Some days the swelling pinched his eyes
Shut, so he couldn't see the flies
That gorged their black bellies in
The putrid pus that seeped like thin
And yellow sap from crimson bark
Built up with dreadful days of dark
And drying blood. Only his wife
Dared touch his cloak, and with a knife
Relieve at times some throbbing boil,
And with her own bare hands pour oil
On his malignant neck and smooth
It down along his back to soothe
His pain. As days and weeks went by,
The quiet news that Job might die
Spread down to Teman and the clan
Of Eliphaz the Wise, and ran
Its course along the western way
Among the Arab tribes, who say
Their father was the ancient chief
Named Shuah, known for proverbs, brief
And penetrating to the soul,
Where Bildad had his school, and stole
The hearts of all the Shuhite men.
The news went northward too, and when
It reached the town of Tadimor,
The old man Zophar wept, and wore
His grieving robe as he set out
To meet with Bildad on the route
From Babylon, and then connect
With Eliphaz — all three bedecked
For burying their friend, if they
Should come in time.
Eight weeks, one day,
And seven painful hours had passed
Since Job was struck. "How can I last,"
He often thought, "How can I take
One hour more and not forsake
One afternoon Job raised
His pinched and swollen eyes, and praised
His God, because he saw three friends.
Job said, "O, how your coming lends
New strength to this old rotten corpse.
'Twas you, Bildad, who said, 'It warps
The mind to let it soak too long
In solitude.' Behold, no throng
Around the mighty Job, well bent,
As you would say, and had been spent
And broken too, but for my queen,
My servant queen, and mirror of
My God. But I do need and love
Your coming. Sit. And do not touch
This corpse. One, only, loves so much
Through seven days they sat,
And wept with Job, so broken that
They could not speak. Job felt the power
Of silent love, and every hour
Was like a gift.
But near the end
Of seven days a boding blend
Of grey and scarlet streaked the sky,
And Job waked with a trembling sigh:
"I've seen this sky before. It seeps
from some great battle in the deeps
Of angel-riven heav'n. And if
I know the signs, it means some cliff
Is in my way. O God, hold on
To me. I have no strength. This dawn
Is dark'ning over me, and I
Do fear another fall may lie
Before me in this path of pain."
That morning in the dripping rain
The words of Eliphaz ripped like
A chasm through the heart of Job:
"Think now, good friend, and let me probe
With you the wisdom of the wise:
Have any ears on earth, or eyes
Perceived the innocent so slain,
Or have the upright ever lain
In ashes as we see you lie,
Or suffered with such boils? Apply
What mind is left to you, and find
The cause of this great pain behind
Your seeming innocence. And seek
Your God in penitence, and keep
No longer secret all your sins."
Job didn't move, or speak. The winds
Of such incriminations crashed
Against his stagg'ring soul and smashed
The fingers barely grasping to
The goodness of his God. "That's true,
Great prince of Uz." The voice belonged
To Bildad. "O, whom have you wronged,
Once noble Job? For I have learned
A hundred proverbs, all concerned
With why calamities befall
A man. And one thread runs through all:
The righteous have a prosperous lot,
But those who curse and sin do not.
The more your sin is large or small,
The more your comforts rise and fall.
Uncover what is hidden, friend,
And there will be a happy end."
With swollen eyes unblinking fixed
On Bildad's face, Job felt a mixed
Affection in his soul. "I've known
These men for decades now. This tone,
This thin and artificial slur
Against my life does not concur
With years of empathy and love."
Job spied the bleeding sky above,
And pondered whence this turnabout
Had come. And then Zophar spoke out:
"Remember, Job, the Lord is high
Above the earth, and he can spy
Iniquity in any place.
There is no hiding sin. The face
Of the Almighty is not veiled
By man, nor has he ever failed
To see and judge. Job, let your sin
Be put away, and hide not, in
Your tents, the bounty of deceit;
And then your days will all be sweet."
Job pulled himself up on one side
And trembling said, "How can you chide
A blameless soul, when God, for naught,
Has, like a wounded eagle, caught
It in his snare and plucked it bare
And broken both its wings? I dare
You, friends, to demonstrate your word;
Make known to me how I have erred.
I am not guilty as you say.
And should the great Almighty slay
Me in this cage, I will with my
Last breath protest your charge, deny
My guilt, and call your wisdom vain:
Cliches among the dullards; plain
And bright as day to all the blind;
Green words, unripened in the mind.
Whence comes this cure? A crystal ball?
Worthless physicians are you all."
Then Eliphaz set tenderness
aside, and said, "God will not bless
A stubborn soul. How great must be
Your crime, to hide relentlessly
Behind the guise of innocent
Travail. I hear the bleak lament
Of widows that you must have mocked,
And orphans weeping that you locked
Outside your doors." Bildad joined in:
"Come, Job, what other cause but sin,
Would make God crush your children there?"
He pointed to the valley where
The house of Zachan used to stand.
"You build your fragile hope on sand
If you cannot discern the hand
Of God in your demise."
The faces of his friends, if there
Might be some opening, or prayer.
"O, I discern the hand of God,
My friends, I grant no other rod
The slightest countenance. What I
Deny is not that God on high
Makes winds to blow and lightning strike,
But that he rules as you might like.
I do not know why I lie here
And you sit there. But I am clear
It is not that I've sinned and you
are clean. Your maxims, be they few
Or thousands, will not stand before
The bar of God. O that some door
Were opened to the court of God,
And I might make my case unflawed
Before the Judge of all the world,
And prove this storm has not been hurled
Against me or my children there
Because of hidden crimes. O spare
Me now, my friends, your packages
Of God, your simple adages:
"Be good and strong, but weak when wrong."
They make good rote and clever song,
But do not hold the wisdom of
Our God. A whisper from above
Is all I have. Yet from it I
Have learned through horrid nights that my
Redeemer lives, and when my skin
Has been destroyed, then from within
Shall I behold him on my side,
And I will live though I have died."
Come let us make with candle three
An advent warning by the sea —
A signal where the sailors cling
To life through reefs of suffering,
And need the blast of light and bell:
Beware, what here beneath may dwell.
Beware of subtle, shrewd assaults,
A half-truth can be wholly false.
Beware of wisdom made in schools,
And proverbs in the mouth of fools.
Beware of claims that rise too tall:
"the upright stand and wicked fall"
Beware the thought that all is vain,
In time God's wisdom will be plain.