Sambatyon, a poem for Shabbat by Rabbi Alter Abelson (1931)

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Sambatyon

There is a restless river, Sambatyon is its name;
They say it ever raves and ever is untame;
And oft its raging waves are red like human blood:
But on the Sabbath, tranquil grows the frenzied flood.
A hush upon the seething, boiling chasm falls
As when a queen is passing through guarded palace-halls.
So is it every Friday when stars illume the sky
And sad and sweet is earth with beams that would not die.

Beyond it, live the lost ten tribes of Israel’s stem,
Disporting under skies as brilliant as a gem:
And when they will be found and join the world of men,
Messiah’s call of peace will ring in field and glen.
Thus Hebrew legends tell about red folks who dwell
Beyond the gulf Sambatyon and mountains dark as hell,
Where even Sambatyon rests from week-day’s weary strife.
Oh, rebel river Sambatyon, you are the river of life!

All week with neighbors and ourselves, our civil wars we wage
We rave and rage and rest not, and make and break our cage
And only on the Sabbath, athrill with thoughts divine
Man, the Sambatyon rests, and ceases to repine:
For naught in life contents us, naught satisfies the soul,
Save God, life’s peace and Sabbath, its poesy and its goal
Its dream, its ecstasy, its charm of chastened joy;
For poesy is the Sabbath, and prose the day’s annoy.

The poet is all Sabbath, his life no week-day knows;
So Shakespeare and Isaiah, who strove to still life’s woes:
And so divine Halevi and rapt Gebirol; so
Are Tennyson, Thompson, Markham, and Blake with dreams aglow.
So too are rapturous Keats and brooding Wordsworth; all
The poets know but Sabbath and never are in thrall.
Oh, life will be all poesy some golden, golden time,
And day and night will weave a rhyme of bliss sublime.

One day, life’s rebel river, Sambatyon too, will flow
In pleasantness and peace and only Sabbath know.
The prose-men have long week-days, six days in every week,
And yet they too for peace and Sabbath ever seek.

One day, a world of brothers will boast in God alone,
Will boast that crime and care and indigence have flown,
And glory that at last we grew mature in mind
And peace has built her home as dreamers have designed.
The air will fill with singing, with hymns of love and wings;
Apprenticeship will end in mastery of kings,
And life will be the monarch, and majesty of life
And all his gems will shimmer on loveliness his wife.

Sambatyon, softly, gently, will flow through Paradise
And Man’s Sambatyon-soul, aye soar in Sabbath skies.
One day, the world will have but poets everywhere,
And more and more of Sabbath, and less and less of care.

The poem “Sambatyon” can be found in Alter Abelson’s collection of poetry, Sambatyon and other Poems, vol. 1 (New York: Ariel Publications, 1931), p. 30-31. The original was published without any divisions between lines. I have added divisions in order to distinguish several stanzas. –Aharon Varady.

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