Verse > Anthologies > W. Garrett Horder, ed. > The Poets’ Bible: New Testament
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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;        5
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        10
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        15
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,        20
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        25
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        30
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—        35
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        40
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,        45
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        50
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,        55
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        60
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        65
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,        70
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,        75
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.        80
And while the mourner hung upon his neck,
Jesus went calmly on His way to Nain.
 
 
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