Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part I. The Divine Tragedy. The Second Passover. IV. Nicodemus at Night

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

Christus: A Mystery

Part I. The Divine Tragedy. The Second Passover. IV. Nicodemus at Night

THE STREETS are silent. The dark houses seem

Like sepulchres, in which the sleepers lie

Wrapped in their shrouds, and for the moment dead.

The lamps are all extinguished; only one

Burns steadily, and from the door its light

Lies like a shining gate across the street.

He waits for me. Ah, should this be at last

The long-expected Christ! I see him there

Sitting alone, deep-buried in his thought,

As if the weight of all the world were resting

Upon him, and thus bowed him down. O Rabbi,

We know thou art a Teacher come from God,

For no man can perform the miracles

Thou dost perform, except the Lord be with him.

Thou art a Prophet, sent here to proclaim

The Kingdom of the Lord. Behold in me

A Ruler of the Jews, who long have waited

The coming of that kingdom. Tell me of it.

Verily, verily I say unto thee,

Except a man be born again, he cannot

Behold the Kingdom of God!

Be born again?

How can a man be born when he is old?

Say, can he enter for a second time

Into his mother’s womb, and so be born?

Verily I say unto thee, except

A man be born of water and the spirit,

He cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.

For that which of the flesh is born, is flesh;

And that which of the spirit is born, is spirit.

We Israelites from the Primeval Man

Adam Ahelion derive our bodies;

Our souls are breathings of the Holy Ghost.

No more than this we know, or need to know.

Then marvel not, that I said unto thee

Ye must be born again.

The mystery

Of birth and death we cannot comprehend.

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and we hear

The sound thereof, but know not whence it cometh,

Nor whither it goeth. So is every one

Born of the spirit!

How can these things be?

He seems to speak of some vague realm of shadows,

Some unsubstantial kingdom of the air!

It is not this the Jews are waiting for,

Nor can this be the Christ, the Son of David,

Who shall deliver us!

Art thou a master

Of Israel, and knowest not these things?

We speak that we do know, and testify

That we have seen, and ye will not receive

Our witness. If I tell you earthly things,

And ye believe not, how shall ye believe,

If I should tell you of things heavenly?

And no man hath ascended up to heaven,

But He alone that first came down from heaven,

Even the Son of Man which is in heaven!

This is a dreamer of dreams; a visionary,

Whose brain is overtasked, until he deems

The unseen world to be a thing substantial,

And this we live in, an unreal vision!

And yet his presence fascinates and fills me

With wonder, and I feel myself exalted

Into a higher region, and become

Myself in part a dreamer of his dreams,

A seer of his visions!

And as Moses

Uplifted the serpent in the wilderness,

So must the Son of Man be lifted up;

That whosoever shall believe in Him

Shall perish not, but have eternal life.

He that believes in Him is not condemned;

He that believes not, is condemned already.

He speaketh like a Prophet of the Lord!

This is the condemnation; that the light

Is come into the world, and men loved darkness

Rather than light, because their deeds are evil!

Of me he speaketh! He reproveth me,

Because I come by night to question him!

For every one that doeth evil deeds

Hateth the light, nor cometh to the light,

Lest he should be reproved.

Alas, how truly

He readeth what is passing in my heart!

But he that doeth truth comes to the light,

So that his deeds may be made manifest,

That they are wrought in God.

Alas! alas!