Hagar in the Wilderness, 1835.
Hagar in the Wilderness 1835
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
Oil on canvas; 71 x 106 1/2 in. (180.3 x 270.5 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.64)

Introduction to Provenance Research Project

"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, bore him no children; and she had a handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram: "Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray thee unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall be builded up through her." ... Genesis 16:1-2
Sara, it was you who sent him to my tent,
so great was your shame at giving him no son.
I never longed for him, his body aging,
his eyes seeking only his God.
It was you who sent him to my bed.
I suffered vaguely his withered touch.
Was it my fault that he began to notice
my dark skin, my long smooth limbs?
I did exactly as you wished. I conceived his child.
Through months of desert heat, aching and swollen
I carried the baby you could not bear.
For this you began to hate me, your hatred growing
as your eyes came to rest on the beauty of my son,
on Ishmael.

Whatever did you think,
that I would not love him?
His birth was a miracle to me as in time
the birth of Isaac was a miracle to you.
My son was magnificent and strong.
I think his father loved him for a while.

Then Isaac came. Of course Ishmael teased.
Your house grew small with two sons.
Your face spoke hatred for me and my child.
Your face spoke death.
Abraham turned away, showing Isaac his favor.
Ishmael claimed the power of those who are spurned.
So I loved him even more
because he needed me.

Finally you gave us one flask of water,
one loaf of bread and sent us
into the desert to die.
The wish was yours.
The words were Abraham's.

For many hours I held my child, parched and burning
but I could not watch him die. When he no longer knew me
I placed him in a patch of shade and walked away weeping.
In later years your scribes wrote
that an angel came and helped me find water
so that Ishmael would live.

Today Sara, I tell you there was no angel,
only a band of travelers who heard my grief,
offered water, and took us to another place
where Ishmael grew to manhood
in anger and in strength.

Did you wonder or know we had survived?
Did you once regret your heart's angry mandate?
We often listened for news of you. We heard once
that Abraham took your son to a mountaintop,
tied him like an animal and put a knife to his throat
before some kind spirit stayed his hand.
I wept for you then though I did not love you
and do not love you now.
Sometimes when I remember today, there are times when
I weep for us both.

Sara, we never talked. Why was it necessary
that our sons grow with no love for each other?
The land was endless,
there were acres enough for many,
blessing enough for both.

Lost in the wounds and furies of our souls
we did not see the danger, that while we broke each other's hearts Abraham would have murdered both our sons.

Gail Golden

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