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Joseph Friedlander, comp. The Standard Book of Jewish Verse. 1917.

By George Croly

The Emperor and the Rabbi

“OLD Rabbi, what tales dost thou pour in mine ear,

What visions of glory, what phantoms of fear,

Of a God, all the gods of the Roman above,

A mightier than Mars, a more ancient than Jove?

“Let me see but His splendors, I then shall believe.

’Tis the senses alone that can never deceive.

But show me your Idol, if earth be His shrine,

And your Israelite God shall, old dreamer, be mine!”

It was Trajan that spoke, the stoical sneer

Still played on his features sublime and severe,

For, round the wild world that stooped to his throne,

He knew but one god, and himself was that one!

“The God of our forefathers,” low bowed the Seer,

“Is unseen by the eye, is unheard by the ear;

He is Spirit and knows not the body’s dark chain;

Immortal His nature, eternal His reign.

“He is seen in His power, when the storm is abroad;

In His justice, when guilt by His thunders is awed;

In His mercy, when mountain and valley and plain

Rejoice in His sunshine, and smile in His rain.”

“Those are dreams,” said the monarch, “wild fancies of old;

But what God can I worship, when one I behold?

Can I kneel to the lightning, or bow to the wind?

Can I worship the shape, that but lives in the mind?”

“I shall show thee the herald He sends from His throne.”

Through the halls of the palace the Rabbi led on,

Till above them was spread but the sky’s sapphire dome,

And, like surges of splendor, beneath them lay Rome.

And towering o’er all, in the glow of the hour,

The Capitol shone, earth’s high centre of power;

A thousand years glorious, yet still in its prime;

A thousand years more, to be conquered of Time.

But the West was now purple, the eve was begun;

Like a monarch at rest, on the hills lay the sun;

Above him the clouds their rich canopy rolled,

With pillars of diamond, and curtains of gold.

The Rabbi’s proud gesture was turned to the orb:

“O King! let that glory thy worship absorb!”

“What! worship that sun, and be blind by the gaze?”

No eye but the eagle’s could look on that blaze.”

“Ho! Emperor of earth, if it dazzles thine eye

To look on that orb, as it sinks from the sky,”

Cried the Rabbi, “what mortal could dare to see

The Sovereign of him, and the Sovereign of thee!”