Wednesday, May 18, 2016

David to Himself

Watcher in the fragrant darkness, speak:
what can you want from her watersprinkled face?
Her hair is wondrous black; her cheek
is flushed like pomegranates, and her race
is of Gilòh. But can she slake the lust
of a king who’s danced under the sky;
who knows that perfumed heads are matted dust,
and that it’s grief to think of twining thigh
to thigh? What though Jonathan’s honey dripped
from her lips to yours, and lingering there, could cloy
your senses, still your head would be undipped
in heaven’s springs. Nor such enormous joy
as fires the flashing Seraphs could alloy
your breast and limbs in her embraces gripped.

Sweet-seeming mouths are pots of spit and tongue,
skinned by luring cheeks. So go and spill
the blood of bulls on the altar—there, among
the smoke and joyful songs that overfill
the priests—know God! but He does not dwell
In breathing frames or touch the sons of man.
For flesh cannot hold God; nor thirst upwell
In a God-drunk heart for anything so wan.
Strange, then, that your righteous spirit clings
so sickly to its trunk of hungry flesh,
wasting for want! Yet awful God shall thresh
your little soul, and spare its worthy things.
He’ll keep your hand from her, for He unstrings
The cords of sin and splits their choking mesh.

But David, what is this? O lightless mind,
is God not in Jerusalem revealed?
A body in the bath is putrid rind,
but what a goodly fruit it has concealed!
Yea, once in ancient night beside a flood
was He not sinewed and alive in blood?
He strove at Peniël
till light
with father Israël,
who saw His anxious brow and seized His loin.
And I his mighty seed, shall I not join
my soul to His when He is bared to me?
Bat-Sheva’s person is a painted screen
that sunders now—yes by my life, I see
the stirring God, no more a moonlit queen.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1889

Vandalized Book of Hours, France, ca. 1400
(Nat. Lib. of Australia)

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