Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part I. The Divine Tragedy. The Third Passover. VI. Pontius Pilate

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

Christus: A Mystery

Part I. The Divine Tragedy. The Third Passover. VI. Pontius Pilate

WHOLLY incomprehensible to me,

Vainglorious, obstinate, and given up

To unintelligible old traditions,

And proud, and self-conceited are these Jews!

Not long ago, I marched the legions down

From Cæsarea to their winter-quarters

Here in Jerusalem, with the effigies

Of Cæsar on their ensigns, and a tumult

Arose among these Jews, because their Law

Forbids the making of all images!

They threw themselves upon the ground with wild

Expostulations, bared their necks, and cried

That they would sooner die than have their Law

Infringed in any manner; as if Numa

Were not as great as Moses, and the Laws

Of the Twelve Tables as their Pentateuch!

And then, again, when I desired to span

Their valley with an aqueduct, and bring

A rushing river in to wash the city

And its inhabitants,—they all rebelled

As if they had been herds of unwashed swine!

Thousands and thousands of them got together

And raised so great a clamor round my doors,

That, fearing violent outbreak, I desisted,

And left them to their wallowing in the mire.

And now here comes the reverend Sanhedrim

Of lawyers, priests, and Scribes and Pharisees,

Like old and toothless mastiffs, that can bark

But cannot bite, howling their accusations

Against a mild enthusiast, who hath preached

I know not what new doctrine, being King

Of some vague kingdom in the other world,

That hath no more to do with Rome and Cæsar

Than I have with the patriarch Abraham!

Finding this man to be a Galilean

I sent him straight to Herod, and I hope

That is the last of it; but if it be not,

I still have power to pardon and release him,

As is the custom at the Passover,

And so accommodate the matter smoothly,

Seeming to yield to them, yet saving him;

A prudent and sagacious policy

For Roman Governors in the Provinces.

Incomprehensible fanatic people!

Ye have a God, who seemeth like yourselves

Incomprehensible, dwelling apart,

Majestic, cloud-encompassed, clothed in darkness!

One whom ye fear, but love not; yet ye have

No Goddesses to soften your stern lives,

And make you tender unto human weakness,

While we of Rome have everywhere around us

Our amiable divinities, that haunt

The woodlands, and the waters, and frequent

Our households, with their sweet and gracious presence!

I will go in, and while these Jews are wrangling,

Read my Ovidius on the Art of Love.