Verse > Anthologies > Joseph Friedlander, comp. > The Standard Book of Jewish Verse
Joseph Friedlander, comp.  The Standard Book of Jewish Verse.  1917.
The Young Moses
THE WORLD was at his feet …
But overhead, the stars!
From Luxor’s roof he saw their light on pillared Karnak fall,
And knew what gods and ghosts of monarchs
Alien to his blood        5
Kept guard among the shadows there …
While far upon the breathing plain
Hushed Memnon brooded, holding at his heart
A golden cry that trembled for the dawn …
Upon a temple’s roof at Thebes the young Moses stood        10
In commune with his dreams …
A kingdom at his feet …
Fostered of Pharaoh’s daughter,
And a Prince in Egypt:
In statecraft, priestcraft, lifecraft, skilled:        15
Wise in his youth, and strong, and conscious of his powers:
Dowered with the patience and the passion that are genius:
Ambitious, favored, subtle, sure and swift—
Already Prince in Egypt!
And later, anything he willed …        20
Fledged early, with a soaring instinct in his wings.
He mused, and for an infinite moment
All the world streamed by him in a mist …
Cities and ships and nations,
Temples and armies, melted to a mist, and swirling past beneath the stars:        25
And a faint tumult filled his ears of trumpets and the clash of brazen arms,
The wind and sound of empire,
And he felt the mighty pulse of his own thought and will transmuted to the tread of marching hosts
That shook the granite hills,
And saw chained kings cringe by his chariots, lion-drawn …        30
And felt himself on Seti’s throne and crowned with Seti’s crown,
And all earth’s rhythms beating to his sense of law,
And half earth’s purple blood, if so he would, poured out to dye his robes with deeper splendor …
And all the iron delight of power was his …
This Egypt was a weapon to his hand,        35
This life was buoyant air, and his the eagle’s plume.
For one measureless moment this vision moved and glittered,
Rushing by …
Master of men he knew himself; he thrilled;
There an empire at his feet.        40
But overhead, a God …
Implacable divinity that, as he looked, was of a sudden manifest
In all the burning stars …
Relentless, searching spirit,
Cruel holiness that smote him with the agony of love,        45
Stern sweetness piercing to the soul,
Silence articulate that turned the universe to one unspoken word,
Violent serenity that plucked at his roots of being …
And a voice that answered him before he questioned it …
For one eternal instant Moses stood,        50
The cup of empire lifted to his lips,
And struggled with the God that is not if we are not He …
And then … descended from the temple’s roof,
And cast his princely trappings off,
And took his slow way through the shadowed town        55
Unto the quarter where an outcast people and oppressed
Labored beneath the lash.
And put their lives and hopes into the bricks because there was no straw,
And cast his lot in with those sickly slaves,
To lead them, if he might, from bondage …        60

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