Verse > Anthologies > Joseph Friedlander, comp. > The Standard Book of Jewish Verse
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Joseph Friedlander, comp.  The Standard Book of Jewish Verse.  1917.
 
Moses Mendelssohn
By Miriam Del Banco
 
ONCE, through a night of darkness and of shadow,
  A brilliant star swept softly into sight;
It scattered out its beams like silv’ry lances,
  And, in its pathway, left a streak of light.
But, when the rosy blushes of the morning        5
  Broke over earth, the star had passed away;
And yet its light still travels down to mankind
  Through endless dawnings of the golden day.
 
Once, through an age of mental gloom and shadow,
  When ignorance and superstition reigned,        10
When only those upon the heights of fortune
  A glimpse of light—of grace and culture gained,
There dawned for Israel a star of glory
  Whose friendly beam through doubt and darkness shone,
And led the gaze of mankind to the hill-tops;—        15
  This star of light was Moses Mendelssohn.
 
Poor Israel was then despised—rejected!
  For prejudice had built a boundless wall
O’er which no tendril of a common feeling
  Could twine itself,—no ray of sunlight fall;        20
Cut from the world,—its gladness and its sorrow—
  Poor patient souls, unconscious of their plight,
Submissive with the patience of the sightless,
  Whose eyes have ne’er beheld the blessed light.
 
And then came Mendelssohn; O God, and Father,        25
  We thank thee for this blessing to our race,
We, who to-day, in every art and science
  Hold an exalted and an honored place!
For only progress brought to us our freedom,
  And only Culture, as she scanned the Jew,        30
Could see and recognize the kindred spirit
  That loves the good, the beautiful, the true.
 
And Mendelssohn it was who broke the fetters
  That tyranny had strengthened year by year;
’Twas he who smote upon the rock of knowledge        35
  And freed for us its water, sweet and clear;
And lifting up our thoughts to vaster issues,
  Our fair ideals to heights before unknown,
Stood by our side, a Jew compelling nations
  To honor all the race he called his own.        40
 
O, when can Germany e’er cease to cherish
  The “Nathan Wise” its Lessing’s graphic pen
Has drawn in glowing and immortal colors,
  And held before the wond’ring eyes of men!
The gentle sage, the friend of prince and poet,        45
  Whose every word ennobled and refined,
Who seemed to stand upon some mental summit
  And smile upon the factions of mankind.
 
Unsightly and deformed the suff’ring body,
  But, from the thoughtful eyes and noble face        50
The glory of the soul shone out in splendor,—
  A glowing gem in its translucent case!
And all the earth appeared to him in beauty,
  For o’er his heart-strings trembled, even then,
The heav’ly melody with which his offspring        55
  Soothed and enslaved the ardent hearts of men.
 
O, monarch in the realm of thought and reason!
  O, high-priest in the temple of the soul!
Thy hymn of progress, tolerance and freedom,—
  Through endless ages shall its echoes roll!        60
Thou couldst not prove to us that mental culture
  And Judaism never are at strife,
Nor show us immortality more clearly
  Than by the beauty of thy glorious life!
 
A century has passed on restless pinions        65
  Since death removed thine image from the earth;
An era of enlightenment and progress
  Has taught us to appreciate thy worth;
Look down and guide us from thy home in heaven
  To nobler deeds than we have ever known;        70
The purest thought—the broader field of action
  Should mark thy people, Moses Mendelssohn!
 
 
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