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Israel In Egypt. Book Sixteenth. - Poem by Edwin Atherstone

Darkness again on Israel! for the words
Of Pharaoh,--with harsh proclamation sent
Throughout the city, and throughout the land,--
Struck down all hope: and o'er the time to come
Shadow so fearful cast, that gloomiest days
Of the years gone, with that compared, seemed breath
Of spring, to winter's blast. 'Gainst Moses then,
And Aaron, rose new murmurs, and 'gainst all
The priests and Elders, who had promise given
Of a deliverance coming. Of God's help
Despaired the many: even some there were,
Who of Jehovah, the One Only God,
Doubt felt,--nay, disbelief: for, in the ways
Of Egypt born and bred,--to Egypt's gods
Rather inclined they: the poor Hebrew creed
Vulgar esteeming; and for ignorance
Alone a fit belief. Murmurs, and groans,
And cries, and curses rose. But, meek and mild,
Though great, and awe--inspiring, Moses went
Among the people, strengthening their hearts;
Bidding them trust in God; for, sure as day
Would follow night, so surely would His act,
The promise follow. ```With an outstretched hand
Will I bring Israel forth,'--said not the Lord?
`The king of Egypt will not let you go:
But with my wonders will I smite the land;
And, after that, the king shall let you go.'
And hath He not with wonders smitten them?
And think ye God will cease, till all be done?
Be sure that wonders greater yet shall be;
And that, though millstone--hard against us now,
Yet, in the end, shall Pharaoh soft become
As clay in the potter's hands. In God then trust.''

Thus Moses; Aaron also, and the priests
And Elders, throughout all the city went,
And in the lands around,--the downcast hearts
Uplifting; the weak strengthening; the blind
Teaching to see, on the dark Orient's rim,
Dawn's tinge; though faint, yet heralding bright day.

But still the groans, and cries, and curses rose:
For, with rude mockery, on the Hebrew herds,
Horses, and mules, the Egyptians laid their hands;
For every one, plague--slain, extorting three:
Tax--gatherers stern a double tribute forced;
Task--masters, with their sounding whips, drove forth
The sorrowing, terrified slaves; and labor more,
And worse, inflicted on them: so that life,--
Save unto those who yet in God had trust,--
Became a burthen, and they longed to die.

To the blest land of Goshen quickly flew
The tidings; and, though task--masters were none,
Nor slaves therein,--yet, when from house to house,
From village unto village, ran the word,
That, thenceforth, double tribute must be paid;
And that, from out the Hebrew flocks and herds,
Even three for one of all that they had lost,
The Egyptian men with law's strong hand might take;
Then a deep murmur rose. Some few there were
Who Moses blamed, that such terrific plagues
He had sent on Egypt; which but torment were
Unto her people; and, for Israel, wrought
Evil far more than good; the headstrong king
But madder making; 'gainst themselves more fierce,
Defiant more 'gainst God. But all the rest,
Who, either from his mouth, or by report,
Had heard the words of Moses,--as to him
At night, on Horeb, from the burning bush,
They had been spoken,--knew that hard of heart
Pharaoh would be; and plague on plague might bide,
Ere God he would obey, and Israel loose.
Much evil, therefore, looked they to endure;
And, while most sorrowing, whispered to their hearts,
That, when at heaviest, the black clouds would break,
And let the sunshine down. Within the house
Of Kohath, with his family, that day,
Sat Reuben, and his father Malachi.
Two hours the mid--day meal had passed; but they
Still in the chamber lingered; grave discourse,
Now sad, now hopeful, holding, of the events
So wondrous which had lately come to pass;
Of Pharaoh's fickle mind,--submissive, now,
Now, arrogant; and still tyrannic most,
After, plague--terrified, he most had bowed
To Israel's God, and loudest cried for help.
Of Sethos, also, spake they; and the word
Of promise he had given, that in the cause
Of Israel he would plead before the king:
Yet how,--strange answer to such prayer,--had come,
Not grace, but worse oppression,--as that day
Sorely had witnessed. ``When he shall return,''
Said Kohath, ``thereon will I question him:
For, truly, spake he as a man sincere,
Simply, and warmly; not as one who feigns
Great zeal, intending nought. Nor many days
Will pass, methinks, ere he again.... ``Hush, hush,
Said Rachael, one pearl finger holding up;
``I hear the tramp of horses.'' Mute they sat,
Listening quick hoof--stamps; and, anon, the roll
Of chariot--wheels, at great speed drawing nigh.
Louder the tramplings grew; and numerous,
It seemed, as of war--squadron; and the wheels,
As if for multitude, made the ground to shake.
Then, suddenly, all was still. Not without fear,
Kohath, and Malachi, and Reuben gazed
Each in the face of the other: and her hand
Upon the arm of Rachel, Sarah laid,
And, trembling, whispered. But, with face serene,
The virgin looked on all, and gently said:
``No cause for fear, methinks. Nor native foe,
Nor foreign enemy have we to dread;
Nor wrath of Pharaoh, more than on the rest
Of our poor people. But, whoe'er they be,
Now pausing at our gate--forget we not
That God o'erruleth all things.'' As she ceased,
Quickly the door flew open; and a man,--
Crazed, as it seemed, with utmost ecstasy
Of terror,--pale, and trembling, hurried in.
``Oh master,'' cried he, ``get thee out at once
Behind the house, and fly; else, verily,
Wilt thou be put to death: for, at the gate,
Sitting within his chariot, all of gold,
Is Pharaoh, even the king; with his great lords
Standing about him: and, when I went up,
One of them said, `Unto thy master speed,
Kohath, the son of Zohar, and thus say;
Pharaoh, the Splendor of the Sun, is come
To visit thee, and on great matters speak;
Come thou then forth to honor him.' But oh!
Go thou not forth, my master; for 'tis ill
They mean thee, and not good. Chariots like flame,
Twice ten there be, and more; and horsemen, too,
By hundreds; some before, and some behind;
All giants, and in armour that seems fire;
Riding on huge, fierce horses, lion--eyed,
And black as midnight. Oh, my master, run,
And get thee from the house, or soon....'' ``Stay, stay,''
Said Kohath. Turning then to Malachi
And Reuben, with a look all wonderment,
Hastily spake he. ``Whatsoe'er this bode,
Evil, or good, one only course we have.
Come with me on the instant. We must speed,
And reverence pay.'' For answer waiting not,
Forth went he then; and, with quick beating hearts,
Not pausing, though reluctant, Malachi
And Reuben followed him. In Rachel's face,
Sarah, all pale and trembling, looked, and said;
``I dare not stand before the king: come now;
Let us make haste, and get from out the house,
Before they spy us.'' With a loving smile,
Rachel beheld her, and replied, ``Fear not;
For, dearest mother, nought is there to fear.
Were the king's thoughts of evil, never thus
Had they in act appeared. The violent hand
At once had fallen upon us: but he comes,
With gracious courtesy, and at our gate
Pauses for word of welcome. Surely, sign
Of amity this. His purpose, out of sight
To my poor vision is, as ocean's bed;
Yet, thus beginning, ill it scarce can be.
But, whatsoe'er it prove, an eye there is
That all things sees, a hand that all things guides:
Come good, or evil, still from Him it comes:
And evil though it seem, must yet be good.
We stand upon a rock, my mother dear,
Not on a trembling plank: and, standing so,
Never can fall. Be then thy heart at rest.
Consider, too, if from the house we go,
When friendly feet are entering,--what sad shame
On our poor hospitality will be;
Most poor, at best, to welcome a great king.
Let us not make it worse. But come; I hear
Footsteps within the garden, drawing nigh;
And a strange voice. Let us retire within;
And preparation make for such repast
As guests like these may suit.'' With cheerful tone
Thus speaking, she her mother's trembling hand
Took in her own, and kissed it lovingly;
Then drew her from the room. In little while,--
With meet respect by Kohath ushered in:
Friendly of aspect seeming; and with tones
Kind and familiar speaking,--yet intent,--
Since through the carnal appetite he had failed--
With deadliest wiles those Chosen Ones to lure
To utter ruin; and God's merciful scheme
Through them to bring Messiah, thus o'erthrow--
In humble form of Pharaoh, Egypt's king,
Came now the terrible Majesty of Hell.
Behind him, of his train, was one alone;
An aged man,--in rich habiliments,
Silk, woven with gold; who, in his shrivelled hands,
An ebon box, with gold and gems thick laid,
As with deep reverence bore. Behind him walked
Reuben and Malachi, silent both, and pale;
By that dread presence awed. Within the room
Arrived,--about him looked the shadowy king,
As seeking whom he found not. Turning then
To Kohath, with a kindly voice,--suppressed;
Yet such appearing as, put forth at full,
Might talk 'gainst even the thunder,--``Where is she,--
``Where is thy beauteous daughter?'' he enquired;
``For her, not less, nay even more than thee,
Come I to visit: where, too, is thy wife?
Her presence also need I; since her words,--
If mine prove vain,--haply may move thy child
To her own good, and yours.'' By a dark fear
O'ermastered, Kohath answered not; but signed
To Malachi; and the old man went forth.

``A goodly land ye Israelites have here,''
Pursued the Shape; ``such as through Egypt, else,
I have not seen; for verdure, and sweet air,
And fruitfulness. A favored race indeed
Must ye be held,--almost possessors sole
Of this, the kingdom's gem: though wherefore so,
Truly I know not; neither why exempt
From bonds elsewhere imposed; or from the stroke
Of plagues that smote all else. Such happy state,
Well may ye prize: and distant be the day
That shall bring change. But, with yourselves alone
It rests, to keep, or lose it. ``Fairest maid,''--
To Rachel he pursued, as, bowing low,
Yet with calm mien, she entered; by the hand
Her trembling mother leading,--``on thee, chief,--
Though on thy parents also, and this youth,--
Dependeth that of which even now I spake;
Whether your people, in this favored land,
As heretofore, shall dwell; happy, and free
From that great bondage which, through Egypt, else,
Weighs on the Hebrew race,--or, gods forbid!
Shall be driven forth; and, mixed with all the rest,
Live years on years in slavery; and slaves die.
Such the momentous question which this day
Ye must determine; for with you it rests:
With you alone. Yet, not indifferent all
To me, and Egypt, how ye turn the scale;
For, with your good, ours also is close bound;
Our good being yours; our evil also yours;
And, though in less degree, your good, and ill,
Ours also. Summon then your best of powers
For comprehension clear: and, when ye see
How wisdom points,--then into Passion put
An iron curb, and force him from wrong path.
Thou, maiden, chiefly; and thou, virtuous youth,
To reason solely listen; and the voice
Of justice and of mercy to your race:
But, to the foolish whisperings of fond love,
'Gainst reason and justice pleading,--hearken not;
For selfish wholly are they; a foul sin
Against your people; and, on you, and all,
Sin's punishment would bring. Not harsh am I,
Though strongly speaking: zealous for your good,
Even more than ours; as, erelong, will ye find;
Nay, zealous more than for mere policy,--
For a quick--born affection: but, of that,
Hereafter shall ye learn. No matter slight,
Ye may be sure, that hath a Pharaoh brought
To Goshen, with one Hebrew family
Discourse to hold. Ye no tradition have
Of like event. Intently listen then:
Reason my counsel: and, as wisdom bids,
As justice urges, and as mercy pleads,--
Nay, even as piety to the gods commands,--
For wisdom, justice, mercy, are their voice,--
So now on act determine. ``Well ye know
How, at this day, your Moses, and the king,
Strange opposites, front each other. Earthly power
So wholly mine, that, by a finger raised,
Death might I send him: but demoniac power
So potent his, that, over all the land,
Strange plagues, abominations, hath he brought:
And worse hath threatened, if his insolent words
I hearken not; and let your people go
Three days, forsooth, into the wilderness;
There to give sacrifice unto your god.
Much torment hath he caused us, and great loss.
All fish within the rivers, brooks, and ponds,
Have perished: and of horses, oxen, sheep,
So numerous are the slain, that, with loud voice,
All Egypt hath cried out for punishment
On the magician; and full recompense
From Israel, for the ills through Israel brought.
Vast is our loss; but, far and wide 'tis known
That, magic guarded, not one plague hath touched
Horse, ox, or sheep, or any living thing
To you belonging. With great justice, then,
My people clamored that, even three for one,
Of all plague--stricken things, should be exact
From Hebrews,--the sole cause of all that loss.
And thus did I decree; as ye this day,
Ill--pleased, have learned; yet not worse pleased than I,
Forced so to deal against you. Nay, more still
Driven may I be to vex you; for, one voice
From all my people, rulers, lords, and priests,
Calls death upon your Moses: and by oath
Pledged am I, if but one plague more he bring,
Sharply to cut him off. But, way there is
Before us open, on which you, and I,--
Wisely and truly walking,--the worst ills
For both may 'scape; for both great good may win.
But, the worst evil, or best good, to me
That hence can come, all insignificant is
As gnat unto a camel, weighed with those
Enormous, waiting you; which to the heavens
In glory will lift, or sink you deep in earth;
Ay, deeper than the grave. In my right hand,
A chrysolite of the sun if I held forth;
And, in my left hand, noisome rottenness,
Choice proffering you,--not greater, 'twixt those two,
The contrast were, than 'twixt the opposites
That now I offer. Israel is a slave;
Egypt his lord: but Israel may be free;
Free from this land to go, or here abide;
Free from all labor, taxes; save alone
Such as, throughout the realm, Egyptians pay.
A rare gem this ye grant,--but the price ask.
Yet, be ye silent till my speech shall end,
And I your answer crave; for more, far more
Advantage would I give you; glory, too,
Such as, yourselves to dream of, madness were;
Such as, to speak of, ye might think me mad,
Till ye shall all have learned......Thou, beauteous maid,
Fairest by far of all these eyes have seen,
The cause original art; though, of thyself,
Most ignorant how.'' With gentle wonderment,
Her calm clear eyes upon him Rachel turned;
Nor blushing, nor confused; though, with a look
At once of admiration, and great love,--
A father's love, and all--approving smile,--
The mighty face gazed on her. ``Yes, fair maid,''
Pursued the king; ``first, and chief cause, art thou.
On thee dependeth, whether Israel rise
Among the nations, great and glorious;
Or, altogether, woman, man, and child,
Down to the bottom sink, slaves evermore.
If thou the voice of wisdom, mercy, list,
All may be well: if thou refuse, all ill.
Maiden, thy heart I know. To this fond youth,--
Not undeserving it,--thy love is given;
Thy hand is vowed. Yet, for thy parents' good,
Thine own, and Reuben's; for all Israel's good,
Should'st thou from him thy love, thy hand, disjoin.''

``Never!'' the maid exclaimed,--a roseate tinge,
As from red sunbeam, flashing o'er her face:
``Never!'' again she said, in deeper tone,
More mild, yet speaking strength invincible:
And, toward him lightly stepping, by the hand
Took the pale trembling youth; and in his face
Poured infinite love. With look, then, all serene,
Unknowing shame,--she turned; and to the king
Gently, yet firmly spake. ``From childhood up,
O Pharaoh, to each other dedicate,
By parents, and by friends, and our own love,
Have we been held. There is not on the earth,
Save Reuben, one to whom I would be wed:
Nor maiden is there, whatsoe'er her state,
Her beauty, or her wealth, whom, leaving me,
Would he espouse; for, on our souls 'tis fixed,
That, by especial ordinance of God,
We twain shall one become.'' As, in the gloom
Of sultry summer--night, along the verge
Of the horizon dark--red lightning runs,
A moment seen, and gone; so, from the orbs
Of the dread Phantom--king,--when that sweet voice
Opposal resolute spake,--one fiery glance
Quivered, and died. But, all eyes bent on her,
Hers upon Reuben turned,--the meteor blazed
Unnoted; and, for that hot gleam, a look
Of gentle love commanding,--with mild voice,
The Pharaoh thus resumed. ``Thou didst forget,
Fair maiden, that I silence craved from all,
Till my whole speech should end. Unto the last,
I pray thee once again to lend thine ear,
And understanding; but lock up thy tongue:
For, in poor ignorance thou refusest now,
What, with full knowledge, thou may haste to take.
Think not that, for light reason, I would ask
Maiden to loose a knot of virtuous love:
Or that, for sacrifice made by thee, and him,
Thy long--betroth'd, I would not recompense give,
Worthy a king,--ay, greater far than king
Through the whole earth beside: beyond compare
More rich than what 'twould pay for. Take thou thought,
Blest Rachel; Reuben thou, and all the rest,
Take thought of this,--that, what he stoops to beg;
Nay, at large cost would purchase,--with strong hand,
Defiant of all earth, the king might take;
And, as he would, dispose of. When he prays,
Think, then, he might command, if love ruled not,
And justice, more than passion; and so frame
Your dispositions, that his generous thoughts,
With generous you may meet. Such harmony
In good to all must end. With few words now,
My whole desire will I lay bare to you:
Make plain all good that ye have power to do,
And all the evil: all the tenfold good,
Thousandfold evil, that upon yourselves,
Power have ye to call down, as, to the right,
Or to the wrong, ye go. ``The sun shines not
To one man only: beauty cannot shine,
By one man only seen, admired, and loved.
Maiden, my son, the heir to Egypt's throne,
Like a poor fly to the flame, too near hath come
To thy soul--scorching beauty; and been burned,
Till sense, nay life, is perilled. Kohath, thou
A father art; and, for a father's pangs,
Feeling must have. Even like to one possessed,
Is my loved Sethos; body, fever--fired;
Mind, wandering; voice, still calling upon her,
Thy matchless daughter; who, though seen but twice,
Deep in his soul is buried; no more thence
To be withdrawn, than might a buried sword,
Deep broken in his body. Sobbing, now,
As if his heart would burst; now, groaning loud,
As in death--agony; with folded hands,
Now, crying out to her imploringly,
As to a very goddess,--down his cheeks
Tears running like two brooks,--Oh! it is sad,
Sad, piteous, even for stranger, to behold
A tree so glorious beaten to the ground,
Withering, and dying: for a father, then,--
Oh Kohath, oh blest Rachel, Reuben too,
What for a father is it! ``Ere distraught,
He had his story told: how once, by chance,
He had beheld a being, goddess--bright;
Had watched her to her home: how, afterward,
By the young Syrian prince and princess led,
That temple pure he had again beheld;
And, therein, the shrined deity; the bright star
Which, thenceforth, made his heaven! and he implored,--
As I would have him live, and reason hold,--
That he might wed her. But, when he confessed
That she a Hebrew was, indignantly
Did I rebuke him; for that public law,
As well he knew, such marriage had forbid.
Alas! I now repent me that so stern
Was my forbiddance; for, as though quick death
Had smitten him, he sank; and all the day
Corpse--like lay stretched: till, evening coming on,
Flame--faced, and frenzy--eyed, he started up,
A yelling madman: from the palace flew,
To plunge in Nile; or headlong fling himself
In pit, or well; or howsoever else
He might end life and misery,--for even so
Out cried he, running. Swifter feet pursued,
And brought him back. Still all the night he raved.
At length, with kind words, loving tones, and sound
Of gentle music, having soothed his rage,--
Calmly I spake with him; and promise gave,--
So he a reasoning man once more would be,--
Far as my power might go, his suit to speed,
And aid him win that jewel. For the law,--
The maid herself, perchance, its interdict
Might set aside; Osiris for her god,
In place of him, Jehovah named, thenceforth
Avowing..... Answer not as yet, fair maid:
Nor any of you speak till all be told.
A point momentous this ye deem, I see;
Though, of a truth, 'tis nought; or nothing more
Than a sound's difference. Ye Jehovah say;
Osiris we: yet, by two words, one thing
Meaning alike: and it poor wisdom were,
A word to cling to, and give up a world:
For, that word holding, more than a world's worth
Ye fling away. Who higher rates the gem
Seen in the mirror, than the gem itself,
Such folly might act: but not so you, I trust,
All knowing, and considering. For myself,
Plainly I say,--did not Egyptian law,--
Stronger, in this, upon Egyptian king,
Than even on humblest subject, force on me,
For names of god and goddess, the words sent
From hoar antiquity down,--as readily
Would I Jehovah, as Osiris speak;
For Isis, whatsoever goddess--name
Ye to the like power give. Small mountain this,
For a firm foot, and steady brain, to climb:
And oh! what glorious prospect from its height!
Small obstacle I say; yet, unto you
Alone, 'tis small; a thing to be o'erleaped,
Scarce drawing breath; but, unto us, a rock
Precipitous; high as heaven; impassable!
The maiden, by a word, may fit herself
To espouse Egyptian king: Egyptian king,
Neither by word, nor act, could be made free
To wed false worshipper; for law, more old
Than records tell, would crown and sceptre take,
And to another give them. Ponder then,
I pray you, all; thou, maiden, first and chief;
Ye, her fond parents; and thou, modest youth,
Sore as thy grief would be; and thou, his sire,--
Ponder, I pray you all, the mighty thing
That ye are hearing: and, for slight account,
Miss not a sun that waits to rise on you;
And plunge yourselves in everlasting night.

``Thee, Rachel, woo I now for my son's wife;
For Egypt's sometime queen. Our learned priests
In their religion soon will give thee light;
And thou wilt see how easy is the task,
A name, and some few forms, mere trifles all,
Of worship, to lay by; and others take;
Not better, haply, but not worse,--alike
In meaning, and in end: but different far
In the great end of all, as life, and death.
Trifle, as yet, I see thou deemest not
Even the mere name--change; the poor difference
'Twixt the few letters that make up the words.
'Tis but that one is nigh thee, one remote.
The nigh put off, and the remote brought near,--
The favorite of old thou wouldst discard,
And hug the new, once spurned. What nearest is,
Still greatest seems: thy rosy finger--point,
Close to thine eye, shows greater than the sun;
Blotting it wholly out: so, thine old creed,--
For aught of moment, a mere finger--point,--
Blots out all others; blots what thou might find
A sun, a heaven all glory. ``Absolute this,
The one condition sole,--that Egypt's gods
Thou worship,--thou; for, if their creed of old
Thy parents still would keep,--full liberty
Have they, as all of Israel: them our law
Of royal marriage touches not. The wife
Of Egypt's king, or prince, to Egypt's gods
Must bow,--else on the throne may he not sit.
For all her race beside, such liberty
As theretofore they had, such keep they still.....
This one small thing by thee conceded,--here,
Even at this hour, I hail thee as the bride,
Of Egypt's prince,--as Egypt's future queen!

``For any other damsel 'neath the sun,
Such honor this, that straightway at my feet
Might she fall down,--speechless with gratitude,
Or eloquent with thanks: but thou, blest maid,
So far in beauty dost all else o'erpeer;
So like to goddess art,--that earthly prize,
Even the richest, all unworthy seems
To purchase thy celestial. Nay, frown not;
Though even thy frown more lovely is than smiles
Of all earth's beauties else; but hearken now,
While--the deficiency of Egypt's throne
Thy worth to balance,--in the scale I cast
Advantage, such as never yet did king,
Even for the loftiest princess of the earth,
In dowry offer. ``Treasure--cities four
Have I: in gold, and silver, and in gems,
The richest of the world. I cannot name,
Nor couldst thou understand, the mighty sum;
Passing all count. Of these will two be thine
On that same day when thou my son shalt wed.
On that same day, north, south, east, west, shall fly
The great proclaim,--`Henceforth is Israel free:
Henceforth no labor, taxes, shall they pay,
Save such as pays all Egypt: from this day,
Free to depart the land, free to remain,
All Israel is become: for, on this day,
A Hebrew maiden, gem of all the earth,
Or goddess, rather, habited in flesh,
Celestial, yet half human, hath come down,
And wedded Egypt's prince.' Such the proclaim
Of glory and good to all of Hebrew race,
On that glad morning..... But, of special good
To thine own house, and friends, I now must speak.

``Kohath, and Sarah,--from your heavenly child,
Never should ye know severance; for, all else
Which the world hath, of pleasant, or of rare,
Would, wanting her, seem common, joyless, poor.
But, vast the palace wherein she will dwell;
And chambers spacious, numerous there are,
Wherein ye may abide: so one home still
Will yours and hers remain: your revenue such
As fits Egyptian prince. ``But, now, for thee,
Young Reuben; gentle, virtuous, loving,--just,
Boldly I add; for, in thy countenance,
And thy demeanor, so I read thy worth;
And rightly read; yea, plainly, as thy brow,--
Door to the very chamber of the soul,--
With letters of heaven's fire were over--writ,
Telling its qualities such,--for thee, poor youth,
From whom the richest jewel of the world
Seek I to take,--for thee what may I do,
Such loss to countervail? Nought, verily,
Which, in thy mood existent, thou wouldst deem
More than the poorest fraction of that whole
Of which I'd rob thee. But, Time pauses not:
The earthquake may be staggered in its course,
Encountering bottomless rocks: great ocean's stream
Be turned, and hindered,--but, in earth, and heaven,
No power there is that can the stream of Time
One sun--flash stay: and still, as it flows on,
In all things, earthly, heavenly, it brings change.
Mountains, by Time, have been worn down to hills;
Hills flattened to the plains: the sun himself,
Sometime, 'tis said,--black, cold, and motionless,
Will hang in heaven, burned out. But, changeful most
Of all things, is weak man: one day insane
To clutch at some bright bauble; and, the next,
Heedless to keep, or lose it. Not of change
So hasty, capable thou, true--hearted youth.
Thy earnest love for that consummate maid,
Long moons may last: nay, even while the sun
Twice winter brings, twice summer; but, at length,--
By the same fate inexorable that rules
All things of earth and heaven,--wax faint it must,
By hope unfed, and die: and with it, too,
All that now stings, will perish: and thy life
Will pass as one bright day of blissful calm;
A golden sunshine, temperate, o'er thy head;
Airs of heaven fragrant, ever fanning thee;
Earth at thy feet, all verdure, flower, and fruit.
For, in the place of that too short--lived dream,
By fond youth thought immortal,--woman's love,--
Passion more lofty, and life--lasting too,
Will glow within thee; love of fame, wealth, rank,
Dominion; all which over the dull mass
Of men, lifts man; such will in glory rise
Within thy soul; and the poor dream of love
Melt, as noon--sun the dew--drop. Well I know,
Thou say'st within thy heart, `I heed them not;
Humble I am; for riches do not care;
Desire not fame, or power; but peacefully
In this sweet solitude my life to pass;'--
So say'st thou,--and the truth: yet, this day's truth,
Alone dost utter,--not the morrow's; that
May, as the poles, be opposite. 'Tis now day;
Anon it will be night; and, even so,
That which to thee seems day, will turn to night;
That which night seems, to day. ``Yet, not alone
In certainty of human changefulness,
Would I that thou seek comfort: for thy loss,--
So thou consent to lose,--I offer thee
Such recompense as, by clear reason judged,
And world's best wisdom, far beyond all count,
Thy loss would overpay. Attend me now,
And weigh what I shall speak. Fools have there been
Who, dark gold offered, have bright brass preferred:
Be thou not such! for, with the brass, thou'dst take
Evils most deadly! Laying now aside
All kingly power to enforce, I pray of thee
This maiden to resign. If true thy love
To her hath been, and is,--though loss to thee,
Yet, unto her such gain unspeakable,
And glory, thence proceeding,--thou wilt leap,
The sacrifice to offer. As thy wife,
A bondslave were she; as my son's, a queen.
Thou canst not hesitate. Yet, sacrifice
I ask not; but exchange: for one sweet flower,--
Celestial sweet; but ah! with every day
Destined to fade,--another exquisite flower,--
Perchance wellnigh as sweet, I offer thee;
And gems, which, all thy life long, bright as first,
Will shed a glory on thee. From that hour
When thou this maid shalt render,--to the king,
Even as his better hand shalt thou become;
The ruler, under him, of all this realm.
Thy palace, and thy retinue of state,
Princely shall be: o'er every lord and priest
Supremacy shalt thou hold. Judges most sage,
When doubtful, by thy sentence will be swayed.
The captains of our hosts to thee will look,
As to a second Pharaoh, for the word
That moveth armies. King in name alone,
Contented will I be; all kingly power
To thee resigning; while with wisdom thou,
Justice and mercy, shalt govern. If thou fail....
But fail thou wilt not; for in thee I read
Same qualities rare, which, in a day long past,
A youthful Hebrew to such state uplift,
That, to the Pharaoh then upon the throne,
The eye, the voice, the arm did he become;
In all, save title, king. Your records tell
Of that great Hebrew, Joseph. Even as he
Unto that Pharaoh was, so thou to me
Shalt on that day become. Nay more, far more:
For, Reuben, in the place of that fair maid,--
If thou resign her,--one condition sole
Exacted, and performed,--to thee I'd give,--
And all the earth would marvel--one, who most
Unto my heart is dear: one, whose rare charms
Are noised through Egypt: one, for whose fair hand
Kings have been suitors; one, whose dower will be
A pyramid's cost,--yea, even my own loved child,
Meroë, my youngest daughter. Her to thee,
Young Reuben, will I give; so, to my son,
This maiden thou wilt yield; and to our gods--
For here, too, law is absolute--worship pay.
Such the small price for which thou'rt offered now
Riches exhaustless, glory, honor, power;
A monarch's love, and boundless confidence;
A princess, the bright eye of all the land.
What say'st thou? And, blest Rachel, what say'st thou?
And you, their parents, what to this say ye?......
Yet, ere you answer, once again survey,
In narrow compass, the whole vast amount.

``If ye refuse what I have stooped to ask,--
Your loss, and mine, see first. For mine,--a son
Love--tortured; perhaps of reason all bereft;
And, haply, through your magic, one more plague:--
Such were, to me the sum; nor light the amount,
As my conditions show: but, unto you,
The amount enormous! misery of such bulk,
That all life's joys 'twould crush: and,--bitterest thought
For your few wretched years,--by your own act
Solely brought on you: neither fate, nor power
Despotic, having forced; nor ignorance
Misled you,--for the issues all ye know,--
Nor aught save blind, mad obstinacy in wrong,
Hurried you on to doom. Ye see me now,
Calm, gentle, generous; nay, to one and all,
Even as a loving relative. Be calm,
Generous, gentle, loving in your turn,
And life will be all sunshine: but, for love,
Should ye give hate; or, though professing love,
Prove that, at heart, ye hate, by flinging back
What love had offered,--then, like deeds of hate
From me would ye enforce. No freedom then
To Israel would be given: but that ye have,
Would all be taken from you. This blest land
Of Goshen would no longer be your home:
Scattered through Egypt,--father, mother, son,
Brother, and sister, daughter, husband, wife,
Each separate from the rest,--slaves would ye be;
The brickfield, pyramid, fosse, canal; or aught
That labor hardest, and most servile asks,--
Your portion till life's end. And, from that man
In whom ye trust, your Moses, never more
Would hope come to you; for, if once again
His magic he dare try; and with new plague
Should harass Egypt,--even on that same day,
Ere sunset should he hang. Your Hebrew race
Its very name would lose; Egyptian slaves,
Alone thenceforth your style. Annihilate
Your god would be; his temples overthrown;
His worship made a crime,--nay, even his name
Be death to him who spake it. If aught else,
Yet worse, can be imagined, verily
That also might be added; till the worm
Beneath your foot half trampled, would be gay,
With such as you compared. Say not I threat
Revenge, if ye refuse my will to do:
It is not I would send; but ye would draw,
On your own heads such misery. For myself,
Good unto all I ask for: if ye grant,
The greatest gainers ye; if ye refuse,
Just is it that the heaviest be your loss.
Yours only is the act, the sentence yours;
Be it good, or heaviest ill.... The evil such
Of your refusal,--of compliance, next,
Let me the good recall.'' His countenance,
And voice, which, that dark future shadowing,
As cloud and thunder had been,--now, like the smile
Of sunbeam after shower, and the glad sounds
Of bird and whispering breeze, came pleasantly.

``First, to myself and Egypt, this the good;''
With bright benignant look pursued the king;
``All future plagues,--if magic such could send,--
For doubtful is the power,--we should escape.
A minister wise, and faithful, diligent, just,
In Reuben should I have; and my loved child,
In him a loving husband. Last, and chief,--
My noble son, and heir unto my throne;
Now love--distraught, and steeped in wretchedness
Might move with pity even the very beast,--
Once more would be a man; once more to heaven
Would lift his face; and thank the merciful gods,
That they a lovelier far than in the train
Of Isis had sent down, his arms to bless.
Such unto me, and Egypt, is the good.
Great do I grant it: but, to yours, my friends,
As clay it is to diamond. Through this land
All Israel would be free,--free to go hence;
Free to remain: and, if remaining, free
From every tax, save such as, through the realm,
Egyptians pay. This to the general good
Of your whole race. For your particular gain,
Glorious indeed the promise. Unto you,
The parents of this youth, and this blest maid,
A joy the dearest in parental heart,--
To see its offspring wealthy, glorious, great:
To thee, young Reuben, riches, rank, and power,
Second to king's alone; and,--happiness
That kings in vain have sighed for,--the bright pearl
Of all Egyptian beauty, for thy wife,
Even Pharaoh's loveliest daughter. Gold indeed,
Ten times refinëd gold thou'rt offered now:
And thou wilt take it: ay, I hear thy soul
Speak, though thy tongue is mute. ``But now, the last,
To thee, celestial, human, whatsoe'er
Thy nature be; for still, the more I look,
More doubtful do I grow, if earth, or heaven,
The justlier claim thee; and the less amazed
That, gazing on thee, was the spirit--eye
Of Sethos struck with blindness...let not fall
Thy snowy lids, and round thine eloquent lips
A shadow gather; as if fulsome praise
From some hot youth thou heard; for agëd eyes
Look not through passion's ruby--tinted glass,
Which shows even poorest rich; but through clear air
Of truth's broad daylight, which all qualities shows
In their own absolute nature. For my words,
Deem them not flattery, then, or cozenage,
To some false end; since, in all possible scope
Of world--events, what 'vantage could I gain
By thee deceiving? If in rapturous phrase
Thy qualities I speak of,--deem me, then,
As one but giving tongue, enforcedly,
To the soul's rigorous bidding: and, from me,
Accept as my own truth, what, by thee judged,
False, through excess, may seem. Raise, then, thy face,
Blest Rachel, and behold me as thy friend.

``For thee,--in thy clear soul I read it well,--
First, ruling thought, is not of thine own gain,
But of the general; in the next degree,
Of thine own house, and friends; in last, and least,
Of thy pure self. Thy largest wishes, then,
It rests with thee to grasp: for, unto all,
And all at once, such blessings may thou give,
As dreams could scarcely match. Speak but one word,--
Osiris, for Jehovah,--easy task;
Within our temple, and before our gods,
To my most noble son,--mad for thy love,--
Give thou thy hand,--and Israel will be free:
Thy Reuben, losing thee, will, in exchange,
A princess take to wife; honor and wealth,
And glory, and power will gain; throughout this realm,
Even as its king becoming: and thyself,--
Ah! let me call thee daughter!--over all
Egypt's most haughty dames, in rank and wealth,
Supreme wilt be, as, in thy beauty, now,
Beyond compare supreme. To worship thee,
From farthest limits of the land will come,
The young, the old, the great, the rich, the wise;
All that is rare in beauty, high in fame,--
Eager to look, as on a milder sun,
Shedding diviner light. Even Egypt's prince,--
Noble and glorious as all own him now,--
By thee will sit unseen; so every eye,
By thy perfections dazzled, will be blind
To aught of earth beside. Such thine estate,
While only wife of Egypt's foremost prince:
But when, in due time, shall descend to him
The throne of this great kingdom,--then, its queen
Wilt thou become; of earth the mightiest queen:
Both queen's and king's thy power; for, unto thee,
By love's strong force subjected, must he yield
Submission absolute,--that thy will alone
Shall rule and guide the nation. Then shall be
Glory indeed to Egypt: for thy sway,--
I feel it in my soul,--will wisest, best,
Most just, most merciful be: and every voice
Throughout the land will praise thee. Even now,
In spirit's eye, I see thee on the throne;--
Sethos beside thee, to thy golden words
Of wisdom humbly listening: on thy head
A gem--fired diadem,--yet lustreless,
By thy bright countenance shadowed. So, to thought,
Dost thou appear: but, in the verity, now
Let all eyes prove it. Zabid, bring thou forth
The queenly crown: and, on thy daughter's head,
Thou, Sarah, place it; and, then, note ye all,
If her the crown adorneth, or she it:
If, placed together, flame of diamond
And ruby, the pure radiance of her face
Darken,--or they, before her beams, look dim.''

While yet he spake,--with slow and careful hand,
The old man on a table placed the box
Of ebony, gold--inlaid, which to his heart
Till then close pressed had been; and, from his robe,
A golden key, to slender chain of gold
Suspended, drawing forth,--into the lock
Tenderly thrust it; with a gentlest touch
Turned the smooth noiseless bolt; the lid upraised,
And let forth a new sunshine. From its couch
Of purple silk, with reverential hands,
Then lifted he what fires celestial seemed,
In gold imbedded; fires of many hues
Battling together in a silent strife
Perpetual; ever burning, never burnt:
And, with slow step majestic, on her face
Fixing his large bright eyes, toward Sarah moved;
Bowed low, as to the honored of the king,
And the rich blaze presented. But, as starts
A timid maiden, seeing at her feet
The gold--gleams of a serpent,--even so,
At that unearthly lustre shrank she back,
Pallid and trembling. With wide--opened eyes,
She gazed upon it; but still backward drew,--
Breath leaving her, and strength; till, even to stand,
Powerless at last, upon a couch she sank;
Covered her face, and wept. From Reuben's hand,
Till then close held, Rachel her own withdrew,
And to her mother went, and o'er her leaned,
And whispered words of comfort. But, meantime,
The strong oppression of that Presence strange,
Striving to combat,--with a faltering tongue,
Thus Kohath pleaded. ``Pardon her, O king;
For timorous is she, and of feeble frame;
And fearful ever, lest by act, or word,
Or thought, she God displease. No slightest thing--
The issue doubtful--ever hath she done,
Till, to her best, considered. If for her,
And for myself, I may permitted be,
Few words to speak''..... ``Go on; the king will hear,''
In tone subdued, and kind, said the great voice,
The sudden silence ending; ``freely speak;
And the plain truth; for such I love to hear,
Though harsh, better than lies, to music set.''

Though still by dread mysterious sorely pressed,
As in a ghastly dream,--yet, resolute
The right to do, thus Kohath then pursued.

``As parents of the maiden, mighty king,
No just power have we now her course to rule,
Or even lead. That which hath once been given,
'Twere robbery to take back. To this just youth,
Our daughter have we given, to be his wife:
To our loved daughter, him as husband given:
Hand into hand we have put; and binding words
Have spoken: and the act hath witnessed been
By honored friends of old. Such bonds to break,
Were sinful violence: and, for profit's sake,
Not more to be excused, than robbery
Of noon--day thief; who profit, too, could plead,
To justify his crime. Accurs'd were we
Of man and God, so doing. Nor, by words
Of soft persuasion, nor by looks, or signs,
Could we, uprightly, either of them lure
Such contract to make void. That lustrous crown,
Should loving mother place upon the brow
Of loving, duteous daughter,--what were that
But silent invitation, so to act,
That hers it might become? Mute prayer 'twould seem
That, for world's glory, she should do a sin
Which the lips dare not utter. From such crime,
Our God preserve us ever! Frown not then,
Great king, upon a mother, who but shrinks
From doing, and from tempting unto, wrong.
To us impossible, thus, save with great guilt,
Our child to enforce, or lead, to set at nought
Contract, God--sanctioned,--with herself alone
Decision rests. Thy words, all eloquent
In threatening, as in promise, hath she heard;
And hers should be the answer. Whatsoe'er
She say, alike say we. If of the youth
Thou first wouldst question, first let him reply.
If he my daughter yield unto thy son,
No breach of contract ours. The bond thus loosed,--
All of that power parental which we gave,
To us would come again: and we were free
To guide her as before; but, as before,
To herself should we entrust her; fully sure,
As of the ground beneath us, that, in all,
So will she act as, in the sight of God,
Well pleasing she doth deem.'' While humbly thus,
Yet firmly, Kohath spake,--across the brow
Of the great Phantom swept a thundercloud:
But, when he ceased, quick sunbeams played again
O'er all the countenance; on the lips a smile
Seductive hovered; the rough brow grew smooth;
The eyes beamed love, and hope; nay confidence;
And the soft voice, tender, mellifluous;
But yet invincible seeming, strongest will
Of mortal, with kind witchery, to subdue,--
Like gentlest music, the short silence broke.

My daughter,--for on thy clear brow I read
That mine thou art''--to Rachel turning then,
Spake the joy--beaming king: ``a little while
Leave thou thy mother,--though more beauteous sight
Not gods themselves could witness, than sweet love
Of human hearts like yours,--yet hither come;
And, with one word, throughout all Israel,
Throughout all Egypt, bid a second sun
Arise, and pour down blessings. All thou know'st,
Of evil, or of good, which unto us,
And unto you,--to the whole Hebrew race,--
Will fall, as thou shalt speak. Scarce need I ask
What thou wilt answer: for, to rational mind,
'Twixt opposites such, one only possible is:
And thou, not rational merely, but of mind
Goddess--like lofty art,--as fits, thy form
And face divine to match. Yet, ere I ask
For that mere word which, to the soul of thought,
Firm body gives, and shape,--one moment grant
To all our longing eyes, that they may feast
On more than mortal beauty; and even now
May see thee, as in due time to appear,
When queen of earth's first empire. On thy brow,
Honored will Pharaoh be, with his own hands,
The priceless crown to set: and on that brow,
More honored still, a father's kiss to impress,
And as loved daughter hail thee.'' Speaking thus,
From Zabid the fire--flashing diadem
With careful hand he took; and toward the maid,
All loving smiles, advanced. One backward step
Calmly she trod, and raised her pearly arm,
Forbearance signing; then, with downcast eyes,
Voice sweet, and low, yet firm; her heart, the while,
Nor bold, nor fearing aught, thus made reply.

``All have I heard, great Pharaoh, of both ill,
And good, which unto Egypt, and to us,
Will come, as I thy will shall do, or do
As our God willeth. Ill would it beseem
Poor maiden such as I, by force of words
To strive for victory 'gainst a wiser far,
An elder, and a king, who graciously
Stoops to entreat. But, truly, reason none
Have I to render, wherefore all the good
And glory thou dost promise; all the ills
Which thou dost threaten, weigh with me as nought,--
Save this,--that in the hand of God, I know,
Are all events: that, howsoe'er man schemes,
God still directs: that His sole will to do,
Our duty is; in thought, in word, in act,
Or in endurance; to Him leaving all
Which thence may follow; certain that the worst,--
So seeming,--in the mighty plan unknown,
Still best must be. As duty bids me, then,
So must I do; regardless what the event.
God's will it is that Reuben and myself
Should be espoused. We feel it in our hearts
As a truth absolute, though nor word, nor sign
From heaven hath spoken it. We cannot tell,
How this we know; but not more could we tell
How 'tis we know that on this ground we stand;
Yet surely do we know it, with a force
No argument could reach. If word of man
We needed to confirm us,--from the lips
Of our great Moses, inspiration filled,
Such had we; for, with prophet's eye, and tongue,
Seeing, he knew us chosen; and, from us
Proceeding, to all Israel blessings spake.
But warning, too, he spake: `Plain as high--road
At noon,' he said, `before you lies your way.
Even as your right hand from your left, ye know
The path of holiness, from path of sin.
Keep stedfast on the way which ye have trod:
To neither side,--though gardens as of heaven
Would tempt you--for one moment turn your eyes.
Before you straight is the clear road of God:
If thence ye turn,--though seeming angels call,--
From God ye turn; His chosen ones no more;
But lost, for ever lost!' So us he warned,
Though fearing not; and we our clear path see.
From Reuben know I that I cannot part,
Save by God's will opposing; nor from me
Can he make severance: boldly for us both,--
For, in the soul, already are we one,
And, when I speak, he speaketh,--say I then;
There is no power on earth that him, or me,
Could move to disobedience. Earth's best lures,
Riches, and fame, power, honor, rank, and rule,
As wages for such sin, all worthless were
As dirt beneath the foot. For him, and me,
One life--rule only is,--our Maker's will.
On what earth stands, I know not; but, firm fixed
As on that base the earth,--so fixed stand we
On the known will of heaven. To disobey,
With us impossible alway. Hence, thy son
Never can be my husband; for the voice
Of God within my soul hath given to me
The humble Reuben. Likeway is he bound:
Me could he never leave; feeling that God
Our hands and hearts hath joined. ``Even were this all,--
Through solid rock might the weak body pass
Lightly as, through such obstacle, the soul:
Yet, greater far before us hast thou placed;
Not rock alone, but rock of adamant;
And wouldst that we pierce through it. Of God's will,
Unspoken, and unsigned,--in the heart alone
Felt as a living truth,--a doubt, perchance,
In hour of weakness, sickness, wretchedness,
Might, cloudlike, come, and go: but, of this globe,
The doubt to us not more impossible were,
Than of Jehovah, the one only God;
Maker of heaven, and earth, the sun, the stars,
And every thing that is. Yet, that great God
Thou wouldst we should deny: to other gods,
False deities, the imaginings of man,
Bow down,--the name of the living God exchange
For names of shadows!--and for what reward?
Riches, renown, high station, worship, power!
Ah, king! forgive a simple maiden's speech,
And let her tell thee,--couldst thou turn to gold
All valleys of the earth; her mountains turn
To ruby, sapphire, emerald, diamond, pearl;
Her oceans into silver,--and, of all,
Couldst make me queen; for husband give to me
A youth, than all man's race more glorious,
As sunshine is than blackness; and, to both,
Years twice a thousand give of happiest life;--
Or, couldst thou unto Reuben give the crown
Of the whole earth, and all those riches give;
For wife, a creature exquisite beyond
All earth's most lovely maidens, as the rose
More sweet than noisome fungus,--and, to both,
Life long as Lebanon's Cedars,--not for all,
Nor for all multiplied, till even as stars
In cloudless night for number they should be,--
Would he, or I, that Holiest Name forsake,
And to false gods, the dreams of man, bow down!''

While thus she spake,--beyond expression bright,
Holy, and beautiful, her countenance grew.
Glory of heaven seemed girding her about;
Her look was adoration; and her voice
Ecstatic as rejoicing seraph's hymn.

All gazed, and wondered. Of that presence great
Forgetful wholly,--with love--beaming face,
Lightly stepped Reuben forward; on his knee
Hurriedly sank before her; grasped her hand;
Tremblingly kissed it; tremblingly looked up,
And, mutely blessing, all but worshipped her.
Even the dread Phantom--king one step retired,
Astonished, as if dazzled by great light,
Suddenly breaking; and to Zabid's hands
The crown surrendered. Kohath, Malachi,
And Sarah, who, amazed, had left her couch,
Looked on that gentle maiden,--loftier now
Than proudest queen; and, while they looked, scarce knew
If Rachel truly were she, or some Power,
Clad in her semblance, who from heaven had come,
Their weakness seeing, with celestial tongue,
To voice their silent thoughts. Foiled utterly,
Thus far, the Arch--Fiend saw his wiles; and wrath
Boiled up within him: yet despaired he not;
By other means intent, at other time,
His end to win. Fair front he now must show;
Grief, disappointment, anger; though by love,
Even fatherly, subdued; and hope not lost
Of wiser course to come. With tender look,
Moist eyes, and quivering lip, and voice sad--toned,
To Rachel then he spake. ``A glorious sight
Methought I saw; but thou hast blotted it,
And pictured horrors. More I say not now,
To turn thy erring thoughts. With thine own heart
Take counsel; with thy parents, and thy friends;
Ere once again,--of more than life and death
Disposing,--thou make answer: for, the words,
Now uttered, I receive not: else must ills
Unspeakable fall on you instantly.
Use well the hours, my child; and force me not,
You punishing, myself to punish more.
With your great Moses will I conference hold.
His age and wisdom clearer far will see
Than thy young fancy: and his voice, perchance,
To thy true good may move thee, though alas!
A loving king hath failed!'' Thus having said,
Gently to all he bent; and, with slow step,
And grief--marked brow, went forth. To its rich case
The crown restoring,--with like solemn mien
Zabid departed: and, him following close,
Went Kohath, Reuben, Malachi; all mute,
All marvelling. At pace funereal--slow,
With bowed head moved the king: through the opened gate,
Like one by sorrow weakened, slowly passed;
Feebly his chariot mounted; backward sank,
And covered up his face. Beside him soon,
Bearing the priceless treasure, Zabid sat.
The attendants quickly mounted: and, at once,
With sound like earthquake--mutterings, the great hoofs,
Stamping together, shook the solid ground.

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Poems About Loss

  1. 451. Israel In Egypt. Book Sixteenth. , Edwin Atherstone
  2. 452. When Memories End , Zoe Guillory
  3. 453. Loss Of Words , bob barci
  4. 454. Finally , Charl JF Cilliers
  5. 455. Meditation , Asit Kumar Sanyal
  6. 456. A Book, Never Read , Maurice Harris
  7. 457. New Year 2013 , Sumanta Roy
  8. 458. Like Many Others , Jacob Stretton
  9. 459. Depression! , Andrew Hinds
  10. 460. The Penalties , John Denny
  11. 461. A Tearfull Sorrow , Beating Tree
  12. 462. The Cemetery Of The Heart , Jim Yerman
  13. 463. Testosterone Depletion And Aging , ArmourQuill Hunter
  14. 464. Your Loss Diminishes Me , Austyne Thomas
  15. 465. Resolution Lost , Sheila Jones
  16. 466. Re-Value-Ation , tolu ogundare
  17. 467. I Remember Who I Lost , Bullion Grey
  18. 468. Mirror , annon ymous
  19. 469. My Seed , Anasha Greham
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