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

The Widow of Nain

Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867)

THE ROMAN sentinel stood helm’d 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

Quiver’d upon the fine and sleeping dust;

And the cold snake crept panting from the wall,

And bask’d his scaly circles in the sun.

Upon his spear the soldier lean’d 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.

’Twas now high noon,

The dull low murmur of a funeral

Went through the city, the sad sound of feet

Unmix’d 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

Walk’d with forgetful sadness, ’twas of one

Mourned with uncommon sorrow. The broad gate

Swung on its hinges, and the Roman bent

His spear downward as the bearers pass’d

Bending beneath their burden. There was one—

Only one mourner. Close behind the bier,

Crumpling the pall up in her wither’d hands,

Follow’d an aged woman. Her short steps

Falter’d with weakness, and a broken moan

Fell from her lips, thicken’d convulsively

As her heart bled afresh. The pitying crowd

Follow’d apart, but no one spoke to her.

She had no kinsman. 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 turn’d 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

Touch’d not Bethulia, and a league away

Upon the east lay pleasant Galilee.

Forth from the city gate the pitying crowd

Follow’d the stricken mourner. They came near

The place of burial, and, with straining hands,

Closer upon her breast she clasp’d the pall,

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

And an inquiring wildness flashing through

The thin grey lashes of her fever’d eyes,

She came where Jesus stood beside the way.

He look’d upon her, and His heart was moved.

“Weep not!” He said; and as they stay’d 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 pray’d. 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.