Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Joseph and His Brethren”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Charles Jeremiah Wells 1800–79

From “Joseph and His Brethren”


RACHEL, the beautiful (as she was call’d),

Despis’d our mother Leah, for that she

Was tender-ey’d, lean-favor’d, and did lack

The pulpy ripeness swelling the white skin

To sleek proportions beautiful and round,

With wrinkled joints so fruitful to the eye.

All this is fair: and yet we know it true

That ’neath a pomane breast and snowy side

A heart of guile and falsehood may be hid,

As well as where the soil is deeper tinct.

So here with this same Rachel was it found:

The dim blue-laced veins on either brow,

Neath the transparent skin meandering,

That with the silver-leaved lily vied;

Her full dark eye, whose brightness glisten’d through

The sable lashes soft as camel-hair;

Her slanting head curv’d like the maiden moon

And hung with hair luxuriant as a vine

And blacker than a storm; her rounded ear

Turn’d like a shell upon some golden shore;

Her whispering foot that carried all her weight,

Nor left its little pressure on the sand;

Her lips as drowsy poppies, soft and red,

Gathering a dew from her escaping breath;

Her voice melodious, mellow, deep, and clear,

Lingering like sweet music in the ear;

Her neck o’ersoften’d like to unsunn’d curd;

Her tapering fingers rounded to a point;

The silken softness of her veined hand;

Her dimpled knuckles answering to her chin;

And teeth like honeycombs o’ the wilderness:

All these did tend to a bad proof in her.

For armed thus in beauty she did steal

The eye of Jacob to her proper self,

Engross’d his time, and kept him by her side,

Casting on Leah indifference and neglect;

Whereat great Heaven took our mother’s part

And struck young Rachel with a barrenness,

While she bore children: thus the matter went;

Till Rachel, feeling guilty of her fault,

Turn’d to some penitence, which Heaven heard;

And then she bore this Joseph, who must, and does,

Inherit towards the children all the pride

And scorn his mother had towards our mother:

Wherefore he suffers in our just rebuke.


Phrax. Oh! ignorant boy, it is the secret hour,

The sun of love doth shine most goodly fair.

Contemptible darkness never yet did dull

The splendor of love’s palpitating light.

At love’s slight curtains, that are made of sighs,

Though e’er so dark, silence is seen to stand

Like to a flower closed in the night;

Or, like a lovely image drooping down

With its fair head aslant and finger rais’d,

And mutely on its shoulder slumbering.

Pulses do sound quick music in Love’s ear,

And blended fragrance in his startled breath

Doth hang the hair with drops of magic dew.

All outward thoughts, all common circumstance,

Are buried in the dimple of his smile:

And the great city like a vision sails

From out the closing doors of the hush’d mind.

His heart strikes audibly against his ribs

As a dove’s wing doth freak upon a cage,

Forcing the blood athro’ the cramped veins

Faster than dolphins do o’ershoot the tide

Cours’d by the yawning shark. Therefore I say

Night-blooming Cereus, and the star-flower sweet,

The honeysuckle, and the eglantine,

And the ring’d vinous tree that yields red wine,

Together with all intertwining flowers,

Are plants most fit to ramble o’er each other,

And form the bower of all-precious Love,

Shrouding the sun with fragrant bloom and leaves

From jealous interception of Love’s gaze.

This is Love’s cabin in the light of day,

But oh! compare it not with the black night;

Delay thou sun, and give me instant night—

Its soft, mysterious, and secret hours;

The whitest clouds are pillows to bright stars,

Ah! therefore shroud thine eyes.


Joseph. Still I am patient, tho’ you ’re merciless.

Yet to speak out my mind, I do avouch

There is no city feast, nor city show,

The encampment of the king and soldiery,

Rejoicings, revelries, and victories,

Can equal the remembrance of my home

In visible imagination.

Even as he was I see my father now,

His grave and graceful head’s benignity

Musing beyond the confines of this world,

His world within with all its mysteries.

What pompless majesty was in his mien,

An image of integrity creates,

Pattern of nature, in perfection.

Lo! in the morning when we issued forth,

The patriarch surrounded by his sons,

Girt round with looks of sweet obedience,

Each struggling who should honor him the most;

While from the wrinkles deep of many years,

Enfurrow’d smiles, like violets in snow,

Touch’d us with heat and melancholy cold,

Mingling our joy with sorrow for his age:

There were my brothers, habited in skins;

Ten goodly men, myself, and a sweet youth

Too young to mix in anything but joy;

And in his hands each led a milk-white steer,

Hung o’er with roses, garlanded with flowers,

Laden with fragrant panniers of green boughs

Of bays and myrtle interleav’d with herbs,

Wherein was stor’d our country wine and fruit,

And bread with honey sweeten’d, and dried figs,

And pressed curds, and choicest rarities,

Stores of the cheerless season of the year;

While at our sides the women of our tribe,

With pitchers on their heads, fill’d to the brim

With wine, and honey, and with smoking milk,

Made proud the black-ey’d heifers with the swell

Of the sweet anthem sung in plenty’s praise.

Thus would we journey to the wilderness,

And fixing on some peak that did o’erlook

The spacious plains that lay display’d beneath,

Where we could see our cattle, like to specks

In the warm meads, browsing the juicy grass,

There pitch our tent, and feast, and revel out,—

The minutes flying faster than our feet

That vaulted nimbly to the pipe and voice,

Making fatigue more sweet by appetite.

There stood the graceful Reuben by my sire,

Piping a ditty, ardent as the sun,

And, like him, stealing renovation

Into the darkest corner of the soul,

And filling it with light. There, women group’d,

My sisters and their maids, with ears subdued,

With bosoms panting from the eager dance,

Against each other lean’d; as I have seen

A graceful tuft of lilies of the vale

Oppress’d with rain, upon each other bend,

While freshness has stol’n o’er them. Some way off

My brothers pitch’d the bar, or plough’d for fame,

Each two with their two heifers harness’d fast

Unto the shaft, and labor’d till the sweat

Had crept about them like a sudden thaw.

Anon they tied an eagle to a tree,

And strove at archery; or with a bear

Struggled for strength of limb. These were no slaves—

No villain’s sons to rifle passengers.

The sports being done, the winners claim’d the spoil:

Or hide, or feather, or renowned bow,

Or spotted cow, or fleet and pamper’d horse.

And then my father bless’d us, and we sang

Our sweet way home again. Oft I have ach’d

In memory of these so precious hours,

And wept upon those keys that were my pride,

And soak’d my pillow thro’ the heavy night.

Alas! God willing, I ’ll be patient yet.


In the royal path

Came maidens rob’d in white, enchain’d in flowers,

Sweeping the ground with incense-scented palms:

Then came the sweetest voices of the land,

And cried, ‘Bow ye the knee!’—and then aloud

Clarions and trumpets broke forth in the air:

After a multitude of men-at-arms,

Of priests, of officers, and horsed chiefs,

Came the benignant Pharaoh, whose great pride

Was buried in his smile. I did but glimpse

His car, for ’t was of burnish’d gold. No eye

Save that of eagles could confront the blaze

That seem’d to burn the air, unless it fell

Either on sapphire or carbuncle huge

That riveted the weight. This car was drawn

By twelve jet horses, being four abreast,

And pied in their own foam. Within the car

Sat Pharaoh, whose bare head was girt around

By a crown of iron; and his sable hair,

Like strakey as a mane, fell where it would,

And somewhat hid his glossy sun-brent neck

And carcanet of precious sardonyx.

His jewell’d armlets, weighty as a sword,

Clasp’d his brown naked arms—a crimson robe,

Deep edged with silver, and with golden thread,

Upon a bear-skin kirtle deeply blush’d,

Whose broad resplendent braid and shield-like clasps

Were boss’d with diamonds large, by rubies fir’d,

Like beauty’s eye in rage, or roses white

Lit by the glowing red. Beside him lay

A bunch of poppied corn; and at his feet

A tamed lion as his footstool crouch’d.

Cas’d o’er in burnish’d plates I, hors’d, did bear

A snow-white eagle on a silver shaft,

From whence great Pharaoh’s royal banner stream’d,

An emblem of his might and dignity;

And as the minstrelsy burst clanging forth,

With shouts that broke like thunder from the host,

The royal bird with kindred pride of power

Flew up the measure of his silken cord,

And arch’d his cloud-like wings as he would mount,

And babble of this glory to the sun.

Then follow’d Joseph in a silver car,

Drawn by eight horses, white as evening clouds:

His feet were resting upon Pharaoh’s sword;

And on his head a crown of drooping corn

Mock’d that of Ceres in high holiday.

His robes were simple, but were full of grace,

And (out of love and truth I speak him thus)

I never did behold a man less proud,

More dignified or grateful to admire.

His honors nothing teas’d him from himself;

And he but fill’d his fortunes like a man

Who did intend to honor them as much

As they could honor him.