The Mother of Sisera (Judges 5:28-30)

(With apologies to Tennyson)

On either side the wadi lie
Long fields of barley, furrowed high
The clothe the vale and meet the sky
And through the fields the road runs by
The palm of Deborah.
Retreating home, the soldiers go
Seeing where the lilies blow
Cloaked in what she does not know:
The mother of Sisera.

Willows whiten, myrtles quiver
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the tears that run forever
In the wadi where it waters
The palm of Deborah.
Canaan walls and Canaan towers
Overlook a space of flowers
And the silent vale imbowers
The mother of Sisera.

By the wadi, willow veil’d
Slink the iron chariots trail’d
By tired horses, once assailed
They relent, for she prevailed:
The palm of Deborah.
But who hath seen her wave her hand
Or at the casement seen her stand
Or is she known in all the land
The mother of Sisera?

Only reapers reaping early
In among the bearded barley
Here the sound that echoes clearly
From the wadi winding nearly
The palm of Deborah.
And by the moon, Ruth young and weary
Piling sheaves in uplands airy
Listening, whispers, “‘Tis the fairy
The mother of Sisera.”

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colors gay.
She has heard her ladies say
A curse will come if he betrayed
The palm of Deborah.
She knows not what the curse may be
And so she weaveth steadily
Thinking only, “Where is he?”
The mother of Sisera.

But in her loom she still delights
To weave the spoils of the fight
As often through the silent nights
Come funerals with plumes alight
As torch-like Deborah.
And sometimes through the lattice blue
The troops came riding two by two
She hath her loyal troop and true
The mother of Sisera.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves
He rode between the barley sheaves
The lightning sparkled through the leaves
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of General Barak.
He rode straight onwards through the night
Below the starry clusters bright
That left their paths to join and fight
The army of Sisera.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Like its dates and pits together:
The palm of Deborah.
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty lengthened shofar hung
And blasted ’til her voice, too, rung
The mother of Sisera.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces round the room
She knew the palm had brought his doom
She’d seen his helmet and his plume
On General Barak!
Out flew the web and floated wide
Her dream-cloak tore from side-to-side
“The curse has come upon him,” cried
The mother of Sisera.

And down the wadi’s dim expanse
Like a prophetess entranced
With a glassy countenance
She beheld her own mischance:
The palm of Deborah.
And at the closing of the day
She found a ship, and down she lay
The wadi bore her far away
The mother of Sisera.

Lying robed in shrouds of white
That loosely flew to left and right
The leaves upon her falling light
From the tree that bloomed by night:
The palm of Deborah.
As as her ship-prow wound along
The willowy hills and fields among
They heard her moan her shofar song
The mother of Sisera.

Who is this? And what is here?
Ephraim’s victors all drew near
Died the sound of Israel’s cheer
As they looked to God in fear,
Those judged by Deborah.
But Deborah mused a little space
She said, “The grief upon that face!
God in His mercy lend her grace,
The mother of Sisera.”

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