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David And Jonathan

John Drinkwater 1882 ( Leytonstone, London, ) – 1937 ( London)

And Jonathan too had honour in his heart,
Jonathan who with an armour-bearer went
Alone by Michmash to the Philistines,
And met a spray of swords because of courage
That made him single greater than a host.
Jonathan too had known his battles, dared
At any hour the coming of death, because
In twilight silence he had walked with God,
Read Him in blossoms and the mountain brooks,
And learnt that death, well known, can alter nothing.
He was a brown man, burnt with love of summer,
His young beard curled, and russet as the eyes
That looked on life, and feared it, yet were master,
Because they knew the tyranny they feared,
Measured it, learnt it, gazed it into nothing.
 
....
 
And now he watched the boy, the son of Jesse,
David with hair like maples in October,
And skin that women loving coveted,
David with eyes that often by the sheepfolds
Had looked through leaves up to the folds of heaven,
And seeing them crammed with golden fleece of stars,
Had known how the blood can run because of beauty.
Jonathan watched him take the armour off
Given by Saul, and choose the bright smooth pebbles,
And walk out from the Israelitish throng
Into the field against the Philistine giant.
Watching, he snatched his sword and cried to Saul,
"Bid him come back. This murder must not be."
And as he spoke, he knew the words were treason,
His heart alone in all the world was sure
That David was the Lord's appointed arm,
To meet this bulk of dirt, this giant fear
Brandishing out of the loathly camps of evil.
And before Saul could answer, he put down
The sword, and said, "I love him. Let him go."
 
....
 
But the words, I love him, were not for his father Saul,
Hardly Jonathan knowing he spake them out.
But as he looked on David love was there,
Waking from that in David that he himself
A little was, and always greatly shaping
Himself towards, so that his name was spoken
Famously in Saul's kingdom. It was courage,
The clean heart, undivided in its doing,
The purpose that, being bodied in the brain,
Thenceforth knew every trickling argument
That fell from tongues of persuading circumstance,
As lures of evil ever threatening life,
That Jonathan loved above all enterprise.
He knew, or the rarer man within him knew,
That once your yea in holy meditation
Had shaped itself in the perfect syllable,
Thenceforth no nay from any other tongue
Or wise or passionate or masterful,
Could be listened to without the shame of sin
Corrupting all your constancy for ever.
He knew the curse of good betraying good,
Till both in bleak irresolution fall.
And all his years was Jonathan's anguish only
To keep this tillage of his wisdom clean.
 
.....
 
Since boyhood he had known Philistia
For the black thing it was, a plague opposed
Always against the loveliness of Israel,
And when his father Saul was anointed king
By Samuel in Ramah, then Jonathan knew
How all the lessons of his youth had been
To fit him for the striking of the men
Who profaned beauty and let the soul be blind.
And he was diligent in bronze and arms,
And kept his body supple, and his eye
Keen, and the coming of his hooves was thunder,
Wherever battle fell. He bore a flame,
Zealous and pure, in the heavens of his mind,
To serve and to instruct. Aye, to instruct,
There was the biting blemish, as we shall see.
 
.....
 
Philistia was foul, and Jonathan knew,
And the voice of God within him was plain and constant
To strike and strike unwearying to the end.
And then the poor, precise, infirmity
That loads good minds with ever seeming virtue,
Until they cast their treasure to the dust,
Crept on him, wound about the gleaming truth
That was his one foundation. Day by day
He was resolved, and then the grain of doubt
Would come to hurt the riding of his thought,
And break the level balance that it had.
Was then the Philistine mere black? That day
Jonathan's arm half paused upon the blow,
And evil went a little scatheless off.
Surely the worst even of adversaries
Had somewhere beams that pointed to salvation,
And hasty judgment might not be the will
Of an all-seeing Lord? Then would the vengeance
Falter, and stay, and Jonathan's battle failed.
And always then was bitterness and reproach
In the night watches when upon his couch
He looked on the stars studding his little window
Before sleep came. Then he would speak again
The word that single was his valiance,
His only truth, his warrant as a man,
And once again Philistia was doomed.
Then for a season clean the stroke and sure
That Jonathan drove, and black was known for black,
Till slowly as before would mount and mount
Scruple on scruple, as was not he himself
A little black sometimes, or plainly wicked?
And should the wicked man not be redeemed?
Merely destruction surely was no answer,
Since yet the wickedness must wander somewhere?
How should he say, I, Jonathan of Israel
Am good, and you the Philistine are cursed,
Since in that face was something that had been
Learnt from the buds and corn and frozen hills
That he himself had known for seals of God?
And would not his power on Israel increase,
Take on a loftier authority,
If to his famous arms he could add a tale
Of counsel working in the hearts of men,
Moving them to a finer charity,
A little pity for offence? And so
Instruction like a worm was at his roots,
And pride of virtue made Jonathan forget.
Then sometimes as he knew himself betrayed
He would cry upon his spirit in the night,
 
I, Jonathan, who know
The processes of God
Moving within me,
Turn aside to my idols of desire.
He has taught me the ways
Of Philistine cruelty. He
Shows me the bad man toiling to the ruin
Of beauty and the free spirit on earth,
And has equipped me for the establishment
Of His will in this battle, and I fail.
I am a leaf spinning about the wind,
Who have been shown the ways of stedfastness.
O Israel, I have heard
My dedication made
To your sweet service by the voice of Him,
And I betray
That wisdom, that great simpleness of wisdom,
Inventing in my brain
Fantastic argument
As though God's mind
Had missed the brighter pools
That I alone could visit and gaze into.
He tells me, and I hear
Voices not His.
Knowing, I question. And I am ashamed.
 
So Jonathan saw walking at his side
Always a shadow that was his own denial.
 
.....
 
And now was April mirrored in the plumes
Of ravens and the green of the young wheat,
And dusky ewes with white lambs in the sun
Lay in the valley plain between the hosts
Of Israel and Philistia. And on this day
Jonathan learnt utter reproach, and love.
There on the plain Goliath stood alone,
Poised in his mighty bulk, with black locks flowing,
A handsbreadth taller even than Saul the king
Who shouldered it above the men of Israel,
And beat his words of sure defiance out,
Ringing across the windless noon. And all
Israel heard, and fear was on them, knowing,
If thus the issue, how it should prevail.
And Jonathan in the tent of Saul his father,
Watched, and his blood was quick, and in his mind
He strove against the last of doubt. And then
The young man David stood before them, bidden
By Saul, who heard one say, "There is a boy
New come from tending sheep in Bethlehem,
And seeks the king." And David stood before them,
And asked no leave, but said, "There was a cause.
It bade me come, and I will fight with him."
And Saul denied, but David did not hear
Denial, saying, "the wild beasts of the field
I with my hand have slain at the fold's gate,
And this is mine to do." And David stood,
Greater than argument while Saul armed him there.
And Jonathan saw the purpose that he was not,
Glowing and bodied, and his love was born.
 
.....
 
Then David flung the armour off, and said,
"I am David, and I know not these strange arms.
I must go out as I have always been,
Not girt with new occasion. It is I,
David the shepherd that am David still,
And I know nothing of your spears and plate.
A sheepskin have I worn, and in my hand
A sling, and pebbles taken from the brook.
Now shall I go, content that God has watched me
So habited and armed through all my youth.
Should I pretend another David now,
I should meet this man with neither honour nor hope.
If I am sent against the Philistine
Out of God's anger, and I know it is so,
It is not one the chosen of Saul's hosts,
But I, David of Bethlehem must go,
The son of Jesse, and keeper of his flocks."
 
.....
 
Almost the tears were seen in Jonathan's eyes,
Because of David's words, of which he knew
The poor ghosts hiding somewhere in his own heart.
And then he spoke his fear, and then the words,
Resting his sword, "I love him. Let him go."
And David stept out of the emerald light
That played up from the grass floor of the tent,
Into the full flood of the April noon,
And walked a little way, and those two stood
Parted a hundred paces, the man of terror,
Hewn massy and with shock of builded limbs,
And David moulded like a sea boy risen
From caves of music where the water spins
Wet sand into the shapes of flowing flowers;
David with limbs all bright with the sun's tones,
And ruddy locks curling with youth and light,
His body all alert on steady loins,
Clean spun of flesh that knew the winter snows,
And mellow pools of summer, and the dews
Dropping among the crocuses of dawn.
His sandle-straps bound ankles as a girl's,
And fluttering to his knees the sheepskin hung,
Cloaking one shoulder, while the other gleamed.
And there he paused, the sling in his right hand,
His left hand fingering the pouch of pebbles,
While Israel fearing murmured, and the hosts
Of Philistine derision rocked the noon.
Then did Goliath cry, "Am I a dog,
For a boy's whipping? Have you not a man,
That you would send a cleaner up of crumbs
From the queen's table? Come then, and be broken,
For birds to find you and the dogs at night."
And Jonathan heard Philistia shout again,
And David, like a flame unwinded, stood
Quivering at the cry, and laid a stone
In the sling's fold, and cast his staff, and ran,
Fleet as the king bird gliding under leaves,
Towards Goliath. And a giant spear
Swung from the Philistine hand, and forty paces
Sang in the air and brushed the flying sheepskin,
And sudden David's feet were planted firm,
Locked on the earth, and circling in the sun
The tight thong flashed and loosened, and the stone
Smote the Philistine wrath above the eyes,
And the day was clouded from him, and he fell.
 
.....
 
Then Israel spared not. And, when night was come,
Jonathan sent for David to his tent,
And those two sat while the yellow torches burned,
And Jonathan spoke and said, "David, my brother,
To-day you have made a story that shall be
For ever fruitful in the heart of man.
This day is David's. But of this day I too
Share, not in the honour, but in the harvesting,
Or the harvesting I think is wholly mine.
Shall I speak on?" And David said, "Speak on."
Then Jonathan, "This morning there was a man,
And it was Jonathan, who many years
Had gone snared in a purpose not his own,
That is, not truly mine. Always I knew,
Walking by that self I said was honest,
Another self, the true self, in a shadow,
Or at an angle that my eyes refused.
I was a proud man, David, very virtuous,
Or, in fairness to myself, desiring virtue,
Truly desiring it, I may say that.
And yet even in that desire there moved
A lie, for I knew the virtue of my desire
Was something tainted. No, I knew it not,
But that other self walking beside me knew it,
And whispered, I knew, a thing that I would not hear.
Always it whispered, as I stood alone,
I said, in subtle thought among all Israel.
God had spoken to me, David, that the Philistine
Was evil, evil, that was all God said,
And bade me strike as a man by God assured.
But the man to whom God spoke I put aside,
The still self walking, whispering, in the shadow.
And I, the Jonathan of daily light,
Tempered the word of God, I tempered it,
I who should be God's outcast doing so.
I counted evil twenty different ways,
And none of them plain evil. I diced with God,
And the dice fell as often to my hand,
It seemed, as His, but falling so the whisper
Was ever shadowed at my ear, unheard.
And ever as this new intelligence,
This pride of thought, crept over me and filled
My dawn and noon and sleep, a hunger grew,
A dreadful hunger for that self denied,
And every word I spoke for righteousness
Turned bitter on my lips, because I knew
That every word was righteousness undone.
Such was the man this morning when you came,
Who from the king's tent watched you, David. Then
Change and completion and I know not what
Of heavenly fulfilment fell upon me.
Not from myself, nor of my own devising,
But marvellously spoken in a space
Of golden light that glowed about the form
Of a boy standing in my father's tent.
Quite suddenly the thing I lacked was there,
The shadow whispering at my side had gone
And stood there bodied in you, David, brother,
O dear young shepherd from your sheepfolds called,
Nay Jonathan myself it was there standing,
Or barren branches of myself in flower,
My jailored thought flooded with light of song.
And in that moment nothing was between
Your soul and mine, and knowing you, I loved,
Since love is understanding, and must come
When mind looks on the presence of very mind.
I loved you, David, and I love, and ever,
Because my mind, even in one day's passing,
Has learnt you as no years could better learn,
My love is fixed upon you. And, moreover,
Since from this hour I must for ever know
Some element of me lodged sole in you,
Some certainty in you alone to be
Among my weeds the patient husbandman,
I must in your love prosper or not at all.
Now therefore, David, let a covenant be
Between us from this day, for the heart knows."
 
.....
 
David and Jonathan under the long torches
Were silent then. And David's eyes were fixed
Long upon Jonathan, as eyes may sometimes look
On eyes, and see no face, looking beyond
Into unimaged life, into the brain
Moving behind the circumstance of flesh,
Eyes that to-morrow passing might hardly know
The mere face that to-night they gaze upon.
And Jonathan having spoken, waited there
While David searched him slowly with still eyes.
Then David rose, and drew the tent-fold back,
And looked upon the stars of Palestine
Long, and a mallow moon; and Jonathan waited.
Then David came again, and spoke, "I too,
Standing this morning in your father's tent,
Knew that a life unwonted was near me there.
And now you have spoken, and the love you say,
I know, and as your will is so is mine.
Something I am for you that none can be.
Let it be so, but all is not then said.
This morning when I smote the Philistine,
I was God's purpose, that I must believe.
But purpose only is not all of God,
Hearing you now, I know it is not all.
When first I saw you I did not know it then,
Only, facing the Philistine, something new
A moment marked me, and unnoted went,
No touch of it upon my will. But now
I have heard you speak, and what it was I know.
You loved me, Jonathan, seeing, as I stood,
That shadowy self of you of which you tell me
Suddenly living fearless in the sun.
That is your reaping of my field, and I
Glory to give it you. But were that all,
Proud to be loved, I should not love again.
But now I know for me is too a reaping.
Your shadow to my living purpose leaps,
And that is wonderful. But as you spoke
Some David hidden from the man that slew
Goliath listened also, and is now
With us for ever. And he that wrought this life
Is you, Jonathan of doubts and speculation,
The man who sits there plainly now, the mere
Jonathan when the shadow is forgotten.
Now do I know my purpose magnified,
Sure as of old, but learning in its flight,
Of pity and the sad heart of man from you,
And how the jealous and unmerciful,
Being stricken down, are but poor sorrows too.
So, Jonathan my brother, as you take,
So do you give, and in us now shall be
The perfect whole of purpose and compassion,
And resolution without pride of heart.
Now therefore will I make the covenant,
Knowing that never more can you or I
Without this love be better than a tale
Of corrupting seed and fallow-lands unsown."
 
.....
 
Now Jonathan rose and put the torches out,
And a grey beam of dawn was on those two.
And Jonathan took his outer garment off,
Which was the king's son's, and robed David there,
And he took the sword that Saul had given him,
Belted in gold and cased in figured steel,
And it hung on David's loins. And Jonathan said,
"Who fails in this, that is the last betrayal,
The quenching of the holy spirit of God."
And David said, "So be it." And they embraced,
And kissed. And David went into the dawn.
And Jonathan watched until the day was full.
 
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

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John Drinkwater

John Drinkwater (1 June 1882 – 25 March 1937) was an English poet and dramatist. more…

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