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

Judas Maccabæus

Act IV. The Outer Courts of the Temple at Jerusalem


BEHOLD, our enemies are discomfited.

Jerusalem has fallen; and our banners

Float from her battlements, and o’er her gates

Nicanor’s severed head, a sign of terror,

Blackens in wind and sun.

O Maccabæus,

The citadel of Antiochus, wherein

The Mother with her Seven Sons was murdered,

Is still defiant.


Its hateful aspect

Insults us with the bitter memories

Of other days.

Wait; it shall disappear

And vanish as a cloud. First let us cleanse

The Sanctuary. See, it is become

Waste like a wilderness. Its golden gates

Wrenched from their hinges and consumed by fire;

Shrubs growing in its courts as in a forest;

Upon its altars hideous and strange idols;

And strewn about its pavement at my feet

Its Sacred Books, half-burned and painted o’er

With images of heathen gods.

Woe! woe!

Our beauty and our glory are laid waste!

The Gentiles have profaned our holy places!

(Lamentation and alarm of trumpets.)

This sound of trumpets, and this lamentation,

The heart-cry of a people toward the heavens,

Stir me to wrath and vengeance. Go, my captains;

I hold you back no longer. Batter down

The citadel of Antiochus, while here

We sweep away his altars and his gods.


Lurking among the ruins of the Temple,

Deep in its inner courts, we found this man,

Clad as High-Priest.

I ask not who thou art,

I know thy face, writ over with deceit

As are these tattered volumes of the Law

With heathen images. A priest of God

Wast thou in other days, but thou art now

A priest of Satan. Traitor, thou art Jason.

I am thy prisoner, Judas Maccabæus,

And it would ill become me to conceal

My name or office.

Over yonder gate

There hangs the head of one who was a Greek.

What should prevent me now, thou man of sin,

From hanging at its side the head of one

Who born a Jew hath made himself a Greek?

Justice prevents thee.

Justice? Thou art stained

With every crime ’gainst which the Decalogue

Thunders with all its thunder.

If not Justice,

Then Mercy, her handmaiden.

When hast thou

At any time, to any man or woman,

Or even to any little child, shown mercy?

I have but done what King Antiochus

Commanded me.

True, thou hast been the weapon

With which he struck; but hast been such a weapon,

So flexible, so fitted to his hand,

It tempted him to strike. So thou hast urged him

To double wickedness, thine own and his.

Where is this King? Is he in Antioch

Among his women still, and from his windows

Throwing down gold by handfuls, for the rabble

To scramble for?

Nay, he is gone from there,

Gone with an army into the far East.

And wherefore gone?

I know not. For the space

Of forty days almost were horsemen seen

Running in air, in cloth of gold, and armed

With lances, like a band of soldiery;

It was a sign of triumph.

Or of death.

Wherefore art thou not with him?

I was left

For service in the Temple.

To pollute it,

And to corrupt the Jews; for there are men

Whose presence is corruption; to be with them

Degrades us and deforms the things we do.

I never made a boast, as some men do,

Of my superior virtue, nor denied

The weakness of my nature, that hath made me

Subservient to the will of other men.

Upon this day, the five-and-twentieth day

Of the month Caslan, was the Temple here

Profaned by strangers,—by Antiochus

And thee, his instrument. Upon this day

Shall it be cleansed. Thou, who didst lend thyself

Unto this profanation, canst not be

A witness of these solemn services.

There can be nothing clean where thou art present.

The people put to death Callisthenes,

Who burned the Temple gates; and if they find thee

Will surely slay thee. I will spare thy life

To punish thee the longer. Thou shalt wander

Among strange nations. Thou, that hast cast out

So many from their native land, shalt perish

In a strange land. Thou, that hast left so many

Unburied, shalt have none to mourn for thee,

Nor any solemn funerals at all,

Nor sepulchre with thy fathers.—Get thee hence!

Music. Procession of Priests and people, with citherns, harps, and cymbals. JUDAS MACCABÆUS puts himself at their head, and they go into the inner courts.


Through the Gate Beautiful I see them come,

With branches and green boughs and leaves of palm,

And pass into the inner courts. Alas!

I should be with them, should be one of them,

But in an evil hour, an hour of weakness,

That cometh unto all, I fell away

From the old faith, and did not clutch the new,

Only an outward semblance of belief;

For the new faith I cannot make mine own,

Not being born to it. It hath no root

Within me. I am neither Jew nor Greek,

But stand between them both, a renegade

To each in turn; having no longer faith

In gods or men. Then what mysterious charm,

What fascination is it chains my feet,

And keeps me gazing like a curious child

Into the holy places, where the priests

Have raised their altar?—Striking stones together,

They take fire out of them, and light the lamps

In the great candlestick. They spread the veils,

And set the loaves of shewbread on the table.

The incense burns; the well-remembered odor

Comes wafted unto me, and takes me back

To other days. I see myself among them

As I was then; and the old superstition

Creeps over me again!—A childish fancy!—

And hark! they sing with citherns and with cymbals,

And all the people fall upon their faces,

Praying and worshipping!—I will away

Into the East, to meet Antiochus

Upon his homeward journey, crowned with triumph.

Alas! to-day I would give everything

To see a friend’s face, or to hear a voice

That had the slightest tone of comfort in it!