Menella Bute Smedley

The Choice of the Christian Heroes

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It was the hour of evening prayer,
It was the holy Sabbath night,
Sunset was glowing in the air,
Placid, and calm, and bright;
When fierce Saladin did call
To his side his warriors all,
And in proud array they wound their way
Up green Tiberias' height.
With fettered hand and weary soul
Each Christian captive followed on,
Submissive to that base control
Till the fair hill was won;
Oh, what depth of fire supprest
Must have burned in every breast!
For they were the knights of a thousand fights,
Of the Temple and St. John.
They stood and held their very breath,
With rising heart and filling eye,
For the blue sea of Genesareth
Beneath their feet did lie;
Yon hills are guardians of the shore
Where oft their Saviour trod before;
And their hands are bound, and the holy ground
Is the prey of Moslemrie!
And lo! it is the very hour
When on their far, their Christian shore,

Those they best love, from hall and bower
Wend to the church's door;
Full many a heart is lifting prayer
For them—the lonely captives there!
The old knights frown, and the young look down,
For their eyes are running o'er.
Stately and sad, an old knight spake:
“Why, tyrants, have ye brought us here?
Say, did ye wish to see them break,
The hearts that cannot fear?
Know, our God will give us might
Even to look upon this sight.
My brethren, dry each drooping eye;
The foe beholds your tear!”
The Moslem chieftain answered him:
“Captives, look round ye, as ye stand;
Look, ere the twilight closeth dim,
Upon this lovely land;
See how the clouds yon hills enfold,
Turning their purple into gold;
For the sun's last light makes all things bright
Save you, the captive band.
Is not the earth around ye fair?
And do your hearts desire to die,
Nor breathe once more the gladsome air,
When morning paints the sky?
A precious thing is the light of day,
And life should not be flung away;
Say, would ye be on the green earth free?
Pine ye for liberty?

Free shall ye be, by a sultan's word,
A word that ne'er was broken yet,
Take ye but Allah for your Lord,
And bow to Mahomet.
Your trusty swords I will restore,
Your heads shall wear the helm once more,
By the Moslem band who rule this land
Ye shall be as brethren met.
Refuse—yon scimitars are keen;
A stern and speedy death is near!”
Full awful were those words, I ween;
They thrill'd against the ear!
What did that true band reply?
Every knight kneeled down to die,
For they looked on the sea of Galilee,
And one word they answer'd—“Here?
Here, should the brave deny their God?
Here, should the true forsake their faith?
Here, where the living footsteps trod
Of Him they own'd in death?
Here, where the silent earth and sea
Bare witness to the Deity?”
There was not a heart would from Christ depart
By blue Genesareth!
So, one by one, they kneeled and died,
That band of heroes and of saints,
And the deep, deep stain of a crimson tide
The hill's lone greenness taints.
The hurrying work of death was done
Ere in the pure wave sank the sun,
And the twilight air was full of prayer,
But not of weak complaints.

Oh, many tears, ye brave and true,
Oh, many tears for those were shed
Whose corpses by the waters blue
Lay piled—unhonoured dead!
Shrined in many a bleeding heart,
Never did their names depart!
And heaven's own light for many a night
Play'd round each sleeping head.
But a purer light than that whose ray
Around their tombless corpses shone,
Was kindled in hearts far away
By the deed which they had done!
And if the warriors' tempted faith
Grew feeble in the hour of death,
“Remember,” they cried, “how the Templars died,
And the true knights of St. John!”

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Menella Bute Smedley