Overcome with weariness, he kept
To the same rough quarters as before:
All day had seen him on the threshing floor
And now, by sacks of wheat, tired Boaz slept.

He possessed, this good old man, large fields of wheat,
And barley too: was just, and passing rich.
His mill ran cleanly, fairly; he didn't switch
A neighbour's castings from the furnace heat.

His beard was silvered as an April stream;
His sheaves lay broad and open as the day.
Leave this or that to gleaners he would say.
Thoughtful this old man was: a kind regime.

Far from him was any crooked road,
He walked through guiless probity in white:
He backed the poor in dispute, and for their plight
From his own granaries the fountains flowed.

To labourers and family, though not in sight,
Boaz was faithful, generous, if cautious too.
Girls gazed more favourably than age has due,
For if youth has beauty, age has might.

The old return beyond the alteration
Of days about them to the source of truth.
With fires of passion blaze the eyes in youth
But to the old there comes illumination.

* * *

So, Boaz slept that night among his own,
Beside the millstones, rubble, darkened rows
Of stretched-out harvesters whose heaps were those
Of ancient custom, kept to, cast in stone.

From their days in tents, beyond the flood,
The tribes of Israel took as chief their law:
It guided and supported when they saw
Still fresh the prints of giants on the mud.

* * *

As Jacob slept, so did Judith. Spread
Out, with eyes fast shut, was Boaz. Far
Above him, falling from a door ajar
In the heavens, a dream took up his head.

And in that dream he saw an oak tree climb
As from his loins into the very sky:
A chain, a line of people, to whom in time
A king would come with psalms, and a god die.

How can that be, within the inner house
Of soul, the old man murmured, since the sum
Of eighty years is come upon me, come
And gone: no sons are left me, or a spouse.

How long ago it seems the one I wed
Has gone and left my couch for yours, Yehova:
But what she was, she is, as though carried over
By one half-living still to one half dead.

A race from out my blood: how can that be?
How shall I glory with the dawn's first ray
If none of mine are with me through the day?
Mine is survival and longevity.

I am as trees stripped in the winter, think
At evening, soberly, on the what has been.
To the tomb, continually, now I lean
As the ox does, heavily, down to drink.

So spoke old Boaz, turning, eyes betrayed
By sleep to God and not the sudden heat.
The cedar sees no roses in its shade
Nor he the woman stretched out at his feet.

* * *

As she slumbered, Ruth, a Moabite,
Was still near Boaz with her breasts undone,
Hoping, who can say, some half-begun
Glance would open into morning light.

Boaz did not know that Ruth was there,
Nor Ruth herself what God intended. Well
That there came the perfume of the asphodel,
And Galgala lay within the light wind's care.

The night was solemn, august and bridal. There flew
Or not among the shadows hesitating
A host of angels in that hour of waiting,
A tempest as though of wings, a flash of blue.

The sound of Boaz breathing kept the hours:
the water trickled quietly through the moss:
Nature at her sweetest, when months emboss
The summits of the hills with lily flowers.

* * *

Ruth now pondered; Boaz slept. The clink
Of sheepbells carried: darkness innocent.
An immense blessing fell from the firmament.
It was the hour of quiet, when lions drink.

Rest in Ur and Jerimadeth. The flowers
Of darkness had enamelled somber rest
A crescent, thin and clear, lit up the west
As Ruth, unmoving, wondered through the hours:

What god — her look half lifting through its bars —
What summer reaper out of times unknown,
In leaving her so carelessly had thrown
That golden sickle in the field of stars?


From Légends des Siècles (1859) by Victor Hugo


Now collected in a free ebook published by Ocaso Press.