Thomas Aird

The Demonaic: Chapter II: Miriam's Interview With Her Son, Herman The Demonaic

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By Jordan's waters, Miriam sate beneath a tree and wept.
She heard a groan: a man from out the shrubs before her crept;
And, like the Serpent damned of God—as if to crush the worm
Of hunger that within him gnawed, and ground his writhing form—
He trailed his belly in the dust; his eye, that keenly burned
With famine's purging fire, to her—his mother—was upturned.
“Bread! bread! O bread!” feebly he cried. Her little store she took,
And gave it to his trembling clutch; and brought him from the brook
Water in hollow leaves; then down beside him sitting she
Soft drew to her his yellow head, and laid it on her knee;
With kiss long as an exile's kiss, she clung unto him there;
Bedewed his face with many tears, and wiped it with her hair.
He slept, like an o'erwearied babe: she held her sobbing breast
To stir him not; and hid his eyes, that he might longer rest;
And smoothed his far-descending locks, dishonoured with the dust;
And long and calmly did he sleep beneath her sacred trust.
At length he started with a groan, he knelt upon his knee:—
“Thou mother! why hast thou not sought the Son of God for me?
“Ha! this is harsh: Oh pardon me! I know thy love. well tried,
Has me by the tall forests sought, and by the pastures wide,
Rocks, and dim sepulchres: dear one! oh think me not unkind;
The Fiend has kept me from you so, wild as the wintry wind:
He takes me far, he brings me near; athwart your path I fleet,
Driven, that each other we may see, but ne'er each other meet.
“Blest are the dead! what though their face no more beholds the sun,
Though filled with barren ashes be the breast of each loved one,
With dusty motes confused and dull the jewel of the eye;
Yet are they gone, and are at rest: how peacefully they lie!
Oh to be with them! Spotted plague blue strike me, each sore ill;
So were I not a vessel filled with an infernal will!

“I am thy quarry of the wild! my faithful huntress thou!
And think'st thou not thy toils for me my spirit down must bow?
The Fiend will come again, leave me ere I leave thee: Away!
Spend not thy body, so shall I less truly be thy prey.”—
“Speak not to me, I will not go; think'st thou thy youth's first prime
Was half so dear to me as thou, now old before thy time?
“But come with me: fear not; 'tis past; we'll hear soft waters flow;
The stock-dove in the twilight woods shall soothe us as we go,
Which aye so well thou lovedst to hear; the stars that softly burn
O'er the green pasture-hills, shall light our homeward glad return;
And then the holy moon shall rise, and lead us all the way;
And the very God of peace and love will guard our home for aye!”
“Ha! this is vain: why art thou here? haste, haste, there's but one hope;
The Man of Nazareth alone can with the Demon cope:
Man? Nay, the Son of God; for oft have I, in midnight hours,
Heard in Engaddi's howling caves whisperings of the Dark Powers
Speak of Messiah, and declare this Jesus him to be.
And, from some great event at hand, this pause is given to me.”

“To-day, oh had I Him constrained! With my own thoughts oppressed,
Even I can see Him more than man: from house to house distressed
He breathes His noiseless peace; by shores of lakes, on the dim hills,
He teaches men; the lazar-house His gracious presence stills;
A new spirit whispers through the woods or Him to me at eve;
All nature seems with conscious hope of some great change to heave.”
“The Fiend! the Fiend! hark!” Herman cried: “He left me here at noon,
Hungry and sick among the brakes; and comes he then so soon?”
Up from the shores of the Dead Sea came a dull booming sound;
The leaves stirred on the trees; thin winds went wailing all around;
Then laughter shook the sullen air. To reach his mother's hand,
The young man grasped; but back was thrown convulsed upon the sand.
No time was there for Miriam's love; he rose, a smothered gleam
Was on his brow, with fierce motes rolled his eye's distempered beam;
He smiled—'twas as the lightning of a hope about to die
For ever from the furrowed brows of Hell's eternity;
Like sun-warmed snakes, rose on his head a storm of golden hair,
Tangled; and thus on Miriam fell hot breathings of despair:—
“Perish the breasts that gave me milk! yea, in thy mouldering heart
Good thrifty roots I'll plant, to stay, next time, my hunger's smart;
Red-veined derivèd apples I shall eat with savage haste,
And see thy life-blood blushing through, and glory in the taste!”—
“Peace!” Miriam cried, “thou bitter Fiend! 'tis thou, and not my son,
That speaks: I know thee, Demon cursed! I scorn thee, thou dark One!
“Glory beyond thy power, dark One! him in the last of days—
My son redeemed from thee—to Heaven my fathers' God will raise;
Whilst thou—ha! outcast from that God!—forth shalt be driven to dwell
With horned flames and Blasphemy, in the red range of Hell:
There prey the old Cares, the Furies there whirl their salt whips for aye,
And faces faded in the fire look upward with dismay.
“And sighs are there, and doleful cries, and tongues with anguish dumb;
And through that glaring fierce abyss of years no hope can come.

Fiend! leave my child—God's child—avaunt! down to thy chambers blue
Of sulphur go! the palaces of Sodom yawn for you.”
“Amen, Amen, Amen!” the Fiend with yelling laughter cried;
And, like an arrow from the bow, her Herman left her side.
“Stay!” she exclaimed: “hear me, my son: I spake not thus to you!”
Swift o'er the desert shore he ran, she hasted to pursue;
Crushing the salt surf samphire weeds, and many a crusted cake
Of salt, stumbling o'er pits, she went: she saw Gomorrah's lake,
She saw her son plunge in the waves; but fast descending night,
Mingled with storms, fell on the deep, and hid him from her sight.
And she by the dark waters of great confusion stood,
Called on her son, prayed to her God to save him from the flood;
She beat her breast, she cursed her tongue which to the Demon gave
Suggestion thus to drown her boy; she met the lashing wave;
And, bending forward, listened in each pause of the storm's sweep,
And thought she heard her Herman cry for help from out the deep.

And oh for him, for him, into the wasteful night she gazed;
And seemed to see his arms above the flashing waters raised.
She felt at length that she was mocked; along the barren shore
Far did she wander, and sate down when she could go no more.
The storm was now o'erblown, the moon rose o'er the lullèd sea;
She looked behind her — murky crags rose beetling awfully.
Strange heads came stretching from the clefts of people sheltered there,
Wild tenants of the rock, waked by the cries of her despair,
Or by the tempest roused; with threats they bade her thence be gone,
Nor vex their drowsy caves of night with her untimely moan.
“What creature of the shore art thou?” they cried. “Thee hence betake!
A woman? and hast dared to meet the storm-blast of the Lake?
“To hear the smothered voices rack the Sodomitish sea,
Of spirits pent in the whelmed rooms? Whence may thy sorrows be?
Seek'st thou the apples fair and false?” Thence back did Miriam run,
Less from her dread of violence, than haste to seek her son.
She could not find him; homeward then she turned at break of day,
And, with a sore bereavèd heart, went weeping all the way.

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Thomas Aird