Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WANDERING JEW, by WILLIAM EDMONSTOUNE AYTOUN

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE WANDERING JEW, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The wizard sat within his hall
Last Line: It was the wandering jew.
Alternate Author Name(s): Bon Gaultier (with Theodore Martin)
Subject(s): Memory; Wandering & Wanderers; Wandering Jew; Wanderlust; Vagabonds; Tramps; Hoboes

THE wizard sat within his hall --
A dark and tapestried room --
Where but one taper's flaring light
Strove feebly with the gloom;
While drearily, without, the wind
Sang as around a tomb.

He read some old and mystic book
Within that lonely hall;
And as the figured arras waved
With noiseless swell and fall,
You might have thought the spirits came
Unto their master's call.

No sound there was (save the drear blast
That swooned with dismal moan)
To break the ringing silence made
So solemn and so lone;
There is not of all earthly sounds
One with so deep a tone.

It was a chamber vast and bare,
For awe and terror meet;
For nothing broke its emptiness
Save that one stony seat,
And where a mighty mirror hung
Its black and velvet sheet.

The wizard read, and still the light
Shone with a sickly glare;
That ---- hark! a slow and solemn step
Is creaking on the stair.
He turns him to the door, and, lo!
A stranger standeth there.

High was his mien -- he stood, and gave
Nor sign, nor word, nor bow;
A palmer's mantle wrapped him round,
Like knight on saintly vow;
And 'neath his raven locks he wore
A bandage o'er his brow.

The wizard first the silence broke:
'What wouldst thou have with me?
Art thou a knight of good St. John
From isles across the sea?
Or com'st thou from the Holy Land,
or distant Galilee?'

'Oh! I have wandered far and wide,
By forest, stream, and glade;
O'er trackless seas, o'er icy zones,
O'er sands without a shade;
O'er worlds where never foot of man
Hath one dark impress made.

'The earth is all the home I have,
The heavens my wide roof-tree;
And I have roamed through many a land,
And crossed full many a sea:
And, wizard, I have crossed them all
To speak one word with thee.'

'Speak out thy wish, and if my art
Can work that will of thine,
The masters of the elements
Shall bow before my sign.'
'Nay, wizard -- nay; nor earth nor sea
May aid that wish of mine.

'Is't not within thy magic power
The mouldering dead to raise,
And bid a shape that's long since fled
Appear before my gaze? --
Then summon from the sepulchre
A form of bygone days.'

The wizard turned him hastily:
'By heaven! before that rite
The spirit of the north might quail,
And close his shuddering sight;
And couldst thou see nor feel thy heart
Throb, and thy cheek grow white?

'Behold! within this magic glass
A shadow shall be cast;
At every wave my wand shall call
Ten seasons from the past,
Until the phantom form appear
As thou didst see it last.'

The lamp went out, but from the glass
A phosphic gleam arose,
And flickered, with a death-like haze,
As life and warmth were froze --
Faint, dim, as looks a cottage light
Afar through drifting snows.

It threw a wan and pallid light
On face and arm and hand:
On floor and wall, in long relief,
It made the shadows stand --
The stranger in his palmer's garb,
The wizard with his wand.

He waved it once, and o'er the glass
Dark masses 'gan to fly;
He waved it twice, and scudding clouds
Went swiftly hurrying by;
He waved it thrice, and then closed in
The ocean of the sky.

And at each wave dark clouds rushed up
As from a fount below,
And joined the dense and deepening mass
That wavered to and fro,
As sways the ripe and yellow corn
When autumn breezes blow.

And still he waved, and still the mists
Rolled round the magic space;
Hath his wand lost its power, that still
The cloud is in its place?
The wizard started, and the blood
Shot o'er his time-worn face.

'Stranger, since first I waved my wand
Two hundred years have flown,
And yet from off the mirror's face
That shadow hath not gone.
Thou hast not trifled with mine art,
Or made ----' 'Wave on! wave on!'

Oh! startling was that stifled voice,
So pent beyond a sigh --
It was the language of a soul
Parched up with agony!
The wizard dared not question him,
And yet he knew not why.

And still he waved, until his arm
Grew weary, faint, and slack.
Ages returned from out their graves,
As on a beaten track,
Till twice six hundred years had come
From dark oblivion back.

Then on that magic mirror's face
The masses lighter grew,
And faded dimly one by one,
As flies the morning dew,
Until the glorious sun shone out
Within a heaven of blue.

It shone upon a gorgeous scene
In fairy Eastern land:
To the horizon's utmost line
There stretched a sea of sand;
No spot of green save one was there,
But waste on every hand.

But in the foreground was a spot --
The desert's emerald gem --
Where green grass sprung and flower-shrubs laced
The fresh acacia's stem;
And o'er the whole the palm-tree threw
Its feathery diadem.

Beneath its roots a little brook
Gushed from its parent well,
To which a loaded camel stooped,
And rung its silver bell --
Throughout the still and air-worn room
That sound was audible.

And 'neath the shade a damsel sat,
In alien garb and vest;
And though they might not see the face
That leant upon her breast,
Yet, by her dark and glossy hair,
They well might guess the rest.

The strange man gazed upon her form
Like one who drinks his fill
Of love and freedom, which have been
A long-forgotten rill,
When their whole draughts of ecstasy
Are opened to his will.

Then died his thousand woes and pains,
His thousand cares and fears,
And forth from out their fountains gushed
A flow of blessed tears,
That with their holy influence cleansed
The misery of years.

And every prayer and every hope
That buried long had lain,
Came thirstily from out their springs
To bless his heart again,
That paid them back with bud and bloom,
As sands thank summer rain.

He gazed until that female form
Raised up her head and smiled;
Then shook his spirit as a reed,
As, with an accent wild,
He staggered on, stretched out his arms,
And shrieked, 'My child! my child!'

These words dissolved the spell; the scene
Died like a taper's light;
For o'er it shot the clouds again
In curtains broad and white,
Then disappeared, and left the glass
All natural and bright.

Moveless and fixed the stranger stood,
Still as a marble stone;
His eye had fallen into a trance,
As if his heart had gone.
He turned him, as to pass away,
But word he uttered none.

The wizard stopped him with his hand,
'Man of the darksome brow,
Thy hair is like the raven's wing
That playeth with the snow --
How could she be thy child who died
A thousand years ago?

'There is, as holy legends tell,
But one who knows not death;
He who reviled the Crucified
With most accursed breath,
And wounded with his soldier's spear
The Man of Nazareth.

'Oh, fearful thought! the very grave
Is closed 'gainst his endeavour,
And tempered is his chain of life
Too hard for aught to sever.
He hath no hope, no happiness,
For ever and for ever.

'A second Cain! he hath a mark,
That every one may know;
There is a cross of livid fire
Imprinted on his brow.
But thou hast no such seal as that --
Dark stranger, who art thou?'

The stranger turned, he raised his hand,
And back the bandage drew
From off his brow: one glance, but one,
The startled wizard threw,
And the blood fell back upon his heart --
It was the Wandering Jew.

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