Verse > Anthologies > Joseph Friedlander, comp. > The Standard Book of Jewish Verse
Joseph Friedlander, comp.  The Standard Book of Jewish Verse.  1917.
The Moral of It
By Samuel Gordon
SO once more the ancient story lifts its voice undulled by age—
While the pyramids stand dimly strewn across the lettered page,
And we hear the slave gangs rattling loud their chains of vassalage—,
How the sea’s avenging fury purged the immemorial wrong
How the fire cloud’s angel pinions hovered o’er the nomad throng;        5
Till at last their wondering quavers struggled into pæan song.
And the story has a sequel, and the sequel tears may tell,
How across the desert ages journeyed footsore Israel,
Ran the gauntlet of the nations, midst the scourgers’ carrion-yell.
But the shrewd Ahasuerus 1 toughened with each strictest test,        10
Lingered round the Gentile’s back-door, till the Gentile acquiesced
And from contraband intruder made him an unwelcome guest.
For the world grew self-respecting, ordered things with light and law,
Gave the spoiler shorter tether, closer pared the vulture’s claw,
And announced the grand commandment. Would’st thou bricks, then give the straw.        15
Has thy tree of life, emplanted decade-deep in sunnier earth,—
Have thy virtue’s olive branches, Judah, gained in girth and worth?
Is thy warrant of survival still the same that gave thee birth?
Walk we straighter-backed through Edom since the lightening of the yoke?
Lives the faith, the self-surrender that from stake and gibbet spoke?        20
Is the message of Jeshurun more than riddling equivoque?
Faith and message waned to shadows, self-deceiving, self-belied,
Sapless mockery of substance, time’s long-suffering petrified:
May the flesh not live for ever once the soul itself has died?
So we move, and move at random, know not when to leap or halt,        25
Pause and hear the by-word “sluggard,” leap, and turn a somersault,
And we snarl, with pointing fingers: yours—and yours—and yours the fault.
Hence the heretic’s revilings, rants of rabid tribalist,
Each would be the true adherent, each the only loyalist;
Matters it who makes the mischief, zealot or conventiclist?        30
Zion listening ’midst her ruins lifts her haggard face and wan,
Queries: lives the recollection martyr-years have handed on?
Think they of the vows that echo from the brooks of Babylon?
Whose the shame, and whose the sorrow? Men and ages we condemn,
Cavil at the courtly cities, rail against the tents of Shem;        35
Whose the blame, if in our bosoms dwells a dead Jerusalem?
Note 1. The legendary name of the Wandering Jew. [back]

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