Sketches of Southern Life

The Jewish Grandfather’s Story

Come, gather around me, children,
And a story I will tell.
How we builded the beautiful temple—
The temple we love so well.

I must date my story backward
To a distant age and land,
When God did break our fathers’ chains
By his mighty outstretched hand

Our fathers were strangers and captives,
Where the ancient Nile doth flow;
Smitten by cruel taskmasters,
And burdened by toil and woe.

As a shepherd, to pasture green
Doth lead with care his sheep,
So God divided the great Red Sea,
And led them through the deep.

You’ve seen me plant a tender vine,
And guard it with patient care,
Till its roots struck in the mellow earth,
And it drank the light and air.

So God did plant our chosen race,
As a vine in this fair land;
And we grew and spread a fruitful tree,
The planting of his right hand.

The time would fail strove I to tell,
All the story of our race—
Of our grand old leader, Moses,
And Joshua in his place,

Of all our rulers and judges,
From Joshua unto Saul,
Over whose doomed and guilty head
Fell ruin and death’s dark pall.

Of valiant Jepthath, whose brave heart
With sudden grief did bow,
When his daughter came with dance and song
Unconscious of his vow.

Of Gideon, lifting up his voice
To him who rules the sky,
And wringing out his well drenched fleece,
When all around was dry.

How Deborah, neath her spreading palms,
A judge in Israel rose,
And wrested victory from the hands
Of Jacob’s heathen foes.

Of Samuel, an upright judge.
The last who ruled our tribes,
Whose noble life and cleanly hands,
Were pure and free from bribes.

Of David, with his checkered life
Our tuneful minstrel king,
Who breathed in sadness and delight,
The psalms we love to sing.

Of Solomon, whose wandering heart,
From Jacob’s God did stray,
And cast the richest gifts of life,
In pleasure’s cup away.

How aged men advised his son,
But found him weak and vain,
Until the kingdom from his hands
Was rudely rent in twain.

Oh! sin and strife are fearful things,
They widen as they go,
And leave behind them shades of death,
And open gates of woe.

A trail of guilt, a gloomy line,
Ran through our nation’s life,
And wicked kings provoked our God,
And sin and woe were rife.

At length, there came a day of doom—
A day of grief and dread;
When judgment like a fearful storm
Swept o’er our country’s head.

And we were captives many years,
Where Babel’s stream doth flow;
With harps unstrung, on willows hung,
We wept in silent woe.

We could not sing the old, sweet songs,
Our captors asked to hear;
Our hearts were full, how could we sing
The songs to us so dear?

As one who dreams a mournful dream,
Which fades, as wanes the night,
So God did change our gloomy lot
From darkness into light.

Belshazzar in his regal halls,
A sumptuous feast did hold;
He praised his gods and drank his wine
From sacred cups of gold.

When dance and song and revelry
Had filled with mirth each hall,
Belshazzar raised his eyes and saw
A writing on the wall.

He saw, and horror blanched his cheek,
His lips were white with fear;
To read the words he quickly called
For wise men, far and near.

But baffled seers, with anxious doubt
Stood silent in the room,
When Daniel came, a captive youth,
And read the words of doom.

That night, within his regal hall,
Belshazzar lifeless lay;
The Persians grasped his fallen crown,
And with the Mede held sway.

Darius came, and Daniel rose
A man of high renown;
But wicked courtiers schemed and planned
To drag the prophet down.

They came as men who wished to place
Great honors on their king—
With flattering lips and oily words,
Desired a certain thing.

They knew that Daniel, day by day
Towards Salem turned his face,
And asked the king to sign a law
His hands might not erase.

That till one moon had waned away,
No cherished wish or thing
Should any ask of men or Gods,
Unless it were the king.

But Daniel, full of holy trust,
His windows opened wide,
Regardless of the king’s command,
Unto his God he cried.

They brought him forth that he might be
The hungry lion’s meat,
Awe struck, the lions turned away
And crouched anear his feet.

The God he served was strong to save
His servant in the den;
The fate devised for Daniel’s life
O’er took those scheming men.

And Cyrus came, a gracious king,
And gave the blest command,
That we, the scattered Jews, should build
Anew our fallen land.

The men who hated Juda’s weal
Were filled with bitter rage,
And ‘gainst the progress of our work
Did evil men engage.

Sanballat tried to hinder us,
And Gashmu uttered lies,
But like a thing of joy and light,
We saw our temple rise.

And from the tower of Hananeel
Unto the corner gate,
We built the wall and did restore
The places desolate.

Some mocked us as we labored on
And scoffingly did say,
“If but a fox climb on the wall,
Their work will give away.”

But Nehemiah wrought in hope,
Though heathen foes did frown
“My work is great,” he firmly said,
“And I cannot come down.”

And when Shemai counselled him
The temple door to close,
To hide, lest he should fall a prey
Unto his cruel foes.

Strong in his faith, he answered, “No,
He would oppose the tide,
Should such as he from danger flee,
And in the temple hide?”

We wrought in earnest faith and hope
Until we built the wall,
And then, unto a joyful feast
Did priest and people call.

We came to dedicate the wall
With sacrifice and joy—
A happy throng, from aged sire
Unto the fair-haired boy.

Our lips so used to mournful songs,
Did joyous laughter fill,
And strong men wept with sacred joy
To stand on Zion’s hill.

Mid scoffing foes and evil men,
We built our city blest,
And ‘neath our sheltering vines and palms
To-day in peace we rest.


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This work (Sketches of Southern Life by Frances Harper) is free of known copyright restrictions.