Golden lights and lengthening shadows,
Flings the splendid sun declining,
O’er the monastery garden
Rich in flower, fruit and foliage.
Through the avenue of nut trees,
Pace two grave and ghostly friars,
Snowy white their gowns and girdles,
Black as night their cowls and mantles.
Lithe and ferret-eyed the younger,
Black his scapular denoting
A lay brother; his companion
Large, imperious, towers above him.
‘T is the abbot, great Fra Pedro,
Famous through all Saragossa
For his quenchless zeal in crushing
Heresy amidst his townfolk.
Handsome still with hood and tonsure,
E’en as when the boy Pedrillo,
Insolent with youth and beauty,
Who reviled the gentle Rabbi.
Lo, the level sun strikes sparkles
From his dark eyes brightly flashing.
Stern his voice: ‘These too shall perish.
I have vowed extermination.
‘Tell not me of skill or virtue,
Filial love or woman’s beauty-
Jews are Jews, as serpents serpents,
In themselves abomination.’
Earnestly the other pleaded,
‘If my zeal, thrice reverend master,
E’er afforded thee assistance,
Serving thee as flesh serves spirit,
‘Hounding, scourging, flaying, burning,
Casting into chains or exile,
At thy bidding these vile wretches,
Hear and heed me now, my master.
‘These be nowise like their brethren,
Ben Jehudah is accounted
Saragossa’s first physician,
Loved by colleague as by patient.
‘And his daughter Donna Zara
Is our city’s pearl of beauty,
Like the clusters of the vineyard
Droop the ringlets o’er her temples.
‘Like the moon in starry heavens
Shines her face among her people,
And her form hath all the languor,
Grace and glamour of the palm-tree.
‘Well thou knowest, thrice reverend master,
This is not their first affliction,
Was it not our Holy Office
Whose bribed menials fired their dwelling?
‘Ere dawn broke, the smoke ascended,
Choked the stairways, filled the chambers,
Waked the household to the terror
Of the flaming death that threatened.
‘Then the poor bed-ridden mother
Knew her hour had come; two daughters,
Twinned in form, and mind, and spirit,
And their father-who would save them?
‘Towards her door sprang Ben Jehudah,
Donna Zara flew behind him
Round his neck her white arms wreathing,
Drew him from the burning chamber.
‘There within, her sister Zillah
Stirred no limb to shun her torture,
Held her mother’s hand and kissed her,
Saying, ‘We will go together.’
‘This the outer throng could witness,
As the flames enwound the dwelling,
Like a glory they illumined
Awfully the martyred daughter.
‘Closer, fiercer, round they gathered,
Not a natural cry escaped her,
Helpless clung to her her mother,
Hand in hand they went together.
‘Since that ‘Act of Faith’ three winters
Have rolled by, yet on the forehead
Of Jehudah is imprinted
Still the horror of that morning.
‘Saragossa hath respected
His false creed; a man of sorrows,
He hath walked secure among us,
And his art repays our sufferance.’
Thus he spoke and ceased. The Abbot
Lent him an impatient hearing,
Then outbroke with angry accent,
‘We have borne three years, thou sayest?
”T is enough; my vow is sacred.
These shall perish with their brethren.
Hark ye! In my veins’ pure current
Were a single drop found Jewish,
‘I would shrink not from outpouring
All my life blood, but to purge it.
Shall I gentler prove to others?
Mercy would be sacrilegious.
‘Ne’er again at thy soul’s peril,
Speak to me of Jewish beauty,
Jewish skill, or Jewish virtue.
I have said. Do thou remember.’
Down behind the purple hillside
Dropped the sun; above the garden
Rang the Angelus’ clear cadence
Summoning the monks to vespers.