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

Syria: Gibeah, the Mount


By William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)

  • “And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the Lord; and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley-harvest.”
  • “And Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.”
  • —2 Samuel xxi. 9, 10.

  • HEAR what the desolate Rizpah said,

    As on Gibeah’s rocks she watched the dead.

    The sons of Michal before her lay,

    And her own fair children, dearer than they:

    By a death of shame they all had died,

    And were stretched on the bare rock, side by side.

    And Rizpah, once the loveliest of all

    That bloomed and smiled in the court of Saul,

    All wasted with watching and famine now,

    And scorched by the sun her haggard brow,

    Sat, mournfully guarding their corpses there,

    And murmured a strange and solemn air;

    The low, heart-broken, and wailing strain

    Of a mother that mourns her children slain.

    “I have made the crags my home, and spread

    On their desert backs my sackcloth bed;

    I have eaten the bitter herb of the rocks,

    And drunk the midnight dew in my locks;

    I have wept till I could not weep, and the pain

    Of my burning eyeballs went to my brain.

    Seven blackened corpses before me lie,

    In the blaze of the sun and the winds of the sky.

    I have watched them through the burning day,

    And driven the vulture and raven away;

    And the cormorant wheeled in circles round,

    Yet feared to alight on the guarded ground.

    And, when the shadows of twilight came,

    I have seen the hyena’s eyes of flame,

    And heard at my side his stealthy tread,

    But aye at my shout the savage fled:

    And I threw the lighted brand, to fright

    The jackal and wolf that yelled in the night.

    “Ye were foully murdered, my hapless sons,

    By the hands of wicked and cruel ones;

    Ye fell, in your fresh and blooming prime,

    All innocent, for your father’s crime.

    He sinned,—but he paid the price of his guilt

    When his blood by a nameless hand was spilt;

    When he strove with the heathen host in vain,

    And fell with the flower of his people slain,

    And the sceptre his children’s hands should sway

    From his injured lineage passed away.

    “But I hoped that the cottage roof would be

    A safe retreat for my sons and me;

    And that while they ripened to manhood fast,

    They should wean my thoughts from the woes of the past.

    And my bosom swelled with a mother’s pride,

    As they stood in their beauty and strength by my side,

    Tall like their sire, with the princely grace

    Of his stately form, and the bloom of his face.

    “O, what an hour for a mother’s heart,

    When the pitiless ruffians tore us apart!

    When I clasped their knees and wept and prayed,

    And struggled and shrieked to Heaven for aid,

    And clung to my sons with desperate strength,

    Till the murderers loosed my hold at length,

    And bore me breathless and faint aside,

    In their iron arms, while my children died.

    They died,—and the mother that gave them birth

    Is forbid to cover their bones with earth.

    “The barley-harvest was nodding white,

    When my children died on the rocky height,

    And the reapers were singing on hill and plain,

    When I came to my task of sorrow and pain.

    But now the season of rain is nigh,

    The sun is dim in the thickening sky,

    And the clouds in sullen darkness rest

    Where he hides his light at the doors of the west.

    I hear the howl of the wind that brings

    The long drear storm on its heavy wings;

    But the howling wind and the driving rain

    Will beat on my houseless head in vain:

    I shall stay, from my murdered sons to scare

    The beasts of the desert and fowls of air.”