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: Bethany
Lazarus and Mary
Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)
 
(St. John xi.)

JESUS was there but yesterday. The prints
Of his departing feet were at the door;
His “Peace be with you!” was yet audible
In the rapt porch of Mary’s charmed ear;
And in the low rooms t’ was as if the air,        5
Hushed with his going forth, had been the breath
Of angels left on watch, so conscious still
The place seemed of his presence! Yet, within,
The family by Jesus loved were weeping,
For Lazarus lay dead.

                    And Mary sat
        10
By the pale sleeper. He was young to die.
The countenance whereon the Saviour dwelt
With his benignant smile,—the soft, fair lines
Breathing of hope, were still all eloquent,
Like life well mocked in marble. That the voice,        15
Gone from those pallid lips, was heard in heaven,
Toned with unearthly sweetness,—that the light,
Quenched in the closing of those stirless lids,
Was veiling before God its timid fire,
New-lit, and brightening like a star at eve,—        20
That Lazarus, her brother, was in bliss,
Not with this cold clay sleeping,—Mary knew.
Her heaviness of heart was not for him!
But close had been the tie by death divided.
The intertwining locks of that bright hair        25
That wiped the feet of Jesus, the fair hands
Clasped in her breathless wonder while he taught,
Scarce to one pulse thrilled more in unison,
Than with one soul this sister and her brother
Had locked their lives together. In this love,        30
Hallowed from stain, the woman’s heart of Mary
Was, with its rich affections, all bound up.
Of an unblemished beauty, as became
An office by archangels filled till now,
She walked with a celestial halo clad;        35
And while, to the Apostles’ eyes, it seemed
She but fulfilled her errand out of heaven,
Sharing her low roof with the Son of God,
She was a woman, fond and mortal still;
And the deep fervor, lost to passion’s fire,        40
Breathed through the sister’s tenderness. In vain
Knew Mary, gazing on that face of clay,
That it was not her brother. He was there,—
Swathed in that linen vesture for the grave,—
The same loved one in all his comeliness,        45
And with him to the grave her heart must go.
What though he talked of her to angels,—nay,
Hovered in spirit near her?—’t was that arm
Palsied in death, whose fond caress she knew!
It was that lip of marble with whose kiss,        50
Morning and eve, love hemmed the sweet day in;
This was the form by the Judean maids
Praised for its palm-like stature, as he walked
With her by Kedron in the eventide,—
The dead was Lazarus!
*        *        *        *        *
        55
The burial was over, and the night
Fell upon Bethany, and morn, and noon.
And comforters and mourners went their way,
But death stayed on! They had been oft alone,
When Lazarus had followed Christ to hear        60
His teachings in Jerusalem; but this
Was more than solitude. The silence now
Was void of expectation. Something felt
Always before, and loved without a name,—
Joy from the air, hope from the opening door,        65
Welcome and life from off the very walls,—
Seemed gone, and in the chamber where he lay
There was a fearful and unbreathing hush,
Stiller than night’s last hour. So fell on Mary
The shadows all have known who, from their hearts,        70
Have released friends to heaven. The parting soul
Spreads wing betwixt the mourner and the sky!
As if its path lay, from the tie last broken,
Straight through the cheering gateway of the sun;
And, to the eye strained after, ’t is a cloud        75
That bars the light from all things.

                            Now as Christ
Drew near to Bethany, the Jews went forth
With Martha, mourning Lazarus. But Mary
Sat in the house. She knew the hour was nigh
When He would go again, as he had said,        80
Unto his father; and she felt that he,
Who loved her brother Lazarus in life,
Had chose the hour to bring him home through death
In no unkind forgetfulness. Alone,
She could lift up the bitter prayer to heaven,        85
“Thy will be done, O God!”—but that dear brother
Had filled the cup and broke the bread for Christ;
And ever, at the morn, when she had knelt
And washed those holy feet, came Lazarus
To bind his sandals on, and follow forth        90
With drooped eyes, like an angel, sad and fair,—
Intent upon the Master’s need alone.
Indissolubly linked were they! And now,
To go to meet him, Lazarus not there,
And to his greeting answer, “It is well!”        95
And without tears (since grief would trouble him
Whose soul was always sorrowful) to kneel
And minister alone,—her heart gave way!
She covered up her face and turned again
To wait within for Jesus. But once more        100
Came Martha, saying, “Lo! the Lord is here
And calleth for thee, Mary!” Then arose
The mourner from the ground, whereon she sate
Shrouded in sackcloth, and bound quickly up
The golden locks of her dishevelled hair,        105
And o’er her ashy garments drew a veil
Hiding the eyes she could not trust. And still,
As she made ready to go forth, a calm
As in a dream fell on her.

                    At a fount
Hard by the sepulchre, without the wall,        110
Jesus awaited Mary. Seated near
Were the wayworn disciples in the shade;
But, of himself forgetful, Jesus leaned
Upon his staff, and watched where she should come
To whose one sorrow—but a sparrow’s falling—        115
The pity that redeemed a world could bleed!
And as she came, with that uncertain step,
Eager, yet weak, her hands upon her breast,
And they who followed her all fallen back
To leave her with her sacred grief alone,        120
The heart of Christ was troubled. She drew near,
And the disciples rose up from the fount,
Moved by her look of woe, and gathered round;
And Mary, for a moment, ere she looked
Upon the Saviour, stayed her faltering feet,        125
And straightened her veiled form, and tighter drew
Her clasp upon the folds across her breast;
Then, with a vain strife to control her tears,
She staggered to their midst, and at his feet
Fell prostrate, saying, “Lord! hadst thou been here,        130
My brother had not died!” The Saviour groaned
In spirit, and stooped tenderly, and raised
The mourner from the ground, and in a voice,
Broke in its utterance like her own, he said,
“Where have ye laid him?” Then the Jews who came,        135
Following Mary, answered through their tears,
“Lord, come and see!” But lo! the mighty heart
That in Gethsemane sweat drops of blood,
Taking for us the cup that might not pass,—
The heart whose breaking cord upon the cross        140
Made the earth tremble, and the sun afraid
To look upon his agony,—the heart
Of a lost world’s Redeemer,—overflowed,
Touched by a mourner’s sorrow! Jesus wept.
 
Calmed by those pitying tears, and fondly brooding        145
Upon the thought that Christ so loved her brother,
Stood Mary there; but that last burden now
Lay on his heart who pitied her; and Christ,
Following slow, and groaning in himself,
Came to the sepulchre. It was a cave,        150
And a stone lay upon it. Jesus said,
“Take ye away the stone!” Then lifted he
His moistened eyes to heaven, and while the Jews
And the disciples bent their heads in awe,
And trembling Mary sank upon her knees,        155
The Son of God prayed audibly. He ceased,
And for a minute’s space there was a hush,
As if the angelic watchers of the world
Had stayed the pulses of all breathing things,
To listen to that prayer. The face of Christ        160
Shone as he stood, and over him there came
Command, as ’t were the living face of God,
And with a loud voice, he cried, “Lazarus!
Come forth!” And instantly, bound hand and foot,
And borne by unseen angels from the cave,        165
He that was dead stood with them. At the word
Of Jesus, the fear-stricken Jews unloosed
The bands from off the foldings of his shroud;
And Mary, with her dark veil thrown aside,
Ran to him swiftly, and cried, “Lazarus!        170
My brother, Lazarus!” and tore away
The napkin she had bound about his head,
And touched the warm lips with her fearful hand,
And on his neck fell weeping. And while all
Lay on their faces prostrate, Lazarus        175
Took Mary by the hand, and they knelt down
And worshipped him who loved them.
 
 
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