With many children was the Patriarch blest,
Yet Joseph he preferr'd before the rest:
To tend his flock was all the youth's employ
To serve his God and Sire his only joy:
Jacob of his lov'd consort now depriv'd,
Beheld her graces in the son reviv'd;
And all the love he had to Rachel gone,
Was by degrees transferr'd unto her son.
A silken vest, that cast a various shade,
He fondly to the boy a present made:
Here vivid scarlet strove with lively green,
The purple, blended with the white, was seen,
And azure spots were interspers'd between.
This gaudy robe (the basis of his woe,
The source from which his future sorrows flow)
Kindled his elder brethren's wakeful pride:
(When envy mounts, affection will subside)
Their dawning hate in vain to hide they strove,
Each look too plain confess'd expiring love.
The sun obliquely shot his humid beams,
When Joseph wak'd, one morn, and told his dreams:
'My brethren, we, methought, were on a plain,
'And binding into sheaves the yellow grain;
'When mine arose; your's form'd a circle round,
'And reverently bow'd low to the ground.'
And this each face the innate rage express'd:
And Joseph thus, indignant, they address'd.
'Shalt thou indeed a sov'reign to us be?
'And shall we fall as suppliants on the knee?
'Vain boy! renounce those hopes---hence to the field
'A shepherd's crook, not sceptre, shalt thou wield.'
Again, when slumbers stole upon his eyes,
And active Fancy bade the vision rise,,
And crystal moon respectful homage pay.
This on the morn the wond'ring youth disclos'd
When Jacob the prediction thus oppos'd:
'Shall I, thine aged sire, whose silver hairs
'And arms unnerv'd proclaim my length of years,
'Prostrate on earth myself thy vassel own?
'And shall thy mother bow before her son?
'Ambition, Joseph, has thy heart possess'd,
'And dreams illusive rise from such a guest.'
But yet he wonder'd what might be design'd,
And the presaging visions treasur'd in his mind.
It chanc'd his elder sons at early dawn
Led their fair flocks to Dothen's verdant lawn:
There, while the kids and lambs crop off the flow'rs,
In close converse they pass th' eloping hours:
Beneath a cedar's boughs, whose awful shade
Extended o'er the plain, was Levi laid:
What rais'd the tears that trembled in his eyes?
Issacher ask'd; and Levi thus replies:
'Jacob was once impartial in his love;
'To please us all, and we to please him strove.
'Have we not toil'd beneath the burning ray
'Of yon bright orb, who rising we survey;
'And when the lamp of night illumes the skies,
'When dews descend and noxious mists arise,
'In silent vales a careful watch we keep,
'And from the rav'ning wolves protect the sheep?
'Is this the kind return for all our care?---
'We ask but equally his love to share;
'And that denied, to aggravate the smart,
'A simpering boy engrosses all his heart:
'What can entitle him to such a claim,
'Domestic labours, or a martial fame?
'In Mamre's groves his hours slide soft away,
'In rest at night, in indolence all day:
'With lies of us he fills the cred'lous ear,
'Too horrid to repeat, or you to hear.
'For this a superb robe adorns his limbs,
'And partial heav'n for this in mystic dreams
'Presages a reward. But words are vain.'
Here Levi ceas'd, and Issacher began.
'Ah! 'tis too plain, too obvious to the sight,
'That Joseph is our parent's chief delight,
'Although a base usurper of our right:
'You see ambition rising in his soul;
'And when his years mature to manhood roll,
'Elated with the hopes of sway, he'll try
'On us, my friends, his dreams to verify.'
He ended: but his cheeks with anger glows:
When bloody Simeon from the ground arose.
Awhile he paus'd; at length his lips impart
The black design corroding at his heart.
'Brethren, this war of words and coward rage
'Suits not our youth, but meets impotent age;
'Let one decisive stroke remove our fears,
'Obstruct the fates, and calm intestine wars.'
Reuben at Simeon glanc'd a frown, and spoke:
'The sentence yet in embrio I revoke:
'The Sechemites, (who, murder'd on the plain,
'Sad monuments of cruelty remain)
'Have they to death inur'd your gloomy eyes,
'That for a childish dream your brother dies?
'Would you in guiltless blood your jav'lins stain,
'And Nature's law by such a deed profane?
'My soul shrinks at the thought: loud sounding fame
'Would through the world the fratricide proclaim.
'Brethren, regard his youth---our father's age;
'One fatal stroke destroys both child and sage:
'Congenial souls: the union of the heart
'Death can't divide, nor living can we part.
'Ah! tell me, Simeon, is the action brave
'To sink a sage and infant in the grave?
'Mistaken valor, and inhuman deed,
'For one man's fault to make a nation bleed!
'Much more inhuman this: the son conspires
'A harmless brother's death, and aged sire's.
'Think not with their last breath your fears are fled;
'God's vengeance still pursues the guilty head!
'And why abridge his days? Ah! brethren, know,
By short'ning his, you fill your own with woe.'
He ended unapplauded, and beheld
The object of their contest on the field,
Far as the eye could reach: his glossy hair
Curl'd on his neck; his robe wav'd light in air,
Clasp'd by a plate of gold, that as he run
In brightness seem'd to emulate the sun.
Hate, stifled by reproof, flam'd in each eye,
When at a distance they perceiv'd the boy;
In ev'ry look black discontent was spread,
And Judah, pale with envy, rose and said:
'Vain sophistry! how do our joys subside,
'While that prophetic dreamer swells with pride?
'No; let him die: his vest we'll stain with blood,
'And tell his sire we found it in the wood:
'Some beast, I'll cry, and deep affliction feign,
'Oh Jacob, has thy son, thy Joseph slain!
'If Reuben new objections here create,
'Then let him bear our just, immortal hate.'
When Reuben found his death was now decreed,
Resolv'd to save the youth, or with him bleed,
He loud exclaim'd---'At least with this comply,
'(Since by our hand the innocent must die)
'I am his brother, give me not the pain
'To see his blood gush from the purple vein,
'To see his soul part from his quiv'ring lip,
'And hear the groan which ushers in his sleep.
'Where yonder cedars raise their lofty heads,
'And round the rocky place a horror spreads,
'There is a pit, to water long unknown,
'Dark its access, with brambles overgrown:
'Here be the child immur'd: the sides are steep,
'Of stone cemented, and profoundly deep;
'A certain and concealed death his fate;
'Guiltless of blood we gratify our hate.'
He hesitated---by real sorrow mov'd,
While his proposal all the swains approv'd.
But Reuben hop'd, when sleep had clos'd their eyes,
With the lov'd youth his father to surprise;
Then lead him where he might securely wait
The period when he should survive their hate.
Joseph, soon as his brethren he descries,
A placid sweetness triumph'd in his eyes,
Joy ting'd his blooming cheeks with deeper red,
He innocently smil'd, advanc'd, and said:
'To Sechem's vale our fire bade me repair,
'If you were well, solicitous to hear:
'I rov'd o'er meads enamel'd with gay flow'rs,
'I rang'd the forests and explor'd the bow'rs;
'At length my erring steps a stranger led
'To Dothen, where he said your flocks were fed
'But why this gen'ral gloom on ev'ry face,
'This stupid grief which saddens all the place?
'O tell me! quick dispel each rising fear,
'Or let me drop the sympathetic tear.'---
He pleads, impatient for the truth to gain;
But dazzling virtue aw'd the silent train.
The conscious blood revolting from each cheek,
Rush to the guilty heart and refuge seek:
Now vice prepares the formidable blow,
Yet shrinks, encountering a defenceless foe:
She summons all her forces to her aid,
And big with death, now hovers o'er his head.
Rapid as lightnings thro' the æther glance,
So swift they to th' astonish'd youth advance;
Trembling with rage they flew; they seiz'd his hair,
And bade him instantly for death prepare.
Aghast he gaz'd; he stiffen'd with surprise,
His blood congeals, he scarce believes his eyes;
A sudden horror thrills thro' ev'ry vein,
He casts an anxious look back o'er the plain;
He sees no hope; then sinking on his knees,
He thus essay'd their anger to appease:
'What have I done, my brethren, that your rage
'United should against a child engage?
'Alas! what heavy crime demands my death?'
Here rising tears suppress'd his lab'ring breath;
These when discharg'd, again the shepherd pleads:---
'Is there no friend, not one who intercedes?
'With guiltless blood pollute not Nature's laws.
'Tell me my fault, and let me plead my cause:
'If innocent, acquit; if guilty found,
'In public then let justice give the wound.'
He ceas'd to speak, and their decision wait;
When Nepthali exclaim'd, 'Our will is fate.'
Then with a cord his trembling hands they bound,
And rais'd him pale and fainting from the ground:
His terror power of utterance denies,
But yet he weeps and lifts his speaking eyes.
They lead him to the grove, whose solemn shade
The wind and solar ray could scarce pervade;
The dark abyss they found, and op'd a way
By which descending Joseph lest the day:
The hollow sides re-echo back his moan,
And distant rocks reflect the doubled groan;
In deeper notes his plaintive cries return'd,
While low excluded from the light he mourn'd.
Th' inhuman rustics soon depart the place
Where conscious Vice now flush'd each guilty face:
The sun shone hot; impervious to his ray
A grove of palms the fainting swains survey:
Beneath their shade a silver current stole,
Whose lucid waves o'er mossy carpets roll.
Here they repair, and seated on the ground,
With roseate wine the shining goblet crown'd;
The viands on the velvet grass they spread,
The grape luxuriant and the milk-white bread;
When thoughtful Reuben, sighing, rose and said:
'While you the festive banquet here prepare,
'To seek the straying lambs shall be my care.'
Scarce was he gone, when from a neighbouring vale
The fragrant smells of spicery exhale;
The aromatic loads by camels borne,
From Geliad sent, to Egypt now return:
These were proceeded by a num'rous train
Of trafficers, who from fair Midian came.
Th' inviting shade, where cool the shepherds lay,
Allur'd the merchants from their tiresome way;
They join the swains, and press the verdant ground,
While the replenish'd goblet passes round.
But pale remorse, from cool reflection sprung,
On half-repenting Judah's brow was hung;
His brother's groans reverb'rate on his ear,
But yet his envy Joseph's merits fear.
While these contending passions rend his breast
Apart the list'ning shepherds he address'd:
'My friends, the eldest curse of righteous heaven
'Was to the murderer of a brother given;
'Tho' Joseph's crimes would justify his death,
'We can be just, and yet prolong his breath.
'Let us redeem the victim from the grave,
'And send him to Egyptia as a slave;
'From those far plains he never can return,
'But must repent his faults, submit and mourn:
'No black reflection then will give us pain,
'And useful gold, my brethren, too we gain.'
The mercenary shepherds all agree,
And set him from his gloomy prison free:
He smites his breast, wet with incessant tears;
His languid eyes to heav'n he pleading rears,
Whose silent eloquence reveal'd his fears.
But when he saw the strangers in the shade,
Diffusive hope thro' all his features spread;
He wip'd away the pendant tears, and smil'd,
When by the hand proud Ashur took the child;
His sordid soul from all soft ties estrang'd,
Joseph, without remorse, for gold exchang'd:
The youth's simplicity and early bloom,
Each stranger with attractive force o'ercome:
They paid the shining ore, and journey'd on,
For in the west sunk the declining sun.
Meanwhile, o'er distant hills, and moss-grown rocks,
The pensive swain pursues the timid flocks.
Now late returning, and o'ercome with heat,
Secures his charge and seeks a cool retreat;
Beneath a cedar's length'ned shadow laid,
The vast expanse, admiring, he survey'd,
In vivid tints, by setting sol array'd
Magnificently gay. Here streak'd with gold,
The purple clouds their borrow'd paints unfold;
The blushing west with deep carnation glows,
And o'er the skies a bright reflection throws.
---Now imperceptibly on closing flow'rs
The silent dews descend in silver show'rs,
Th' appearing stars exert a feeble light,
And Reuben welcomes the approach of night:
He rises and explores the dismal shade,
And stooping o'er the cavern's verge he said:
'Joseph! my brother Joseph! I am come,
'Impatient to reverse thy cruel doom;
'Forgive thy Reuben's part in this black deed,
Tis stratagem alone thy life has freed:
'Oh Joseph speak! surely thou dost survive:
'Oh speak my brother, if thou art alive!
'Alas! no voice but echo's hollow sound,
'No voice but mine remurmers o'er the ground!
'Where shall I flee, to what dark distant shore,
'To shun reproach? for Joseph is no more.
'Why did my lips (consenting to his death)
'When they pronounc'd his doom, not lose their breath?'---
Again he calls, and raging in despair,
From his swoln breast the folding garment tears.
Now wild with grief, and wand ring thro' the gloom,
He met the Hebrews all returning home:
A kid they'd kill'd, and in the sanguine gore
Had dipt the robe which blameless Joseph wore.
Soon they appear'd on Mamre's peaceful plain,
And enter'd Israel's tent, a guilty train;
Each feign'd to be with anxious care opprest,
And Simeon, weeping, thus his fire addrest:
'Oh canst thou recollect this bloody vest!'
Old Jacob view'd it with a pausing eye;
He trembled, groan'd, and scarce could make reply;
An universal horror seiz'd his frame,
At length burst forth th'ungovernable flame:
'It is my son's! (he cry'd) my son is slain!
'Curst be the hour that rent him from my side!
'What baneful planet did my actions guide?
'Come, death, convey me to the peaceful urn;
'Joseph is dead! why should I live to mourn?'
In vain they try to calm his swelling grief;
He cherish'd sorrow, and refus'd relief.