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: Zarephath
The Widow of Zarephath
Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791–1865)
THERE fell no rain on Israel. The sad trees,
Reft of their coronals, and the crisp vines,
And flowers whose dewless bosoms sought the dust,
Mourned the long drought. The miserable herds
Pined on, and perished mid the scorching fields,        5
And near the vanished fountains where they used
Freely to slake their thirst, the moaning flocks
Laid their parched mouths, and died.
                            A holy man,
Who saw high visions of unuttered things,
Dwelt in deep-musing solitude apart        10
Upon the banks of Cherith. Dark-winged birds,
Intractable and fierce, were strangely moved
To shun the hoarse cries of their callow brood,
And night and morning lay their gathered spoils
Down at his feet. So of the brook he drank,        15
Till pitiless suns exhaled that slender rill
Which, singing, used to glide to Jordan’s breast.
Then, warned of God, he rose and went his way
Unto the coast of Zidon. Near the gates
Of Zarephath he marked a lowly cell        20
Where a pale, drooping widow, in the depth
Of desolate and hopeless poverty,
Prepared the last, scant morsel for her son,
That he might eat and die.
                        The man of God,
Entering, requested food. Whether that germ        25
Of self-denying fortitude, which stirs
Sometimes in woman’s soul, and nerves it strong
For life’s severe and unapplauded tasks,
Sprang up at his appeal, or whether he
Who ruled the ravens wrought within her heart,        30
I cannot say, but to the stranger’s hand
She gave the bread. Then, round the famished boy
Clasping her widowed arms, she strained him close
To her wan bosom, while his hollow eye
Wondering and wishfully regarded her        35
With ill-subdued reproach.
                        A blessing fell
From the majestic guest, and every morn
The empty store which she had wept at eve,
Mysteriously replenished, woke the joy
That ancient Israel felt when round their camp        40
The manna lay like dew. Thus many days
They fed, and the poor famine-stricken boy
Looked up with a clear eye, while vigorous health
Flushed with unwonted crimson his pure cheek,
And bade the fair flesh o’er his wasted limbs        45
Come like a garment. The lone widow mused
On her changed lot, yet to Jehovah’s name
Gave not the praise, but when the silent moon
Moved forth all radiant, on her star-girt throne,
Uttered a heathen’s gratitude, and hailed        50
In the deep chorus of Zidonian song
“Astarte, queen of Heaven!”
                        But then there came
A day of woe. That gentle boy, in whom
His mother lived, for whom alone she deemed
Time’s weary heritage a blessing, died.        55
Wildly the tides of passionate grief broke forth,
And on the prophet of the Lord her lip
Called with indignant frenzy. So he came,
And from her bosom took the breathless clay,
And bore it to his chamber. There he knelt        60
In supplication that the dead might live.
He rose, and looked upon the child. His cheek
Of marble meekly on the pillow lay,
While round his polished forehead the bright curls
Clustered redundantly. So sweetly slept        65
Beauty and innocence in death’s embrace,
It seemed a mournful thing to waken them.
Another prayer arose,—and he, whose faith
Had power o’er nature’s elements, to seal
The dripping cloud, to wield the lightning’s dart,        70
And soon, from death escaping, was to soar
On car of flame up to the throne of God,
Long, long, with laboring breast and lifted eyes,
Solicited in anguish. On the dead
Once more the prophet gazed. A rigor seemed        75
To settle on those features, and the hand,
In its immovable coldness, told how firm
Was the dire grasp of the insatiate grave.
The awful seer laid down his humble lip
Low to the earth, and his whole being seemed        80
With concentrated agony to pour
Forth in one agonizing, voiceless strife
Of intercession. Who shall dare to set
Limits to prayer, if it hath entered heaven,
And won a spirit down to its dense robe        85
Of earth again?
                Look! look upon the boy!
There was a trembling of the parted lip,
A sob,—a shiver,—from the half-sealed eye
A flash like morning,—and the soul came back
To its frail tenement.
                    The prophet raised
The renovated child, and on that breast
Which gave the life-stream of its infancy
Laid the fair head once more.
                        If ye would know
Aught of that wildering trance of ecstasy,
Go ask a mother’s heart, but question not        95
So poor a thing as language. Yet the soul
Of her of Zarephath, in that blest hour
Believed, and with the kindling glow of faith
Turned from vain idols to the living God.

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