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“Where will this end? four times ten days I've pass'd Wandering this woody maze, and human food Nor tasted, nor had appetite: that fast To virtue I impute not, or count part Of what I suffer here; if nature need not, Or God support nature without repast,
250 Though needing, what praise is it to endure ? But now I feel I hunger, which declares Nature hath need of what she asks; yet God Can satisfy that need some other way, Though hunger still remain : so it remain Without this body's wasting, I content me, And from the sting of famine fear no harm; Nor mind it, fed with better thoughts, that feed Me, hungering, more to do my Father's will."
It was the hour of night, when thus the Son 260 Communed in silent walk, then laid him down Under the hospitable covert nigh Of trees thick interwoven; there he slept, And dream'd, as appetite is wont to dream, Of meats and drinks, nature's refreshment sweet : Him thought, he by the brook of Cherith stood, And saw the ravens with their horny beaks Food to Elijah bringing, even and morn; Though ravenous, taught to abstain from what they He saw the prophet also, how he fled [brought. Into the desert, and how there he slept
Under a juniper; then how, awaked,
He found his supper on the coals prepared,
And by the angel was bid rise and eat,
And eat the second time after
The strength whereof sufficed him forty days:
Sometimes that with Elijah he partook,
Or as a guest with Daniel at his pulse.
Thus wore out night; and now the herald lark
Left his ground-nest, high towering to descry
The morn's approach, and greet her with his song,
As lightly from his grassy couch up rose
Our Saviour, and found all was but a dream;
Fasting he went to sleep, and fasting waked.
Up to a hill anon his steps he rear'd,
From whose high top to ken the prospect round,
If cottage were in view, sheep-cote, or herd;
But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw;
Only in a bottom saw a pleasant grove,
With chant of tuneful birds resounding loud:
Thither he bent his way, determin’d there
To rest at noon, and enter'd soon the shade
High roof'd, and walks beneath, and alleys brown,
That open'd in the midst a woody scene;
Nature's own work it seem'd (nature taught art),
And, to a superstitious eye, the haunt
Of wood-gods and wood-nymphs: he view'd it round,
When suddenly a man before him stood,
Not rustic as before, but seemlier clad,
As one in city, or court, or palace bred,
300 And with fair speech these words to him address'd:
“ With granted leave officious I return,
But much more wonder that the Son of God
In this wild solitude so long should bide,
Of all things destitute : and, well I know,
Not without hunger. Others of some note,
As story tells, have trod this wilderness;
The fugitive bond-woman, with her son,
Outcast Nebaioth, yet found here relief
By a providing angel; all the race
Of Israel here bad famish’d, had not God
Rain'd from heaven manna; and that prophet bold,
Native of Thebez, wandering here, was fed
Twice by a voice inviting him to eat :
Of thee these forty days none hath regard,
Forty and more deserted here indeed.”'
To whom thus Jesus:“What concludest thou hence? They all had need; I, as thou seest, have none.
“How hast thou hunger then?” Satan replied. “ Tell me, if food were now before thee set, 320 Would'st thou not eat?" “ Thereafter as I like
The giver," answer'd Jesus. “Why should that
Cause thy refusal ?” said the subtle fiend.
“ Hast thou not right to all created things ?
Owe not all creatures, by just right, to thee
Duty and service, not to stay till bid,
But tender all their power? Nor mention I
Meats by the law unclean, or offer'd first
To idols, those young Daniel could refuse;
Nor proffer'd by an enemy, though who
Would scruple that, with want oppress'd ? Behold,
Nature ashamed, or, better to express,
Troubled, that thou shouldst hunger, hath purvey'd
From all the elements her choicest store,
To treat thee, as beseems, and as her Lord,
With honour: only deign to sit and eat.”
He spake no dream : for, as his words had end,
Our Saviour, lifting up his eyes, beheld,
In ample space under the broadest shade,
A table richly spread, in regal mode,
340 With dishes piled, and meats of noblest sort And savour;
beasts of chase, or fowl of game,
In pastry built, or from the spit, or boil'd,
Gris-amber-steam’d; all fish, from sea or shore,
Freshet, or purling brook, of shell or fin,
And exquisitest name, for which was drain'd
Pontus, and Lucrine bay, and Afric coast.
(Alas ! how simple to these cates compared,
Was that crude apple that diverted Eve!)
And at a stately sideboard, by the wine,
That fragrant smell diffused, in order stood
Tall stripling youths rich clad, of fairer hue
Than Ganymed or Hylas; distant more
Under the trees now tripp'd, now solemn stood,
Nymphs of Diana's train, and Naiades,
With fruits and flowers from Amalthea's horn,
And ladies of the Hesperides, that seem'd
Fairer than feign'd of old, or fabled since
Of fairy damsels, met in forest wide
By knights of Logres, or of Lyones,
Lancelot, or Pelleas, or Pellenore.
And all the while harmonious airs were heard
Of chiming strings, or charming pipes; and winds
Of gentlest gale Arabian odours fann'd
From their soft wings, and Flora's earliest smells.
Such was the splendour; and the tempter now
His invitation earnestly renew'd:
“What doubts the Son of God to sit and eat?
These are not fruits forbidden; no interdict
Defends the touching of these viands pure: 370
Their taste no knowledge works, at least of evil,
But life preserves, destroys life's enemy,
Hunger, with sweet restorative delight.
All these are spirits of air, and woods, and springs,
Thy gentle ininisters, who come to pay
Thee homage, and acknowledge thee their Lord ;
What doubt'st thou, Son of God ? Sit down and eat.”
To whom thus Jesus temperately replied: “Said'st thou not that to all things I had right? And who withholds my power that right to use ? 380 Shall I receive by gift, what of my own, When and where likes me best, I can command ? I can at will, doubt not, as soon as thou, Command a table in this wilderness, And call swift flights of angels ministrant, Array'd in glory, on my cup to attend : Why shouldst thou, then, obtrude this diligence In vain, where no acceptance it can find ? And with my hunger what hast thou to do?