Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Kol Nidre
By Samuel Roth
 
WHEN twilight charms the sunset into dusk
The singer comes. I do not know his step
Nor ever have I seen the form of him.
But when through darkening window-panes I reach
My vision for that straining star whose course        5
Was preconceived in me, and with me
I know must pass forever, I hear his voice:
Deep rhythm circling stern creation’s path
And passing far beyond it—Kol Nidre!
A little silence—all is swept away;        10
And there are only God and nothingness
Myself besides, I who am more than God
And less than nothingness—for it is rest.
 
As from dissolving mists sudden appears
The city’s countenance, so from these days,        15
Melting like mists away, rise clear and stern
The towers of the solemn days that were:
Dread days of reckoning whose shofar blasts
Like thunder, dawns of upturned faces, pleas
Like wrath of midnight storms, sing in my blood        20
Wakening memories long dead, best dead …
 
Two thousand years of listless wandering!
Ages without a battle cry! Lo, he
Who sings behind the wall is meek; the words
Flow gently from his soul, and you whose song        25
Is light, unburdened by our Elohim,
Cannot conceive the terrible despair!
But we who sing it know, for as we sing
We suffer. Every note a lash! Each word
A lovely daughter’s shame! Ay, every verse        30
A noble city’s doom of martyrdom!
And the whole song the story of a race
Which wrought God from itself and lost its soul.
 
Kol Nidre! and a hundred armies march
Retreat! A hundred armies bannerless and slow,        35
A far-flung shadow o’er the fields of earth,
March through my soul and will not cease. Give me
Your crucifix, children of Christendom,
The thing you hold up to the sun, and wail
And moan—your sign of suffering!        40
The dead have pride, and seeing it on me
Will go their way. Yet I’ll not desecrate
The dead! Their pride—’twas all they had in life!
 
Kol Nidre! God! will this never have end?
These mighty trumpet blasts—for whom?—the dead?        45
They do not hear, I say.
The living? Lord! Have you no laughter left?
These living, straws out in your mighty storm,
They do not hear your storm, only the cries
Of bleeding lambs and drowning swine reach them.        50
But lo, the singer sings!—all I have lived
And will live yet, all that my race has lived
And will live yet. Listen! All laughter dies,
A knock upon my window-pane, fumbling
Black flapping wings, a voice wild with despair:        55
“Traitor!—what have you mused in Ascalon?”
 
Kol Nidre! So throughout the centuries,
Deep, beautiful and glorious to hear!
But what would you of me? Is there a path
You’d have me take? I’ve beaten every one!        60
A thousand roads are in my blood! What then?
Is it a call to fight? Battle with whom?
Amalak long is dead, the gentile gods
Are slain, and all their golden temples dust!
Perhaps it is a call to life? We long        65
Have ceased to live, wearied … Or is it death?
How shall we die who knew not how to live?
 
God! God! Save me from this despair! Hurl me,
If so you will, down the ravines of death,
Where every sunbeam is a thorn to prick,        70
And every flower is a wound to bear,
All loveliness a memory of wrath
And spirit madness! I’ll not care! An end
Let be to all this waste! See, if I die
There is a heaven of stars goes down with me,        75
And if I live on …
            Hush! the song ceases,
The singer goes, and with him the despair!
Go singer, go! far from this land! the draught
You offer—it is much too strong! Highways
Broader than these shall hear your song. For me        80
The dusk deepens, deepens—there is my star!
 
 
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