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 Burning of the Law
By Meir of Rothenberg (Trans. Nina Davis)
 
ASK, is it well, O thou consumed of fire,
  With those that mourn for thee,
That yearn to tread thy courts, that sore desire
  Thy sanctuary;
 
That, panting for thy land’s sweet dust, are grieved,        5
  And sorrow in their souls,
And by the flames of wasting fire bereaved,
  Mourn for thy scrolls;
 
That grope in shadow of unbroken night,
  Waiting the day to see        10
Which o’er them yet shall cast a radiance bright,
  And over thee?
 
Ask of the welfare of the man of woe,
  With breaking heart, in vain
Lamenting ever for thine overthrow,        15
  And for thy pain;
 
Of him that crieth as the jackals cry,
  As owls their moaning make,
Proclaiming bitter wailing far and nigh;
  Yea, for Thy sake.        20
 
And thou revealed amid a heavenly fire,
  By earthly fire consumed,
Say how the foe unscorched escaped the pyre
  Thy flames illumed!
 
How long shalt thou that art at ease abide        25
  In peace, unknown to woe,
While o’er my flowers, humbled from their pride,
  Thy nettles grow?
 
Thou sittest high exalted, lofty foe!
  To judge the sons of God;        30
And with thy judgments stern dost bring them low
  Beneath thy rod.
 
Yea, more, to burn the Law thou durst decree—
  God’s word to banish hence;
Then blest be he who shall award to thee        35
  Thy recompense!
 
Was it for this, thou Law, my Rock of old
  Gave thee with flames begirt,
That in thine after-days should fire seize hold
  Upon thy skirt?        40
 
O Sinai! was it then for this God chose
  Thy mount of modest height,
Rejecting statelier, while on thee arose
  His glorious light?
 
Wast thou an omen that from noble state        45
  The Law should lowly be?
And lo! a parable will I relate
  Befitting thee.
 
’Tis of a king I tell, who sat before
  The banquet of his son        50
And wept: for ’mid the mirth he death foresaw;
  So thou hast done.
 
Cast off thy robe; in sackcloth folds of night,
  O Sinai! cover thee;
Don widow’s garb, discard thy raiment bright        55
  Of royalty.
 
Lo, I will weep for thee until my tears
  Swell as a stream and flow
Unto the graves where Thy two princely seers
  Sleep calm below:        60
 
Moses and Aaron in the Mountain Hor;
  I will of them inquire:
Is there another to replace this Law
  Devoured of fire?
 
O thou third month most sacred! woe is me        65
  For treason of the fourth,
Which dimmed the sacred light that shone from thee
  And kindled wrath;
 
And break the tablets, yea, and still did rage:
  And lo! the Law is burnt!        70
Ye sinful! is not this the twofold wage
  Which ye have earnt?
 
Dismal hath seized upon my soul; how, then,
  Can food be sweet to me,
When, O thou Law, I have beheld base men        75
  Destroying thee?
 
They cast thee out as one despised, and burn
  The wealth of God Most High;
They whom from thine assembly thou wouldst spurn
  From drawing nigh.        80
 
I cannot pass along the highway more,
  Nor seek thy ways forlorn;
How do thy paths their loneliness deplore!
  Lo! how they mourn!
 
The mingled cup shall taste as honey sweet        85
  Where tears o’erbrim the wine;
Yea, and thy chains upon my shackled feet
  Are joy divine.
 
Sweet would it be unto mine eyes alway
  A rain of tears to pour,        90
To sob and drench thy sacred robes, till they
  Could hold no more.
 
But lo! my tears are dried, when, fast outpoured,
  They down my cheeks are shed;
Scorched by the fire within: because thy Lord        95
  Hath turned and fled.
 
Taking His holy treasure, He hath made
  His journey far away;
And with Him hath not thy protecting shade
  Vanished for aye?        100
 
And I am desolate and sore bereft,
  Lo! a forsaken one:
Like a sole beacon on a mountain left,
  A tower alone.
 
I hear the voice of singers now no more,        105
  Silence their song hath bound;
The strings are broken which on harps of yore
  Breathed forth sweet sound.
 
In sackcloth I will clothe and sable band,
  For well-beloved by me        110
Were they whose lives were many as the sand—
  The slain of thee.
 
I am astonished that the day’s fair light
  Yet shineth brilliantly
On all things:—it is ever dark as night        115
  To me and thee.
 
Send with a bitter cry to God above
  Thine anguish, nor withhold:
Ah! that He would remember yet His love,
  His troth of old!        120
 
Gird on the sackcloth of thy misery
  For that devouring fire,
Which burst forth ravenous on thine and thee
  With wasting dire.
 
E’en as thy Rock hath sore afflicted thee,        125
  He will assuage thy woe,
Will turn again the tribes’ captivity,
  And raise the low.
 
Yet shalt thou wear thy scarlet raiment choice,
  And sound the timbrels high,        130
And yet amid the dancers shalt rejoice
  With gladdened cry.
 
My heart shall be uplifted on the day
  The Rock shall be thy light,
When He shall make thy gloom to pass away,        135
  Thy darkness bright.
 
 
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