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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

From The Dance to Death

By Emma Lazarus (1849–1887)

[The Dance to Death. A Historical Tragedy.—Songs of a Semite. 1882.]

PLACE: Nordhausen, Saxony.TIME: May, A.D. 1349.

ACT V. SCENE III.—Within the Synagogue. Above in the gallery, women sumptuously attired; some with children by the hand or infants in their arms. Below, the men and boys with silken scarfs about their shoulders.

RABBI JACOB.The Lord is nigh unto the broken heart.

Out of the depths we cry to thee, O God!

Show us the path of everlasting life;

For in thy presence is the plenitude

Of joy, and in thy right hand endless bliss.

[Enter SÜSSKIND, REUBEN, etc.]
SEVERAL VOICES.Woe unto us who perish!
A JEW.Süsskind von Orb,

Thou hast brought down this doom. Would we had heard

The prophet’s voice!
SÜSSKIND.Brethren, my cup is full!

Oh let us die as warriors of the Lord.

The Lord is great in Zion. Let our death

Bring no reproach to Jacob, no rebuke

To Israel. Hark ye! let us crave one boon

At our assassins’ hands; beseech them build

Within God’s acre, where our fathers sleep,

A dancing-floor to hide the fagots stacked.

Then let the minstrels strike the harp and lute,

And we will dance and sing above the pile,

Fearless of death, until the flames engulf,

Even as David danced before the Lord,

As Miriam danced and sang beside the sea.

Great is our Lord! His name is glorious

In Judah, and extolled in Israel!

In Salem is his tent, his dwelling-place

In Zion; let us chant the praise of God!

A JEW.Süsskind, thou speakest well! We will meet death

With dance and song. Embrace him as a bride.

So that the Lord receive us in His tent.

SEVERAL VOICES.Amen! amen! amen! we dance to death!

RABBI JACOB.Süsskind, go forth and beg this grace of them.

Punish us not in wrath, chastise us not

In anger, oh our God! Our sins o’erwhelm

Our smitten heads, they are a grievous load;

We look on our iniquities, we tremble,

Knowing our trespasses. Forsake us not.

Be thou not far from us. Haste to our aid,

Oh God, who art our Saviour and our Rock!

[Reënter SÜSSKIND.]
SÜSSKIND.Brethren, our prayer, being the last, is granted.

The hour approaches. Let our thoughts ascend

From mortal anguish to the ecstasy

Of martyrdom, the blessed death of those

Who perish in the Lord. I see, I see

How Israel’s ever-crescent glory makes

These flames that would eclipse it dark as blots

Of candle-light against the blazing sun.

We die a thousand deaths, drown, bleed, and burn;

Our ashes are dispersed unto the winds.

Yet the wild winds cherish the sacred seed,

The waters guard it in their crystal heart,

The fire refuseth to consume. It springs,

A tree immortal, shadowing many lands,

Unvisited, unnamed, undreamed as yet.

Rather a vine, full-flowered, golden-branched,

Ambrosial-fruited, creeping on the earth,

Trod by the passer’s foot, yet chosen to deck

Tables of princes. Israel now has fallen

Into the depths, he shall be great in time.

Even as we die in honor, from our death

Shall bloom a myriad heroic lives,

Brave through our bright example, virtuous

Lest our great memory fall in disrepute.

Is one among us brothers, would exchange

His doom against our tyrants,—lot for lot?

Let him go forth and live—he is no Jew.

Is one who would not die in Israel

Rather than live in Christ,—their Christ who smiles

On such a deed as this? Let him go forth—

He may die full of years upon his bed.

Ye who nurse rancor haply in your hearts,

Fear ye we perish unavenged? Not so!

To-day, no! nor to-morrow! but in God’s time,

Our witnesses arise. Ours is the truth,

Ours is the power, the gift of Heaven. We hold

His Law, His lamp, His covenant, His pledge.

Wherever in the ages shall arise

Jew-priest, Jew-poet, Jew-singer, or Jew-saint—

And everywhere I see them star the gloom—

In each of these the martyrs are avenged!

RABBI JACOB.Bring from the Ark the bell-fringed, silken-bound

Scrolls of the Law. Gather the silver vessels,

Dismantle the rich curtains of the doors,

Bring the Perpetual Lamp; all these shall burn,

For Israel’s light is darkened, Israel’s Law

Profaned by strangers. Thus the Lord hath said:

“The weapon formed against thee shall not prosper,

The tongue that shall contend with thee in judgment,

Thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage

Of the Lord’s servants and their righteousness.

For thou shalt come to peoples yet unborn,

Declaring that which He hath done. Amen!”

[The doors of the synagogue are burst open with tumultuous noise. Citizens and officers rush in.]
CITIZENS.Come forth! the sun sets. Come, the Council waits!

What! will ye teach your betters patience? Out!

The Governor is ready. Forth with you,

Curs! serpents! Judases! The bonfire burns![Exeunt.]

SCENE IV.—A Public Place. Crowds of Citizens assembled. On a platform are seated DIETRICH VON TETTENBORN and HENRY SCHNETZEN with other Members of the Council.
1ST CITIZEN.Here’s such a throng! Neighbor, your elbow makes

An ill prod for my ribs.
2D CITIZEN.I am pushed and squeezed.

My limbs are not mine own.
3D CITIZEN.Look this way, wife.

They will come hence,—a pack of just-whipped curs.

I warrant you the stiff-necked brutes repent

To-day if ne’er before.
WIFE.I am all a-quiver.

I have seen monstrous sights,—an uncaged wolf,

The corpse of one sucked by a vampyre,

The widow Kupfen’s malformed child—but never

Until this hour, a Jew.
3D CITIZEN.D’ye call me Jew?

Where do you spy one now?
WIFE.You’ll have your jest

Now or anon, what matters it?

Have seen a Jew, and seen one burn at that;

Hard by in Wartburg; he had killed a child.

Zounds! how the serpent wriggled! I smell now

The roasting, stinking flesh!
BOY.Father, be these

The folk who murdered Jesus?
4TH CITIZEN.Ay, my boy.

Remember that, and when you hear them come,

I’ll lift you on my shoulders. You can fling

Your pebbles with the rest.

[Trumpets sound.]
CITIZENS.The Jews! the Jews!

BOY.Quick, father! lift me! I see nothing here

But hose and skirts.

[Music of a march approaching.]
CITIZENS.What mummery is this?

The sorcerers brew new mischief.

ANOTHER CITIZEN.Why, they come

Pranked for a holiday; not veiled for death.

ANOTHER CITIZEN.Insolent braggarts! They defy the Christ!

[Enter, in procession to music, the Jews. First, RABBI JACOB; after him, sick people, carried on litters; then old men and women, followed promiscuously by men, women, and children of all ages. Some of the men carry gold and silver vessels, some the Rolls of the Law. One bears the Perpetual Lamp, another the Seven-branched silver Candlestick of the Synagogue. The mothers have their children by the hand or in their arms. All richly attired.]
CITIZENS.The misers! they will take their gems and gold

Down to the grave!

CITIZEN’S WIFE.So these be Jews! Christ save us!

To think the devils look like human folk!

CITIZENS.Cursed be the poison-mixers! Let them burn!

CITIZENS.Burn! burn!

SCHNETZEN.Good God! what maid is that?

TETTENBORN.Liebhaid von Orb.
SCHNETZEN.The devil’s trick!

He has bewitched mine eyes.
SÜSSKIND[as he passes the platform].Woe to the father

Who murders his own child!

SCHNETZEN.I am avenged,

Süsskind von Orb! Blood for blood, fire for fire,

And death for death!

[Enter Jewish youths and maidens.]
YOUTHS[in chorus].Let us rejoice, for it is promised us

That we shall enter in God’s tabernacle!

MAIDENS.Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Zion,

Within thy portals, O Jerusalem![Exeunt.]

CITIZEN’S WIFE.I can see naught from here. Let’s follow, Hans.

CITIZEN.Be satisfied. There is no inch of space

For foot to rest on yonder. Look! look there!

How the flames rise!
BOY.O father, I can see!

They all are dancing in the crimson blaze.

Look how their garments wave, their jewels shine,

When the smoke parts a bit. The tall flames dart.

Is not the fire real fire? They fear it not.

VOICES WITHOUT.Arise, oh house of Jacob. Let us walk

Within the light of the Almighty Lord!

[Enter in furious haste PRINCE WILLIAM and NORDMANN.]
PRINCE WILLIAM.Respite! You kill your daughter, Henry Schnetzen!

NORDMANN.Liebhaid von Orb is your own flesh and blood.

SCHNETZEN.Spectre! do dead men rise?

NORDMANN.Yea, for revenge!

I swear, Lord Schnetzen, by my knightly honor,

She who is dancing yonder to her death,

Is thy wife’s child!

[SCHNETZEN and PRINCE WILLIAM make a rush forward towards the flames. Music ceases; a sound of crashing boards is heard and a great cry—Hallelujah!]
PRINCE WILLIAM and SCHNETZEN.Too late! too late!
CITIZENS.All’s done!

PRINCE WILLIAM.The fire! the fire! Liebhaid, I come to thee.

[He is about to spring forward, but is held back by guards.]

SCHNETZEN.Oh cruel Christ! Is there no bolt in heaven

For the child-murderer? Kill me, my friends! my breast

Is bare to all your swords.

[He tears open his jerkin, and falls unconscious.]
[Curtain falls.]