Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
 
1673. Kol Nidra
 
From “The Day of Atonement”
 
By Joseph Leiser
 
 
  LO! above the mournful chanting,
Rise the fuller-sounded wailings
Of the soul’s most solemn anthem.
Hark! the strains of deep Kol Nidra—
Saddest music ever mortal        5
Taught his lips to hymn or sound!
 
  Not the heart of one lone mortal
Told his anguish in that strain;
All the sorrow, pain, and struggles
Of a people in despair,        10
Gathered from the vale of weeping,
Through the ages of distress.
’T is a mighty cry of beings
Held in bondage and affliction;
All the wailing and lamenting        15
Of a homeless people, roaming
O’er the plains and scattered hamlets
Of a world without a refuge,
All the sorrows, trials, bereavements,—
Loss of country, home, and people,—        20
In one mighty strain uniting,
Chant for every age its wail;
Make the suffering years reëcho
With the wounds and pains of yore;
Give a voice to every martyr        25
Ever hushed to death by pain,
Every smothered shriek of daughter
Burned upon the fagot’s bier;
Bring the wander-years and exile,
Persecution’s harsh assailment,        30
Ghetto misery and hounding,
To the ears of men to-day;
Link the dark and dreary ages
With the brighter future’s glow;
Weave the past and hopeful present;        35
Bind the living with the sleeping,
Dust unto the dust confessing,
Even with the dead uniting,
When the soul would join with God.
 
  Slowly creep the muffled murmurs.        40
As the leaves and flowers, conspiring,
Steal a breeze from summer’s chamber,
Hum and mumble as they stroke it,
Smooth, caress, and gently coy it,
So this murmur spreads the voices        45
Of the praying synagogue,
As each lip repeats the sinning
Of his selfish, godless living,
By each mutter low recounting
Every single sin and crime—        50
How he falsified his neighbor,
Made a stumbling-block for blindness,
Cursed the deaf, unstaid the cripple,
Played his son and daughter wrong,
Tattled of his wife’s behavior,        55
Made his father’s age a load,
Spoke belittling of his mother,
Took advantage of the stupid,
Made the hungry buy their bread,
Turned the needy from his threshold,        60
Clothed the naked with his bareness,
Shut the stranger from his fold,
Never begged forgiveness, pardon,
For a wrong aimed at a foe,
Never weighed the love or mercy        65
Of the Father of the world.
Low the lips are now repenting;
Every mutter is a sob
Ebbing from the font of being;
Conscience speaks in lowest accents,        70
Lest the voice cry out to men.
 
  Who has ever heard Kol Nidra
Gushing from the breast of man,
Rising, falling, as the ocean
Lifts the waves in joy or fear.        75
From Time’s ocean has it risen;
Every age has lent a murmur,
Every cycle built a wail;
Every sorrow ever dwelling
In the tortured heart of man,        80
Tears and sighs together swelling,
Answer for the pangs of ages.
’T is the voice of countless pilgrims,
Sons of Jacob, with a cry,
Moaning, sighing, grieving, wailing,        85
Answering in thousand voices
Fate and destiny of man,
Winning soul a consolation
For their sad allotment’s creed;
Wander-song of homeless traveller,        90
Outcast from the ranks of men;
Echoes from the throes of mortals,
Questioning the ways of God;
Song hummed by the lonely desert,
Prompted by the heart of night,        95
Lisped across the sandy borders
By the desert’s trailing wind;
Hymn of midnight and the silence,
Song the friendless stars intone,
Sung whene’er the tempest hurtles,        100
Bruits destruction to the world;
Song of every song of sorrow,
Wail for every grief and woe,
World affliction, world lamenting;
Sorrow of the lonely desert;        105
Sadness of a homeless people;
Anguish of a chided mortal,
Hounded, tracked, oppressed, and beaten,
Made the scourge of God on earth;
Outcry of a sinful bosom        110
Warring with his guilt and wrong.
’T is a saintly aspiration
Of a holy soul in prayer;
’T is the music hummed by mercy,
When the heart is touched by love.        115
’T is the welding of all mercy,
Love, forgiveness, in a union,
Sweeping o’er the span of ages,
Flooding earth with one majestic,
Universal hymn of woe,        120
As if God had willed his children
Weep in but one human strain.
 
  Who can hear this strange Kol Nidra
Without dropping in the spell?
Lift the vestige of the present,        125
Link the momentary fleeting
Of the evening with the past;
Dwell a spirit in the ages,
Living in the heart of time:
Lose the sense of outer worlds,        130
Soul alone in endless time,
Breathing but the breath of ages.
 

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