Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Royal Penitent, Part II
By Sarah Porter
 
DEATH’S 1 angel now, commission’d by the Lord,
O’er the fond infant holds the fatal sword;
From the dread sight the frantic father turns,
And, clad in sackcloth, in his chamber mourns;
The monitor, within the royal breast,        5
That long had slept, now roused at length from rest,
Holds forth a mirror to the aching sight,
Seizes the mind that fain would take its flight—
Bids it look in:—and first, Uriah stood,
Arm’d for the fight, as yet unstain’d with blood;        10
Courage and care were on his brow combined,
To show the hero and the patriot join’d:—
Next, pale and lifeless, on his warlike shield,
The soldiers bore him from the bloody field.
“And is it thus? (the Royal mourner said)        15
“And has my hand perform’d the dreadful deed?
Was I the wretch that gave thee to the foe,
And bade thee sink beneath the impending blow?
Bade every friend and hero leave thy side?—
Open, O earth! and in thy bosom hide        20
A guilty wretch who wishes not to live;
Who cannot, dares not, ask for a reprieve;
So black a crime just Heaven will not forgive!
Justice arrests thy coming mercy, Lord—
Strike then, O strike, unsheath thy dreadful sword:        25
Accursed forever be the hated day,
That led my soul from innocence astray;
O may the stars, on that detested hour,
Shed all their influence with malignant power,
Darkness and sorrows jointly hold their reign,        30
When time, revolving, brings it round again.
Ye injured ghosts, break from the silent tomb,
In all the fearful pomp of horror come,
Breathe out your woes, and hail the dreadful gloom.
Why does not injured Israel now arise,        35
Proclaim my madness to the avenging skies,
Hurl quick the sceptre from my bloody hand,
While marks of infamy my forehead brand?
No time shall e’er the dreadful act conceal—
No tongue shall fail its horrors to reveal—        40
Eternity, upon its strongest wing,
Shall bear the deeds whence all my sorrows spring.
Unhappy man!—ah! whither shall I turn?
Like Cain, accurst, must I for ever mourn?
On beds of silk in vain I seek repose—        45
Uriah’s shade forbids my eyes to close;
No bars exclude him—to no place confined,
Eager he still pursues my flying mind:
Not all the crowd that bow at my approach,
Nor guards that thicken round the gilded couch,        50
Can with their arms, or martial air, affright,
Or drive the phantom from my wearied sight.
Whene’er I view the diamond’s varied rays,
That grace my robes, or on my sceptre blaze,
Uriah still, reflected from the stone,        55
Points at his wounds, and shows me what I ’ve done.
Could all the gold that lies on India’s coast,
Could all the gems its num’rous quarries boast,
Bribe peace a moment to this aching heart,
How freely with the glitt’ring store I ’d part.        60
Black, heavy thoughts, ah! what a num’rous train!
I feel your stings unpitied, yet complain.
Thou gallant hero, say, where art thou now?
Gone, gone for ever! sunk beneath my blow!—
Of my uplifted arm, my dire command,        65
Fell Ammon’s sword was wielded by my hand!
When the fierce battle glow’d with hottest rage,
Where all the mighty, arm to arm engage,
Where frightful death his various forms put on,
You met the terror of his dreadful frown.—        70
As some huge tree, whose tow’ring threats the sky,
While deep in earth its roots embosom’d lie,
Mocks at the warring winds, and proudly dares
The tempest’s force, nor once destruction fears:
So, unappall’d, the glorious leader stood,        75
Though torn with wounds, and cover’d o’er with blood;
O’er hills of slaughter’d foes he makes his way—
His sword, from Ammon, gain’d the doubtful day:
Yet, while aloft the Hebrew standard flies,
And vict’ry shouts to echoing earth and skies,        80
The lifeless hero, stretch’d upon the shield,
With countless wounds is borne from off the field.
Once, how he shone amidst the gazing throng,
Who praised his courage as he pass’d along!
On thy firm brow, what beaming splendor shone!        85
By thy bold arm, how strengthen’d was my throne!
And shall thy murd’rer crown thy head with bays,
And dare thy godlike virtues thus to praise?
From cruel fate, ah! whither shall I run?—
Capricious lust!—thou hast my soul undone!        90
Drawn on by impious passion, I pursued
The flying fair, and oft my suit renew’d;
The humble suppliant, and the haughty lord,
By turns put on, no ray of hope afford;—
She heard at length, but with an obdurate ear—        95
And still Uriah draws the pitying tear.
O happy day! when, blest with Eglah’s charms,
I woo’d no other beauty to my arms;
No court’s licentious joys did then molest
My peaceful mind, nor haunt my tranquil breast.        100
A glitt’ring crown! thou poor, fantastic thing!
What solid satisfaction canst thou bring?—
Once, far removed from all the toils of state,
In groves I slept—no guards around me wait:
Oh! how delicious was the calm retreat!—        105
Sweet groves! with birds and various flowers stored,
Where nature furnish’d out my frugal board;
The pure, unstained spring, my thirst allay’d;
No poison’d draught, in golden cups convey’d,
Was there to dread.—Return, ye happy hours,        110
Ye verdant shades, kind nature’s pleasing bowers—
Inglorious solitude, again return,
And heal the breast with pain and anguish torn.
  Oh! sweet content! unknown to pomp and kings,
The humble rest beneath thy downy wings;        115
The lowly cottage is thy loved retreat—
In vain, thou ’rt courted by the rich and great—
In vain, the miser seeks thee in his gold—
In vain, each day the glitt’ring store is told;
Thou art not there: in vain the ambitious sigh,        120
And seek the joys that still before them fly:
The merchant’s ship all treasures brings but thee—
You from his anxious bosom ever flee:
For thee, the sailor tempts the boist’rous main,
And hopes to find thee in his dear-bought gain:        125
For thee, the hero mounts his iron car,
And hopes to find thee when return’d from war.
Their hopes are vain.—Who wish with thee to dwell,
Must seek the rural shade, or lonely cell:
The Gods themselves delight in verdant groves,        130
And shield from harm the innocence they love.—
Witness, the day, my youthful arm withstood
The foaming bear:—the monarch of the wood,
With open jaws appear’d, and crested mien,
But in a moment by my hand was slain:        135
Safe from their teeth I snatch’d the destined prey,
And bore it harmless in my arms away.—
Witness, the day, Gath’s lordly champion came,
With haughty strides, and cursed Jehovah’s name;
Though in my hand nor sword nor spear were found,        140
This vast unwieldly bulk lay stretch’d upon the ground.
Beloved by Heaven, nought had I then to fear—
Twice I escaped from Saul’s emitted spear,
By malice thrown; and, free from danger, stand,
Hid in the hollow of th’ Almighty’s hand;—        145
His darling then I was; who, mighty God!
Sink now beneath the terrors of thy rod.
Dispel those thick, dark clouds, this boist’rous wind,
That tears the soul, and harrows up the mind;
Oh! let thy mercy, like the solar ray,        150
Break forth and drive these dismal clouds away;
Oh! send its kind enliv’ning warmth on one,
Who sinks, who dies, beneath thy dreadful frown:
Thus fares the wretch at sea, by tempests tost—
Sands, hurricanes, and rocks, proclaim him lost;        155
With eager eyes he views the peaceful shore,
And longs to rest where billows cease to roar:—
Of wanton winds and waves I ’ve been the sport—
Oh! when shall I attain the wish’d for port?
Or might I bear the punishment alone,        160
Nor hear the lovely infant’s piteous moan;—
My sins upon the dying child impress’d,
The dreadful thought forbids my soul to rest.
In mercy, Lord, thy humble suppliant hear—
Oh! give the darling to my ardent prayer!—        165
Cleanse me from sin—oh! graciously forgive—
Blest with thy love, oh! let thy servant live:
Thy smiles withdrawn, what is the world to me?
My hopes, my joys, are placed alone on thee:
Oh! let thy love, to this desponding heart,        170
One ray, at least, of heavenly love impart.”
 
Note 1. Porter, of Plymouth in New Hampshire, wrote a small volume containing The Royal Penitent, and David’s Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan, published at Concord in 1791. The first of these is founded upon a portion of the history of King David, and shows a very respectable talent for versification. [back]
 
 
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