I. The Agony in the Garden
JOSEPH, a carpenter of Nazareth, And his wife Mary had an only child, Jesus : One holy from his mother's womb. Both parents loved him : Mary's heart alone Beat with his blood, and, by her love and his, She knew that God was with her, and she strove Meekly to do the work appointed her; To cherish him with undivided care Who deigned to call her mother, and who loved From her the name of son. And Mary gave Her heart to him, and feared not; yet she seemed To hold as sacred that he said or did; And, unlike other women, never spake His words of innocence again ; but all Were humbly treasured in her memory With the first secret of his birth. So strong Grew her affection, as the child increased In wisdom and in stature with his years, That many mothers wondered, saying : " These Our little ones claim in our hearts a place The next to God ; but Mary's tenderness Grows almost into reverence for her child. Is he not of herself ? I' the temple when Kneeling to pray, on him she bends her eyes, As though God only heard her prayer through him. Is he to be a prophet ? Nay, we know That "out of Galilee no prophet comes." But all their children made the boy their friend. Three cottages that overlooked the sea Stood side by side eastward of Nazareth. Behind them rose a sheltering range of cliffs, Purple and yellow, verdure-spotted, red, Layer upon layer built up against the sky. 50
In front a row of sloping meadows lay, Parted by narrow streams, that rose above, Leaped from the rocks, and cut the sands below Into deep channels widening to the sea. Within the humblest of these three abodes Dwelt Joseph, his wife Mary, and their child. A honeysuckle and a moss-rose grew, With many blossoms, on their cottage front ; And o'er the gable warmed by the South A sunny grape vine broadened shady leaves Which gave its tendrils shelter, as they hung Trembling upon the bloom of purple fruit. And, like the wreathed shadows and deep glows Which the sun spreads from some old oriel Upon the marble Altar and the gold Of God's own Tabernacle, where he dwells For ever, so the blossoms and the vine, On Jesus' home climbing above the roof, Traced intricate their windings all about The yellow thatch, and part concealed the nests Whence noisy close-housed sparrows peeped unseen. And Joseph had a little dove-cote placed Between the gable-window and the eaves, Where two white turtle doves (a gift of love From Mary's kinsman Zachary to her child) Cooed pleasantly ; and broke upon the ear The ever dying sound of falling waves. three long weeks With patient instinct till it broke the shell ; And she had nursed it with all tender care, Another three, and watched the white down grow Into full feather, till it left her nest. And now it stood outside its narrow home, With tremulous wings let loose and blinking eyes ; While, hovering near, the old dove often tried By many lures to tempt it to the ground, That they might feed from Jesus' hand, who stood Watching them from below. The timid bird At last took heart, and, stretching out its wings, 51 Brushed the light vine-leaves as it fluttered down. Just then a hawk rose from a tree, and thrice Wheeled in the air, and poised his aim to drop On the young dove, whose quivering plumage swelled About the sunken talons as it died. Then the hawk fixed his round eye on the child, Shook from his beak the stained down, screamed, and flapped His broad arched wings, and, darting to a cleft I' the rocks, there sullenly devoured his prey. And Jesus heard the mother's anguished cry, Weak like the distant sob of some lost child, Who in his terror runs from path to path, Doubtful alike of all ; so did the dove, As though death-stricken, beat about the air ; Till, settling on the vine, she drooped her head Deep in her ruffled feathers. She sat there, Brooding upon her loss, and did not move All through that day. And the child Jesus wept, And, sitting by her, covered up his face : Until a cloud, alone between the earth And sun, passed with its shadow over him. Then Jesus for a moment looked above ; And a few drops of rain fell on his brow, Sad, as with broken hints of a lost dream, Or dim foreboding of some future ill. Now, from a garden near, a fair-haired girl Came, carrying a handful of choice flowers, Which in her lap she sorted orderly, As little children do at Easter-time To have all seemly when their Lord shall rise. Then Jesus' covered face she gently raised, Placed in his hand the flowers, and kissed his cheek And tried with soothing words to comfort him ; He from his eyes spoke thanks. But still the tears, Fast trickling down his face, drop upon drop, Fell to the ground. That sad look left him not Till night brought sleep, and sleep closed o'er his woe. 52
Again there came a day when Mary sat Within the latticed doorway's fretted shade, Working in bright and many colored threads A girdle for her child, who at her feet Lay with his gentle face upon her lap. Both little hands were crossed and tightly clasped Around her knee. On them the gleams of light Which broke through overhanging blossoms warm, And cool transparent leaves, seemed like the gems Which deck Our Lady's shrine when incense-smoke Ascends before her, like them, dimly seen Behind the stream of white and slanting rays Which came from heaven, as a veil of light, Across the darkened porch, and glanced upon The threshold-stone ; and here a moth, just born To new existence, stopped upon her flight, To bask her blue-eyed scarlet wings spread out Broad to the sun on Jesus' naked foot, Advancing its warm glow to where the grass, Trimmed neatly, grew around the cottage door. And the child, looking in his mother's face, Would join in converse upon holy things With her, or, lost in thought, would seem to watch The orange-belted wild bees when they stilled Their hum, to press with honey-searching trunk The juicy grape ; or drag their waxed legs Half buried in some leafy cool recess Found in a rose ; or else swing heavily Upon the bending woodbine's fragrant mouth, And rob the flower of sweets to feed the rock, Where, in a hazel-covered crag aloft Parting two streams that fell in mist below, The wild bees ranged their waxen vaulted cells. As the time passed, an ass's yearling colt, Bearing a heavy load, came down the lane That wound from Nazareth by Joseph's house, Sloping down to the sands. And two young men, The owners of the colt, with many blows From lash and goad wearied its patient sides ; Urging it past its strength, so they might win Unto the beach before a ship should sail. 53 Passing the door, the ass turned round its head, And looked on Jesus : and he knew the look ; And, knowing it, knew too the strange dark cross Laying upon its shoulders and its back. It was a foal of that same ass which bare The infant and the mother, when they fled To Egypt from the edge of Herod's sword. And Jesus watched them, till they reached the sands. Then, by his mother sitting down once more, Once more there came that shadow of deep grief Upon his brow when Mary looked at him : And she remembered it in days that came.
And the time passed. And, one bright summer eve, The child sat by himself upon the beach, While Joseph's barge freighted with heavy wood, Bound homewards, slowly labored thro' the calm. And, as he watched the long waves swell and break, Run glistening to his feet, and sink again, Three children, and then two, with each an arm Around the other, throwing up their songs, Such happy songs as only children know, Came by the place where Jesus sat alone. But, when they saw his thoughtful face, they ceased, And, looking at each other, drew near him ; While one who had upon his head a wreath Of hawthorn flowers, and in his hand a reed, Put these both from him, saying, " Here is one Whom you shall all prefer instead of me To be our king ;" and then he placed the wreath On Jesus' brow, who meekly bowed his head. And, when he took the reed, the children knelt, And cast their simple offerings at his feet : And, almost wondering why they loved him so, Kissed him with reverence, promising to yield Grave fealty. And Jesus did return Their childish salutations ; and they passed Singing another song, whose music chimed With the sea's murmur, like a low sweet chant Chanted in some wide church to Jesus Christ. 54 And Jesus listened till their voices sank Behind the jutting rocks, and died away : Then the wave broke, and Jesus felt alone. Who being alone, on his fair countenance And saddened beauty all unlike a child's The sun of innocence did light no smile, As on the group of happy faces gone.
And, when the barge arrived, and Joseph bare The wood upon his shoulders, piece by piece, Up to his shed, Jesus ran by his side, Yearning for strength to help the aged man Who tired himself with work all day for him. But Joseph said : " My child, it is God's will That I should work for thee until thou art Of age to help thyself.--Bide thou his time Which cometh--when thou wilt be strong enough, And on thy shoulders bear a tree like this." So, while he spake, he took the last one up, Settling it with heaved back, fetching his breath. Then Jesus lifted deep prophetic eyes Full in the old man's face, but nothing said, Running still on to open first the door.
Joseph had one ewe-sheep ; and she brought forth, Early one season, and before her time, A weakly lamb. It chanced to be upon Jesus' birthday, when he was eight years old. So Mary said--" We'll name it after him,"-- (Because she ever thought to please her child)-- " And we will sign it with a small red cross Upon the back, a mark to know it by." And Jesus loved the lamb ; and, as it grew Spotless and pure and loving like himself, White as the mother's milk it fed upon, He gave not up his care, till it became Of strength enough to browse ; and then, because Joseph had no land of his own, being poor, He sent away the lamb to feed amongst A neighbour's flock some distance from his home ; Where Jesus went to see it every day. 55 One late Spring eve, their daily work being done, Mother and child, according to their wont, Went, hand in hand, their chosen evening walk. A pleasant wind rose from the sea, and blew Light flakes of waving silver o'er the fields Ready for mowing, and the golden West Warmed half the sky : the low sun flickered through The hedge-rows, as they passed ; while hawthorn trees Scattered their snowy leaves and scent around. The sloping woods were rich in varied leaf, And musical in murmur and in song. Long ere they reached the field, the wistful lamb Saw them approach, and ran from side to side The gate, pushing its eager face between The lowest bars, and bleating for pure joy. And Jesus, kneeling by it, fondled with The little creature, that could scarce find how To show its love enough ; licking his hands, Then, starting from him, gambolled back again, And, with its white feet upon Jesus' knees, Nestled its head by his : and, as the sun Sank down behind them, broadening as it neared The low horizon, Mary thought it seemed To clothe them like a glory.--But her look Grew thoughtful, and she said : " I had, last night, A wandering dream. This brings it to my mind ; And I will tell it thee as we walk home. " I dreamed a weary way I had to go Alone, across an unknown land : such wastes We sometimes see in visions of the night, Barren and dimly lighted. There was not A tree in sight, save one seared leafless trunk, Like a rude cross ; and, scattered here and there, A shrivelled thistle grew : the grass was dead, And the starved soil glared through its scanty tufts In bare and chalky patches, cracked and hot, Chafing my tired feet, that caught upon Its parched surface ; for a thirsty sun Had sucked all moisture from the ground it burned, And, red and glowing, stared upon me like A furnace eye when all the flame is spent. I felt it was a dream ; and so I tried 56 To close my eyes, and shut it out from sight. Then, sitting down, I hid my face ; but this Only increased the dread ; and so I gazed With open eyes into my dream again. The mists had thickened, and had grown quite black Over the sun ; and darkness closed round me. (Thy father said it thundered towards the morn.) But soon, far off, I saw a dull green light Break though the clouds, which fell across the earth, Like death upon a bad man's upturned face. Sudden it burst with fifty forked darts In one white flash, so dazzling bright it seemed To hide the landscape in one blaze of light. When the loud crash that came down with it had Rolled its long echo into stillness, through The calm dark silence came a plaintive sound ; And, looking towards the tree, I saw that it Was scorched with the lightning ; and there stood Close to its foot a solitary sheep Bleating upon the edge of a deep pit, Unseen till now, choked up with briars and thorns ; And into this a little snow white lamb, Like to thine own, had fallen. It was dead And cold, and must have lain there very long ; While, all the time, the mother had stood by, Helpless, and moaning with a piteous bleat. The lamb had struggled much to free itself, For many cruel thorns had torn its head And bleeding feet ; and one had pierced its side, From which flowed blood and water. Strange the things We see in dreams, and hard to understand ;-- For, stooping down to raise its lifeless head, I thought it changed into the quiet face Of my own child. Then I awoke, and saw The dim moon shining through the watery clouds On thee awake within thy little bed." Then Jesus, looking up, said quietly : " We read that God will speak to those he loves Sometimes in visions. He might speak to thee Of things to come his mercy partly veils From thee, my mother ; or perhaps, the thought Floated across thy mind of what we read 57 Aloud before we went to rest last night ;-- I mean that passage in Isaias' book, Which tells about the patient suffering lamb, And which it seems that no one understands." Then Mary bent her face to the child's brow, And kissed him twice, and, parting back his hair, Kissed him again. And Jesus felt her tears Drop warm upon his cheek, and he looked sad When silently he put his hand again Within his mother's. As they came, they went, Hand in hand homeward. And the child abode With Mary and with Joseph, till the time When all the things should be fulfilled in him Which God had spoken by his prophets' mouth Long since ; and God was with him, and God's grace.