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

Syria: Nain

The Widow of Nain

By Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)

THE ROMAN sentinel stood helmed and tall

Beside the gate of Nain. The busy tread

Of comers to the city mart was done,

For it was almost noon, and a dead heat

Quivered upon the fine and sleeping dust,

And the cold snake crept panting from the wall,

And basked his scaly circles in the sun.

Upon his spear the soldier leaned, and kept

His idle watch, and, as his drowsy dream

Was broken by the solitary foot

Of some poor mendicant, he raised his head

To curse him for a tributary Jew,

And slumberously dozed on.

’T was now high noon.

The dull, low murmur of a funeral

Went through the city,—the sad sound of feet

Unmixed with voices,—and the sentinel

Shook off his slumber, and gazed earnestly

Up the wide streets along whose paved way

The silent throng crept slowly. They came on,

Bearing a body heavily on its bier,

And, by the crowd that in the burning sun

Walked with forgetful sadness, ’t was of one

Mourned with uncommon sorrow. The broad gate

Swung on its hinges, and the Roman bent

His spear-point downwards as the bearers passed,

Bending beneath their burden.

There was one,—

Only one mourner. Close behind the bier,

Crumpling the pall up in her withered hands,

Followed an aged woman. Her short steps

Faltered with weakness, and a broken moan

Fell from her lips, thickened convulsively

As her heart bled afresh. The pitying crowd

Followed apart, but no one spoke to her.

She had no kinsmen. She had lived alone,

A widow with one son. He was her all,—

The only tie she had in the wide world,—

And he was dead. They could not comfort her.

Jesus drew near to Nain as from the gate

The funeral came forth. His lips were pale

With the noon’s sultry heat. The beaded sweat

Stood thickly on his brow, and on the worn

And simple latchets of his sandals lay,

Thick, the white dust of travel. He had come

Since sunrise from Capernaum, staying not

To wet his lips by green Bethsaida’s pool,

Nor wash his feet in Kishon’s silver springs,

Nor turn him southward upon Tabor’s side

To catch Gilboa’s light and spicy breeze.

Genesareth stood cool upon the east,

Fast by the Sea of Galilee, and there

The weary traveller might bide till eve;

And on the alders of Bethulia’s plains

The grapes of Palestine hung ripe and wild;

Yet turned he not aside, but gazing on,

From every swelling mount he saw afar,

Amid the hills, the humble spires of Nain,

The place of his next errand; and the path

Touched not Bethulia, and a league away

Upon the cast lay pleasant Galilee.

Forth from the city-gate the pitying crowd

Followed the stricken mourner. They came near

The place of burial, and with straining hands

Closer upon her breast she clasped the pall,

And with a gasping sob, quick as a child’s,

And an inquiring wildness flashing through

The thin gray lashes of her fevered eyes,

She came where Jesus stood beside the way.

He looked upon her, and his heart was moved.

“Weep not!” he said; and as they stayed the bier,

And at his bidding laid it at his feet,

He gently drew the pall from out her grasp,

And laid it back in silence from the dead.

With troubled wonder the mute throng drew near,

And gazed on his calm looks. A minute’s space

He stood and prayed. Then, taking the cold hand,

He said, “Arise!” And instantly the breast

Heaved in its cerements, and a sudden flush

Ran through the lines of the divided lips,

And with a murmur of his mother’s name,

He trembled and sat upright in his shroud.

And, while the mourner hung upon his neck,

Jesus went calmly on his way to Nain.