POETRY: The Offering Of Isaac

From Genesis A, Anglo-Saxon; translated by David Ferry

Then the Lord wanted to know
How steadfast was his man,
So He said, in the Lord’s stern voice,
“Abraham, Abraham, you
Must take your belovèd child,
Your own, your only son,
And go with him to where
I will show you what to do.
A place there is, high in the hills
You must climb up there on foot.
The two of you together,
Around you only nothing.
Only the mountain peaks
Around you witnessing.
And there make ready a fire,
A bale-fire for your bairn,
And then, you must, yourself,
Take up the sword you carry,
And kill him with its edge,
And burn his dear body black
In the flames you have set going
And present what you have done,
A burnt offering to Me.”

Abraham heard the Lord
and did not put off the journey.
At once he made his way,
Determined and intent
On the task that he had been
Commanded to undertake.
He was in awe of the Word
Of the Lord God of angels.
He was the Lord’s servant,
Eager to please his Master.
Blessèd was Abraham.
Without any night-rest
He got up from his bed.
He obeyed without any question
The commandment of the Lord.
He girded on his sword,
Fear of the Lord’s Word
Continual in his breast.
That good old man, the giver
Of rings to his followers,
He harnessed and bridled his asses,
And selected from his household
Two young men, and told them
To go with him on his journey.
Isaac his half-grown son
Was the third one of the party.
He was himself the fourth.
So together they went to do
The bidding of the Lord,
Hastening on their way
Across the deserted landscape,
Until, on the third day,
The bright light of the morning
Rose up from the deep water,
Where everything begins.

There, then, the blessèd man
Looked up and saw the high
Mountain that the Lord
Had told him they were to go to.
Abraham spoke to the two
Retainers and said, “My men,
Stay here where we have camped
We will return when we
Have carried out what the King
Of Souls has told us to do.”
Then Abraham left them and went
Up unto the high mountain,
Climbing through woods and groves,
Taking his own son with him.
The son carried the wood,
The father carried the fire,
And was carrying the sword.
Then his belovèd son,
Trudging beside his father,
Said to his father, “Father,
We’re carrying the wood,
The fire, and the sword,
To do what the bright Lord
Asks us to do, but where
Is the sacrificial victim?
Where is the offering
To put upon the fire”?
His father, who was steadfast,
Faithful to what the Creator
Had told him to do, replied
“He, who is the true
King, the Guardian,
Protector of His people,
He will find what is right
And what is fitting for this.”
Then, obedient, resolute,
Steadfast, he went on climbing
Up the steep mountain with
His only son beside him,
Until they came to the top,
To the place to which the Lord
Had told him where to go,
And there he took the sticks
Of wood his son had carried
And with them made ready the fire,
Only the mountains around,
Witnessing what he was doing.
Hand and food he bound
His own, his only son,
Young half-grown Isaac,
And lifted his own child up
And laid him on the pyre,
And took up the sword in his hand
And stood there ready to kill him,
And for the thirsty fire
To drink the blood of his boy.

Then suddenly from above
An angel of the Lord
Called out to Abraham
In a loud voice, “Abraham!”
Abraham stood still,
He stood stock-still and listened
And heard the words of the angel.
“Abraham, do not kill
Your own, your only son.
Take him up, lift him away
From the pyre you have put him upon.
The Lord has granted him
Great honor, and you, great scion,
And patriarch of the Hebrews,
Will be given many rewards
By the Guardian of Souls,
Because you were willing to
Sacrifice your son,
Your belovèd son,
In obedience to the Lord
And for the love of Him.”
The fire went on burning.

The Creator of Mankind
Had so approved the heart
Of Abraham, Lot’s kinsman,
That God gave him back his bairn
In safety, and alive.
Then Abraham, the brother
Of Haran, turned his head,
And looked back over his shoulder,
And saw, not far away,
A ram caught in the brambles.
Then he took hold of the ram
And quickly lifted it up
Onto the burning pyre
And took his sword and killed it,
In place of his own son,
There on the smoking altar
Stained with the blood of the ram.
He offered to the Lord
The burnt offering,
In gratitude for the gifts
He had given them and would give
Forever and ever after.


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