Thomas Aird

The Demonaic: Chapter I: Miriam's Interview With Christ

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In the green month of Zif beneath an agèd palm-tree sate,
In the wide plain of Jericho, a mother desolate:
Her lips were covered with her robe, upon her head she cast
The dust of earth; and over her the hours unheeded passed.
Forth from the neighbouring trees came Christ, and stood at Miriam's feet;
His face with peace and ardour blent, unutterably sweet.
7She raised her head, she saw Him stand, kneeling she clasped His knee:
“Help me, great Man of Nazareth! give back my son to me!
Take pity on a mother's loins, broken with weary pain!
Over the cloudy hills I go—I seek him still in vain!
Sorrow my only portion is; sleep flees from me; for food,
Thy handmaid oft is fain to pick harsh berries from the wood.

“My heart breaks: Tell me, where is he?”—“Daughter of Judah, how
Should I thy son know?”—“I have seen Thy might—a prophet Thou!
And I have heard Thee speak great things, like arrows dipped in gall,
Shot from a bow, against the proud; have seen before them fall
The brows of haughty men: but aye, like honey-drops, distil
Thy words, the spirits of the grieved with healing balm to fill.
“Where is my son, my Herman? At first I stayed at home,
Till it was cruel so to rest, while he was forced to roam.
At morn I looked for him, from noon on to the twilight dim;
And when in the uncertain light the evening shadows swim,
I shaped him thence. He came not—God from love has cast him forth;
But he is dear to me, and I will hunt him o'er the earth.
“Hear me, good Lord! Oh bless me then! A widow, sore bereft,
I lost my daughter Judith. But Herman still was left.
With power, like an anointed child's, with glory his brow was clad,
His cheek with virgin bealth; how bloomed the beauty of his head!

His young eye was as when the sun shines in an eagle's eye;
A life within a life was there, burnished, and bold, and shy.
“And scarce the silky blossom of his yellow beard was seen,
When he the ancient forests traced with slings and arrows keen;
Heroic daring from each limb breathed; as the posting winds
Fleet, o'er the hills so high and bright he chased the dappled hinds.
Then with the men of Naphtali, a lion-hunter bold,
He tossed his golden head afar on their snowy mountains cold.
“His boyhood with just joys enlarged, no guilt had spoilt, no fear;
Nor painted women lured his youth—hence was his spirit clear.
And I had taught him the great acts of old embattled kings,
Champions, and sainted sages, priests, judges, all mighty things;
Till, from deep thought, his eye was like a prophet's burdened eye:
And he was now a man indeed, built for a purpose high.
“God of my fathers! if my hopes in him presumptuous were,
From him to me the punishment, tempered with love, transfer!

Help us, thou Man of God! Perhaps by hopeless passions bound
And rendered weak, the mastery a Demon o'er him found:
Reason and duty all, all life, his being all became
Subservience to the wild strange law that overbears his frame.
“Dark as the blue piled thunderlofts then grew his forehead high,
And gleamed like their veined lightnings, rash and passionate, his eye;
For he was sorely vexed and fierce. Anon, in gentle fits,
Like idle hermit looking at the clouds, all day he sits.
At length he fled far from my care, he felt his life disgraced:
Pride took him to the wilderness, shame keeps him in the waste.
“Strong as the eagle's wings of quest, on aimless errands runs
The beauteous savage of my love; but still his mother shuns.
Along the dizzy hills that reel up in the cloudy rack,
O'er tumbling chasms, by desert wells, he speeds his boundless track;
And in the dead hours of the night, when happier children lie
In slumber sealed, he journeys far the flowing rivers by.
“And oft he haunts the sepulchres, where the thin shoals of ghosts
Flit shivering from death's chilling dews; to their unbodied hosts,
That churm through night their feeble plaint, he yells; at the red morn
Meets the great armies of the winds, high o'er the mountains borne,
Leaping against their viewless rage, tossing his arms on high,
And hanging balanced o'er sheer steeps against the morning sky.
“His food from honey of the rocks and old cleft trees is drawn,
From wild-fowl caught in weedy pools by the raw light of dawn,
From berries, all spontaneous fruits. In winter, in the caves
Of hills he sleeps; the summer tree above his slumber waves;
Nature's wild commoner, my child! on the blear autumn eves,
When small birds shriek adown the wind, he lies among the leaves.
“By day the sun, the frost by night, weariness, want, and pain,
Sorely his young eyes must have spoilt, and dried his wasted brain.
Gone are his youth's fine hopes; and mine, what are they? My poor child,
Sweet Patience for thy minister go with thee to the wild!
What shalt thou do when sickness comes? How much it grieveth me,
78: That from thy mother's love thou shouldst, as from an enemy, flee!

“For him these chastened bones of mine have stood the winter's shock;
I've crept to reach him as he sate on the bald top of the rock;
When summer has enlarged the year upon the pleasant mountains,
I've seen him sit long hours afar beside their spangled fountains;
But the coy lightning of his eye ne'er sleeps: my art is vain;
Swift as a roebuck he is gone, and I must weep again.
“Charmers, exorcists of old skill, wizards that muttering go,
All that deal subtly, I have tried: I add but sin to wo.
The Expiation-feast I've kept; I've prayed by many a tomb
Of prophets, fervid men of old, that God would change his doom:
All's vain! No, no, it shall not be; for I will track the earth,
O'ertake him, hold him with strong love, and drive the Demon forth!”
A cry rung in the distant woods: up Miriam rose and ran
But turned, came back, and kneeling kissed the garment of that Man—
For anxious hope is dutiful. With beating heart again
She turned away, ere Jesus spake, and sought the woody plain;
And through the rustling alleys, through the mild glades, one by one,
She wandered half the summer day, but could not see her son.

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Thomas Aird