Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part I. The Divine Tragedy. The Second Passover. I. Before the Gates of Machærus

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Christus: A Mystery

Part I. The Divine Tragedy. The Second Passover. I. Before the Gates of Machærus

WELCOME, O wilderness, and welcome, night

And solitude, and ye swift-flying stars

That drift with golden sands the barren heavens,

Welcome once more! The Angels of the Wind

Hasten across the desert to receive me;

And sweeter than men’s voices are to me

The voices of these solitudes; the sound

Of unseen rivulets, and the far-off cry

Of bitterns in the reeds of water-pools.

And lo! above me, like the Prophet’s arrow

Shot from the eastern window, high in air

The clamorous cranes go singing through the night.

O ye mysterious pilgrims of the air,

Would I had wings that I might follow you!

I look forth from these mountains, and behold

The omnipotent and omnipresent night,

Mysterious as the future and the fate

That hangs o’er all men’s lives! I see beneath me

The desert stretching to the Dead Sea shore,

And westward, faint and far away, the glimmer

Of torches on Mount Olivet, announcing

The rising of the Moon of Passover.

Like a great cross it seems, on which suspended,

With head bowed down in agony, I see

A human figure! Hide, O merciful heaven,

The awful apparition from my sight!

And thou, Machærus, lifting high and black

Thy dreadful walls against the rising moon,

Haunted by demons and by apparitions,

Lilith, and Jezerhara, and Bedargon,

How grim thou showest in the uncertain light,

A palace and a prison, where King Herod

Feasts with Herodias, while the Baptist John

Fasts, and consumes his unavailing life!

And in thy court-yard grows the untithed rue,

Huge as the olives of Gethsemane,

And ancient as the terebinth of Hebron,

Coeval with the world. Would that its leaves

Medicinal could purge thee of the demons

That now possess thee, and the cunning fox

That burrows in thy walls, contriving mischief!

Music is heard from within.

Angels of God! Sandalphon, thou that weavest

The prayers of men into immortal garlands,

And thou, Metatron, who dost gather up

Their songs, and bear them to the gates of heaven,

Now gather up together in your hands

The prayers that fill this prison, and the songs

That echo from the ceiling of this palace,

And lay them side by side before God’s feet!

He enters the castle.