The Poems of Emma Lazarus, Vol.II, Jewish Poems: Translations
Part 2 out of 5
Between the world and sky."
And man was born.
RASCHI IN PRAGUE.
Raschi of Troyes, the Moon of Israel,
The authoritative Talmudist, returned
From his wide wanderings under many skies,
To all the synagogues of the Orient,
Through Spain and Italy, the isles of Greece,
Beautiful, dolorous, sacred Palestine,
Dead, obelisked Egypt, floral, musk-breathed Persia,
Laughing with bloom, across the Caucasus,
The interminable sameness of bare steppes,
Through dark luxuriance of Bohemian woods,
And issuing on the broad, bright Moldau vale,
Entered the gates of Prague. Here, too, his fame,
Being winged, preceded him. His people swarmed
Like bees to gather the rich honey-dew
Of learning from his lips. Amazement filled
All eyes beholding him. No hoary sage,
He who had sat in Egypt at the feet
Of Moses ben-Maimuni, called him friend;
Raschi the scholiast, poet, and physician,
Who bore the ponderous Bible's storied wisdom,
The Mischna's tangled lore at tip of tongue,
Light as a garland on a lance, appeared
In the just-ripened glory of a man.
From his clear eye youth flamed magnificent;
Force, masked by grace, moved in his balanced frame;
An intellectual, virile beauty reigned
Dominant on domed brow, on fine, firm lips,
An eagle profile cut in gilded bronze,
Strong, delicate as a head upon a coin,
While, as an aureole crowns a burning lamp,
Above all beauty of the body and brain
Shone beauty of a soul benign with love.
Even as a tawny flock of huddled sheep,
Grazing each other's heels, urged by one will,
With bleat and baa following the wether's lead,
Or the wise shepherd, so o'er the Moldau bridge
Trotted the throng of yellow-caftaned Jews,
Chattering, hustling, shuffling. At their head
Marched Rabbi Jochanan ben-Eleazar,
High priest in Prague, oldest and most revered,
To greet the star of Israel. As a father
Yearns toward his son, so toward the noble Raschi
Leapt at first sight the patriarch's fresh old heart.
"My home be thine in Prague! Be thou my son,
Who have no offspring save one simple girl.
See, glorious youth, who dost renew the days
Of David and of Samuel, early graced
With God's anointing oil, how Israel
Delights to honor who hath honored him."
Then Raschi, though he felt a ball of fire
Globe itself in his throat, maintained his calm,
His cheek's opaque, swart pallor while he kissed
Silent the Rabbi's withered hand, and bowed
Divinely humble, his exalted head
Craving the benison.
For each who asked
He had the word of counsel, comfort, help;
For all, rich eloquence of thanks. His voice,
Even and grave, thrilled secret chords and set
Plain speech to music. Certain folk were there
Sick in the body, dragging painful limbs,
To the physician. These he solaced first,
With healing touch, with simples from his pouch,
Warming and lulling, best with promises
Of constant service till their ills were cured.
And some, gray-bearded, bald, and curved with age,
Blear-eyed from poring over lines obscure
And knotty riddles of the Talmud, brought
Their problems to this youth, who cleared and solved,
Yielding prompt answer to a lifetime's search.
Then, followed, pushed by his obsequious tribe,
Who fain had pedestaled him on their backs,
Hemming his steps, choking the airs of heaven
With their oppressive honors, he advanced,
Midst shouts, tumultuous welcomes, kisses showered
Upon his road-stained garments, through Prague's streets,
Gaped at by Gentiles, hissed at and reviled,
But no whit altering his majestic mien
For overwhelming plaudits or contempt.
Glad tidings Raschi brought from West and East
Of thriving synagogues, of famous men,
And flourishing academies. In Rome
The Papal treasurer was a pious Jew,
Rabbi Jehiel, neath whose patronage
Prospered a noble school. Two hundred Jews
Dwelt free and paid no tributary mark.
Three hundred lived in peace at Capua,
Shepherded by the learned Rabbi David,
A prince of Israel. In Babylon
The Jews established their Academy.
Another still in Bagdad, from whose chair
Preached the great rabbi, Samuel Ha-levi,
Versed in the written and the oral law,
Who blindfold could repeat the whole vast text
Of Mischna and Gemara. On the banks
Of Eden-born Euphrates, one day's ride
From Bagdad, Raschi found in the wilderness,
Which once was Babylon, Ezekiel's tomb.
Thrice ten perpetual lamps starred the dim shrine,
Two hundred sentinels held the sleepless vigil,
Receiving offerings. At the Feast of Booths
Here crowded Jews by thousands, out of Persia,
From all the neighboring lands, to celebrate
The glorious memories of the golden days.
Ten thousand Jews with their Academy
Damascus boasted, while in Cairo shone
The pearl, the crown of Israel, ben-Maimuni,
Physician at the Court of Saladin,
The second Moses, gathering at his feet
Sages from all the world.
As Raschi spake,
Forgetting or ignoring the chief shrine,
The Exile's Home, whereunto yearned all hearts,
All ears were strained for tidings. Some one asked:
"What of Jerusalem? Speak to us of Zion."
The light died from his eyes. From depths profound
Issued his grave, great voice: "Alas for Zion!
Verily is she fallen! Where our race
Dictated to the nations, not a handful,
Nay, not a score, not ten, not two abide!
One, only one, one solitary Jew,
The Rabbi Abraham Haceba, flits
Ghostlike amid the ruins; every year
Beggars himself to pay the idolaters
The costly tax for leave to hold a-gape
His heart's live wound; to weep, a mendicant,
Amidst the crumbled stones of palaces
Where reigned his ancestors, upon the graves
Where sleep the priests, the prophets, and the kings
Who were his forefathers. Ask me no more!"
Now, when the French Jew's advent was proclaimed,
And his tumultuous greeting, envious growls
And ominous eyebeams threatened storm in Prague.
"Who may this miracle of learning be?
The Anti-Christ! The century-long-awaited,
The hourly-hoped Messiah, come at last!
Else dared they never wax so arrogant,
Flaunting their monstrous joy in Christian eyes,
And strutting peacock-like, with hideous screams,
Who are wont to crawl, mute reptiles underfoot."
A stone or two flung at some servile form,
Liveried in the yellow gaberdine
(With secret happiness but half suppressed
On features cast for misery), served at first
For chance expression of the rabble's hate;
But, swelling like a snow-ball rolled along
By mischief-plotting boys, the rage increased,
Grew to a mighty mass, until it reached
The palace of Duke Vladislaw. He heard
With righteous wrath his injured subjects' charge
Against presumptuous aliens: how these blocked
His avenues, his bridges; bared to the sun
The canker-taint of Prague's obscurest coigne;
Paraded past the churches of the Lord
One who denied Him, one by them hailed Christ.
Enough! This cloud, no bigger than one's hand,
Gains overweening bulk. Prague harbored, first,
Out of contemptuous ruth, a wretched band
Of outcast paupers, gave them leave to ply
Their money-lending trade, and leased them land
On all too facile terms. Behold! to-day,
Like leeches bloated with the people's blood,
They batten on Bohemia's poverty;
They breed and grow; like adders, spit back hate
And venomed perfidy for Christian love.
Thereat the Duke, urged by wise counsellors--
Narzerad the statesman (half whose wealth was pledged
To the usurers), abetted by the priest,
Bishop of Olmutz, who had visited
The Holy Sepulchre, whose long, full life
Was one clean record of pure piety--
The Duke, I say, by these persuasive tongues,
Coaxed to his darling aim, forbade his guards
To hinder the just anger of his town,
And ordered to be led in chains to him
The pilgrim and his host.
At noontide meal
Raschi sat, full of peace, with Jochanan,
And the sole daughter of the house, Rebekah,
Young, beautiful as her namesake when she brought
Her firm, frail pitcher balanced on her neck
Unto the well, and gave the stranger drink,
And gave his camels drink. The servant set
The sparkling jar's refreshment from his lips,
And saw the virgin's face, bright as the moon,
Beam from the curled luxuriance of black locks,
And cast-back linen veil's soft-folded cloud,
Then put the golden ear-ring by her cheek,
The bracelets on her hands, his master's pledge,
Isaac's betrothal gift, whom she should wed,
And be the mother of millions--one whose seed
Dwells in the gates of those which hate them.
Yearned Raschi to adorn the radiant girl
Who sat at board before him, nor dared lift
Shy, heavy lids from pupils black as grapes
That dart the imprisoned sunshine from their core.
But in her ears keen sense was born to catch,
And in her heart strange power to hold, each tone
O' the low-keyed, vibrant voice, each syllable
O' the eloquent discourse, enriched with tales
Of venturous travel, brilliant with fine points
Of delicate humor, or illustrated
With living portraits of world-famoused men,
Jews, Saracens, Crusaders, Islamites,
Whose hand he had grasped--the iron warrior,
Godfrey of Bouillon, the wise infidel
Who in all strength, wit, courtesy excelled
The kings his foes--imperial Saladin.
But even as Raschi spake an abrupt noise
Of angry shouts, of battering staves that shook
The oaken portal, stopped the enchanted voice,
The uplifted wine spilled from the nerveless hand
Of Rabbi Jochanan. "God pity us!
Our enemies are upon us once again.
Hie thee, Rebekah, to the inmost chamber,
Far from their wanton eyes' polluting gaze,
Their desecrating touch! Kiss me! Begone!
Raschi, my guest, my son"--But no word more
Uttered the reverend man. With one huge crash
The strong doors split asunder, pouring in
A stream of soldiers, ruffians, armed with pikes,
Lances, and clubs--the unchained beast, the mob.
"Behold the town's new guest!" jeered one who tossed
The half-filled golden wine-cup's contents straight
In the noble pure young face. "What, master Jew!
Must your good friends of Prague break bolts and bars
To gain a peep at this prodigious pearl
You bury in your shell? Forth to the day!
Our Duke himself claims share of your new wealth;
Summons to court the Jew philosopher!"
Then, while some stuffed their pokes with baubles snatched
From board and shelf, or with malignant sword
Slashed the rich Orient rugs, the pictured woof
That clothed the wall; others had seized and bound,
And gagged from speech, the helpless, aged man;
Still others outraged, with coarse, violent hands,
The marble-pale, rigid as stone, strange youth,
Whose eye like struck flint flashed, whose nether lip
Was threaded with a scarlet line of blood,
Where the compressed teeth fixed it to forced calm.
He struggled not while his free limbs were tied,
His beard plucked, torn and spat upon his robe--
Seemed scarce to know these insults were for him;
But never swerved his gaze from Jochanan.
Then, in God's language, sealed from these dumb brutes,
Swiftly and low he spake: "Be of good cheer,
Reverend old man. I deign not treat with these.
If one dare offer bodily hurt to thee,
By the ineffable Name! I snap my chains
Like gossamer, and in his blood, to the hilt,
Bathe the prompt knife hid in my girdle's folds.
The Duke shall hear me. Patience. Trust in me."
Somewhat the authoritative voice abashed,
Even hoarse and changed, the miscreants, who feared
Some strong curse lurked in this mysterious tongue,
Armed with this evil eye. But brief the spell.
With gibe and scoff they dragged their victims forth,
The abused old man, the proud, insulted youth,
O'er the late path of his triumphal march,
Befouled with mud, with raiment torn, wild hair
And ragged beard, to Vladislaw. He sat
Expectant in his cabinet. On one side
His secular adviser, Narzerad,
Quick-eyed, sharp-nosed, red-whiskered as a fox;
On the other hand his spiritual guide,
Bishop of Olmutz, unctuous, large, and bland.
"So these twain are chief culprits!" sneered the Duke,
Measuring with the noble's ignorant scorn
His masters of a lesser caste. "Stand forth!
Rash, stubborn, vain old man, whose impudence
Hath choked the public highways with thy brood
Of nasty vermin, by our sufferance hid
In lanes obscure, who hailed this charlatan
With sky-flung caps, bent knees, and echoing shouts,
Due to ourselves alone in Prague; yea, worse,
Who offered worship even ourselves disclaim,
Our Lord Christ's meed, to this blaspheming Jew--
Thy crimes have murdered patience. Thou hast wrecked
Thy people's fortune with thy own. But first
(For even in anger we are just) recount
With how great compensation from thy store
Of hoarded gold and jewels thou wilt buy
Remission of the penalty. Be wise.
Hark how my subjects, storming through the streets,
Vent on thy tribe accursed their well-based wrath."
And, truly, through closed casements roared the noise
Of mighty surging crowds, derisive cries,
And victims' screams of anguish and affright.
Then Raschi, royal in his rags, began:
"Hear me, my liege!" At that commanding voice,
The Bishop, who with dazed eyes had perused
The grieved, wise, beautiful, pale face, sprang up,
Quick recognition in his glance, warm joy
Aflame on his broad cheeks. "No more! No more!
Thou art the man! Give me the hand to kiss
That raised me from the shadow of the grave
In Jaffa's lazar-house! Listen, my liege!
During my pilgrimage to Palestine
I, sickened with the plague and nigh to death,
Languished 'midst strangers, all my crumbling flesh
One rotten mass of sores, a thing for dogs
To shy from, shunned by Christian as by Turk,
When lo! this clean-breathed, pure-souled, blessed youth,
Whom I, not knowing for an infidel,
Seeing featured like the Christ, believed a saint,
Sat by my pillow, charmed the sting from pain,
Quenched the fierce fever's heat, defeated Death;
And when I was made whole, had disappeared,
No man knew whither, leaving no more trace
Than a re-risen angel. This is he!"
Then Raschi, who had stood erect, nor quailed
From glances of hot hate or crazy wrath,
Now sank his eagle gaze, stooped his high head,
Veiling his glowing brow, returned the kiss
Of brother-love upon the Christian's hand,
And dropping on his knees implored the three,
"Grace for my tribe! They are what ye have made.
If any be among them fawning, false,
Insatiable, revengeful, ignorant, mean--
And there are many such--ask your own hearts
What virtues ye would yield for planted hate,
Ribald contempt, forced, menial servitude,
Slow centuries of vengeance for a crime
Ye never did commit? Mercy for these!
Who bear on back and breast the scathing brand
Of scarlet degradation, who are clothed
In ignominious livery, whose bowed necks
Are broken with the yoke. Change these to men!
That were a noble witchcraft simply wrought,
God's alchemy transforming clods to gold.
If there be one among them strong and wise,
Whose lips anoint breathe poetry and love,
Whose brain and heart served ever Christian need--
And there are many such--for his dear sake,
Lest ye chance murder one of God's high priests,
Spare his thrice-wretched tribe! Believe me, sirs,
Who have seen various lands, searched various hearts,
I have yet to touch that undiscovered shore,
Have yet to fathom that impossible soul,
Where a true benefit's forgot; where one
Slight deed of common kindness sown yields not
As now, as here, abundant crop of love.
Every good act of man, our Talmud says,
Creates an angel, hovering by his side.
Oh! what a shining host, great Duke, shall guard
Thy consecrated throne, for all the lives
Thy mercy spares, for all the tears thy ruth
Stops at the source. Behold this poor old man,
Last of a line of princes, stricken in years,
As thy dead father would have been to-day.
Was that white beard a rag for obscene hands
To tear? a weed for lumpish clowns to pluck?
Was that benignant, venerable face
Fit target for their foul throats' voided rheum?
That wrinkled flesh made to be pulled and pricked,
Wounded by flinty pebbles and keen steel?
Behold the prostrate, patriarchal form,
Bruised, silent, chained. Duke, such is Israel!"
"Unbind these men!" commanded Vladislaw.
"Go forth and still the tumult of my town.
Let no Jew suffer violence. Raschi, rise!
Thou who hast served the Christ--with this priest's life,
Who is my spirit's counselor--Christ serves thee.
Return among thy people with my seal,
The talisman of safety. Let them know
The Duke's their friend. Go, publish the glad news!"
Raschi the Saviour, Raschi the Messiah,
Back to the Jewry carried peace and love.
But Narzerad fed his venomed heart with gall,
Vowing to give his fatal hatred vent,
Despite a world of weak fantastic Dukes
And heretic bishops. He fulfilled his vow.
THE DEATH OF RASCHI.
[Aaron Ben Mier "loquitur."]
If I remember Raschi? An I live,
Grandson, to bless thy grandchild, I'll forget
Never that youth and what he did for Prague.
Aye, aye, I know! he slurred a certain verse
In such and such a prayer; omitted quite
To stand erect there where the ritual
Commands us rise and bow towards the East;
Therefore, the ingrates brand him heterodox,
Neglect his memory whose virtue saved
Each knave of us alive. Not I forget,
No more does God, who wrought a miracle
For his dear sake. The Passover was here.
Raschi, just wedded with the fair Rebekah,
Bode but the lapsing of the holy week
For homeward journey with his bride to France.
The sacred meal was spread. All sat at board
Within the house of Rabbi Jochanan:
The kind old priest; his noble, new-found son,
Whose name was wrung in every key of praise,
By every voice in Prague, from Duke to serf
(Save the vindictive bigot, Narzerad);
The beautiful young wife, whose cup of joy
Sparkled at brim; next her the vacant chair
Awaited the Messiah, who, unannounced,
In God's good time shall take his place with us.
Now when the Rabbi reached the verse where one
Shall rise from table, flinging wide the door,
To give the Prophet entrance, if so be
The glorious hour have sounded, Raschi rose,
Pale, grave, yet glad with great expectancy,
Crossed the hushed room, and, with a joyous smile
To greet the Saviour, opened the door.
A cry, "Revenged!" a thrust, a stifled moan,
The sheathing of a poniard--that was all!
In the dark vestibule a fleeing form,
Masked, gowned in black; and in the room of prayer,
Raschi, face downward on the stone-cold floor,
Bleeding his life out. Oh! what a cry was that
(Folk shuddered, hearing, roods off in the street)
Wherewith Rebekah rushed to raise her lord,
Kneeling beside him, striving in vain to quench
With turban, veil, torn shreds of gown, stained hands,
The black blood's sickening gush. He never spoke,
Never rewarded with one glance of life
The passion in her eyes. He met his end
Even as beneath the sickle the full ear
Bows to its death--so beautiful, silent, ripe.
Well, we poor Jews must gulp our injuries,
Howe'er they choke us. What redress in Prague
For the inhuman murder? A strange Jew
The victim; the suspected criminal
The ducal counselor! Such odds forbade
Revenge or justice. We forbore to seek.
The priest, discrowned o' the glory of his age,
The widow-bride, mourned as though smitten of God,
Gave forth they would with solemn obsequies
Bury their dead, and crave no help from man.
Now of what chanced betwixt the night of murder
And the appointed burial I can give
Only the sum of gossip--servants' tales,
Neighbors' reports, close confidences leaked
From friends and kindred. Night and day, folk said,
Rebekah wept, prayed, fasted by the corpse,
Three mortal days. Upon the third, her eyes,
Sunk in their pits, glimmered with wild, strange fire.
She started from her place beside the dead,
Kissed clay-cold brow, cheeks, lids, and lips once more,
And with a maniac's wan, heart-breaking smile,
Veiled, hooded, glided through the twilight streets,
A sable shadow. From the willow-grove,
Close by the Moldau's brink, beyond the bridge,
Her trace was lost. 'T was evening and mild May,
Air full of spring, skies perfect as a pearl;
Yet one who saw her pass amidst the shades
O' the blue-gray branches swears a sudden flame,
As of miraculous lightning, thrilled through heaven.
One hour thereafter she reentered Prague,
Slid swiftly through the streets, as though borne on
By ankle-wings or floating on soft cloud,
Smiling no more, but with illumined eyes,
Transfigured brow, grave lips, and faltering limbs,
So came into the room where Raschi lay
Stretched 'twixt tall tapers lit at head and foot.
She held in both hands leafy, flowerless plants,
Some she had fastened in her twisted hair,
Stuck others in her girdle, and from all
Issued a racy odor, pungent-sweet,
The living soul of Spring. Death's chamber seemed
As though clear sunshine and a singing bird
Therein had entered. From the precious herb
She poured into a golden bowl the sap,
Sparkling like wine; then with a soundless prayer,
White as the dead herself, she held the cup
To Raschi's mouth. A quick, small flame sprang up
From the enchanted balsam, died away,
And lo! the color dawned in cheek and lips,
The life returned, the sealed, blind lids were raised,
And in the glorious eyes love reawoke,
And, looking up, met love.
So runs the tale,
Mocked by the worldly-wise; but I believe,
Knowing the miracles the Lord hath wrought
In every age for Jacob's seed. Moreover,
I, with the highest and meanest Jew in Prague,
Was at the burial. No man saw the dead.
Sealed was the coffin ere the rites began,
And none could swear it went not empty down
Into the hollow earth. Too shrewd our priest
To publish such a wonder, and expose
That consecrated life to second death.
Scarce were the thirty days of mourning sped,
When we awoke to find his home left bare,
Rebekah and her father fled from Prague.
God grant they had glad meeting otherwhere!
From Joshua Ibn Vives of Allorqui to his Former Master, Solomon
Levi-Paul, de Santa-Maria, Bishop of Cartegna Chancellor of
Castile, and Privy Councillor to King Henry III. of Spain.
[In this poem I have done little more than elaborate
and versify the account given in Graetz's History of the
Jews (Vol. VIII., page 77), of an Epistle actually written
in the beginning of the 15th century by Joshua ben Joseph
Ibn Vives to Paulus de Santa Maria--E.L.]
Master and Sage, greetings and health to thee,
From thy most meek disciple! Deign once more
Endure me at thy feet, enlighten me,
As when upon my boyish head of yore,
Midst the rapt circle gathered round thy knee
Thy sacred vials of learning thou didst pour.
By the large lustre of thy wisdom orbed
Be my black doubts illumined and absorbed.
Oft I recall that golden time when thou,
Born for no second station, heldst with us
The Rabbi's chair, who art priest and bishop now;
And we, the youth of Israel, curious,
Hung on thy counsels, lifted reverent brow
Unto thy sanctity, would fain discuss
With thee our Talmud problems good and evil,
Till startled by the risen stars o'er Seville.
For on the Synagogue's high-pillared porch
Thou didst hold session, till the sudden sun
Beyond day's purple limit dropped his torch.
Then we, as dreamers, woke, to find outrun
Time's rapid sands. The flame that may not scorch,
Our hearts caught from thine eyes, thou Shining One.
I scent not yet sweet lemon-groves in flower,
But I re-breathe the peace of that deep hour.
We kissed the sacred borders of thy gown,
Brow-aureoled with thy blessing, we went forth
Through the hushed byways of the twilight town.
Then in all life but one thing seemed of worth,
To seek, find, love the Truth. She set her crown
Upon thy head, our Master, at thy birth;
She bade thy lips drop honey, fired thine eyes
With the unclouded glow of sun-steeped skies.
Forgive me, if I dwell on that which, viewed
From thy new vantage-ground, must seem a mist
Of error, by auroral youth endued
With alien lustre. Still in me subsist
Those reeking vapors; faith and gratitude
Still lead me to the hand my boy-lips kissed
For benison and guidance. Not in wrath,
Master, but in wise patience, point my path.
For I, thy servant, gather in one sheaf
The venomed shafts of slander, which thy word
Shall shrivel to small dust. If haply grief,
Or momentary pain, I deal, my Lord
Blame not thy servant's zeal, nor be thou deaf
Unto my soul's blind cry for light. Accord--
Pitying my love, if too superb to care
For hate-soiled name--an answer to my prayer.
To me, who, vine to stone, clung close to thee,
The very base of life appeared to quake
When first I knew thee fallen from us, to be
A tower of strength among our foes, to make
'Twixt Jew and Jew deep-cloven enmity.
I have wept gall and blood for thy dear sake.
But now with temperate soul I calmly search
Motive and cause that bound thee to the Church.
Four motives possible therefor I reach--
Ambition, doubt, fear, or mayhap--conviction.
I hear in turn ascribed thee all and each
By ignorant folk who part not truth from fiction.
But I, whom even thyself didst stoop to teach,
May poise the scales, weigh this with that confliction,
Yea, sift the hid grain motive from the dense,
Dusty, eye-blinding chaff of consequence.
Ambition first! I find no fleck thereof
In all thy clean soul. What! could glory, gold,
Or sated senses lure thy lofty love?
No purple cloak to shield thee from the cold,
No jeweled sign to flicker thereabove,
And dazzle men to homage--joys untold
Of spiritual treasure, grace divine,
Alone (so saidst thou) coveting for thine!
I saw thee mount with deprecating air,
Step after step, unto our Jewish throne
Of supreme dignity, the Rabbi's chair;
Shrinking from public honors thrust upon
Thy meek desert, regretting even there
The placid habit of thy life foregone;
Silence obscure, vast peace and austere days
Passed in wise contemplation, prayer, and praise.
One less than thou had ne'er known such regret.
How must thou suffer, who so lov'st the shade,
In Fame's full glare, whom one stride more shall set
Upon the Papal seat! I stand dismayed,
Familiar with thy fearful soul, and yet
Half glad, perceiving modest worth repaid
Even by the Christians! Could thy soul deflect?
No, no, thrice no! Ambition I reject!
Next doubt. Could doubt have swayed thee, then I ask,
How enters doubt within the soul of man?
Is it a door that opens, or a mask
That falls? and Truth's resplendent face we scan.
Nay, 't is a creeping, small, blind worm, whose task
Is gnawing at Faith's base; the whole vast plan
Rots, crumbles, eaten inch by inch within,
And on its ruins falsehood springs and sin.
But thee no doubt confused, no problems vexed.
Thy father's faith for thee proved bright and sweet.
Thou foundst no rite superfluous, no text
Obscure; the path was straight before thy feet.
Till thy baptismal day, thou, unperplexed
By foreign dogma, didst our prayers repeat,
Honor the God of Israel, fast and feast,
Even as thy people's wont, from first to least.
Yes, Doubt I likewise must discard. Not sleek,
Full-faced, erect of head, men walk, when doubt
Writhes at their entrails; pinched and lean of cheek,
With brow pain-branded, thou hadst strayed about
As midst live men a ghost condemned to seek
That soul he may nor live nor die without.
No doubts the font washed from thee, thou didst glide
From creed to creed, complete, sane-souled, clear-eyed.
Thy pardon, Master, if I dare sustain
The thesis thou couldst entertain a fear.
I would but rout thine enemies, who feign
Ignoble impulse prompted thy career.
I will but weigh the chances and make plain
To Envy's self the monstrous jest appear.
Though time, place, circumstance confirmed in seeming,
One word from thee should frustrate all their scheming.
Was Israel glad in Seville on the day
Thou didst renounce him? Then mightst thou indeed
Snap finger at whate'er thy slanderers say.
Lothly must I admit, just then the seed
Of Jacob chanced upon a grievous way.
Still from the wounds of that red year we bleed.
The curse had fallen upon our heads--the sword
Was whetted for the chosen of the Lord.
There where we flourished like a fruitful palm,
We were uprooted, spoiled, lopped limb from limb.
A bolt undreamed of out of heavens calm,
So cracked our doom. We were destroyed by him
Whose hand since childhood we had clasped. With balm
Our head had been anointed, at the brim
Our cup ran over--now our day was done,
Our blood flowed free as water in the sun.
Midst the four thousand of our tribe who held
Glad homes in Seville, never a one was spared,
Some slaughtered at their hearthstones, some expelled
To Moorish slavery. Cunningly ensnared,
Baited and trapped were we; their fierce monks yelled
And thundered from our Synagogues, while flared
The Cross above the Ark. Ah, happiest they
Who fell unconquered martyrs on that day!
For some (I write it with flushed cheek, bowed head),
Given free choice 'twixt death and shame, chose shame,
Denied the God who visibly had led
Their fathers, pillared in a cloud of flame,
Bathed in baptismal waters, ate the bread
Which is their new Lord's body, took the name
Marranos the Accursed, whom equally
Jew, Moor, and Christian hate, despise, and flee.
Even one no less than an Abarbanel
Prized miserable length of days, above
Integrity of soul. Midst such who fell,
Far be it, however, from my duteous love,
Master, to reckon thee. Thine own lips tell
How fear nor torture thy firm will could move.
How thou midst panic nowise disconcerted,
By Thomas of Aquinas wast converted!
Truly I know no more convincing way
To read so wise an author, than was thine.
When burning Synagogues changed night to day,
And red swords underscored each word and line.
That was a light to read by! Who'd gainsay
Authority so clearly stamped divine?
On this side, death and torture, flame and slaughter,
On that, a harmless wafer and clean water.
Thou couldst not fear extinction for our race;
Though Christian sword and fire from town to town
Flash double bladed lightning to efface
Israel's image--though we bleed, burn, drown
Through Christendom--'t is but a scanty space.
Still are the Asian hills and plains our own,
Still are we lords in Syria, still are free,
Nor doomed to be abolished utterly.
One sole conclusion hence at last I find,
Thou whom ambition, doubt, nor fear could swerve,
Perforce hast been persuaded through the mind,
Proved, tested the new dogmas, found them serve
Thy spirit's needs, left flesh and sense behind,
Accepted without shrinking or reserve,
The trans-substantial bread and wine, the Christ
At whose shrine thine own kin were sacrificed.
Here then the moment comes when I crave light.
All's dark to me. Master, if I be blind,
Thou shalt unseal my lids and bless with sight,
Or groping in the shadows, I shall find
Whether within me or without, dwell night.
Oh cast upon my doubt-bewildered mind
One ray from thy clear heaven of sun-bright faith,
Grieving, not wroth, at what thy servant saith.
Where are the signs fulfilled whereby all men
Should know the Christ? Where is the wide-winged peace
Shielding the lamb within the lion's den?
The freedom broadening with the wars that cease?
Do foes clasp hands in brotherhood again?
Where is the promised garden of increase,
When like a rose the wilderness should bloom?
Earth is a battlefield and Spain a tomb.
Our God of Sabaoth is an awful God
Of lightnings and of vengeance,--Christians say.
Earth trembled, nations perished at his nod;
His Law has yielded to a milder sway.
Theirs is the God of Love whose feet have trod
Our common earth--draw near to him and pray,
Meek-faced, dove-eyed, pure-browed, the Lord of life,
Know him and kneel, else at your throat the knife!
This is the God of Love, whose altars reek
With human blood, who teaches men to hate;
Torture past words, or sins we may not speak
Wrought by his priests behind the convent-grate.
Are his priests false? or are his doctrines weak
That none obeys him? State at war with state,
Church against church--yea, Pope at feud with Pope
In these tossed seas what anchorage for hope?
Not only for the sheep without the fold
Is the knife whetted, who refuse to share
Blessings the shepherd wise doth not withhold
Even from the least among his flock--but there
Midmost the pale, dissensions manifold,
Lamb flaying lamb, fierce sheep that rend and tear.
Master, if thou to thy pride's goal should come,
Where wouldst thou throne--at Avignon or Rome?
I handle burning questions, good my lord,
Such as may kindle fagots, well I wis.
Your Gospel not denies our older Word,
But in a way completes and betters this.
The Law of Love shall supersede the sword,
So runs the promise, but the facts I miss.
Already needs this wretched generation,
A voice divine--a new, third revelation.
Two Popes and their adherents fulminate
Ban against ban, and to the nether hell
Condemn each other, while the nations wait
Their Christ to thunder forth from Heaven, and tell
Who is his rightful Vicar, reinstate
His throne, the hideous discord to dispel.
Where shall I seek, master, while such things be,
Celestial truth, revealed certainty!
Not miracles I doubt, for how dare man,
Chief miracle of life's mystery, say HE KNOWS?
How may he closely secret causes scan,
Who learns not whence he comes nor where he goes?
Like one who walks in sleep a doubtful span
He gropes through all his days, till Death unclose
His cheated eyes and in one blinding gleam,
Wakes, to discern the substance from the dream.
I say not therefore I deny the birth,
The Virgin's motherhood, the resurrection,
Who know not how mine own soul came to earth,
Nor what shall follow death. Man's imperfection
May bound not even in thought the height and girth
Of God's omnipotence; neath his direction
We may approach his essence, but that He
Should dwarf Himself to us--it cannot be!
The God who balances the clouds, who spread
The sky above us like a molten glass,
The God who shut the sea with doors, who laid
The corner-stone of earth, who caused the grass
Spring forth upon the wilderness, and made
The darkness scatter and the night to pass--
That He should clothe Himself with flesh, and move
Midst worms a worm--this, sun, moon, stars disprove.
Help me, O thou who wast my boyhood's guide,
I bend my exile-weary feet to thee,
Teach me the indivisible to divide,
Show me how three are one and One is three!
How Christ to save all men was crucified,
Yet I and mine are damned eternally.
Instruct me, Sage, why Virtue starves alone,
While falsehood step by step ascends the throne.
BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON.
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE.
I. THE EXODUS. (August 3, 1492.)
1. The Spanish noon is a blaze of azure fire, and the dusty
pilgrims crawl like an endless serpent along treeless plains and
bleached highroads, through rock-split ravines and castellated,
2. The hoary patriarch, wrinkled as an almond shell, bows painfully
upon his staff. The beautiful young mother, ivory-pale, well-nigh
swoons beneath her burden; in her large enfolding arms nestles her
sleeping babe, round her knees flock her little ones with bruised
and bleeding feet. "Mother, shall we soon be there?"
3. The youth with Christ-like countenance speaks comfortably to
father and brother, to maiden and wife. In his breast, his own
heart is broken.
4. The halt, the blind, are amid the train. Sturdy pack-horses
laboriously drag the tented wagons wherein lie the sick athirst
5. The panting mules are urged forward with spur and goad; stuffed
are the heavy saddlebags with the wreckage of ruined homes.
6. Hark to the tinkling silver bells that adorn the tenderly-carried
7. In the fierce noon-glare a lad bears a kindled lamp; behind its
net-work of bronze the airs of heaven breathe not upon its faint
8. Noble and abject, learned and simple, illustrious and obscure,
plod side by side, all brothers now, all merged in one routed army
9. Woe to the straggler who falls by the wayside! no friend shall
close his eyes.
10. They leave behind, the grape, the olive, and the fig; the vines
they planted, the corn they sowed, the garden-cities of Andalusia
and Aragon, Estremadura and La Mancha, of Granada and Castile; the
altar, the hearth, and the grave of their fathers.
11. The townsman spits at their garments, the shepherd quits his
flock, the peasant his plow, to pelt with curses and stones; the
villager sets on their trail his yelping cur.
12. Oh the weary march, oh the uptorn roots of home, oh the
blankness of the receding goal!
13. Listen to their lamentation: They that ate dainty food are
desolate in the streets; they that were reared in scarlet embrace
dunghills. They flee away and wander about. Men say among the
nations, they shall no more sojourn there; our end is near, our
days are full, our doom is come.
14. Whither shall they turn? for the West hath cast them out, and
the East refuseth to receive.
15. O bird of the air, whisper to the despairing exiles, that
to-day, to-day, from the many-masted, gayly-bannered port of Palos,
sails the world-unveiling Genoese, to unlock the golden gates of
sunset and bequeath a Continent to Freedom!
1. Through cycles of darkness the diamond sleeps in its coal-black
2. Purely incrusted in its scaly casket, the breath-tarnished pearl
slumbers in mud and ooze.
3. Buried in the bowels of earth, rugged and obscure, lies the
ingot of gold.
4. Long hast thou been buried, O Israel, in the bowels of earth;
long hast thou slumbered beneath the overwhelming waves; long hast
thou slept in the rayless house of darkness.
5. Rejoice and sing, for only thus couldst thou rightly guard the
golden knowledge, Truth, the delicate pearl and the adamantine
jewel of the Law.
III. THE SOWER.
1. Over a boundless plain went a man, carrying seed.
2. His face was blackened by sun and rugged from tempest, scarred
and distorted by pain. Naked to the loins, his back was ridged with
furrows, his breast was plowed with stripes.
3. From his hand dropped the fecund seed.
4. And behold, instantly started from the prepared soil a blade, a
sheaf, a springing trunk, a myriad-branching, cloud-aspiring tree.
Its arms touched the ends of the horizon, the heavens were darkened
with its shadow.
5. It bare blossoms of gold and blossoms of blood, fruitage of
health and fruitage of poison; birds sang amid its foliage, and a
serpent was coiled about its stem.
6. Under its branches a divinely beautiful man, crowned with
thorns, was nailed to a cross.
7. And the tree put forth treacherous boughs to strangle the Sower;
his flesh was bruised and torn, but cunningly he disentangled the
murderous knot and passed to the eastward.
8. Again there dropped from his hand the fecund seed.
9. And behold, instantly started from the prepared soil a blade, a
sheaf, a springing trunk, a myriad-branching, cloud-aspiring tree.
Crescent shaped like little emerald moons were the leaves; it bare
blossoms of silver and blossoms of blood, fruitage of health and
fruitage of poison; birds sang amid its foliage and a serpent was
coiled about its stem.
10. Under its branches a turbaned mighty-limbed Prophet brandished
a drawn sword.
11. And behold, this tree likewise puts forth perfidious arms to
strangle the Sower; but cunningly he disentangles the murderous
knot and passes on.
12. Lo, his hands are not empty of grain, the strength of his arm
is not spent.
13. What germ hast thou saved for the future, O miraculous
Husbandman? Tell me, thou Planter of Christhood and Islam;
tell me, thou seed-bearing Israel!
IV. THE TEST.
1. Daylong I brooded upon the Passion of Israel.
2. I saw him bound to the wheel, nailed to the cross, cut off by
the sword, burned at the stake, tossed into the seas.
3. And always the patient, resolute, martyr face arose in silent
rebuke and defiance.
4. A Prophet with four eyes; wide gazed the orbs of the spirit
above the sleeping eyelids of the senses.
5. A Poet, who plucked from his bosom the quivering heart and
fashioned it into a lyre.
6. A placid-browed Sage, uplifted from earth in celestial
7. These I saw, with princes and people in their train; the
monumental dead and the standard-bearers of the future.
8. And suddenly I heard a burst of mocking laughter, and turning, I
beheld the shuffling gait, the ignominious features, the sordid mask
of the son of the Ghetto.
1. Vast oceanic movements, the flux and reflux of immeasurable
tides, oversweep our continent.
2. From the far Caucasian steppes, from the squalid Ghettos of
3. From Odessa and Bucharest, from Kief, and Ekaterinoslav,
4. Hark to the cry of the exiles of Babylon, the voice of Rachel
mourning for her children, of Israel lamenting for Zion.
5. And lo, like a turbid stream, the long-pent flood bursts the
dykes of oppression and rushes hitherward.
6. Unto her ample breast, the generous mother of nations welcomes
7. The herdsman of Canaan and the seed of Jerusalem's royal
shepherd renew their youth amid the pastoral plains of Texas
and the golden valleys of the Sierras.
VI. THE PROPHET.
1. Moses Ben Maimon lifting his perpetual lamp over the path of the
2. Hallevi, the honey-tongued poet, wakening amid the silent ruins
of Zion the sleeping lyre of David;
3. Moses, the wise son of Mendel, who made the Ghetto illustrious;
4. Abarbanel, the counselor of kings; Alcharisi, the exquisite
singer; Ibn Ezra, the perfect old man; Gabirol, the tragic seer;
5. Heine, the enchanted magician, the heartbroken jester;
6. Yea, and the century-crowned patriarch whose bounty engirdles
7. These need no wreath and no trumpet; like perennial asphodel
blossoms, their fame, their glory resounds like the brazen-throated
8. But thou--hast thou faith in the fortune of Israel? Wouldst thou
lighten the anguish of Jacob?
9. Then shalt thou take the hand of yonder caftaned wretch with
flowing curls and gold-pierced ears;
10. Who crawls blinking forth from the loathsome recesses of the
11. Nerveless his fingers, puny his frame; haunted by the bat-like
phantoms of superstition is his brain.
12. Thou shalt say to the bigot, "My Brother," and to the creature
of darkness, "My Friend."
13. And thy heart shall spend itself in fountains of love upon the
ignorant, the coarse, and the abject.
14. Then in the obscurity thou shalt hear a rush of wings, thine
eyes shall be bitten with pungent smoke.
15. And close against thy quivering lips shall be pressed the live
coal wherewith the Seraphim brand the Prophets.
1. Long, long has the Orient-Jew spun around his helplessness the
cunningly enmeshed web of Talmud and Kabbala.
2. Imprisoned in dark corners of misery and oppression, closely he
drew about him the dust-gray filaments, soft as silk and stubborn
as steel, until he lay death-stiffened in mummied seclusion.
3. And the world has named him an ugly worm, shunning the blessed
4. But when the emancipating springtide breathes wholesome,
quickening airs, when the Sun of Love shines out with cordial
fires, lo, the Soul of Israel bursts her cobweb sheath, and flies
forth attired in the winged beauty of immortality.
TO CARMEN SYLVA.
Oh, that the golden lyre divine
Whence David smote flame-tones were mine!
Oh, that the silent harp which hung
Upon the willows by the river,
Would throb beneath my touch and quiver
With the old song-enchanted spell
Oh, that the large prophetic Voice
Would make my reed-piped throat its choice!
All ears should prick, all hearts should spring,
To hear me sing
The burden of the isles, the word
Assyria knew, Damascus heard,
When, like the wind, while cedars shake,
For I would frame a song to-day
Winged like a bird to cleave its way
O'er land and sea that spread between,
To where a Queen
Sits with a triple coronet.
Genius and Sorrow both have set
Their diadems above the gold--
A Queen three-fold!
To her the forest lent its lyre,
Hers are the sylvan dews, the fire
Of Orient suns, the mist-wreathed gleams
Of mountain streams.
She, the imperial Rhine's own child,
Takes to her heart the wood-nymph wild,
The gypsy Pelech, and the wide,
White Danube's tide.
She who beside an infant's bier
Long since resigned all hope to hear
The sacred name of "Mother" bless
Now from a people's sole acclaim
Receives the heart-vibrating name,
And "Mother, Mother, Mother!" fills
The echoing hills.
Yet who is he who pines apart,
Estranged from that maternal heart,
Ungraced, unfriended, and forlorn,
The butt of scorn?
An alien in his land of birth,
An outcast from his brethren's earth,
Albeit with theirs his blood mixed well
When Plevna fell?
When all Roumania's chains were riven,
When unto all his sons was given
The hero's glorious reward,
Reaped by the sword,--
Wherefore was this poor thrall, whose chains
Hung heaviest, within whose veins
The oldest blood of freedom streamed,
O Mother, Poet, Queen in one!
Pity and save--he is thy son.
For poet David's sake, the king
Of all who sing;
For thine own people's sake who share
His law, his truth, his praise, his prayer;
For his sake who was sacrificed--
THE DANCE TO DEATH;
A Historical Tragedy in Five Acts.
This play is dedicated, in profound veneration and respect, to the
memory of George Eliot, the illustrious writer, who did most among
the artists of our day towards elevating and ennobling the spirit
of Jewish nationality.
FREDERICK THE GRAVE, Landgrave of Thuringia and Margrave of
Meissen, Protector and Patron of the Free City of Nordhausen.
PRINCE WILLIAM OF MEISSEN, his son.
SUSSKIND VON ORB, a Jew.
HENRY SCHNETZEN, Governor of Salza.
HENRY NORDMANN OF NORDMANNSTEIN, Knight of Treffurt.
REINHARD PEPPERCORN, Prior of Wartburg Monastery.
DIETRICH VON TETTENBORN, President of the Council.
REUBEN VON ORB, a boy, Susskind's son.
BARUCH and NAPHTALI,Jews.
PRINCESS MATHILDIS, wife to Frederick.
LIEBHAID VON ORB.
Jews, Jewesses, Burghers, Senators, Citizens, Citizen's Wife and
Boy, Flagellants, Servants, Guardsmen.
Scene--Partly in Nordhausen, partly in Eisenach. Time, May, 4th,
5th, 6th, 1349.
ACT I.--In Nordhausen.
A street in the Judengasse, outside the Synagogue. During this
Scene Jews and Jewesses, singly and in groups, with prayer-books
in their hands, pass across the stage, and go into the Synagogue.
Among them, enter BARUCH and NAPHTALI.
Hast seen him yet?
Nay; Rabbi Jacob's door
Swung to behind him, just as I puffed up
O'erblown with haste. See how our years weigh, cousin.
Who'd judge me with this paunch a temperate man,
A man of modest means, a man withal
Scarce overpast his prime? Well, God be praised,
If age bring no worse burden! Who is this stranger?
Simon the Leech tells me he claims to bear
Some special message from the Lord--no doubt
To-morrow, fresh from rest, he'll publish it
Within the Synagogue.
He will not hear of rest--he comes anon--
Shall we within?
Rather let's wait,
And scrutinize him as he mounts the street.
Since you denote him so remarkable,
You've whetted my desire.
A blind, old man,
Mayhap is all you'll find him--spent with travel,
His raiment fouled with dust, his sandaled feet
Road-bruised by stone and bramble. But his face!--
Majestic with long fall of cloud-white beard,
And hoary wreath of hair--oh, it is one
Already kissed by angels.
Look, there limps
Little Manasseh, bloated as his purse,
And wrinkled as a frost-pinched fruit. I hear
His last loan to the Syndic will result
In quadrupling his wealth. Good Lord! what luck
Blesses some folk, while good men stint and sweat
And scrape, to merely fill the household larder.
What said you of this pilgrim, Naphtali?
These inequalities of fortune rub
My sense of justice so against the grain,
I lose my very name. Whence does he come?
Is he alone?
He comes from Chinon, France.
Rabbi Cresselin he calls himself--alone
Save for his daughter who has led him hither.
A beautiful, pale girl with round black eyes.
Bring they fresh tidings of the pestilence?
I know not--but I learn from other source
It has burst forth at Erfurt.
God have mercy!
Have many of our tribe been stricken?
They cleanse their homes and keep their bodies sweet,
Nor cease from prayer--and so does Jacob's God
Protect His chosen, still. Yet even His favor
Our enemies would twist into a curse.
Beholding the destroying angel smite
The foal idolater and leave unscathed
The gates of Israel--the old cry they raise--
WE have begotten the Black Death--WE poison
The well-springs of the towns.
God pity us!
But truly are we blessed in Nordhausen.
Such terrors seem remote as Egypt's plagues.
I warrant you our Landgrave dare not harry
Such creditors as we. See, here comes one,
The greatest and most liberal of them all--
Susskind von Orb.
SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, and REUBEN enter, all pass across
the stage, and disappear within the Synagogue.
I'd barter my whole fortune,
And yours to boot, that's thrice the bulk of mine,
For half the bonds he holds in Frederick's name.
The richest merchant in Thuringia, he--
The poise of his head would tell it, knew we not.
How has his daughter leaped to womanhood!
I mind when she came toddling by his hand,
But yesterday--a flax-haired child--to-day
Her brow is level with his pompous chin.
How fair she is! Her hair has kept its gold
Untarnished still. I trace not either parent
In her face, clean cut as a gem.
Was far-off kin to me, and I might pass,
I'm told, unguessed in Christian garb. I know
A pretty secret of that scornful face.
It lures high game to Nordhausen.
I marvel at your prompt credulity.
The Prince of Meissen and Liebhaid von Orb!
A jest for gossips and--Look, look, he comes!
Who's that, the Prince?
Nay, dullard, the old man,
The Rabbi of Chinon. Ah! his stout staff,
And that brave creature's strong young hand suffice
Scarcely to keep erect his tottering frame.
Emaciate-lipped, with cavernous black eyes
Whose inward visions do eclipse the day,
Seems he not one re-risen from the grave
To yield the secret?
Enter RABBI JACOB, and RABBI CRESSELIN led by CLAIRE. They walk
across the stage, and disappear in the Synagogue.
Blessed art thou, O Lord,
King of the Universe, who teachest wisdom
To those who fear thee!
Haste we in. The star
Of Sabbath dawns.
My flesh is still a-creep
From the strange gaze of those wide-rolling orbs.
Didst note, man, how they fixed me? His lean cheeks,
As wan as wax, were bloodless; how his arms
Stretched far beyond the flowing sleeve and showed
Gaunt, palsied wrists, and hands blue-tipped with death!
Well, I have seen a sage of Israel.
[They enter the Synagogue. Scene closes.]
The Synagogue crowded with worshippers. Among the women in the
Gallery are discovered LIEBHAID VON ORB and CLAIRE CRESSELIN.
Below, among the men, SUSSKIND VON ORB and REUBEN. At the
Reader's Desk, RABBI JACOB. Fronting the audience under the
Ark of the Covenant, stands a high desk, behind which is seen
the white head of an old man bowed in prayer. BARUCH and NAPHTALI
enter and take their seats.
Think you he speaks before the service?
Lo, phantom-like the towering patriarch!
[RABBI CRESSELIN slowly rises beneath the Ark.]
Woe unto Israel! woe unto all
Abiding 'mid strange peoples! Ye shall be
Cut off from that land where ye made your home.
I, Cresselin of Chinon, have traveled far,
Thence where my fathers dwelt, to warn my race,
For whom the fire and stake have been prepared.
Our brethren of Verdun, all over France,
Are burned alive beneath the Goyim's torch.
What terrors have I witnessed, ere my sight
Was mercifully quenched! In Gascony,
In Savoy, Piedmont, round the garden shores
Of tranquil Leman, down the beautiful Rhine,
At Lindau, Costnitz, Schaffhausen, St. Gallen,
Everywhere torture, smoking Synagogues,
Carnage, and burning flesh. The lights shine out
Of Jewish virtue, Jewish truth, to star
The sanguine field with an immortal blazon.
The venerable Mar-Isaac in Cologne,
Sat in his house at prayer, nor lifted lid
From off the sacred text, while all around
The fanatics ran riot; him they seized,
Haled through the streets, with prod of stick and spike
Fretted his wrinkled flesh, plucked his white beard.
Dragged him with gibes into their Church, and held
A Crucifix before him. "Know thy Lord!"
He spat thereon; he was pulled limb from limb.
I saw--God, that I might forget!--a man
Leap in the Loire, with his fair, stalwart son,
A-bloom with youth, and midst the stream unsheathe
A poniard, sheathing it in his boy's heart,
While he pronounced the blessing for the dead.
"Amen!" the lad responded as he sank,
And the white water darkened as with wine.
I saw--but no! You are glutted, and my tongue,
Blistered, refuseth to narrate more woe.
I have known much sorrow. When it pleased the Lord
To afflict us with the horde of Pastoureaux,
The rabble of armed herdsmen, peasants, slaves,
Men-beasts of burden--coarse as the earth they tilled,
Who like an inundation deluged France
To drown our race--my heart held firm, my faith
Shook not upon her rock until I saw,
Smit by God's beam, the big black cloud dissolve.
Then followed with their scythes, spades, clubs, and banners
Flaunting the Cross, the hosts of Armleder,
From whose fierce wounds we scarce are healed to-day.
Yet do I say the cup of bitterness
That Israel has drained is but a draught
Of cordial, to the cup that is prepared.
The Black Death and the Brothers of the Cross,
These are our foes--and these are everywhere.
I who am blind see ruin in their wake;
Ye who have eyes and limbs, arise and flee!
To-morrow the Flagellants will be here.
God's angel visited my sleep and spake:
"Thy Jewish kin in the Thuringian town
Of Nordhausen shall be swept off from earth,
Their elders and their babes--consumed with fire.
Go summon Israel to flight--take this
As sign that I, who call thee, am the Lord,
Thine eyes shalt be struck blind till thou hast spoken."
Then darkness fell upon my mortal sense,
But light broke o'er my soul, and all was clear,
And I have journeyed hither with my child
O'er mount and river, till I have announced
The message of the Everlasting God.
[Sensation in the Synagogue.]
Father, have mercy! when wilt thou have done
With rod and scourge? Beneath thy children's feet
Earth splits, fire springs. No rest, no rest! no rest,
Look to the women! Marianne swoons!
Woe unto us who sinned!
We're all dead men.
Fly, fly ere dawn as our forefathers fled
From out the land of Egypt.
Are ye mad?
Shall we desert snug homes? forego the sum
Scraped through laborious years to smooth life's slope,
And die like dogs unkenneled and untombed,
At bidding of a sorrow-crazed old man?
He flouts the Lord's anointed! Cast him forth!
SUSSKIND VON ORB.
Peace, brethren, peace! If I have ever served
Israel with purse, arm, brain, or heart--now hear me!
May God instruct my speech! This wise old man,
Whose brow flames with the majesty of truth,
May be part-blinded through excess of light,
As one who eyes too long the naked sun,
Setting in rayless glory, turns and finds
Outlines confused, familiar colors changed,
All objects branded with one blood-bright spot.
Nor chafe at Baruch's homely sense; truth floats
Midway between the stars and the abyss.
We, by God's grace, have found a special nest
I' the dangerous rock, screened against wind and hawk;
Free burghers of a free town, blessed moreover
With the peculiar favor of the Prince,
Frederick the Grave, our patron and protector.
What shall we fear? Rather, where shall we seek
Secure asylum, if here be not one?
Fly? Our forefathers had the wilderness,
The sea their gateway, and the fire-cored cloud
Their divine guide. Us, hedged by ambushed foes,
No frank, free, kindly desert shall receive.
Death crouches on all sides, prepared to leap
Tiger-like on our throats, when first we step
From this safe covert. Everywhere the Plague!
As nigh as Erfurt it has crawled--the towns
Reek with miasma, the rank fields of spring,
Rain-saturated, are one beautiful--lie,
Smiling profuse life, and secreting death.
Strange how, unbidden, a trivial memory
Thrusts itself on my mind in this grave hour.
I saw a large white bull urged through the town
To slaughter by a stripling with a goad,
Whom but one sure stamp of that solid heel,
One toss of those mooned horns, one battering blow
Of that square marble forehead, would have crushed,
As we might crush a worm, yet on he trudged,
Patient, in powerful health to death. At once,
As though o' the sudden stung, he roared aloud,
Beat with fierce hoofs the air, shook desperately
His formidable head, and heifer-swift,
Raced through scared, screaming streets. Well, and the end?
He was the promptlier bound and killed and quartered.
The world belongs to man; dreams the poor brute
Some nook has been apportioned for brute life?
Where shall a man escape men's cruelty?
Where shall God's servant cower from his doom?
Let us bide, brethren--we are in His hand.
RABBI CRESSELIN (uttering a piercing shriek).
Woe unto Israel! Lo, I see again,
As the Ineffable foretold. I see
A flood of fire that streams towards the town.
Look, the destroying Angel with the sword,
Wherefrom the drops of gall are raining down,
Broad-winged, comes flying towards you. Now he draws
His lightning-glittering blade! With the keen edge
He smiteth Israel--ah!
[He falls back dead. Confusion in the Synagogue.]
CLAIRE (from the gallery).
Father! My father!
Let me go down to him!
Sweet girl, be patient.
This is the House of God, and He hath entered.
Bow we and pray.
[Meanwhile, some of the men surround and raise from the ground the
body of RABBI CRESSELIN. Several voices speaking at once.]
Make way there! Air! Carry him forth! He's warm!
Nay, his heart's stopped--his breath has ceased--quite dead.
Didst mark a diamond lance flash from the roof,
And strike him 'twixt the eyes?
Our days are numbered.
This is the token.
Lift the corpse and pray.
Shall we neglect God's due observances,
While He is manifest in miracle?
I saw a blaze seven times more bright than fire,
Crest, halo-wise, the patriarch's white head.
The dazzle stung my burning lids--they closed,
One instant--when they oped, the great blank cloud
Had settled on his countenance forever.*
Departed brother, mayest thou find the gates
Of heaven open, see the city of peace,
And meet the ministering angels, glad,
Hastening towards thee! May the High Priest stand
To greet and bless thee! Go thou to the end!
Repose in peace and rise again to life.
No more thy sun sets, neither wanes thy moon.
The Lord shall be thy everlasting light,
Thy days of mourning shall be at an end.
For you, my flock, fear nothing; it is writ
As one his mother comforteth, so I
Will comfort you and in Jerusalem
Ye shall be comforted. [Scene closes.]
*From this point to the end of the scene is a literal
translation of the Hebrew burial service.
Evening. A crooked byway in the Judengasse. Enter PRINCE
Cursed be these twisted lanes! I have missed the clue
Of the close labyrinth. Nowhere in sight,
Just when I lack it, a stray gaberdine
To pick me up my thread. Yet when I haste
Through these blind streets, unwishful to be spied,
Some dozen hawk-eyes peering o'er crook'd beaks
Leer recognition, and obsequious caps
Do kiss the stones to greet my princeship. Bah!
Strange, 'midst such refuse sleeps so white a pearl.
At last, here shuffles one.
Enter a Jew.
Give you good even!
Sir, can you help me to the nighest way
Unto the merchant's house, Susskind von Orb?
Whence come you knowing not the high brick wall,
Without, blank as my palm, o' the inner side,
Muring a palace? But--do you wish him well?
He is my friend--we must be wary, wary,
We all have warning--Oh, the terror of it!
I have not yet my wits!
I am his friend.
Is he in peril? What's the matter, man?
Peril? His peril is no worse than mine,
But the rich win compassion. God is just,
And every man of us is doomed. Alack!
HE said it--oh those wild, white eyes!
I pray you,
Tell me the way to Susskind's home.
You look the perfect knight, what can you crave
Of us starved, wretched Jews? Leave us in peace.
The Judengasse gates will shut anon,
Nor ope till morn again for Jew or Gentile.
Here's gold. I am the Prince of Meissen--speak!
Oh pardon! Let me kiss your mantle's edge.
This way, great sir, I lead you there myself,
If you deign follow one so poor, so humble.
You must show mercy in the name of God,
For verily are we afflicted. Come.
Hard by is Susskind's dwelling--as we walk
By your good leave I'll tell what I have seen.
A luxuriously-furnished apartment in SUSSKIND VON ORB'S house.
Upon a richly-spread supper-table stands the seven-branched
silver candlestick of the Sabbath eve. At the table are seated
SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, and REUBEN.
Drink, children, drink! and lift your hearts to Him
Who gives us the vine's fruit.
How clear it glows;
Like gold within the golden bowl, like fire
Along our veins, after the work-day week
Rekindling Sabbath-fervor, Sabbath-strength.
Verily God prepares for me a table
In presence of mine enemies! He anoints
My head with oil, my cup is overflowing.
Praise we His name! Hast thou, my daughter, served
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