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

Judas Maccabæus

Act III. The Battle-Field of Beth-Horon

SCENE I.—JUDAS MACCABÆUS in armor before his tent.

THE TRUMPETS sound; the echoes of the mountains

Answer them, as the Sabbath morning breaks

Over Beth-horon and its battle-field,

Where the great captain of the hosts of God,

A slave brought up in the brick-fields of Egypt,

O’ercame the Amorites. There was no day

Like that, before or after it, nor shall be.

The sun stood still; the hammers of the hail

Beat on their harness; and the captains set

Their weary feet upon the necks of kings,

As I will upon thine, Antiochus,

Thou man of blood!—Behold the rising sun

Strikes on the golden letters of my banner,

Be Elohim Yehovah! Who is like

To thee, O Lord, among the gods?—Alas!

I am not Joshua, I cannot say,

“Sun, stand thou still on Gibeon, and thou Moon,

In Ajalon!” Nor am I one who wastes

The fateful time in useless lamentation;

But one who bears his life upon his hand

To lose it or to save it, as may best

Serve the designs of Him who giveth life.


Who and what are ye, that with furtive steps

Steal in among our tents?

O Maccabæus,

Outcasts are we, and fugitives as thou art,

Jews of Jerusalem, that have escaped

From the polluted city, and from death.

None can escape from death. Say that ye come

To die for Israel, and ye are welcome.

What tidings bring ye?

Tidings of despair.

The Temple is laid waste; the precious vessels,

Censers of gold, vials and veils and crowns,

And golden ornaments, and hidden treasures,

Have all been taken from it, and the Gentiles

With revelling and with riot fill its courts,

And dally with harlots in the holy places.

All this I knew before.

Upon the altar

Are things profane, things by the law forbidden;

Nor can we keep our Sabbaths or our Feasts,

But on the festivals of Dionysus

Must walk in their processions, bearing ivy

To crown a drunken god.

This too I know.

But tell me of the Jews. How fare the Jews?

The coming of this mischief hath been sore

And grievous to the people. All the land

Is full of lamentation and of mourning.

The Princes and the Elders weep and wail;

The young men and the maidens are made feeble;

The beauty of the women hath been changed.

And are there none to die for Israel?

’T is not enough to mourn. Breastplate and harness

Are better things than sackcloth. Let the women

Lament for Israel; the men should die.

Both men and women die; old men and young:

Old Eleazer died: and Máhala

With all her Seven Sons.


At every step thou takest there is left

A bloody footprint in the street, by which

The avenging wrath of God will track thee out!

It is enough. Go to the sutler’s tents:

Those of you who are men, put on such armor

As ye may find; those of you who are women,

Buckle that armor on; and for a watch-word

Whisper, or cry aloud, “The Help of God.”


Hail, Judas Maccabæus!

Hail!—Who art thou

That comest here in this mysterious guise

Into our camp unheralded?

A herald

Sent from Nicanor.

Heralds come not thus

Armed with thy shirt of mail from head to heel,

Thou glidest like a serpent silently

Into my presence. Wherefore dost thou turn

Thy face from me? A herald speaks his errand

With forehead unabashed. Thou art a spy

Sent by Nicanor.

No disguise avails!

Behold my face; I am Nicanor’s self.

Thou art indeed Nicanor. I salute thee.

What brings thee hither to this hostile camp

Thus unattended?

Confidence in thee.

Thou hast the nobler virtues of thy race,

Without the failings that attend those virtues.

Thou canst be strong, and yet not tyrannous,

Canst righteous be and not intolerant.

Let there be peace between us.

What is peace?

Is it to bow in silence to our victors?

Is it to see our cities sacked and pillaged,

Our people slain, or sold as slaves, or fleeing

At night-time by the blaze of burning towns;

Jerusalem laid waste; the Holy Temple

Polluted with strange gods? Are these things peace?

These are the dire necessities that wait

On war, whose loud and bloody enginery

I seek to stay. Let there be peace between

Antiochus and thee.


What is Antiochus, that he should prate

Of peace to me, who am a fugitive?

To-day he shall be lifted up; to-morrow

Shall not be found, because he is returned

Unto his dust; his thought has come to nothing.

There is no peace between us, nor can be,

Until this banner floats upon the walls

Of our Jerusalem.

Between that city

And thee there lies a waving wall of tents

Held by a host of forty thousand foot,

And horsemen seven thousand. What hast thou

To bring against all these?

The power of God,

Whose breath shall scatter your white tents abroad,

As flakes of snow.

Your Mighty One in heaven

Will not do battle on the Seventh Day;

It is his day of rest.

Silence, blasphemer.

Go to thy tents.

Shall it be war or peace?

War, war, and only war. Go to thy tents

That shall be scattered, as by you were scattered

The torn and trampled pages of the Law,

Blown through the windy streets.

Farewell, brave foe!

Ho, there, my captains! Have safe-conduct given

Unto Nicanor’s herald through the camp,

And come yourselves to me.—Farewell, Nicanor!


The hour is come. Gather the host together

For battle. Lo, with trumpets and with songs

The army of Nicanor comes against us.

Go forth to meet them, praying in your hearts,

And fighting with your hands.

Look forth and see!

The morning sun is shining on their shields

Of gold and brass; the mountains glisten with them,

And shine like lamps. And we, who are so few

And poorly armed, and ready to faint with fasting,

How shall we fight against this multitude?

The victory of a battle standeth not

In multitudes, but in the strength that cometh

From heaven above. The Lord forbid that I

Should do this thing, and flee away from them.

Nay, if our hour be come, then let us die;

Let us not stain our honor.

’T is the Sabbath.

Wilt thou fight on the Sabbath, Maccabæus?

Ay; when I fight the battles of the Lord,

I fight them on his day, as on all others.

Have ye forgotten certain fugitives

That fled once to these hills, and hid themselves

In caves? How their pursuers camped against them

Upon the Seventh Day, and challenged them?

And how they answered not, nor cast a stone,

Nor stopped the places where they lay concealed,

But meekly perished with their wives and children,

Even to the number of a thousand souls?

We who are fighting for our laws and lives

Will not so perish.

Lead us to the battle!

And let our watchword be, “The Help of God!”

Last night I dreamed a dream; and in my vision

Beheld Onias, our High-Priest of old,

Who holding up his hands prayed for the Jews.

This done, in the like manner there appeared

An old man, and exceeding glorious,

With hoary hair, and of a wonderful

And excellent majesty. And Onias said:

“This is a lover of the Jews, who prayeth

Much for the people and the Holy City,—

God’s prophet Jeremias.” And the prophet

Held forth his right hand and gave unto me

A sword of gold; and giving it he said:

“Take thou this holy sword, a gift from God,

And with it thou shalt wound thine adversaries.”

The Lord is with us!

Hark! I hear the trumpets

Sound from Beth-horon; from the battle-field

Of Joshua, where he smote the Amorites,

Smote the Five Kings of Eglon and of Jarmuth,

Of Hebron, Lachish, and Jerusalem,

As we to-day will smite Nicanor’s hosts

And leave a memory of great deeds behind us.

The Help of God!

Be Elohim Yehovah!

Lord, thou didst send thine Angel in the time

Of Esekias, King of Israel,

And in the armies of Sennacherib

Didst slay a hundred fourscore and five thousand.

Wherefore, O Lord of heaven, now also send

Before us a good angel for a fear,

And through the might of thy right arm let those

Be stricken with terror that have come this day

Against thy holy people to blaspheme!