Bethesda

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Bethesda
by Arthur Hugh Clough

A Sequel


I saw again the spirits on a day,
Where on the earth in mournful case they lay;
Five porches were there, and a pool, and round,
Huddling in blankets, strewn upon the ground,
Tied-up and bandaged, weary, sore and spent,
The maimed and halt, diseased and impotent.

For a great angel came, ’twas said, and stirred
The pool at certain seasons, and the word
Was, with this people of the sick, that they
Who in the waters here their limbs should lay
Before the motion on the surface ceased
Should of their torment straightway be released.
So with shrunk bodies and with heads down-dropt,
Stretched on the steps, and at the pillars propt,
Watching by day and listening through the night,
They filled the place, a miserable sight.

And I beheld that on the stony floor
He too, that spoke of duty once before,
No otherwise than others here to-day,
Foredone and sick and sadly muttering lay.
‘I know not, I will do what is it I would say?
What was that word which once sufficed alone for all,
Which now I seek in vain, and never can recall?’
And then, as weary of in vain renewing
His question, thus his mournful thought pursuing,
‘I know not, I must do as other men are doing.’

But what the waters of that pool might be,
Of Lethe were they, or Philosophy;
And whether he, long waiting, did attain
Deliverance from the burden of his pain
There with the rest; or whether, yet before,
Some more diviner stranger passed the door
With his small company into that sad place,
And, breathing hope into the sick man’s face,
Bade him take up his bed, and rise and go,
What the end were, and whether it were so,
Further than this I saw not, neither know

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.