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

The Woman in the Temple

George MacDonald (1824–1905)

A STILL dark joy! A sudden face!

Cold daylight, footsteps, cries!

The temple’s naked, shining space,

Aglare with judging eyes!

All in abandoned guilty hair,

With terror-pallid lips,

To vulgar scorn her honour bare,

To vulgar taunts and quips,

Her eyes she fixes on the ground,

Her shrinking soul to hide;

Lest, at uncurtained windows found,

Its shame be clear descried.

All-idle hang her listless hands

And tingle with the shame;

She sees not who beside her stands,

She is so bowed with blame.

He stoops, he writes upon the ground,

Regards not priests nor wife;

An awful silence spreads around,

And wakes an inward strife.

Is it a voice that speaks for thee?

Almost she hears aghast:

“Let him who from this sin is free,

At her the first stone cast.”

Astonished, waking, growing sad,

Her eyes bewildered rose;

She saw the one true friend she had,

Who loves her though he knows.

Upon her deathlike, ashy face,

The blushes rise and spread:

No greater wonder sure had place

When Lazarus left the dead!

He stoops. In every charnel breast

Dead conscience rises slow:

They, dumb before that awful guest,

Turn, one by one, and go.

Alone with him! Yet no new dread

Invades the silence round;

False pride, false shame, all false is dead;

She has the Master found.

Who else had spoken on her side,

Those cruel men withstood?

From him even shame she would not hide;

For him she will be good.

He rises—sees the temple bare;

They two are left alone.

He turns and asks her, “Woman, where

Are thine accusers gone?

Hath none condemned thee?” “Master, no,”

She answers, trembling sore.

“Neither do I condemn thee. Go,

And sin not any more.”

She turned and went. To hope and grieve?

Be what she had not been?

We are not told; but I believe

His kindness made her clean.

Our sins to thee us captive hale—

Offences, hatreds dire;

Weak loves that selfish grow, and fail

And fall into the mire.

Our conscience-cry with pardon meet;

Our passion cleanse with pain;

Lord, thou didst make these miry feet—

Oh! wash them clean again.