“Integrity” is a rhyming form of the medieval decapentasyllabic verse. Each line has 15 syllables: seven of them stressed in a dactylic manner (/), each preceded by three unstressed syllables (x) except the first in each line, which is preceded by two, as follows: xx/xxx/xxx/xxx/. The poem has five stanzas, each with four lines. The rhyming scheme for each stanza is AABA.
This poem refers to the Book of Job, in which a righteous, perfect man suffers the worst tragedies imaginable: the loss of his children, crops, servants, livestock, buildings, and finally, his health. Through all his adversity, he refuses to curse God; he holds fast to his integrity.
But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
That integrity with status, riches, honor, pride of place–
Both his progeny and beast, fecund and blessed, replete with grace,
And one wonders, “Is it merely heaven’s reciprocity
Or does deeper virtue keep unmarred his piety of face?”
But the tide will change, as always, and the hedge will be cut down.
The Sabeans, fire, destruction, devastation of his ground.
Robbed of offspring, herds extinguished, structures wrecked, and workers slain,
Yet he worships, never doubting, yielding sufferance profound.
Grant You that, but ‘skin for skin’ is where the tale is truly told.
Preservation of the self, survival instinct’s uncontrolled.
He must blaspheme One who strikes his flesh with grotesque agony,
Or one cry, ‘Curse God and die!’ And break this holy stranglehold!”
Thus he sits, bereft, tormented, scraping pustules, stricken, torn.
And so altered no one knows him, beggarman now scarred and shorn.
All esteem is lost, no fortune, future lineage terminates,
Soul besieged and carcass writhing at the puncture of this “thorn.”
Yet integrity, that core of righteousness, though trampled, stands.
And his faith in his Oppressor, far from faltering, expands.
“Shall we take good alone, not evil, from our heav’nly Engineer?
Naked came I; naked go: ‘til blameless Justice countermands.”