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.
 
The Jew in America
By Felix N. Gerson
 
WING thee, my song, and in majestic flight
Grace with fair melody the words I write;
That they, in some not too unworthy strain,
With pride and plaint, of glory tell and pain;
Say in what early dawn of history        5
High fate enmeshed our footsteps—made us be
The burdened bearers of a word sublime—
The portent and the amulet of time.
 
For that far vale, the cradle and the grave,—
Where we behold God and the world He gave,—        10
We have come hither for that high word’s sake,
Bound each to each with bonds that naught could break.
 
The golden thread along the paths we trod
Gleamed bright from daily contact with our God—
Through labyrinthine gloom of age on age        15
We knew its radiance as our heritage,—
And though in strange, far lands enforced to roam,
The broad earth held for us no alien home.
 
Spain saw us—Holland—and th’ intrepid crew
Of the famed caravel whose captain knew        20
Where sky and ocean melted in the west
A new world waited for his wondrous quest.
 
A new world—with great portals far outflung—
Holding a hope more sweet than time had sung,
To which the Jew, of life’s high quest a part,        25
A pilgrim came, the Torah in his heart.
Of his endeavor, how he thrived and came
To give new glory to his ancient name
And wore as diadem the thread of gold,
On many a page the chronicler has told.        30
 
A land of promise, and fulfilment too;
Where on a sudden olden dreams came true.
Man was man’s equal—unto every race
The path was levelled to the highest place.
Here grew we part of an ennobled state,        35
Gave and won honor, sat among the great,
And saw unfolding to our ’raptured view
The day long prayed for by the patient Jew.
.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
Pause thou, my song, that soarest proud and high,
Pause thou awhile, lest some far-echoed cry        40
Reverberating through the caves of time
Destroy the structure of thy vaulting rhyme.
A pale cadaver with lack-lustre eyes,
Touches the harp and stills its melodies.
 
Russia, thy name embitters history,        45
And in the ages that are yet to be,
A symbol thou for all the world holds worst—
Abhorred of heaven, by mankind accursed.
Prophetic made by frenzy of our grief,
By miseries that mount beyond belief,        50
We thee consign to be the scorn of time,
Shackled forever to earth’s blackest crime.
The long forefinger of the future years
Shall point thee out the fountain-head of tears;
Nor ocean’s waters may efface the stain        55
Branded in blood on thee—the brand of Cain!
 
Fain turns my song unto some fairer note—
We guard a promise voiced in days remote,
The words of prophets, and our deathless hope,
That in dark hours when we despairing grope        60
In ever clearer accents shall be heard:
No tyrant’s perfidy may kill God’s word.
 
Still trembling, in the valley, in the gloom,
About us frowning rocks strange shapes assume;
But unto faith that fears nor wreck nor storm        65
There dawns a golden day that shall transform
These spectres of a long and cruel night
To ministering friends in new-born light,
When tried by travail and by fire and rod
We shall emerge, unchanged, to face our God.        70
 
 
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