Bathsheba, Bathing

She doesn’t know King David watches,
doesn’t know his lust — blind
to her virtue, her marriage.

I serve this most beautiful of women,
make the water warm, the soap fragrant.
I pour sweet oil between her breasts,
watch it drip on thighs and belly.

She is wed to Uriah, away at war,
but she’s lonely for men’s praise,
looks often in the basin
to measure her own beauty.

I fear the king’s desire. Their eyes meet,
and I know his will is hers as well.
God will smite them in their coupling.

What will become of me who keeps
their secrets? Are my loyalties to king
or God or to my mistress whom I love
as David loves her, as Uriah loves her.
My secrets must remain more secret still.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Ekphrastic Review
Based on Bathsheba by Jean Leon Gerome, 1899
For dVerse and for Poets United

 

 

 

75 thoughts on “Bathsheba, Bathing

    1. Not so different from the good new days, I fear. Let’s see if “Me too” can really make a difference… Thanks for stopping by, Jane. Loved your poem in today’s offerings from dVerse.

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    1. I agree, Bjorn! I love ekphrastic poetry, especially when the paintings are based on stories from the Old testament and the poem is written from the perspective of a ‘minor’ character. Although, in this picture, the servant girl stands out because she is wearing clothes of the most exquisite blue, whereas Bathseba is naked. I also love the idea of the servant keeping secrets..There is also a hint of the sensual in ‘I pour sweet oil between her breasts,/ watch it drip on thighs and belly’.

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      1. Thanks, Kim. The poem kind of wrote itself. I thought of all the secrets a servant keeps, and the handmaiden’s voice took over. Love it when that happens! (All too seldom, I might add…)

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  1. I’m a fan of your poetry in general, but think this may be my favorite yet. You pulled me right in to a story that had never interested me – had me holding my breath. I left a comment on the journal page and will share your poem on my Facebook poet’s page as one of the Poetry Month treats.

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    1. Thanks so much, Alarie. The handmaiden seemed the most interesting figure to me, and shadowed as she was by the almost halo’d Bathsheba, she seemed to have many secrets… And thank you for featuring me. I’ve loved the poems you’ve put up this month. Some of my favorites!

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    1. I love how my husband tells the story. David kept Uriah going to war over and over, and all it did was make him more of a hero. Then the good king got Bathsheba pregnant and sent quickly for Uriah to “legitimize” the pregnancy, but Uriah slept outside on the cold, hard ground because all he could think of was the sacrifice his men were making at the front. Such a virtuous warrior….

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  2. There is so much going on in that story. David was supposed to be leading the war effort — a sign of what we get into when we don’t attend to our commissioned work. Much going on….

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  3. So good Sarah. The painting is full of the ‘male gaze’ from the David on the balcony (and the artist) and your verse captures the consequences so well, not for kings and queens and soldiers but for the humble maid. V. nice.

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    1. Thank you so much, Peter. Yes, when I saw David up in the corner, the poem started writing itself. The handmaiden doesn’t think her mistress is aware of that “male gaze,” but I kind of think she is… I like that you included the artist in that gaze. I hadn’t thought of his perspective, but of course he becomes one of her admirers as well.

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  4. Very nicely done. Loved the complexity, the carnal, the common plight. This is a question I have seen many answers to over the decades, and I have liked few of them. A friend reports to the wife of his friend of a secret affair — the marriage and person are destroyed. A woman is propositioned by her best friends husband, declines, but continues to be friends with them for years, never letting her friend know. They all see wrong — what is Bathsheba’s servant to do? Well there, it is simple — tell and you die.
    Nicely captured complexity, as I said.

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    1. Thanks for your deep reading of this, Sabio. Of course. There’s no win in this one for the handmaiden, just as there is no win for a friend who “knows,” and nearly all of us have been there. Best to let it play out as it will, and be wary of the precarious situation. No one can ever really know what is inside a marriage and the factors that lead to indiscretion.

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  5. Wow.
    What amazing poetry. I’m only a novice, but I know great writing when I see it. I would love to have the ability to write so gracefully. You described the painting perfectly.
    I look forward to reading through your page,

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  6. Beautiful! I’m not familiar with the original…but the image here, and writing it from the perspective the woman’s handmaiden make this quite special. I love the voice of it.
    Apologies for very late reading! Just back from Bermuda….laundry galore and hard to get adjusted to these cold temperatures and fickle spring!

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  7. The essence of a whole story in one poem and picture. So lush. I feel the desire and the vulnerability. Maybe the you in the poem loves her too.

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    1. I’ve always thought staying clear was the best bet. But that usually means that you distance yourself from both parties. My philosophy is that you never, ever know what goes on inside a marriage, and it’s never simple. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment, Rosemary.

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