by John Walker)

the poem
[March 5th 2015]

Publication history

First published in Y.B., 1919. This piece was also unchanged in I.V., 1919; D.V., 1940. In the Sussex Edition, vol. 33, page 422, it is dated 1915 (Burwash Edition vol. 26).

Gehazi in the Bible

In the Old Testament story (II Kings, chapters 4 and 5), Elisha the prophet cures Naaman of leprosy, and refuses Naaman's reward. Soon after, Elisha's servant, Gehazi, asks Naaman privately for "a talent of silver, and two changes of garment", to be given separately, on Elisha's behalf, to "two young men of the sons of prophets". In gratitude, Naaman offers two talents. When Gehazi returns, and conceals his gains, Elisha says to him, "Whence comest thou, Gehazi?" (II Kings, 5 verse 25). His punishment is to suffer the leprosy of Naaman: "And he went out from his presence, a leper white as snow." (verse 27).

The contemporary meaning

"Gehazi" relates to a scandal, the Marconi affair, in 1912. Cabinet ministers and high government officials were accused of having financial interests in the company when awarding large government contracts. Charles Carrington (page 410) identifies Gehazi with Sir Rufus Isaacs, who was Attorney General at the time.

Click here here for a paper by Julian Moore, which examines the poem in its social and political context.

Notes on the text

[Line 3] In scarlet and in ermines The Lord Chief Justice of England has ceremonial robes of scarlet, with ermine trimming.

[Line 40] A leper white as snow ! Elisha's curse on Gehazi included, "and unto thy seed for ever". Some commentators have taken the tone of the verse to indicate anti-Semitism.