translated from the Hebrew by Emma Lazarus

Night, and the heavens beam serene with peace, 
Like a pure heart benignly smiles the moon.
Oh, guard thy blessed beauty from mischance, 
This I beseech thee in all tender love. 
See where the Storm his cloudy mantle spreads, 
An ashy curtain covereth the moon. 
As if the tempest thirsted for the rain, 
The clouds he presses, till they burst in streams. 
Heaven wears a dusky raiment, and the moon
Appeareth dead—her tomb is yonder cloud, 
And weeping shades come after, like the people 
Who mourn with tearful grief a noble queen. 
But look! the thunder pierced night’s close-linked mail,
His keen-tipped lance of lightning brandishing;
He lovers like a seraph-conqueror.—
Dazed by the flaming splendor of his wings, 
In rapid flight as in a whirling dance, 
The black cloud-ravens hurry scared away. 
So, though the powers of darkness chain my soul, 
My heart, a hero, chafes and breaks its bonds. 


This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Night-Piece” appears in The Poems of Emma Lazarus in Two Volumes, Vol. II Jewish Poems: Translations (Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1889). Professor emeritus of medieval Hebrew literature Raymond P. Scheindlin notes in his article “Poet and Patron: Ibn Gabirol’s Poem of the Palace and Its Gardens” that “[o]ne of the distinctive features of the poetry of the Hebrew Golden Age is the frequently outspoken voice of the poet; even in the panegyric qaşīda, we can sometimes hear the poet’s voice calling to us from behind the mask of conventional language and imagery.” In the chapter, “A Poetry of Mysticism: Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, and Rainer Maria Rilke” found in Islamic Philosophy and Occidental Phenomenology in Dialogue, Vol. 6, edited by Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, Canadian scholar and poet Bruce Ross observes, “Whereas Ibn Gabirol’s poetry as an approach toward the spiritual and a state of ‘blessedness’ and Rumi’s poetry as a return to the spiritual through love are expressed with confidence, infused as they are by neo-Platonism, Judaism, Kabbalah, Islam, and Sufism, Rilke’s poetry affected according to Arthur S. Wensinger, ‘the transmutation (by the poet) of the world into spirit through feeling . . . because we (and he) are mortal and remembering.’ […] Their poetry explores emotional currents that are easily associated with mysticism: a transformation of consciousness, a related transformational poetics, ecstasy, a cosmic ocean of wisdom, a sense of universal unity, a poetic imagery of the moon, stars, and sky, and an elevated understanding of love. […] While Ibn Gabirol confronted personal social disassociation through his orphan status and presumably unappealing appearance and displacement because of the loss of patronage and Rumi encountered the devastating loss of his teacher Shams, Rilke suffered the presumed peculiarities of his upbringing and the near collapse of Old Europe through war and the breakdown of social hierarchies. Yet, each poet through the complexities of their innate genius was able to engage a similar kind of inner transformation to develop memorable poetry of spiritual illumination.”