The People are but Grass

by Chayim Nachman Bialik     (5657--1896/7)

    The people are but grass
        Like wood all dead and dried
    A giant lifeless corpse
        That sprawls where it had died
    For when God's voice descended
        And thundered here and there
    The people did not budge
        The people did not stir
    They did not rise like lions
        Nor did they stand up tall
    Not one man from a city
        Did rally to the call
    Nor did their hearts exult
        With joy and with emotion
    Rejoice from pole to pole
        From ocean unto ocean
    When true sons stepped forth willing
        Responding to the word
    From far away arriving
        To hearken to the Lord
    No greeting hand was lifted
        No welcome by the nation
    To those who came to serve it
        With faith and dedication
    As round their golden idols
        The foolish people roared
    God's thunder was not heard
        Its sound went by ignored
    In evil scheming hearts
        Of sinful petty folk
    The Lord's word was despised
        Was turned into a joke.

    The people are corrupt
        A mean and spiteful lot
    From head to toe all filled
        With malice and with rot
    For they did not bring forth
        In times of pain and woe
    A man of lofty deeds
        In whom a spark would glow
    Who with his heart aflame
        The minds of men would sway
    And fire from his eyes
        Would light a nation's way
    Who deeply loves his folk
        And God's name he would cherish
    Past wealth and over gold
        False idols doomed to perish
    Who favors no one man
        Is truthful and is brave
    And has a deep contempt
        For living as a slave
    Compassion is his flag
        And pity for his folk
    Who live a woeful life
        And bear a cruel yoke
    All this would stir the heart
        Like storms upon the ocean
    All this would light a flame
        Would kindle great emotion
    All this would like the thunder
        Proclaim by day and night
    "Rise up and do great deeds
        For God helps our fight!"

    The people have no goal
        They earn contempt and shame
    Their deeds have no foundation
        Their actions have no aim
    An endless wandering life
        An exile hard to bear
    Have sapped away their wisdom
        Have filled them with despair
    They only know the whip
        Their bodies live in pain
    Their souls--can they still feel
        The hatred and disdain?
    Can they that live in gloom
        In exile's vale of tears
    Live not just for the day
        But plan for future years?
    To hasten days of light
        And make their liberation
    The heritage they hand
        A future generation?
    They only awaken
        When roused by the stick
    They only rise up when
        They feel the foe's kick
    Dry moss, wilted leaf--
        Can it ever revive?
    A flower cut off--
        Can the dew make it thrive?
    When the trumpets resound
        And the bold banner flies
    Will the dead body wake?
        Will the dead body rise?


Return to listing of Poems

Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   david("at" symbol) .

Last updated 14 May 2002