Home  »  The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century  »  Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821–1891)

Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Lazarus and Other Poems (1865). Three Cups of Cold Water

Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821–1891)

THE PRINCELY David, with his outlaw-band,

Lodged in the cave Adullam. Wild and fierce,

With lion-like faces, and with eagle eyes,

They followed where he led. The danger pressed,

For over all the land the Philistines

Had spread their armies. Through Rephaim’s vale

Their dark tents mustered thick, and David’s home,

His father’s city, Bethlehem, owned them lords.

’Twas harvest, and the crops of ripening corn

They ravaged, and with rude feet trampled down

The tender vines. Men hid themselves for fear

In woods or caves. The brave undaunted few,

Gathering round David, sought the mountain hold.

The sun was hot, and all day long they watched

With spear in hand and never-resting eye,

As those who wait for battle. But at eve

The eye grew dim, the lips were parched with thirst,

And from that arid rock no trickling stream

Of living water gushed. From time-worn skins

The tainted drops were poured, and fevered lips

Half-loathing drank them up. And David’s soul

Was weary; the hot simoom scorched his veins;

The strong sun smote on him, and, faint and sick,

He sat beneath the shadow of the rock:

And then before his eyes a vision came,

Cool evening, meadows green, and pleasant sounds

Of murmuring fountains. Oft in days of youth,

When leading home his flocks as sunset fell,

That fount had quenched his thirst, and dark-eyed girls,

The pride and joy of Bethlehem, meeting there,

Greeted the shepherd boy, their chieftain’s son

(As, bright and fair with waving locks of gold

Exulting in the flush of youth’s full glow,

He mingled with their throng), and gazing, rapt

With wonder at his beauty, gave him drink.

And now the words came feebly from his lips,

A murmur half in silence, which the ear

Of faithful followers caught: “Ah! who will bring

From that fair stream, which flowing by the gate

Of Bethlehem’s wall makes music in the ear,

One drop to cool this tongue?” They heard, the three,

The mightiest of the thirty, swift of foot

As are the harts upon the mountains, strong

As are the lions down by Jordan’s banks;

They heard and darted forth; down rock and crag

They leapt, as leaps the torrent on its course,

Through plain and vale they sped, and never stayed,

Until the wide encampment of the foe

Warned them of danger nigh. But not for fear

Abandoned they their task. When evening fell,

And all the Philistines were hushed in sleep,

And over all the plain the full, bright moon

Poured its rich lustre, onward still they stole,

By tent fires, creeping with hushed breath, and feet

That feared to wake the echoes, till at last

They heard the babbling music, and the gleam

Of rippling moonlight caught their eager eye,

And o’er them fell the shade of Bethlehem’s gate.

They tarried not. One full delicious draught

Slaked their fierce thirst, and then with anxious haste

They filled their water-urn, and full of joy,

They bore it back in triumph to their lord.

With quickened steps they tracked their path again

O’er plain and valley, up o’er rock and crag,

And as the early sunlight kissed the hills

They stood before him. He had won their hearts

By brave deeds, gentle words, and stainless life;

And now they came to give him proof of love,

And pouring out the water bade him drink.

But lo! he would not taste. He heard their tale

(In few words told, as brave men tell their deeds),

And lifting up his hands with solemn prayer,

As though he stood, a priest, before the shrine,

He poured it on the earth before the Lord.

“Far be it from me, God, that I should drink,

The slave of selfish lust, forgetting Thee,

Forgetting these my brothers. In Thine eyes

This water fresh and cool is as the blood

Of hero-souls who jeopardied their lives:

That blood I may not taste. As shrink the lips

From the hot life-stream of the Paschal Lamb,

So shrinks my soul from this. To Thee, O Lord,

To Thee I pour it. Thou wilt pardon me

For mine unkingly weakness, pardon them

For all rough deeds of war. Their noble love

Shall cover all their sins; for Thou hast claimed,

More than all blood of bulls and goats, the will

That, self-forgetting, lives in deeds like this.”

So spake the hero-king, and all the host

Looked on and wondered; and those noble three,

The mightiest of the thirty, felt their souls

Knit closer to King David and to God.

THROUGH wastes of sand the train of camels wound

Their lingering way. The pilgrims, hasting on

To Mecca’s shrine, were grieved and vexed at heart,

Impatient of delay. The scorching sand

Lay hot and blinding round them, and the blast

Of sultry winds, as from a furnace mouth,

Brought blackness to all faces. Whirling clouds

Of white dust filled their eyes, and, falling flat,

Crouching in fear, they waited till it passed.

Then, lifting up their eyes, there met their gaze

One fierce, hot glare, a waveless sea of sand.

No track of pilgrims’ feet, nor whitening bones

Of camels or of asses, marked their way.

They wandered on, by sun and moon and stars

Guessing their path, not knowing where they went,

But Mecca’s shrine they saw not. Day by day,

Their scant stores scantier grew. Their camels died;

No green oasis met their yearning eyes,

No rippling stream brought gladness to their hearts;

But glittering lakes that sparkled in the light,

Girt with the soft green tufts of feathery palm,

Enticed them, hour by hour, to wander on,

And, as they neared them, turned to wastes of sand.

They thirsted, and with looks of blank despair

Beheld the emptied skins. One only, borne

By Ka’ab’s camel, met their wistful gaze,—

Ka’ab, the rich, the noble, he who knew

The depths of Islam, unto Allah’s will

Resigning all his soul. And now he showed

How out of that submission flows the strength

For noblest acts of love. That priceless store

He claimed not as his own: the “mine” and “thine”

Of selfish right he scattered to the winds,

And to his fellow-pilgrims offered all.

They shared it all alike. To Ka’ab’s self

And Ka’ab’s slave an equal portion came:

“Allah is great,” he cried, about to drink

With thankful adoration, when a wail

Of eager craving burst from parchèd lips,

And upturned eyes with fevered anguish watched

The precious life-draught. Ka’ab heard that cry,

His eye beheld that anguish, and his heart

Was stirred with pity. Tasting not a drop,

With calm and loving look he passed the cup

To those poor dying lips, and bore his thirst,

As martyrs bear their flames. His soul had learnt,

Not Islam’s creed alone that God is great:

A mightier name was written on his heart,

“God, the compassionate, the merciful;”

And yielding up his will to God’s, the three,

Compassion, mercy, greatness, were as one.

So ends the tale. And whether death came soon

As sleep’s twin-brother, with the longed-for rest,

And clear bright streams in Paradise refreshed

The fevered thirsts of earth; or if the dawn

Revealed the distant gleam of Mecca’s shrine,

And led those pilgrims on to Zemzem’s fount,

We know not. This we know, that evermore,

Like living water from the flinty rock,

Gladdening the hearts of Hagar’s sons, as once

God’s angel helped the mother and her child,

The memory of that noble deed flows on,

And quickens into life each fainting heart,

And through long ages, in each Arab’s tent

It passed into a proverb—“Ka’ab’s deed

Of noble goodness:—There is none like that.”

THE SETTING sun fell low on Zutphen’s plain;

The fight was over, and the victory won,

And out of all the din and stir of war

They bore the flower of Christian chivalry,

The life-blood gushing out. He came, the pure,

The true, the stainless, all youth’s fiery glow,

All manhood’s wisdom, blended into one,

To help the weak against the strong, to drive

The Spaniard from a land which was not his,

And claim the right of all men to be free,

Free in their life, their polity, their faith.

He came, no poor ambition urging on,

But loyalty and duty, first to God,

And then to her, the Virgin Queen, who ruled

His guileless heart, and of a thousand good

Found him the best. We wonder that he bowed

Before so poor an idol, knowing not

That noble souls transfer their nobleness

To that whereon they gaze, and through the veils

Of custom or of weakness reach the heart

That beats, as theirs, with lofty thoughts and true.

And now that life was ebbing. Men had hoped

To see in him the saviour of the state

From thickening perils, one in open war

To cope with Alva, and in subtle skill,

Bating no jot of openness and truth,

To baffle all the tortuous wiles of Spain:

And some who knew him better hoped to see

His poet’s spirit do a poet’s work,

With sweetest music giving voice and shape

To all the wondrous thoughts that stirred the age,

Moving the world’s great heart, attracting all,

The children at their play, the old man bent

By blazing hearths, to listen and rejoice.

And now his sun was setting. Faint and weak

They bore him to his tent, and loss of blood

Brought on the burning thirst of wounded men,

And he too craved for water. Brothers true,

Companions of his purpose and his risk,

Brought from the river in their helmet cup

The draught he longed for. Yet he drank it not;

That eye had fallen on another’s woe,

That ear was open to another’s sigh,

That hand was free to give, and pitying love,

In that sharp pain of death, had conquered self.

The words were few and simple: “Not for me;

I may not taste: He needs it more than I:”

Few as all noblest words are, pearls and gems

Of rarest lustre; but they found their way,

More than all gifts of speech or poet’s skill,

To stir the depths of England’s heart of hearts,

And gave to Sidney’s name a brighter life,

A nobler fame through all the immortal years,

Than Raleigh’s friendship, or his own brave deeds,

Or counsel’s wise, or Spenser’s silver notes,—

A trumpet-call to bid the heart awake,

A beacon-light to all the rising youth,

Fit crown of glory to that stainless life,

The perfect pattern of a Christian knight,

The noblest hero of our noblest age.

AND one day they shall meet before their God,

The Hebrew, and the Moslem, and the flower

Of England’s knighthood. On the great white throne

The Judge shall sit, and from his lips shall flow

Divinest words: “Come, friends and brothers, come;

I speak as one whose soul has known your pangs;

Your weariness and woe were also mine;

The cry, ‘I thirst,’ has issued from these lips,

And I too would not drink, but bore the pain,

Yielding my will to do my Father’s work,

And so that work was finished; so I learnt

The fullest measure of obedience, learnt

The wide, deep love embracing all mankind,

Passing through all the phases of their woe

That I before their God might plead for all.

And thus through all the pulses of their life

I suffer when they suffer; count each deed

Of mercy done to them as done to Me,

Am one with them in sorrow and in joy,

Rejoicing in their likeness to My life,

And bearing still the burden of their sins

For which I once was offered. I was there,

The light of each man’s soul, in that wild cave,

On that parched desert, on that tented field;

That self-forgetting love I owned as Mine,

And ye who, true to that diviner Light

Which triumphed over nature, freely gave

That water to the thirsty, gave to Me.