Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
Judas Maccabæus
Act IV. The Outer Courts of the Temple at Jerusalem

BEHOLD, our enemies are discomfited.
Jerusalem has fallen; and our banners
Float from her battlements, and o’er her gates
Nicanor’s severed head, a sign of terror,
Blackens in wind and sun.

                        O Maccabæus,
The citadel of Antiochus, wherein
The Mother with her Seven Sons was murdered,
Is still defiant.


                        Its hateful aspect
Insults us with the bitter memories
Of other days.

                Wait; it shall disappear
And vanish as a cloud. First let us cleanse
The Sanctuary. See, it is become
Waste like a wilderness. Its golden gates
Wrenched from their hinges and consumed by fire;
Shrubs growing in its courts as in a forest;        15
Upon its altars hideous and strange idols;
And strewn about its pavement at my feet
Its Sacred Books, half-burned and painted o’er
With images of heathen gods.

                            Woe! woe!
Our beauty and our glory are laid waste!        20
The Gentiles have profaned our holy places!
(Lamentation and alarm of trumpets.)
This sound of trumpets, and this lamentation,
The heart-cry of a people toward the heavens,
Stir me to wrath and vengeance. Go, my captains;
I hold you back no longer. Batter down        25
The citadel of Antiochus, while here
We sweep away his altars and his gods.

Lurking among the ruins of the Temple,
Deep in its inner courts, we found this man,
Clad as High-Priest.        30
  I ask not who thou art,
I know thy face, writ over with deceit
As are these tattered volumes of the Law
With heathen images. A priest of God
Wast thou in other days, but thou art now        35
A priest of Satan. Traitor, thou art Jason.
I am thy prisoner, Judas Maccabæus,
And it would ill become me to conceal
My name or office.

                    Over yonder gate
There hangs the head of one who was a Greek.        40
What should prevent me now, thou man of sin,
From hanging at its side the head of one
Who born a Jew hath made himself a Greek?
Justice prevents thee.

                Justice? Thou art stained
With every crime ’gainst which the Decalogue        45
Thunders with all its thunder.

                            If not Justice,
Then Mercy, her handmaiden.

                        When hast thou
At any time, to any man or woman,
Or even to any little child, shown mercy?
I have but done what King Antiochus
Commanded me.

            True, thou hast been the weapon
With which he struck; but hast been such a weapon,
So flexible, so fitted to his hand,
It tempted him to strike. So thou hast urged him
To double wickedness, thine own and his.        55
Where is this King? Is he in Antioch
Among his women still, and from his windows
Throwing down gold by handfuls, for the rabble
To scramble for?

                Nay, he is gone from there,
Gone with an army into the far East.        60
And wherefore gone?

                    I know not. For the space
Of forty days almost were horsemen seen
Running in air, in cloth of gold, and armed
With lances, like a band of soldiery;
It was a sign of triumph.

                        Or of death.
Wherefore art thou not with him?

                            I was left
For service in the Temple.

                    To pollute it,
And to corrupt the Jews; for there are men
Whose presence is corruption; to be with them
Degrades us and deforms the things we do.        70
I never made a boast, as some men do,
Of my superior virtue, nor denied
The weakness of my nature, that hath made me
Subservient to the will of other men.
Upon this day, the five-and-twentieth day
Of the month Caslan, was the Temple here
Profaned by strangers,—by Antiochus
And thee, his instrument. Upon this day
Shall it be cleansed. Thou, who didst lend thyself
Unto this profanation, canst not be        80
A witness of these solemn services.
There can be nothing clean where thou art present.
The people put to death Callisthenes,
Who burned the Temple gates; and if they find thee
Will surely slay thee. I will spare thy life        85
To punish thee the longer. Thou shalt wander
Among strange nations. Thou, that hast cast out
So many from their native land, shalt perish
In a strange land. Thou, that hast left so many
Unburied, shalt have none to mourn for thee,        90
Nor any solemn funerals at all,
Nor sepulchre with thy fathers.—Get thee hence!
Music. Procession of Priests and people, with citherns, harps, and cymbals. JUDAS MACCABÆUS puts himself at their head, and they go into the inner courts.

Through the Gate Beautiful I see them come,
With branches and green boughs and leaves of palm,
And pass into the inner courts. Alas!        95
I should be with them, should be one of them,
But in an evil hour, an hour of weakness,
That cometh unto all, I fell away
From the old faith, and did not clutch the new,
Only an outward semblance of belief;        100
For the new faith I cannot make mine own,
Not being born to it. It hath no root
Within me. I am neither Jew nor Greek,
But stand between them both, a renegade
To each in turn; having no longer faith        105
In gods or men. Then what mysterious charm,
What fascination is it chains my feet,
And keeps me gazing like a curious child
Into the holy places, where the priests
Have raised their altar?—Striking stones together,        110
They take fire out of them, and light the lamps
In the great candlestick. They spread the veils,
And set the loaves of shewbread on the table.
The incense burns; the well-remembered odor
Comes wafted unto me, and takes me back        115
To other days. I see myself among them
As I was then; and the old superstition
Creeps over me again!—A childish fancy!—
And hark! they sing with citherns and with cymbals,
And all the people fall upon their faces,        120
Praying and worshipping!—I will away
Into the East, to meet Antiochus
Upon his homeward journey, crowned with triumph.
Alas! to-day I would give everything
To see a friend’s face, or to hear a voice        125
That had the slightest tone of comfort in it!

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