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

By Frances Browne

The Rabbi’s Vision

BEN LEVI sat with his books alone

At the midnight’s solemn chime,

And the full-orb’d moon through his lattice shone

In the power of autumn’s prime;

It shone on the darkly learned page,

And the snowy locks of the lonely Sage—

But he sat and mark’d not its silvery light,

For his thoughts were on other themes that night.

Wide was the learn’d Ben Levi’s fame

As the wanderings of his race—

And many a seeker of wisdom came

To his lonely dwelling place;

For he made the darkest symbols clear,

Of ancient doctor and early seer.

Yet a question ask’d by a simple maid

He met that eve in the linden’s shade,

Had puzzled his matchless wisdom more

Than all that ever it found before;

And this it was: “What path of crime

Is darkest traced on the map of time?”

The Rabbi ponder’d the question o’er

With a calm and thoughtful mind,

And search’d the depths of the Talmud’s lore—

But an answer he could not find;—

Yet a maiden’s question might not foil

A Sage inured to Wisdom’s toil—

And he leant on his hand his aged brow,

For the current of thought ran deeper now:

When, lo! by his side, Ben Levi heard

A sound of rustling leaves—

But not like those of the forest stirr’d

By the breath of summer eves,

That comes through the dim and dewy shades

As the golden glow of the sunset fades,

Bringing the odors of hidden flowers

That bloom in the greenwood’s secret bowers—

But the leaves of a luckless volume turn’d

By the swift impatient hand

Of student young, or of critics learn’d

In the lore of the Muse’s land.

The Rabbi raised his wondering eyes—

Well might he gaze in mute surprise—

For, open’d wide to the moon’s cold ray,

A ponderous volume before him lay!

Old were the characters, and black

As the soil when sear’d by the lightning’s track,

But broad and full that the dimmest sight

Might clearly read by the moon’s pale light;

But, oh! ’twas a dark and fearful theme

That fill’d each crowded page—

The gather’d records of human crime

From every race and age.

All the blood that the Earth had seen

Since Abel’s crimson’d her early green;

All the vice that had poison’d life

Since Lamech wedded his second wife;

All the pride that had mock’d the skies

Since they built old Babel’s wall;—

But the page of the broken promises

Was the saddest page of all.

It seem’d a fearful mirror made

For friendship ruin’d and love betray’d,

For toil that had lost its fruitless pain,

And hope that had spent its strength in vain;

For all who sorrow’d o’er broken faith—

Whate’er their fortunes in life or death—

Were there in one ghastly pageant blent

With the broken reeds on which they leant.

And foul was many a noble crest

By the Nations deem’d unstain’d—

And, deep on brows which the Church had bless’d,

The traitor’s brand remain’d.

For vows in that blacken’d page had place

Which time had ne’er reveal’d

And many a faded and furrow’d face

By death and dust conceal’d—

Eyes that had worn their light away

In weary watching from day to day,

And tuneful voices which Time had heard

Grow faint with the sickness of hope deferr’d.

The Rabbi read till his eye grew dim

With the mist of gathering tears,

For it woke in his soul the frozen stream

Which had slumber’d there for years

And he turn’d to clear his clouded sight,

From that blacken’d page to the sky so bright—

And joy’d that the folly, crime, and care

Of Earth could not cast one shadow there.

For the stars had still the same bright look

That in Eden’s youth they wore;—

And he turn’d again to the ponderous book—

But the book he found no more;

Nothing was there but the moon’s pale beam—

And whence that volume of wonder came,

Or how it pass’d from his troubled view,

The Sage might marvel, but never knew!

Long and well had Ben Levi preach’d

Against the sins of men—

And many a sinner his sermon reach’d

By the power of page and pen;

Childhood’s folly, and manhood’s vice,

And age with its boundless avarice,

All were rebuk’d, and little ruth

Had he for the venial sins of youth.

But never again to mortal ears

Did the Rabbi preach of aught

But the mystery of trust and tears

By that wondrous volume taught.

And if he met a youth and maid

Beneath the linden boughs—

Oh, never a word Ben Levi said,

But—“Beware of Broken Vows!”