Rizpah- A Mother who guards sons' dead bodies

II Samuel

21. 9-10.

   This narrative is so unpopular;-

The famine raged, King David asked the Lord:

"When will you lift the drought?" - while waging war,

And many fell by hanging or by sword.

No other mother's sorrow was so great

As Rizpah's, former concubine of Saul,

Whose sons swung from a tree, a sight of dread,

Increased yet by the hooting of an owl.

For a massacre of the Gibeonites,

Revenge and just deserts their clansmen cried-

To expiate the crimes upon their sites

Now seven pawns were picked and hanged aright.

Five of Saul's grandsons too at Gibeah

Were hanged in retribution of Saul's sin,-

Plus Rizpah's sons,- but great Rizpah

Fought for the hanged as mother heroine.

Poor Rizpah's mission now became to watch

The hanging bodies of her sons upon

The gallows on a rock, so none would touch

To desecrate the bodies of her sons.

The lack of burial is punishment

So terrible, that Rizpah did decide

The bodies of her loved ones to defend,

From vultures, and from dogs by day and night.

Thus day and night with sackcloth she chased off

The nearing dogs and many another beast,

In boundless and  incomparable love

That dared war's callous grimness to resist.

Others forsook their loved ones,- let them stay,

But Rizpah tended to them lovingly,

Chased greedy hungry birds of prey away

With a devoted  mother's piety.

Once she was clad in silken robes at court

And jingled for King Saul the tambourine,

And danced for him, her master, king and lord,

With pride and grace as  favorite concubine.

Ah! - royal garments Rizpah once had worn,

Bejeweled with so many an ornament,

But now her garb was sackcloth, coarse and torn,

The garment like  her mother heart was rent.

So well she'd danced before her Lord the King,

In golden robes and gems and jewels bright,

But now her teeth were chattering

In desolation, sorrow and grim plight.

Beneath the scudding clouds now Rizpah stood

In daytime's heat, in hunger and in thirst

And during night times listened to the hoot

Of owls behind the hanging trees accursed.

Torn  dirty  rags hang round her whithered frame,

And utter desolation filled her heart.

The king�s and her own sons now hang in shame,

From honors of a burial debarred.

She could not hinder seizure of her sons,

But stood in death by them as once in life,

She would protect their hanging flesh and bone,

Shield it from vultures with her club and knife.

Ah  Rizpah was so weak and powerless,

Yet broke the cycle of  great violence,

And David,  shamed by her, could naught but bless

And bow to her great  charity from thence.

Oh what she did, was a heroic deed,

From the beginning of the crop, till rain

Began to fall at last - not small a feat,

To watch and shield  hanged  sons in grief and pain.

Ah Rizpah! - what a mother's love can do!

Behold!  a woman,  beat and powerless,

Stopped winds of violence that raged and blew

With sackcloth,-  and a mother's steadfastness.

Shielded from desecration those held dear,-

Chased prowling animals, dread  birds and hound,

And braved attacking lions without fear,

With perseverance on accursed a ground.

She waved a lighted torch to frighten off

Wild animals and lions drawing near,

And  beat at them with club and fisticuffs,

And chased the vultures circling in the air.

No woman  showed endurance such as this,

And stoicism �midst such tragedy,

And resoluteness in calamity,

At loss and deprivation's apogee!.

Lo! without sleep nor drink or nourishment

This  mother stood  five months in vigil watch,

Till buriel took place in sacred land,

She watched "accursed" her sons, so none dared  touch.

Lo! Scripture gives this mother heroine

Too short a space, - some scanty paragraph,

Ah!- pages of devotion should have been

Allowed for such tremendous mother love.

The aweful famine stopped soon afterwards,

Rain came,- lo! - Yahweh did send rain,

And comforted a desperate mother's heart,

Whose sons were buried on a hallowed plane.

(c) Elizabeth Dandy

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Starward's picture

I am surprised that a poem this powerful has received no comments as of yet; but, I feel privileged to be the first to comment on it. I admire any Poet who takes inspiration from Scripture---in the grand tradition of John Milton, and others; and I admire any Internet Poet who makes the poem accessible. This account from Scripture could have been a ballad; or it could have been a cold, formal, highbrow type of "academic" poetry. You have chosen to make it the former type; and for that, you are to be commended. And thank you so much for the e-mail that directed me to this powerful, poignant, and respectful poem.