19th Century

The Wandering Jew’s Tale | G.W.M. Reynolds

By George W.M. Reynolds

Originally published in the Monthly Magazine

List awhile, and I will tell

Crimes that caus’d a doom so fell

    As that which curses me:[1]

I Know, then, that as we led afar

The Saviour unto Golgotha,

Where, as the ban of all our race,

The cross was rear’d tow’rds heay’n’s face,

    (Great God! ’tis agony!)

Spiteful I struck the Lord of lords,

And added then these scornful words:

“King of the Jews, support your tree!

The vengeance of your blood shall be,

If this is crime, repaid on me,

And on my future progeny!”

Oh! that I’d died upon the spot—

My name has since become a blot,

    And I a wand’rer lonely;

For I, of all the scatter’d race,

Shall never see my Maker’s face,

    As I was branded only.

Long will the calm unruffled look

Of Jesus, when my curse he spoke,

   Dwell in my tortur’d soul;

A sense of long and lasting care,

Years of unutterable despair,

    Prophetic thrill’d the whole

Of my still agonizing heart—

For life and I must never part!

I’d scoff’’d him in the judgment-hall,

My voice was loudest of them all,

    My words were most severel

I’d seen him scourg’d until the blood

Well’d from his deep wounds in a flood;

And then to taunt him had I stood

    The lowly Saviour near!

Twas I that urg’d when Pilate’s breast

Ideas of mercy once express’d—

    ‘Twas I that urg’d and cried,

Loudest amid ten thousand tongues,

Heaping upon him wrongs on wrongs,

    “He must be crucified!”

When I had spoke, a silence dread

Upon the multitude was shed,—

    And then a murmuring hum,

Like distant thunder, ’gan arise,

Increasing till a thousand cries

Shook the blue canopy of skies,

    And struck the Roman dumb!

To mercy still was he inclined—

‘Twas then I hardened Pilate’s mind,

    “Twas then again I cried—

I know not what thus urged me on,

To speak against the Almighty’s Son—

    “He must be crucified!”

There was a hum when I spoke first,

But now ten thousand voices burst

    Upon the deafened ear;

A prince of the Sanhedrim I,

And ruling chief of Nephtali,

    How had I cause to fear?

‘T was pressing on towards Calvary,

He, whisp’ring, spoke the words to me—

“Stay, unbeliever—scoffer—stay,

And tarry till the judgment-day!”

As thunderbolt upon my head,

I felt the sentence Jesus said!

Where could I rest my recreant head?

I sought a place my tears to shed.

“To live for ever—ne’er to die—

To linger—live eternally!”

Such were my thoughts as I madd’ning rov’d

Amid the fair scenes that I once had loved;

A figure passed—it was brother—

Dearer to me there lived no other,

And in his love I thought my grief to smother;

But horror gathered in his eye,

And from his lips escaped a cry

That told the deepest agony!

He cried and sank upon the ground;

    I kissed his cheek and bathed his brow;

    Methinks I see his horror now:—

Cold dews his paly forehead bound;

I tried to fan his parting breath,

And keep him from the jaws of death;

But when I knew he was no more,

Wretched, my very clothes I tore:

Agonizing, on my head

Ashes I profusely spread;

Though useless—passing vain for me

Would ashes or would sackcloth be,

For I must live eternally!

When morning dawned, I woke to roam,

And hurried to mine ancient home;

There did I pass a mirror gay,

That stood conspicuous in my way;

I looked to see if man might trace

Aught of my sorrow in my face

If the dread lightning, in its flashes,

Had seared within, or fired to ashes

All that without and visible lay—

Great God! I fainting turned away;

Upon my burning brow is spread

A scorching cross of fiery red!

Not Sinai, when the seer beheld

The face of heaven’s high King unveiled,

Shot redder lightnings from its brow

Than are the flames that mark me now!

“Alas! my brother!” was my cry,

“This—this indeed is infamy!

This is the ban of heaven on me,

And this inflicted death to thee!”

Quickly I bound the fatal mark,

And wrapt around this covering dark.

Years passed on years—matters not how—

And ne’er have I unveiled my brow,

Except my vengeance to display

Upon the Roman’s darkest day,

When Alaric stirred up the fray,

For hatred did I owe to them—

They stormed and burnt Jerusalem!

Alas! how dimly set the sun,

    And murky rose the shades of night

O’er Sion, when the day was done,

    That told the issue of the fight.

Jerusalem! and had their doom

Already to thy people come?

And were the Roman eagles spread?

Those eagles hovered o’er thine head!

How often would thy slaughtered king

Have gathered thee beneath his wing;

But thou hadst scorned the power that gave

For thee Messiah to the grave!

I marked where meteors hovered high,

And dire portents along the sky;

Then said I to the wretches near,

“Fly to the mountains of Judea,

And bid them fall upon your head;

    Seek Herman and Amana’s height,

    Let Masada veil ye in night,

    And spare you sorrows infinite!”

Thus was fulfilled what Jesus said.

There was an universal sound

That echoed all the city round,

Ere it was levelled with the ground—

The murmuring of despair;

For on the welkin’s face were seen

Such things as never yet had been,

    Whole armies in the air!

And on the sod the wrath of God

    Did level and destroy

Those walls once blest, by him loved best,

    His chosen seat of joy!

Fair city! how thy princely bowers,

Thy temple’s gates, and mighty towers,

Thy glittering tribes, and martial powers,

    Fell by the Roman hand;

But few were spared to weep thy fall,

And I more wretched than them all,

    Outcast of every land!

I have sought danger, but to try

In it a sad variety; But, oh!

I must not—cannot die!

And oft my mind essayed to find

    Things ne’er to mortals known;

I toiled by night, and to my sight

    Appeared the sophist’s stone,

With power to turn to glitt’ring ore

Metals that were as dross before;

Yet was my ardent spirit less

Sated with hardly-earned success

Than wond’ring alchemist would guess.

Where be the friends that once were mine?

Cold—cold within the tomb!

Cropped as the fig-tree and the vine,

They singly met their doom!

Where is the wife that used to play

Upon the harp’s wild strings—

The infants frolicsome and gay?

Oh! death has lent them wings;

As falls the stately tree of Lebanon,

Their homes have vanished, and their tents are gone!

[1] Original citation: G.W.M. Reynolds, ‘The Wandering Jew’s Tale’, The Monthly Magazine, July 1837, pp. 70–74.

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