Verse > Anthologies > Joseph Friedlander, comp. > The Standard Book of Jewish Verse
Joseph Friedlander, comp.  The Standard Book of Jewish Verse.  1917.
The Sea of the Talmud
By Joseph Leiser
THE MOON is up, the stars shine bright,
The milky way glows soft and white.
We’ve spread our sails to catch the breeze
That frets the vast rabbinic seas.
We’ve spread our sails to roam amain        5
That profits neither gold nor gain,
Whose shores are stretched along a land,
Unmapped by man’s designing hand.
Beneath no lowering, storm-mad skies
We start on our strange enterprise—        10
Set outward bound, where signals gleam
Beyond the shadows of our dream,
To realms no feet of mortal man
Have trodden on or ever can,
And port at quays no ship-bound crew        15
Has sighted in the cosmic blue.
The ports there made are set afar
Like distant morn or evening star,
And golden as the halls of Ind
Where hush the sobbings of the wind.        20
Who rides this main, he travels wide
And sees the flood and ebbing tide
Run up and down a fabled shore
Outlined complete in cryptic lore.
Our rigging firm, our compass true        25
And manned with brave and seasoned crew
We sail at ease this unplumbed sea
Of knowledge and of mystery.
Enroute we pass odd crafts and barks
Whose pennants fly the signal marks        30
Of playful whims that, fancy free,
Glide o’er this vast rabbinic sea.
Then undulating like to grain
We rock, as out we head again
Our graceful sloop—or east or west—        35
It matters not which way the quest.
There flows in this rabbinic sea
The streams whose springs are poetry;
And rivulets from fancy’s height
Drop down to add their welcome mite.        40
And islands, where the palm trees dim
The visions of the Anakim;
And animals as high as these
Play quoits with fishes in the seas.
Along this course there’s ever found        45
Elijah on his daily round,
Who unafraid of good or ill,
Strives but to do another’s will.
What pageantry of kings we pass
Resplendent as the royal glass        50
The sages quaff, when at their feast,
The banquet hall lights up the east.
And all the winds that make the round
Of heaven bring their freighted sound
From halls where grey-haired sages sit        55
And questions of their Torah knit.
Yet mists at times befog the way
Where fretful white caps madly play;
Then midst the storm the seraphim
Becalm the waves by praising Him.        60
No other sea full-ebbed as this,
Bequeathed its sailors so much bliss,
For old as are its thundering shores,
Were ne’er bestrewn with spoils of wars.
No craft that ever dents their waves        65
Discharged its freight in watery graves;
For he who sails this unique sea
Returns with his own argosy.
The moon is up. The stars shine bright;
This mystic sea is swathed in light,        70
And from its depths droll voices lure
The land beset forth on a tour.
Far from the teeming ports and quays,
Where men and women fret their days,
No cruise as this makes sport of time,        75
Or breed or border, land or clime.
And in its wake a thousand ships
In gathering darkness evening dips,
Yet happy is each crew, and free,
That sails this vast rabbinic sea.        80

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