(A Reflection on the Opening Chapters of I Samuel)
Charles G. Dennison

A simple child,
              shuffled in a rage of games . . .
The ancient priest (hardly wisdom's best)
              gives the heirs Egyptian names . . .
Sits sightless down to see his mirth depart;
Lies lifeless hearing judgment's birth.
Out of glory
              the hand is played;
Then quiet, small, the Kingdom bursts
And whispers softly, "Last is first."



The motif of the poem—games—appears in the title and line 2. These are trivial games, insignificant games, yet games of life and death. They are games which mirror this world and the next. The "single child" (Samuel) is likened to a deck of cards—"shuffled" in the Eli-Hophni/Phinehas games. The refusal of the "ancient priest" (Eli) to restrain his "heirs" (Hophni and Phinehas) is added to the game of assigning them Egyptian names. Does Eli look to Egypt against Philistia? a game Israel/Judah will reprise at the end of her monarchical life—witness the prophets who condemn the respective kingdoms for looking to their once-upon-a-time tyrant slavemaster. The blind priest bows to Philistine games—the ark ("his mirth") is captured. And finally he lies dead with the departing judgment—"the glory hath departed."

But from that arena—from the glory-arena—comes a different "hand." It is no whimsical, political, posturing game. It is a sovereign player who fills the womb of an obscure woman (Hannah) with a tiny, child-like savior. And the whisper of that transcendent kingdom in the person of that weak and insignificant child—"last is first."

(Notes compiled by James T. Dennison, Jr. from the comments of Charles G. Dennison in conversation with his niece, Kristin Annette Dennison, in the summer of 1996.)