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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Judas Maccabæus

Act II. The Dungeons in the Citadel

SCENE I.—THE MOTHER of the SEVEN SONS alone, listening.

BE strong, my heart! Break not till they are dead.

All, all my Seven Sons; then burst asunder,

And let this tortured and tormented soul

Leap and rush out like water through the shards

Of earthen vessels broken at a well.

O my dear children, mine in life and death,

I know not how ye came into my womb;

I neither gave you breath, nor gave you life,

And neither was it I that formed the members

Of every one of you. But the Creator,

Who made the world, and made the heavens above us,

Who formed the generation of mankind,

And found out the beginning of all things,

He gave you breath and life, and will again

Of his own mercy, as ye now regard

Not your own selves, but his eternal law.

I do not murmur, nay, I thank thee, God,

That I and mine have not been deemed unworthy

To suffer for thy sake, and for thy law,

And for the many sins of Israel.

Hark! I can hear within the sound of scourges!

I feel them more than ye do, O my sons!

But cannot come to you. I, who was wont

To wake at night at the least cry ye made,

To whom ye ran at every slightest hurt,—

I cannot take you now into my lap

And soothe your pain, but God will take you all

Into his pitying arms, and comfort you,

And give you rest.

A VOICE(within).
What wouldst thou ask of us?

Ready are we to die, but we will never

Transgress the law and customs of our fathers.

It is the voice of my first-born! O brave

And noble boy! Thou hast the privilege

Of dying first, as thou wast born the first.

God looketh on us, and hath comfort in us;

As Moses in his song of old declared,

He in his servants shall be comforted.

I knew thou wouldst not fail!—He speaks no more,

He is beyond all pain!

If thou eat not

Thou shalt be tortured throughout all the members

Of thy whole body. Wilt thou eat then?


It is Adaiah’s voice. I tremble for him.

I know his nature, devious as the wind,

And swift to change, gentle and yielding always.

Be steadfast, O my son!

Thou, like a fury,

Takest us from this present life, but God,

Who rules the world, shall raise us up again

Into life everlasting.

God, I thank thee

That thou hast breathed into that timid heart

Courage to die for thee. O my Adaiah,

Witness of God! if thou for whom I feared

Canst thus encounter death, I need not fear;

The others will not shrink.

THIRD VOICE(within).
Behold these hands

Held out to thee, O King Antiochus,

Not to implore thy mercy, but to show

That I despise them. He who gave them to me

Will give them back again.

O Avilan,

It is thy voice. For the last time I hear it;

For the last time on earth, but not the last.

To death it bids defiance, and to torture.

It sounds to me as from another world,

And makes the petty miseries of this

Seem unto me as naught, and less than naught.

Farewell, my Avilan; nay, I should say

Welcome, my Avilan; for I am dead

Before thee. I am waiting for the others.

Why do they linger?

It is good, O King,

Being put to death by men, to look for hope

From God, to be raised up again by Him.

But thou—no resurrection shalt thou have

To life hereafter.

Four! already four!

Three are still living; nay, they all are living,

Half here, half there. Make haste, Antiochus,

To reunite us; for the sword that cleaves

These miserable bodies makes a door

Through which our souls, impatient of release,

Rush to each other’s arms.

FIFTH VOICE(within).
Thou hast the power;

Thou doest what thou wilt. Abide awhile,

And thou shalt see the power of God, and how

He will torment thee and thy seed.

O hasten;

Why dost thou pause? Thou who hast slain already

So many Hebrew women, and hast hung

Their murdered infants round their necks, slay me,

For I too am a woman, and these boys

Are mine. Make haste to slay us all,

And hang my lifeless babes about my neck.

SIXTH VOICE(within).
Think not, Antiochus, that takest in hand

To strive against the God of Israel,

Thou shalt escape unpunished, for his wrath

Shall overtake thee and thy bloody house.

One more, my Sirion, and then all is ended.

Having put all to bed, then in my turn

I will lie down and sleep as sound as they.

My Sirion, my youngest, best beloved!

And those bright golden locks, that I so oft

Have curled about these fingers, even now

Are foul with blood and dust, like a lamb’s fleece,

Slain in the shambles.—Not a sound I hear.

This silence is more terrible to me

Than any sound, than any cry of pain,

That might escape the lips of one who dies.

Doth his heart fail him? Doth he fall away

In the last hour from God? O Sirion, Sirion,

Art thou afraid? I do not hear thy voice.

Die as thy brothers died. Thou must not live!


Are they all dead?

Of all thy Seven Sons

One only lives. Behold them where they lie;

How dost thou like this picture?

God in heaven!

Can a man do such deeds, and yet not die

By the recoil of his own wickedness?

Ye murdered, bleeding, mutilated bodies

That were my children once, and still are mine,

I cannot watch o’er you as Rizpah watched

In sackcloth o’er the seven sons of Saul,

Till water drop upon you out of heaven

And wash this blood away! I cannot mourn

As she, the daughter of Aiah, mourned the dead,

From the beginning of the barley-harvest

Until the autumn rains, and suffered not

The birds of air to rest on them by day,

Nor the wild beasts by night. For ye have died

A better death, a death so full of life

That I ought rather to rejoice than mourn.—

Wherefore art thou not dead, O Sirion?

Wherefore art thou the only living thing

Among thy brothers dead? Art thou afraid?

O woman, I have spared him for thy sake,

For he is fair to look upon and comely;

And I have sworn to him by all the gods

That I would crown his life with joy and honor,

Heap treasures on him, luxuries, delights,

Make him my friend and keeper of my secrets,

If he would turn from your Mosaic Law

And be as we are; but he will not listen.

My noble Sirion!

Therefore I beseech thee,

Who art his mother, thou wouldst speak with him,

And wouldst persuade him. I am sick of blood.

Yea, I will speak with him and will persuade him.

O Sirion, my son! have pity on me,

On me that bare thee, and that gave thee suck,

And fed and nourished thee, and brought thee up

With the dear trouble of a mother’s care

Unto this age. Look on the heavens above thee,

And on the earth and all that is therein;

Consider that God made them out of things

That were not; and that likewise in this manner

Mankind was made. Then fear not this tormentor;

But, being worthy of thy brethren, take

Thy death as they did, that I may receive thee

Again in mercy with them.

I am mocked,

Yea, I am laughed to scorn.

Whom wait ye for?

Never will I obey the King’s commandment,

But the commandment of the ancient Law,

That was by Moses given unto our fathers.

And thou, O godless man, that of all others

Art the most wicked, be not lifted up,

Nor puffed up with uncertain hopes, uplifting

Thy hand against the servants of the Lord,

For thou hast not escaped the righteous judgment

Of the Almighty God, who seeth all things!

He is no God of mine; I fear Him not.

My brothers, who have suffered a brief pain,

Are dead; but thou, Antiochus, shalt suffer

The punishment of pride. I offer up

My body and my life, beseeching God

That He would speedily be merciful

Unto our nation, and that thou by plagues

Mysterious and by torments mayest confess

That He alone is God.

Ye both shall perish

By torments worse than any that your God,

Here or hereafter, hath in store for me.

My Sirion, I am proud of thee!

Be silent!

Go to thy bed of torture in yon chamber,

Where lie so many sleepers, heartless mother!

Thy footsteps will not wake them, nor thy voice,

Nor wilt thou hear, amid thy troubled dreams,

Thy children crying for thee in the night!

O Death, that stretchest thy white hands to me,

I fear them not, but press them to my lips,

That are as white as thine; for I am Death,

Nay, am the Mother of Death, seeing these sons

All lying lifeless.—Kiss me, Sirion.