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

Syria: Moriah (Zion), the Mount

The Sacrifice of Abraham

By Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)

MORN breaketh in the east. The purple clouds

Are putting on their gold and violet,

To look the meeter for the sun’s bright coming

Sleep is upon the waters and the wind;

And nature, from the wavy forest-leaf

To her majestic master, sleeps. As yet

There is no mist upon the deep blue sky,

And the clear dew is on the blushing bosoms

Of crimson roses in a holy rest.

How hallowed is the hour of morning! meet—

Ay, beautifully meet—for the pure prayer.

The patriarch standeth at his tented door,

With his white locks uncovered. ’T is his wont

To gaze upon that gorgeous Orient;

And at that hour the awful majesty

Of man who talketh often with his God

Is wont to come again, and clothe his brow

As at his fourscore strength. But now, he seemeth

To be forgetful of his vigorous frame,

And boweth to his staff as at the hour

Of noontide sultriness. And that bright sun—

He looketh at its pencilled messengers,

Coming in golden raiment, as if all

Were but a graven scroll of fearfulness.

Ah, he is waiting till it herald in

The hour to sacrifice his much-loved son!

Light poureth on the world. And Sarah stands

Watching the steps of Abraham and her child

Along the dewy sides of the far hills,

And praying that her sunny boy faint not.

Would she have watched their path so silently,

If she had known that he was going up,

E’en in his fair-haired beauty, to be slain

As a white lamb for sacrifice? They trod

Together onward, patriarch and child,—

The bright sun throwing back the old man’s shade

In straight and fair proportions, as of one

Whose years were freshly numbered. He stood up,

Tall in his vigorous strength; and, like a tree

Rooted in Lebanon, his frame bent not.

His thin white hairs had yielded to the wind,

And left his brow uncovered; and his face,

Impressed with the stern majesty of grief

Nerved to a solemn duty, now stood forth

Like a rent rock, submissive, yet sublime.

But the young boy—he of the laughing eye

And ruby lip—the pride of life was on him.

He seemed to drink the morning. Sun and dew,

And the aroma of the spicy trees,

And all that giveth the delicious East

Its fitness for an Eden, stole like light

Into his spirit, ravishing his thoughts

With love and beauty. Everything he met,

Buoyant or beautiful, the lightest wing

Of bird or insect, or the palest dye

Of the fresh flowers, won him from his path;

And joyously broke forth his tiny shout,

As he flung back his silken hair, and sprung

Away to some green spot or clustering vine,

To pluck his infant trophies. Every tree

And fragrant shrub was a new hiding-place;

And he would crouch till the old man came by,

Then bound before him with his childish laugh,

Stealing a look behind him playfully,

To see if he had made his father smile.

The sun rode on in heaven. The dew stole up

From the fresh daughters of the earth, and heat

Came like a sleep upon the delicate leaves,

And bent them with the blossoms to their dreams.

Still trod the patriarch on, with that same step,

Firm and unfaltering; turning not aside

To seek the olive shades, or lave their lips

In the sweet waters of the Syrian wells,

Whose gush hath so much music. Weariness

Stole on the gentle boy, and he forgot

To toss his sunny hair from off his brow,

And spring for the fresh flowers and light wings

As in the early morning; but he kept

Close by his father’s side, and bent his head

Upon his bosom like a drooping bud,

Lifting it not, save now and then to steal

A look up to the face whose sternness awed

His childishness to silence.

It was noon,—

And Abraham on Moriah bowed himself,

And buried up his face, and prayed for strength.

He could not look upon his son and pray;

But, with his hand upon the clustering curls

Of the fair kneeling boy, he prayed that God

Would nerve him for that hour. Oh, man was made

For the stern conflict. In a mother’s love

There is more tenderness; the thousand chords,

Woven with every fibre of her heart,

Complain, like delicate harp-strings, at a breath;

But love in man is one deep principle,

Which, like a root grown in a rifted rock,

Abides the tempest. He rose up, and laid

The wood upon the altar. All was done.

He stood a moment,—and a deep, quick flush

Passed o’er his countenance; and then he nerved

His spirit with a bitter strength, and spoke,—

“Isaac! my only son!” The boy looked up,

And Abraham turned his face away, and wept.

“Where is the lamb, my father?” Oh, the tones,

The sweet, the thrilling music of a child!

How it doth agonize at such an hour!

It was the last deep struggle. Abraham held

His loved, his beautiful, his only son,

And lifted up his arm, and called on God,—

And lo! God’s angel stayed him,—and he fell

Upon his face, and wept.