SCHNETZEN. My lords of Nordhausen, shall ye be stunned With sounding words? Behold the serpent's skin, Sleek-shining, clear as sunlight; yet his tooth Holds deadly poison. Even as the Jews Did nail the Lord of heaven on the Cross, So will they murder all his followers, When once they have the might. Beware, beware!
SUSSKIND. So YOU are the accuser, my lord Schnetzen? Now I confess, before you I am guilty. You are in all this presence, the one man Whom any Jew hath wronged—and I that Jew. Oh, my offence is grievous; punish me With the utmost rigor of the law, for theft And violence, whom ye deemed an honest man, But leave my tribe unharmed! I yield my hands Unto your chains, my body to your fires; Let one life serve for all.
SCHNETZEN. You hear, my lords, How the prevaricating villain shrinks From the absolute truth, yet dares not front his Maker With the full damnable lie hot on his lips. Not thou alone, my private foe, shalt die, But all thy race. Thee had my vengeance reached, Without appeal to Prince or citizen. Silence! my heart is cuirassed as my breast.
RABBI JACOB. Bear with us, gracious lords! My friend is stunned. He is an honest man. Even I, as 't were, Am stupefied by this surprising news. Yet, let me think—it seems it is not new, This is an ancient, well-remembered pain. What, brother, came not one who prophesied This should betide exactly as it doth? That was a shrewd old man! Your pardon, lords, I think you know not just what you would do. You say the Jews shall burn—shall burn you say; Why, good my lords, the Jews are not a flock Of gallows-birds, they are a colony Of kindly, virtuous folk. Come home with me; I'll show you happy hearths, glad roofs, pure lives. Why, some of them are little quick-eyed boys, Some, pretty, ungrown maidens—children's children Of those who called me to the pastorate. And some are beautiful tall girls, some, youths Of marvellous promise, some are old and sick, Amongst them there be mothers, infants, brides, Just like your Christian people, for all the world. Know ye what burning is? Hath one of you Scorched ever his soft flesh, or singed his beard, His hair, his eyebrows—felt the keen, fierce nip Of the pungent flame—and raises not his voice To stop this holocaust? God! 't is too horrible! Wake me, my friends, from this terrific dream.
SUSSKIND. Courage, my brother. On our firmness hangs The dignity of Israel. Sir Governor, I have a secret word to speak with you.
SCHNETZEN. Ye shall enjoy with me the jest. These knaves Are apt to quick invention as in crime. Speak out—I have no secrets from my peers.
SUSSKIND. My lord, what answer would you give your Christ If peradventure, in this general doom You sacrifice a Christian? Some strayed dove Lost from your cote, among our vultures caged? Beware, for midst our virgins there is one Owes kinship nor allegiance to our tribe. For her dear sake be pitiful, my lords, Have mercy on our women! Spare at least My daughter Liebhaid, she is none of mine! She is a Christian!
SCHNETZEN. Just as I foretold! The wretches will forswear the sacred'st ties, Cringing for life. Serpents, ye all shall die. So wills the Landgrave; so the court affirms. Your daughter shall be first, whose wanton arts Have brought destruction on a princely house.
SUSSKIND. My lord, be moved. You kill your flesh and blood. By Adonai I swear, your dying wife Entrusted to these arms her child. 'T was I Carried your infant from your burning home. Lord Schnetzen, will you murder your own child?
SCHNETZEN. Ha, excellent! I was awaiting this. Thou wilt inoculate our knightly veins With thy corrupted Jewish blood. Thou 'lt foist This adder on my bosom. Henry Schnetzen Is no weak dupe, whom every lie may start. Make ready, Jew, for death—and warn thy tribe.
SUSSKIND (kneeling). Is there a God in heaven? I who ne'er knelt Until this hour to any man on earth, Tyrant, before thee I abase myself. If one red drop of human blood still flow In thy congealed veins, if thou e'er have known Touch of affection, the blind natural instinct Of common kindred, even beasts partake, Thou man of frozen stone, thou hollow statue, Grant me one prayer, that thou wilt look on her. Then shall the eyes of thy dead wife gaze back From out the maiden's orbs, then shall a voice Within thine entrails, cry—This is my child.
SCHNETZEN. Enough! I pray you, my lord President, End this unseemly scene. This wretched Jew Would thrust a cuckoo's egg within my nest. I have had timely warning. Send the twain Back to their people, that the court's decree Be published unto all.
SUSSKIND. Lord Tettenborn! Citizens! will you see this nameless crime Brand the clean earth, blacken the crystal heaven? Why, no man stirs! God! with what thick strange fumes Hast thou, o' the sudden, brutalized their sense? Or am I mad? Is this already hell? Worshipful fiends, I have good store of gold, Packed in my coffers, or loaned out to—Christians; I give it you as free as night bestows Her copious dews—my life shall seal the bond, Have mercy on my race!
TETTENBORN. No more, no more! Go, bid your tribe make ready for their death At sunset.
RABBI JACOB. Oh!
SUSSKIND. At set of sun to-day? Why, if you travelled to the nighest town, Summoned to stand before a mortal Prince You would need longer grace to put in order Household effects, to bid farewell to friends, And make yourself right worthy. But our way Is long, our journey difficult, our judge Of awful majesty. Must we set forth, Haste-flushed and unprepared? One brief day more, And all my wealth is yours!
TETTENBORN. We have heard enough. Begone, and bear our message.
SUSSKIND. Courage, brother, Our fate is sealed. These tigers are athirst. Return we to our people to proclaim The gracious sentence of the noble court. Let us go thank the Lord who made us those To suffer, not to do, this deed. Be strong. So! lean on me—we have little time to lose. [Exeunt.]
A Room in Susskind's House. LIEBHAID, CLAIRE, REUBEN.
LIEBHAID. The air hangs sultry as in mid-July. Look forth, Claire; moves not some big thundercloud Athwart the sky? My heart is sick.
CLAIRE. Nay, Liebhaid. The clear May sun is shining, and the air Blows fresh and cordial from the budding hills.
LIEBHAID. Reuben, what is 't o'clock. Our father stays. The midday meal was cold an hour agone.
REUBEN. 'T is two full hours past noon; he should be here. Ah see, he comes. Great God! what woe has chanced? He totters on his staff; he has grown old Since he went forth this morn.
LIEBHAID. Father, what news?
SUSSKIND. The Lord have mercy! Vain is the help of man. Children, is all in order? We must start At set of sun on a long pilgrimage. So wills the Landgrave, so the court decrees.
LIEBHAID. What is it, father? Exile?
SUSSKIND. Yea, just that. We are banished from our vexed, uncertain homes, 'Midst foes and strangers, to a land of peace, Where joy abides, where only comfort is. Banished from care, fear, trouble, life—to death.
REUBEN. Oh horror! horror! Father, I will not die. Come, let us flee—we yet have time for flight. I'll bribe the sentinel—he will ope the gates. Liebhaid, Claire, Father! let us flee! Away To some safe land where we may nurse revenge.
SUSSKIND. Courage, my son, and peace. We may not flee. Didst thou not see the spies who dogged my steps? The gates are thronged with citizens and guards. We must not flee—God wills that we should die.
LIEBHAID. Said you at sunset?
SUSSKIND. So they have decreed.
CLAIRE. Oh why not now? Why spare the time to warn? Why came they not with thee to massacre, Leaving no agony betwixt the sentence And instant execution? That were mercy! Oh, my prophetic father!
SUSSKIND. They allow Full five hours' grace to shrive our souls with prayer. We shall assemble in the Synagogue, As on Atonement Day, confess our sins, Recite the Kaddish for the Dead, and chant Our Shibboleth, the Unity of God, Until the supreme hour when we shall stand Before the mercy-seat.
LIEBHAID. In what dread shape Approaches death?
SUSSKIND. Nerve your young hearts, my children. We shall go down as God's three servants went Into the fiery furnace. Not again Shall the flames spare the true-believers' flesh. The anguish shall be fierce and strong, yet brief. Our spirits shall not know the touch of pain, Pure as refined gold they shall issue safe From the hot crucible; a pleasing sight Unto the Lord. Oh, 't is a rosy bed Where we shall couch, compared with that whereon They lie who kindle this accursed blaze. Ye shrink? ye would avert your martyred brows From the immortal crowns the angels offer? What! are we Jews and are afraid of death? God's chosen people, shall we stand a-tremble Before our Father, as the Gentiles use?
REUBEN. Shall the smoke choke us, father? or the flame Consume our flesh?
SUSSKIND. I know not, boy. Be sure The Lord will temper the shrewd pain for those Who trust in Him.
REUBEN. May I stand by thy side, And hold my hand in thine until the end?
SUSSKIND (Aside). What solace hast thou, God, in all thy heavens For such an hour as this? Yea, hand in hand We walk, my son, through fire, to meet the Lord. Yet there is one among us shall not burn. A secret shaft long rankling in my heart, Now I withdraw, and die. Our general doom, Liebhaid, is not for thee. Thou art no Jewess. Thy father is the man who wills our death; Lord Henry Schnetzen.
LIEBHAID. Look at me! your eyes Are sane, correcting your distracted words. This is Love's trick, to rescue me from death. My love is firm as thine, and dies with thee.
CLAIRE. Oh, Liebhaid, live. Hast thou forgot the Prince? Think of the happy summer blooms for thee When we are in our graves.
LIEBHAID. And I shall smile, Live and rejoice in love, when ye are dead?
SUSSKIND. My child, my child! By the Ineffable Name, The Adonai, I swear, thou must believe, Albeit thy father scoffed, gave me the lie. Go kneel to him—for if he see thy face, Or hear thy voice, he shall not doubt, but save.
LIEBHAID. Never! If I be offspring to that kite, I here deny my race, forsake my father,— So does thy dream fall true. Let him save thee, Whose hand has guided mine, whose lips have blessed, Whose bread has nourished me. Thy God is mine, Thy people are my people.
VOICES (without). Susskind von Orb!
SUSSKIND. I come, my friends.
Enter boisterously certain Jews.
1ST JEW. Come to the house of God!
2D JEW. Wilt thou desert us for whose sake we perish?
3D JEW. The awful hour draws nigh. Come forth with us Unto the Synagogue.
SUSSKIND. Bear with me, neighbors. Here we may weep, here for the last time know The luxury of sorrow, the soft touch Of natural tenderness; here our hearts may break; Yonder no tears, no faltering! Eyes serene Lifted to heaven, and defiant brows To those who have usurped the name of men, Must prove our faith and valor limitless As is their cruelty. One more embrace, My daughter, thrice my daughter! Thine affection Outshines the hellish flames of hate; farewell, But for a while; beyond the river of fire I'll fold thee in mine arms, immortal angel! For thee, poor orphan, soon to greet again The blessed brows of parents, I dreamed not The grave was all the home I had to give. Go thou with Liebhaid, and array yourselves As for a bridal. Come, little son, with me. Friends, I am ready. O my God, my God, Forsake us not in our extremity! [Exeunt SUSSKIND and JEWS.]
A Street in the Judengasse. Several Jews pass across the stage, running and with gestures of distress.
JEWS. Woe, woe! the curse has fallen! [Exeunt.]
Enter other Jews.
1ST JEW. We are doomed. The fury of the Lord has smitten us. Oh that mine head were waters and mine eyes Fountains of tears! God has forsaken us. [They knock at the doors of the houses.]
2D JEW. What, Benjamin! Open the door to death! We all shall die at sunset! Menachem! Come forth! Come forth! Manasseh! Daniel! Ezra! [Jews appear at the windows.]
ONE CALLING FROM ABOVE. Neighbors, what wild alarm is this?
1ST JEW. Descend! Descend! Come with us to the house of prayer. Save himself whoso can! we all shall burn. [Men and women appear at the doors of the houses.]
ONE OF THE MEN AT THE DOOR. Beseech you brethren, calmly. Tell us all! Mine aged father lies at point of death Gasping within. Ye'll thrust him in his grave With boisterous clamor.
1ST JEW. Blessed is the man Whom the Lord calls unto Himself in peace! Susskind von Orb and Rabbi Jacob come From the tribunal where the vote is—Death To all our race.
SEVERAL VOICES. Woe! woe! God pity us!
1ST JEW. Hie ye within, and take a last farewell Of home, love, life—put on your festal robes. So wills the Rabbi, and come forth at once To pray till sunset in the Synagogue.
AN OLD MAN. O God! Is this the portion of mine age? Were my white hairs, my old bones spared for this? Oh cruel, cruel!
A YOUNG GIRL. I am too young to die. Save me, my father! To-morrow should have been The feast at Rachel's house. I longed for that, Counted the days, dreaded some trivial chance Might cross my pleasure—Lo, this horror comes!
A BRIDE. Oh love! oh thou just-tasted cup of joy Snatched from my lips! Shall we twain lie with death, Dark, silent, cold—whose every sense was tuned To happiness! Life was too beautiful— That was the dream—how soon we are awake! Ah, we have that within our hearts defies Their fiercest flames. No end, no end, no end!
JEW. God with a mighty hand, a stretched-out arm, And poured-out fury, ruleth over us. The sword is furbished, sharp i' the slayer's hand. Cry out and howl, thou son of Israel! Thou shalt be fuel to the fire; thy blood Shall overflow the land, and thou no more Shalt be remembered—so the Lord hath spoken. [Exeunt omnes.]
Within the Synagogue. Above in the gallery, women sumptuously attired; some with children by the hand or infants in their arms. Below the men and boys with silken scarfs about their shoulders.
RABBI JACOB. The Lord is nigh unto the broken heart. Out of the depths we cry to thee, oh God! Show us the path of everlasting life; For in thy presence is the plenitude Of joy, and in thy right hand endless bliss.
Enter SUSSKIND, REUBEN, etc.
SEVERAL VOICES. Woe unto us who perish!
A JEW. Susskind von Orb, Thou hast brought down this doom. Would we had heard The prophet's voice!
SUSSKIND. Brethren, my cup is full! Oh let us die as warriors of the Lord. The Lord is great in Zion. Let our death Bring no reproach to Jacob, no rebuke To Israel. Hark ye! let us crave one boon At our assassins' hands; beseech them build Within God's acre where our fathers sleep, A dancing-floor to hide the fagots stacked. Then let the minstrels strike the harp and lute, And we will dance and sing above the pile, Fearless of death, until the flames engulf, Even as David danced before the Lord, As Miriam danced and sang beside the sea. Great is our Lord! His name is glorious In Judah, and extolled in Israel! In Salem is his tent, his dwelling place In Zion; let us chant the praise of God!
A JEW. Susskind, thou speakest well! We will meet death With dance and song. Embrace him as a bride. So that the Lord receive us in His tent.
SEVERAL VOICES. Amen! amen! amen! we dance to death!
RABBI JACOB. Susskind, go forth and beg this grace of them. [Exit Susskind.] Punish us not in wrath, chastise us not In anger, oh our God! Our sins o'erwhelm Our smitten heads, they are a grievous load; We look on our iniquities, we tremble, Knowing our trespasses. Forsake us not. Be thou not far from us. Haste to our aid, Oh God, who art our Saviour and our Rock!
SUSSKIND. Brethren, our prayer, being the last, is granted. The hour approaches. Let our thoughts ascend From mortal anguish to the ecstasy Of martyrdom, the blessed death of those Who perish in the Lord. I see, I see How Israel's ever-crescent glory makes These flames that would eclipse it, dark as blots Of candle-light against the blazing sun. We die a thousand deaths,—drown, bleed, and burn; Our ashes are dispersed unto the winds. Yet the wild winds cherish the sacred seed, The waters guard it in their crystal heart, The fire refuseth to consume. It springs, A tree immortal, shadowing many lands, Unvisited, unnamed, undreamed as yet. Rather a vine, full-flowered, golden-branched, Ambrosial-fruited, creeping on the earth, Trod by the passer's foot, yet chosen to deck Tables of princes. Israel now has fallen Into the depths, he shall be great in time.* Even as we die in honor, from our death Shall bloom a myriad heroic lives, Brave through our bright example, virtuous Lest our great memory fall in disrepute. Is one among us brothers, would exchange His doom against our tyrants,—lot for lot? Let him go forth and live—he is no Jew. Is one who would not die in Israel Rather than live in Christ,—their Christ who smiles On such a deed as this? Let him go forth— He may die full of years upon his bed. Ye who nurse rancor haply in your hearts, Fear ye we perish unavenged? Not so! To-day, no! nor to-morrow! but in God's time, Our witnesses arise. Ours is the truth, Ours is the power, the gift of Heaven. We hold His Law, His lamp, His covenant, His pledge. Wherever in the ages shall arise Jew-priest, Jew-poet, Jew-singer, or Jew-saint— And everywhere I see them star the gloom— In each of these the martyrs are avenged!
*The vine creeps on the earth, trodden by the passer's foot, but its fruit goes upon the table of princes. Israel now has fallen in the depths, but he shall be great in the fullness of time.—TALMUD
RABBI JACOB. Bring from the Ark the bell-fringed, silken-bound Scrolls of the Law. Gather the silver vessels, Dismantle the rich curtains of the doors, Bring the Perpetual Lamp; all these shall burn, For Israel's light is darkened, Israel's Law Profaned by strangers. Thus the Lord hath said:* "The weapon formed against thee shall not prosper, The tongue that shall contend with thee in judgment, Thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage Of the Lord's servants and their righteousness. For thou shalt come to peoples yet unborn, Declaring that which He hath done. Amen!"
*Conclusion of service for Day of Atonement.
[The doors of the Synagogue are burst open with tumultuous noise. Citizens and officers rush in.]
CITIZENS. Come forth! the sun sets. Come, the Council waits! What! will ye teach your betters patience? Out! The Governor is ready. Forth with you, Curs! serpents! Judases! The bonfire burns! [Exeunt.]
A Public Place. Crowds of Citizens assembled. On a platform are seated DIETRICH VON TETTENBORN and HENRY SCHNETZEN with other Members of the Council.
1ST CITIZEN. Here's such a throng! Neighbor, your elbow makes An ill prod for my ribs.
2D CITIZEN. I am pushed and squeezed. My limbs are not mine own.
3D CITIZEN. Look this way, wife. They will come hence,—a pack of just-whipped curs. I warrant you the stiff-necked brutes repent To-day if ne'er before.
WIFE. I am all a-quiver. I have seen monstrous sights,—an uncaged wolf, The corpse of one sucked by a vampyre, The widow Kupfen's malformed child—but never Until this hour, a Jew.
3D CITIZEN. D' ye call me Jew? Where do you spy one now?
WIFE. You'll have your jest Now or anon, what matters it?
4TH CITIZEN. Well, I Have seen a Jew, and seen one burn at that; Hard by in Wartburg; he had killed a child. Zounds! how the serpent wriggled! I smell now The roasting, stinking flesh!
BOY. Father, be these The folk who murdered Jesus?
4TH CITIZEN. Ay, my boy. Remember that, and when you hear them come, I'll lift you on my shoulders. You can fling Your pebbles with the rest. [Trumpets sound.]
CITIZENS. The Jews! the Jews!
BOY. Quick, father! lift me! I see nothing here But hose and skirts. [Music of a march approaching.]
CITIZENS. What mummery is this? The sorcerers brew new mischief.
ANOTHER CITIZEN. Why, they come Pranked for a holiday; not veiled for death.
ANOTHER CITIZEN. Insolent braggarts! They defy the Christ!
Enter, in procession to music, the Jews. First, RABBI JACOB— after him, sick people, carried on litters—then old men and women, followed promiscuously by men, women, and children of all ages. Some of the men carry gold and silver vessels, some the Rolls of the Law. One bears the Perpetual Lamp, another the Seven-branched silver Candlestick of the Synagogue. The mothers have their children by the hand or in their arms. All richly attired.
CITIZENS. The misers! they will take their gems and gold Down to the grave!
CITIZEN'S WIFE. So these be Jews! Christ save us! To think the devils look like human folk!
CITIZENS. Cursed be the poison-mixers! Let them burn!
CITIZENS. Burn! burn!
Enter SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, REUBEN, and CLAIRE.
SCHNETZEN. Good God! what maid is that?
TETTENBORN. Liebhaid von Orb.
SCHNETZEN. The devil's trick! He has bewitched mine eyes.
SUSSKIND (as he passes the platform). Woe to the father Who murders his own child!
SCHNETZEN. I am avenged, Susskind von Orb! Blood for blood, fire for fire, And death for death! [Exeunt SUSSKIND, LIEBHAID, etc.]
Enter Jewish youths and maidens.
YOUTHS (in chorus). Let us rejoice, for it is promised us That we shall enter in God's tabernacle!
MAIDENS. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Zion, Within thy portals, O Jerusalem! [Exeunt.]
CITIZEN'S WIFE. I can see naught from here. Let's follow, Hans.
CITIZEN. Be satisfied. There is no inch of space For foot to rest on yonder. Look! look there! How the flames rise!
BOY. O father, I can see! They all are dancing in the crimson blaze. Look how their garments wave, their jewels shine, When the smoke parts a bit. The tall flames dart. Is not the fire real fire? They fear it not.
VOICES WITHOUT. Arise, oh house of Jacob. Let us walk Within the light of the Almighty Lord!
Enter in furious haste PRINCE WILLIAM and NORDMANN.
PRINCE WILLIAM. Respite! You kill your daughter, Henry Schnetzen!
NORDMANN. Liebhaid von Orb is your own flesh and blood.
SCHNETZEN. Spectre! do dead men rise?
NORDMANN. Yea, for revenge! I swear, Lord Schnetzen, by my knightly honor, She who is dancing yonder to her death, Is thy wife's child! [SCHNETZEN and PRINCE WILLIAM make a rush forward towards the flames. Music ceases; a sound of crashing boards is heard and a great cry—HALLELUJAH!]
PRINCE WILLIAM and SCHNETZEN. Too late! too late!
CITIZENS. All's done!
PRINCE WILLIAM. The fire! the fire! Liebhaid, I come to thee. [He is about to spring forward, but is held back by guards.]
SCHNETZEN. Oh cruel Christ! Is there no bolt in heaven For the child murderer? Kill me, my friends! my breast Is bare to all your swords. [He tears open his jerkin, and falls unconscious.]
The plot and incidents of this Tragedy are taken from a little narrative entitled "Der Tanz zum Tode; ein Nachtstuck aus dem vierzehnten Jahrhundert," (The Dance to Death—a Night-piece of the fourteenth century). By Richard Reinhard. Compiled from authentic documents communicated by Professor Franz Delitzsch.
The original narrative thus disposes, in conclusion, of the principal characters:—
"The Knight Henry Schnetzen ended his curse-stricken life in a cloister of the strictest order.
"Herr Nordmann was placed in close confinement, and during the same year his head fell under the sword of the executioner.
"Prince William returned, broken down with sorrow, to Eisenach. His princely father's heart found no comfort during the remainder of his days. He died soon after the murder of the Jews—his last words were, 'woe! the fire!'
"William reached an advanced age, but his life was joyless. He never married, and at his death Meissen was inherited by his nephew.
"The Jewish cemetery in Nordhausen, the scene of this martyrdom, lay for a long time waste. Nobody would build upon it. Now it is a bleaching meadow, and where once the flames sprang up, to-day rests peaceful sunshine."
TRANSLATIONS FROM THE HEBREW POETS OF MEDAEVAL SPAIN.
SOLOMON BEN JUDAH GABIROL (Died Between 1070-80.)
"Am I sipping the honey of the lips? Am I drunk with the wine of a kiss? Have I culled the flowers of the cheek, Have I sucked the fresh fragrance of the breath? Nay, it is the Song of Gabirol that has revived me, The perfume of his youthful, spring-tide breeze." —MOSES BEN ESRA.
"I will engrave my songs indelibly upon the heart of the world, so that no one can efface them." —GABIROL.
Night, and the heavens beam serene with peace, Like a pure heart benignly smiles the moon. Oh, guard thy blessed beauty from mischance, This I beseech thee in all tender love. See where the Storm his cloudy mantle spreads, An ashy curtain covereth the moon. As if the tempest thirsted for the rain, The clouds he presses, till they burst in streams. Heaven wears a dusky raiment, and the moon Appeareth dead—her tomb is yonder cloud, And weeping shades come after, like the people Who mourn with tearful grief a noble queen. But look! the thunder pierced night's close-linked mail, His keen-tipped lance of lightning brandishing; He hovers like a seraph-conqueror.— Dazed by the flaming splendor of his wings, In rapid flight as in a whirling dance, The black cloud-ravens hurry scared away. So, though the powers of darkness chain my soul, My heart, a hero, chafes and breaks its bonds.
Will night already spread her wings and weave Her dusky robe about the day's bright form, Boldly the sun's fair countenance displacing, And swathe it with her shadow in broad day? So a green wreath of mist enrings the moon, Till envious clouds do quite encompass her. No wind! and yet the slender stem is stirred, With faint, slight motion as from inward tremor. Mine eyes are full of grief—who sees me, asks, "Oh wherefore dost thou cling unto the ground?" My friends discourse with sweet and soothing words; They all are vain, they glide above my head. I fain would check my tears; would fain enlarge Unto infinity, my heart—in vain! Grief presses hard my breast, therefore my tears Have scarcely dried, ere they again spring forth. For these are streams no furnace heat may quench, Nebuchadnezzar's flames may dry them not. What is the pleasure of the day for me, If, in its crucible, I must renew Incessantly the pangs of purifying? Up, challenge, wrestle, and o'ercome! Be strong! The late grapes cover all the vine with fruit. I am not glad, though even the lion's pride Content itself upon the field's poor grass. My spirit sinks beneath the tide, soars not With fluttering seamews on the moist, soft strand. I follow Fortune not, where'er she lead. Lord o'er myself, I banish her, compel, And though her clouds should rain no blessed dew, Though she withhold the crown, the heart's desire, Though all deceive, though honey change to gall, Still am I lord, and will in freedom strive.
Forget thine anguish, Vexed heart, again. Why shouldst thou languish, With earthly pain? The husk shall slumber, Bedded in clay Silent and sombre, Oblivion's prey! But, Spirit immortal, Thou at Death's portal, Tremblest with fear. If he caress thee, Curse thee or bless thee, Thou must draw near, From him the worth of thy works to hear.
Why full of terror, Compassed with error, Trouble thy heart, For thy mortal part? The soul flies home— The corpse is dumb. Of all thou didst have, Follows naught to the grave. Thou fliest thy nest, Swift as a bird to thy place of rest.
What avail grief and fasting, Where nothing is lasting? Pomp, domination, Become tribulation. In a health-giving draught, A death-dealing shaft. Wealth—an illusion, Power—a lie, Over all, dissolution Creeps silent and sly. Unto others remain The goods thou didst gain With infinite pain.
Life is a vine-branch; A vintager, Death. He threatens and lowers More near with each breath. Then hasten, arise! Seek God, O my soul! For time quickly flies, Still far is the goal. Vain heart praying dumbly, Learn to prize humbly, The meanest of fare. Forget all thy sorrow, Behold, Death is there!
Dove-like lamenting, Be full of repenting, Lift vision supernal To raptures eternal. On ev'ry occasion Seek lasting salvation. Pour thy heart out in weeping, While others are sleeping. Pray to Him when all's still, Performing his will. And so shall the angel of peace be thy warden, And guide thee at last to the heavenly garden.
Almighty! what is man? But flesh and blood. Like shadows flee his days, He marks not how they vanish from his gaze, Suddenly, he must die— He droppeth, stunned, into nonentity.
Almighty! what is man? A body frail and weak, Full of deceit and lies, Of vile hypocrisies. Now like a flower blowing, Now scorched by sunbeams glowing. And wilt thou of his trespasses inquire? How may he ever bear Thine anger just, thy vengeance dire? Punish him not, but spare, For he is void of power and strength!
Almighty! what is man? By filthy lust possessed, Whirled in a round of lies, Fond frenzy swells his breast. The pure man sinks in mire and slime, The noble shrinketh not from crime, Wilt thou resent on him the charms of sin? Like fading grass, So shall he pass. Like chaff that blows Where the wind goes. Then spare him, be thou merciful, O King, Upon the dreaded day of reckoning!
Almighty! what is man? The haughty son of time Drinks deep of sin, And feeds on crime Seething like waves that roll, Hot as a glowing coal. And wilt thou punish him for sins inborn? Lost and forlorn, Then like the weakling he must fall, Who some great hero strives withal. Oh, spare him, therefore! let him win Grace for his sin!
Almighty! what is man? Spotted in guilty wise, A stranger unto faith, Whose tongue is stained with lies, And shalt thou count his sins—so is he lost, Uprooted by thy breath. Like to a stream by tempest tossed, His life falls from him like a cloak, He passes into nothingness, like smoke. Then spare him, punish not, be kind, I pray, To him who dwelleth in the dust, an image wrought in clay!
Almighty! what is man? A withered bough! When he is awe-struck by approaching doom, Like a dried blade of grass, so weak, so low The pleasure of his life is changed to gloom. He crumbles like a garment spoiled with moth; According to his sins wilt thou be wroth? He melts like wax before the candle's breath, Yea, like thin water, so he vanisheth, Oh, spare him therefore, for thy gracious name, And be not too severe upon his shame!
Almighty! what is man? A faded leaf! If thou dost weigh him in the balance—lo! He disappears—a breath that thou dost blow. His heart is ever filled With lust of lies unstilled. Wilt thou bear in mind his crime Unto all time? He fades away like clouds sun-kissed, Dissolves like mist. Then spare him! let him love and mercy win, According to thy grace, and not according to his sin!
TO A DETRACTOR.
The Autumn promised, and he keeps His word unto the meadow-rose. The pure, bright lightnings herald Spring, Serene and glad the fresh earth shows. The rain has quenched her children's thirst, Her cheeks, but now so cold and dry, Are soft and fair, a laughing face; With clouds of purple shines the sky, Though filled with light, yet veiled with haze. Hark! hark! the turtle's mocking note Outsings the valley-pigeon's lays. Her wings are gemmed, and from her throat, When the clear sun gleams back again, It seems to me as though she wore About her neck a jewelled chain. Say, wilt thou darken such a light, Wilt drag the clouds from heaven's height? Although thy heart with anger swell, Yet firm as marble mine doth dwell. Therein no fear thy wrath begets. It is not shaken by thy threats. Yea, hurl thy darts, thy weapons wield, The strength of youth is still my shield. My winged steed toward the heights doth bound, The dust whiffs upward from the ground; My song is scanty, dost thou deem Thine eloquence a mighty stream? Only the blameless offering. Not the profusion man may bring, Prevaileth with our Lord and King. The long days out of minutes grow, And out of months the years arise, Wilt thou be master of the wise, Then learn the hidden stream to know, That from the inmost heart doth flow.
My friend spoke with insinuating tongue: "Drink wine, and thy flesh shall be made whole. Look how it hisses in the leathern bottle like a captured serpent." Oh fool! can the sun be forged into a cask stopped with earthly bungs. I know not that the power of wine has ever overmastered my sorrows; for these mighty giants I have found as yet no resting-place.
"With tears thy grief thou dost bemoan, Tears that would melt the hardest stone, Oh, wherefore sing'st thou not the vine? Why chant'st thou not the praise of wine? It chases pain with cunning art, The craven slinks from out thy heart."
But I: Poor fools the wine may cheat, Lull them with lying visions sweet. Upon the wings of storms may bear The heavy burden of their care. The father's heart may harden so, He feeleth not his own child's woe.
No ocean is the cup, no sea, To drown my broad, deep misery. It grows so rank, you cut it all, The aftermath springs just as tall. My heart and flesh are worn away, Mine eyes are darkened from the day.
The lovely morning-red behold Wave to the breeze her flag of gold. The hosts of stars above the world, Like banners vanishing are furled. The dew shines bright; I bide forlorn, And shudder with the chill of morn.
WINE AND GRIEF.
With heavy groans did I approach my friends, Heavy as though the mountains I would move. The flagon they were murdering; they poured Into the cup, wild-eyed, the grape's red blood. No, they killed not, they breathed new life therein. Then, too, in fiery rapture, burned my veins, But soon the fumes had fled. In vain, in vain! Ye cannot fill the breach of the rent heart. Ye crave a sensuous joy; ye strive in vain To cheat with flames of passion, my despair. So when the sinking sun draws near to night, The sky's bright cheeks fade 'neath those tresses black. Ye laugh—but silently the soul weeps on; Ye cannot stifle her sincere lament.
"Conquer the gloomy night of thy sorrow, for the morning greets thee with laughter. Rise and clothe thyself with noble pride, Break loose from the tyranny of grief. Thou standest alone among men, Thy song is like a pearl in beauty."
So spake my friend. 'T is well! The billows of the stormy sea which overwhelmed my soul,— These I subdue; I quake not Before the bow and arrow of destiny. I endured with patience when he deceitfully lied to me With his treacherous smile.
Yea, boldly I defy Fate, I cringe not to envious Fortune. I mock the towering floods. My brave heart does not shrink— This heart of mine, that, albeit young in years, Is none the less rich in deep, keen-eyed experience.
A DEGENERATE AGE.
Where is the man who has been tried and found strong and sound? Where is the friend of reason and of knowledge? I see only sceptics and weaklings. I see only prisoners in the durance of the senses, And every fool and every spendthrift Thinks himself as great a master as Aristotle. Think'st thou that they have written poems? Call'st thou that a Song? I call it the cackling of ravens. The zeal of the prophet must free poesy From the embrace of wanton youths. My song I have inscribed on the forehead of Time, They know and hate it—for it is lofty.
ABUL HASSAN JUDAH BEN HA-LEVI. (Born Between 1080-90.)
A LETTER TO HIS FRIEND ISAAC.
But yesterday the earth drank like a child With eager thirst the autumn rain. Or like a wistful bride who waits the hour Of love's mysterious bliss and pain. And now the Spring is here with yearning eyes; Midst shimmering golden flower-beds, On meadows carpeted with varied hues, In richest raiment clad, she treads. She weaves a tapestry of bloom o'er all, And myriad eyed young plants upspring, White, green, or red like lips that to the mouth Of the beloved one sweetly cling. Whence come these radiant tints, these blended beams? Here's such a dazzle, such a blaze, As though each stole the splendor of the stars, Fain to eclipse them with her rays. Come! go we to the garden with our wine, Which scatters sparks of hot desire, Within our hand 't is cold, but in our veins It flashes clear, it glows like fire. It bubbles sunnily in earthen jugs. We catch it in the crystal glass, Then wander through cool, shadowy lanes and breathe The spicy freshness of the grass. Whilst we with happy hearts our circuit keep, The gladness of the Earth is shown. She smileth, though the trickling raindrops weep Silently o'er her, one by one. She loves to feel the tears upon her cheek, Like a rich veil, with pearls inwove. Joyous she listens when the swallows chirp, And warbles to her mate, the dove. Blithe as a maiden midst the young green leaves, A wreath she'll wind, a fragrant treasure; All living things in graceful motion leap, As dancing to some merry measure. The morning breezes rustle cordially, Love's thirst is sated with the balm they send. Sweet breathes the myrtle in the frolic wind, As though remembering a distant friend. The myrtle branch now proudly lifted high, Now whispering to itself drops low again. The topmost palm-leaves rapturously stir, For all at once they hear the birds' soft strain. So stirs, so yearns all nature, gayly decked, To honor ISAAC with her best array. Hear'st thou the word? She cries—I beam with joy, Because with Isaac I am wed to-day.
Long in the lap of childhood didst thou sleep, Think how thy youth like chaff did disappear; Shall life's sweet Spring forever last? Look up, Old age approaches ominously near. Oh shake thou off the world, even as the bird Shakes off the midnight dew that clogged his wings. Soar upward, seek redemption from thy guilt And from the earthly dross that round thee clings. Draw near to God, His holy angels know, For whom His bounteous streams of mercy flow.
"See'st thou o'er my shoulders falling, Snake-like ringlets waving free? Have no fear, for they are twisted To allure thee unto me."
Thus she spake, the gentle dove, Listen to thy plighted love:— "Ah, how long I wait, until Sweetheart cometh back (she said) Laying his caressing hand Underneath my burning head."
And so we twain must part! Oh linger yet, Let me still feed my glance upon thine eyes. Forget not, love, the days of our delight, And I our nights of bliss shall ever prize. In dreams thy shadowy image I shall see, Oh even in my dream be kind to me!
Though I were dead, I none the less would hear Thy step, thy garment rustling on the sand. And if thou waft me greetings from the grave, I shall drink deep the breath of that cold land. Take thou my days, command this life of mine, If it can lengthen out the space of thine.
No voice I hear from lips death-pale and chill, Yet deep within my heart it echoes still. My frame remains—my soul to thee yearns forth. A shadow I must tarry still on earth. Back to the body dwelling here in pain, Return, my soul, make haste and come again!
LONGING FOR JERUSALEM.
O city of the world, with sacred splendor blest, My spirit yearns to thee from out the far-off West, A stream of love wells forth when I recall thy day, Now is thy temple waste, thy glory passed away. Had I an eagle's wings, straight would I fly to thee, Moisten thy holy dust with wet cheeks streaming free. Oh, how I long for thee! albeit thy King has gone, Albeit where balm once flowed, the serpent dwells alone. Could I but kiss thy dust, so would I fain expire, As sweet as honey then, my passion, my desire!
ON THE VOYAGE TO JERUSALEM.
My two-score years and ten are over, Never again shall youth be mine. The years are ready-winged for flying, What crav'st thou still of feast and wine? Wilt thou still court man's acclamation, Forgetting what the Lord hath said? And forfeiting thy weal eternal, By thine own guilty heart misled? Shalt thou have never done with folly, Still fresh and new must it arise? Oh heed it not, heed not the senses, But follow God, be meek and wise; Yea, profit by thy days remaining, They hurry swiftly to the goal. Be zealous in the Lord's high service, And banish falsehood from thy soul. Use all thy strength, use all thy fervor, Defy thine own desires, awaken! Be not afraid when seas are foaming, And earth to her foundations shaken. Benumbed the hand then of the sailor, The captain's skill and power are lamed. Gayly they sailed with colors flying, And now turn home again ashamed. The ocean is our only refuge, The sandbank is our only goal, The masts are swaying as with terror, And quivering does the vessel roll. The mad wind frolics with the billows, Now smooths them low, now lashes high. Now they are storming up like lions, And now like serpents sleek they lie; And wave on wave is ever pressing, They hiss, they whisper, soft of tone. Alack! was that the vessel splitting? Are sail and mast and rudder gone? Here, screams of fright, there, silent weeping, The bravest feels his courage fail. What stead our prudence or our wisdom? The soul itself can naught avail. And each one to his God is crying, Soar up, my soul, to Him aspire, Who wrought a miracle for Jordan, Extol Him, oh angelic choir! Remember Him who stays the tempest, The stormy billows doth control, Who quickeneth the lifeless body, And fills the empty frame with soul. Behold! once more appears a wonder, The angry waves erst raging wild, Like quiet flocks of sheep reposing, So soft, so still, so gently mild. The sun descends, and high in heaven, The golden-circled moon doth stand. Within the sea the stars are straying, Like wanderers in an unknown land. The lights celestial in the waters Are flaming clearly as above, As though the very heavens descended, To seal a covenant of love. Perchance both sea and sky, twin oceans, From the same source of grace are sprung. 'Twixt these my heart, a third sea, surges, With songs resounding, clearly sung.
A watery waste the sinful world has grown, With no dry spot whereon the eye can rest, No man, no beast, no bird to gaze upon, Can all be dead, with silent sleep possessed? Oh, how I long the hills and vales to see, To find myself on barren steppes were bliss. I peer about, but nothing greeteth me, Naught save the ship, the clouds, the waves' abyss, The crocodile which rushes from the deeps; The flood foams gray; the whirling waters reel, Now like its prey whereon at last it sweeps, The ocean swallows up the vessel's keel. The billows rage—exult, oh soul of mine, Soon shalt thou enter the Lord's sacred shrine!
TO THE WEST WIND.
O West, how fragrant breathes thy gentle air, Spikenard and aloes on thy pinions glide. Thou blow'st from spicy chambers, not from there Where angry winds and tempests fierce abide. As on a bird's wings thou dost waft me home, Sweet as a bundle of rich myrrh to me. And after thee yearn all the throngs that roam And furrow with light keel the rolling sea. Desert her not—our ship—bide with her oft, When the day sinks and in the morning light. Smooth thou the deeps and make the billows soft, Nor rest save at our goal, the sacred height. Chide thou the East that chafes the raging flood, And swells the towering surges wild and rude. What can I do, the elements' poor slave? Now do they hold me fast, now leave me free; Cling to the Lord, my soul, for He will save, Who caused the mountains and the winds to be.
MOSES BEN ESRA (About 1100).
EXTRACTS FROM THE BOOK OF TARSHISH,
OR "NECKLACE OF PEARLS."
The shadow of the houses leave behind, In the cool boscage of the grove reclined, The wine of friendship from love's goblet drink, And entertain with cheerful speech the mind.
Drink, friend! behold, the dreary winter's gone, The mantle of old age has time withdrawn. The sunbeam glitters in the morning dew, O'er hill and vale youth's bloom is surging on.
Cup-bearer! quench with snow the goblet's fire, Even as the wise man cools and stills his ire. Look, when the jar is drained, upon the brim The light foam melteth with the heart's desire.
Cup-bearer! bring anear the silver bowl, And with the glowing gold fulfil the whole, Unto the weak new vigor it imparts, And without lance subdues the hero's soul.
My love sways, dancing, like the myrtle-tree, The masses of her curls disheveled, see! She kills me with her darts, intoxicates My burning blood, and will not set me free.
Within the aromatic garden come, And slowly in its shadows let us roam, The foliage be the turban for our brows, And the green branches o'er our heads a dome.
All pain thou with the goblet shalt assuage, The wine-cup heals the sharpest pangs that rage, Let others crave inheritance of wealth, Joy be our portion and our heritage.
Drink in the garden, friend, anigh the rose, Richer than spice's breath the soft air blows. If it should cease a little traitor then, A zephyr light its secret would disclose.
Thou who art clothed in silk, who drawest on Proudly thy raiment of fine linen spun, Bethink thee of the day when thou alone Shall dwell at last beneath the marble stone.
Anigh the nests of adders thine abode, With the earth-crawling serpent and the toad. Trust in the Lord, He will sustain thee there, And without fear thy soul shall rest with God.
If the world flatter thee with soft-voiced art, Know 't is a cunning witch who charms thy heart, Whose habit is to wed man's soul with grief, And those who are close-bound in love to part.
He who bestows his wealth upon the poor, Has only lent it to the Lord, be sure— Of what avail to clasp it with clenched hand? It goes not with us to the grave obscure.
The voice of those who dwell within the tomb, Who in corruption's house have made their home; "O ye who wander o'er us still to-day, When will ye come to share with us the gloom?"
How can'st thou ever of the world complain, And murmuring, burden it with all thy pain? Silence! thou art a traveller at an inn, A guest, who may but over night remain.
Be thou not wroth against the proud, but show How he who yesterday great joy did know, To-day is begging for his very bread, And painfully upon a crutch must go.
How foolish they whose faith is fixed upon The treasures of their worldly wealth alone, Far wiser were it to obey the Lord, And only say, "The will of God be done!"
Has Fortune smiled on thee? Oh do not trust Her reckless joy, she still deceives and must. Perpetual snares she spreads about thy feet, Thou shalt not rest till thou art mixed with dust.
Man is a weaver on the earth, 't is said, Who weaves and weaves—his own days are the thread, And when the length allotted he hath spun, All life is over, and all hope is dead.
IN THE NIGHT.
Unto the house of prayer my spirit yearns, Unto the sources of her being turns, To where the sacred light of heaven burns, She struggles thitherward by day and night.
The splendor of God's glory blinds her eyes, Up without wings she soareth to the skies, With silent aspiration seeks to rise, In dusky evening and in darksome night.
To her the wonders of God's works appear, She longs with fervor Him to draw anear, The tidings of His glory reach her ear, From morn to even, and from night to night.
The banner of thy grace did o'er me rest, Yet was thy worship banished from my breast. Almighty, thou didst seek me out and test To try and to instruct me in the night.
I dare not idly on my pillow lie, With winged feet to the shrine I fain would fly, When chained by leaden slumbers heavily, Men rest in imaged shadows, dreams of night.
Infatuate I trifled youth away, In nothingness dreamed through my manhood's day. Therefore my streaming tears I may not stay, They are my meat and drink by day and night.
In flesh imprisoned is the son of light, This life is but a bridge when seen aright. Rise in the silent hour and pray with might, Awake and call upon thy God by night!
Hasten to cleanse thyself of sin, arise! Follow Truth's path that leads unto the skies, As swift as yesterday existence flies, Brief even as a watch within the night.
Man enters life for trouble; all he has, And all that he beholds, is pain, alas! Like to a flower does he bloom and pass, He fadeth like a vision of the night.
The surging floods of life around him roar, Death feeds upon him, pity is no more, To others all his riches he gives o'er, And dieth in the middle hour of night.
Crushed by the burden of my sins I pray, Oh, wherefore shunned I not the evil way? Deep are my sighs, I weep the livelong day, And wet my couch with tears night after night.
My spirit stirs, my streaming tears still run, Like to the wild birds' notes my sorrows' tone, In the hushed silence loud resounds my groan, My soul arises moaning in the night.
Within her narrow cell oppressed with dread, Bare of adornment and with grief-bowed head Lamenting, many a tear her sad eyes shed, She weeps with anguish in the gloomy night.
For tears my burden seem to lighten best, Could I but weep my heart's blood, I might rest. My spirit bows with mighty grief oppressed, I utter forth my prayer within the night.
Youth's charm has like a fleeting shadow gone, With eagle wings the hours of life have flown. Alas! the time when pleasure I have known, I may not now recall by day or night.
The haughty scorn pursues me of my foe, Evil his thought, yet soft his speech and low. Forget it not, but bear his purpose so Forever in thy mind by day and night.
Observe a pious fast, be whole again, Hasten to purge thy heart of every stain. No more from prayer and penitence refrain, But turn unto thy God by day and night.
HE SPEAKS: "My son, yea, I will send thee aid, Bend thou thy steps to me, be not afraid. No nearer friend than I am, hast thou made, Possess thy soul in patience one more night."
FROM THE "DIVAN."
My thoughts impelled me to the resting-place Where sleep my parents, many a friend and brother. I asked them (no one heard and none replied): "Do ye forsake me, too, oh father, mother?" Then from the grave, without a tongue, these cried, And showed my own place waiting by their side.
LOVE SONG OF ALCHARISI.
The long-closed door, oh open it again, send me back once more my fawn that had fled. On the day of our reunion, thou shalt rest by my side, there wilt thou shed over me the streams of thy delicious perfume. Oh beautiful bride, what is the form of thy friend, that thou say to me, Release him, send him away? He is the beautiful-eyed one of ruddy glorious aspect—that is my friend, him do thou detain.
Hail to thee, Son of my friend, the ruddy, the bright-colored one! Hail to thee whose temples are like a pomegranate. Hasten to the refuge of thy sister, and protect the son of Isaiah against the troops of the Ammonites. What art thou, O Beauty, that thou shouldst inspire love? that thy voice should ring like the voices of the bells upon the priestly garments? The hour wherein thou desireth my love, I shall hasten to meet thee. Softly will I drop beside thee like the dew upon Hermon.
Now the dreary winter's over, Fled with him are grief and pain, When the trees their bloom recover, Then the soul is born again. Spikenard blossoms shaking, Perfume all the air, And in bud and flower breaking, Stands my garden fair. While with swelling gladness blest, Heaves my friend's rejoicing breast. Oh, come home, lost friend of mine, Scared from out my tent and land. Drink from me the spicy wine, Milk and must from out my hand.
Cares which hovered round my brow, Vanish, while the garden now Girds itself with myrtle hedges, Bright-hued edges Round it lie. Suddenly All my sorrows die. See the breathing myrrh-trees blow, Aromatic airs enfold me. While the splendor and the glow Of the walnut-branches hold me.
And a balsam-breath is flowing, Through the leafy shadows green, On the left the cassia's growing, On the right the aloe's seen. Lo, the clear cup crystalline, In itself a gem of art, Ruby-red foams up with wine, Sparkling rich with froth and bubble. I forget the want and trouble, Buried deep within my heart.
Where is he who lingered here, But a little while agone? From my homestead he has flown, From the city sped alone, Dwelling in the forest drear. Oh come again, to those who wait thee long, And who will greet thee with a choral song! Beloved, kindle bright Once more thine everlasting light. Through thee, oh cherub with protecting wings, My glory out of darkness springs.
Crocus and spikenard blossom on my lawn, The brier fades, the thistle is withdrawn. Behold, where glass-clear brooks are flowing, The splendor of the myrtle blowing! The garden-tree has doffed her widow's veil, And shines in festal garb, in verdure pale. The turtle-dove is cooing, hark! Is that the warble of the lark! Unto their perches they return again. Oh brothers, carol forth your joyous strain, Pour out full-throated ecstasy of mirth, Proclaiming the Lord's glory to the earth. One with a low, sweet song, One echoing loud and long, Chanting the music of a spirit strong. In varied tints the landscape glows.
In rich array appears the rose. While the pomegranate's wreath of green, The gauzy red and snow-white blossoms screen. Who loves it, now rejoices for its sake, And those are glad who sleep, and those who wake. When cool-breathed evening visiteth the world, In flower and leaf the beaded dew is pearled, Reviving all that droops at length, And to the languid giving strength.
Now in the east the shining light behold! The sun has oped a lustrous path of gold. Within my narrow garden's greenery, Shot forth a branch, sprang to a splendid tree, Then in mine ear the joyous words did ring, "From Jesse's root a verdant branch shall spring." My Friend has cast His eyes upon my grief, According to His mercy, sends relief. Hark! the redemption hour's resounding stroke, For him who bore with patient heart the yoke!
A TRANSLATION AND TWO IMITATIONS.
(From the German of Heine)
In the evening through her garden Wanders the Alcalde's daughter, Festal sounds of drum and trumpet Ring out hither from the Castle.
"I am weary of the dances, Honeyed words of adulation From the knights who still compare me To the sun with dainty phrases.
"Yes, of all things I am weary, Since I first beheld by moonlight Him, my cavalier, whose zither Nightly draws me to my casement.
"As he stands so slim and daring, With his flaming eyes that sparkle, And with nobly pallid features, Truly, he St. George resembles."
Thus went Donna Clara dreaming, On the ground her eyes were fastened. When she raised them, lo! before her Stood the handsome knightly stranger.
Pressing hands and whispering passion, These twain wander in the moonlight, Gently doth the breeze caress them, The enchanted roses greet them.
The enchanted roses greet them, And they glow like Love's own heralds. "Tell me, tell me, my beloved, Wherefore all at once thou blushest?"
"Gnats were stinging me, my darling, And I hate these gnats in summer E'en as though they were a rabble Of vile Jews with long, hooked noses."
"Heed not gnats nor Jews, beloved," Spake the knight with fond endearments. From the almond-trees dropped downward Myriad snowy flakes of blossoms.
Myriad snowy flakes of blossoms Shed around them fragrant odors. "Tell me, tell me, my beloved, Looks thy heart on me with favor?"
"Yes, I love thee, O my darling, And I swear it by our Saviour, Whom the accursed Jews did murder, Long ago with wicked malice."
"Heed thou neither Jews nor Saviour," Spake the knight with fond endearments. Far off waved, as in a vision, Gleaming lilies bathed in moonlight.
Gleaming lilies bathed in moonlight Seemed to watch the stars above them. "Tell me, tell me, my beloved, Didst thou not erewhile swear falsely?"
"Naught is false in me, my darling, E'en as in my veins there floweth Not a drop of blood that's Moorish, Neither of foul Jewish current."
"Heed not Moors nor Jews, beloved," Spake the knight with fond endearments. Then towards a grove of myrtles
Leads he the Alcalde's daughter.
And with Love's slight subtile meshes, He has trapped her and entangled. Brief their words, but long their kisses, For their hearts are overflowing.
What a melting bridal carol Sings the nightingale, the pure one. How the fire-flies in the grasses Trip their sparkling torchlight dances!
In the grove the silence deepens, Naught is heard save furtive rustling Of the swaying myrtle branches, And the breathing of the flowers.
But the sound of drum and trumpet Burst forth sudden from the castle. Rudely they awaken Clara, Pillowed on her lover's bosom.
"Hark! they summon me, my darling! But before we part, oh tell me, Tell me what thy precious name is, Which so closely thou hast hidden."
Then the knight with gentle laughter, Kissed the fingers of his Donna, Kissed her lips and kissed her forehead, And at last these words he uttered:
"I, Senora, your beloved, Am the son of the respected, Worthy, erudite Grand Rabbi, Israel of Saragossa."
"The ensemble of the romance is a scene of my own life—only the Park of Berlin has become the Alcalde's garden, the Baroness a Senora, and myself a St. George, or even an Apollo. This was only to be the first part of a trilogy, the second of which shows the hero jeered at by his own child, who does not know him, whilst the third discovers this child, who has become a Dominican, and is torturing to the death his Jewish brethren. The refrain of these two pieces corresponds with that of the first. Indeed this little poem was not intended to excite laughter, still less to denote a mocking spirit. I merely wished, without any definite purpose, to render with epic impartiality in this poem an individual circumstance, and, at the same time, something general and universal—a moment in the world's history which was distinctly reflected in my experience, and I had conceived the whole idea in a spirit which was anything rather than smiling but serious and painful, so much so, that it was to form the first part of a tragic trilogy."— Heine's Correspondence.
Guided by these hints, I have endeavored to carry out in the two following original Ballads the Poet's first conception.
Not a lad in Saragossa Nobler-featured, haughtier-tempered, Than the Alcalde's youthful grandson, Donna Clara's boy Pedrillo.
Handsome as the Prince of Evil, And devout as St. Ignatius. Deft at fence, unmatched with zither, Miniature of knightly virtues.
Truly an unfailing blessing To his pious, widowed mother, To the beautiful, lone matron Who forswore the world to rear him.
For her beauty hath but ripened In such wise as the pomegranate Putteth by her crown of blossoms, For her richer crown of fruitage.
Still her hand is claimed and courted, Still she spurns her proudest suitors, Doting on a phantom passion, And upon her boy Pedrillo.
Like a saint lives Donna Clara, First at matins, last at vespers, Half her fortune she expendeth Buying masses for the needy.
Visiting the poor afflicted, Infinite is her compassion, Scorning not the Moorish beggar, Nor the wretched Jew despising.
And—a scandal to the faithful, E'en she hath been known to welcome To her castle the young Rabbi, Offering to his tribe her bounty.
Rarely hath he crossed the threshold, Yet the thought that he hath crossed it, Burns like poison in the marrow Of the zealous youth Pedrillo.
By the blessed Saint Iago, He hath vowed immortal hatred To these circumcised intruders Who pollute the soil of Spaniards.
Seated in his mother's garden, At high noon the boy Pedrillo Playeth with his favorite parrot, Golden-green with streaks of scarlet.
"Pretty Dodo, speak thy lesson," Coaxed Pedrillo—"thief and traitor"— "Thief and traitor"—croaked the parrot, "Is the yellow-skirted Rabbi."
And the boy with peals of laughter, Stroked his favorite's head of emerald, Raised his eyes, and lo! before him Stood the yellow-skirted Rabbi.
In his dark eyes gleamed no anger, No hot flush o'erspread his features. 'Neath his beard his pale lips quivered, And a shadow crossed his forehead.
Very gentle was his aspect, And his voice was mild and friendly, "Evil words, my son, thou speakest, Teaching to the fowls of heaven.
"In our Talmud it stands written, Thrice curst is the tongue of slander, Poisoning also with its victim, Him who speaks and him who listens."
But no whit abashed, Pedrillo, "What care I for curse of Talmud? 'T is no slander to speak evil Of the murderers of our Saviour.
"To your beard I will repeat it, That I only bide my manhood, To wreak all my lawful hatred, On thyself and on thy people."
Very gently spoke the Rabbi, "Have a care, my son Pedrillo, Thou art orphaned, and who knoweth But thy father loved this people?"
"Think you words like these will touch me? Such I laugh to scorn, sir Rabbi, From high heaven, my sainted father On my deeds will smile in blessing.
"Loyal knight was he and noble, And my mother oft assures me, Ne'er she saw so pure a Christian, 'T is from him my zeal deriveth."
"What if he were such another As myself who stand before thee?" "I should curse the hour that bore me, I should die of shame and horror."
"Harsher is thy creed than ours; For had I a son as comely As Pedrillo, I would love him, Love him were he thrice a Christian.
"In his youth my youth renewing Pamper, fondle, die to serve him, Only breathing through his spirit— Couldst thou not love such a father?"
Faltering spoke the deep-voiced Rabbi, With white lips and twitching fingers, Then in clear, young, steady treble, Answered him the boy Pedrillo:
"At the thought my heart revolteth, All your tribe offend my senses, They're an eyesore to my vision, And a stench unto my nostrils.
"When I meet these unbelievers, With thick lips and eagle noses, Thus I scorn them, thus revile them, Thus I spit upon their garment."
And the haughty youth passed onward, Bearing on his wrist his parrot, And the yellow-skirted Rabbi With bowed head sought Donna Clara.
Golden lights and lengthening shadows, Flings the splendid sun declining, O'er the monastery garden Rich in flower, fruit and foliage.
Through the avenue of nut trees, Pace two grave and ghostly friars, Snowy white their gowns and girdles, Black as night their cowls and mantles.
Lithe and ferret-eyed the younger, Black his scapular denoting A lay brother; his companion Large, imperious, towers above him.
'T is the abbot, great Fra Pedro, Famous through all Saragossa For his quenchless zeal in crushing Heresy amidst his townfolk.
Handsome still with hood and tonsure, E'en as when the boy Pedrillo, Insolent with youth and beauty, Who reviled the gentle Rabbi.
Lo, the level sun strikes sparkles From his dark eyes brightly flashing. Stern his voice: "These too shall perish. I have vowed extermination.
"Tell not me of skill or virtue, Filial love or woman's beauty— Jews are Jews, as serpents serpents, In themselves abomination."
Earnestly the other pleaded, "If my zeal, thrice reverend master, E'er afforded thee assistance, Serving thee as flesh serves spirit,
"Hounding, scourging, flaying, burning, Casting into chains or exile, At thy bidding these vile wretches, Hear and heed me now, my master.
"These be nowise like their brethren, Ben Jehudah is accounted Saragossa's first physician, Loved by colleague as by patient.
"And his daughter Donna Zara Is our city's pearl of beauty, Like the clusters of the vineyard Droop the ringlets o'er her temples.
"Like the moon in starry heavens Shines her face among her people, And her form hath all the languor, Grace and glamour of the palm-tree.
"Well thou knowest, thrice reverend master, This is not their first affliction, Was it not our Holy Office Whose bribed menials fired their dwelling?
"Ere dawn broke, the smoke ascended, Choked the stairways, filled the chambers, Waked the household to the terror Of the flaming death that threatened.
"Then the poor bed-ridden mother Knew her hour had come; two daughters, Twinned in form, and mind, and spirit, And their father—who would save them?
"Towards her door sprang Ben Jehudah, Donna Zara flew behind him Round his neck her white arms wreathing, Drew him from the burning chamber.
"There within, her sister Zillah Stirred no limb to shun her torture, Held her mother's hand and kissed her, Saying, 'We will go together.'
"This the outer throng could witness, As the flames enwound the dwelling, Like a glory they illumined Awfully the martyred daughter.
"Closer, fiercer, round they gathered, Not a natural cry escaped her, Helpless clung to her her mother, Hand in hand they went together.
"Since that 'Act of Faith' three winters Have rolled by, yet on the forehead Of Jehudah is imprinted Still the horror of that morning.
"Saragossa hath respected His false creed; a man of sorrows, He hath walked secure among us, And his art repays our sufferance."
Thus he spoke and ceased. The Abbot Lent him an impatient hearing, Then outbroke with angry accent, "We have borne three years, thou sayest?
"'T is enough; my vow is sacred. These shall perish with their brethren. Hark ye! In my veins' pure current Were a single drop found Jewish,
"I would shrink not from outpouring All my life blood, but to purge it. Shall I gentler prove to others? Mercy would be sacrilegious.
"Ne'er again at thy soul's peril, Speak to me of Jewish beauty, Jewish skill, or Jewish virtue. I have said. Do thou remember."
Down behind the purple hillside Dropped the sun; above the garden Rang the Angelus' clear cadence Summoning the monks to vespers.
TRANSLATIONS FROM PETRARCH.
IN VITA. LXVII.
Since thou and I have proven many a time That all our hope betrays us and deceives, To that consummate good which never grieves Uplift thy heart, towards a happier clime. This life is like a field of flowering thyme, Amidst the herbs and grass the serpent lives; If aught unto the sight brief pleasure gives, 'T is but to snare the soul with treacherous lime. So, wouldst thou keep thy spirit free from cloud, A tranquil habit to thy latest day, Follow the few, and not the vulgar crowd. Yet mayest thou urge, "Brother, the very way Thou showest us, wherefrom thy footsteps proud (And never more than now) so oft did stray."
IN VITA. LXXVI.
Sennuccio, I would have thee know the shame That's dealt to me, and what a life is mine. Even as of yore, I struggle, burn and pine. Laura transports me, I am still the same. All meekness here, all pride she there became, Now harsh, now kind, now cruel, now benign; Here honor clothed her, there a grace divine; Now gentle, now disdainful of my flame. Here sweetly did she sing; there sat awhile; There she turned back, she lingered in this spot. Here with her splendid eyes my heart she clove. She uttered there a word, and here did smile. Here she changed color. Ah, in such fond thought, Holds me by day and night, our master Love.
IN VITA. CV.
I saw on earth angelic graces beam, Celestial beauty in our world below, Whose mere remembrance thrills with grief and woe; All I see now seems shadow, smoke and dream. I saw in those twin-lights the tear-drops gleam, Those lights that made the sun with envy glow, And from those lips such sighs and words did flow, As made revolve the hills, stand still the stream. Love, courage, wit, pity and pain in one, Wept in more dulcet and harmonious strain, Than any other that the world has known. So rapt was heaven in the dear refrain, That not a leaf upon the branch was blown, Such utter sweetness filled the aerial plain.
IN VITA. CIX.
The God of Love and I in wonder stared, (Ne'er having gazed on miracles ere now,) Upon my lady's smiling lips and brow, Who only with herself may be compared. Neath the calm beauty of her forehead bared, Those twin stars of my love did burn and flow, No lesser lamps again the path might show To the proud lover who by these had fared. Oh miracle, when on the grass at rest, Herself a flower, she would clasp and hold A leafy branch against her snow-white breast. What joy to see her, in the autumn cold, Wander alone, with maiden thoughts possess'd, Weaving a garland of dry, crispy gold!
IN MORTE. II. ON THE DEATH OF CARDINAL
COLONNA AND LAURA.
The noble Column, the green Laurel-tree Are fall'n, that shaded once my weary mind. Now I have lost what I shall never find, From North to South, from Red to Indian Sea. My double treasure Death has filched from me, Which made me proud and happy midst my kind. Nor may all empires of the world combined, Nor Orient gems, nor gold restore the key. But if this be according to Fate's will, What may I do, but wander heavy-souled, With ever downcast head, eyes weeping still? O life of ours, so lovely to behold, In one brief morn how easily dost thou spill That which we toiled for years to gain and hold!
IN MORTE. XLIII.
Yon nightingale who mourns so plaintively Perchance his fledglings or his darling mate, Fills sky and earth with sweetness, warbling late, Prophetic notes of melting melody. All night, he, as it were, companions me, Reminding me of my so cruel fate, Mourning no other grief save mine own state, Who knew not Death reigned o'er divinity. How easy 't is to dupe the soul secure! Those two fair lamps, even than the sun more bright, Who ever dreamed to see turn clay obscure? But Fortune has ordained, I now am sure, That I, midst lifelong tears, should learn aright, Naught here can make us happy, or endure.
IN VITA. CANZONE XI.
O waters fresh and sweet and clear, Where bathed her lovely frame, Who seems the only lady unto me; O gentle branch and dear, (Sighing I speak thy name,) Thou column for her shapely thighs, her supple knee; O grass, O flowers, which she Swept with her gown that veiled The angelic breast unseen; O sacred air serene, Whence the divine-eyed Love my heart assailed, By all of ye be heard This my supreme lament, my dying word.
Oh, if it be my fate (As Heaven shall so decree) That Love shall close for me my weeping eyes, Some courteous friend I supplicate Midst these to bury me, Whilst my enfranchised spirit homeward flies; Less dreadful death shall rise, If I may bear this hope To that mysterious goal. For ne'er did weary soul Find a more restful spot in all Earth's scope, Nor in a grave more tranquil could win free From outworn flesh and weary limbs to flee.
Perchance the time shall be When to my place of rest, With milder grace my wild fawn shall return Here where she looked on me Upon that day thrice blest: Then she shall bend her radiant eyes that yearn In search of me, and (piteous sight!) shall learn That I, amidst the stones, am clay. May love inspire her in such wise, With gentlest breath of sighs, That I, a stony corpse, shall hear her pray, And force the very skies, That I may wipe the tears from her dear eyes.
From the fair boughs descended (Thrice precious memory!) Upon her lap a shower of fragrant bloom Amidst that glory splendid, Humbly reposed she, Attired as with an aureole's golden gloom. Some blossoms edged her skirt, and some Fell on her yellow curls, Like burnished gold and pearls, Even so they looked to me upon that day. Some on the ground, some on the river lay, Some lightly fluttering above, Encircling her, seemed whispering: "Here reigns Love."
How many times I cried, As holy fear o'ercame, "Surely this creature sprang from Paradise," Forgetting all beside Her goddess mien, her frame, Her face, her words, her lovely smile, her eyes. All these did so devise To win me from the truth, alas! That I did say and sigh, "How came I hither, when and why?" Deeming myself in heaven, not where I was. Henceforth this grassy spot I love so much, peace elsewhere find I not. My Song, wert thou adorned to thy desire, Thou couldst go boldly forth And wander from my lips o'er all the earth.
FRAGMENT. CANZONE XII. 5.
I never see, after nocturnal rain, The wandering stars move through the air serene, And flame forth 'twixt the dew-fall and the rime, But I behold her radiant eyes wherein My weary spirit findeth rest from pain; As dimmed by her rich veil, I saw her the first time; The very heaven beamed with the light sublime Of their celestial beauty; dewy-wet Still do they shine, and I am burning yet. Now if the rising sun I see, I feel the light that hath enamored me. Or if he sets, I follow him, when he Bears elsewhere his eternal light, Leaving behind the shadowy waves of night.
FRAGMENT. TRIONFO D' AMORE.
I know how well Love shoots, how swift his flight, How now by force and now by stealth he steals, How he will threaten now, anon will smite, And how unstable are his chariot wheels. How doubtful are his hopes, how sure his pain, And how his faithful promise he repeals. How in one's marrow, in one's vital vein, His smouldering fire quickens a hidden wound, Where death is manifest, destruction plain. In sum, how erring, fickle and unsound, How timid and how bold are lovers' days, Where with scant sweetness bitter draughts abound. I know their songs, their sighs, their usual ways, Their broken speech, their sudden silences. Their passing laughter and their grief that stays, I know how mixed with gall their honey is.
FRAGMENT. TRIONFO DELLA MORTE.
Now since nor grief nor fear was longer there, Each thought on her fair face was clear to see, Composed into the calmness of despair— Not like a flame extinguished violently, But one consuming of its proper light. Even so, in peace, serene of soul, passed she. Even as a lamp, so lucid, softly-bright, Whose sustenance doth fail by slow degrees, Wearing unto the end, its wonted plight. Not pale, but whiter than the snow one sees Flaking a hillside through the windless air. Like one o'erwearied, she reposed in peace As 't were a sweet sleep filled each lovely eye, The soul already having fled from there. And this is what dull fools have named to die. Upon her fair face death itself seemed fair.
TRANSLATIONS FROM ALFRED DE MUSSET.
THE MAY NIGHT.
MUSE. Give me a kiss, my poet, take thy lyre; The buds are bursting on the wild sweet-briar. To-night the Spring is born—the breeze takes fire. Expectant of the dawn behold the thrush, Perched on the fresh branch of the first green bush; Give me a kiss, my poet, take thy lyre.
POET. How black it looks within the vale! I thought a muffled form did sail Above the tree-tops, through the air. It seemed from yonder field to pass, Its foot just grazed the tender grass; A vision strange and fair it was. It melts and is no longer there.
MUSE. My poet, take thy lyre; upon the lawn Night rocks the zephyr on her veiled, soft breast. The rose, still virgin, holds herself withdrawn From the winged, irised wasp with love possessed. Hark, all is hushed. Now of thy sweetheart dream; To-day the sunset, with a lingering beam, Caressed the dusky-foliaged linden-grove. All things shall bloom to-night; great Nature thrills, Her couch with perfume, passion, sighs, she fills, Like to the nuptial bed of youthful love.
POET. Why throbs my heart so fast, so low? What sets my seething blood aglow, And fills my sense with vague affright? Who raps upon my chamber-door? My lamp's spent ray upon the floor, Why does it dazzle me with light? Great God! my limbs sink under me! Who enters? who is calling? none! The clock strikes—I am all alone— EEEEEO solitude! O poverty!
MUSE. My poet, take thy lyre. Youth's living wine Ferments to-night within the veins divine. My breast is troubled, stifling with desire, The panting breeze has set my lips afire; O listless child, behold me, I am fair! Our first embrace dost thou so soon forget? How pale thou wast, when my wing grazed thy hair. Into mine arms thou fell'st, with eyelids wet! Oh, in thy bitter grief, I solaced thee, Dying of love, thy youthful strength outworn. Now I shall die of hope—oh comfort me! I need thy prayers to live until the morn.
POET. Is it thy voice my spirit knows, O darling Muse! And canst thou be My own immortal one? my rose, Sole pure and faithful heart where glows A lingering spark of love for me? Yes, it is thou, with tresses bright, 'T is thou, my sister and my bride. I feel amidst the shadowy night, From thy gold gown the rays of light Within my heart's recesses glide.
MUSE. My poet, take thy lyre. 'T is I, undying, Who seeing thee to-night so sad and dumb, Like to the mother-bird whose brood is crying, From utmost heaven to weep with thee have come. My friend, thou sufferest; a secret woe Gnaws at thy life, thou sighest in the night. Love visits thee, such love as mortals know, Shadow of gladness, semblance of delight. Rise, sing to God the thoughts that fill thy brain, Thy buried pleasures and thy long-past pain. Come, with a kiss, where unknown regions gleam, Awake the mingling echoes of thy days, Sing of thy folly, glory, joy and praise, Be all an unpremeditated dream! Let us invent a realm where one forgets, Come, we are all alone, the world is ours. Green Scotland tawny Italy offsets; Lo, Greece my mother, with her honeyed flowers, Argos and Pteleon with its shrines and groves, Celestial Messa populous with doves; And Pelion with his shaggy, changing brow, Blue Titaresus, and the gulf of steel, Whose waves that glass the floating swan, reveal Snowy Camyre to Oloossone's snow. Tell me what golden dreams shall charm our sleep, Whence shall be drawn the tears that we shall weep? This morning when thy lids were touched with light, What pensive seraph, bending kindly near, Dropped lilacs from his airy robe of white, And whispered beams of love within thine ear? Say, shall we sing of sadness, joy or hope? Or bathe in blood the settled, steel-clad ranks? See lovers mount the ladder's silken rope? Or fleck the wind with coursers' foaming flanks? Or shall we tell whose hand the lamps above, In the celestial mansions, year by year, Kindles with sacred oil of life and love? With Tarquin shall we cry, "Come, night is here!" Or shall we dive for pearls beneath the seas, Or find the wild goats by the alpine trees? Bid melancholy gaze upon the skies? Follow the huntsman on the upland lawns? The roe uplifts her tearful, suppliant eyes, Her heath awaits her, and her suckling fawns; He stoops, he slaughters her, he flings her heart Still warm amidst his panting hounds apart. Or shall we paint a maid with vermeil cheek, Who, with her page behind, to vespers fares, Beside her mother, dreamy-eyed and meek, And on her half-oped lips forgets her prayers, Trembles midst echoing columns, hearkening To hear her bold knight's clanging spurs outring. Or shall we bid the heroes of old France Scale full equipped the battlemented wall, And so revive the simple-strained romance Their fame inspired our troubadours withal? Or shall we clothe soft elegies in white? Or bid the man of Waterloo recite His story, and the crop mown by his art, Or ere the herald of eternal night On his green mound with fatal wing did smite And cross his hands above his iron heart? Or shall we gibbet on some satire here The name thrice-bought of some pale pamphleteer, Who, hunger-goaded, from his haunts obscure, Dared, quivering with impotence and spite, Insult the hope on Genius' brow of light, And gnaw the wreath his breath had made impure? The lyre! the lyre! I can be still no more. Upon the breath of spring my pinions fly. The air supports me—from the earth I soar, Thou weepest—God has heard—the hour is nigh!
POET. Dear sister, if thou ask but this, From friendly lips a gentle kiss, Or one soft tear from kindly eyes, These will I gladly give to thee. Our love remember tenderly, If thou remountest to the skies. No longer I of hope shall sing, Of fame or joy, of love or art, Alas, not even of suffering, My lips are locked—I lean and cling, To hear the whisper of my heart.
MUSE. What! am I like the autumn breeze for you, Which feeds on tears even to the very grave, For whom all grief is but a drop of dew? O poet, but one kiss—'t was I who gave. The weed I fain would root from out this sod Is thine own sloth—thy grief belongs to God. Whatever sorrow thy young heart have found, Open it well, this ever-sacred wound Dealt by dark angels—give thy soul relief. Naught makes us nobler than a noble grief. Yet deem not, poet, though this pain have come, That therefore, here below, thou mayst be dumb. Best are the songs most desperate in their woe— Immortal ones, which are pure sobs I know. When the wave-weary pelican once more, Midst evening-vapors, gains his nest of reeds, His famished brood run forward on the shore To see where high above the surge he speeds. As though even now their prey they could destroy, They hasten to their sire with screams of joy, On swollen necks wagging their beaks, they cry; He slowly wins at last a lofty rock, Shelters beneath his drooping wing his flock, And, a sad fisher, gazes on the sky. Adown his open breast the blood flows there; Vainly he searched the ocean's deepest part, The sea was empty and the shore was bare, And for all nourishment he brings his heart. Sad, silent, on the stone, he gives his brood His father-entrails and his father-blood, Lulls with his love sublime his cruel pain, And, watching on his breast the ruddy stain, Swoons at the fatal banquet from excess Of horror and voluptuous tenderness. Sudden amidst the sacrifice divine, Outworn with such protracted suffering, He fears his flock may let him live and pine; Then up he starts, expands his mighty wing, Beating his heart, and with a savage cry Bids a farewell of such funereal tone That the scared seabirds from their rock-nests fly, And the late traveller on the beach alone Commends his soul to God—for death floats by. Even such, O poet, is the poet's fate. His life sustains the creatures of a day. The banquets served upon his feasts of state Are like the pelican's—sublime as they. And when he tells the world of hopes betrayed, Forgetfulness and grief, of love and hate, His music does not make the heart dilate, His eloquence is as an unsheathed blade, Tracing a glittering circle in mid-air, While blood drips from the edges keen and bare.
POET. O Muse, insatiate soul, demand No more than lies in human power. Man writes no word upon the sand Even at the furious whirlwind's hour. There was a time when joyous youth Forever fluttered at my mouth, A merry, singing bird, just freed. Strange martyrdom has since been mine, Should I revive its slightest sign, At the first note, my lyre and thine Would snap asunder like a reed.
THE OCTOBER NIGHT.
POET. My haunting grief has vanished like a dream, Its floating fading memory seems one With those frail mists born of the dawn's first beam, Dissolving as the dew melts in the sun.
MUSE. What ailed thee then, O poet mine; What secret misery was thine, Which set a bar 'twixt thee and me? Alas, I suffer from it still; What was this grief, this unknown ill, Which I have wept so bitterly?
POET. 'T was but a common grief, well known of men. But, look you, when our heavy heart is sore, Fond wretches that we are! we fancy then That sorrow never has been felt before.
MUSE. There cannot be a common grief, Save that of common souls; my friend, Speak out, and give thy heart relief, Of this grim secret make an end. Confide in me, and have no fear. The God of silence, pale, austere, Is younger brother unto death. Even as we mourn we're comforted, And oft a single word is said Which from remorse delivereth.
POET. If I were bound this day to tell my woe, I know not by what name to call my pain, Love, folly, pride, experience—neither know If one in all the world might thereby gain. Yet ne'ertheless I'll voice the tale to thee, Alone here by the hearth. But do thou take This lyre—come nearer—so; my memory Shall gently with the harmonies awake.
MUSE. But first, or ere thy grief thou say, My poet, art thou healed thereof? Bethink thee, thou must speak to-day, As free from hatred as from love. For man has given the holy name Of consolation unto me. Make me no partner of thy shame, In passions that have ruined thee.
POET. Of my old wounds I am so sound and whole, Almost I doubt they were, nor find their trace; And in the passes where I risked my soul, In mine own stead I see a stranger's face. Muse, have no fear, we both may yield awhile To this first inspiration of regret. Oh, it is good to weep, 't is good to smile, Remembering sorrows we might else forget.
MUSE. As the watchful mother stoops O'er her infant's cradled rest, So my trembling spirit droops O'er this long-closed, silent breast. Speak! I touch the lyre's sweet strings, Feebly, plaintively it sings, With thy voice set free at last. While athwart a radiant beam, Like a light, enchanted dream, Float the shadows of the past.
POET. My days of work! sole days whereon I lived! O thrice-beloved solitude! Now God be praised, once more I have arrived In this old study bare and rude. These oft-deserted walls, this shabby den, My faithful lamp, my dusty chair, My palace, my small world I greet again, My Muse, immortal, young and fair. Thank God! we twain may sing here side by side, I will reveal to thee my thought. Thou shalt know all, to thee I will confide The evil by a woman wrought. A woman, yes! (mayhap, poor friends, ye guess, Or ever I have said the word!) To such a one my soul was bound, no less Than is the vassal to his lord. Detested yoke! within me to destroy The vigor and the bloom of youth! Yet only through my love I caught, in sooth, A fleeting glimpse of joy. When by the brook, beneath the evening-star, On silver sands we twain would stray, The white wraith of the aspen tree afar Pointed for us the dusky way. Once more within the moonlight do I see That fair form sink upon my breast; No more of that! Alas, I never guessed Whither my fate was leading me. The angry gods some victim craved, I fear, At that ill-omened time, Since they have punished me as for a crime, For trying to be happy here!
MUSE. A vision of remembered joy Reveals itself to thee once more; Why fearest thou to live it o'er, Retracing it without annoy? Wouldst thou confide the truth to me, And yet those golden days disprove? If fate has been unkind to thee, Do thou no less, my friend, than she, And smile upon thine early love.
POET. Rather I dare to smile upon my woe. Muse, I have said it, I would fain review My crosses, visions, frenzy,—calmly show The hour, place, circumstance, in order due. 'T was an autumnal evening, I recall, Chill, gloomy; this one brings it back again. The murmuring wind's monotonous rise and fall Lulled sombre care within my weary brain. I waited at the casement for my love, And listening in the darkness black as death, Such melancholy did my spirit move That all at once I doubted of her faith. The street wherein I dwelt was lonely, poor, Lantern in hand, at times, a shade passed by, When the gale whistled through the half-oped door. One seemed to hear afar a human sigh. I know not to what omen, sooth to say, My superstitious spirit fell a prey. Vainly I summoned courage—coward-like I shuddered when the clock began to strike. She did not come! Alone, with downcast head, I stared at street and walls like one possessed. How may I tell the insensate passion bred By that inconstant woman in my breast! I loved but her in all the world. One day Apart from her seemed worse than death to me. Yet I remember how I did essay That cruel night to snap my chain, go free. I named her traitress, serpent, o'er and o'er, Recalled the anguish suffered for her sake, Alas! her fatal beauty rose once more, What grief, what torture in my heart to wake! At last morn broke; with waiting vain outworn, I fell asleep against the casement there. I oped my lids upon the day new born, My dazzled glance swam in the radiant air. Then on the outer staircase, suddenly, I heard soft steps ascend the narrow flight. Save me, Great God! I see her—it is she! Whence com'st thou? speak, where hast thou been this night? What dost thou seek? who brings thee here thus late? Where has this lovely form reclined till day, While I alone must watch and weep and wait? Where, and on whom hast thou been smiling, say! Out, insolent traitress! canst thou come accurst, And offer to my kiss thy lips' ripe charms? What cravest thou? By what unhallowed thirst Darest thou allure me to thy jaded arms? Avaunt, begone! ghost of my mistress dead, Back to thy grave! avoid the morning's beam! Be my lost youth no more remembered! And when I think of thee, I'll know it was a dream!