This pitiable city!—But, O God,
Strengthen me that I bend not into scorn
Of all this desperate folk; for I am weak
With pitying their lamentable souls.
Ah, when I hear the grief wail’d in the streets,
And the same breath their tears nigh strangle, used
To brag the God in them inviolate
And fighting off the hands of the heathen,—Lord,
Pardon me that I come so near to scorn;
Pardon me, soul of mine, that I have loosed
The rigour of my mind and leant towards scorn!—
Friends, wives and husbands, sons and daughters, dead
Of plague, famine, and arrows: and the houses
Battered unsafe by cannonades of stone
Hurled in by the Assyrians: the town-walls
Crumbling out of their masonry into mounds
Of foolish earth, so smitten by the rams:
The hunger-pangs, the thirst like swallowed lime
Forcing them gulp green water maggot-quick
That lurks in corners of dried cisterns: yea,
Murders done for a drink of blood, and flesh
Sodden of infants: and no hope alive
Of rescue from this heat of prisoning anguish
Until Assyrian swords drown it in death;—
These, and abandoned words like these, I hear
Daylong shrill’d and groan’d in the lanes beneath.
What needeth Holofernes more? The Jews,
The People of God, the Jews, lament their fortune;
Their souls are violated by the world;
Jewry is conquered; and the crop of men
Sown for the barns of God, is withered down,
Like feeblest grass flat-trodden by the sun,
In one short season of fear. Yea, swords and fire
Can do no more destruction on this folk:
A fierce untimely mowing now befits
This corn incapable of sacred bread,
This field unprofitable but to flame!
What should the choice of God do for a people,
But give them souls of temper to withstand
The trying of the furnace of the world?—
And they are molten, and from God’s device
Unfashion’d, crazed in dismay; yea, God’s skill
Fails in them, as the skill a founder put
In brass fails when the coals seize on his work.
For this fierce Holofernes and his power,
This torture poured on the city, is no more
Than a wild gust of wicked heat breathed out
Against our God-wrought souls by the world’s furnace.
No new thing, this camp about the city:
Nebuchadnezzar and his hosted men
But fearfully image, like a madman’s dream,
The fierce infection of the world, that waits
To soil the clean health of the soul and mix
Stooping decay into its upward nature.
Soul in the world is all besieged: for first
The dangerous body doth desire it;
And many subtle captains of the mind
Secretly wish against its fortune; next,
Circle on circle of lascivious world
Lust round the foreign purity of soul
For chance or violence to ravish it.
But the pure in the world are mastery.
Divinely do I know, when life is clean,
How like a noble shape of golden glass