Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Syria: Nain
The Widow of Nain
Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)
 
THE ROMAN sentinel stood helmed and tall
Beside the gate of Nain. The busy tread
Of comers to the city mart was done,
For it was almost noon, and a dead heat
Quivered upon the fine and sleeping dust,        5
And the cold snake crept panting from the wall,
And basked his scaly circles in the sun.
Upon his spear the soldier leaned, and kept
His idle watch, and, as his drowsy dream
Was broken by the solitary foot        10
Of some poor mendicant, he raised his head
To curse him for a tributary Jew,
And slumberously dozed on.

                        ’T was now high noon.
The dull, low murmur of a funeral
Went through the city,—the sad sound of feet        15
Unmixed with voices,—and the sentinel
Shook off his slumber, and gazed earnestly
Up the wide streets along whose paved way
The silent throng crept slowly. They came on,
Bearing a body heavily on its bier,        20
And, by the crowd that in the burning sun
Walked with forgetful sadness, ’t was of one
Mourned with uncommon sorrow. The broad gate
Swung on its hinges, and the Roman bent
His spear-point downwards as the bearers passed,        25
Bending beneath their burden.

                        There was one,—
Only one mourner. Close behind the bier,
Crumpling the pall up in her withered hands,
Followed an aged woman. Her short steps
Faltered with weakness, and a broken moan        30
Fell from her lips, thickened convulsively
As her heart bled afresh. The pitying crowd
Followed apart, but no one spoke to her.
She had no kinsmen. She had lived alone,
A widow with one son. He was her all,—        35
The only tie she had in the wide world,—
And he was dead. They could not comfort her.
 
Jesus drew near to Nain as from the gate
The funeral came forth. His lips were pale
With the noon’s sultry heat. The beaded sweat        40
Stood thickly on his brow, and on the worn
And simple latchets of his sandals lay,
Thick, the white dust of travel. He had come
Since sunrise from Capernaum, staying not
To wet his lips by green Bethsaida’s pool,        45
Nor wash his feet in Kishon’s silver springs,
Nor turn him southward upon Tabor’s side
To catch Gilboa’s light and spicy breeze.
Genesareth stood cool upon the east,
Fast by the Sea of Galilee, and there        50
The weary traveller might bide till eve;
And on the alders of Bethulia’s plains
The grapes of Palestine hung ripe and wild;
Yet turned he not aside, but gazing on,
From every swelling mount he saw afar,        55
Amid the hills, the humble spires of Nain,
The place of his next errand; and the path
Touched not Bethulia, and a league away
Upon the cast lay pleasant Galilee.
 
Forth from the city-gate the pitying crowd        60
Followed the stricken mourner. They came near
The place of burial, and with straining hands
Closer upon her breast she clasped the pall,
And with a gasping sob, quick as a child’s,
And an inquiring wildness flashing through        65
The thin gray lashes of her fevered eyes,
She came where Jesus stood beside the way.
He looked upon her, and his heart was moved.
“Weep not!” he said; and as they stayed the bier,
And at his bidding laid it at his feet,        70
He gently drew the pall from out her grasp,
And laid it back in silence from the dead.
With troubled wonder the mute throng drew near,
And gazed on his calm looks. A minute’s space
He stood and prayed. Then, taking the cold hand,        75
He said, “Arise!” And instantly the breast
Heaved in its cerements, and a sudden flush
Ran through the lines of the divided lips,
And with a murmur of his mother’s name,
He trembled and sat upright in his shroud.        80
And, while the mourner hung upon his neck,
Jesus went calmly on his way to Nain.
 
 
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