John Crowe Ransom

Judith Of Bethulia

Beautiful as the flying legend of some leopard 
She had not yet chosen her great captain, nor Prince 
Depositary to her flesh, and our defense; 
A wandering beauty is a blade out of its scabbard. 
You know how dangerous, gentlemen of threescore? 
May you know it yet ten more. 

Nor by process of veiling she grew the less fabulous. 
Grey or blue veils, we were desperate to study 
The invincible emanations of her white body, 
And the winds at her ordered raiment were ominous. 
Might she walk in the market, sit in the council of soldiers? 
Only of the extreme elders. 

But a rare chance was the girl's then, when the Invader 
Trumpeted from the South, and rumbled from the North, 
Beleaguered the city from four quarters of the earth, 
Our soldiery too craven and sick to aid her - 
Where were the arms could countervail this horde? 
Her beauty was the sword. 

She sat with the elders, and proved on their blear visage 
How bright was the weapon unrusted in her keeping, 
While he lay surfeiting on their harvest heaping, 
Wasting the husbandry of their rarest vintage - 
And dreaming of the broad-breasted dames for concubine? 
These floated on his wine. 

He was lapped with bay-leaves, and grass and fumiter weed, 
And from under the wine-film encountered his mortal vision,
For even within his tent she accomplished his derision, 
She loosed one veil and another, standing unafraid; 
And he perished. Nor brushed her with even so much as a daisy?
She found his destruction easy. 

The heathen are all perished. The victory was furnished. 
We smote them hiding in our vineyards, barns, annexes, 
And now their white bones clutter the holes of foxes, 
And the chieftain's head, with grinning sockets, and varnished -
Is it hung on the sky with a hideous epitaphy?
No, the woman keeps the trophy. 

May God send unto our virtuous lady her Prince!
It is stated she went reluctant to that orgy, 
Yet a madness fevers our young men, and not the clergy 
Nor the elders have turned them unto modesty since. 
Inflamed by the thought of her nakedness with desire? 
Yes, and chilled with fear and despair.