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.
 
Israel
By John Hay
 
WHEN by Jabbok the patriarch waited
To learn on the morrow his doom
And his dubious spirit debated
In darkness and silence and gloom,
There descended a Being with whom        5
He wrestled in agony sore,
With striving of heart and of brawn,
And not for an instant forbore
Till the east gave a threat of the dawn;
And then, the Awful One blessed him;        10
To his lips and his spirit there came,
Compelled by the doubts that oppressed him,
The cry that through questioning ages
Has been rung from the hinds and the sages,
  “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name!”        15
Most fatal, most futile of questions!
Wherever the heart of man beats,
In the spirits’ most sacred retreats,
It comes with its sombre suggestions
Unanswered forever and aye.        20
The blessing may come and may stay,
For the wrestler’s heroic endeavor;
But the question, unheeded forever,
Dies out in the broadening day.
 
In the ages before our traditions,        25
By the altars of dark superstitions,
The imperious question has come;
When the death-stricken victim lay sobbing
At the feet of his slayer and priest,
And his heart was laid smoking and throbbing        30
To the sound of the cymbal and drum
On the steps of the high Teocallis;
When the delicate Greek at his feast
Poured forth the red wine from his chalice
With mocking and cynical prayer;        35
When by Nile Egypt worshipping lay,
And afar through the rosy, flushed air
The Memnon called out to the day;
Where the Muezzin’s cry floats from his spire;
In the vaulted Cathedral’s dim shades,        40
Where the crushed hearts of thousands aspire
Through art’s highest miracle higher,
This question of questions invades
Each heart bowed in worship or shame;
In the air where the censers are swinging,        45
A voice, going up with the singing,
Cries, “Tell me I pray Thee Thy name.”
No answer came back, not a word,
To the patriarch there by the ford;
No answer has come through the ages        50
To the poets, the seers and the sages
Who have sought in the secrets of science
The name or the nature of God,
Whether crushing in desperate defiance
Or kissing his absolute rod;        55
But the answer which was and shall be,
  “My name! Nay, what is it to thee?”
The search and the question are vain.
By use of the strength that is in you,
By wrestling of soul and of sinew        60
The blessing of God you may gain.
There are lights in the far-gleaming Heaven
That never shall shine on our eyes;
To mortals it may not be given
To range those inviolate skies.        65
The mind, whether praying or scorning,
That tempts those dread secrets shall fail;
But strive through the night till the morning,
  And mightily thou shalt prevail.
 
 
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