Hannah in Shiloh

‘A drunken woman,’ thought the priest,
Though wine but rarely touched her lips
She was afflicted by a rival,
Loud and bossy; fertile hips:
Peninnah, whose name meant Ruby
She too was wed to Elkanah
And bore four children in four years
Even so, he preferred Hannah;
The quiet of her chamber pleased
More than the bustle and the noise
Which accompanied Peninnah,
With her quartet of healthy boys.

In the Shiloh Temple one night
Hannah cried while she mouthed her prayer,
And Eli watched with narrowed eyes
But did not leave his priestly chair.
She petitioned God in silence
God hears the heart and does not need
To hear the mouth speaking words
Or see the blood to know we bleed.
But Eli, just a priest, not God,
Thought she was inebriated
Regarding her with cold distaste
While she wept and supplicated.

‘May God who remembered Sarah.
Let me, like Sarah, bear a child,’
At last the priest rose from his seat
‘Woman, your drunkenness defiled
The holiness of this precinct
Next time your entry will be banned.
When will you rid yourself of wine?
Remember before whom you stand.’
‘Do not think your handmaid worthless,’
She answered, hastily composed,
‘To the Holy One, Blessed be He
My silent prayers are now disclosed.

And if indeed I bear a son,
He’ll be God’s servant all his days,
He’ll come to Shiloh, here to learn
Mosaic law and righteous ways.’
Then Eli answered ‘Go in peace,
And in God’s eyes may you find grace,’
Hannah went home to her husband,
New radiance was in her face.
She ate with appetite for once
And mopped up gravy with her bread,
Elkanah yearned towards his wife,
He took her to the marriage bed.

A male child was conceived that night.
At last, at last, Hannah gave birth,
Samuel she named her infant son,
Her heart knew gratitude and mirth.
And when the child was fully weaned
She recalled how God heard her voice
She went to Shiloh to the priest,
‘This lad is mine and I rejoice
That the Lord opened up my womb,
I honour now the vow I made,
The lad will stay and serve you here
The parting cannot be delayed.’

Hannah then returned to Ramah,
The child resided with the priest
Six children in all Hannah bore,
Her fruitfulness was much increased.
Her husband praised her at the gate,
The other wife ceased to provoke,
Hannah saw Samuel once a year,
She always brought a little cloak;
She sewed these cloaks with dexterous craft,
Maternal love and some regret
That Samuel now was lent to God.
Observe the cloak. Do not forget.