Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
Judas Maccabæus
Act II. The Dungeons in the Citadel
SCENE I.—THE MOTHER of the SEVEN SONS alone, listening.

BE strong, my heart! Break not till they are dead.
All, all my Seven Sons; then burst asunder,
And let this tortured and tormented soul
Leap and rush out like water through the shards
Of earthen vessels broken at a well.        5
O my dear children, mine in life and death,
I know not how ye came into my womb;
I neither gave you breath, nor gave you life,
And neither was it I that formed the members
Of every one of you. But the Creator,        10
Who made the world, and made the heavens above us,
Who formed the generation of mankind,
And found out the beginning of all things,
He gave you breath and life, and will again
Of his own mercy, as ye now regard        15
Not your own selves, but his eternal law.
I do not murmur, nay, I thank thee, God,
That I and mine have not been deemed unworthy
To suffer for thy sake, and for thy law,
And for the many sins of Israel.        20
Hark! I can hear within the sound of scourges!
I feel them more than ye do, O my sons!
But cannot come to you. I, who was wont
To wake at night at the least cry ye made,
To whom ye ran at every slightest hurt,—        25
I cannot take you now into my lap
And soothe your pain, but God will take you all
Into his pitying arms, and comfort you,
And give you rest.

A VOICE  (within).
            What wouldst thou ask of us?
Ready are we to die, but we will never        30
Transgress the law and customs of our fathers.
It is the voice of my first-born! O brave
And noble boy! Thou hast the privilege
Of dying first, as thou wast born the first.
THE SAME VOICE  (within).
  God looketh on us, and hath comfort in us;
As Moses in his song of old declared,
He in his servants shall be comforted.
I knew thou wouldst not fail!—He speaks no more,
He is beyond all pain!

ANTIOCHUS  (within).
                    If thou eat not
Thou shalt be tortured throughout all the members        40
Of thy whole body. Wilt thou eat then?

SECOND VOICE  (within).
It is Adaiah’s voice. I tremble for him.
I know his nature, devious as the wind,
And swift to change, gentle and yielding always.
Be steadfast, O my son!

THE SAME VOICE  (within).
                    Thou, like a fury,
Takest us from this present life, but God,
Who rules the world, shall raise us up again
Into life everlasting.

                        God, I thank thee
That thou hast breathed into that timid heart
Courage to die for thee. O my Adaiah,        50
Witness of God! if thou for whom I feared
Canst thus encounter death, I need not fear;
The others will not shrink.

THIRD VOICE  (within).
                    Behold these hands
Held out to thee, O King Antiochus,
Not to implore thy mercy, but to show        55
That I despise them. He who gave them to me
Will give them back again.

                                O Avilan,
It is thy voice. For the last time I hear it;
For the last time on earth, but not the last.
To death it bids defiance, and to torture.        60
It sounds to me as from another world,
And makes the petty miseries of this
Seem unto me as naught, and less than naught.
Farewell, my Avilan; nay, I should say
Welcome, my Avilan; for I am dead        65
Before thee. I am waiting for the others.
Why do they linger?

FOURTH VOICE  (within).
                    It is good, O King,
Being put to death by men, to look for hope
From God, to be raised up again by Him.
But thou—no resurrection shalt thou have        70
To life hereafter.

                    Four! already four!
Three are still living; nay, they all are living,
Half here, half there. Make haste, Antiochus,
To reunite us; for the sword that cleaves
These miserable bodies makes a door        75
Through which our souls, impatient of release,
Rush to each other’s arms.

FIFTH VOICE  (within).
                    Thou hast the power;
Thou doest what thou wilt. Abide awhile,
And thou shalt see the power of God, and how
He will torment thee and thy seed.

                            O hasten;
Why dost thou pause? Thou who hast slain already
So many Hebrew women, and hast hung
Their murdered infants round their necks, slay me,
For I too am a woman, and these boys
Are mine. Make haste to slay us all,        85
And hang my lifeless babes about my neck.
SIXTH VOICE  (within).
  Think not, Antiochus, that takest in hand
To strive against the God of Israel,
Thou shalt escape unpunished, for his wrath
Shall overtake thee and thy bloody house.        90
One more, my Sirion, and then all is ended.
Having put all to bed, then in my turn
I will lie down and sleep as sound as they.
My Sirion, my youngest, best beloved!
And those bright golden locks, that I so oft        95
Have curled about these fingers, even now
Are foul with blood and dust, like a lamb’s fleece,
Slain in the shambles.—Not a sound I hear.
This silence is more terrible to me
Than any sound, than any cry of pain,        100
That might escape the lips of one who dies.
Doth his heart fail him? Doth he fall away
In the last hour from God? O Sirion, Sirion,
Art thou afraid? I do not hear thy voice.
Die as thy brothers died. Thou must not live!        105

Are they all dead?

                    Of all thy Seven Sons
One only lives. Behold them where they lie;
How dost thou like this picture?

                        God in heaven!
Can a man do such deeds, and yet not die
By the recoil of his own wickedness?        110
Ye murdered, bleeding, mutilated bodies
That were my children once, and still are mine,
I cannot watch o’er you as Rizpah watched
In sackcloth o’er the seven sons of Saul,
Till water drop upon you out of heaven        115
And wash this blood away! I cannot mourn
As she, the daughter of Aiah, mourned the dead,
From the beginning of the barley-harvest
Until the autumn rains, and suffered not
The birds of air to rest on them by day,        120
Nor the wild beasts by night. For ye have died
A better death, a death so full of life
That I ought rather to rejoice than mourn.—
Wherefore art thou not dead, O Sirion?
Wherefore art thou the only living thing        125
Among thy brothers dead? Art thou afraid?
O woman, I have spared him for thy sake,
For he is fair to look upon and comely;
And I have sworn to him by all the gods
That I would crown his life with joy and honor,        130
Heap treasures on him, luxuries, delights,
Make him my friend and keeper of my secrets,
If he would turn from your Mosaic Law
And be as we are; but he will not listen.
My noble Sirion!

                Therefore I beseech thee,
Who art his mother, thou wouldst speak with him,
And wouldst persuade him. I am sick of blood.
Yea, I will speak with him and will persuade him.
O Sirion, my son! have pity on me,
On me that bare thee, and that gave thee suck,        140
And fed and nourished thee, and brought thee up
With the dear trouble of a mother’s care
Unto this age. Look on the heavens above thee,
And on the earth and all that is therein;
Consider that God made them out of things        145
That were not; and that likewise in this manner
Mankind was made. Then fear not this tormentor;
But, being worthy of thy brethren, take
Thy death as they did, that I may receive thee
Again in mercy with them.

                        I am mocked,
Yea, I am laughed to scorn.

                    Whom wait ye for?
Never will I obey the King’s commandment,
But the commandment of the ancient Law,
That was by Moses given unto our fathers.
And thou, O godless man, that of all others        155
Art the most wicked, be not lifted up,
Nor puffed up with uncertain hopes, uplifting
Thy hand against the servants of the Lord,
For thou hast not escaped the righteous judgment
Of the Almighty God, who seeth all things!        160
He is no God of mine; I fear Him not.
My brothers, who have suffered a brief pain,
Are dead; but thou, Antiochus, shalt suffer
The punishment of pride. I offer up
My body and my life, beseeching God        165
That He would speedily be merciful
Unto our nation, and that thou by plagues
Mysterious and by torments mayest confess
That He alone is God.

                    Ye both shall perish
By torments worse than any that your God,        170
Here or hereafter, hath in store for me.
My Sirion, I am proud of thee!

                                Be silent!
Go to thy bed of torture in yon chamber,
Where lie so many sleepers, heartless mother!
Thy footsteps will not wake them, nor thy voice,        175
Nor wilt thou hear, amid thy troubled dreams,
Thy children crying for thee in the night!
O Death, that stretchest thy white hands to me,
I fear them not, but press them to my lips,
That are as white as thine; for I am Death,        180
Nay, am the Mother of Death, seeing these sons
All lying lifeless.—Kiss me, Sirion.

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