The author of this poem is John Bunyan (1628-1688), an English Protestant minister and author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. He versified the Book of Ruth in the Bible just for the fun of it. The Book of Ruth tells the story of king David’s great-grandmother who followed her mother-in-law Naomi back to the Land of Israel after the deaths of their husbands. I am tempted to summarise the story, but you will have to either read the account in the Bible or the narrative poem presented here. So, here is Chapter 1.
In ancient times, e’er Israel knew the way
Of kingly power, when judges bore the sway:
A certain man of Bethlehem Juda fled,
By reason of a famine that o’erspread
The land, into the land of Moab, where
He and his wife, and sons, sojourners were.
His name Elimelech, his eldest son
Was called Mahlon, t’other Chilion,
His wife was Naomi, Ephrathites they were:
They went to Moab and continued there:
Where of her husband Naomi was bereft,
And only she and her two sons were left:
Who took them wives of Moab in their youth.
The name of one was Orpah, t’other Ruth:
And there they died ere twice five years were gone;
And Naomi was wholly left alone.
Then she arose, and her step-daughters with her,
To leave the land of Moab altogether:
For she had heard the Lord had visited
Her native country, with increase of bread,
Wherefore the land of Moab she forsook,
And to her native place her course she took,
Her daughters with her: whom she did desire,
That to their mother’s house they would retire.
The Lord, said she, be kind to you again,
As you to me, and to the dead have been.
God grant you each may be with husbands blest,
And in the enjoyment of them both find rest,
Then she embraced them, and there withal,
Down from their cheeks, the tears began to fall.
They wept aloud, and said, Most surely we
Unto thy people will return with thee.
But Naomi replied, Wherefore will ye,
My daughters, thus resolve to go with me?
Are there yet any more sons in my womb,
That may your husbands be in time to come?
Return again, my daughters, go your way,
For I’m too old to marry: should I say
I’ve hope? Should I this night conceive a son?
Would either of you stay till he is grown?
Would you so long without an husband [‹1.3›] live?
Nay, nay, my daughters, for it doth me grieve
Exceedingly, even for your sakes, that I
Do under this so great affliction lie.
And here they wept again. And Orpah kiss’d
Her mother, But Ruth would be not dismiss’d
But clave unto her: unto whom she spake
And said, Behold, thy sister is gone back,
With her own gods, and people to abide,
Go thou along with her. But Ruth replied,
Intreat me not to leave thee, or return:
For where thou goest, I’ll go, where thou sojourn,
I’ll sojourn also. And what people’s thine,
And who thy God, the same shall both be mine.
Where thou shalt die, there will I die likewise,
And I’ll be buried where thy body lies.
The Lord do so to me, and more, if I
Do leave thee, or forsake thee till I die.
And when she saw the purpose of her heart,
She left off to desire her to depart.
So they two travelled along together
To Bethlehem, and when they were come thither,
Behold! the people were surprised, and cried,
What, is this Naomi? But she replied,
Oh! call me Mara, and not Naomi;
For I have been afflicted bitterly.
I went out from you full, but now I come,
As it hath pleased God, quite empty home:
Why then call ye me Naomi? Since I
Have been afflicted so exceedingly.
So Naomi return’d, and Ruth together,
Who had come from the land of Moab with her:
And unto Bethlem Judah did they come,
Just as the Barley Harvest was begun.