Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
Judas Maccabæus
Act III. The Battle-Field of Beth-Horon
SCENE I.—JUDAS MACCABÆUS in armor before his tent.

THE TRUMPETS sound; the echoes of the mountains
Answer them, as the Sabbath morning breaks
Over Beth-horon and its battle-field,
Where the great captain of the hosts of God,
A slave brought up in the brick-fields of Egypt,        5
O’ercame the Amorites. There was no day
Like that, before or after it, nor shall be.
The sun stood still; the hammers of the hail
Beat on their harness; and the captains set
Their weary feet upon the necks of kings,        10
As I will upon thine, Antiochus,
Thou man of blood!—Behold the rising sun
Strikes on the golden letters of my banner,
Be Elohim Yehovah! Who is like
To thee, O Lord, among the gods?—Alas!        15
I am not Joshua, I cannot say,
“Sun, stand thou still on Gibeon, and thou Moon,
In Ajalon!” Nor am I one who wastes
The fateful time in useless lamentation;
But one who bears his life upon his hand        20
To lose it or to save it, as may best
Serve the designs of Him who giveth life.

Who and what are ye, that with furtive steps
Steal in among our tents?

                        O Maccabæus,
Outcasts are we, and fugitives as thou art,        25
Jews of Jerusalem, that have escaped
From the polluted city, and from death.
None can escape from death. Say that ye come
To die for Israel, and ye are welcome.
What tidings bring ye?

                    Tidings of despair.
The Temple is laid waste; the precious vessels,
Censers of gold, vials and veils and crowns,
And golden ornaments, and hidden treasures,
Have all been taken from it, and the Gentiles
With revelling and with riot fill its courts,        35
And dally with harlots in the holy places.
All this I knew before.

                    Upon the altar
Are things profane, things by the law forbidden;
Nor can we keep our Sabbaths or our Feasts,
But on the festivals of Dionysus        40
Must walk in their processions, bearing ivy
To crown a drunken god.

                        This too I know.
But tell me of the Jews. How fare the Jews?
The coming of this mischief hath been sore
And grievous to the people. All the land        45
Is full of lamentation and of mourning.
The Princes and the Elders weep and wail;
The young men and the maidens are made feeble;
The beauty of the women hath been changed.
And are there none to die for Israel?
’T is not enough to mourn. Breastplate and harness
Are better things than sackcloth. Let the women
Lament for Israel; the men should die.
Both men and women die; old men and young:
Old Eleazer died: and Máhala        55
With all her Seven Sons.

At every step thou takest there is left
A bloody footprint in the street, by which
The avenging wrath of God will track thee out!
It is enough. Go to the sutler’s tents:        60
Those of you who are men, put on such armor
As ye may find; those of you who are women,
Buckle that armor on; and for a watch-word
Whisper, or cry aloud, “The Help of God.”

Hail, Judas Maccabæus!

                Hail!—Who art thou
That comest here in this mysterious guise
Into our camp unheralded?

                            A herald
Sent from Nicanor.

                    Heralds come not thus
Armed with thy shirt of mail from head to heel,
Thou glidest like a serpent silently        70
Into my presence. Wherefore dost thou turn
Thy face from me? A herald speaks his errand
With forehead unabashed. Thou art a spy
Sent by Nicanor.

                    No disguise avails!
Behold my face; I am Nicanor’s self.        75
Thou art indeed Nicanor. I salute thee.
What brings thee hither to this hostile camp
Thus unattended?

                    Confidence in thee.
Thou hast the nobler virtues of thy race,
Without the failings that attend those virtues.        80
Thou canst be strong, and yet not tyrannous,
Canst righteous be and not intolerant.
Let there be peace between us.

                            What is peace?
Is it to bow in silence to our victors?
Is it to see our cities sacked and pillaged,        85
Our people slain, or sold as slaves, or fleeing
At night-time by the blaze of burning towns;
Jerusalem laid waste; the Holy Temple
Polluted with strange gods? Are these things peace?
These are the dire necessities that wait
On war, whose loud and bloody enginery
I seek to stay. Let there be peace between
Antiochus and thee.

What is Antiochus, that he should prate
Of peace to me, who am a fugitive?        95
To-day he shall be lifted up; to-morrow
Shall not be found, because he is returned
Unto his dust; his thought has come to nothing.
There is no peace between us, nor can be,
Until this banner floats upon the walls        100
Of our Jerusalem.

                        Between that city
And thee there lies a waving wall of tents
Held by a host of forty thousand foot,
And horsemen seven thousand. What hast thou
To bring against all these?

                        The power of God,
Whose breath shall scatter your white tents abroad,
As flakes of snow.

                Your Mighty One in heaven
Will not do battle on the Seventh Day;
It is his day of rest.

                        Silence, blasphemer.
Go to thy tents.

                Shall it be war or peace?
War, war, and only war. Go to thy tents
That shall be scattered, as by you were scattered
The torn and trampled pages of the Law,
Blown through the windy streets.

                    Farewell, brave foe!
Ho, there, my captains! Have safe-conduct given
Unto Nicanor’s herald through the camp,
And come yourselves to me.—Farewell, Nicanor!

The hour is come. Gather the host together
For battle. Lo, with trumpets and with songs
The army of Nicanor comes against us.        120
Go forth to meet them, praying in your hearts,
And fighting with your hands.

                    Look forth and see!
The morning sun is shining on their shields
Of gold and brass; the mountains glisten with them,
And shine like lamps. And we, who are so few        125
And poorly armed, and ready to faint with fasting,
How shall we fight against this multitude?
The victory of a battle standeth not
In multitudes, but in the strength that cometh
From heaven above. The Lord forbid that I        130
Should do this thing, and flee away from them.
Nay, if our hour be come, then let us die;
Let us not stain our honor.

                        ’T is the Sabbath.
Wilt thou fight on the Sabbath, Maccabæus?
Ay; when I fight the battles of the Lord,
I fight them on his day, as on all others.
Have ye forgotten certain fugitives
That fled once to these hills, and hid themselves
In caves? How their pursuers camped against them
Upon the Seventh Day, and challenged them?        140
And how they answered not, nor cast a stone,
Nor stopped the places where they lay concealed,
But meekly perished with their wives and children,
Even to the number of a thousand souls?
We who are fighting for our laws and lives        145
Will not so perish.

                    Lead us to the battle!
And let our watchword be, “The Help of God!”
Last night I dreamed a dream; and in my vision
Beheld Onias, our High-Priest of old,
Who holding up his hands prayed for the Jews.        150
This done, in the like manner there appeared
An old man, and exceeding glorious,
With hoary hair, and of a wonderful
And excellent majesty. And Onias said:
“This is a lover of the Jews, who prayeth        155
Much for the people and the Holy City,—
God’s prophet Jeremias.” And the prophet
Held forth his right hand and gave unto me
A sword of gold; and giving it he said:
“Take thou this holy sword, a gift from God,        160
And with it thou shalt wound thine adversaries.”
The Lord is with us!

            Hark! I hear the trumpets
Sound from Beth-horon; from the battle-field
Of Joshua, where he smote the Amorites,
Smote the Five Kings of Eglon and of Jarmuth,        165
Of Hebron, Lachish, and Jerusalem,
As we to-day will smite Nicanor’s hosts
And leave a memory of great deeds behind us.
The Help of God!

                    Be Elohim Yehovah!
Lord, thou didst send thine Angel in the time        170
Of Esekias, King of Israel,
And in the armies of Sennacherib
Didst slay a hundred fourscore and five thousand.
Wherefore, O Lord of heaven, now also send
Before us a good angel for a fear,        175
And through the might of thy right arm let those
Be stricken with terror that have come this day
Against thy holy people to blaspheme!

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