Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
David and Absalom
By Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)
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        5
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 girls.
His helm was at his feet; his banner, soiled        10
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,        15
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        20
As if a trumpet rang; but the bent form
Of David entered,—and he gave command,
In a low tone, to his few followers,
Who left him with his dead. The king stood still
Till the last echo died; then, throwing off        25
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!        30
  Thou, who wert 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!        35
“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 harpstring,—yearning to caress thee;
And hear thy sweet ‘my father’ from these dumb        40
    And cold lips, Absalom!
“The grave hath won thee. I shall hear the gush
  Of music, and the voices of the young;
And life shall pass me in the mantling blush,
  And the dark tresses to the soft winds flung:        45
But thou no more, with thy sweet voice, shall 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,        50
  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;        55
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        60
A moment on his child; then, giving him
A look of melting tenderness, he clasped
His hand convulsively, as if in prayer;
And, as if strength were given him of God,
He rose up calmly, and composed the pall        65
Firmly and decently—and left him there,
As if his rest had been a breathing sleep.

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