Beyond the Hills of Dream

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

Peniel


 

IN a place of the mountains of Edom,
     And a waste of the midnight shore,
When the evil winds of the desolate hills
     Beat with an iron roar,
With the pitiless black of the desert behind,
5

     And the wrath of a brother before:— 

In a place of the ancient mountains,
     And the time of the midnight dead,
Where the great wide skies of his father’s land
     Loomed vastly overhead,

10
Jacob, the son of the ancient of days,
     Stood out alone with his dread
 
And there in that place of darkness,
     When the murk of the night grew dim,
Under the wide roof-tree of the world
15

     An unknown stood with him,—
Whether a devil or angel of God,—
     With presence hidden and grim, 

And spake—“Thou Son of Isaac,
     On mountain and stream and tree,

20

And this wide ruined world of night,
     Take thy last look with me:
For out of the darkness have I come,
     To die, or conquer thee.” 

Then Jacob made stern answer,—

25
     “Until thy face I see,
Though I strive with life or wrestle with death,
     Yet will I strive with thee:
For better it were to die this hour
     Than from my fate to flee.
30

“Yea, speak thy name or show thy face,
     Else shall I conquer thy will.”
But the other closed with an iron shock,
     Till it seemed the stars so still,
With the lonely night, in a wheeling mist,
35
     Went round by river and hill.
 
And Jacob strove as the dying strive,
     In the woe of that awful place.
Yea, he fought with the desperate soul of one
     Who fights in evil case:
40

And he called aloud in the pauses dread,
     “O give me sight of thy face. 

“Yea, speak thy name, what art thou, spirit,
     Or man, or devil, or God?
Yea, speak thy name!” But no voice came,

45
     From heaven or deep or sod:
And the spirit of Jacob clave to his flesh
     As the dews in a dried-up clod.
 
Then they rocked and swayed as Autumn storms
     Do rock the centuried trees:
50
Yea, swayed and rocked: that other strove,
     And drave him to his knees,
And Jacob felt the wide world’s gleam
     And the roar of unknown seas.
 
Like to a mighty storm it seemed,
55
     There thundered in his ears:
Then a mighty rushing water teemed
     Like brooks of human tears,
And opened the channels of his spent heart,
     And washed away his fears.
60

And he rose with the last despairing strength
     Of life’s tenacity,
And he swore by the blood of man in him,
     And God’s eternity,
“’T is my life, my very soul he wants;
65

     That he shall not have of me.” 

Then his heart grew strong and he felt the earth
     Grow iron beneath his feet,
And he drank the balmy airs of night
     Like rose-blooms rare and sweet:

70
And his soul rose up as a welling brook,
     His life or death to meet.
 
And he spake to that unknown enemy there,—
     “By yon white stars I vow,
That be thou devil or angel or man,
75

     Thou canst not conquer me now;
For I feel new lease of life and strength
     In this sweat that beads my brow.” 

They locked once more; the stars, it seemed
     Went round in dances dim,

80
Where the great white watchers over each hill,
     With the black night, seemed to swim;
But Jacob knew his enemy now,
     Could nevermore conquer him.
 
Yea, still with grip of death they strove,
85
     In iron might, until,
Planet by planet, the great stars dropped
     Down over the westward hill:
And Jacob stood like one who stands
     In the strength of a mighty will.
90

Then at that late, last midnight hour,
     When the little birds rejoice,
And out of the lands of sleep life looms
     With the rustle of day’s annoys,
That other spake as one who speaks
95
     With a sad despairing voice,
 
And cried aloud, “I have met my fate,
     Loosen, and let me go;
For I have striven with thee in vain,
     Till my heart is water and woe.”
100

“Nay, nay,” cried Jacob, “we strive, we twain,
     Till the mists of dawning blow.” 

Then spake that other, “I hate thee not,
     My spirit is spent, alas,
Thou art a very lion of men;

105

     Release, and let me pass;
For thou hast my heart and sinews ground
     As ocean grinds his grass.” 

Then answered Jacob, “Nay, nay, thou liar,
     This is the lock of death:

110
For thee or me it must be thus,
     The will of my being saith;
Thou man or devil, I hold thee here
     Unto thy latest breath;
 
“For I do feel in thee I hold
115
     My life’s supremest hour:
I would as lief let all life slip
     As thee from out my power,
Until I gaze on thy hid face,
     And read my spirit’s dower.
120

“Yea, show thy face or who thou art,
     Or, man or angel or fiend,
I rend thy being fold from fold,
     And scatter thee to the wind.”
Then they twain rocked as passions rock,
125
     When madness wrecks the mind.
 
For each now knew this was the end,
     And one of them must die,
Then Jacob heaved a mighty breath,
     With a last great sobbing cry,
130
And gripped that other in a grip
     Like the grip of those who die.
 
For he felt once more his spirit faint,
     And his strong knees quake beneath,
And it seemed the mountains flamed all red
135
     At the coming of his breath;
And he prayed if he were conquered now
     That this might be his death.
 
The tight grip eased, the huge form slipped
     Back earthward with a moan,
140
And Jacob stood there ’neath the dawn,
     Like one new-changed to stone;
For in the face of the prone man there
     He read his very own.
 
Not as man sees who reads his fellows
145
     In the dim crowds that pass:
Nor as a soul may know himself,
     Who looks within a glass:—
But as God sees, who kneads the clay,
     And parts it from the mass.
150

And over his head the great day rose
     And gloried leaf and wing,
And the little boughs began to tremble,
     And the little birds to sing;
But on his face there shone a strength
155
     Like the power of a new-crowned king.