1830
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elijah in the Cave of Horeb.

Antediluvian Sketches; and other Poems. By Richard Howitt.

Richard Howitt


A verse character in nine Spenserians: in the desert of Horeb, the prophet Elijah hears the "still, small voice" of the Lord (1 Kings 19:12): "Elijah fled, to dwell, | Doubtful to trust in God, with fears beguiled, | In Horeb's mountain cave — a refuge in the wild!" Richard Howitt, brother of the well-known William, seems to have been something of a recluse himself.

Literary Gazette: "There is a great deal of poetical, and also of good kindly feeling, in this little volume, — one whose pages waken almost poetry in ourselves, and of whose merits we feel inclined to speak in smiles; and thus we compare the poet now before us to one of those sweet singing birds which pour forth simple and natural music, redolent of the green leaves and the fresh air. We must own that we like the Antediluvian Sketches the least in the book: we doubt the advantage of filling up pictures which, though brief, are finished; and it is very difficult to put fitting words into the mouth of Eve, Cain, &c.... It is a rare thing to see a whole family so gifted as the family of Howitt; truly their union must be a 'musical meeting'" (11 September 1830) 594.



Judea's holy men in desert caves
From the free light of day themselves did shroud;
The fear was on them of untimely graves
To which by Jezebel their forms were vowed,—
A woman, cruel, idolatrous, and proud!
Oh! many were the brows before her pale,
Of men with God's superior gifts endowed,
His Priests, and Prophets, whose firm hearts did fail;
For hundreds had she slain in sacrifice to Baal!

Even Elijah, God's most favoured one,
Fled to the desert in his spirit's fear;
And, wearied with his journey, slept alone
Beneath a juniper; when to him there,
In visioned glory, did a form appear
God's messenger: "Elijah! wake, arise!"
The angel cried to the reposing seer;
"Awake; renew, with these required supplies,
For forty days and nights, thy wasted energies!"

Thrilled with the seraph's voice, Elijah rose,
And from his waking eyes the vision fled:
No longer, vexed with shame and Israel's woes,
Called he on God to name him with the dead!
But ate and drank, and on his journey sped,
Sustained with food the angel had supplied;
And, by the Lord in spirit to Horeb led,
A cave be found within the mountain side,
Where lonely in his grief he did awhile abide.

Thus far from man he dwelt; yet in the eye
Of the All-seeing present, though alone.
A voice he heard; a message from the sky
Stole on his ear, with its mysterious tone:
The playful wind that kissed the caverned stone
Perchance it seemed? no! well Elijah knew
The voice, with him through years familiar grown:
He heard — and his emotions to subdue
He strove — and girt his loins — and to the cave's mouth drew.

Then gloom was on the mountain, and the flame
Of heaven flashed round him with a fearful light;
And the impetuous winds all wildly came,
Till rocks were rent before them in their flight;
And day, as with anticipated night
Was black; and thunders shook the murky air ;
An earthquake tossed the mountain in its might;
Yet with all these was God not present there,
In the dread earthquake's shock, the winds, nor lightning's glare.

The thunder ceased — the earthquake's violent rush
Was quieted — the lightnings flashed no more;
And in the gentle solitude and hush,
As died away the storm's majestic roar,
The "still small voice" was audible as before—
"What dost thou here, Elijah?" The seer heard,
And on the earth fell prostrate, to adore
That awful Presence, whose mysterious word
Pierced to his inmost heart — then be this plaint preferred:

"O, I was jealous for the Lord of Hosts,
With Israel vexed, and to the desert fled;
The hand of violence is on all her coasts,
Her altars are o'erturned, her priests have bled;
The temple is profaned, the seers are dead;
The righteous to the unrighteous are a prey,
And for Jehovah, Baal is worshipped;
And I, I only, live to see this day,
Yet even my life they seek, and fain would take away!"

Oh, time of trial for the just and true!
Of fiery ordeal to the pure in heart!
A time the lukewarm spirit to subdue!
To cause the weak and wavering to depart—
But not the righteous! no! in them to start
Redoubled zeal, redoubled power to bear
The keenest efforts of the torturer's art;
Nobly to die for God! but not to dare
To breathe at other shrines the voice of praise and prayer!

Yet are there seasons when the spirit seems
Reft of that holy influence, which so well
From lowest degradation oft redeems
Man's frailer sense that fairly would rebel;
In such an hour it was that Adam fell,
And thence was from his Paradise exiled;
In such an hour Elijah fled, to dwell,
Doubtful to trust in God, with fears beguiled,
In Horeb's mountain cave — a refuge in the wild!

[pp. 64-68]