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W. Garrett Horder, comp. The Poets’ Bible: New Testament. 1895.

A Burial at Machærus

Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821–1891)

‘And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.’—MARK VI. 29.

LIFT up the lifeless trunk;

The star of hope that lit the eastern sky

Now in deep night is sunk,

And all bright visions fade away and die.

We dreamt it had been he

Should lead us onward to a land of rest,

Or give at least to see

The wide fair valleys from the mountain’s crest.

Half hoped we that at last

Had come the fulness of great joy unpriced,

That all the dreary past

Would fade before the glory of the Christ.

Or had Elijah come

With prophet’s garment rough and words of fire,

To strike the murmurers dumb,

And turn the hearts of children to their sire?

Not so, he told us, no,

Nor Christ, nor yet Elijah, was the seer,

The friend who thus lies low,

Who taught us how to love, and whom to fear.

Only a voice, no more,

Heard crying in the wilderness, “Prepare,”

And then, its one work o’er,

Melting in silence of the midnight air.

And yet that voice could thrill

Through soul and brain with agony intense,

Searching each thought of ill,

Waking to rapture all the torpid sense,—

Could stay the lust of greed

In soldier rushing eager on the spoil,

Or meet the utmost need

Of peasants worn by ceaseless, thankless toil.

We listened till we poured

In all men’s ears the story of our woes,

And kneeling there adored,

Where the old river through the reed-bed flows.

Then casting off our shame,

Naked we plunged beneath the cleansing stream,

And lo! upon us came

New thoughts and hopes that were not all a dream.

We might not onward press,

To where he dwelt upon the mountain’s height,

Arrayed in holiness,

True priest, great prophet, stainless Nazarite.

Yet still from that blest day

We strove to curb the promptings of the sense;

Taught by him how to pray,

We climbed the lower slopes of excellence.

And now a woman’s wiles,

A girl’s soft movements in the winding dance,

A wanton’s wreathèd smiles,

Stirring the tetrarch’s blood with harlot glance,—

These, these, O grief and woe,

Have crushed our hopes, and laid them in the dust;

Yes, these have brought him low,

The proud Herodias triumphs in her lust.

No hero’s death was his,

Ten thousand warriors looking on to cheer;

He might not taste the bliss

Of those whose heart has known nor doubt nor fear.

Weary the slow, slow days,

The stifling dungeon, and the sultry air;

Weary the long delays

Of hopes that bordered almost on despair.

Once there had come to him,

With brow that told its tale of sinless youth,

And speech not dark or dim,

That showed Him born true vessel of the Truth,

One before whom he bowed,

And fain had sought a blessing at His hand;

And lo! from out the cloud,

The voice of power that few might understand.

Yea, from the opened sky

He heard the words which bade him worship there

The Son of God most high,

And saw the Spirit hover through the air;

And then, when forty days

Had done the work of forty years of life,

And, working highest praise,

That prophet came victorious from his strife.

We heard the witness clear,

“Behold the Lamb that bears the world’s great sin;”

And some who saw Him there,

Went where He dwelt, and stayed all night within.

And these we saw no more,

They left the seer who raised their souls from earth;

And on Gennesareth’s shore

Gained, so they said, the gift of second birth.

Those men of Galilee,

The peasants and the fishers of the lake,

They went to hear and see:

But we our prophet guide might not forsake.

We saw the crowds grow thin,

No more they came by hundreds to the stream;

Hushed was their stir and din,

The fame and favour vanished as a dream.

We mourned, but he, our guide,

Rejoiced in spirit, as the bridegroom’s friend,

When bridegroom meets his bride,

And love’s long hopes at last attain their end,

“He must increase, but I

Am ready,” so he spake, “to wane and fade,

Ready to fall and die,

Or wither slowly in the blighting shade.

“Needs must my soul rejoice

That now men list to Him their King and Lord,

I but a wandering voice,

He the true Christ, the everlasting Word.”

So spake he then, but soon

Came the sore heat and burden of the day;

As the sun strikes at noon,

So fell on him the blasts that smite and slay.

He lost the people’s love,

And would not turn to fawn upon the great;

With crownéd guilt he strove,

And earned the guerdon of a harlot’s hate.

Then came the weary weeks,

The fruitless strivings with a wavering will,

The pain of one who seeks

To wake to good a soul that cleaves to ill.

So in his prison cell

He lingered on, not knowing all that passed,

If all things prospered well,

Or the bright morning were with storms o’ercast.

At length, sore vexed and tried,

Worn down by dark perplexity and doubt,

He called us to his side,

And bade us go and ask the question out.

Weary he was and faint,

And dark clouds gathered round his vision clear,

And just the nascent taint

Of weakened faith had filled his soul with fear.

“Art Thou,” he asked, “art Thou

The one we looked for, coming to redeem?

Or must another now

Rear the proud fabric of the glorious dream?

“Why still from day to day

Tarry the wheels that should the conqueror bring?

Why this long, long delay,

The halting of the chariots of the King?

“Why leave the prisoners still

In dungeon dark and fetters sharp to lie?

Why stays the all-loving Will

To set the sufferers free, or bid them die?”

We came, and looked, and lo!

Blind saw, deaf heard, and leapt as harts the lame,

And a sweet voice and low

With gentle words of love to poor men came.

We saw the fixéd eye

Gush with hot tears of love and holiest joy,

The man’s heart, seared and dry,

Beat with the pulse and passion of the boy.

We saw the rough hands clasped,

The sighs breathed forth upon the silent air,

While many fondly grasped

His garment’s hem in agony of prayer.

He heard our speech, nor spake

One word of anger at the quest o’erbold,

Nor would His friend forsake,

Nor leave the tale of love and power untold.

He bade us look and tell

Yet once again to John the things we saw;

And all at last was well,

And the old faith was once more clear from flaw,

And then a few weeks more

And at the gate we heard the spearman knock,

And too soon all was o’er,

The shepherd smitten, we a scattered flock.

But little time had he

For parting words of hope, or faith, or love,

And none were there to see,

The hero-greatness of his soul to prove.

And now the sun is set,

The grave is hollowed in the cavern’s side,

And we few friends are met

That bleeding form within the tomb to hide.

Yes, wrap him as he lies;

But little cared he for the spice and balm;

No hireling mourner’s cries

Need break the stillness of the sunset calm.

The linen fine and clear,

Keep that for lordly burials of the great;

As he lived, lay him here;

He needs no pageant, and the hour is late.

As he lived, let him lie,

That garment rough his only winding-sheet,

Just veiling from the eye

The bleeding trunk and swathing round the feet.

Scarce thirty summers old,

His sun goes down ere half the day is done,

And as a tale is told,

So all his work is ended, scarce begun.

And what shall we do now?

To whom shall we in doubt and sadness turn?

Wilt Thou receive us, Thou,

Who mad’st our cold faint hearts within us burn?

The old has passed away,

The new begins in clouds and darkness veiled;

But we not far shall stray,

If we but trust the Love that ne’er has failed.

Yes, bearing with us still,

Precept, and prayer, and hymn, and fast, and rite,

All that our spirits fill

With life and truth, with gladness and delight.

We to the Christ will go,

And bide our time till John arise again;

We will not linger, no,

We will not wait till all things are made plain.

Enough for us to live

As those on whom the light of God has shone,

Till He more light shall give,

Or through the darkness claim us as his own.