Newman, who frequendy employs types of the Pisgah sight, bases "The Death of Moses" (1832) on the literal fact of the prophet's dying in sight, but not in possession, of the Promised Land. Moses is the speaker in the poem, and after he has mentioned in successive stanzas that he has finally reached the hope of his fathers, is dying while still strong and energetic, and yeams to test the reality of the "Blest scene . . . And prove the vision true," he realizes that God, "Who chastens whom He loves," justly prevents his entering the Promised Land. Newman thereupon presents the dying vision of Moses:

Ah! now they melt ... they are but shades....
I die! — yet is no rest,
O Lord! in store, since Canaan fades
But seen, and not possest? (Newman's ellipsis)

In addition to drawing upon this realistic psychological portrayal of the prophet's last moments for the moral lesson that one should accept God's punishments, Newman seems to be employing this literal version of the narrative to demonstrate that even the greatest Old Testament figures died unsatisfied and unfulfilled because Christ had not yet come. In making this Christian emphasis, Newman also probably distorts the original story and adds an undue emphasis upon the prophet's dissatisfaction.


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Print version published 1980; web version 1998