Verse > Anthologies > Joseph Friedlander, comp. > The Standard Book of Jewish Verse
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Joseph Friedlander, comp.  The Standard Book of Jewish Verse.  1917.
 
Martyrdom
By Rufus Learsi
 
I
WITHOUT, the lonely night is sweet with stars:
  But me an ancient grewsome tale has bound
  Of them He chose and later cast aground
As on a raging sea to drift like spars.
 
Great God! Was it but mockery Thy choice?        5
  Is martyrdom the highest crown you give?
  And shall a People, maimed and fugitive,
Be bearer of the thunder of Thy Voice?
 
Burn low, my lamp, I cannot further read;
  The woes of countless thousands o’er me flood!        10
    From out the shadows lurid shapes arise:
Of executioners who foam with greed,
  Of “holy” swords that drip with infants’ blood,
    Of flames that roar and shapes that agonize!
 
II
Behold! What strange procession do I see?
        15
  Before my vision dimmed with tears of rage,
  Emerging as from mists that mar the page,
In sadness stern they tread so solemnly.
 
The shadows grimly lie to left and right
  Like huge and moving forests o’er them bent:        20
  Up winds the road in tortuous ascent,
And far and faint a Peak in misty white.
 
And see! From out the lurking shadows leap
  Uncanny shapes of beasts with howl and shriek!
    White flash their fangs, like points of fire their eyes!        25
The victims fall and neither groan nor weep;
  Each lifts his eyes unto the gleaming Peak
    And cries: “The Lord our God is One!” and dies!
 
III
And yet the night is sweet with stars: away
  Then put the tale of martyrs red with blood,        30
  Of them He chose to prove in fire and flood,
Of saints defiled, and blazing auto-da-fé.
 
Come! Ope your lattice: why forever read?
  The million-jewelled heavens are awake
  As when to Abraham the Voice outspake:        35
“As numberless as Heaven’s stars thy seed!”
 
Sweet, friendly stars! Your splendor calm
  Has not since then diminished by a gleam!
    Are ye not witness to the promise still?
Then, heir of sorrow, purge your heart of qualm!        40
  Shall bitterness of soul dislodge the dream?
    The Peak still glimmers: thrill, my spirit, thrill!
 
 
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