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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Syria: Bethany

Lazarus and Mary

By Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)

(St. John xi.)

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 t’ was as if the air,

Hushed with his going forth, had been the breath

Of angels left on watch, so conscious still

The place seemed 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 mocked in marble. That the voice,

Gone from those pallid lips, was heard in heaven,

Toned with unearthly sweetness,—that the light,

Quenched in the closing of those stirless lids,

Was veiling before God its timid fire,

New-lit, and brightening like a star at eve,—

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

That wiped the feet of Jesus, the fair hands

Clasped in her breathless wonder while he taught,

Scarce to one pulse thrilled more in unison,

Than with one soul this sister and her brother

Had locked their lives together. In this love,

Hallowed from stain, the woman’s heart of Mary

Was, with its rich affections, all bound up.

Of an unblemished beauty, as became

An office by archangels filled till now,

She walked with a celestial halo clad;

And while, to the Apostles’ eyes, it seemed

She but fulfilled 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 fervor, lost to passion’s fire,

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,

And with him to the grave her heart must go.

What though he talked of her to angels,—nay,

Hovered in spirit near her?—’t was that arm

Palsied in death, whose fond caress she knew!

It was that lip of marble with whose kiss,

Morning and eve, love hemmed the sweet day in;

This was the form by the Judean maids

Praised for its palm-like stature, as he walked

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 stayed on! They had been oft alone,

When Lazarus had followed Christ to hear

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,

Welcome and life from off the very walls,—

Seemed 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 who, from their hearts,

Have released friends to heaven. The parting soul

Spreads wing betwixt the mourner and the sky!

As if its path lay, from the tie last broken,

Straight through the cheering gateway of the sun;

And, to the eye strained after, ’t is 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

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,

She could lift up the bitter prayer to heaven,

“Thy will be done, O God!”—but that dear brother

Had filled the cup and broke the bread for Christ;

And ever, at the morn, when she had knelt

And washed those holy feet, came Lazarus

To bind his sandals on, and follow forth

With drooped eyes, like an angel, sad and fair,—

Intent upon the Master’s need alone.

Indissolubly linked were they! And now,

To go to meet him, Lazarus not there,

And to his greeting answer, “It is well!”

And without tears (since grief would trouble him

Whose soul was always sorrowful) to kneel

And minister alone,—her heart gave way!

She covered up her face and turned again

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

The golden locks of her dishevelled 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 wayworn disciples in the shade;

But, of himself forgetful, Jesus leaned

Upon his staff, and watched where she should come

To whose one sorrow—but a sparrow’s falling—

The pity that redeemed a world could bleed!

And as she came, with that uncertain step,

Eager, yet weak, her hands upon her breast,

And they who followed her all fallen back

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 gathered round;

And Mary, for a moment, ere she looked

Upon the Saviour, stayed her faltering feet,

And straightened her veiled form, and tighter drew

Her clasp upon the folds across her breast;

Then, with a vain strife to control her tears,

She staggered to their midst, and at his feet

Fell prostrate, saying, “Lord! hadst thou been here,

My brother had not died!” The Saviour groaned

In spirit, and stooped tenderly, and raised

The mourner from the ground, and in a voice,

Broke in its utterance like her own, he said,

“Where have ye laid him?” Then the Jews who came,

Following Mary, answered 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,—

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,

Touched by a mourner’s sorrow! Jesus wept.

Calmed by those pitying tears, and fondly brooding

Upon the thought that Christ so loved her brother,

Stood Mary there; but that last burden now

Lay on his heart who pitied her; and Christ,

Following slow, and groaning in himself,

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 moistened eyes to heaven, and while the Jews

And the disciples bent their heads in awe,

And trembling Mary sank upon her knees,

The Son of God prayed audibly. He ceased,

And for a minute’s space there was a hush,

As if the angelic watchers of the world

Had stayed the pulses of all breathing things,

To listen to that prayer. The face of Christ

Shone as he stood, and over him there came

Command, as ’t were the living face of God,

And with a loud voice, he cried, “Lazarus!

Come forth!” And instantly, bound hand and foot,

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,

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

Lay on their faces prostrate, Lazarus

Took Mary by the hand, and they knelt down

And worshipped him who loved them.