Boaz Asleep

Victor Hugo
Boaz, overcome with weariness, by torchlight 
made his pallet on the threshing floor 
where all day he had worked, and now he slept 
among the bushels of threshed wheat.

The old man owned wheatfields and barley, 
and though he was rich, he was still fair-minded. 
No filth soured the sweetness of his well. 
No hot iron of torture whitened in his forge.

His beard was silver as a brook in April. 
He bound sheaves without the strain of hate 
or envy. He saw gleaners pass, and said, 
Let handfuls of the fat ears fall to them.

The man's mind, clear of untoward feeling, 
clothed itself in candor. He wore clean robes. 
His heaped granaries spilled over always 
toward the poor, no less than public fountains.

Boaz did well by his workers and by kinsmen. 
He was generous, and moderate. Women held him 
worthier than younger men, for youth is handsome, 
but to him in his old age came greatness.

An old man, nearing his first source, may find 
the timelessness beyond times of trouble. 
And though fire burned in young men's eyes, 
to Ruth the eyes of Boaz shone clear light.

* * *

So, Boaz slept among his heaps of grain
in darkness, as among the ruins of summer.
Reapers sprawled nearby like fallen troops.
And this took place in very ancient times.

Then, judges led the tribes of Israel. 
People wandering with tents as herdsmen saw 
the footprints left by giants where the earth 
was soft still from the waters of the flood.

* * *

As Jacob slept, as Judith slept, 
so now did Boaz on his threshing floor, 
while overhead a door came open, and a dream 
fell from the sky into the old man's mind:

he saw a live oak grow out of his belly 
far up into the blue; and many people 
climbed it in a long chain, while a king sat 
singing at the root, and a god died at the crown.

And Boaz murmured, sleeping, 
in his soul: Could this come forth 
from me, past eighty? Still, 
I have no son. I have no wife.

The one who shared my bed, Lord! years ago, 
you took from my house into yours, 
though she and I are yet one soul--hers 
half-alive in me and mine half-dead in her.

And shall a nation come from this ruined flesh? 
Shall I now have a child? I might believe it, 
young, when I could still see mornings 
rise out of the night as if in triumph.

Now, I tremble like a birch in winter. 
Old, a widower, alone at nightfall,
I have turned my soul to face the grave, 
an old ox turned by thirst down to the river.

So said Boaz in his dream, his ecstasy still 
turning him toward God, eyes blurred with sleep. 
The cedar does not feel the rose bloom at its root, 
and Boaz did not feel, at his feet, the young woman.

* * *

Ruth, a Moabite, had come while Boaz slept, 
and now lay at his feet, who knows what light 
from what door in the heavens finding her breast 
naked, tender to its stirring as his dreams.

But Boaz did not know Ruth came to him, 
and Ruth did not know what God asked of her. 
The night breathed out a freshness from wild 
clumps of asphodels over the hills of Judah.

The dark was nuptial, and august, and solemn. 
Hidden angels must have hovered over them, 
for Ruth saw in the night sky, here and there, 
a dark blue movement like a wing.

The breath of Boaz sleeping mixed 
with a dull hush of brookwater in the moss. 
It was the time of year when lilies open 
and let go their sweetness on the hills.

Ruth was dreaming. Boaz slept. The grass looked black. 
And little bells of sheep were trembling on the verge 
of silence. Goodness came down clear as starlight 
into the great calm where the lions go to drink.

All slept, all, from Ur to Bethlehem. 
The stars enameled the deep black of the sky. 
A narrow crescent in the low dark 
of the west shone, while Ruth wondered,

lying still now, eyes half opened,
under twinging of their lids, what god 
of the eternal summer passing dropped
his golden scythe there in that field of stars. 

From Selected Poems by Brooks Haxton, published by Penguin Books, March 2002. Copyright © 2001 by Brooks Haxton. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

From Selected Poems by Brooks Haxton, published by Penguin Books, March 2002. Copyright © 2001 by Brooks Haxton. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Victor Hugo

by this poet

poem

II.vi.

You can see it already: chalks and ochers; 
   Country crossed with a thousand furrow-lines;
Ground-level rooftops hidden by the shrubbery; 
   Sporadic haystacks standing on the grass;
Smoky old rooftops tarnishing the landscape; 
   A river (not Cayster or Ganges, though:
A feeble Norman salt-