Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum



for Zoltan Fule






ARGUMENT:  A man trades, unwittingly, victory in a great battle for his daughter, killed by his own hand.  The principal characters are Jephthah, pirate and king, his daughter Charad, and a male servant, Pompas.



ACT ONE SCENE ONE ((((( Jephthah's house in the land of Tob, 1152 BC, a princely chamber, late evening



JEPHTHAH ((((( 51 years, robust, muscular man with a noble bearing, a pirate


CHARAD ((((( his daughter, an only child, 16, lovely, dark-complexioned, a virgin


RAHDON ((((( Jephthah's assistant and senior officer, handsome, 47


THREE ELDERS ((((( three men in their sixties, representatives from the land of Gilead, half brothers to Jephthah


POMPAS ((((( major domo to Jephthah and Charad, a corpulent man in his fifties, fastidious, exacting, slow of wit



The room is lushly appointed, with tapestries, religious artifacts, furniture, booty from Jephthah's raids into the surrounding territories.  As the scene opens, Jephthah and his daughter are cross-legged on cushions at a low table, eating their supper, Pompas in attendance.



Charad,                                                 (( JEPHTHAH


                                               (Gesturing with a bit of meat)


Your appetite'd scarce

Nourish some dull wren,

Let alone my one and only daughter.


                                                      (eats, takes her wrist)


Here, these fine bones would dance attendance

On a wraith and not some

Strapping lad.

Fatten up, child, it's time you marry.


Father, I'm barely a maiden,               (( CHARAD

Let alone a bride.

You make me blush with your pronouncements.

I'm child indeed, just 16.


Barely child, soon bedded,                  (( JEPHTHAH

If a father has his say.

Your mother were alive, she'd instructed you

For certain pains

On these rude matters this old man

Can but hint upon.

And then with two left feet, less hands,

Shaming himself to be so wanton.

It's time you're taken, girl.

I'll put it no plainer.  Homely message for Charad,

My great beauty.


Plain enough, sir.                                  (( CHARAD

'Tis plain, for certain, even your flattery

For Charad.

More to the moment these uncertain burning cheeks

At your wild discourse.

You'll have me only by obedience to regret

In this harsh life.

I am your plainest daughter.

Daughter alone.  Nay, servant.


And like the evening stars                    (( JEPHTHAH

Would hide your message in a mist.

That Jahweh himself would coax you to unveil

Such radiance simply to look on him,

On me, your only father.

Eat, girl.

The lamb will round your edges.

And what is this?


  (Rahdon enters stage right, kneels, stands)


My apologies, great Jephthah.             (( RAHDON

Three elders from Gilead beg audience

With a pirate and a prince.


Pompas,                                                (( JEPHTHAH


                                              (rising, adjusting his scabbard)


Accompany my daughter and her supper to her chamber

That I might

Accommodate an unawaited curse.


As our great master wishes.                  ((  POMPAS


(bowing officiously)


I could mistake it, sire,                         (( RAHDON

But guess they are your kin.

Three sons by your father

And a legal wife.


So it is?                                                 (( JEPHTHAH

And Jephthah gotten on a harlot


     (kisses Charad on the forehead as she stands, exits stage left with Pompas carrying remnants of their meal)


Come, let us make merry

With the very vermin cast me out,

If even they have names.

I smell a proposition all the way from distant Gilead

In three tired Jews.

If they are sanctioned by the Law,

It's me that's got the juice


     (the elders enter, bow, stand regally, arms folded, their dignity barely compromised even at their mission)


So, Melchik, Edom . . . Belthon?


And Jephthah.                                        (( THE THREE

How goes our brother?


Passably well.  But to the point.            (( JEPHTHAH

This brother is but half and stands

On scant formality with Gilead.

Here in this room, much scorned in fact,

Can it BE I find you in MY power,

At that, unsummoned,

To reveal your purpose straight and STRICTLY

To the point?  Come, speak!


Why then, I beg your attendance           (( AN ELDER

On an ugly fact.  Great Gilead faces a holocaust from Ammon,

Which marshals troops

Along our borders.


And your request?                                  (( JEPHTHAH


That mighty Jephthah command            (( AN ELDER

Our armies

To attack and certain victory

At his hands.


And toward what purpose?                     (( JEPHTHAH

You cast me out to root in exile

For my living like a swine.

I am simply the offspring of a whore

And wayward seed.

Whence comes suddenly this love for Jephthah?


Your skills are widely known.                (( AN ELDER

And toward this end—

Lead us into victory,

Deliver up the Ammonites to Gilead's power,

Why then you command all inhabitants

As King so long as you draw breath upon this earth.


Rahdon, you are my witness.                 (( JEPHTHAH

It seems I hear a fable.


No fable, simply fact.                             (( AN ELDER

Deliver us from Ammon, you are King.


You mean                                               (( JEPHTHAH


(gesturing toward the others)


The same?


We mean the same.                                (( AN ELDER

'Tis a truth no one of us can escape.

Nor Jephthah himself, I fear.

We grant you kingship

Over Gilead—no more, no less.


And you?                                                (( JEPHTHAH


May our oath rest here                           (( AN ELDER

Before Jahweh himself.

Even the slightest nuance of departure we are cursed.


Why then                                                (( JEPHTHAH


     (laughing hoarsely, his figure shaking)


I'm King!


Half King, great sire.                            (( RAHDON

There is the battle.


Ah yes, no trifle.                                   (( JEPHTHAH

But fate is speaking from the depths

Of some great void

I cannot hesitate to peer upon

Even at the risk of conflagration.

It's off to Gilead in the morning.

We will address the Ammonite encampment,

Weigh the odds.

Let my lieutenants take their place

Among the ranks.

As for Jahweh, let him serve the nobler cause,

Which certain we must be,

And reap OUR thanks.


     (the elders bow, exit; Rahdon follows them out; Jephthah draws his sword and presses the great blade to his lips)


A thousand souls have perished on this blade.

Some thousand thousand more

Perhaps by three days' turning.

And what avails me all this slaughter?

It's done for my own daughter.

I have no son.

Should Jephthah perish in the taking,

Why then a queen is certain in the making,

Though the king's a shade.






ACT ONE SCENE TWO ((((( in the field, Jephthah's tent, two days later



JEPHTHAH ((((( in general's garb


RAHDON ((((( likewise dressed for battle


THREE LIEUTENANTS ((((( tall, forbidding



As the scene opens, Rahdon stands in attendance as Jephthah paces a simply furnished tent, a cot, several chairs, a bench and a rudimentary altar, stage left, toward which Jephthah gestures toward the end of his monologue, which is ongoing as the curtain rises.



 . . . and small direction thus far           (( JEPHTHAH

Given Ammon's foes,

Excepting this encampment at their rear.

Preliminary intelligence gives much

To fear.  My hope rests

With the three that range in outer night.

Good men all and bringing good news,

They're raised to captain,

Mark my word.

Rahdon will be colonel in my sight.

And bad, I'll turn to larger power

Than my horsemen,

Though they number fifteen thousand,

Archers five.

Jehovah will have my victory, man,

Though Ammonites survive.

But what comes here?


  (three lieutenants enter the tent, stage right, kneel, stand at last at attention)


Great Jephthah, heed this news.             (( THE FIRST


Speak on.                                                (( JEPHTHAH


I fear to talk, great sire,                           (( THE SECOND

But must proceed.

The whole vast force is said to number

Twice our ranks and growing in the ratio

By our cowardly attrition.


Attrition?                                                 (( JEPHTHAH


Last count some three thousand              (( THE THIRD

Lost to the sons of Ammon,

Who declare them brethren.


And the cavalry?                                     (( JEPHTHAH

These Ammonites?


Forty thousand horses                            (( A LIEUTENANT

'Tis the modest reckoning.


Archers?                                                 (( JEPHTHAH


Difficult to say.                                       (( ANOTHER

Perhaps ten thousand.

Far more on foot

That carry Ammon's spears.

The fullest brace of swordsmen

At their call, perhaps some eighty thousand.


That much indeed?                                 (( JEPHTHAH


That much and that's not all.                 (( THE THIRD


And whereby obtains                             (( JEPHTHAH

These estimates?  Of Ammon?


Culled from three traitors                       (( THE FIRST

To their cause with promise

Of advancement.


Go then and advance them                     (( JEPHTHAH

To the torch.

Burning is fit promotion for the like.

Come, Rahdon, see these officers

To their task

And then their quarters for their good night's sleep.

I will debate this situation with my God.


Aye, sire.  It seems we need                   (( RAHDON



Out now.  All.                                         (( JEPHTHAH


Aye, sire.  Aye.                                      (( THE FOUR



They kneel and stand, back out, stage right, through the exit; Jephthah crosses, follows their progress with his glance, turns back to lay his sword on the altar, to prostrate himself before it.



Mighty Jahweh,                                    (( JEPHTHAH

Lord of Gilead, master of our race,

Let my frail purpose

Reach your heart.

The odds are Jephthah's doomed.

I will myself to speak of it,

A terror in my soul,

Jephthah, who would be King,

Now general to the slighter force

That fears broad Ammon in his strength.

Mercy to Jephthah, Lord,

And hear my proclamation.

'Tis this—if Jahweh delivers their fierce

Army to my hands,

Why then Jephthah himself will offer unto him

A holocaust.  Simply the first person

To meet me from the door

Of my own house when I return from victory

Dies by the very sword I offer up,

And by my hand,

A gift to Jahweh and his wrath.

Jephthah speaks.  It is his oath,

Great master.

Give me a token that would seal

Me fast unto its letter.


                                                 (raises up to clasp the altar)


No sign?  But light itself

Is voice for broad Jehovhah.


 (the tent interior brightens)


See it rise?

Simply that I live here at your will.

Triumph itself is sign,

And may it be.


     (stands, seizes his sword from the altar, holds it aloft)


Jephthah shall be King in Gilead

For heirs to come.

This day I'm wedded to an oath, the next a throne.

Fearsome itself to tremble

At your hand that strokes

My fate but pulls me up to conquer

And at last atone.

A single soul will perish for the betterment

Of thousands, for a wayward race.

I'll call my Rahdon with a message to the land of Tob.






ACT ONE SCENE THREE ((((( Jephthah's house, the land of Tob,

the following morning





GAMPI ((((( a crippled maidservant, the age of Charad






As the scene opens, Charad is at a vanity, Gampi braiding her hair.



'Tis coarse, these locks.                       (( CHARAD

And don't you think?


Charad, lady, there is no part                (( GAMPI

Of you that escapes your beauty,

Even this early morning.

Gampi would give her arm for hair this rich.


Methinks you more than kind.              (( CHARAD

In truth, I'm plain.


As you will, my lady Charad.               (( GAMPI

We've argued this before.

I'd have you dazzling, you the ugly hen,

A litany of witless disagreement

In the face of your sure fact, YOUR face itself,

More radiant than summer at its peak and pure as snow.

But what is that?


     (suddenly the sound of hooves from beyond the house, then quiet, then footsteps ascending from below)


What comes here?                                 (( CHARAD


 (Pompas enters regally with an armed messenger)


'Tis Pompas, lady Charad.                    (( POMPAS

This man proclaims a shift in fortune.


                                   (Charad stands abruptly, fingers to her neck)


My father's waged his battle then        (( CHARAD

And lost?

Oh pity, pity!


'Tis none of that, Miss Charad.            (( THE MESSENGER

'Tis more to do with thee.


And?                                                     (( CHARAD


                                                      (clasping her throat)


Simply this—                                        (( POMPAS


(slow and deliberate, enunciating each syllable)


Our Lord and master Jephthah

Sends word with this fierce pirate

That you're under house arrest

And not to leave your room till further notice.


House arrest?                                         (( CHARAD


                                                       (breaks into tears)


But why house arrest?

Have I wronged him?


The letter of the judgment                     (( POMPAS

Hangs upon your conduct,

I suppose, but hesitate to wager

Some rude guess.

Suffice it to say, you are detained here in this room

Till further notice.


But why?   Why?                                    (( CHARAD


(she is sobbing, wringing her hands)


You sir,


(to the messenger)


Out with this tale in full, some

Explanation or you perish by the very hand

That sent you hither

With your crazed and impudent proclamation.

I am Charad, daughter to a prince.


Soon to a king, I'd wager.                     (( THE MESSENGER

And beg forgiveness, but no further

Word was given.  Simply house arrest till further notice.


And such it is.                                      (( POMPAS




Come, man, Gampi if you wish.

I bolt the door.


     (Charad lunges forward and attempts to scratch the major domo's face; he tosses

 her aside easily)


Behave yourself, good lass, there's

No pleasure in it for you

Or for myself.  Gampi?


I'll bide by my mistress, sir.                 (( GAMPI

At least till dinner.


     (the two men exit; the women collapse into each other's arms at the sound of the

door's being locked)


Jehovah will stretch                              (( CHARAD

That awful man for crows to pluck,

Should I merely have my father's company

Half an hour.

He'll hear of this, I'm sure.

Gampi, let us find a way to freedom.

And you love that man?


LOVED, miss.  LOVED is the            (( GAMPI


I'd scratch his eyes had I the reach and strength.

They likely sit below

With merry conversation at your grief.


But what have I done?                          (( CHARAD

What have I possibly done to merit this?

Slave to a servant's whim.

Come, we'll plot.

And find the way to freedom of this house

Before the morrow,

Be my name Charad,

Daughter to the prince of Tob,

Jephthah, king of Gilead soon to be,

And I in time be queen.

Come, miss Gampi, plot.

I'll out to greet the master by the morrow.






ACT ONE SCENE FOUR ((((( in the field, Jephthah's tent, that afternoon



JEPHTHAH ((((( in general's garb





As the scene opens, Jephthah stands alone in the center of the tent, drawing patterns in the sand at his feet with the great sword.



Some hundred thousand souls              (( JEPHTHAH

Are etched in sand,

An infant's play, this mighty battle.

All troops are drawn, rank by rank

Upon the front, archers, cavalry,

Lowly men afoot with pike

And sword—all men, all

Await the slaughter.

'Tis ignoble, this pursuit,

To commandeer salvation or perdition,

Twin edges of this sword,

Route hopes and skewer peace

Upon an oath.

Deep crimson are these hands

In but an hour.

Scarlet leaks its juice in patterns

On my beard.

I taste great death, a sickly sweetness

On my tongue but fear to spit,

For in the spot where it might light

Are hundreds framing futile prayers

For life.

Today a victor and tomorrow King!

Yet tasting pulls me downward

Toward despair.

Yahweh himself instructs this blade

To plot the Ammonite's stark ruin.

And who is there?


 (a lieutenant enters, kneels, stands)


You cannot know all names,                  (( LIEUTENANT

Suffice it, Adam from the front.

The host awaits your

Prompting to attack.


I see.                                                       (( JEPHTHAH


(resting his hand on the officer's shoulder)


And eager to have it done,

We must assume.  The ranks are ready?


Full drawn and ready                             (( LIEUTENANT

To advance.


And how's their spirit?                           (( JEPHTHAH


Strange as it seems                                 (( LIEUTENANT

They sing and dance about,

Eager as minstrels to the pageant.

None fears his death in all your large command.


(Jephthah returns his sword to trace the sand)


I see.  I see.                                             (( JEPHTHAH

Then let them play in earnest

On the hour.

Jehovah wills the birth of war at 2 past noon.


So be it, master.  And adieu.                  (( LIEUTENANT


(he exits; Jephthah takes a bench to stare absently into the sudden clamor from beyond)


This time has fled my brain.                  (( JEPHTHAH

And this?


(a second officer enters, kneels, stands, blood on his sword)


Fresh blood, sire.  A gift from God.       (( LIEUTENANT


And it goes well?                                    (( JEPHTHAH


Master, they barely resist.                       (( LIEUTENANT


Then back to the fray and honor.            (( JEPHTHAH


(the officer bows, exits)


It seems I eye a monster in the sand.

What men are such that scarce resist?

Jahweh has willed some mad event,

Lashed by the thongs of fury. 

And this?


(a third lieutenant enters, embraces Jephthah, sinks to his knees)


What is it, son?


Most fearsome chance                         (( THE LIEUTENANT

Has routed all their force.

Blood wells upon the earth

A scarlet torrent.

'Tis well a vast LAKE of blood that stains

The very heavens.

The Ammonites have fallen to our troops

Like helpless sheaves before the reaper.

Witness these hands!

We gather blood most vile about them.

Blood on my very soul,

A stink of carnage.

This day we've barely paid a SOU

To death, if not to hell.

The jaws of fortune gorge themselves with Ammon.


(gathers up, kisses Jephthah, departs)


Why then I'm King indeed.                  (( JEPHTHAH

Pity this small pontiff

Trailing his little patterns in the sand.

This desert knows my soul to be a thief.

This day I've murdered God in his own image.

Ah yes, they're coming back.

I hear the shouts!

What must I trade in stealth for this great victory?

Some madness sucks my brain

With images of death.

'Tis largest death this unrelenting triumph.

Small appetite

Is left to rule this planet let alone

Some small stink

Of Gilead.  No matter.

This blood can't touch my daughter.

I'll kneel upon the earth

And pray for pardon at her hands.

Come now, Jephthah.  All is not lost!

Sweet bliss is soon upon you in the land of Tob.






ACT TWO SCENE ONE ((((( Charad's chamber, the house in Tob, that same evening








            As the scene opens, Charad is alone, seated on the bed, in her most seductive gown.



My net is thrown,                                 (( CHARAD

And soon I'll pull it in.

I hope to snare a geriatric fish,

A pompous sort that most officious

Preens and flutters fingers.

No matter.  The path to Jephthah's heart

Is past that monster.

Here now I hear a scratch

Upon the door.


(Pompas enters, blushing, holding flowers)


By God, he's rouged and scented for the catch.              


Hey there, my beauty,                            (( POMPAS


(hands her the flowers)


Here are blossoms

To invade your heart.

Our Gampi, cripple that she is,

Instructs me that you hanker for my flesh.


No less, kind sir.                                     (( CHARAD

Your hand in marriage.


So Gampi speaks the truth                      (( POMPAS

And not some slithering lie

To tease an old man's soul.


(he kneels, then stands)


I might?


(sits beside Charad on the bed)


Hardly old, great Pompas,                      (( CHARAD

Nobly aged and boasting juice

Of ardor and refinement,

So that death a maiden'd brave

To simply lure one scant caress.


(he edges closer)


Hardly old, rather tender.

I thought my Gampi'd come, you'd send her.


No child to broach a grown man's         (( POMPAS


The blossoms please you?


Never so much as your own                   (( CHARAD

Scented flesh.

I yearn for holy matrimony

That would sanction Charad's hunger to devour it.


Alas, there is the edict.                           (( POMPAS

We are widely spaced apart,

You in your class

And I in mine.

Your father'd have me hanged

The day you even broached THAT matter.


Kind sir, this house arrest                       (( CHARAD

Is part and parcel of our fate.

Just two days past, I argued your ardor to our lord.


He knows?  He knows at that?               (( POMPAS


(pulls back; she takes his hand and strokes it and holds it to her cheek)


Just so.                                                    (( CHARAD

How could his anger be provoked

By lesser issue

Than his Charad's fierce intent to marry his own servant?


Why then,                                               (( POMPAS


(pulls back further)


I'm damned.


(she takes both his hands and holds them to her cheeks)


Hardly damned, my Pompas.               (( CHARAD

Rather on the verge of grand promotion.


Promotion?                                           (( POMPAS


In fine.                                                  (( CHARAD

This evening wild word comes of his own victory

Over Ammon in a bloody battle.

His disposition sweetens

By the hour.

You have the large advantage to his heart.


You think this truly,                             (( POMPAS

Not in jest.


Noble Pompas, on the morrow             (( CHARAD

Will my father, YOURS to come,

Arrive in gilded chariot

To address our mildest whim

And tie the knot.


You think that?                                     (( POMPAS


 (she edges closer, draws his face down, peers in his eyes)


I know it.                                              (( CHARAD

His Charad shall greet him in this,

My wedding gown, to the sound of timbrels,

As I draw you forth,

I first, you after, to proclaim

Our mutual attraction for the world to gape

In fiercest envy at your state.

When Jephthah dies you shall be King.


Pompas a king?                                    (( POMPAS

I fancy that.  But hardly dare.


Pompas, fierce beauty,                         (( CHARAD

Kiss my lips to seal your fortune

And our pact.

I gain the freedom of this house

And you the throne to come.


(pulls him to her lips)


I swoon.                                                (( POMPAS

I faint.

Dear lady Charad, heart bursts with dizzy pride

And exultation.

One day a major domo.  And the next?


Son of the noble Jephthah                    (( CHARAD

And attending solemn matters

Of the State.

Jephthah has Gilead, Pompas Tob.


That soon, Miss?                                  (( POMPAS


Kiss me.                                               (( CHARAD

You'll know dark pleasure.


(he kisses her)


Again.  Again.


And have your sweetest body               (( POMPAS

At my leisure.

Our Lord Jehovah has declared his grace.

I swoon to see the pleasure in your face.


Today my lips.                                        (( CHARAD



I blush to think it.                                   (( POMPAS


(bounding to his feet)


Young miss, you have full freedom

Of our house.

I'm off to order extra carvings

For the feast.

Today I'm Pompas, servant to his Lord,

Tomorrow prince,

And soon to come?


King.  No less.                                       (( CHARAD


(blows him kisses as he trips out daintily)


By God I am a proper buck!                  (( POMPAS


 (his voice fading)


A stink.  Diseased.                                 (( CHARAD


(wipes her mouth and shudders, then claps her hands with joy)


Charad will have her father on the morrow.

By God, that Pompas sailed about the walls.

Sadly his promotion lasts an hour.

He'll find the latter sour

When my Jephthah's great sword falls.

But pity the man.

No, pity.

Yet all the same my bliss.  Hah. Hah.

Was sweet the game and sweet the plotting.

I'll have my father's blessing one small turning of the sun.

I'll have his warm embrace.

Come, Gampi.  Where is that girl hiding?

'Tis some bright pleasure this quick

Sliding of the wheel.

I'll share my laughter with a princess,

Lame she be.

Come, girl!  Hah.  And hah again.






ACT TWO SCENE TWO ((((( Jephthah's house in Tob, the following afternoon,

the front entrance












Jephthah arrives, roaring drunk, driving the three elders from the opening scene with a horsewhip, as, yoked, they yank his gilded chariot to a halt before the front door, Jephthah swigging from a jug and tossing it in the road.



Hoalaah, good souls,                              (( JEPHTHAH

You see this day a conqueror and a King.

And where be Pompas?

Hoalaah there, major domo,

Greet me from the door.


                                                             (then, aside)


If yet another wretch must perish

On my blade, then be IT

That greasy fly.  Swatted him enough

These years along with the flat

Of it, just to keep his nimble toes

A dancing.

Hey there, steeds,

You've drawn me well and yet

We'll have another turning

Of the wheels.


     (lashes them off to circle in starts the court before his house)


Here, horses, halt.

I hate your wheezing breath

And fear to have some old nag's

Grizzled hide thus added to my list,

But simply Pompas.

Hoalaah, slave, forth from

The dark apartment to engage your master.

What impudence that Ammon

Bleeds black torrents from the throat

And one old maiden priss

Would let his master wait

In rapt attendance.

Hoalaah, slave, vacate my house!



Snaps the whip like a rifle shot toward quiet and the sound of timbrels.  Charad exits the front door in bridal whites, dancing with the music toward her father.  The latter breaks his silence with a fearful groan and falls to tearing at his gown. Charad pulls up suddenly, stunned.  Pompas peers out the door and then is lost in the dark interior.  All this transpires in some few seconds' bestial pain from Jephthah's throat.



My daughter, be you dancing              (( JEPHTHAH

From the door, I waited Pompas.

That old udder dances in my HOUSE.

Dear God Jehovah, can it be

My very daughter here in whites?

God, girl, you tricked that fool

With all your cunning

Into awesome retribution from a King.

Die at your father's hands?

What agony, this fate!  I'm overcome.


(sinks to his knees in the chariot)


Great master, father,                             (( CHARAD

Jephthah, have I wronged you?


(bursts into sobbing; Jephthah's voice comes strange, subdued, from his

bent hulk in the chariot)


Oh, my daughter, what sorrow             (( JEPHTHAH

Are you bringing me?

Must it be you,

The crowning blow of my ill fortune?

I have promised Yahweh

And cannot unsay my oath.

The further death that darkens my own soul,

Must it be my daughter's?

Oh pity!

The first to greet me from my door,

Oh pity, tears, oh wrenching hell,

Must die.

Such were the terms of my great victory.


Jephthah, father,                                     (( CHARAD


     (falling to her knees in terror)


Oh father Jephthah,

Must it be?  And yet it is.  It is.  It IS.

Mercy God, I have but one request from your great slave and master.

Let me be free . . .  of my impending

Slaughter . . . two full months

Upon the wild . . . with my companions

To lament . . . the sword,

Lament this vow . . . this fate

That takes my children never to see the light of your black earth.


And that alone?                                      (( JEPHTHAH


 (his voice is muffled, strange)


So be it.


And spare the life of Pompas,                (( CHARAD

He fell prey to my mean ruse.

'Twas cunning brought my death, my guilt alone.


He is spared.                                           (( JEPHTHAH


(she stands)


Then come to the victory feast               (( CHARAD

He has prepared.

We celebrate a fierceness

God has wrought upon his family in Tob.

Come, good master,

Leave these elders in the road.

Come, man.

Jahweh'd have you fed from your dark

Travels toward the wound

Which is my heart.

Be fed!  Hah yes, be fed, man.  Come!


  (takes his hand and leads him from the chariot to his house)






ACT TWO SCENE THREE ((((( Jephthah's chamber, the house in Tob, the next morning











THREE YOUNG WOMEN ((((( additional servants and companions to Charad



As the scene opens, Jephthah sits drinking, Pompas in attendance, filling his master's chalice at every solemn indication.  The five young women appear momentarily to pay last respects before their journey to the wild.



This liquor has the very                         (( JEPHTHAH

Smack of blood, bull's blood, ox blood,

The leak of slaughtered babes

Or virgin hens.

'Tis a subtle potion in that pitcher,

And I'll have it dry.

This day my Charad ventures to the wild.


Forgive me, Lord and master,              (( POMPAS

But I'd urge you some restraint

In these libations.

Last night you scarcely slept.

I heard your step at dawn.


And all the ugly night cried out           (( JEPHTHAH

For mercy.


Small mercy these libations.                (( POMPAS

You'll have the devil of an aching,

And your bowels will fill ten pots.

You know how alcohol affects you.


By God, the swine would urge             (( JEPHTHAH

Me moderation with this brew.

'Tis the swill of Kings, sweet Pompas,

And serves to dull the pain.

I've lost my daughter.


'Tis simply an outing.                          (( POMPAS

She'll be back in 60 days and in your arms.

No point to these excesses, sire.

Decorum is the greater part of wit,

You must agree.

I'd urge you to bed now, sleep it off.


And what then her return?                    (( JEPHTHAH

The hand that grasps this chalice

Marries its mate

To cleave her neck.

JEHOVAH stains my fingers.

I've blood enough without her spouting gullet.


Four virgins see her to the forest.        (( POMPAS

Take all but Gampi as a trade

To mild Jehovah for your Charad,

Mince them fine and drop them

Like a soup.

Throw Gampi to the dogs in yonder kennel

As a bonus and repent

You very oath upon her shrieks.

A kindly God will bind your wounds,

Repeal the letter of your vow

And make you smile on his fair earth,

The very warmth you'll know,

As if you gazed on your own son,

Or Charad's, master . . . Come, and give it thought.


Small wonder Charad tricked               (( JEPHTHAH

This ape with customary wiles.

A dunce of eighth degree, and dense

As the very kennel he depicts.  He grovels

There with half a mind

On fours the sediment of dogs

And canine piss.

You're sure it's me that's drinking?


Sir?                                                       (( POMPAS


Come man, pour me wine and still      (( JEPHTHAH

Your brain from all this conjuring

Of thought.

Up there where you would hide it with a visor

Is a void.

Or witch's leak or phlegm.

My Charad will not pass this way again.


But master, she is due here                    (( POMPAS

Any minute.


                                       (a knocking on the door, three light raps)


And here she is.


(Charad enters with Gampi and three companions)


Ah yes, my soul in flight.                       (( JEPHTHAH

Come lass, kiss a father.


 (she kneels to kiss his hands)


A father's lips?


 (kisses his lips, stands)


You've come to see me to my grave?


'Tis a truth for all of us,                         (( CHARAD

Dear master.

No step is taken in this living but toward



And you are on your feet.                       (( JEPHTHAH


And walking.                                          (( CHARAD

Master Jephthah, here are Klef . . .


  (she steps forward, curtsies)


Monat . . .

                                                           (does likewise)


And Terpith . . .




Gampi, you know well.


(she curtsies)


Ladies . . .                                               (( JEPHTHAH


Each kisses you as well.                         (( CHARAD


  (which each does, on his lips)


And I as well.


                                                            (kisses him)


But leave you

With the following advice:

Marry a bride and not the stink of liquor

While I'm gone.

Have her that quick with child

The land will gossip for all time to come,

And yours a pretty son.

Have that and have it certain.  I am gone.


(the five women exit; Jephthah sets down his cup and buries his face in his hands)


And you as well, Pompas.  Out!            (( JEPHTHAH

I am alone.


(Pompas departs)


Such wisdom in a lass, and strength

That gives the lie to custom

For the gender.

She'd have me marry.  And yet

I've had my fill of procreation.

Rather these draughts

To warm my sleepless nights

And herbs to quell my pain.

I'll marry me to Morpheus,

Certain as her certain exit from these arms

And more forgiving.

Grace in a poppy's fumes,

That much grace as Jahweh lends in this unwelcome living.

'Tis a fine oblivion,

Well framed for tired eyes gazing at the future.

Some future Charad rotting in a shallow

Grave, some future that.

'Tis just this age she's better

Getting fat

From some lad's sap and fierce


Witness I am old!

Witness I'm in my dotage and will die

Without an heir.

Well enough that Rahdon has it.

Pompas himself.

Let eunuchs rule the earth,

'Tis but some broken jaw waggling,

This desert of the soul.

By God, I drool!

But play the King and not the fool.


(reaches for his chalice, drinks)






ACT THREE SCENE ONE ((((( Charad's tent, a week later, somewhere in the wild










Charad and Gampi remain seated and talking, while the others come and go.  The tent is plain but well-appointed.  It is obvious Charad is not roughing it.



These ladies are like children               (( CHARAD

In the wild.  I swear they

Take to it, my Gampi.


Lady, they have learned apace.            (( GAMPI


(handing her a bowl)


Here, try these berries Monat picked.


(another bowl)


And here are nuts of every known description.


(another bowl)


And these?                                            (( CHARAD


Mushrooms.  Most succulent                (( GAMPI

They are and even raw.  Take some.

The balance will enter the sauces

For our basted game.

It's venison tonight, my pretty dear.


So sweet, you are to me,                      (( CHARAD

My Gampi.


(reaching to take her hand)


We are here but seven days

And every night a feast.

Jephthah will see me fat on my return.


'Tis not the time to think                      (( GAMPI

On it, mistress.

Seven long weeks await our gambols

In this glorious park.

Besides, I'm certain that he'll find his way

To melt his sternest Father

And engage his heart.

Seven weeks, miss.  That's some vast stretch of time and living.


Certainly an era when you're                (( CHARAD

But sixteen.

But still my thoughts do lapse

And turn on darkness,

Some blackest core that sucks at bounty

Like a vortex and would pull me under.


Come, lass.  See what Gampi's              (( GAMPI



(handing Charad knittings from her lap)


And this is mine?                                   (( CHARAD

But Gampi, it is more than I deserve.

You've worked on this all winter.


Worked on it since autumn,                   (( GAMPI

But it's yours.


(Charad holds the afghan to the light)


But it's BEAUTIFUL!                           (( CHARAD

Those hands of yours are clever, girl.

I must confess I eyed it from a distance

As it poured forth from your fingers.

Some day you'll make a great man happy.


Charad, miss, 'tis quite enough              (( GAMPI

Here to sit forever in attendance.


(lifts sand)


Seven weeks through the hourglass, draining, fleck by fleck,

These rude fingers to the earth.

No man exists

For Gampi that would hasten thought on our return.


And Pompas?                                         (( CHARAD


(Gampi blushes)


By faith, I burn.                                      (( GAMPI


(all the women have entered now and gather at Charad's feet)


Charad, I saw a dove.                             (( KLEF


And I a porcupine.                                  (( MONAT


And I by faith, three deer.                       (( TERPITH


Three deer?                                             (( CHARAD

And what the gender?


All bucks.  Most male the lot,                (( TERPITH

Miss Charad,

Great antlers sprung up

From their heads,

And how they strutted!

At times I feared my maidenhead

To see them sashay in the wood

From side to side and staring, like . . . like . . .


Like whom?                                          (( CHARAD

Like their Creator?


Like Rahdon!                                        (( TERPITH


(Gampi laughs, claps her hands)


I see.  I see.                                           (( CHARAD

And yet you lingered there to look?


On three bright brutes with antlers       (( GAMPI

For adornment . . .


(claps her hands)


I see.  I see.                                           (( CHARAD

Come, Gampi, out to fetch our supper.

I need some moments by myself to pray.


But not to weep.                                   (( GAMPI


Oh no, not that.                                     (( THE OTHERS


To brood on getting fat.                       (( CHARAD


From some buck's sap?                        (( GAMPI


Come, off.  You make cheeks              (( CHARAD

Burn with talk of it.

Off!  All of you.

Gampi, you now, off.


Nevertheless, we fear                           (( THE FOUR

You'll weep.


Fear laughter alone                               (( CHARAD

From this young throat.

I've seven weeks to think on that.

Come, up.


(they gather up, depart; Charad, solitary, buries her face in the afghan)


By faith,

She knitted me

The very present she had fashioned

For her Lord.

Her absent Lord, in truth.

No man will have that cripple.

Ugly the word.  Cripple.


And what of me?  Barren.  Useless.  Deprived?

No man will quicken in these loins.

I'll snare the dust.

Insects will batten

On my hymen.

Worms suck these untouched breasts

And eels

My eyes.  Great God Jehovah, vanish!

Yes you, Lord, out!  Join the rest.

Charad will fashion prayers to some strange God that's soft, forgiving.

I've seven weeks to brood on living.

On death?

Pity the day this daughter sucked in breath.


(looks up from the afghan, blinded by a shaft of light)






ACT THREE SCENE TWO ((((( Charad's tent, somewhere in the wild, a month later










As the scene opens, Gampi washes Charad's hair.



Relax, dear sister.                                   (( GAMPI

Here, my fingers on your lovely neck.

I squeeze you, stroke your shoulders,

Would you were a lad!

Here, let me wash in earnest, tease

Each precious strand toward luster this whole earth

Might pale before.

Come, I stroke your neck.  There, bend.


(rinses Charad's hair and dries it with a towel)


These days I fear the sound                    (( CHARAD

Of my own voice.  And such it is,

A monologue, tedious unto death.

Dear Gampi, that that

Greets me, just three weeks distant there in Tob.


I'd hoped                                                 (( GAMPI


(patting the hair dry, combing the long strands with a gilded brush)


To hear some beauty in your voice,

Not this old croaking of decay.

Three weeks are not today.


Some twenty-one todays.                       (( CHARAD

A year I'll never see.

Some one and twenty worms in Charad's

Shroud but set to mating.

See here, good lass,

Your mistress loses faith.

Each week has brought me further

Toward despair.


(laughter from beyond the tent)


'Tis putrefaction in that noise.

'Tis grim.

Small joys they bring me from the wood.

"Dear Charad, here's a partridge,

Here's an egg."

And here's the teeth of some poor wretch

That chewed upon his foot

That much he ached

And leaked his very liver on the earth.

"Dear Charad, here's his liver!"


Come now, darling.                                (( GAMPI

See your pretty face in this bright glass?


(holds up a mirror)


No liver that.


A dying rat.                                            (( CHARAD


Nay, sweetness.                                      (( GAMPI

Even your pain is radiant.


(again laughter, the patter of acorns on the tent roof)


Come, shall I call them?


Call Jephthah with his sword               (( CHARAD

To scratch this neck.

Gampi, I'll wait no longer.

The day I left sufficed for preparation.




Listen to that tinkle from the wood.

You'd think them TRULY maidens.

Come, have them off!

Even my eyes invert.

My brain is nearly pudding.

Is this not Charad?

Where are her teeth, imbedded in her heart?

Forgive me, Gampi, but I shock myself.

Dark God, I think I'm mad.


Oh pity.  Pity.                                       (( GAMPI


(pulls her mistress inward with her arms)


Dear Charad, calm was all I'd hoped

For thee.

Some resignation . . .

A trace of wise . . .

Resolve . . . not this self-pity . . .

But hah . . . Here come the girls!


(the others enter, dancing, each carrying some treasure from the forest)          


Here, lady Charad.                               (( KLEF

Here's a lark.


Methinks a toad.                                   (( CHARAD


And here's a gilded stone                    (( MONAT

From out the brook.


Methinks a maggot.                              (( CHARAD


And here a blade of grass.                    (( TERPITH


'Tis but the bladder of a sow,               (( CHARAD

No more.


(the three kneel at their mistress, at last subdued)


What news arrives from Tob?


Nothing beyond the known.                 (( KLEF


Which is nothing.                                 (( CHARAD


Nothing we didn't know.                     (( MONAT


Which is a void.                                   (( CHARAD


Nothing worth knowing.                      (( TERPITH


Which is all.                                         (( CHARAD

Dear lasses, embrace your Charad.


(they comply)


I hear some odd sighing

In the trees.

Perhaps their bark has scabies.

Surely the trees must ache.

And surely die.

The day I pass I'll certain see that sun.

As black, good lasses all.

As jet black phlegm.

Jehovah's spittle.

But let me cease.

The words drip cankers from my mouth.

I'm full to madness with this living.

I'll melt.

This hand I hold . . . 'tis Gampi?


Nay, 'tis me.                                          (( MONAT


And this?  'Tis Klef?                             (( CHARAD


Nay, 'tis I.  'Tis Gampi, maiden.           (( GAMPI


'Tis I alone that feel my aching.            (( CHARAD

Let God then nail MAN to a Tree.

I've had enough . . . would live, like thee!






ACT THREE SCENE THREE ((((( Charad's tent, three weeks later, in the wild










(As the scene opens, Charad is sitting alone half-asleep, as Pompas enters in his finest gown.)



What enters there, my death?                 (( CHARAD


(her voice emerges from a chrysalis of great fatigue)


Nay, maid.  It is deliverance.                  (( POMPAS


Some strange deliverance that,               (( CHARAD

Waddling toward my lap.

I'd just begun to take a nap and wakened to a nightmare.


Be light of heart, Miss Charad.              (( POMPAS

Your savior greets you from a dark abyss.

Come quickly now, a kiss.


Sooner kiss a snake.                                (( CHARAD

Pompas, you stink like some old whore.


But bring a shift in fortune.                    (( POMPAS


Your last was most unpleasant,              (( CHARAD

Sir, and this perhaps the same.


Where are the others?                            (( POMPAS


Bathing in the shallows                          (( CHARAD

Of the brook.

And yours?


Short ride distance by a lake.                 (( POMPAS


We are alone.                                          (( CHARAD

This IS a nightmare.

Come man, you take me to my death.

Don't grasp such strange familiarity

With Charad, queen of Tob.

Your business done,

My Lord will deal you like a slug

For these thin-veiled advances.


Ah, so it is then.                                    (( POMPAS

And what of these?


(throws a sack of emeralds, spilling at her knees)


Come lass, they buy our flight

To Egypt.

We'll dine in grandeur night by night

And take our pleasures by the moon.

Mornings will pass us quite unnoticed.

We'll reap sweet joy.


(Charad stands abruptly, kicks the sack)


'Tis JEPHTHAH'S wealth.                  (( CHARAD

You thieved it.


No matter.                                            (( POMPAS

Pompas will have his Charad to devour.


(she leaps at him, claws his face)


Ah hah.  The lass has fire,

And heat provokes me.


(catches her by the waist and flings her to the floor)


I'll have you now and fiercely, wench.

I'll break your spirit.

First ride the lass and then our flight.


Oh God, Oh God, unending night!      (( CHARAD


(Pompas parts his gown and tries to mount)


Dark Lord, where is my father?


     (Gampi appears at the entrance to the tent, clutching a silver dagger)


HE'D have you die.                              (( POMPAS


(grunting, muffled voice, his face in Charad's neck)


'Tis smaller death, this brief wriggle.

Lass, you have no choice.

Bitch though I fear you be, I'll have you split.

Come Pompas, mount this nag.


(Gampi creeps up from behind and stabs him in the small of the back)


Aaarghhh!  I've torn my spine.


(she stabs again and again his body thrashing on the floor)


Take this.  And this.                             (( GAMPI

Look how the monster's blood spouts

From his groin!

Take this.  And this again.

Stern God, I lick it from my lips!

By faith, he reeks of blood.

Look now, he's gone.


(sinks to her knees in the carnage; the two women embrace each other over the fallen servant)


Oh God, oh God, he's gone!               (( CHARAD






ACT THREE SCENE FOUR ((((( the land of Tob, a stony field, a willow tree, leagues from Jephthah's house, that afternoon










As the scene opens, Jephthah straddles a field-stone wall, gazing absently stage right, where it passes out of view.  To the rear is a willow, weeping its fronds above his head, between willow and wall a blood-stained ancient block, sunken from the wall and out of sight.  Jephthah gestures toward the audience with a jug, the great sword trailing in his sheath, begins to speak.



Word came at just past noon                 (( JEPHTHAH

She was on her way,

And strangest news of Pompas.

Scurrilous dog had robbed my secret coffers

For my wealth and tried to tempt

That worthy lass to flee.

That not done, proceeded to scuff her up

A bit and even mount her,

But the lass resisted long enough

For Gampi to assist

In layering him in blood.

They said he spouted like a torrent.

Two girls and one grown man!

By faith, the mongrel gleaned

His just deserts.

They dragged his naked body to the sun

Where flies commenced

To dine most furious, nesting

In his eyes.

'Twas awesome sight, THAT mating.

Good riddance, my last comment.

Terror that he nearly stained my honor

With the lass.

Upright and just this afternoon that's come.

And yet disquiet feeds

Upon my heart.

How much I fortify it with these draughts,

I'm scarcely steeled

To this event,

A slaughter oft most foul.


     (gesturing stage rear in the direction of the willow)


There short of yonder tree's

An ancient block where thousands

Perished from the axe

For DEEDS most foul

Or simple indiscretion,

Some that protested innocence, defiant

To the end, some meek and willing

As a lamb.

They say the very soil is stained some

Eight feet deep a furlong round

This spot.

These stones seem clean enough!

And yet in those days fouled

For daws to cackle, lick, in the very wake

And dine upon the stumps.

But time has passed, and rain perhaps

Has cleansed the final trace,

Has succored soil and tree,

The wall itself now tumbled into ruin.

And yet at midnight ghosts are seen

To stroll among these rocks

And sing most piteous,

Raise shrieks about

And perch upon those limbs.

Was long ago the carnage.


(gesturing toward the audience)


Out there were gardens formal

And remote,

A mansion spread of alabaster stuff,

The kin of marble, some thousand cubits

In the breadth where dwelled

An emperor.

Stern was his brow and eagle-like

His eyes.  A nod from his broad pate

Ten thousand infants wrenched

From doting maids

And slung into the pit.

No court, no last appeal, no lawyers

Haggling at a bench,

Simply an old man's impulse

In his own dotage.

These days a writ can free a scoundrel

From his head, a vow, an oath,

But scarcely babe and children.

And yet a child indeed!

I've come to this fierce setting to enact a fury.

If times have tempered, not our God.

Some nine weeks past I traded all my soul

And very innards for a victory.

Some victory that!

It was a pogrom.

My boys did dance a jig upon their smoking entrails.

Nine hundred alone from our fair youth

Did spill THEIR guts upon the ground

And Ammon 19 thousand.  Nay, 24.

24 thousand butchered like old Pompas.

Another 50 thousand maimed or hacked apart

And yet still sucking breath, now

In some darkest hovel, tended

By crones in nurses' livery,

Spooning them

Baby broth, a stink of fish eggs, cracklings, goat,

And some through funnels

In their throats—

I'VE seen it.

Oh wretched the day that I was born!

I've hastened some odd enormity

To death in smoky ruin.

Charad . . . Nay, Charad.

It seems I spy her specter in the East.

Can it be?


(shields his eyes, stares stage right)


That Rahdon leading the lass upon a mule?

Her hands are bound.

There is a curtain drawn about her eyes.

Oh fearsome, she must die!


(tosses the jug and draws his sword)


THESE eyes betray.

'Tis just 3 past, it can't be she.  And yet she comes,

Glides like a ship across

This ravaged earth and still most quiet.

'Tis all quiet.  There, she stops.

Rahdon draws her from the beast

And leads her on.

Is this soul mad?  Must be an apparition.

So soon and yet she comes

And most relentless.


(he takes the sword and props it against the wall, his hands gripping the blade, directed

toward his stomach)


Force of a King will end this endless night.

I'll take my life.

Simple.  I'll fall on it.

Ram it in my belly.

Coward that I am . . . can this be me?


(sobbing, turning the blade aside and swaying back and forth beneath the tree)


Not I.  Small stomach for his death

Though it be just.

Black soul to take his daughter's life!

And on she comes.

Oh Charad . . .


(Rahdon enters, stage right, leading the girl)


Jephthah?  I heard my father's               (( CHARAD



Silence, miss.                                          (( RAHDON

You melt his stern resolve.


But I must offer him a blessing.             (( CHARAD


The blessing is to still that                     (( RAHDON

Chirping voice.

Come, lass.  A few paces further.


(they near the block)


A kiss.  A kiss from my father.              (( CHARAD


Dark God,                                               (( JEPHTHAH




She rends my heart.


Still.  Be still, young maiden.                 (( RAHDON

Jephthah's sword will cease

This aching.


(the latter is raised on high)


It seems I heard his voice.                      (( CHARAD

Some squeamish little

Sound, the very squeal.

Such is the voice that offers up my soul?


Oh pity.  Pity.                                         (( JEPHTHAH


(his entire figure trembles with the upraised sword)


Kneel.  Here.  No, here.                         (( RAHDON


(she is now obscured beyond the broken wall)


Lay your head upon the block.


Methinks I smell my death.                    (( CHARAD


Silence, lass.  It's almost done.              (( RAHDON


Some token this of my great                  (( CHARAD

Lord's affection!

I hear his wheezing breath.

And it's not over?


Soon, lass.  Soon.                                   (( RAHDON

Perhaps he prays for strength.


My victory!                                            (( CHARAD



Jephthah swings the blade down in one quick stroke against the block; the theater is plunged in darkness, which lasts for several seconds, a pitch black punctuated by an old man's sobbing