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Poem by John Oldham

David's Lamentation for the Death of Saul and Jonathan, Paraphrased



AH wretched Israel! once blessed and happy state,
The darling of the stars, and heaven's care,
⁠Then all the bordering world thy vassals were,
⁠And thou at once their envy and their fear,
How soon art thou, alas! by the sad turn of fate
⁠Become abandoned and forlorn!
How art thou now become their pity, and their scorn!
Thy lustre all is vanished, all thy glory fled,
⁠Thy sun himself set in a blood red,
⁠Too sure prognostic! which does ill portend
⁠Approaching storms on thy unhappy land,
Left naked, and defenceless now to each invading hand,
⁠A fatal battle, lately fought,
⁠Has all these miseries and misfortunes brought,
⁠Has thy quick ruin and destruction wrought:
⁠There fell we, by a mighty overthrow,
⁠A prey to an enraged, relentless foe,
The toil and labour of their wearied cruelty,
Till they no more could kill, and we no longer die:
Vast slaughter all around the enlargèd mountain swells,
⁠And numerous deaths increase its former hills.


⁠In Gath let not the mournful news be known,
⁠Nor published in the streets of Askalon;
⁠May fame itself be quite struck dumb!
⁠Oh! I may it never to Philistia come,
Nor any live to bear the cursèd tidings home!
⁠Lest the proud enemies new trophies raise,
⁠And loudly triumph in our fresh disgrace:
No captive Israelite their pompous joy adorn,
⁠Nor in sad bondage his lost country mourn:
⁠No spoils of ours be in their temples hung,
⁠No hymns to Ashdod's idol sung,
Nor thankful sacrifice on his glad altars burn.
Kind Heaven forbid! lest the base heathen slaves blaspheme
⁠Thy sacred and unutterable name,
⁠And above thine extol their Dagon's fame;
⁠Lest the vile Fish's worship spread abroad,
Who fell a prostrate victim once before our conquering God:
⁠And you, who the great deeds of kings and kingdoms write,
⁠Who all their actions to succeeding age transmit,
⁠Conceal the blushing story, ah! conceal
⁠Our nation's loss, and our dread monarch's fall:
⁠Conceal the journal of this bloody day,
⁠When both by the ill play of fate were thrown away:
⁠Nor let our wretched infamy, and fortune's crime,
Be ever mentioned in the registers of future time.


For ever, Gilboa, be cursed thy hated name,
The eternal monument of our disgrace and shame!
⁠For ever cursed be that unhappy scene,
⁠Where slaughter, blood, and death did lately reign!
No clouds henceforth above thy barren top appear,
⁠But what may make thee mourning wear:
⁠Let them ne'er shake their dewy fleeces there,
⁠But only once a year
On the sad anniverse drop a remembering tear;
⁠No flocks of offerings on thy hills be known,
Which may, by sacrifice, our guilt and thine atone:
Nor sheep, nor any of the gentler kind hereafter stay
⁠On thee, but bears and wolves, and beasts of prey,
⁠Or men more savage, wild, and fierce than they;
⁠A desert may'st thou prove, and lonely waste,
⁠Like that our sinful, stubborn fathers passed,
Where they the penance trod for all they there transgressed:
⁠Too dearly wast thou drenched with precious blood
⁠Of many a Jewish worthy, spilt of late.
⁠Who suffered there by an ignoble fate,
And purchased foul dishonour at too high a rate:
⁠Great Saul's ran there amongst the common flood,
⁠His royal self mixed with the baser crowd:
⁠He, whom Heaven's high and open suffrage chose
⁠The bulwark of our nation, to oppose
⁠The power and malice of our foes;
⁠Even he, on whom the sacred oil was shed,
⁠Whose mystic drops enlarged his hallowed head,
⁠Lies now (oh Fate, impartial still to kings!)
Huddled and undistinguished, in the heap of meaner things.


⁠Lo! there the mighty warrior lies,
⁠With all his laurels, all his victories,
To ravenous fowls, or worse, to his proud foes, a prize:
⁠How changed from that great Saul whose generous aid.
A conquering army to distressed Jabesh led,
⁠At whose approach Ammon's proud tyrant fled;
⁠How changed from that great Saul whom we saw bring,
From vanquished Amalek, their captive spoils and king;
⁠When unbid pity made him Agag spare:
Ah pity! more than cruelty, found guilty there:
⁠Oft has he made these conquered enemies bow,
⁠By whom himself lies conquered now:
⁠At Micmash, his great might they felt and knew,
⁠The same they felt at Dammin too.
⁠Well I remember, when from Helah's plain
⁠He came in triumph, met by a numerous crowd,
⁠Who with glad shouts proclaimed their joy aloud;
A dance of beauteous virgins led the solemn train,
And sung, and praised the man that had his thousands slain.
⁠Seir, Moab, Zobah felt him, and where'er
⁠He did his glorious standards bear.
⁠Officious victory followed in the rear:
⁠Success attended still his brandished sword,
⁠And, like the grave, the gluttonous blade devoured:
⁠Slaughter upon its point in triumph sate,
⁠And scattered death, as quick and wide as fate.


Nor less in high repute and worth was his great son,
⁠Sole heir of all his valour and renown,
Heir too (if cruel fate had suffered) of his throne:
⁠The matchless Jonathan 'twas, whom loud tongued fame
⁠Amongst her chiefest heroes joys to name,
⁠E'er since the wondrous deeds at Seneh done,
Where he, himself a host, o'ercame a war alone:
⁠The trembling enemies fled, they tried to fly,
⁠But fixed amazement stopped, and made them die.
Great archer he! to whom our dreaded skill we owe,
Dreaded by all who Israel's warlike prowess know;
⁠As many shafts, as his full quiver held,
⁠So many fates he drew, so many killed:
Quick and unerring they as darted eye-beams flew,
⁠As if he gave 'em sight, and swiftness too.
Death took her aim from his, and by 't her arrows threw.


Both excellent they were, both equally allied
⁠On nature's and on valour's side:
⁠Great Saul, who scorned a rival in renown,
⁠Yet envied not the fame of 's greater son,
⁠By him endured to be surpassed alone:
⁠He, gallant prince, did his whole father show,
And fast as he could set the well-writ copies drew,
⁠And blushed that duty bid him not out-go:
Together, they did both the paths to glory trace;
⁠Together, hunted in the noble chase;
⁠Together, finished their united race;
⁠There only did they prove unfortunate,
⁠Never till then unblessed by fate,
⁠Yet there they ceased not to be great;
⁠Fearless they met and braved their threatened fall,
And fought when heaven revolted, fortune durst rebel.
⁠When public safety, and their country's care
Required their aid, and called them to the toils of war;
As parent eagles, summoned by their infants' cries,
⁠Whom some rude hands would make a prize,
Haste to relief and with their wings out-fly their eyes;
⁠So swift did they their speedy succour bear,
⁠So swift the bold aggressors seize,
So swift attack, so swift pursue the vanquished enemies:
⁠The vanquished enemies with all the wings of fear
⁠Moved not so quick as they,
⁠Scarce could their souls fly fast enough away.
⁠Bolder than lions, they thick dangers met,
Through fields with armèd troops, and pointed harvests set,
Nothing could tame their rage, or quench their generous heat:
Like those, they marched undaunted, and like those,
⁠Secure of wounds, and all that durst oppose,
So to resisters fierce, so gentle to their prostrate foes.


⁠Mourn, wretched Israel, mourn thy monarch's fall,
And all thy plenteous stock of sorrow call,
⁠To attend his pompous funeral:
⁠Mourn each, who in this loss an interest shares,
⁠Lavish your grief, exhaust it all in tears:
⁠Your Hebrew virgins too,
Who once in lofty strains did his glad triumphs sing,
Bring all your artful notes, and skilful measures now,
⁠Each charming air of breath, and string,
⁠Bring all to grace the obsequies of your dead king,
And high, as then your joy, let now your sorrow flow.
⁠Saul, your great Saul is dead,
⁠Who you with nature's choicest dainties fed,
⁠Who you with nature's gayest wardrobe clad,
By whom you all her pride, and all her pleasures had:
⁠For you, the precious worm his bowels spun,
⁠For you, the Tyrian fish did purple run,
⁠For you, the blest Arabia's spices grew,
⁠And Eastern quarries hardened pearly dew;
⁠The sun himself turned labourer for you:
⁠For you, he hatched his golden births alone,
Wherewith you were arrayed, whereby you him outshone,
All this and more, you did to Saul's great conduct owe,
All this you lost in his unhappy overthrow.


Oh death! how vast a harvest hast thou reaped of late!
⁠Never before hadst thou so great,
⁠Ne'er drunkest before so deep of Jewish blood,
⁠Ne'er since the embattled hosts at Gibeah stood,
⁠When three whole days took up the work of fate,
⁠When a large tribe entered at once thy bill,
And threescore thousand victims to thy fury fell.
⁠Upon the fatal mountain's head,
⁠Lo! how the mighty chiefs lie dead!
⁠There my belovèd Jonathan was slain,
⁠The best of princes, and the best of men;
Cold death hangs on his cheeks, like an untimely frost
On early fruit; there sits, and smiles a sullen boast,
And yet looks pale at the great captive she has ta'en.
My Jonathan is dead! oh dreadful word of fame!
Oh grief! that I can speak't, and not become the same!
He's dead, and with him all our blooming hopes are gone,
⁠And many a wonder, which he must have done,
⁠And many a conquest, which he must have won.
⁠They're all to the dark grave and silence fled,
⁠And never now in story shall be read,
⁠And never now shall take their date,
Snatched hence by the preventing hand of envious fate.


⁠Ah, worthy prince! would I for thee had died!
⁠Ah, would I had thy fatal place supplied!
I'd then repaid a life, which to thy gift I owe,
Repaid a crown, which friendship taught thee to forego:
⁠Both debts, I ne'er can cancel now:
Oh, dearer than my soul! if I can call it mine,
⁠For sure we had the same, 'twas very thine,
⁠Dearer than light, or life, or fame,
Or crowns, or anything that I can wish, or think, or name.
⁠Brother thou wast, but wast my friend before,
⁠And that new title then could add no more:
Mine more than blood, alliance, nature's self could make,
⁠Than I, or fame itself can speak:
⁠Not yearning mothers, when first throes they feel,
To their young babes in looks a softer passion tell:
⁠Not artless undissembling maids express
In their last dying sighs such tenderness:
Not thy fair sister, whom strict duty bids me wear
⁠First in my breast, whom holy vows make mine,
Though all the virtues of a loyal wife she bear,
⁠Could boast an union so near,
Could boast a love so firm, so lasting, so divine.
⁠So pure is that which we in angels find
⁠To mortals here, in heaven to their own kind:
So pure, but not more great must that blessed friendship prove
(Could, ah, could I to that wished place, and thee remove)
Which shall for ever join our mingled souls above.


⁠Ah, wretched Israel! ah, unhappy state!
⁠Exposed to all the bolts of angry fate!
Exposed to all thy enemies' revengeful hate!
⁠Who is there left their fury to withstand?
⁠What champions now to guard thy helpless land?
⁠Who is there left in listed fields to head
Thy valiant youth, and lead them on to victory?
⁠Alas? thy valiant youth are dead,
⁠And all thy brave commanders too:
Lo! how the glut and riot of the grave thus lie,
⁠And none survive the fatal overthrow,
To right their injured ghosts upon the barbarous foe!
Rest, ye blessed shades, in everlasting peace,
⁠Who fell your country's bloody sacrifice:
⁠For ever sacred be your memories,
⁠And oh! ere long may some avenger rise
⁠To wipe off heaven's and your disgrace:
⁠May they, these proud insulting foes,
⁠Wash off our stains of honour with their blood;
⁠May they ten thousandfold repay our loss,
For every life a myriad, every drop a flood!

John Oldham

John Oldham's other poems:
  1. Upon the Works of Ben Jonson
  2. A Dithyrambic
  3. A Satire Touching Nobility
  4. The Praise of Homer
  5. The Parting

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