Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
Syria: Moriah (Zion), the Mount
The Sacrifice of Abraham
Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)
MORN breaketh in the east. The purple clouds
Are putting on their gold and violet,
To look the meeter for the sun’s bright coming
Sleep is upon the waters and the wind;
And nature, from the wavy forest-leaf        5
To her majestic master, sleeps. As yet
There is no mist upon the deep blue sky,
And the clear dew is on the blushing bosoms
Of crimson roses in a holy rest.
How hallowed is the hour of morning! meet—        10
Ay, beautifully meet—for the pure prayer.
The patriarch standeth at his tented door,
With his white locks uncovered. ’T is his wont
To gaze upon that gorgeous Orient;
And at that hour the awful majesty        15
Of man who talketh often with his God
Is wont to come again, and clothe his brow
As at his fourscore strength. But now, he seemeth
To be forgetful of his vigorous frame,
And boweth to his staff as at the hour        20
Of noontide sultriness. And that bright sun—
He looketh at its pencilled messengers,
Coming in golden raiment, as if all
Were but a graven scroll of fearfulness.
Ah, he is waiting till it herald in        25
The hour to sacrifice his much-loved son!
Light poureth on the world. And Sarah stands
Watching the steps of Abraham and her child
Along the dewy sides of the far hills,
And praying that her sunny boy faint not.        30
Would she have watched their path so silently,
If she had known that he was going up,
E’en in his fair-haired beauty, to be slain
As a white lamb for sacrifice? They trod
Together onward, patriarch and child,—        35
The bright sun throwing back the old man’s shade
In straight and fair proportions, as of one
Whose years were freshly numbered. He stood up,
Tall in his vigorous strength; and, like a tree
Rooted in Lebanon, his frame bent not.        40
His thin white hairs had yielded to the wind,
And left his brow uncovered; and his face,
Impressed with the stern majesty of grief
Nerved to a solemn duty, now stood forth
Like a rent rock, submissive, yet sublime.        45
But the young boy—he of the laughing eye
And ruby lip—the pride of life was on him.
He seemed to drink the morning. Sun and dew,
And the aroma of the spicy trees,
And all that giveth the delicious East        50
Its fitness for an Eden, stole like light
Into his spirit, ravishing his thoughts
With love and beauty. Everything he met,
Buoyant or beautiful, the lightest wing
Of bird or insect, or the palest dye        55
Of the fresh flowers, won him from his path;
And joyously broke forth his tiny shout,
As he flung back his silken hair, and sprung
Away to some green spot or clustering vine,
To pluck his infant trophies. Every tree        60
And fragrant shrub was a new hiding-place;
And he would crouch till the old man came by,
Then bound before him with his childish laugh,
Stealing a look behind him playfully,
To see if he had made his father smile.        65
The sun rode on in heaven. The dew stole up
From the fresh daughters of the earth, and heat
Came like a sleep upon the delicate leaves,
And bent them with the blossoms to their dreams.
Still trod the patriarch on, with that same step,        70
Firm and unfaltering; turning not aside
To seek the olive shades, or lave their lips
In the sweet waters of the Syrian wells,
Whose gush hath so much music. Weariness
Stole on the gentle boy, and he forgot        75
To toss his sunny hair from off his brow,
And spring for the fresh flowers and light wings
As in the early morning; but he kept
Close by his father’s side, and bent his head
Upon his bosom like a drooping bud,        80
Lifting it not, save now and then to steal
A look up to the face whose sternness awed
His childishness to silence.
It was noon,—

                        And Abraham on Moriah bowed himself,
And buried up his face, and prayed for strength.        85
He could not look upon his son and pray;
But, with his hand upon the clustering curls
Of the fair kneeling boy, he prayed that God
Would nerve him for that hour. Oh, man was made
For the stern conflict. In a mother’s love        90
There is more tenderness; the thousand chords,
Woven with every fibre of her heart,
Complain, like delicate harp-strings, at a breath;
But love in man is one deep principle,
Which, like a root grown in a rifted rock,        95
Abides the tempest. He rose up, and laid
The wood upon the altar. All was done.
He stood a moment,—and a deep, quick flush
Passed o’er his countenance; and then he nerved
His spirit with a bitter strength, and spoke,—        100
“Isaac! my only son!” The boy looked up,
And Abraham turned his face away, and wept.
“Where is the lamb, my father?” Oh, the tones,
The sweet, the thrilling music of a child!
How it doth agonize at such an hour!        105
It was the last deep struggle. Abraham held
His loved, his beautiful, his only son,
And lifted up his arm, and called on God,—
And lo! God’s angel stayed him,—and he fell
Upon his face, and wept.        110

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