Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935). Collected Poems. 1921.

VII. The Three Taverns

29. Lazarus

“NO, Mary, there was nothing—not a word.

Nothing, and always nothing. Go again

Yourself, and he may listen—or at least

Look up at you, and let you see his eyes.

I might as well have been the sound of rain,

A wind among the cedars, or a bird;

Or nothing. Mary, make him look at you;

And even if he should say that we are nothing,

To know that you have heard him will be something.

And yet he loved us, and it was for love

The Master gave him back. Why did he wait

So long before he came? Why did he weep?

I thought he would be glad—and Lazarus—

To see us all again as he had left us—

All as it was, all as it was before.”

Mary, who felt her sister’s frightened arms

Like those of someone drowning who had seized her,

Fearing at last they were to fail and sink

Together in this fog-stricken sea of strangeness,

Fought sadly, with bereaved indignant eyes,

To find again the fading shores of home

That she had seen but now could see no longer

Now she could only gaze into the twilight,

And in the dimness know that he was there,

Like someone that was not. He who had been

Their brother, and was dead, now seemed alive

Only in death again—or worse than death;

For tombs at least, always until today,

Though sad were certain. There was nothing certain

For man or God in such a day as this;

For there they were alone, and there was he—

Alone; and somewhere out of Bethany,

The Master—who had come to them so late,

Only for love of them and then so slowly,

And was for their sake hunted now by men

Who feared Him as they feared no other prey—

For the world’s sake was hidden. “Better the tomb

For Lazarus than life, if this be life,”

She thought; and then to Martha, “No, my dear,”

She said aloud; “not as it was before.

Nothing is ever as it was before,

Where Time has been. Here there is more than Time;

And we that are so lonely and so far

From home, since he is with us here again,

Are farther now from him and from ourselves

Than we are from the stars. He will not speak

Until the spirit that is in him speaks;

And we must wait for all we are to know,

Or even to learn that we are not to know.

Martha, we are too near to this for knowledge,

And that is why it is that we must wait.

Our friends are coming if we call for them,

And there are covers we’ll put over him

To make him warmer. We are too young, perhaps,

To say that we know better what is best

Than he. We do not know how old he is.

If you remember what the Master said,

Try to believe that we need have no fear.

Let me, the selfish and the careless one,

Be housewife and a mother for tonight;

For I am not so fearful as you are,

And I was not so eager.”

Martha sank

Down at her sister’s feet and there sat watching

A flower that had a small familiar name

That was as old as memory, but was not

The name of what she saw now in its brief

And infinite mystery that so frightened her

That life became a terror. Tears again

Flooded her eyes and overflowed. “No, Mary,”

She murmured slowly, hating her own words

Before she heard them, “you are not so eager

To see our brother as we see him now;

Neither is he who gave him back to us.

I was to be the simple one, as always,

And this was all for me.” She stared again

Over among the trees where Lazarus,

Who seemed to be a man who was not there,

Might have been one more shadow among shadows,

If she had not remembered. Then she felt

The cool calm hands of Mary on her face,

And shivered, wondering if such hands were real.

“The Master loved you as he loved us all,

Martha; and you are saying only things

That children say when they have had no sleep.

Try somehow now to rest a little while;

You know that I am here, and that our friends

Are coming if I call.”

Martha at last

Arose, and went with Mary to the door,

Where they stood looking off at the same place,

And at the same shape that was always there

As if it would not ever move or speak,

And always would be there. “Mary, go now,

Before the dark that will be coming hides him.

I am afraid of him out there alone,

Unless I see him; and I have forgotten

What sleep is. Go now—make him look at you—

And I shall hear him if he stirs or whispers.

Go!—or I’ll scream and bring all Bethany

To come and make him speak. Make him say once

That he is glad, and God may say the rest.

Though He say I shall sleep, and sleep for ever,

I shall not care for that… Go!”

Mary, moving

Almost as if an angry child had pushed her,

Went forward a few steps; and having waited

As long as Martha’s eyes would look at hers,

Went forward a few more, and a few more;

And so, until she came to Lazarus,

Who crouched with his face hidden in his hands,

Like one that had no face. Before she spoke,

Feeling her sister’s eyes that were behind her

As if the door where Martha stood were now

As far from her as Egypt, Mary turned

Once more to see that she was there. Then, softly,

Fearing him not so much as wondering

What his first word might be, said, “Lazarus,

Forgive us if we seemed afraid of you;”

And having spoken, pitied her poor speech

That had so little seeming gladness in it,

So little comfort, and so little love.

There was no sign from him that he had heard,

Or that he knew that she was there, or cared

Whether she spoke to him again or died

There at his feet. “We love you, Lazarus,

And we are not afraid. The Master said

We need not be afraid. Will you not say

To me that you are glad? Look, Lazarus!

Look at my face, and see me. This is Mary.”

She found his hands and held them. They were cool,

Like hers, but they were not so calm as hers.

Through the white robes in which his friends had wrapped him

When he had groped out of that awful sleep,

She felt him trembling and she was afraid.

At last he sighed; and she prayed hungrily

To God that she might hear again the voice

Of Lazarus, whose hands were giving her now

The recognition of a living pressure

That was almost a language. When he spoke,

Only one word that she had waited for

Came from his lips, and that word was her name.

“I heard them saying, Mary, that he wept

Before I woke.” The words were low and shaken,

Yet Mary knew that he who uttered them

Was Lazarus; and that would be enough

Until there should be more… “Who made him come,

That he should weep for me?… Was it you, Mary?”

The questions held in his incredulous eyes

Were more than she would see. She looked away;

But she had felt them and should feel for ever,

She thought, their cold and lonely desperation

That had the bitterness of all cold things

That were not cruel. “I should have wept,” he said,

“If I had been the Master.…”

Now she could feel

His hands above her hair—the same black hair

That once he made a jest of, praising it,

While Martha’s busy eyes had left their work

To flash with laughing envy. Nothing of that

Was to be theirs again; and such a thought

Was like the flying by of a quick bird

Seen through a shadowy doorway in the twilight.

For now she felt his hands upon her head,

Like weights of kindness: “I forgive you, Mary.…

You did not know—Martha could not have known—

Only the Master knew.… Where is he now?

Yes, I remember. They came after him.

May the good God forgive him.… I forgive him.

I must; and I may know only from him

The burden of all this… Martha was here—

But I was not yet here. She was afraid.…

Why did he do it, Mary? Was it—you?

Was it for you?… Where are the friends I saw?

Yes, I remember. They all went away.

I made them go away.… Where is he now?…

What do I see down there? Do I see Martha—

Down by the door?… I must have time for this.”

Lazarus looked about him fearfully,

And then again at Mary, who discovered

Awakening apprehension in his eyes,

And shivered at his feet. All she had feared

Was here; and only in the slow reproach

Of his forgiveness lived his gratitude.

Why had he asked if it was all for her

That he was here? And what had Martha meant?

Why had the Master waited? What was coming

To Lazarus, and to them, that had not come?

What had the Master seen before he came,

That he had come so late?

“Where is he, Mary?”

Lazarus asked again. “Where did he go?”

Once more he gazed about him, and once more

At Mary for an answer. “Have they found him?

Or did he go away because he wished

Never to look into my eyes again?…

That, I could understand.… Where is he, Mary?”

“I do not know,” she said. “Yet in my heart

I know that he is living, as you are living—

Living, and here. He is not far from us.

He will come back to us and find us all—

Lazarus, Martha, Mary—everything—

All as it was before. Martha said that.

And he said we were not to be afraid.”

Lazarus closed his eyes while on his face

A tortured adumbration of a smile

Flickered an instant. “All as it was before,”

He murmured wearily. “Martha said that;

And he said you were not to be afraid …

Not you… Not you… Why should you be afraid?

Give all your little fears, and Martha’s with them,

To me; and I will add them unto mine,

Like a few rain-drops to Gennesaret.”

“If you had frightened me in other ways,

Not willing it,” Mary said, “I should have known

You still for Lazarus. But who is this?

Tell me again that you are Lazarus;

And tell me if the Master gave to you

No sign of a new joy that shall be coming

To this house that he loved. Are you afraid?

Are you afraid, who have felt everything—

And seen…?”

But Lazarus only shook his head,

Staring with his bewildered shining eyes

Hard into Mary’s face. “I do not know,

Mary,” he said, after a long time.

“When I came back, I knew the Master’s eyes

Were looking into mine. I looked at his,

And there was more in them than I could see.

At first I could see nothing but his eyes;

Nothing else anywhere was to be seen—

Only his eyes. And they looked into mine—

Long into mine, Mary, as if he knew.”

Mary began to be afraid of words

As she had never been afraid before

Of loneliness or darkness, or of death,

But now she must have more of them or die:

“He cannot know that there is worse than death,”

She said. “And you…”

“Yes, there is worse than death.”

Said Lazarus; “and that was what he knew;

And that is what it was that I could see

This morning in his eyes. I was afraid,

But not as you are. There is worse than death,

Mary; and there is nothing that is good

For you in dying while you are still here.

Mary, never go back to that again.

You would not hear me if I told you more,

For I should say it only in a language

That you are not to learn by going back.

To be a child again is to go forward—

And that is much to know. Many grow old,

And fade, and go away, not knowing how much

That is to know. Mary, the night is coming,

And there will soon be darkness all around you.

Let us go down where Martha waits for us,

And let there be light shining in this house.”

He rose, but Mary would not let him go:

“Martha, when she came back from here, said only

That she heard nothing. And have you no more

For Mary now than you had then for Martha?

Is Nothing, Lazarus, all you have for me?

Was Nothing all you found where you have been?

If that be so, what is there worse than that—

Or better—if that be so? And why should you,

With even our love, go the same dark road over?”

“I could not answer that, if that were so,”

Said Lazarus,—“not even if I were God.

Why should He care whether I came or stayed,

If that were so? Why should the Master weep—

For me, or for the world,—or save himself

Longer for nothing? And if that were so,

Why should a few years’ more mortality

Make him a fugitive where flight were needless,

Had he but held his peace and given his nod

To an old Law that would be new as any?

I cannot say the answer to all that;

Though I may say that he is not afraid,

And that it is not for the joy there is

In serving an eternal Ignorance

Of our futility that he is here.

Is that what you and Martha mean by Nothing?

Is that what you are fearing? If that be so,

There are more weeds than lentils in your garden.

And one whose weeds are laughing at his harvest

May as well have no garden; for not there

Shall he be gleaning the few bits and orts

Of life that are to save him. For my part,

I am again with you, here among shadows

That will not always be so dark as this;

Though now I see there’s yet an evil in me

That made me let you be afraid of me.

No, I was not afraid—not even of life.

I thought I was…I must have time for this;

And all the time there is will not be long.

I cannot tell you what the Master saw

This morning in my eyes. I do not know.

I cannot yet say how far I have gone,

Or why it is that I am here again,

Or where the old road leads. I do not know.

I know that when I did come back, I saw

His eyes again among the trees and faces—

Only his eyes; and they looked into mine—

Long into mine—long, long, as if he knew.”