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Emet m'Tsiyon

Monday, January 23, 2006

Emma Lazarus on Hanukkah

Yes, I know. Hanukkah was a few weeks ago, starting on the 25th of Kislev [December 26] and ending on the 2nd of Tebeth [January 2]. But anyway, those were only a few weeks. So here is Emma Lazarus' poem dedicated to Hanukkah, as her poem in the previous post was dedicated to the Hasmonean family of the Maccabee brothers. Judas in the poem is nowadays usually called Judah the Maccabee, while John is Yehohanan or Yohanan. Mattathias is called Matityahu in Hebrew.


Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening's forehead o'er the earth.
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.
Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;
Chant psalms of victory till the heart take fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born.

Remember how from wintry dawn till night,
Such songs were sung in Zion, when again
On the high altar flamed the sacred light,
And, purified from every Syrian stain,
the foam-white walls with golden shields were hung,
With crowns and silken spoils, and at the shrine,
Stood, midst their conqueror-tribe, five chieftains sprung
From one heroic stock, one seed divine.

Five branches grown from Mattathias' stem,
The Blessed John, the Keen-eyed Jonathan,
Simon, the fair, the Burst-of-Spring, the Gem,
Eleazar, Help-of-God; o'er all his clan
Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod,
Towered in warrior-beauty, uncrowned king,
Armed with the breastplate and the sword of Good,
Whose praise is: "He received the perishing."

They who had camped within the mountain-pass,
Couched on the rock, and tented 'neath the sky,
Who saw from Mizpah's heights the tangled grass
Choke the wide Temple-courts, the altar lie
Disfigured and polluted --who had flung
Their faces on the stones, and mourned aloud
And rent their garments, wailing with one tongue,
Crushed as a wind-swept bed of reeds is bowed.

Even they by one voice fired, one heart of flame,
Though broken reeds, had risen, and were men,
They rushed upon the spoiler and o'ercame,
Each arm for freedom had the strength of ten.
Now is their mourning into dancing turned,
Their sackcloth doffed for garments of delight,
Week-long the festive torches shall be burned,
Music and revelry wed day with night.

Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious Psalm,
The mystic lights of emblem, and the Word.
Where is our Judas? Where our five-branched palm?
Where are the lion-warriors of the Lord?

Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Sound the brass trumpets and the harsh-tongued horn,
Chant hymns of victory till the heart take fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born!

Emma Lazarus' heroes were Bar Kokhba and Rashi, Ibn Gabirol and Yehudah haLevi, even Heine. Meanwhile, in America and Britain she became friendly with Ralph Waldo Emerson, the writer and philosopher, who encouraged her, and was personally acquainted with Thomas Wentworth Higginson and William Morris. At her death, she was eulogized by Robert Browning, John Greenleaf Whittier [he wrote of her that, since Moses' sister Miriam had sung by the Red Sea, ". . . The Semitic race has had no braver singer"], George Washington Cable [". . . she was the worthy daughter of a race to which the Christian world owes a large debt of gratitude, incurred from the days of Abraham until now. . ."], Claude Montefiore, John Hay, Richard Henry Dana, Harriet Beecher Stowe, etc. Walt Whitman too praised her.

Morris U Schappes points out [p 16] that she had Zionist sympathies years before Herzl wrote his The Jewish State. [The poems and other information in this and the previous post are all found in the Schappes edition of Emma Lazarus: Selections from her Poetry. . . ]

- - - - - - - - -
Coming: More on Jews in Jerusalem, Poems of Zion, etc.


  • I checked for books you've written, that being my best hope of finding something I can sit down with and go through and think about over the course of a long time that allows for reflection and consideration; but nothing shows up. Please don't cheat me here, mate. Blogs are fine, but I need a book to sit down with to study properly, not just the theme of the day but the whole work of one mind congruent and planed and fine.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:37 AM  

  • Thanks, but on this blog I do what you do, I stay anonymous

    By Blogger Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, at 1:04 AM  

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