Verse > Anthologies > W. Garrett Horder, ed. > The Poets’ Bible: New Testament
W. Garrett Horder, comp.  The Poets’ Bible: New Testament.  1895.
Lazarus and Mary
Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)
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, ’twas as if the air,        5
Hushed with his going forth, had been the breath
Of angels left on watch—so conscious still
The place seem’d of his presence! Yet, within,
The family by Jesus loved were weeping,
For Lazarus lay dead.

                        And Mary sat
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 mock’d in marble. That the voice,        15
Gone from those pallid lips, was heard in heaven,
Toned with unearthly sweetness—that the light.
Quench’d 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
Clasp’d in her breathless wonder while He taught,
Scarce to one pulse thrill’d more in unison,
Than with one soul this sister and her brother
Had lock’d their lives together. In this love,        30
Hallow’d from stain, the woman’s heart of Mary
Was, with its rich affections, all bound up.
Of an unblemish’d beauty, as became
An office by archangels fill’d till now,
She walk’d with a celestial halo clad;        35
And while, to the Apostles’ eyes it seem’d
She but fulfill’d 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 fervour, 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—
Hover’d in spirit near her?—’twas that arm,
Palsied in death, whose fond caress she knew!
It was that lip of marble with whose kiss,        50
Morning and eve, love hemm’d the sweet day in.
This was the form by the Judean maids
Praised for its palm-like stature, as he walk’d
With her by Kedron in the eventide—
The dead was Lazarus!
*        *        *        *        *
The burial was over, and the night
Fell upon Bethany—and morn—and noon.
And comforters and mourners went their way—
But death stay’d on! They had been oft alone,
When Lazarus had follow’d 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,—
Seem’d 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, whose bleeding hearts        70
Seem’d the torn gate through which the lov’d, departed,
Broke from this world away. The parting soul
Spreads wings betwixt the mourner and the sky!
As if its path lay, from the tie last broken,
Straight through the cheering gateway of the sun;        75
And, to the eye strain’d after, ’tis a cloud
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        80
When He would go again, as He had said,
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—        85
She could lift up the bitter prayer to heaven,
“Thy will be done, O God!”—but that dear brother
Had fill’d the cup and broke the bread for Christ.
And ever, at the morn, when she had knelt
And wash’d those holy feet, came Lazarus        90
To bind His sandals on, and follow forth
With dropp’d eyes, like an angel, sad and fair—
Intent upon the Master’s need alone.
Indissolubly link’d were they! And now,
To go to meet Him—Lazarus not there—        95
And to His greeting, answer, “It is well”—
And, without tears, (since grief would weigh on Him
Whose soul was over-sorrowful,) to kneel
And minister alone—her heart gave way!
She cover’d up her face and turn’d again        100
To wait within for Jesus. But once more
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        105
The golden locks of her dishevell’d hair;
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,
Jesus awaited Mary. Seated near
Were the way-worn disciples in the shade;
But, of Himself forgetful, Jesus lean’d
Upon His staff, and watched where she should come        115
To whose one sorrow—but a sparrow’s falling—
The pity that redeem’d a world could bleed!
And as she came, with that uncertain step,—
Eager, yet weak,—her hands upon her breast,—
And they who follow’d her all fallen back        120
To leave her with her sacred grief alone,—
The heart of Christ was troubled. She drew near,
And the disciples rose up from the fount,
Moved by her look of woe, and gather’d round;
And Mary—for a moment—ere she look’d        125
Upon the Saviour, stay’d her faltering feet,—
And straighten’d her veiled form, and tighter drew
Her clasp upon the folds across her breast;
Then, with a vain strife to control her tears,
She stagger’d to their midst, and at His feet        130
Fell prostrate, saying, “Lord! hadst Thou been here,
My brother had not died!” The Saviour groan’d
In spirit, and stoop’d tenderly, and raised
The mourner from the ground, and in a voice
Broke in its utterance like her own, He said,        135
“Where have ye laid him?” Then the Jews who came,
Following Mary, answer’d 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—        140
The heart whose breaking cord upon the cross
Made the earth tremble, and the sun afraid
To look upon his agony—the heart
Of a lost world’s Redeemer—overflowed,
Touch’d by a mourner’s sorrow! Jesus wept.        145
  Calm’d by those pitying tears, and fondly brooding
Upon the thought that Christ so loved her brother,
Stood Mary there; but that lost burthen now
Lay on His heart, who pitied her; and Christ
Following slow, and groaning in Himself,        150
Came to the sepulchre. It was a cave,
And a stone lay upon it. Jesus said,
“Take ye away the stone!” Then lifted He
His moisten’d eyes to heaven, and while the Jews
And the disciples bent their heads in awe,        155
And trembling Mary sank upon her knees,
The Son of God pray’d audibly.

                        He ceased,
And for a minute’s space there was a hush,
As if th’ angelic watchers of the world
Had stay’d the pulses of all breathing things,        160
To listen to that prayer. The face of Christ
Shone as He stood, and over Him there came
Command, as ’twere the living face of God,
And with a loud voice, he cried, “Lazarus!
Come forth!” And instantly, bound hand and foot,        165
And borne by unseen angels from the cave,
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,        170
Ran to him swiftly, and cried, “LAZARUS!
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        175
Lay on their faces prostrate, Lazarus
Took Mary by the hand, and they knelt down
And worshipped Him who loved them.

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