King Saul at Gilboa

Original Text: 
The Poems of Henry Kendall, ed. Bertram Stephens (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1920): 113-16. Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), digital text sponsored by AustLit:
2Half hid in fog, the gloomy mountain lay;
4Saw fits of flame and gleams of clashing shields
5For, where the yellow river draws its spring,
6The hosts of Israel travelled thundering!
7There, beating like the storm that sweeps to sea
12Till peak and slope were drenched with bloody dew!
14And hurled the stone and dashed the stave aside:
16Bend the long bow and break the lords of fight!"
17From every hand the swarthy strangers sprang,
18Chief leaped on chief, with buckler buckler rang!
19The flower of armies! Set in Syrian heat,
20The ridges clamoured under labouring feet;
22The crescent horns of Abner's squadrons glowed.
23Then, like a shooting splendour on the wing,
25And as in Autumn's fall, when woods are bare,
26Two adverse tempests meet in middle air,
28Met by the brook and shook the scales of Fate.
29For now the struggle swayed, and, firm as rocks
30Against the storm-wind of the equinox,
32All day the fiery tides of fourfold war.
33But he that fasted in the secret cave,
34And called up Samuel from the quiet grave,
35And stood with darkness and the mantled ghosts
37Knew well the end--of how the futile sword
38Of Israel would be broken by the Lord;
41And how the race of Kish would fall to wreck,
43Yet strove the sun-like king, nor rested hand
44Till yellow evening filled the level land;
45Then Judah reeled before a biting hail
48Drew the tense string, and pierced the quivering steel.
49There fell the sons of Saul, and, man by man,
50The chiefs of Israel, up to Jonathan;
51And while swift Achish stooped and caught the spoil,
52Ten chosen archers, red with sanguine toil
53Sped after Saul, who, faint and sick, and sore
54With many wounds, had left the thick of war:
55He, like a baffled bull by hunters prest,
56Turned sharp about, and faced the flooded west,
57And saw the star-like spears and moony spokes
58Gleam from the rocks and lighten through the oaks--
59A sea of splendour! How the chariots rolled
60On wheels of blinding brightness manifold!
61While stumbling over spike and spine and spur
63With smitten men. At this the front of Saul
64Grew darker than a blasted tower wall;
65And seeing how there crouched upon his right,
66Aghast with fear, a black Amalekite,
67He called, and said: "I pray thee, man of pain,
68Red from the scourge, and recent from the chain,
69Set thou thy face to mine, and stoutly stand
70With yonder bloody sword-hilt in thy hand,
71And fall upon me." But the faltering hind
72Stood trembling, like a willow in the wind.
74Should bear me captive to their bleak-blown coasts,
75I pray thee, smite me: seeing peace has fled,
76And rest lies wholly with the quiet dead."
77At this a flood of sunset broke, and smote
78Keen, blazing sapphires round a kingly throat,
79Touched arm and shoulder, glittered in the crest,
80And made swift starlights on a jewelled breast.
81So, starting forward, like a loosened hound,
82The stranger clutched the sword and wheeled it round,
83And struck the Lord's Anointed. Fierce and fleet
85By gaping gorges and by rough defile,
86Dark Ashdod beat across a dusty mile;
87Hot Hazor's bowmen toiled from spire to spire,
88And Gath sprang upwards, like a gust of fire;
89On either side did Libnah's lords appear,
90And brass-clad Timnath thundered in the rear.
91"Mark, Achish, mark!"--South-west and south there sped
92A dabbled hireling from the dreadful dead!
93"Mark, Achish, mark!"--The mighty front of Saul,
94Great in his life and god-like in his fall!
95This was the arm that broke Philistia's pride,
97This was the sword that smote till set of sun
99Low in the dust. And Israel scattered far!
100And dead the trumps and crushed the hoofs of war!
101So fell the king, as it was said by him
102Who hid his forehead in a mantle dim
104Vexed the long sleep of still Samarian heights:
105For bowed to earth before the hoary Priest,
106Did he of Kish withstand the smoking feast,
107To fast, in darkness and in sackcloth rolled,
108And house with wild things in the biting cold;
109Because of sharpness lent to Gaza's sword,
110And Judah widowed by the angry Lord.
111So silence came! As when the outer verge
113Hoarse hollow noises fill the caves and roar
114Along the margin of the echoing shore,
115Thus War had thundered! But as evening breaks
117When reapers rest, and through the level red
118Of sunset, peace like holy oil is shed,
119Thus Silence fell; but Israel's daughters crept
120Outside their thresholds, waited, watched, and wept.
124Around their loins the hasty girdle drew,
125And faced the forests huddled fold on fold,
126And dells of glimmering greenness manifold,
128A shining foot on hills of wind and wet:
129These journeyed nightly till they reached the capes
130Where Ashdod revelled over heated grapes;
131And, while the feast was loud and scouts were turned,
132From Saul's bound body cord by cord they burned,
133And bore the king athwart the place of tombs,
134And hasted eastward through the tufted glooms;
135Nor broke the cake nor stayed the step till Morn
138In Jabesh then they built the funeral flame;
139With costly woods they piled the lordly pyre,
140Brought yellow oils and fed the perfect fire;
141While round the crescent stately elders spread
142The flashing armour of the mighty dead,
143With crown and spear, and all the trophies won
144From many wars by Israel's dreadful son.
145Thence, when the feet of Evening paused and stood
146On shadowy mountains and the roaring flood,
147(As through a rushing twilight, full of rain,
149The younger warriors bore the urn, and broke
150The humid turf about a wintering oak,
151And buried Saul; and, fasting, went their ways,
152And hid their faces seven nights and days.


1] King Saul at Gilboa: see 1 Samuel 31: 1-13. Saul, son of Kish, was the first king of the united kingdom of Israel (reigned 1049 BCE-1007 BCE), according to the Hebrew Bible. Before the battle against the Philistines at Mt. Gilboa, Saul asked the Witch of Endor to bring up the ghost of the prophet Samuel, who had originally anointed Saul as King. Samuel tells Saul that he will die in the upcoming battle against the Philistines at Gilboa, and that the Israelites will be defeated. As Samuel foretold, the Israelites lost the battle and Saul, to avoid capture, committed suicide by falling on his sword. Three of Saul's four sons also died in the battle. The men of Jabesh-Gilead rescued their bodies, which has been hung at the Philistine temple at Beth-shan, and burned them and buried the remains properly. Back to Line
3] Succoth: a town east of the Jordan River in the territory of the tribe of Gad. Back to Line
8] Galilee: a large region in northern Israel. Back to Line
9] Abner: first cousin to King Saul and commander-in-chief of his army; son of Ner. Back to Line
10] Gaza: a coastal Philistine city in Biblical times.
Gilboa: a mountain on the southeastern side of the Jezreel Valley in the Galilee where King Saul and three of his sons, died in a battle with the Philistines. Back to Line
11] Ekron: one of five principal Philistine cities in Biblical times, 35 kilometers west of Jerusalem Back to Line
13] Timnath: a town in the central highlands of ancient Israel, in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim. Back to Line
15] Hazor: a town, originally Canaanite and later Jewish, located north of the Sea of Galilee in ancient Israel. Back to Line
21] Salem: the royal city of King Melchizedek, traditionally identified with Jerusalem. Back to Line
24] Kish: the father of King Saul. Back to Line
27] Achish: the name used in the Bible for two Philistine rulers of Gath. Back to Line
31] Judah: the southern portion of the ancient kingdom of united Israel under King Saul. Back to Line
36] Samarian: the region of Samaria, a town about 35 miles north of Jerusalem. Back to Line
39] Gath: Philistine town, or a term referring to the Philistine people. Back to Line
40] Dagon: a god of the ancient Philistine people. Back to Line
42] Amalek: one of the peoples dwelling in the southern part of Canaan.
King Saul was commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites but had mercy on a few of them, which was regarded by God as a sin. Back to Line
46] Achor: a valley near Jericho. Back to Line
47] Libnah: a town in the ancient Israelite kingdom of Judah. Back to Line
62] Ner: father of Abner, one of the sons of Abiel, along with Kish, the father of King Saul. Back to Line
73] Ashdod: a city in ancient Israel, located about four miles inland from the southern coast. It has been settled by various peoples since the 13th century BCE, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.
Vaunting: boasting excessively. Back to Line
84] Philistia: the lands controlled by the Philistine people. Back to Line
96] Kishon: a river rising from the Gilboa mountains in the Galilee and flowing through the Jezreel Valley Back to Line
98] Michmash: a Philistine town in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin.
Ajalon: A Philistine town in Galilee, in the territory of the tribe of Dan. Back to Line
103] Endor: a town in the Jezreel Valley--in the territory of the tribe of Manessah--where the Witch of Endor lived. Back to Line
112] Carmel: a mountain range in the Galilee that forms one border of the Jezreel Valley; also, a town in the territory of the tribe of Judah, where King Saul erected a monument after his expedition against the Amalekites. Back to Line
116] Assyrian: the region of Assyria, a long-lasting empire in northern Mesopotamia that conquered Israel at different periods. Back to Line
121] fens: marshes. Back to Line
122] Jordan: a river of Israel that flows into the Dead Sea.
gelid: icy or extremely cold. Back to Line
123] Jabesh-Gilead: a town in ancient Israel, possibly in the Jordan Valley. Back to Line
127] Orion: a prominent constellation visible throughout the world, named for a hunter in Greek myth. Back to Line
136] Debir: a place between Jerusalem and Jericho, in the territory of Judah, whose location has not been identified with certainty. Back to Line
137] Jabesh: Jabesh-Gilead. Back to Line
148] Gadara: a town and region in ancient Israel that lay on the Gilead uplands sloping down towards the plain of the Jordan River, about six miles south of the Sea of Galilee. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Leaves from Australian Forests (1869)
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: