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

Syria: Mizpeh

Jephtha’s Daughter

By Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)

SHE stood before her father’s gorgeous tent,

To listen for his coming. Her loose hair

Was resting on her shoulders, like a cloud

Floating around a statue, and the wind,

Just swaying her light robe, revealed a shape

Praxiteles might worship. She had clasped

Her hands upon her bosom, and had raised

Her beautiful, dark Jewish eyes to heaven,

Till the long lashes lay upon her brow.

Her lip was slightly parted, like the cleft

Of a pomegranate blossom; and her neck,

Just where the cheek was melting to its curve

With the unearthly beauty sometimes there,

Was shaded, as if light had fallen off,

Its surface was so polished. She was stilling

Her light, quick breath, to hear; and the white rose

Scarce moved upon her bosom, as it swelled,

Like nothing but a lovely wave of light,

To meet the arching of her queenly neck.

Her countenance was radiant with love.

She looked like one to die for it,—a being

Whose whole existence was the pouring out

Of rich and deep affections. I have thought

A brother’s and a sister’s love were much;

I know a brother’s is, for I have been

A sister’s idol, and I know how full

The heart may be of tenderness to her!

But the affection of a delicate child

For a fond father, gushing as it does

With the sweet springs of life, and pouring on,

Through all earth’s changes, like a river’s course,

Chastened with reverence, and made more pure

By the world’s discipline of light and shade,—

’T is deeper, holier.

The wind bore on

The leaden tramp of thousands. Clarion notes

Rang sharply on the ear at intervals;

And the low, mingled din of mighty hosts

Returning from the battle poured from far,

Like the deep murmur of a restless sea.

They came, as earthly conquerors always come,

With blood and splendor, revelry and woe.

The stately horse treads proudly,—he hath trod

The brow of death as well. The chariot-wheels

Of warriors roll magnificently on—

Their weight hath crushed the fallen. Man is there,—

Majestic, lordly man,—with his sublime

And elevated brow, and godlike frame;

Lifting his crest in triumph, for his heel

Hath trod the dying like a winepress down!

The mighty Jephtha led his warriors on

Through Mizpeh’s streets. His helm was proudly set,

And his stern lip curled slightly, as if praise

Were for the hero’s scorn. His step was firm,

But free as India’s leopard; and his mail,

Whose shekels none in Israel might bear,

Was like a cedar’s tassel on his frame.

His crest was Judah’s kingliest; and the look

Of his dark, lofty eye, and bended brow,

Might quell the lion. He led on; but thoughts

Seemed gathering round which troubled him. The veins

Grew visible upon his swarthy brow,

And his proud lip was pressed as if with pain.

He trod less firmly; and his restless eye

Glanced forward frequently, as if some ill

He dared not meet were there. His home was near;

And men were thronging, with that strange delight

They have in human passions, to observe

The struggle of his feelings with his pride.

He gazed intensely forward. The tall firs

Before his tent were motionless. The leaves

Of the sweet aloe, and the clustering vines

Which half concealed his threshold, met his eye,

Unchanged and beautiful; and one by one

The balsam, with its sweet-distilling stems,

And the Circassian rose, and all the crowd

Of silent and familiar things stole up,

Like the recovered passages of dreams.

He strode on rapidly. A moment more,

And he had reached his home; when lo! there sprang

One with a bounding footstep, and a brow

Of light, to meet him. O, how beautiful!

Her dark eye flashing like a sunlit gem,

And her luxuriant hair!—’t was like the sweep

Of a swift wing in visions. He stood still,

As if the sight had withered him. She threw

Her arms about his neck,—he heeded not.

She called him “father,”—but he answered not.

She stood and gazed upon him. Was he wroth?

There was no anger in that bloodshot eye.

Had sickness seized him? She unclasped his helm,

And laid her white hand gently on his brow,

And the large veins felt stiff and hard, like cords.

The touch aroused him. He raised up his hands,

And spoke the name of God, in agony.

She knew that he was stricken then, and rushed

Again into his arms; and, with a flood

Of tears she could not bridle, sobbed a prayer

That he would breathe his agony in words.

He told her,—and a momentary flush

Shot o’er her countenance; and then the soul

Of Jephtha’s daughter wakened; and she stood

Calmly and nobly up, and said ’t was well,—

And she would die.

The sun had wellnigh set.

The fire was on the altar; and the priest

Of the High God was there. A pallid man

Was stretching out his trembling hands to heaven,

As if he would have prayed, but had no words.

And she who was to die, the calmest one

In Israel at that hour, stood up alone,

And waited for the sun to set. Her face

Was pale, but very beautiful,—her lip

Had a more delicate outline, and the tint

Was deeper; but her countenance was like

The majesty of angels.

The sun set,—

And she was dead,—but not by violence.