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Maccabaeus or Makkava (Gr. Makкaßaios), "the Hammer," was originally the surname of Judas, third son of the Jewish priest Mattathias, who struck the first blow for religious liberty during the persecution under Antiochus IV (Epiphanes. In 166 B.C. Mattathias died, charging his seven sons to give their lives for the ancestral faith, and naming Judas as their leader. The military genius of Judas made this struggle one of the most stirring chapters in the history of the Jewish revolt against the pagan Greek rites imposed upon them by their Syrian conquerors. It was at Bethoron that the Syrian prince, Seron, was defeated, the victory resulting in the restoration of the Temple worship at Jerusalem by Judas in 165.
(Scene: The battle field at Bethoron.)
Judas Makkava, leaning on his sword.
"Sunset! And all my blood too fierce to sleep!
But one dream's dreamt-Jerusalem is free!
And yet-O, warrior spirit depart not
From me now nor leave me here to fight alone.
And O, my hungry soul, content thyself!
Look on these mounds of glorious glad dead
And know that howe'er eager thou still art
Here, here thy glory ends with set of sun
Thy brothers-all, aye each!-must outrace thee!
For they are free from this thy treacherous taint.
O, God! What now if all the city knew
These traitorous thoughts that in thy heart of hearts
Run molelike underground!-yea, and bulge forth
In blind-bold furrows to betray themselves!
Why, to thy throat that rabble would leap up
"Is it then wantonness to slay What would be slain if they at home but knew How hot thy heart burns now with lust for raising
Of thyself still higher-higher still!
O, with this battle's victory for rung
To climb with dizzy ladder David clomb
To kingship and a fame conjoint with thee
O, Evening star!
"Is it then wantonness
My soul, for death to take that life that stays
Thine own only because thy thoughts lie still?
O, nay! There is a kind of god who breathes
In warriors' breasts to make them true as Truth!
Therefore have done, Makkava! Be no more
Sick Nature's philistine! But since thy love
For royal power would stop thy patriot's love
Step in between and slay them both at once!
Sword, sword!-O, Conqueror of conquerors,
Thou Destiny, thou Dread, thou patient Doom,
Thou Prayer of many waiting Peoples, ended Hope,
My heaven, my Gehenna, my Farewell.
Well hast Thou wrought to-day, my brittle glory,
And now must Thou perform one brave deed more,
One last no sword before hath dared to do!
It will make Thee magnificent in death
Beyond all other swords! But it is well
I die, red sword, thrice well!
So go-ambition!-ambling at my heels!
No coltish thing like thee outruns my soul!
Nor makes Jerusalem its noisesome goal
To break and burst upon!
"But O, to rule!
Aye, and O, again to rule! 'Tis here, laid down
Within the hollow of thine hand-grasp it,
Judas Makkava, Jew! Thy house called 'Kingdom'
And thy name, 'The King'!
"Think, think! Love's agony
That follows on't-think of that well, black Jew!
Grasp it?-yea, and be accursed forever
The fair name thou'st won thyself to-day, devoured
By-'traitor,' changed for 'traitor,' lost in 'traitor,'
Damned with 'traitor'-damned!
So am I burdened o'er! O, I must die
In this sweet hour of victory to rid
Jerusalem of me-a loathsome pest!
I cannot fight that passion, kill this hope!
They whirl my soul about with windy gusts
As 'twere a weather-cock before the storm
Twisting and urging it each time it stands.
But faugh!—is thy young brain so sick as this?
Thy brain that was God's balanced instrument
Whose edge scarce but a quick hour gone cut through
Those Syrian reins that sawed Jerusalem
Held in that Seron's thrice unholy hands!
Faugh! Remember thou the words Mattathias
Thy father, High Priest unto Jehovah,
Spake unto thee in thy first year of youth.
"The Lord so made us, we must love
'Alone, with but one single star!'
Think on them, Judas! See how thou hast failed,
Then die and here and now on this thy sword
Of swords and be thyself star-free, star-glad.
Nor threaten one hour more thy native land!
"Across that riven reft in Tyre's far hills
The sun sinks down as from thy murderous thought.
'Kill self?" Why, that is cowardice men say!
Then let God's sun flinch backward from a coward!
For that am I! Yea-look! I shout it sunward,
Skyward high-'Ha! Suicide-answer ye me!'
All's still the echo drifts away and dies..
"Ha! Thou'lt not flinch backward from me? Sink,
Then, since I cry thee 'sink'!—ye haughty sun!
Thou fool-thou goat's cheese-vile sea-watcher,-sink!
Well, then-while thy last beam play o'er this pool
Of reeking gore beside my feet, I bid
Them cease!-Cease, sport no more, gleam not, be gone Base beams from this my comrades' blood-away!
God, God-they hear me not! Or hearing stay
To mock me out, mad-mad!-demented mad!
Meseems that breeze across the pool's top
Stirs tiny waves to lapping 'gainst the ground.
O' crimson tongues of thirst-crazed timber wolves
Make such a sound on water in the dark!
A-ach! It sickens in the soul's core-ach!
But stay-O, God! These beams the sun sends down
Fly, vanish, flee-look upward, fixéd eyes!
"It sinks-O, one notch lower down! It sinks! Behold! What man dares call me coward, speak!
"Let be, mad man, let be. See'st not they all
Lie dead and cannot speak, thy comrades all?
Aye-comrades! And-O, eyes grow instant blind!
My heart, stop in thy beat! O, mind-be still!
Is't thee, forsooth, my friend?-isn't thee I see
So stiff and stark with naked Death beside?
And is that frozen smile upon thy lips
The urge thou bring'st me here in this my pride
T'abandon it and make myself a man
As thou hast been?-struck down in warrior toil
But thy faith kept, e'en past the bitter end?
Aye 'tis that thy smile would seem to say to me.
And this, 'Walk on!'-with that strange frozen peace
It has, lingering, as it still loved thy face.
I understand-I understand, dear friend!
'Tis always so-Love speaks to us most plain
When all things else in heaven and earth are dumb
Or to us seem so-we, of silent hearts.
O, let the sun sink 'neath war-riven hills,
Let the stars shine cold until one by one
They circle the sky! For a victory's won
O, my soul!-Thou art cup-and all living fills
Thee and thine emptiness! Yea, 'tis now plain!
Never more shall I plead that the beauty
Of earth be a beaker to lift to the lips!
But here at my heart shall I hold it, lo!
To be filled with living and filled again!
Bend, my knees-break, bend! Let me down, let me down. O, let me pray, Lord God, now let me pray.
"Farewell, O Betheron! I leave thee here
Soaked red in the blood of beloved dead
And like our ancient prophet, face turned soul,
I will walk back beneath a newer sky
And make my common bed within that camp
Of warriors tried!
"Lord God, hereafter
Thou shalt find me there, no mole-thoughts in this soul,
Where those who live alone with but one star
Sleep, wake, trust Thee and see Thy stars each morn
Farewell, Great Betheron! Farewell, farewell!"