The History Of Joseph: A Poem In Ten Books. Book Ix.

The jocund years with smiling plenty crown'd,
In shining circles now advanc'd their round:
Unbounded crops reward the reaper's toil,
And rustick pleasures chear the banks of Nile.
The Hebrew, late advanc'd by royal grace,
With dignity and splendour fills his place;
Still watchful for the publick good, with care
Restrains excess, by penalties severe,
While justice, truth, and temp'rate virtue, reign'd
Amidst the height of plenty thro' the land:
His prudent sway the grateful people bless,
In all the calm serenity of peace.
But soon the smiling years their period run,
A gloomy aera now its course begun:
Pale famine comes, with her malignant train,
Dries up the springs, and taints the fertile plain:
The trees decay, each flow'r, and balmy plant
Pine at their roots, and vital humour want:
No pearly moisture on the meadow lies;
To fan the air no gentle breezes rise.
The languid moon sheds from her silent sphere
No cooling dews, the thirsty earth to chear.
A sultry night ensues a scorching day;
While dismal signs the fiery clouds display.
Nor Egypt mourns alone her blasted ground,
Pale famine stalks thro' all the regions round:
Moriah's plain, and Hermon's flow'ry hill
Wither'd and bare, the hot contagion feel:
That fertile climate, by peculiar grace,
Design'd the lot of Abraham's future race.
Where long with peace, and fatal plenty gay,
The pagan princes bore imperial sway,
Their crimes not full:–While Jacob sojourn'd here
A stranger, as his great forefathers were:
The common fate he shares, with famine press'd,
And for his num'rous family distress'd:
He sends his sons, by heav'nly conduct led,
To Egypt's plenteous granaries for bread:
Domestick wants require their utmost haste,
And Zoan's regal tow'rs they reach at last.
With soft Assyria, now in all her pride
Of wealth and grandeur, Pharaoh's palace vy'd:
More honour'd still the rising fav'rite grew,
No bounds his royal master's kindness knew:
His graceful person, charming to the sight,
Majestick, yet more mild than morning light:
His virtues, every grateful tongue employ,
The people's boast, their wonder, and their joy.
All private views were to his soul unknown,
He made the kingdom's welfare still his own:
Th' oppressor's wrongs are by his power redress'd,
He guards the orphan, succours the distress'd;
His fame to distant countries flies abroad,
While Egypt names him as her guardian god.
Assiduous still his officers attend,
Where neigh'bring states their num'rous envoys send:
Who for themselves, and pining race, implore
The food of life from his abundant store.
Among the foremost of the suppliant crowd
The Hebrew swains with low submission bow'd;
With stern regard each kindred face he views,
Their sight the late detested scene renews:
Their parting malice and inhuman rage
To just revenge his swelling thoughts engage.
Long silent in a gloomy pause he stands;
At last their country, business, name, demands.
My lord, thy servants, (with a modest grace,
Judah replies) are all of Hebrew race:
Twelve brethren late, a joyful father's boast,
Till one, by some unhappy chance, was lost;
The youngest with his aged sire remains
The darling, which his drooping life sustains:
To purchase corn we come, our falling breath,
An infant race, to save from ling'ring death.
Thy tale (he said) unfolds its own disguise;
By Pharaoh's sacred life, you all are spies;
Then to the guards with stern command he turns,
While yet resentment in his bosom burns;
In close confinement be these men retain'd,
Till we some knowledge of their plot have gain'd.
With just remorse, and secret horror struck,
The conscious Hebrews at each other look,
In foreign accents, to the guards unknown,
Their length of unrepented sin they own;
Joseph, not yet withdrawn, their language hears,
And hastes away, to hide the gushing tears.
Oh! we are guilty of our brother's blood,
Tho' heav'n th' intended fratricide withstood:
With unrelenting hate, for sordid gold,
The gentle youth to Midianites we sold
A slave, and such perhaps he still may live;
Almighty God, the monstrous crime forgive!
Unmov'd we saw the anguish of his breast,
In mournful looks, and flowing tears express'd:
Unmov'd, and lost to nature, virtue, sense,
Unmov'd we heard his tender eloquence.
Such beauty, innocence, and blooming grace
Would have subdu'd in wilds a savage race.
What caves, what dungeons, should such monsters hide?
We stand condemn'd, and Heav'n is justify'd.
When Reuben, who the barbarous fact disclaimed,
In these sad terms their former malice blam'd,
Would Heav'n your flowing tears might wash away
The bloody stains of that detested day;
Its horror, with eternal grief, I trace;
The soft impression of my brother's face
Dwells on my heart, the tragic scene I view,
The mournful object is for ever new.
Methinks I see the anguish, the surprise,
The melting sorrow in his lovely eyes,
While kneeling, pleading all the tender claims
Of kindred blood, he singly call'd your names,
And one by one invok'd–what power I had,
Was all employ'd to save the guiltless lad:
His filial love and goodness, free from art,
Touch'd every tender motion in my heart,
When for his drooping father's hoary age
He try'd your soft compassion to engage;
I heard his cries, while round his suppliant hands,
Without remorse, you ty'd the cruel bands;
My soul is wounded with the farewel groan,
When to the yawning pit you forc'd him down.
What hellish frenzy did your bosoms fire
Against such youth and virtue to conspire?
What was his mighty crime?–a childish dream,
A sleeping fancy's visionary scheme:
His blood's aveng'd–While here we lie confin'd,
Our wretched offspring are with famine pin'd.
Their eldest brother's just reproach they own,
And humbly now address th' eternal throne,
With penitence sincere they inly mourn,
While thrice the day and tedious night return.
Mean time the thoughtful regent in his breast
The first vindictive motions had supprest.
When early for the Hebrew train he sends,
And kindness in a stern disguise intends;
Conducted to his presence, prostrate all
(As once their sheaves before his sheaf) they fall.
The pow'r that sits above the stars I fear
(He said) nor shall you find injustice here:
To prove that you have no clandestine view,
Nor hostile aim, but are to honour true,
One of your kindred number left behind,
Th' attending guards shall as an hostage bind;
Secure from wrong, the captive shall remain,
If at set limits you return again:
But be for ever exiles from the place,
Nor ever hope again to see my face,
Unless you bring your youngest brother here,
No more on Egypt's fatal coast appear:
Be this a proof your words have no disguise,
Or you by Pharaoh's sacred life are spies.
Alas, my lord, in tents thy servants sleep,
(The swains reply) our herds and bleating sheep
Engross our humble cares, no martial claims
Disturb our minds, no wild ambitious aims;
Strangers to pompous courts, the flow'ry fields,
And tuneful grove, to us their pleasures yield;
Unenvy'd there, secure from noise and strife,
In harmless ease we spend a peaceful life;
Our costliest banquets in some balmy shade,
With nature's simple luxury are made;
No dreams of grandeur, no aspiring thought,
Thy servants to the Memphian limits brought;
Distress'd with famine, to this friendly shore
We came, your kind assistance to implore.
This said, they find themselves dismiss'd at last
With full supplies, and to their country haste.
When scarce arriv'd before their father's tent,
His busy thoughts presag'd some sad event;
The captive son was miss'd–his fears t'expel,
Th' unpleasing truth in soothing words they tell.
With temper, every circumstance he hears,
Till the fond prop of his declining years,
His Benjamin was nam'd–that cruel part,
In spite of all their well-meant flatt'ring art,
With piercing anguish wounds his inmost soul;
No pleas of reason can its force control.
His hoary head with weighty sorrow press'd,
Dejected sunk upon his pensive breast.
The careful trav'llers now their sacks unty'd,
Surpris'd, their coin restor'd again they spy'd.
What can these myst'ries mean, good Jacob said,
What fatal storm is breaking o'er my head?
Why is my life prolong'd? of bliss bereft?
Joseph is not:–My single comfort left,
To distant climes an exile you would bear,
Against me all these sad events appear;
But know, the flame of life shall quit my heart
Ere with the lovely blooming youth I part.
Content we then must sacrifice our lives,
Our guiltless offspring and our tender wives,
(Judah replies) condemn'd to perish here,
And ne'er again on Egypt's coasts appear:
The man, the mighty ruler of the land,
With eyes to heav'n address'd, and lifted hand,
The man protested with a solemn grace,
Not one of us should ever see his face,
Nor other proof our innocence should clear,
Unless we brought our youngest brother there.
And why would you that needless truth make known,
Or that you had a younger brother own?
The anxious parent said.–Alas! could we,
Reuben replies, the consequence foresee?
Or had the certainty been fully known,
Could we, with specious lies, the fact disown?
Or straitly question'd, by a man so great,
Conceal our publick or domestick state?
Indeed he roughly talkt, but still their broke
Some secret pity thro' his fiercest look;
However dark the past events appear,
We've nothing from such clemency to fear;
Where'er with easy state he pass'd along,
His virtues echo'd thro' the shouting throng:
Then why, my honour'd sire, these vain delays?
Paternal cares a thousand scruples raise;
Your Simeon bound, a slave unransom'd lies,
Our time's elaps'd, and we condemn'd for spies:
Commit your darling to my faithful hand,
Of me again the sacred pledge demand.
Two lovely boys, adorn'd with every grace,
Secure I leave as sureties in his place;
If any negligence my honour stain,
Without compassion let them both be slain.
Half yielding now he stands–Their houshold straits
Judah with artless eloquence repeats.
With falt'ring speech, and anguish in his eyes,
Then go in peace, the vanquish'd patriarch cries:
Celestial providence your steps attend,
And angel guards from every ill defend;
With doubl'd money for your corn advance,
Perhaps the restoration was a chance;
But take some grateful present in your hand,
The balmy products of your native land:
And be th' eternal Majesty implor'd,
(The God my great progenitors ador'd)
To grant you favour in the ruler's sight,
And bring your injur'd innocence to light:
But know, if mischief should the lad attend,
My hoary hairs down to the grave you send.

by Elizabeth Singer Rowe

Comments (1)

Blossoming light! With the muse of life. Thanks for sharing.