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.
 
The Massacre of the Jews at York
By Marion and Celia Moss
 
An Historical Poem

 “And scattered and scorn’d as thy people may be,
“Our worship, O Father, is only for thee.”
BYRON.

THERE is an old and stately hall,
  Hung round with many a spear and shield,
And sword and buckler on the wall
  Won from the foe in tented field:
Yet there no warrior bands are seen,        5
With martial step and lofty mien;
But men with care, not age, grown white,
Meet in York Castle hall to-night,
And groups of maids and matrons too,
With hair and eyes, whose jetty hue        10
Belong to Judea’s sunny land,
Are mingling with that sorrowing band:
What doth the Jew—the wandering race
Of Israel, in such dwelling place?
From persecution’s deadly rage        15
A refuge in those walls they sought,
The zealots of a barb’rous age,
Ruin upon their tribes had brought.
.    .    .    .    .
All was silent without, there was not a sound,
There was not a whisper, there was not a breath        20
To disturb the silence still and profound,
All was hush’d as the vale of the shadow of death:
Within was tumult—loud and wild debate
’Mongst those who at that midnight council sate;
Famine was on each check, and every eye        25
Told fearfully of its wild ministry.
Starvation and despair their councils urg’d,
And in those feelings every other merged:
Parents almost forgot their children’s cry
In their own overwhelming misery;        30
As the rush of the waves when the winds are in motion,
And the storm-gods abroad on the dark heaving ocean,
Was the voice of the crowd ’til the Rabbi arose,
Then at once every sound was hush’d into repose.
Bent was his form, but more with care than age,        35
Sorrow had worn the furrows in his face;
Yet in the features of the revered sage
Somewhat of youthful ardour might you trace,
As the old oak that’s hollow’d out by time
Seems to retain the vigour of its prime,        40
“Men of Israel,” he said, with a proud flashing eye,
“This night doth Jehovah command us to die
The death of the brave, for the laws that He gave.
Leave bondage and chains for the coward and slave!
What is our crime, O what is the deed,        45
For which so many are doom’d to bleed?
Strangers—alike through every clime we are hurl’d,
Through every land our seed is spread abroad—
Scorn’d and despised, the outcasts of the world,
Yet still the chosen people of our God!        50
We asked these Britons for a home,
A shelter from the inclement skies:
Have we despoiled a Christian dome,
Or sought a Christian sacrifice?
We did but ask a dwelling place,        55
And in return our wealth we gave;
They spurn’d us as an outcast race,
And brand us with the name of slave:
They hate us, for we seek to tread
The peaceful path our fathers trod;        60
They hate us, for we bow our heads
Before the shrine of Israel’s God;
And now because we sought to bring
A tribute to their new crown’d king,
Like savage beasts they hunt us down,        65
Their streets with Jewish dead are strewn;
And they who can boast of mercy and love,
And picture their God in the form of a dove,
Are athirst for our blood, our possession they crave!
But the wealth we have toiled for, they never shall have        70
While there’s fire on the hearthstone or sword in the hall,
By the hand of each other ’tis better to fall:
There have been times, and this is such a time,
When even suicide is not a crime:
Behold how your wives and your children are clinging        75
Around ye, and pray for a morsel of bread,
While the cold heartless wretches beneath have been flinging
Profusion away, and they carelessly tread
On the food that your wives and your children would save
From the pangs of starvation—the jaws of the grave!        80
Then shall such monsters triumph o’er us?
They think that yield to them we must,
Where’er we turn there’s death before us;
We cannot to their mercy trust,
We cannot on their faith rely,        85
Then let us see our dear ones die;
Thus, thus will we defy our foes,
By our own hands they all shall bleed,
Their blood be on the heads of those
Who goaded us to such a deed.        90
The husband turneth to his wife,
The lover to his lov’d doth cling—
To raise an arm against the life
Of woman, is a fearful thing!
Aye, so it is: but I have here        95
A stake that is to me as dear,
The solace of my widow’d years,
The object of my fondest cares.”
He pointed where there stood apart
Watching the chosen one of her heart,        100
A maiden passing fair;
Her raven hair was backward flung,
And on her brow of snow there hung
A dark cloud of despair,
Ah! little did poor Rachel deem        105
When in her spirits first bright dream
With beaming eyes and flushing brow
She listened to Manasseh’s vow,
That such a fearful hour as this
Would ever blight her dream of bliss.        110
She was Ben Israel’s only child,
A child of one long passed away,
And he upon their loves had smil’d,
And gladly named the bridal day.
He glanc’d his eyes around, as he paused,        115
To mark the effect which his words had caused:
The men sat silent, and scarce drew breath,
As they heard the decree that doom’d them to death.
The mother convulsively press’d to her heart
The lov’d babe from whom she so soon was to part.        120
The matron seem’d bound by a holier tie
To the lord of her heart, with whom she must die.
None murmured a sound—save a few who sate
At the end of the hall, in deep debate;
The quivering limb and downcast eye        125
Told they were cowards who fear’d to die.
At length Ben Ephraim rose and spoke,
And at once the death-like silence broke:—
“Ben Israel,” he said, “’tis a dread decree,
For we might once again be free:        130
We might bribe the foemen our lives to save,
And snatch our little ones from the grave.”
Ben Israel rose, and dash’d the trace
Of the tears from off his rugged face
(Which had gathered there, in spite of his pride)        135
Then turn’d to the coward and thus replied:—
“Seek ye for mercy? ask yon man of blood
(Who dares to call himself a priest of God),
For mercy! and ye will such mercy find
As the pursuing huntsman gives the hind;        140
Such mercy as the hapless bird may seek
When closely clutch’d within the vulture’s beak!
In yonder blood-stained city did they spare
The brave, the ag’d, the youthful, or the fair?
No! babes from their mother’s breasts were torn,        145
And their dying shrieks on the air were borne;
Nor did they heed the father’s accents wild,
Entreating them to save his darling child;
But hew’d them down like cattle, where they stood,
And wash’d out their religion in their blood!        150
Women of Israel! would ye not rather
Fall by the hand of a husband or father,
Than brave the insults that await
Ye, when they force the castle gate?
When the Israelites echoed the Maccabees’ cry        155
As they raised the Asmonean banner on high,
They stayed not to think upon danger or death,
But glorified God with their last fainting breath,
And left in their country’s annals a name
That will ne’er be erased from the records of fame.        160
Then think on the glorious dead
Of ages long gone by;
Think on the cause for which they bled,
And like them dare to die;
For the laws which our God to his prophet reveal’d,        165
Yes! our faith in their truth, with our blood must be seal’d.
Depart! all ye who would be slaves,
Nor dare disturb our latest breath:
Depart! and leave the glorious graves
For those who prefer to apostacy—Death.”        170
A few of the weaker and cowardly-hearted,
Rose from their seats at his words and departed.
All became silent then around,
The very children hush’d their crying;
In that vast hall there was not a sound,        175
As Ben Israel read the prayers for the dying.
He ceased:—Five hundred voices raise
To heaven’s high throne the hymns of praise,
And ever as the echoes rung,
The self-devoted victims sung—Halleluyah!        180
 
 
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