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.
 
Ellis Island
By James Oppenheim
 
THREE thousand miles of Atlantic seas and a throb that cuts the top,
The rushed four-funneled fleeting ship, that, without curb or stop,
Hurls on, while Earth ten times rolls round till, under morning stars,
She breasts the mist of a continent and slows at the groaning bars!
 
And lo, three-layered Humanity in her steerage bunks asleep,        5
Rising at dawn and crowding aft, and in the infinite sweep
Of gray—the sea, the sky,—see dim, dream greatened and gigantic,
America, America, uprisen from the Atlantic!
 
Swift on dead centuries of faces a sun flames, ere the Sun
Blows the blue bubble of the heavens vast—yea, flaming one by one,        10
These faces are a psalm to God—a morning hymn—the sea,
The sky, the land are a living Temple with a thousand Souls set free.
 
Swing them the uplifted, crowded people in transport to our Isle—
Morning with strong sun and sweet gales and the Bay’s yeasty mile,
Like hands holds forth a glorious City—her smoke’s sky-swimming shoals,        15
Her flight of cliffs, her range of peaks all honeycombed with Souls!
 
O, come through the Ellis Island Gates—O rush the sweet routine,
Sweep to new birth on a planet new—for lo, at the wire screen
Of the waiting cage, the American clutch—yea, as starved people stare,
Watching your alien faces pass to see if one be there.        20
 
Yonder old trembling man three hours has stood! Through the shuffling crowd
A pink-shawled withered old woman shambles over her baggage bowed;
He pales; he cries her name; she bursts into his arms; the years
Melt back into the glory of youth, still seen through blinding tears.
 
Old Woman—strong girls, swart men, soft babes—you hordes across seas hurled,        25
O pioneers, as one dares Death, you dare a great new World!
You bring strong blood, and Faith, and Love, stout hearts and homely traits—
What shall our country do with you—deal out what Dooms, what Fates?
 
Shall we judge by your alien ways, and lose the gifts that are all our own?
Or shall we rise to grander heights than Earth has ever known?        30
Yea, shall we seize on you with love, far-building on our trust?
Are we great enough to swing to God what Europe trailed in dust?
 
O our America, O Mother, great have you been, our hearts
Are yours, our faith and love are yours—great are your trades and arts,
Your Men—fail not! Earth looks to you, her vast Experiment Station,        35
To test if souls may be borne to God in the arms of a Mother-Nation!
 
Shun not the Mission! Fearless, fearless mother, Earth’s mightiest race—
Yea, seize your flashing stars and stripes and stamp across the face
That word, the strongest in our tongue, that sums the skies deep-starred,
The grain of sand, the Earth, the Soul, our country—the word “God!”        40
 
 
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