thee, meets thee not in vain;
’Tis thine to perish on th’ ensanguin’d plain.
 
  And now the youth the forceful pebble flung,
Philistia trembled as it whizz’d along:        175
In his dread forehead, where the helmet ends,
Just o’er the brows the well-aim’d stone descends,
It pierc’d the skull, and shatter’d all the brain,
Prone on his face he tumbled to the plain:
Goliath’s fall no smaller terror yields        180
Than riving thunders in aerial fields:
The soul still ling’red in its lov’d abode,
Till conq’ring David o’er the giant strode:
Goliath’s sword then laid its master dead,
And from the body hew’d the ghastly head;        185
The blood in gushing torrents drench’d the plains,
The soul found passage through the spouting veins.
 
  And now aloud th’ illustrious victor said,
“Where are your boastings now your champion’s dead?”
Scarce had he spoke, when the Philistines fled:        190
But fled in vain; the conqu’ror swift pursu’d:
What scenes of slaughter! and what seas of blood!
There Saul thy thousands grasp’d th’ impurpled sand
In pangs of death the conquest of thine hand;
And David there were thy ten thousands laid:        195
Thus Israel’s damsels musically play’d.
 
  Near Gath and Ekron many an hero lay,
Breath’d out their souls, and curs’d the light of day:
Their fury, quench’d by death, no longer burns,
And David with Goliath’s head returns,        200
To Salem brought, but in his tent he plac’d
The load of armour which the giant grac’d.
His monarch saw him coming from the war,
And thus demanded of the son of Ner.
“Say, who is this amazing youth?” he cry’d,        205
When thus the leader of the host reply’d;
“As lives thy soul I know not whence he sprung,
So great in prowess though in years so young:”
“Inquire whose son is he,” the sov’reign said,
“Before whose conq’ring arm Philistia fled.”        210
Before the king behold the stripling stand,
Goliath’s head depending from his hand:
To him the king: “Say of what martial line
“Art thou, young hero, and what sire was thine?”
He humbly thus; “The son of Jesse I:        215
“I came the glories of the field to try.
Small is my tribe, but valiant in the fight;
Small is my city, but thy royal right.”
“Then take the promis’d gifts,” the monarch cry’d,
Conferring riches and the royal bride:        220
“Knit to my soul for ever thou remain
With me, nor quit my regal roof again.”
 
 
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