Jacob

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Jacob
by Arthur Hugh Clough

My sons, and ye the children of my sons,
Jacob your father goes upon his way,
His pilgrimage is being accomplished.
Come near and hear him ere his words are o’er.
Not as my father’s or his father’s days,
As Isaac’s days or Abraham’s, have been mine;
Not as the days of those that in the field
Walked at the eventide to meditate,
And haply, to the tent returning, found
Angels at nightfall waiting at their door.
They communed, Israel wrestled with the Lord.
No, not as Abraham’s or as Isaac’s days,
My sons, have been Jacob your father’s days,
Evil and few, attaining not to theirs
In number, and in worth inferior much.
As a man with his friend, walked they with God,
In His abiding presence they abode,
And all their acts were open to His face.
But I have had to force mine eyes away,
To lose, almost to shun, the thoughts I loved,
To bend down to the work, to bare the breast,
And struggle, feet and hands, with enemies;
To buffet and to battle with hard men,
With men of selfishness and violence;
To watch by day, and calculate by night,
To plot and think of plots, and through a land
Ambushed with guile, and with strong foes beset,
To win with art safe wisdom’s peaceful way.
Alas! I know, and from the onset knew,
The first-born faith, the singleness of soul,
The antique pure simplicity with which
God and good angels communed undispleased,
Is not; it shall not any more be said,
That of a blameless and a holy kind,
The chosen race, the seed of promise, comes.
The royal, high prerogatives, the dower
Of innocence and perfectness of life,
Pass not unto my children from their sire,
As unto me they came of mine; they fit
Neither to Jacob nor to Jacob’s race.
Think ye, my sons, in this extreme old age
And in this failing breath, that I forget
How on the day when from my father’s door,
In bitterness and ruefulness of heart,
I from my parents set my face, and felt
I never more again should look on theirs,
How on that day I seemed unto myself
Another Adam from his home cast out,
And driven abroad unto a barren land
Cursed for his sake, and mocking still with thorns
And briers that labour and that sweat of brow
He still must spend to live? Sick of my days,
I wished not life, but cried out, Let me die;
But at Luz God came to me; in my heart
He put a better mind, and showed me how,
While we discern it not, and least believe,
On stairs invisible betwixt His heaven
And our unholy, sinful, toilsome earth
Celestial messengers of loftiest good
Upward and downward pass continually.
Many, since I upon the field of Luz
Set up the stone I slept on, unto God,
Many have been the troubles of my life;
Sins in the field and sorrows in the tent,
In mine own household anguish and despair,
And gall and wormwood mingled with my love.
The time would fail me should I seek to tell
Of a child wronged and cruelly revenged
(Accursed was that anger, it was fierce,
That wrath, for it was cruel); or of strife
And jealousy and cowardice, with lies
Mocking a father’s misery; deeds of blood,
Pollutions, sicknesses, and sudden deaths.
These many things against me many times,
The ploughers have ploughed deep upon my back,
And made deep furrows; blessed be His name
Who hath delivered Jacob out of all,
And left within his spirit hope of good.



Come near to me, my sons: your father goes,
The hour of his departure draweth nigh.
Ah me! this eager rivalry of life,
This cruel conflict for pre-eminence,
This keen supplanting of the dearest kin,
Quick seizure and fast unrelaxing hold
Of vantage-place; the stony hard resolve,
The chase, the competition, and the craft
Which seems to be the poison of our life,
And yet is the condition of our life!
To have done things on which the eye with shame
Looks back, the closed hand clutching still the prize!
Alas! what of all these things shall I say?
Take me away unto Thy sleep, O God!
I thank thee it is over, yet I think
It was a work appointed me of Thee.
How is it? I have striven all my days
To do my duty, to my house and hearth,
And to the purpose of my father’s race,
Yet is my heart therewith not satisfied.

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