Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MENORAH, by WILLIAM ELLERY LEONARD

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MENORAH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: We've read in legends of the books of old
Last Line: "and keeps me what I am today in every clime."
Subject(s): Candles; Israel; Jews; Judah (Bible); Synagogues; Judaism

WE'VE read in legends of the books of old
How deft Bezalel, wisest in his trade,
At the command of veiled Moses made
The seven-branched candlestick of beaten gold—
The base, the shaft, the cups, the knobs, the flowers,
Like almond blossoms—and the lamps were seven.

We know at least that on the templed rock
Of Zion hill, with earth's revolving hours
Under the changing centuries of heaven,
It stood upon the solemn altar block,
By every Gentile, who had heard abhorred—
The holy light of Israel of the Lord;
Until that Titus and the legions came
And battered the walls with catapult and fire,
And bore the priest and candlestick away,
And, as memorial of fulfilled desire,
Bade carve upon the arch that bears his name
The stone procession ye may see today
Beyond the Forum on the Sacred Way,
Lifting the golden candlestick of fame.

The city fell, the temple was a heap;
And little children, who had else grown strong
And in their manhood, venged the Roman wrong,
Strewed step and chamber, in eternal sleep.
But the great vision of the sevenfold flames
Outlasted the cups wherein at first it sprung.
The Greeks might teach the arts, the Romans law;
The heathen hordes might shout for bread and games;
Still Israel, exalted in the realms of awe,
Guarded the Light in many an alien air,
Along the borders of the midland sea
In hostile cities, spending praise and prayer
And pondering on the larger things that be—
Down through the ages, when the Cross uprose
Among the northern Gentiles to oppose:
Then huddled in the ghettos, barred at night,
In lands of unknown trees, and fiercer snows,
They watched for evermore the Light, the Light.

The main seas opened to the west. The Nations
Covered new continents with generations
That had their work to do, their thought to say;
And Israel's hosts from bloody towns afar
In the dominions of the ermined Czar,
Seared with the iron, scarred with many a stroke,
Crowded the hollow ships but yesterday.
And came to us who are to-morrow's folk,
And the pure Light, however some might doubt
Who mocked their dirt and rags, had not gone out.

The holy Light of Israel hath unfurled
Its tongues of mystic flame around the world.
Empires and Kings and Parliaments have passed;
Rivers and mountain chains from age to age
Become new boundaries for man's politics.
The navies run new ensigns up the mast,
The temples try new creeds, new equipage;
The schools new sciences beyond the six.
And through the lands where many a song hath rung
The people speak no more their fathers' tongue.
Yet in the shifting energies of man
The Light of Israel remains her Light.
And gathered to a splendid caravan
From the four corners of the day and night,
The chosen people—so the prophets hold—
Shall yet return unto the homes of old
Under the hills of Judah. Be it so.
Only the stars and moon and sun can show
A permanence of light to hers akin.

What is that Light? Who is there that shall tell
The purport of the tribe of Israel?—
In the wild welter of races on that earth
Which spins in space where thousand others spin—
The casual offspring of the Cosmic Mirth
Perhaps—what is there any man can win,
Of any nation? Ultimates aside,
Men have their aims, and Israel her pride,
She stands among the rest, austere, aloof,
Still the peculiar people, armed in proof
Of Selfhood, whilst the others merge or die.
She stands among the rest and answers: "I,
Above ye all, must ever gauge success
By ideal types, and know the more and less
Of things as being in the end defined,
For this our human life by righteousness;
And if I base this in Eternal Mind—
Our fathers' God in victory or distress—
I cannot argue for my hardihood,
Save that the thought is in my flesh and blood,
And made me what I was in olden time,
And keeps me what I am today in every clime."

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