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Harriett Jay

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{The Ballad of Mary the Mother 1897}



SHEPHERDS, wake, ’tis Christmas tide!
     (Over the snow the bleak winds blow!)
Follow, with yonder Star for guide,
     On Christmas day in the morning.

“The way is dark, the way is long,
We cheer the way with a blithesome song.

“Thro’ the valley and over the hill,—
Hush, now hush, for the Star stands still!

“It stands so still and it shines so clear—
This is the place! Our Lord is here!”

Ye who have gifts, your gifts unfold—
Wood of Lebanon, gems, and gold.

Kneel, and shrive ye of your sin—
Then lift the latch, and enter in. . . . .

Alack, why stand ye weeping there? . . . .                                           viii
“The fire is out, and the hearth is bare!

“Far have we wander’d thro’ wintry gloom—
To seek His cradle, and lo! His tomb!

“Still overhead the Star shines clear,
But only the dust of the dead lies here:

“Ashes and dust in a frozen shroud,
Wherefore we wonder and weep aloud!

“Here he was born who long since died
     (Over the snow the bleak winds blow!)
Dark is the bield this wintertide
     On Christmas day in the morning.





’Twas Mary, the woeful Mother,
     Came wandering footsore,
And stood, with her rags around her,
     Outside the synagogue door.

“O, who art thou, thou woeful woman,
     And what may thine errand be?”
“I am Mary, the Mother of thy Lord,
     And I come from Galilee.”

“Stand back, stand back, whoever thou art,
     Thou canst not enter here,
Thy son is doing his Father’s work
     Among his brethren dear.

“O woman, thou canst not enter now,”
     The grim door-keeper said,
“Thy Son is pouring the Wine of Life,
     And breaking the holy Bread.”

’Twas Mary, the gentle Mother                                                          2
     Smiled, and laid bare her breast.
“’Twas here he drank, and ’twas here he lay
     Both waking and at rest.

“Go in, and tell him his Mother waits
     Out here among the crowd”—
And as she spake, from far within
     She heard him praying aloud.

’Twas one went in to the synagogue
     When the deep prayer was done,—
“Rabbi, a woman is at the door,
     Who saith thou art her Son.

“Her bare feet bleed from the thorny ways
     ’Twixt here and Galilee,
And with the woman thy brethren come,
     And they would speak with thee.”

The Lord stretch’d out his gentle hands
     To his disciples dear:
“These are my mother, these are my brethren,
     None else may enter here!

“I know no brethren, I know no mother,                                             3
     Save those who believe on Me!
Who eat with me of the Bread of Life
     My mother and brethren be!”

’Twas Mary, the woeful Mother,
     Stood at the open door;
’Twas Jesus passed on his heavenward way
     And left her weeping sore.

His eyes were fixed on the far-off skies
     As he left her there bereaven,
He turned away from his mother’s face
     To his Father’s face in heaven.

As he wandered on from door to door
     She followed him from afar;
His face was bright as the moon in heaven,
     And hers like a lonely star.

It was Mary, the woeful Mother,
     Wept as she watched him go
Through the town, and up the height
     That looks on the sea below;

And his feet were as swift as the wind,                                                4
     And his eyes were as bright as fire,
And the face he turn’d to the shining Heaven
     Was wan with his heart’s desire;

And his dress was of white, white wool,
     And his breast and his feet were bare,
And the light came down like his Father’s Hand
     And lay on his golden hair!

And she heard his voice from afar
     Crying o’er land and sea:
“Father, my Father which art in Heaven,
     Shine down and strengthen me!”


*     *     *


It was Mary, the woeful Mother
     Sat weeping on a stone,—
It was Mary, the dark-eyed Maiden,
     Found her weeping alone.

“Oh, why dost thou weep so sadly,
     And why is thy grey head bowed?”
(And the smile came through her great black eyes
     Like the light through a summer cloud).

“Rise up, thou weariful woman,
     Rise up and come with me—
Thou shalt sit this day in my palace bower
     And I will sit at thy knee;

“And when my maidens have wash’d thy feet,
     And the feast is over and done,
Thou shalt loosen thy lips and open thy heart
     And tell me of thy Son!”

It was Mary, the woeful Mother,                                                        6
     Rose, weeping bitterlie,
And leaning on Mary the Maiden
     Hied to her bower by the sea.

As they walked through the fields of corn
     The birds were singing their song,
But the voice of the Lord above them
     Rang out more clear and strong;

And they saw the crowd on the mountain
     Gathering with glad acclaim,
And the Lord was standing above them
     And blessing those who came.


*     *     *


In the bower of Mary the Maiden
     There’s a high seat and a low,
And the white robed serving maidens
     Are moving to and fro.

With dishes of gold and silver
     The banquet they prepare,
And the scent of myrrh and roses
     Is filling the air.

With white wine and with red wine
     The brimming gourds o’erflow;
And the Mother sits on the high seat,
     And the Maid on the seat below.

When the virgins have wash’d and anointed
     The weariful Mother’s feet,
When over her head they have broken
     A box of ointments sweet;

When her mouth of the food hath eaten,                                               8
     And her lips have touched the wine,
She looketh on Mary the Maiden,
     And dryeth her tear-wet eyne.

“On thee and thine, my daughter,
     All peace and blessings be!
The God of Israël bless thee
     For thy sweet charitie!”

As fair as the Hûleh lily
     That blooms in the summer beam,
Was Mary the Maiden, wearing
     Her robe of the silken seam;

And on her hair and her bosom
     Were jewels and gems of price,
And round her neck there was hanging
     A charm with a strange device:

A heart of amber, and round it
     Ruby and emerald bands,
And over it, wrought in crystal,
     Two little wingëd hands!

White and warm was her bosom                                                         9
     That rose and fell below,
And light on her face was playing,
     Deep, like the after-glow;

With the waves of her heaving bosom
     That strange light went and came,
Now dim and dark with the shadow of earth,
     Now flush’d with a heavenly flame;

And the warmth of the glad green meadows,
     The scent of the Night and the Day,
Flow’d up from Mary the Maiden
     To Mary the old and grey.

“O wherefore, my namesake Mary,
     Art thou so good to me,—
The woeful woman who wedded
     With Joseph of Galilee?

“Poor is my lot and lowly,
     Sad is my heart and sore,—
I am not worthy, my daughter,
     To enter thy palace door!”

’Twas Mary, the dark-eyed Maiden,                                                  10
     The beautiful shining one,
Answer’d, “I love thee, Mother,
     For the Rabbi’s sake, thy Son!

“To the fairest and best of mortals
     Thy womb hath given birth,—
Like the moon on the troubled waters
     He walketh the waves of Earth!

“White as a statue of marble
     Wrought in some Grecian land,
Fair as a palm-tree growing
     Green, ’mid the desert sand,

“Monarch of men he shineth
     Bright as the morning star,
A God, and of Godhead fashion’d,
     Not mortal as others are!

“There’s a storm in my snow-white bosom
     Only his touch can still,—
There’s a void in my heart, O Mother,
     Only his love can fill!”

’Twas Mary, the woeful Mother,                                                       11
     Bent down and kissed her brow,
“God help thee, Mary, my daughter,
     And all such maids as thou!

“His love is not for the things of earth,
     His blessing for things of clay,—
A voice from a Land beyond the grave
     Is calling my Son away!

“How should he stoop to a love like thine
     Who hath no love for me?
In my womb he grew, from my womb he fell,
     And I nurst him on my knee.”

’Twas Mary, the dark-eyed Maiden,
     Smiled through her night-black hair,—
“I met his eyes as he passed this day,
     And methought he found me fair!

“There is never a man of the sons of men
     Who would not smile on me,
But if thy Son is more than a man,
     Alack for me and thee!

“But if thy Son is Joseph’s son,                                                           12
     E’en as his brethren be,
Why, I am Mary of Magdala!
     And a King might mate with me.”

’Twas Mary, the woeful Mother,
     Answered again, and said:
“The love of the world is not for him,
     Nor the happy bridal bed!

“He has cast away all women of earth
     Even as he casts out me,—
In my womb he grew, from my womb he fell,
     And I nurst him on my knee.”

’Twas Mary, the dark-eyed Maiden,
     Frown’d, answering scornfullie—
“Nay, rather than be another’s bride
     I would his leman be.

“Rather than mate with Herod the King
     Or Cæsar himself, his lord,
I’d be thy Son’s, and ask no more
     Than a kindly look or word.

“I’d make my bed across his feet,                                                      13
     I’d be his handmaiden,—
There is no other lord for me
     ’Mong all the sons of men.

“Yea, though thy son be Joseph’s son,
     Who toileth for his bread,
For one warm kiss of his rosy mouth
     Gladly I’d die,” she said.

’Twas Mary the Mother answer’d:
     “Thy woe is even as mine;
Fain would I see my Son stoop down
     To a human love like thine.

“Hast thou not heard, O Mary,
     The wondering people say
‘He is Moses or Eli risen again,
     Or a greater even than they’?

“Hast thou not heard them whisper low
     Who follow him night and day—
‘The seed within his mother’s womb
     Came from no human clay!’

“Hast thou not heard that, ere I wed                                                   14
     My husband leal and true,
My womb was full of a wondrous life
     That quicken’d ere I knew;

“And how my mate was wroth and thought
     To thrust me from his side,
And how an Angel in the night
     Came to his bed and cried:

“Forbear to know the woman thy wife,
     Yet put her not away,
She is quick with child of the Holy Ghost,
     And hath known no man of clay;

“Behold, it was written long ago,
     Ere thy life’s thread was spun,
‘A Virgin shall conceive of God,
     Quicken, and bear a Son!’”

It was the dark-eyed Mary
     Sprang up her height and cried:
“Is this thing true, and is thy Son
     He that was prophesied?”

’Twas Mary, the Mother, raised her hands,                                        15
     And wept and tore her hair,—
“Woe worth the day that I was born,
     Or ever a child did bear!

“Hearken to me, my daughter,
     Sit down and hearken to me;
But breathe not, out in the world of men,
     The thing I tell to thee.

“For the sands of my life run low,
     And the thread of my woe is out-worn,
And the Lord hath smitten the Mother down
     By the hand of her eldest-born.

“’Twas but a little hand
     When my babe lay here at rest,
A weak little hand, like a rose-leaf,
     That felt for my milky breast.

“Hearken to me, my daughter,
     And when my tale is done,
We’ll kneel in the night together
     And pray for the man my Son!”


*     *     *


Green leaf and blossom,
     White flower and red,
The whole world is gladdening
     Where Love’s feet tread!

There’s light in the morning,
     There’s life for the young,
’Tis then the songs of Eden
     On every bough are sung!

The young maid is listening,
     Her lover by her side,—
Heaven the earth encircles,
     The bridegroom his bride.

Green leaf and blossom,
     White flower and red,—
The whole world is gladdening
     Where Love’s feet tread!


*     *     *


“The God of Israël passeth
     From world to world on high,
The seas and the mighty mountains
     Quake as He passeth by;

“No eye hath looked upon Him,
     No soul hath fathom’d His ways,
His face is veil’d, though His breathing
     Filleth our nights and days;

“His Hand is a Hand in the darkness,
     His Voice is a Voice in the gloom,
But seed of Jehovah hath never
     Been sown in a woman’s womb.

“Yet the Light that blindeth the vision
     Comes from the worlds He made,
And fire of the flesh He fashion’d
     Maketh the soul afraid.

“I wander’d happy and lonely                                                             18
     By wood and meadow and stream,
And the joy of my youth was upon me
     And twined me away in a dream.

“And my love’s voice said ‘Thou art fairest,
     Thine eyes are the eyes of the dove,
Thy breasts are roses and lilies,’
     And I heark’d to the voice of my love!

“Yea, the joy of my life was upon me,
     And the light of my youth in my eyes,
And a breath like the breath of the morning
     Woke me in Paradise!

“By the beautiful waters of Marah
     We pitch’d our tent in the sun,
And we drank of the waters rejoicing,
     And lo! our dreaming was done;

“For the taste of the waters was bitter,
     And the bright sun shone no more,
And I sat alone in the gloaming,
     And the day of my dream was o’er;

“Then I rose in my sorrow, casting                                                     19
     Ashes and dust on my head,
For the seal of my womb was broken,
     And the flower of my youth had fled.

“Yet no one wist of the wonder
     As home to our house I came,
Only the God of our fathers
     Knew of His daughter’s shame.

“And I dwelt in the house of my people
     And veil’d my face like a maid,
But ever when men came wooing
     I fled to my chamber and prayed.

“Morning and eve to the fountain,
     Between the night and the day,
I went with the village maidens
     Bearing my pitcher of clay.

“And a man from a neighbouring village
     Saw me, and thought me fair,
And lo! when I journeyed homeward,
     I found him waiting there;

“And while he spake with my father                                                   20
     His eyes grew large on me;
And the man was stately and gentle,
     With a voice like the sough of the sea.

“And my father gave me unto him,
     With goats and kine for a dower,
And I fled to my lonely chamber
     And wept for many an hour.

“For the eye of my God was upon me
     While I wept and sorrow’d apart,
And a little hand in the darkness
     Was lifting the latch of my heart!

“Would I had died in the night-time,
     Would I had ne’er been born,—
I feared the eyes of the bridegroom,
     And sorrow’d from night till morn.

“Then came the hour of the bridal,
     The feast and the bridal song,—
O, weak is the heart of a woman,
     But the Law and the Lord are strong!

“As he bare me home to his dwelling                                                  21
     ’Twas summer in all the land,
But my heart was broken within me
     By the touch of that little hand.

“As we stood in the bridal chamber
     He offered me bread and wine,
And I feared the light of his loving
     As his eyes grew large on mine;

“And I fell at his feet, and weeping
     Pour’d out the gourd of my shame,
And the wrath of the Lord around him
     Like fireflaught went and came!

“And at first he hunger’d in anger
     To thrust me beyond his door,
But the mercy of God came on him
     Though his soul was stricken sore.

“And at last, when his wrath was over,
     His face grew gentle and mild,
And he spake as a gentle father
     Might speak to an erring child.

“O, blessings upon the bridegroom                                                      22
     Who shielded his bride from wrong—
The heart of a woman is feeble,
     But the strength of a man is strong!

“The mighty God of our fathers
     Bless him in life or death,—
Wisest and best of mortals
     Was Joseph of Nazareth!

“He shielded me in my sorrow,
     He calm’d my spirit to rest,
He found the sheep that had wander’d
     And warm’d it on his breast.

“And when my travail was over,
     And the night of the birth-pang done,
He lifted the babe from my bosom
     And said, ‘Behold our Son!’

“Yea, over the babe and the mother
     The balm of his love he poured,
And he named the new born JESUS,
     Which meaneth ‘Sent by the Lord.’

“And I clave to my mate and master,                                                  23
     The tenderest man among men,
Yea, I grew to his breast in gladness,
     His wife and his handmaiden!

“And after my cleansing he knew me,
     Yea, gave me the bridegroom’s embrace,
And children were born unto us
     To gladden our dwelling-place.”


*     *     *


’Twas Mary, the grey-hair’d Mother,
     Bowed down her woeful head;
’Twas Mary, the dark-eyed Maiden,
     Reach’d up her arms and said:

“God’s grace and blessing, Mother,
     Wrap thee from head to feet!
The ways of the world are weary,
     But the kiss of a mouth is sweet!

“Now tell me who was the lover
     Who brought thee such glad pain?
Some mighty lord of the City?
     Some chief of the lonely plain?”

’Twas Mary, the woeful Mother,
     Moan’d to herself and said:
“His name will never be utter’d,
     Darkness hideth his head!

“He is gone like the dew of the morning,                                             25
     He is fled with the flowers of the May,
His name on the sands of the desert
     Was written and blown away.

“I clave to my lord and master,
     And peace and joy were mine,
For the blissful milk of the mother
     Flow’d in my breasts like wine;                                                     [2:iv]

“For the lips of my babe drew from me
     The poison and the pain,
Till the weariful heart within me
     Gladden’d and leapt again!

“A maid’s love, O my daughter,
     Is a pearl that men may buy,
But the love of a new-made mother
     Is a rainbow in the sky!

“All peace of earth and of heaven
     Are gather’d in her embrace—
Smiling the little one lieth
     And looketh up in her face!

“His lips are lilies and roses,                                                                26
     His scent is sweeter than myrrh,
He draweth bliss from her bosom
     And breatheth it back to her!

“Still as a star on my bosom
     My little first-born lay,
And like a fountain around him
     My love flow’d day by day!

“Clear as the summer heavens
     I saw his blue eyes shine!
Never on mortal bosom
     Shone babe so bright as mine!

“The days flow’d on like a murmuring brook
     That gladdeneth in the sun,—
For I heard the music of earth and heaven
     From the mouth of my little one!

“Brighter and fairer my first-born grew,
     And O, but it was sweet
To hold him up with a finger touch
     When he stood upon his feet;

“I could hold him up with a finger touch,                                              27
     He was so light and frail,—
But now he hath the might of a man
     How should my strength avail?

“Yet even in those sweet far-off days,
     So bright and now so dim,
Meseem’d the bairns his playfellows
     Were different from him!

“He seem’d not as other children
     That play in the summer beam,—
With the sound of their mirth around him
     He stood and look’d up in a dream!

“And while from hillock to hillock
     They flew with laugh and cry,
He watch’d the white clouds passing
     Over the still blue sky!

“So grave and yet so gentle,
     So still and yet so blest,—
It seemed some fountain of wonder
     Flow’d in his baby breast.

“And one by one in the darkness                                                        28
     The new-born waken’d and cried,
And I gladden’d, a fruitful Mother,
     Forgiven and purified!

“For lo! he gladden’d among them,
     The fairest and goodliest,
And still that fountain of wonder
     Flow’d in his gentle breast!

“And so he grew in the dwelling
     And brighten’d from day to day.
And the Light of the Lord was on us,
     And the Angels looked our way!”


*     *     *


There’s a cry of little ones in the bield,
     And a patter of feet on the floor;
The Sun is splashing o’er farm and field
     To the golden pool at the door!
The earth is twining flowers in her hair,
     And there’s some for you and me;
     Smile, Babe!—leap, Babe!—rock’d upon Mother’s knee!

Of all the joys that the years can bring
     There is never a joy like this,—
Flowers to bloom, birds to sing,
     And the bud of a mouth to kiss!
Our goodman looks smiling on,
     And a proud goodman is he!
     Smile, Babe!—leap, Babe!—happy on Mother’s knee!

Clear as a fountain by our fireside                                                            30
     The cry of the young is heard,
Answer’d over the whole world wide
     By the cry of lamb and bird!
It’s home-time now in the happy world
     And it’s Heaven with my bairns and me!
     Smile, Babe!—leap, Babe!—rock’d upon Mother’s knee!

Round and around our house they run,
     A laughing, barefoot band—
Bright at the door the merry Sun
     With a golden nod doth stand!
And its oh! for the peace of Heaven and Home,
     And the light on my bairns and me!
     Smile, Babe!—leap, Babe!—happy on Mother’s knee!


*     *     *


As the flower of the Hûleh lily
     Shineth after the rain,
The face of Mary the Mother
     Smiled, and grew bright again!

For the milk of the glad young mother
     Seem’d flowing in her breast,
And once again to her nipples
     A little mouth seem’d prest;

And her great grey eyes half closing
     Were dim with the happy dew,
And her red lips trembled and open’d
     As the quick glad breath came thro’!

“The peace of God was upon me,
     The smile of God at my door,
My soul was a summer fountain
     That filleth and floweth o’er!

“Fairer and fairer my first-born grew                                                  32
     Till he was seven years old,
And his eyes had the glint o’ the waters blue
     And his hair the sunset’s gold.

“His voice was low as the voice o’ the dove
     That cries in a shady place,
And the light of a love that was more than love
     Flowed from his shining face;

“For he loved all things that the Lord hath made
     Who maketh great and small,
And he folded his little hands and prayed
     That God might guard them all!

“But ever of all God’s creatures
     He loved the weak things best,—
The lamb that leaps in the meadows
     Would come and lie in his breast;

“The doves that dwell on the house-tops
     Would gather about his feet,
And the hungry dogs would lick his hands
     As he walk’d i’ the sun-scorch’d street!

“And he loved the folk who were sick and weak,                               33
     Whom God had stricken sore,
Yea, the tears would roll adown his cheek
     For pity of the poor;

“And sad was the heart of my little one,
     And his eyes grew wet and dim,
When the spotted lepers crawl’d i’ the sun
     And held out hands to him! . . .

“In the synagogue of his fathers
     He heard the Rabbis preach,
And better than play or pleasure
     He loved their stately speech;

“Yea, even as the wild bee gathers
     Its honey from flower to flower,
He gathered the words of wisdom
     For many a happy hour.

“But best he loved (God bless him,
     And cherish him night and day)
The wandering men of the desert
     Who silently fast and pray.

“For when from the holy places                                                           34
     One of these wights footsore,
With scoop of brass, and apron
     Of linen, would pass our door,

“My good man, merrily toiling
     Within at the carpenter’s board,
Would bid the pilgrim enter
     And rest, in the name of the Lord;

“And when he had made ablution
     He’d enter and bless the place,
The silence of God around him,
     The light of God on his face;

“And Jesus would gaze upon him,
     Till he reach’d out hands and smiled,
And murmur’d, ‘The God of Jacob
     Preserve the little child!’

“Then silently like a shadow
     He’d rise and wander away,
But the Light of God and His Silence
     Would dwell on the child all day.”


*     *     *


“Oft, as he spelt his letters,
     Resting the scroll on my knee,
He’d close the scroll in his little hand
     And sigh, and question me—

“And ’twas ‘O, mother,’ and ‘why, mother,
     Do mortals weary and die?
Surely our Father in Heaven
     Heareth his children cry?’

“The tales that a thousand mothers
     Tell to their sons, I told,—
Of the chosen race of Israël
     And the weariful days of old;

“And how in the land of bondage
     We wail’d beneath God’s hand,
Till the prophet came to set us free
     And we gain’d the Golden Land;

“Dumbly he’d stand and listen                                                            36
     While I those tales did tell,
And o’er and o’er he’d have me sing
     The psalms of Israël!

“O sweet he was as the summer rain
     That falleth on desert ways,
But ever the cry of human pain
     Troubled his nights and days!

“And ’twas ‘O, mother,’ and ‘why, mother,
     Are folks so weary and sad?
The sick folk die, and the lepers cry,
     Though the sun shines bright and glad!’

“And he’d stand and muse apart,
     Like an old man bent with years,
And the well of wonder within his heart
     Fill’d, like an eye with tears!”


*     *     *


“And so my little one grew,
     The whitest lamb in the fold,
But the shadow dwelt in his eyes of blue
     And his ways were strange and old. . . .

“We came to the Holy City,
     And the streets were bright and gay,
And lo! from the hour my bairn was born
     ’Twas thirteen years and a day.

“The Temple stood with its gates of gold
     On the heights of Jerusalem,
And the children gather’d like lambs i’ the fold
     And the Elders question’d them;

“And we missed the child in the holy place,
     And wondering, sought for him,
And lo! he stood with a shining face
     In the halls of the Sanhedrim!

“And the Priests and Rabbis gathered round,                                      38
     And smooth’d their beards and smiled,
To hear the words of wisdom sound
     From the lips of a little child.

“Proud and glad was my heart that day
     For joy of the little one!
And blithe and merry we rode away
     When the Holy Feast was done! . . .

“Stronger and fairer my first-born grew
     And in our bield he stayed,
For now he toil’d at the bench and knew
     My good man’s gentle trade;

“And his voice chimed cheerily all day long
     To the chime of the busy plane,
And as I sat and heark’d to his song
     My heart was glad again!

“For methought ‘My shame hath passed away,
     My son grows strong and tall,—
The God of Israël be his stay
     Wherever his feet may fall!

“‘The God of Israël grant him life                                                         39
     And be his light and guide,—
And when he taketh a maid to wife
     May their seed be multiplied!

“‘May their days be long in a fruitful land
     Under the summer skies,
And ere I sleep may he hold my hand
     And close my happy eyes.’

“O the light o’ the Lord shone bright indeed
     Upon our dwelling-place!
For methought my seed was a goodly seed
     To quicken and grow apace!

“And I saw my Son’s seed multiply
     And gladden from day to day,
And I heard my children’s children cry
     Like voices far away!

“The life of man is a tale thrice told,
     His joy is a flower full blown—
When our Son was nineteen summers old,
     He toil’d at the bench alone!

“The weight of years on his hair so grey,                                              40
     The sleep-dust in his eyne,
My good man Joseph passed away
     While I held his hand in mine;

“Gently he beckoned the first-born near
     And gazed in his face and said:
‘O, Jesus, look to thy mother dear
     When I lie cold and dead!’

“’Twas darkness then in the lowly bield
     For many and many a day;
For he who had been my strength and shield
     Was taken and hid away.

“My children gathered around my knee
     And I bowed my widow’d head,
But gently my first-born smiled on me
     And my grief was comforted.

“O, blessed be the name of the Lord!
     He taketh and giveth again,
His wrath is fire and a flaming sword,
     But His love is summer rain;

“The flesh of the stricken He healeth up,                                              41
     The sick He maketh sound,—
When our grief is full as a brimming cup
     He poureth it on the ground.

“The peace of God on my spirit fell
     For joy of the man my Son,—
At his father’s board he wrought full well
     Till his daily task was done.

“There was never a man of woman born
     Was half so fair as he,—
Like the sound of a fountain night and morn
     Was the voice of my Son to me.

“And evermore when his toil was o’er
     He loved to wander away,
To comfort the sick and cheer the poor,
     Or to muse apart and pray.

“And in the synagogue he’d teach
     Among the Rabbis old,
And he gather’d wisdom, and lo, his speech
     Grew stranger twentyfold;

“But ever I murmur’d day and night,                                                    42
     ‘Never was Son like mine;
O, may his days be long and bright,
     And his flesh a fruitful vine.’”


*     *     *


“Out of the lonely desert
     Preaching Jochanan came,
And stood in the shallows of Jordan
     Naming the one God’s Name.

“Wild as the horse of the desert
     No man may saddle and ride,
Over his naked shoulders
     A cloak o’ the camel’s hide;

“He cried aloud to the people
     Who gather’d on the strand,
‘Repent! repent; for the Kingdom
     Of Heaven is close at hand!’

“And men and women and children,
     From morn to evenfall,
Flock’d to the Prophet’s bidding
     And he baptised them all;—

“With water he baptised them                                                             44
     Under the open sky,
And lo! on the second morning
     The man, my Son, stood nigh!

“And lo! as they met together
     The eyes of John were dim,
For as morning star unto evening star
     Was the man, my Son, to him!

“Yet with water he baptised him,
     And lo, when it was done,
The hunger and thirst of Godhead
     Grew in the soul of my Son;

“And he wandered away from the people
     Into a desert place,
And there alone with the Silence
     He fasted and hid his face;

“And the stars of Heaven beheld him,
     And the wild beasts hovered near,
But the eye of man did not see him
     And the ear of man did not hear;

“And he ate not and he drank not,                                                      45
     But fasted and prayed, and so
The flesh on his bones was wasted,
     And the light of his life burnt low.

“And when I again beheld him
     I trembled and sobbed aloud,
For the dews of Death were upon him
     And his face seem’d set in a shroud!

“‘O where hast thou been, my Jesus,
     And why is thy look so wild?’
He stood like a ghost in the doorway
     And lookt in my face and smiled;

“And his smile was loving and gentle,
     Tho’ his face was ashen grey,
But his eyes were gazing through me
     At something far away!

“‘O where hast thou been, my Jesus,
     And what didst thou hear and see?’
‘I heard the winds of the night,’ he said,
     ‘And the Silence spake to me!’

“‘Alas and alas, my Jesus,                                                                   46
     And what didst thou see and hear?’
‘I saw the Dead in their shrouds pass by,
     And the Souls of the Dead stood near!

“‘And I heard the beasts of the desert
     Moaning like human things,
And the Spirit of Darkness cover’d my head
     And wrapt me ’neath his wings.

“‘But I knelt and prayed that my Father in heaven
     Would shrive me of my sin,
And the Gates of Heaven swung open wide
     To show the lights within;

“‘And a Face looked out of the Golden Gates,
     And the Spirit of Darkness fled,
And the hand of God like a Father’s Hand
     Was placed upon my head.

“‘And the Voice of God, like a Father’s voice,
     Came down the dark to me,—
“Go forth, go forth in thy Father’s Name,
     For He hath chosen thee.”’

“‘Alas, and alas, my Jesus,                                                                  47
     What didst thou see and hear?
The words thou speakest are dark and strange,
     And fill my soul with fear.

“‘The Master of Earth and Heaven
     Hath neither feet nor hands,—
The wind of His breath is as the blast
     That bloweth the desert sands.

“‘His face no eye hath looked on,
     His voice no ear hath heard,—
And yet his face is the Light o’ life,
     And His voice is a wingëd Word.’

“Sadly he gazed upon me,
     With great eyes dim with pain,
And the face of my Son burn’d bright through tears,
     Like a rainbow through the rain.

“‘Come in and rest, my Jesus,
     Thy spirit is weary and worn,
Come in and sleep in thy father’s house
     Where thou, my child, wast born;

“‘And I, thy mother, will sit beside                                                       48
     Thy bed, and sing to thee
The song I sang when I sang and rock’d
     Thy cradle with my knee.’

“Sadly he gazed upon me,
     Folding his hands in prayer,—
‘My Father’s House is wide as the world,
     And high as the heavens up there.

“‘My Father’s House is wide as the world,
     And I was born therein,—
My Father calleth me out of Heaven
     To cleanse it of its sin.

“‘Never again shall my Father’s Son
     Rest in a narrow bed,—
To and fro, and up and down,
     His weariful feet must tread.

“‘Never again shall my Father’s Son
     Hark to thy cradle song,—
To and fro, and up and down,
     He goes, for the way is long.’

“‘Hearken to me, my Jesus,                                                               49
     Stay, and hearken to me:
Thy sisters and brethren who sit within
     Would break their bread with thee.

“‘Come in, come in, and sit at the board,
     Where my first-born should be,
And I, thy mother, will wash thy feet,
     And stand and wait on thee!’

“Sadly he gazed upon me,
     Frowning he turned away,—
‘Who break with me the Bread of Life,
     My sisters and brethren are they!

“‘No brethren dwell in my Father’s House
     Save those who eat His Bread,
No mother’s love can save the quick
     Or wake and shrive the dead!

“‘And woe is me for my brethren dear
     Who o’er the wide world stray,
And woe is me for the witless love
     That withereth in a day!

“‘Lo, there be beds in my Father’s house                                           50
     Many as waves o’ the sea,—
From bed to bed my feet must pass
     Till the sleepers wakened be!

“‘Lo! there be boards in my Father’s house
     Where men feast merrily,—
From board to board my feet must pass
     Till all shall follow Me!”

“He turn’d away with a weary moan
     From the bield where he was born,
And as he wander’d from door to door
     His townsfolk laughed in scorn!

“For strange he seemed as a witless wight
     Whose soul and sense are dim,
And his eyes were bright with a vacant light,
     And the children mock’d at him!

“We followed him slowly as up the street
     Slowly he went his way,
And we saw him enter the synagogue,
     For ’twas the Sabbath day;

“And silently he enter’d in                                                                  51
     And stood in the midst o’ the crowd,
And his head was raised as they named the Name,
     Tho’ all the rest were bowed!

“And he took the scroll in his thin white hand
     While the Elders gather’d round,
And he read the lesson, and named the Name,
     And sat down to expound;

“The first words that he utter’d there
     Were gentle and soft and low,
And the sound of his voice was as the sound
     Of a fountain’s ebb and flow;

“The next words that he utter’d there
     Were wild and strange and loud,
And the sound of his voice was as the sound
     Of the riven thunder-cloud;

“The next words that he utter’d there
     Were drown’d in fierce acclaim,
For the Elders rose and tore their beards
     And the folk shriek’d out in shame!

“Around my Son like an angry sea                                                       52
     They gather’d shrieking shrill,
And his face was calm as a patient star
     And his pale lips murmur’d still:

“Again he utter’d the Name of Names,
     Nor knelt on bended knee,
But his eyes looked up as if they saw
     The Face no man may see.

“With curses and blows they thrust him forth
     Into the open street,
And spectral pale he stood at the door
     Like a corpse in his winding sheet.

“‘Come home, come home, my Jesus,
     Come home with me,’ I cried,
And gently I sought to guide him home,
     But he pushed my hand aside.

“‘No home have I but my Father’s Home,
     And thither my feet must fare,—
My Father’s Home is as wide as the world,
     And high as the heavens up there.’”


Alterations in the 1901 edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
Some ‘divine’ pronouns are capitalised in the 1901 version, but I’ve accepted this as a publishing convention and have not detailed these changes in this transcript. The description of Joseph as ‘good man’ is also hyphenated in the later version.
Page 25, v.2, l. iv: Flow’d in my breast like wine; ]



The Ballad of Mary the Mother continued

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
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The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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