From “An Epistle”

From Joshua Ibn Vives of Allorqui to his former master, Solomon Levi-Paul, de Santa-Maria, Bishop of Cartagena, Chancellor of Castile, and privy councillor to King Henry III of Spain.

Master and Sage, greetings and health to thee, 
    From thy most meek disciple! Deign once more 
Endure me at thy feet, enlighten me, 
    As when upon my boyish head of yore, 
Midst the rapt circle gathered round thy knee 
    Thy sacred vials of learning thou didst pour.
By the lage lustre of thy wisdom orbed 
Be my black doubts illumined and absorbed. 

Oft I recall that golden time when thou, 
    Born for no second station, heldst with us 
The Rabbi’s chair, who are priest and bishop now;
    And we, the youth of Israel, curious, 
Hung on thy counsels, lifted reverent brow 
    Unto thy sanctity, would fain discuss 
With thee our Talmud problems good and evil, 
Till startled by the risen stars o’er Seville. 

For on the Synagogue’s high-pillard porch
    Thou didst hold session, till the sudden sun 
Beyond day’s purple limit dropped his torch. 
    Then we, as dreamers, woke, to find outrun 
Time’s rapid sands. The flame that may not scorch,
    Our hearts caught from thine eyes, thou Shining One. 
I scent not yet sweet lemon-groves in flower, 
But I re-breathe the peace of that deep hour. 

We kissed the sacred borders of thy gown, 
    Brow-aureoled with thy blessing, we went forth
Through the hushed byways of the twilight town. 
    Then in all life but one thing seemed of worth, 
To seek, find, love the Truth. She set her crown 
    Upon thy head, our Master, at thy birth;
She bade thy lips drop honey, fired thine eyes 
With the unclouded glow of sun-steeped skies. 

Forgive me, if I dwell on that which, viewed 
    From thy new vantage-ground, must seem a mist 
Of error, by auroral youth endued 
    With alien lustre. Still in me subsist 
Those reeking vapors; faith and gratitude 
    Still lead me to the hand my boy-lips kissed 
For benison and guidance. Not in wrath,
Master, but in wise patience, point my path. 

For I, thy servant, gather in one sheaf
    The venomed shafts of slander, which thy word 
Shall shrivel to small dust. If haply grief, 
    Or momentary pain, I deal, my Lord
Blame not thy servant’s zeal, nor be thou deaf 
    Unto my soul’s blind cry for light. Accord—
Pitying my love, if too superb to care 
For hate-soiled name—an answer to my prayer.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.