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.
 
Feldmesten or Measuring the Graves
By Alter Abelson
 
ON hill and glade, the flowers fade,
  The bleaching grass is all a-cold;
The leaves all frayed, in dust are laid,
  The shrewd and churlish winds grow bold.
 
Like jealous thieves, they tear the leaves        5
  That shiver, clinging to the tree,
The Eden leaves—the heart, it grieves,
  The chilly air’s a prophecy.
 
The signs of loss and wreckage float;
  A tear is trembling in the sky;        10
The bird, a lump is in her throat,
  For song and summer that must die.
 
Granny, these Ellul penance days,
  Days, purgatorial, sad and sere,
Like pilgrim plods her dolorous ways        15
  To burial grounds to drop her tear.
 
With prophesying heart and look,
  The yarn in use for shrouds she buys,
And lays it in her prayer-book,
  And wipes, and wipes again her eyes.        20
 
And hobbling hies her to the graves;
  Her heart, a nest of gnawing fears;
And there unwinds, unwinds and laves
  The thread with tears—they weep, her years.
 
She sobs and sighs some sacred word,        25
  With pain as if the grave did yawn
Within her heart; as if she heard
  The whirr of worms in coffins spawn.
 
She bows her head, and lays the thread,
  And metes and measures every mound;        30
Each peaceful dwelling of the dead,
  Each holy home in silence bound.
 
Her tears, they well, her tears, they roll,
  As on the grave she lays the line;
And something sobs within her soul,        35
  “You, too, one day will have this shrine.
 
“Your sacred mound, some hands will mete;
  Who knows if not your fingers now
Have measured here your life’s retreat,
  The grave which time for you will plow?”        40
 
She wipes a tear, winds up again
  The hallowed, dusty tear-touched thread,
She takes it home, and weaves amain
  A wick by which the Torah’s read.
 
A wick, a lamp for Judah’s camp,        45
  That keeps the Torah’s law of life—
And then she sighs—“No more they tramp
  The dead, the dead are free from strife.
 
“O Lord, of love and living years,
  We lit Thy Torah’s lamp so long,        50
With threads of graves, with threads of tears,
  When will we weave it threads of song?”
 
 
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