The great yearning

This Sunday poem may not strike you immediately as a poem for Advent, but as you read it, I think you’ll see why I chose it.  It’s a favorite poem of mine by one of my favorite writers, Anthony Esolen. I do hope that you savor and relish it as much as I do upon reading it.  Let’s never go back to Egypt, but continue to yearn with a great yearning.

When Israel Went Out of Egypt

When Israel went out of Egypt

Behind the spattered doorposts I recall
My elders muttering prayers of terror when
Night and the angel of destruction fell
On the firstborn of Egypt; heard the cry
Of the heart-broken women like sea-birds
Calling over the waste; saw the black surge
Smash the great army that pursued us still,
As a child smashes sticks; saw, looking back,
Strange residue upon the settling sea,
Robes and plumes, white faces, fingers at the reins,
The upturned necks of horses lodged in mud
And broken chariot wheels; stood at the mountain
When thunder made my people hide their eyes
And the lone prophet sojourned to the height
To bring us back the great gift of the Law;
Wavered a moment when the earth beneath
Cracked, and devoured the rebels whole; bent double
To scramble up the grains of what-is-this,
Seethed them and baked the paste into sweet wafers;
Swung the good sword at the Amalekite,
Well while the prophet held his old arms high,
But when they fell, our favor fell with them.
I have known all these things and more, far more;
Yet sometimes when the evening sun’s at rest
On the long sands behind, there comes again
A hint of something subtle on the air,
A slither of a scent, or festal song;
Come to me only, though a guilty glance
Now and again from one of my old friends
Betrays a similar thought: for there are times,
God help us, there are times when we might trade
The holy Torah and the heaven-dropped food
And all the fiery wonders of the desert,
The promise of a land we have not seen,
For wheat in ear upon the river’s mud,
A pot of lamb stew rich in leeks and onions,
And brown girls wearing no more than a sash
Smiting the tambourine upon the hip;
For slavery too had something for the slave.
Then the sun sets; we huddle in our tents,
We bow, we pray; and the great yearning falls
Like dew upon the Sabbath eve: to hold
Close to our hearts that choice that is not ours,
That He would dwell among us, Israel,
Bound among all the nations to be free.

One thought on “The great yearning

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s