Verse > Anthologies > Joseph Friedlander, comp. > The Standard Book of Jewish Verse
Joseph Friedlander, comp.  The Standard Book of Jewish Verse.  1917.
The Jewish Mother and Her Sons before Antiochus
By R. Manahan
THE SUN shone bright upon a kingly throne
Where, clad in state, there sat a mighty one,
Courtiers around him thronged—below, a mighty crowd
Of mingled heads, with voices low and loud,
Swayed, as do tresses in tempest weather-tossed,        5
By winds conflicting, or ships to safety lost,
Heaving on billowy seas, and rudely driven
Now here and there yet farther from a haven.
Thus swayed the crowd, gazing with awe-struck mien,
On royalty, clad in its glorious sheen,        10
While from his throne Antiochus grimly smiled,
Upon that sea of heads, as if beguiled,
To see so many slaves, with flattery meek
Waiting to know what his one will might seek.
“Bring of her seven sons,” he fiercely cried,        15
And cruel shouts arose from every side.
She came, tho’ deadly pale, yet calm her face,
And sternly graceful her majestic pace,
Supported by her first born warrior son,
Of all her braves, the bravest, noblest one.        20
The swaying crowd is hushed to murmurs low,
“Wilt thou worship the King’s God?” “By my forefathers, no!”
Rose on the air; again the shouts rise,
Then low on earth the martyr’d soldier lies,
His blood flows o’er the mother’s feet, she bends in prayer;        25
Then looks on her heroic band, ah! one is wanting there.
Again the summons came, two now before the king
In manhood’s earliest glories stand in the fatal ring
Alike in lineaments, with arms entwined
They seem two forms, in but one soul combined.        30
“Wilt bow, stiff necks? bethink ye well, ’tis death
By one refusal.” “Our God has given us breath,
We may not bow.” “Ah, bind them on the wheel,”
The King cries fiercely, and with hearts of steel
His myrmidons obey—by her sons’ side        35
The mother stands, hushing the anguish tide
Of woe too deep for tears, to comfort them,
And give to them their last prayers, her soft amen.
“Wilt now receive our God? methinks thou see’st
Thine in thine hour of danger flee.”        40
But feebly with joined hands the upward sign,
The sufferers put back; and so they died.
Thus, one by one, three others rendered up
In torture drear, life’s young hope-jeweled cup,
Rather than to profane God’s jealous right        45
And be apostates in their mother’s sight,
But one was left; a fair-haired, blue-eyed boy,
The household idol, and his mother’s joy.
The lad’s high bearing much the King admired,
And of this bloody sport e’en he had tired;        50
He told the child of death, its awful pangs,
Pictured the terror that around it hangs;
Then spoke of life, its joys, hopes, pleasures new,
Touching on things the brightest to the view,
But the mother’s look pled with him as she wept,        55
And the brave child his God’s commandment kept.
The King amazed to see such moral strength
In one so young would go to any length,
To save the boy. But crowds were standing ’round
The raised tribunal, watching without sound        60
This moral duel ’twixt the King and child
With admiration and excitement wild.
The royal word must not be humbled now
While gaping thousands watch to see him bow;
Some act of homage must the child perform        65
To blind the crowd, his friends or foes to warn
And show a will subdued. “Boy, I would save thy life
And shield thee from the torturer’s cutting knife.
See! I but drop my ring; kneel, hand it to me
And this small act shall give life back to thee.”        70
The child—boy paused—this act was but a right,
An homage due from all to royal might;
But looking ’round—his friends were too far now
To hear the King’s last words; but they could see him bow.
Might not the King have given him the reprieve        75
To blind the many, his friends to deceive?
Might they not think he to the Idol bowed?
The boy turned thoughtful from th’ admiring crowd
Towards the King,—firmly refused to kneel
For fortune or for any weal.        80
Where was the mother then? Torn from her boy away
She could but weep, and to the Almighty pray.
Oh! who could tell the fear and agony,
Lest he might kneel, and that she was not nigh
To warn him of the tempter’s subtlety;        85
But when he turned, refusing to obey,
What pure meek triumph crown’d her queenly brow!
But see the King has from him sternly turned
With bitter hate, which for more bloodshed burned;
Now on they bear him to the fatal place,        90
While sadness troubled e’en the torturer’s face,
To see him like a flower so rudely torn,
While her white face bent o’er him, thin and worn.
The mother knelt, clasping the little hand,
Kissing the lips that grew so cold and wan;        95
His curls dampened in death, he murmured low,
“Receive my soul! oh! God, I did not bow!”
Then bound they her upon that cruel place
Where smiling lay her martyred boy’s dead face.
She prayed awhile, her eyes raised high above,        100
An eight-fold crown would there reward her love:
“I have surpass’d thee, Abraham,” triumphantly she cried,
“Thou gavest One, I seven to God!” And so she died.

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