Victor Hugo
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82 French Victor Hugo (1802–85) So Boaz Slept Boaz lay down in weariness and pain; He’d spent long hours laboring on his land And smoothed his blanket with a dusty hand To sleep among his heaps of garnered grain. More fields of wheat stood ready to be mowed; Though wealthy, he was not an unjust man. Down his mill-race unclouded waters ran, And in his forge no hellish irons glowed. His beard shone silver like a brook in spring. His sheaves were thick, but bundled without greed, And when, at harvest, gleaners came in need, He said, “Leave some ears for their gathering.” On righteous paths his feet were known to dwell, And goodness cloaked him like a robe of white; His grain poured forth for all whose hungry plight Touched him, like water from a public well. Honest with workers, loyal to his kin, He honored thrift no less than charity; The women watched old Boaz wistfully And saw more in him than in younger men. An old man sees his source with clearer sight; Soon passing from this world of troubled days, He holds eternity within his gaze. A young man’s eyes flash fire; an old man’s, light. So Boaz slept beneath the moon’s faint glow. Among the great stones massed outside his mill, Victor Hugo 83  His reapers lay together, dark and still, In that mild evening age on age ago. Judges still ruled the tribes of Abram’s blood. The Hebrews, wandering in their land of birth, Saw footprints left by giants in the earth Soft and damp from the still-remembered flood. Like Jacob, or like Judith, Boaz too Lay fast asleep upon his humble bed; The gates of heaven, far above his head, Half opened, and a dream came passing through. And from his loins a great oak, flourishing, Stirred Boaz in his dream, and, gazing down, He saw a race ascending it; a king Sang at the roots; a god died in its crown. Then Boaz murmured with a heartfelt sigh: How can it pass that I should bear this tree When eighty years and more have fled from me? I have no son, nor wife to get one by. The woman, Lord, with whom I shared this bed Has gone forever, sharing one with Thee; Yet still we two remain together, she Half-living in my thoughts, and I half-dead. Shall I conceive a nation sprung from me, A tree arising from this ancient dust? Only when I was younger could I trust That day could wring from night such victory. For now I tremble like a winter bough; Alone and widowed, I am dry and old, And, as night falls, I bend against the cold As to the trough the plow-ox dips his brow. 84 French Thus Boaz mourned. The cedar does not feel The rose that clings to it; his dream was sweet Yet painful to him; and it was so real He did not sense the woman at his feet. So Boaz slept, while Ruth, the Moabite, Laid herself at his feet with naked breast, Hoping he would not wholly waken, lest He find her there, unknown in the pale light. But Boaz did not know that she was there, Nor did Ruth know what God required of her. The breath of night caused asphodels to stir, And all Galgala teemed with perfumed air. Darkness deepened—nuptial, august, sublime. Perhaps an angel watched them, hovering Above them with a barely beating wing; Blue shadows brushed their eyes from time to time. The breath of Boaz softened like the tones Sung by stream water when it flows across A gentle bed of pebbles thick with moss While lilies bloom among the hilltop stones. So Boaz slept, and Ruth awakened first, To drowsy sheep-bells tinkling in the night; The false dawn was aglow with kindly light In that still hour when lions slake their thirst. The whole world dreamed, from Ur to Jerimadeth; Stars studded the blue velvet of the air; The crescent moon hung low; Ruth said her prayer, Begging the heavens in her softest breath— Victor Hugo 85  Barely moving, with veiled, half-lidded eyes— To say what god, what summer harvester, Had come that night to make his peace with her, Leaving his golden scythe there in the skies. R. S. Gwynn, 2009 ...


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