Verse > Anthologies > W. Garrett Horder, ed. > The Poets’ Bible: New Testament
W. Garrett Horder, comp.  The Poets’ Bible: New Testament.  1895.
The Woman in the Temple
George MacDonald (1824–1905)
A STILL dark joy! A sudden face!
  Cold daylight, footsteps, cries!
The temple’s naked, shining space,
  Aglare with judging eyes!
All in abandoned guilty hair,        5
  With terror-pallid lips,
To vulgar scorn her honour bare,
  To vulgar taunts and quips,
Her eyes she fixes on the ground,
  Her shrinking soul to hide;        10
Lest, at uncurtained windows found,
  Its shame be clear descried.
All-idle hang her listless hands
  And tingle with the shame;
She sees not who beside her stands,        15
  She is so bowed with blame.
He stoops, he writes upon the ground,
  Regards not priests nor wife;
An awful silence spreads around,
  And wakes an inward strife.        20
Is it a voice that speaks for thee?
  Almost she hears aghast:
“Let him who from this sin is free,
  At her the first stone cast.”
Astonished, waking, growing sad,        25
  Her eyes bewildered rose;
She saw the one true friend she had,
  Who loves her though he knows.
Upon her deathlike, ashy face,
  The blushes rise and spread:        30
No greater wonder sure had place
  When Lazarus left the dead!
He stoops. In every charnel breast
  Dead conscience rises slow:
They, dumb before that awful guest,        35
  Turn, one by one, and go.
Alone with him! Yet no new dread
  Invades the silence round;
False pride, false shame, all false is dead;
  She has the Master found.        40
Who else had spoken on her side,
  Those cruel men withstood?
From him even shame she would not hide;
  For him she will be good.
He rises—sees the temple bare;        45
  They two are left alone.
He turns and asks her, “Woman, where
  Are thine accusers gone?
Hath none condemned thee?” “Master, no,”
  She answers, trembling sore.        50
“Neither do I condemn thee. Go,
  And sin not any more.”
She turned and went. To hope and grieve?
  Be what she had not been?
We are not told; but I believe        55
  His kindness made her clean.
Our sins to thee us captive hale—
  Offences, hatreds dire;
Weak loves that selfish grow, and fail
  And fall into the mire.        60
Our conscience-cry with pardon meet;
  Our passion cleanse with pain;
Lord, thou didst make these miry feet—
  Oh! wash them clean again.

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