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 Guardian of the Red Disk
By Emma Lazarus
 
(Spoken by a citizen of Malta—1300)

A CURIOUS title held in high repute,
One among many honors, thickly strewn
On my Lord Bishop’s head, his grace of Malta.
Nobly he bears them all,—with tact, skill, zeal,
Fulfils each special office, vast or slight,        5
Nor slurs the least minutia,—therewithal
Wears such a stately aspect of command,
Broad-cheeked, broad-chested, reverend, sanctified,
Haloed with white about the tonsure’s rim,
With dropped lids o’er the piercing Spanish eyes        10
(Lynx-keen, I warrant, to spy out heresy);
Tall, massive form, o’ertowering all in presence,
Or ere they kneel to kiss the large white hand.
His looks sustain his deeds,—the perfect prelate,
Whose void chair shall be taken, but not filled.        15
 
You know not, who are foreign to the isle,
Haply, what this Red Disk may be, he guards.
’Tis the bright blotch, big as the Royal seal,
Branded beneath the beard of every Jew.
These vermin so infest the isle, so slide        20
Into all byways, highways that may lead
Direct or roundabout to wealth or power,
Some plain, plump mark was needed, to protect
From degrading contact Christian folk.
 
The evil had grown monstrous: certain Jews        25
Wore such a haughty air, had so refined,
With super-subtile arts, strict, monkish lives,
And studious habit, the coarse Hebrew type,
One might have elbowed in the public mart
Iscariot,—nor suspected one’s soul-peril.        30
Christ’s blood! it sets my flesh a-creep to think!
We may breathe freely now, not fearing taint,
Praised be our good Lord Bishop! He keeps count
Of every Jew, and prints on cheek or chin
The scarlet stamp of separateness, of shame.        35
 
No beard, blue-black, grizzled or Judas-colored,
May hide that damning little wafer-flame.
When one appears therewith, the urchins know
Good sport’s at hand; they fling their stones and mud,
Sure of their game. But most the wisdom shows        40
Upon the unbelievers’ selves; they learn
Their proper rank; crouch, cringe, and hide,—lay by
Their insolence of self-esteem; no more
Flaunt forth in rich attire, but in dull weeds,
Slovenly donned, would slink past unobserved;        45
Bow servile necks and crook obsequious knees,
Chin sunk in hollow chest, eyes fixed on earth
Or blinking sidewise, but to apprehend
Whether or not the hated spot be spied.
I warrant my Lord Bishop has full hands,        50
Guarding the Red Disk—lest one rogue escape!
 
 
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