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

By Joseph Leiser

The Sea of the Talmud

THE MOON is up, the stars shine bright,

The milky way glows soft and white.

We’ve spread our sails to catch the breeze

That frets the vast rabbinic seas.

We’ve spread our sails to roam amain

That profits neither gold nor gain,

Whose shores are stretched along a land,

Unmapped by man’s designing hand.

Beneath no lowering, storm-mad skies

We start on our strange enterprise—

Set outward bound, where signals gleam

Beyond the shadows of our dream,

To realms no feet of mortal man

Have trodden on or ever can,

And port at quays no ship-bound crew

Has sighted in the cosmic blue.

The ports there made are set afar

Like distant morn or evening star,

And golden as the halls of Ind

Where hush the sobbings of the wind.

Who rides this main, he travels wide

And sees the flood and ebbing tide

Run up and down a fabled shore

Outlined complete in cryptic lore.

Our rigging firm, our compass true

And manned with brave and seasoned crew

We sail at ease this unplumbed sea

Of knowledge and of mystery.

Enroute we pass odd crafts and barks

Whose pennants fly the signal marks

Of playful whims that, fancy free,

Glide o’er this vast rabbinic sea.

Then undulating like to grain

We rock, as out we head again

Our graceful sloop—or east or west—

It matters not which way the quest.

There flows in this rabbinic sea

The streams whose springs are poetry;

And rivulets from fancy’s height

Drop down to add their welcome mite.

And islands, where the palm trees dim

The visions of the Anakim;

And animals as high as these

Play quoits with fishes in the seas.

Along this course there’s ever found

Elijah on his daily round,

Who unafraid of good or ill,

Strives but to do another’s will.

What pageantry of kings we pass

Resplendent as the royal glass

The sages quaff, when at their feast,

The banquet hall lights up the east.

And all the winds that make the round

Of heaven bring their freighted sound

From halls where grey-haired sages sit

And questions of their Torah knit.

Yet mists at times befog the way

Where fretful white caps madly play;

Then midst the storm the seraphim

Becalm the waves by praising Him.

No other sea full-ebbed as this,

Bequeathed its sailors so much bliss,

For old as are its thundering shores,

Were ne’er bestrewn with spoils of wars.

No craft that ever dents their waves

Discharged its freight in watery graves;

For he who sails this unique sea

Returns with his own argosy.

The moon is up. The stars shine bright;

This mystic sea is swathed in light,

And from its depths droll voices lure

The land beset forth on a tour.

Far from the teeming ports and quays,

Where men and women fret their days,

No cruise as this makes sport of time,

Or breed or border, land or clime.

And in its wake a thousand ships

In gathering darkness evening dips,

Yet happy is each crew, and free,

That sails this vast rabbinic sea.