Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  Scenes from “Saul”

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

Charles Heavysege 1816–69

Scenes from “Saul”

SCENE.—A chamber of the palace. DAVID playing on his harp. SAUL enters and listens, and at length DAVID ceases.

Saul.Still more, still more: I feel the demon move

Amidst the gloomy branches of my breast,

As moves a bird that buries itself deeper

Within its nest at stirring of the storm.[DAVID plays again.

Were ever sounds so sweet!—where am I? O,

I have been down in hell, but this is heaven!

It grows yet sweeter,—’t is a wondrous air.

Methinks I lately died a hideous death,

And that they buried me accursed and cursing.

But this is not the grave; for, surely, music

Comes not to reanimate man ’neath the clods.

Let me not think on ’t! yet a fiend fierce tore me.

Ah, I remember now, too much remember;

But I am better: still methinks I fainted;

Or was the whole a fearful, nightmare dream?

Nay, am I yet not dreaming? No; I wake:

And, as from dream or as from being born,

Without the outcry of a mother’s travail;

Or, as if waking from a revery,

I to myself am ushered by strange music,

That, in its solemn gentleness, falls on me

Like a superior’s blessing. Give me more

Of this sweet benefit.[After having listened again.

Who is this stranger? Yes, I know him now.

’T is not a heavenly spirit, though so like one,

With curving arms encompassing the harp,

As clasps the landscape the aërial bow:

It is the minstrel youth from Bethlehem;

In form, indeed, surpassing beautiful.

Methinks he doth address himself to sing:

I ’ll listen, for I love him as he sits

Rapt, like a statue conjured from the air.


David.[Sings, accompanying himself on his harp.]

O Lord, have mercy on the king;

The evil spirit from him take;

His soul from its sore suffering

Deliver, for thy goodness’ sake.

Saul.[Aside.]He for me prays.

O, heal thine own Anointed’s hurt;

Let evil from his thoughts be driven;

And breathe upon his troubled heart

The balmy sense of fault forgiven.

Saul.[Aside.]I would not hide my faults; amen.

Great God, thou art within this place;

The universe is filled with thee:

To all thou givest strength and grace;

O, give the king thy grace to see.

Saul.[Aside.]What have I done deserved the loss of grace?

I cannot say “amen”;—and if I did,

My feeble amen would be blown away

Before it had reached heaven. I cannot say it:

There disbelief takes prisoner my tongue!

As after winter cometh spring,

Make joy unto his soul return;—

And me, in thy good pleasure, bring

To tend my flock where I was born.

Saul.[Aside.]So able, yet so humble![Aloud.]David, no;

Thou shalt remain and be mine armorbearer.

What, wouldst thou seek again the idle downs,

’Midst senseless sheep, to spend the listless day,

Watching the doings of thy ewes and rams!

Thou shalt go with me to the martial field

And see great deeds thereon.

Myself will teach thee military lessons;

To tell the enemy’s numbers; to discover

His vulnerable points; by stratagem

To draw him from his posts of vantage; how

Swift to advance; how to surprise the foe;

And how to leaven others with thy courage;

How win from Ammon and the strong Philistine,

And how at last to drink triumphantly,

From goblet of victorious return,

The blood-red wine of war.

Meantime, thy lyric pleasures need not end;

For the fair maidens of the court affect

Music and song. Go now and tell the Queen

All the advantage thou hast been to me.[Exit David.

How potent is the voice of music! stronger

Even than is a king’s command. How oft

In vain have I adjured this demon hence!

O Music, thou art a magician! Strange,

Most strange, we did not sooner think of thee,

And charm us with thy gentle sorcery.


Malzah.Music, music hath its sway;

Music’s order I obey:

I have unwound myself at sound

From off Saul’s heart, where coiled I lay.

’T is true, awhile I ’ve lost the game;

Let fate and me divide the blame.

And now away, away; but whither,

Whither, meantime, shall I go?

Erelong I must returned be hither.

There ’s Jordan, Danube, and the Po,

And Western rivers huge, I know:

There ’s Ganges, and the Euphrates,

Nilus and the stretching seas:

There ’s many a lake and many a glen

To rest me, as in heaven, again;

With Alps, and the Himalayan range:—

And there ’s the Desert for a change.

Whither shall I go?

I ’ll sit i’ the sky,

And laugh at mortals and at care;

(Not soaring, as before, too high,

And bring upon myself a snare;)

But out my motley fancies spin

Like cobwebs on the yellow air;

Laugh bright with joy, or dusky grin

In changeful mood of seance there.

The yellow air! the yellow air!

He ’s great who ’s happy anywhere.

To be the vassals and the slaves of music

Is weakness that afflicts all heaven-born spirits.

But touch whom with the murmur of a lute,

Or swell and fill whom from the harmonious lyre,

And man may lead them wheresoe’er he wills,

And stare to see the nude demoniac

Sit clothed and void of frenzy. I ’ll begone,

And take a posy with me from Saul’s garden.[Exit; and soon re-enters, bearing a huge nosegay, and thereat snuffing.

Shall I fling it in the earth’s face, whence I took it!

Albeit I ’ve seen, perhaps, flowers as mean in heaven.

Well, I will think that these are heaven’s. Alack,

This is a poor excuse for asphodel;

And yet it has the true divine aroma.

Here ’s ladslove, and the flower which even death

Cannot unscent, the all-transcending rose.

Here ’s gilly-flower, and violets dark as eyes

Of Hebrew maidens. There ’s convolvulus,

That sickens ere noon and dies ere evening.

Here ’s monkey’s-cap.—Egad! ’t would cap a monkey

To say what I have gathered; for I spread my arms

And closed them like two scythes. I have crushed many;

I ’ve sadly mangled my lilies. However, here

Is the august camellia, and here ’s marigold,

And, as I think, i’ the bottom two vast sunflowers.

There are some bluebells, and a pair of foxgloves

(But not of the kind that Samson’s foxes wore).

That ’s mint; and here is something like a thistle

Wherewith to prick my nose should I grow sleepy.

O, I ’ve not half enumerated them!

Here ’s that and that, and many trifling things,

Which, had I time, and were i’ the vein for scandal,

I could compare to other trifling things,

But shall not. Ah, here ’s head-hanging-down narcissus,

A true and perfect emblem of myself.

I ’ll count it my own likeness; and so leave it

For delectation of my radiant mistress,

Who, lieu of keeping watch and ward o’er me,

May keep it over my pale effigy.[Drops the narcissus.

I ’ll hang this matchless rose upon my lips,

And whilst I ’m flying will inhale its breath.[Exit.

SCENE.—The Alps. Time, night, with stars. Enter MALZAH, walking slowly.

Malzah.So, so; I feel the signal.

It seems to reach me through the air,

To Saul it prompts me to repair.

I wish ’t would cease; it doth not please

Me now to terminate my leisure.

I was alone; and here to groan

At present is my greatest pleasure.

I ’ll come anon; I say begone;

What is the wayward King to me?

I say begone; I ’ll come anon.

O, thou art strong; I ’ll follow thee.[Exit, and enter the angel Zelehtha.

Zelehtha.He flees, he flees, across the seas

That eastward lead to Canaan’s land:

And Heaven commands me not to cease

To urge, yet guide, his hand.[Looking upwards.

How every star reminds me of my lover!

When we did part, he on me cast his eyes,

Bright as those orbs. Yet over them suffusion

Came like the mists o’er evening, as he charged me

Still to him to return (if so I might

Return afresh to him, my home and goal),

What time the earth returned day’s light to heaven.

So would I now swift soar unto his bosom,

But I must not abandon this foul fiend,

Until his work is done. Hence do I follow

Him through the spaces of the universe,

Still tracking him in silence, as I track

Him now across these heaven-piercing heights,

O’er which the quiet, congregated stars

Dance, twinkling-footed, and, in gladness, make

Mute immemorial measure, without song.

Yet hearken; the immeasurable yawn

Methinks awakens, and, by me evoked,

This grave of silence gives a ghost of sound.

What song is that which wanders hitherward,

Falling as faintly and as dew-like down

Into the urn of my night-opened ear,

As might, like incense, to the nostril come

The floating fragrance of a far-off flower?

It is the voice of some desiring seraph,

That lonely sings unto her absent love;

And, in the breathing of her languishment,

Gives more than words unto the dumb abyss.

I ’ll also sing, since some ascending angel

May hear it, and repeat it to my cherub.[Sings.

I said, farewell,

And smiled,—for tears yet never fell in heaven;

But thou didst sigh,

“Farewell,” didst sigh; “return to me at even.”

But why at even

Didst thou to thee solicit my return?

Since distance cannot

Divide us who in old embraces burn.

Then let’s unsay

“Farewell,”—which we ought never to have said,

But, each to each,

Words, of rejoicing and delight instead.

Lorn thoughts from thee

Put far, then, since, though now from thee apart,

I soon shall be

Again thy love-mate, whereso’er thou art.

Lo, where yon demon, with increasing speed,

Makes his dim way across the night-hung flood,

Due to the Hebrew King, with onward heed,

Like to a hound that snuffs the scent of blood.

I ’ll follow him.[Exit.