1828
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Battle of Gibeon. Verses illustrative of Martin's Joshua.

A New Year's Eve, and other Poems. By Bernard Barton.

Bernard Barton


Six Spenserians. John Martin (1789-1854) was known for painting Biblical subjects in vast and visionary landscapes.

New Monthly Magazine: "To descant upon the poetical talents of Mr. Barton, or to describe the characteristics of his muse, would be superfluous. The principal poem, A New Year's Eve, is a reflective poem of six-and-twenty pages, in the Spenserian stanza; and the remainder of the volume contains about eighty miscellaneous poems, on various subjects, and in almost every style of versification. If several of these be not entirely good, we can with equal truth assert, that there are very few which do not contain some lines or stanzas of redeeming merit. Decidedly the worst of Mr. Barton's productions are his poems on a subject to which he is most prone to recur. This arises from obvious causes. It is impossible to impart novelty to minor sacred poems; and the attempt too commonly produces equivocal sentiments, incongruous ideas, and strained and harsh versification, most assailant to the ear, and displeasing to good taste" NS 27 (March 1829) 101.

Charles Lamb to Bernard Barton: "Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still" (1816) was the picture that made his [Martin's] reputation. The Battle of Gibeon is spirited again — but you sacrifice it in the last stanza to the Song at Bethlehem. It is quite orthodox to do so" 5 December 1828; in Letters, ed. E. V. Lucas (1935) 3:193.



From Gilgal's camp went forth, at dead of night,
The host of Israel: with the rising sun
They stood arrayed against the Amorite,
Beneath the regal heights of Gibeon,
Glorious in morning's splendour! Lebanon,
Dim in the distance, reared its lofty head;
Light clouds o'erhung the vale of Ajalon,
And the Five Armies, by their monarchs led
Not to mere mortal fight, but conflict far more dread.

How beautiful, at matin's early prime,
Valley, and mountain, and that city fair!
Magnificent, yet fearfully sublime,
In few brief hours the scene depicted there!
Below the battle raged, and high in air
The gathering clouds, with tempest in their womb,
A supernatural darkness seemed to wear;
As heralding, by their portentous gloom,
Victory to Israel's host, her foes' impending doom!

Upon a jutting crag, below the height
Where stands the royal city in its pride,
The ark is rested! in the people's sight
The priests and Joshua standing by its side;
Awhile the chief the sea of battle eyed,
Which heaved beneath: — in accents undismayed,
"Sun, stand thou still on Gibeon!" he cried,
"And thou, O Moon, o'er Ajalon be stayed!"
And holiest records tell the mandate was obeyed.

Look on the horrid conflict; mark the stream
Of lurid and unnatural light that falls,
Like some wild meteor's bright terrific gleam,
On Gibeon's steep and battlemented walls;
Her royal palace, and her pillared halls,
Seeming more gorgeous in its vivid blaze!
While o'er proud Lebanon the storm appals,
In jagged lines the arrowy lightning plays,
Softened to Israel's sight by intervening haze.

But o'er the Amoritish camp the cloud
Bursts in its fury! on the race abhorred
The parting heavens, as from a pitchy shroud,
Their desolating hail-storm's wrath out-poured,
More vengeful in its ire than Israel's sword!
Thus was deliverance unto Gibeon shown;
And by the fearful battle of the Lord,
The army of the Amorites o'erthrown,
And the almighty power of Israel's God made known.

Made known by marvels awfully sublime!
Yet far more glorious in the Christian's sight
Than these stern terrors of the olden time,
The gentler splendours of that peaceful night,
When opening clouds displayed, in vision bright,
The heavenly host to Bethlehem's shepherd train,
Shedding around them more than cloudless light!
"Glory to God on high!" their opening strain,
Its chorus, "Peace on earth!" its theme Messiah's reign!

[pp. 105-08]