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wTuesday, December 20, 2005

SPIKE THIS: The American Spectator today has my review of Robert Pinsky's The Life of David. As a whole, the book is so-so, but then there's this bit:

The scene is both comical and deadly serious. Israel's first great king is fleeing from Jerusalem -- David has left the City of David -- along with his armies and scores of loyal able-bodied followers, to avoid giving his son Absalom an easy target. The hot-headed prince has declared himself the new sovereign and aims to do to his father what he had already done to the king's eldest son and likely heir: to kill him and take his place and rank.

When David's procession comes to the settlement of Bahurim, they encounter an energetic heckler. Shimei is a member of the house of the late King Saul, and he is none too happy about the sometimes brutal way that David has dealt with the family of his predecessor. The man "came forth and cursed still as he came. And he cast stones at David and at all the servants of King David: and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left." Shimei called the fleeing king a "man of Belial" and said that David was only reaping the fruit of his own actions. God was now turning his favor from the king, "because thou art a bloody man."

In The Life of David, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky sees David's reaction to Shimei as a turning point in the attempted coup. One of David's soldiers asks his liege why he allows the half-mad rock-thrower to chatter on and requests permission to "go over" and "take off his head." The unpredictable king stays his soldier's sword. He orders, "[L]et him alone and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day."

Pinsky puts on his literary critic cap and explains that in the "curving, secret logic of all narrative...this moment of restraint is like an assurance that David will triumph over the rebellion." From the perspective of pure statecraft, "David knows that the spectacle of the unseemly cursing will create his moment of sympathy, a longing for a restoration of the king's dignity" by all of his followers. In a sense, their dignity is bound up in his, and they will now fight harder to win it back.

posted by Jeremy at 9:54 PM