Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  David’s Grief for His Child

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Syria: Jerusalem

David’s Grief for His Child

By Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)

’T WAS daybreak, and the fingers of the dawn

Drew the night’s curtain, and touched silently

The eyelids of the king. And David woke,

And robed himself, and prayed. The inmates, now,

Of the vast palace were astir, and feet

Glided along the tessellated floors

With a pervading murmur, and the fount

Whose music had been all the night unheard,

Played as if light had made it audible;

And each one, waking, blessed it unaware.

The fragrant strife of sunshine with the morn

Sweetened the air to ecstasy! and now

The king’s wont was to lie upon his couch

Beneath the sky-roof of the inner court,

And, shut in from the world, but not from heaven,

Play with his loved son by the fountain’s lip;

For, with idolatry confessed alone

To the rapt wires of his reproofless harp,

He loved the child of Bathsheba. And when

The golden selvedge of his robe was heard

Sweeping the marble pavement, from within

Broke forth a child’s laugh suddenly, and words—

Articulate, perhaps, to his heart only—

Pleading to come to him. They brought the boy,

An infant cherub, leaping as if used

To hover with that motion upon wings,

And marvellously beautiful! His brow

Had the inspired uplift of the king’s,

And kingly was his infantine regard.


It was the morning of the seventh day.

A hush was in the palace, for all eyes

Had woke before the morn; and they who drew

The curtains to let in the welcome light

Moved in their chambers with unslippered feet,

And listened breathlessly. And still no stir!

The servants who kept watch without the door

Sat motionless; the purple casement-shades

From the low windows had been rolled away,

To give the child air; and the flickering light

That, all the night, within the spacious court,

Had drawn the watcher’s eyes to one spot only,

Paled with the sunrise and fled in.

And hushed

With more than stillness was the room where lay

The king’s son on his mother’s breast. His locks

Slept at the lips of Bathsheba unstirred,—

So fearfully, with heart and pulse kept down,

She watched his breathless slumber. The low moan

That from his lips all night broke fitfully

Had silenced with the daybreak; and a smile—

Or something that would fain have been a smile—

Played in his parted mouth; and though his lids

Hid not the blue of his unconscious eyes,

His senses seemed all peacefully asleep,

And Bathsheba in silence blessed the morn,

That brought back hope to her! But when the king

Heard not the voice of the complaining child,

Nor breath from out the room, nor foot astir,

But morning there, so welcomeless and still,

He groaned and turned upon his face. The nights

Had wasted, and the mornings come; and days

Crept through the sky, unnumbered by the king,

Since the child sickened; and without the door,

Upon the bare earth prostrate, he had lain,

Listening only to the moans that brought

Their inarticulate tidings, and the voice

Of Bathsheba, whose pity and caress,

In loving utterance all broke with tears,

Spoke as his heart would speak if he were there,

And filled his prayer with agony. O God!

To thy bright mercy-seat the way is far!

How fail the weak words while the heart keeps on!

And when the spirit, mournfully, at last,

Kneels at thy throne, how cold, how distantly

The comforting of friends falls on the ear,—

The anguish they would speak to, gone to thee!

But suddenly the watchers at the door

Rose up, and they who ministered within

Crept to the threshold and looked earnestly

Where the king lay. And still, while Bathsheba

Held the unmoving child upon her knees,

The curtains were let down, and all came forth,

And, gathering with fearful looks apart,

Whispered together.

And the king arose

And gazed on them a moment, and with voice

Of quick, uncertain utterance, he asked,

“Is the child dead?” They answered, “He is dead!”

But when they looked to see him fall again

Upon his face, and rend himself and weep,—

For, while the child was sick, his agony

Would bear no comforters, and they had thought

His heartstrings with the tidings must give way,—

Behold! his face grew calm, and, with his robe

Gathered together like his kingly wont,

He silently went in.

And David came,

Robed and anointed, forth, and to the house

Of God went up to pray. And he returned,

And they set bread before him, and he ate,—

And when they marvelled, he said, “Wherefore mourn?

The child is dead, and I shall go to him,—

But he will not return to me.”