Project Canterbury

RUTH

 

A Seatonian Poem.

 

By the

Rev. John Mason Neale, M.A.,
Late scholar of Trinity College.

 

 

Cambridge:
Deighton, Bell, and Co.
T. J. Palmer, East Grinsted.
J. Masters, London.

M.DCCC.LX.

transcribed by Jennifer M Stolpa
AD 2000


ADVERTISEMENT

"THE REV. THOMAS SEATON, M.A., late Fellow of Clare Hall, bequeathed to the University (in 1738) the rents of his Kislingbury estate, now producing clear £40. per annum, to be given yearly to that Master of Arts who shall write the best English Poem on a sacred subject. The Vice-Chancellor, the Master of Clare Hall, and the Greek Professor (who are the disposers of this premium), determine the subject, which is delivered out in January, and the Poem is to be sent to the Vice-Chancellor on or before the 29th of September following. The Poem is to be printed, and the expense deducted out of the product of the estate: the remainder is given as a reward to the composer."

Cambridge, Nov. 2nd, 1860.

The above PREMIUM was this year awarded to the Reverend John Mason Neale, M. A., of Trinity College.

LATIMER NEVILLE, Vice-Chancellor.

EDWARD ATKINSON, Master of Clare College.

W. HEPWORTH THOMPSON, Greek Professor.


Ecclesiam Ruth designat de gentibus ejus:
    Vir, CHRISTUS: caste qui sibi jungit eam.

PETRUS DE RIGA, Recapitulationes, 341.

RUTH

 

I.

HE stood on that prophetic height,
    The chief of Israel’s host,
And cast, inspir’d of GOD, his sight
    Round Canaan’s furthest coast:
Where Spring, like some fair youthful queen,
Deck’d Jordan’s banks with loveliest green,
And, right in Judah’s onward road,
The City of the Palm-trees glow’d,
And Idumĉa’s mountains lay
Far in the South, obscurely grey,                         10
To where the purple died away
    Upon the Western main:
Where Ephraim’s hills in glory shone,
By sea-storm’d Carmel, on and on,
Till, crown’d with snow-wreaths, Lebanon
    Girt in Sidonia’s plain.
Nor less he views each future scene,
Though many a century intervene;
How Judah’s holier mount shall own
    The LORD’S elected seat,                                 20
And Sion’s future tow’rs enthrone
    The footstool of His feet:
—Behold the land thy tribes must win,
But plead thou not to enter in!

II.

Of all the vision, sweet yet faint,
That cheer’d the warrior and the saint,
What landscape could so brightly shine,
Bethlehem-Ephratah, as thine?
Dear sunny fields,—true "House of bread,"—
    True home of David’s race;                                   30
Whence Judah’s mystic bands are fed
    And whence endued with grace;
Where He His earliest light shall pour,
    The Flower of Jesse’s rod;
The Wonderful, the Counsellor,
    The Everlasting GOD:
Where Israel’s tribes shall lift the horn,
    And Satan’s ranks be riv’n,
What time to us a Child is born,
    To us a Son is giv’n:                                                   40
Where midnight skies shall sing His birth,
The future LORD of ransom’d earth:
Nor Gloria in Excelsis cease
    From furthest shore to shore
To tell of "peace to men of peace,"
    From thenceforth evermore.

III.

O glorious theme! but all too high
For my unskilful minstrelsy:
I rather turn my ruder rhyme
Back to the scenes of earlier time;                                 50
Though still we mark the dews that gem
Each leaf and flower of Bethlehem;
Still note the evening’s latest tint
Upon her rustic turrets glint;
Though many a sun has yet in turn
    To ripen Bethlehem’s corn,
And many a summer’s course to burn,
    Before her LORD is born.
Let others tell how here that Name,
    That Blessed Name, was won;                                         60
And wreathe a garland for His fame,
    The everlasting Son:
To no such strain I tune my string,
    No such renown I hail;
I leave them all,—content to sing
    A simple village-tale.

IV.

A sky of the deepest and tenderest blue:
A landscape that glistens with May’s first dew:
The land of the olive, the land of the vine,
The region that floweth with oil and with wine:                             70
While the pathway, down to the valley, glows
With Hermon’s lily, and Sharon’s rose:
And, like peaceful squadrons in rank enrolled,
The broad slopes glitter with barley-gold:
What spot upon earth, as the spot where we stand,
Is so like the happy eternal Land?
But there is no riving of heart from heart:
There none can sorrow, and none can part:
There sickness is banished, and dried each tear,
And consoled each mourner—‘tis not so here!                         80

V.

'Tis not so here—for sad and slow,
With words of doubt, and mien of woe,
    Three pilgrims onward stray;
They mark not how, exulting loud,
The lark, from yonder purple cloud,
    Salutes the early day:
They reck not how the air is balm,
How nature's very self breathes calm,
    And all her tribes are gay:
No! there is hidden grief that lies                                        90
Too deep for all her harmonies.
Three pilgrims: one with matron air,
And features worn, yet sadly fair,
And beauty in its calm decay,
As landscape in an autumn day:
And two that to her neck have clung,
Like roses round some firmer stem,
O'er which their gentle leaves have hung,
And which their red buds diadem.
Both lovely as a dream—both dight                                         100
In robes of eastern beauty's light:
But she, whose darker ringlets deck
The fair pure brow, and purer neck,
Whose eye is clear and firm and true
As summer heav'n of deepest blue,
Whose clinging gesture tells how much
Affection speaks by very touch,—
Go forth and search from East to West
For tenderest eye and snowiest breast,
For mingled loveliness and truth,                                        110
And thou shalt find their home in RUTH!
But who that sees them now, would dare
To think that Orpah were less fair?
Less fixed in faith, less firm in hope,
With every toil, for love, to cope?

VI.

Two summer morns alike may break,
And bid the wood's sweet anthems wake;
And one shall mark its sun descend
Unclouded, to his glorious end,
And one shall see the whirlwind rise,                                     120
And storm and gloom enshroud its skies.
Two summer larks alike may spring,
At daybreak, on their upward wing;
And this at eve shall carol loud
Beneath her canopy of cloud,
And that, before the west is grey,
Shall flutter as the fowler's prey.
Two rosebuds shall alike be seen
To burst their shrine of emerald green;
And one shall shed its life-long breath                                     130
In sweetness, and be sweet in death;
And one, ere yet 'tis fully burst,
With mildew and with blight be curst,
And so these twain:—this hour shall view
Which is the feigned and which the true.

VII.

With her fair sad face, and her matron grace,
    She spake to her daughters twain;
And her glance was cast to the days that were past,
    And could never return again:
To the loved ones that lie ‘neath an alien sky,                         140
    And moulder in heathen clay;
And never shall stand in the LORD’S own land
    Till the Resurrection Day.

VIII.

"O happy hours, while yet of old
The GOD of Jacob watch’d His fold,
While yours, mine own, it was to bless
With love and careful tenderness:
And though remembering, day by day,
The LORD'S own mansion, far away,
And mindful, at each evening’s rise,                                          150
Of Shiloh's holy Sacrifice,—
Still had I hoped one day to tread,
With you and with the holy dead,
To you unknown, but dear to them,
The quiet fields of Bethlehem.
That hope is past: and though my heart
Half breaks to say it, we must part:
'Tis the Most High that wills it—No!
Cling not to me, sweet daughters, so!
I have no sons, my joy and pride,                                          160
Henceforth to claim in each their bride;
I have no hope, in sinking age
To find a home for heritage.
Turn, then, and seek your native shore;
Turn to your people's shrines once more:
And, wheresoe'er your lot be thrown,
The GOD we trust in guard His own!
And give you some one day to prove
His best and holiest treasure, love;
And infants that shall yet be press’d                                         170
With mother’s rapture to the breast:
And so His aid be by you felt,
    His shield around you spread,
As, in the former days, ye dealt
    With me, and with the dead!"

IX.

O Orpah, dost thou hide thy face,
And canst thou bear to sever?
And hast thou heart for that embrace
Which says farewell for ever?
-Thou, in Whose Hand is earthly bliss, 180
Oh give me any woe but this!
That where I lean with every power
Of faith and love and trust,
I ever should endure the hour
That crushes all to dust!
Take those I love, if so Thy will,
And I may love them dearlier still:
They pass but for a while away,
They dwell at home with Thee;-
And I shall go to them, tho' they 190
Shall not return to me:
But thus to lose the faith of years,-
'Tis grief that lies too deep for tears:
'Tis gloom, whence hope no ray can borrow:
'Tis night that cannot look for morrow.
Once more I pray:-an Orpah's kiss,-
O give me any woe but this!

X.

What time the storm was black as night,
    And rain was driving fast,
And gulfs of cloud, from height to height,
    Were tossed before the blast:
Hast though not seen the rainbow-arch
From North to South serenely march,
And heard its own consoling cheer,
'Be of good comfort!  GOD is here!'
So as they stood beside the palm
    Where Orpah bade farewell,
Those accents full of love and calm
    Upon the silence fell:
"Whate'er of weal, whate'er of woe,
    Beset thy future way,
Whither thou goest, I will go,
    And where thou stayest, stay:
Where'er thou shalt have bow'd the knee,
    Whatever path have trod,
Thy people shall my people be,
    Thy GOD shall be my GOD:
And when that darkest hour draws nigh,
    Yet be not thou afraid:
For where thou diest, I will die,
    And there will I be laid:
And GOD do so and more to me,
If ought but death part me and thee!"

XI.

Three thousand years have pass'd away
    Since first those words were spoken,
And still, as on that very day,
    Their spell remains unbroken;
The exile on an alien shore
    Drinks in their high devotion,
The home-wrapp'd seamen cons them o'er
    Upon the Atlantic Ocean:
The soldier grasps them for his shield
    Before the sign of battle;
They whisper comfort in the field
    Above the cannon's rattle:
Watchword of woman's love, that still
Will mock at space, and smile at ill:
That, when the clouds close darkest round,
    Will only shine the brighter;
That, when the rest are faithless found,
    Will only cling the tighter:
'The LORD do so and more to me,
If ought but death part me and thee!'

XII.

Thou art praised in Sion, O GOD of Hosts!
    And to Thee they perform the vow,
When they go to worship in Salem's coasts,
    And before Thine Altar bow:
Thou visitest earth with a glorious birth;
    Thou makest it plenteous indeed;
And the River of GOD shall fatten the sod,
    For so Thou preparest the seed:
Thou water'st her furrows, Thou droppest the grain
    Into every little vale;
And Thou makest it soft with the drops of rain,
    Nor lettest the increase fail:
Thou crownest the year with Thy goodness here,
    And Thy clouds drop fatness still:
They shall comfort and bless the wilderness,
    And gladden each little hill:
-The folds shall be full of sheep!
    The valleys so think with corn,
That for very joy they shall laugh and leap,
    When Thou liftest Thy people's horn!

XIII.

So from the break of early day.
    Until the night grew dim,
In Ephratah, while all was gay,
    Went on the harvest hymn:
But thou in harvest joy to share,
Poor wanderer! hast but little care!
-She hasten'd forth from Bethlehem
    With all a Mother's pride,
Content the world's wild waves to stem,
    Her husband at her side:
Now she returns in life's decay,
Youth's brightest dreams dissolved away:
Her footsteps, like an alien's, roam
Round that which once she called her home:
And, but for this dear treasure, now
Hers by affection and by vow,
As lonely midst her own she stands,
As shipwreck'd man on stranger sands.
'O call me not Naomi,-GOD
    Hath changed my former name!
And for the Crown He sends the rod,
    And for the glory, shame:
Yet to His Will content to bow,-
My title must be Mara now!'

XIV.

I marvel not that poets teach
    Of that fair golden time,
When heart was pure, when thought was speech, 290
    When heart was in her prime.
And so I deem, as I behold
Where Bethlehem's harvest waves in gold,
And see the lord of all the land
Come forth amidst his reaper band,
With gentle mien and kindly air,
As if an equal part they bare
-The master in the servants' toil,
The servants in the master's spoil.
"The LORD be with thee!"-O sweet token 300
Of love to GOD and man unbroken!
O glorious words, which not alone
    Shall Bethlehem's hills repeat,
But after years, from zone to zone,
Shall echo at the LORD'S own Throne
    In many a cadence sweet:
What time the vast Cathedral pile,
From vaulted Nave and fretted Aisle,
    Shall, all in answer meet,
"And with thy spirit!" make reply, 310
In that full choral harmony!

XV.

But one there is, of stranger mien,
Who dares in those sweet fields to glean,
Where none may grudge, and none upbraids,
Amidst the ranks of Israel's maids;
Although the fierce sun, flaming down,
Hath tinged her cheek with darker brown,
Although with unaccustom'd toil
She gather in the reaper's spoil,
Deem not her task unbless'd above,- 320
She toils in faith, and works for love.
"Hearken, my daughter!  Seek not now
    In other fields to stray,
But by my maidens tarry thou,
    And in my harvests stay:
And at their fountain cool thy lip,
And in their cup thy morsel dip:
Have I not charged them, that they be
As though they shared one home with thee?"

XVI.

-Oh, in this world, that turns its sight 330
To darkness rather than to light,
    And, in its course embruted,
That loves to brand the pure and bright
    As faithless and polluted;
The very worst suspecting still,
And out of good inventing ill;
In this poor judgment-seat of dust,
How great a thing is holy trust!
-The merry harvest feast is past;
The harvest pipe is hush'd at last; 340
In scatter'd farm and distant cot
Of many a wild and hill-side spot,
The reapers, while in silence dim
    The moon her bright watch keepeth,
Once more commend themselves to Him
    Who slumbereth not nor sleepeth.
But Boaz,-he must be secure
Whose willing hand hath fed the poor-
But Boaz lays him down to rest,
Where are the barn sheaves closeliest prest. 350
When the LORD'S banner is unfurl'd,
    And crush'd are death and sin,
Thus, in the harvest of the world,
    He shall be garner'd in!

XVII.

Oh blame her not!  she comes impress'd
By Israel's law in clear behest:
Directed by the lore of age
To claim her wifely heritage:
As pure as Angels in the sky,
As safe as in a sanctuary. 360
The heav'n is calm, the night is dark:
That barn-floor is her holy ark:
He sleeps the good man's slumber sweet;
She crouches stilly at his feet:
And guardian Angels watch above,
With looks of joy and thoughts of love:
They see, in prophet-vision clear,
The future scenes that shall be here:
The Babe that come sour woes to heal,
    And make our bitter sweet: 370
The Virgin Mother that shall kneel
    And worship at His feet:
Though Israel may reject her LORD,
    The ox and ass shall know
The Prince, for evermore ador'd,
    Who comes to dwell below:
And hither shall the wise men bring
    Their offerings three, to own
The GOD, the Mortal, and the King,
    Who reigns from Sion's throne! 380
When shall the promis'd time appear,
That this shall be, and this be here?
That promis'd time and King they see,
And trace His line, sweet Ruth, to thee!

XVIII.

Why should I tell how midnight rest
With holy, plighted troth was blest?
Why should I tell, at Bethlehem's gate
How Bethlehem's chosen elders wait,
And call the GOD Who rules the sky
The sacred bond to ratify?                                          390
How she, the alien-one, who chose
In Israel's land to find repose,
Her home, her kin, her gods forsaken,
From Israel's GOD hath guerdon taken?
And therefore is her name enroll’d
    In that celestial page,
Which, writ in characters of gold,
    Shall live from age to age:
And therefore doth her story shine,
Unspotted, in Messiah's line;                                          400
And she hath won the endless fame
That from her heathen-root He came.
And so, amidst a world of strife,
She speaks the words of hope and life:
'If thou art call'd to toil for truth,
    Yet be not thou afraid;
But think upon the GOD of Ruth,
    And He shall give thee aid!’


Project Canterbury