Passages From Judith and Holofernes

The Transfiguration of Judith.

SLOWLY from her knees
Judith arose, but dared not lift her eyes,
Awed with the sense that now beside her stood
A God’s white Angel, though she saw him not.
A gleam fell on her, touching eyes and lips
With light ineffable. . . .
On cheek and throat and bosom lay such tint
As in the golden process of mid-June
Creeps up the slender stem to dye the rose.

Daybreak in Samaria.

Like one that from a lethargy awakes,
The Hebrew woman started : in the tower
No wingèd thing was, save on a cross-beam
A twittering sparrow. From the underworld
Came sounds of wheel and hoof, vague hints of life,
And where the black horizon blackest lay
A moment gone, a thread of purple ran
That changed to rose, and then to sudden gold —
A wave of gold that breaking on the dark
Flung its red spray against the cliffs and spurs,
But left the valley in cool shadow still.
And still the mist above the Asshur camp
Hung in white folds, and on the pendent boughs
The white dew hung.

Judith goes to the Camp of Asshur.

Then Judith veiled her face, and took her scarf,
And wrapt the scarf about her, and went forth
Into the street with Marah, the handmaid.
It was that hour when all the wretched folk
Haunted the market-stalls to get such scraps
As famine left; the rich bazaars were closed,
Those of the cloth-merchants and jewellers;
But to the booths where aught to eat was had
The starving crowds converged, vociferous.
Thus at that hour the narrow streets were thronged.
O saddened Muse, sing not of that rough way
Her light feet trod among the flints and thorns,
Where some chance arrow might have stained her breast,
And death lay coiled in the slim viper’s haunt;
Nor how the hot sun tracked her till she reached,
She and her maid, a place of drooping boughs
Cooled by a spring set in a cup of moss,
And bathed their cheeks, and gathered mulberries,
And at the sudden crackling of a twig
Were well-nigh dead with fear: sing, rather, now
Of Holofernes, stretched before his tent
Upon the spotted hide of that wild beast
He slew beside the Ganges, he alone
With just his dagger; from the jungle there
The creature leapt on him, and tore his throat,
In the dim starlight: that same leopard-skin
Went with him to all wars.

Judith and, Marah in the Tent.

And when they were alone within the tent,
“O Marah,” cried the mistress, “do I dream?
Is this the dread Assyrian rumor paints,
He who amid the hills of Ragau smote
The hosts of King Arphaxad, and despoiled
Sidon and Tyrus, and left none unslain ?
Gentle is he we thought so terrible,
Whose name we stilled unruly children with
At bedtime—See! the Bull of Asshur comes!
And all the little ones would straight to bed.
Is he not statured as should be a king ?
Beside our tallest captain this grave prince
Towers like the palm above the olive-tree.
A gentle prince, with gracious words and ways.”
And Marah said : “ A gentle prince he is —
To look on ; I misdoubt his ways and words.”
“ And I, O Marah, I would trust him not! ”
And Judith laid her cheek upon her arm
With a quick laugh, and like to diamonds
Her white teeth were between the parted lips.

At the Tent Boor.

Now the one star that ruled the night-time then,
Against the deep blue-blackness of the sky
Took shape, and shone ; and Judith at the door
Of the pavilion waited for Bagoas ;
She stood there lovelier than the night’s one star.
But Marah, looking on her, could have wept,
For Marah’s soul was troubled, knowing all
That had been hidden from her till this hour.
The deadly embassy that brought them there,
And the dark moment’s peril, now she knew.
But Judith smiled, and whispered. “It is well ; ”
And later, paling, whispered. “Fail me not!”
Then came Bagoas, and led her to the tent Of Holofernes.

Epilogue.

Thus through God’s grace, that nerved a gentle hand
Not shaped to wield the deadly blade of war,
Judea was saved. . . .
And love and honor waited from that hour
Upon the steps of Judith. And the years
Came to her lightly, dwelling in her house
In her own city; lightly came the years,
Touching the raven tresses with their snow.
Many desired her, but she put them by
With sweet denial : where Manasseh slept
In his strait sepulchre, there slept her heart.
And there beside him, in the barley-field
Nigh unto Dothaim, they buried her.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich.