Schemhammphorasch

By Rose Terry Cooke 1827–1892

‘This is the key which was given by the angel Michael to Pali, and by Pali to Moses. If “thou canst read it, then shalt thou understand the words of men, … the whistling of birds, the language of date-trees, the unity of hearts, ... nay, even the thoughts of the rains.”’
Gleanings after the Talmud

Ah! could I read Schemhammphorasch,
The wondrous keynote of the world,
What voices could I always hear
From tempests, with their black wings furled,
That on the sudden west winds steer,
And, muttering low their awful song,
Or pealing through the mountains strong,
Robe all the skies with sheeted fire;
That pour from heaven a rushing river,
That bid the hill-tops bow and quiver,
Mad with some fierce and wild desire.

The dreadful anthem of the wind,
That sweeps through forests as a plow,
That lays the greensward heaped below,
Would chant its meaning to my mind,
And I could tell the tale to man
In words that burn and glow with splendor;
Then should the whole wide sky surrender
Its hidden voice, its wondrous plan,
Asleep since earliest time began;
And all my soul, most like a blaze
That burns the branches whence it springeth,
Should flame to heaven in mightier lays
Than any mortal poet singeth,
If I could read Schemhammphorasch.

If I could read Schemhammphorasch,
When little birds are softly singing,
Or twitter from their greenwood nests,
Where safe and still the mother rests;
Or else, upon the glad wind springing,
Send up their tender morning song;
Then should I know their secret blisses,
The thrill of life and love they feel
When summer’s sun their bright heads kisses,
Or summer’s winds about them steal.
Or, listening to the early blossoms
That are so fleeting and so fair,
With perfume sighing from their bosoms
Its incense on the gracious air,
I think that I should hear a prayer
So sweet, so patient, and so lowly,
That mortal words most pure and rare
Would scarce unveil its meaning holy.
From forests whence the murmurous leaves
Breathe their content in rustling quiver,
Or droop when any rain-wind grieves,
Or where some broad and brimming river
O’erflowing to the mighty sea,
Sings the proud joy of destiny,
The glad acclaim of life and breath;
The courage of confronted death;
Ah! what a rapturous, glorious song
Should seize with bliss this earthly throng,
If I could read Schemhammphorasch!

If I could read Schemhammphorasch,
Then should I know the souls of men,
Too deep for any other ken;
I could translate the silent speech
Of glittering eye and knotted brow,
Though still the wily tongue might teach
A different script with voice and vow.
The blood that runs in traitorous veins;
The breath that gasps with hope or fear;
The stifled sigh, the hidden tear;
The death-pang of immortal pains,
That hide their mortal agony,
Would have their own low voice for me;
Their tale of hate and misery,
Their sob of passion and despair,
Their sacred love, their frantic prayer.
My soul would be the listening priest
To hear confession far and near,
And woe and want from first to least
Would shriek its utterance in my ear.
Ah, could I bear to live and hear
These cries that heaven itself might flee,
These terrors heaven alone may see,
If I could read Schemhammphorasch?

If I could read Schemhammphorasch,
My brain would burn with such a fire
As lights the awful cherubim;
My heart would burst with woe and ire,
My flesh would shrivel and expire;
Yea! God himself grow far and dim.
I cannot hold the boundless sea
In one small chalice lent to me;
I cannot grasp the starry sky
In one weak hand, and bid it lie
Where I would have a canopy;
I cannot hate and love together;
I cannot poise the heavy world,
Or hear its hiss through chaos hurled,
Or stay the falling of a feather.
No, not if Michael came once more,
Standing upon the sea and shore,
And held his right hand down to me,
That I that awful word might see,
And learn to read its lesson dread.
My soul in dust would bow her head,
Mine eyes would close, my lips would say,
‘Oh, Master! take thy gift away:
Leave me to live my little day
In peace and trust while yet I may.
For could I live, or love, or pray,
If I could read Schemhammphorasch?’

Source: She Wields a Pen: American Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century (University of Iowa Press, 1997)

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Poet Rose Terry Cooke 1827–1892

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Faith & Doubt, Religion, Judaism, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Faith & Doubt, Religion, Judaism, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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