Verse > Anthologies > Joseph Friedlander, comp. > The Standard Book of Jewish Verse
Joseph Friedlander, comp.  The Standard Book of Jewish Verse.  1917.
Only a Jew
IN the land of Brittany, and long ago,
            Lived one of those
Despised and desolate, whose records show
            Insults and blows,
Their old inheritance of wrong, who were        5
Free once as the eyelids of the morn; nor care
            Knew, nor annoy,
            In that city of joy,
Heaven-chosen child, whom none to harm might dare;
Lived one who did as if his God stood near        10
            Watching his deed,
Slow to give answer, ever swift to hear;
            Whose brain would breed,
Walking alone or watching through the night,
No idle thought; but he with ill would fight        15
            And day by day
            Would wax alway
Wiser and better and nearer to the light.
And in this land a mother lost her child,
            And charged the Jew        20
With crucifying him, who calmly smiled
            Denial. “You
Have slain,” quoth she, “to keep your Passover
My son with sorceries.” He answered her,
            “Your wit must fail;        25
            An idle tale
Is this; what proof thereof can you prefer?”
But she went from him raging. Then he fled
            Out of that land;
And those there set a price on his gray head,        30
            Who with skilled hand
Of craft had fed one daughter fair as day,
Now destitute. Soon gold before her lay
            The bait of shame;
            But she, aflame        35
With honor, flung such happiness away.
And writing, told her father, who came back
            By night, and bade
Her claim his life’s reward. “Rather the rack
            Rend me,” she said;        40
“And shall I give him death who life gave me?
Sell him and feed on him? Far sooner we
            Both died! Somewhere
            Beyond earth’s care
Hereafter we shall meet it well may be        45
Somewhere hereafter.” “Nay, you still shall live,”
            He murmured; then,
Went out into the market, crying, “Give
            This price, ye men,
For me to her, my daughter.” But these laid        50
False hands on both, nor other duty paid
            Than death; for they,
            Gold hair and gray,
Were slain hard by in the holy minster’s shade.
After, in no long time, the little child        55
            Returned, a stray
Fresh from the sea: it by a ship beguiled,
            In the hold at play,
Had sailed unseen till the land a small speck grew,
But still the people prayed in the porch, in view        60
            Of the blood-splashed stone,
            And made no moan;
“’Twas only a Jew,” the folk said, “only a Jew!”

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