Founded on a Jewish legend.


FATHER, I cannot sleep; the prophet's words 

Ring in my ears; they fill my heart with fear; 

For am I not the first-born, and the one 

On whom the destroying angel's shaft would fall, 

Were not the token on the lintel found? 

Thrice have I named the patriarchs, and once 

The creatures great and small that Noah drove 

Before him in the ark; but all in vain. 

I cannot sleep. O father, art thou sure 

The blood is sprinkled as God gave command?"

"Peace, peace, my child; just as the evening fell 

The fairest lamb of all the flock was slain, 

And roasted then with purifying fire; 

With bitter herbs, and bread devoid of leaven, 

In haste we ate the Lord's appointed feast. 

Nor were the means of saving thee forgot; 

Scarce was the yearling slain ere I gave word 

For sprinkling of the blood upon the door; 

Sleep, then, my first-born, God's avenging one 

Will see the signal, and pass over thee."

Thus on that dark night which God had chosen 

For passing throughout all fair Egypt's land, 

To smite on every side the loved first-born, 

Sparing not e'en the firstlings of the flock, 

A Hebrew father soothed his restless child; 

Restless himself, as now with girded loins, 

Sandals upon his feet, and staff in hand, 

He waited for the solemn midnight hour 

When God's almighty arm should break the chain 

That bound his people to proud Pharaoh's throne. 

The bread unbaked was in the kneading trough, 

The scattered flocks were gathered in the fold, 

And all betokened plans for hasty flight. 

There was a thrilling silence in the air; 

A quiet joy burned in the Rabbi's breast, 

Joy that was not unmingled with regret 

At leaving thus his birthplace, though it was 

A house of bondage, for the promised land.

The night wore on,

And yet again the pleading voice was heard : 

"Father, sleep will not come; before my eyes 

I see the angel pass, and at our door 

Pause sadly, as though he wept to enter, 

Yet dared not hasten unavenging by. 

O father, if the blood has been removed, 

Or if the herd-boy heeded not thy voice, 

Then never shall my weary eyes behold 

The land of Canaan with its waving fields."

"Rest, little one, faithful our Jared is.

Not only on the side-posts of the door

Should be the stain, but on the one above;

So if some hungry dog should from its place

One token lick, the others would remain.

Sleep, my sweet child, for thou hast need of rest;

The journey will be rough for little feet."

The anxious voice was silent; in that home

Obedience reigned supreme, though not as yet

The law had sounded forth from Sinai's top;

With patience dutiful she sought to woo

Soft slumber to her long unclosed eyes;

Sleep came at last, but with it dreams of fright,

Wherein she tossed, and moaned, and oft cried out.

The midnight hour drew nigh; unbroken still 

The darkness' solemn hush; the child awoke 

With a loud cry, " Father, I thought I heard 

The cock's shrill crow to greet approaching morn. 

My heart is beating with a sick'ning dread 

Of danger near. Oh! Take me to the door 

And let me see the red blood sprinkled there."

Lighting a torch, the father gently took 

His first-born in his arms, and bore her forth

Started and paled to see no paschal sign, 

No warning that their door should be passed by! 

With trembling hand he snatched the hyssop then, 

Himself applied the blood in eager haste. 

A long sigh of relief escaped the child; 

Almost before he placed her on the couch 

Sweet sleep had fallen on her heavy lids, 

Nor when the "great cry" rose did she awake.

That agonizing wail of man and beast 

Reached not her ears, with drowsy slumber sealed, 

And at the dawn they bore her sleeping still, 

Away from Egypt's darkness and despair.

*      *      *      *      *      * 

Christ, our blest Passover, is slain for us; 

The "blood of sprinkling" for our sins is shed; 

Have we the atoning sacrifice applied, 

Made sure our entrance to the promised land?

L. W. Herrick.