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 Light in the Eyes”
By Oscar Loeb
 
   The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart—Proverbs xv, 30.
  And mine heart walked after mine eyes—Job xxxi, 7.

AS down the age he shambles, gaunt and gray,
With sorry gait, nor one to bid him stay,
We mark what man to brother man may do.
The shrivelled skin, the Ghetto-gotten hue,
Time’s Tragedy writ large upon his face        5
The old, world-weary epic of his race;
—Yet see, he lifts his head and we surprise
Some strange swift light of laughter in his eyes.
 
On shoulders still the burden and the smart,
While Hope fights hard to live in Jewish heart,        10
Yet not for him the Bitterness and Gall
Though Grief stalk with him to the Wailing Wall,
Give him a crumb of joy, and, boyish-wise,
There leaps the light of laughter to his eyes.
 
The crying of wild voices in the night,        15
The curses and the struggle and the flight,
The Bloody Hand of Spain, the Cossack’s breath,
The Sacrifice at York, the Dance to Death;
As fiend hath done so fiend will still devise,
—Through all persists brave laughter—light in eyes.        20
 
His mirth, sometimes, hath ghastly hollow ring,
Elijah-like its grim, ironic fling,
The hate-engendered jest betrays its heat
Nor can the pulse forever calmly beat;
But ling’ring ’neath the fire we may surmise        25
Warm light of loving laughter in his eyes.
 
Come to the pious purlieus of his home,
Here Love hath wed with Laughter, door to dome,
The troubles that beset the tiny brood
Respective, vanish ’fore that bantering mood.        30
What of travail, what of self-sacrifice
If Laughter-light live long in little eyes?
 
From Hebron’s rill the music long hath ceased,
The Temple moulders in the solemn East,
Yet from Siloa’s depth men still may drink        35
Two draughts Israel of old quaffed from its brink—
The heart-young love of life that never dies,
The limpid light of laughter in the eyes!
 
As down the age he shambles, grimed and gray,
With falt’ring gait, and few to bid him stay,        40
We mark what man hath done to man, the Jew,
The shrunken shape, the dark-begotten hue;
The burden of his snatch of sorry song,
“How long, O Lord,”—the plaint—“O Lord, how long?”
Yet wait!—nor woe nor wail shall e’er disguise        45
Some sure, soft light of laughter in his eyes.
 
 
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