George MacDonald

The Gospel Women. 1. The Mother Mary


Mary, to thee the heart was given
For infant hand to hold,
And clasp thus, an eternal heaven,
The great earth in its fold.

He seized the world with tender might
By making thee his own;
Thee, lowly queen, whose heavenly height
Was to thyself unknown.

He came, all helpless, to thy power,
For warmth, and love, and birth;
In thy embraces, every hour,
He grew into the earth.

Thine was the grief, O mother high,
Which all thy sisters share
Who keep the gate betwixt the sky
And this our lower air;

But unshared sorrows, gathering slow,
Will rise within thy heart,
Strange thoughts which like a sword will go
Thorough thy inward part.

For, if a woman bore a son
That was of angel brood,
Who lifted wings ere day was done,
And soared from where she stood,

Wild grief would rave on love's high throne;
She, sitting in the door,
All day would cry: "He was my own,
And now is mine no more!"

So thou, O Mary, years on years,
From child-birth to the cross,
Wast filled with yearnings, filled with fears,
Keen sense of love and loss.

His childish thoughts outsoared thy reach;
His godlike tenderness
Would sometimes seem, in human speech,
To thee than human less.

Strange pangs await thee, mother mild,
A sorer travail-pain;
Then will the spirit of thy child
Be born in thee again.

Till then thou wilt forebode and dread;
Loss will be still thy fear--
Till he be gone, and, in his stead,
His very self appear.

For, when thy son hath reached his goal,
And vanished from the earth,
Soon wilt thou find him in thy soul,
A second, holier birth.


Ah, there he stands! With wondering face
Old men surround the boy;
The solemn looks, the awful place
Bestill the mother's joy.

In sweet reproach her gladness hid,
Her trembling voice says--low,
Less like the chiding than the chid--
"How couldst thou leave us so?"

But will her dear heart understand
The answer that he gives--
Childlike, eternal, simple, grand,
The law by which he lives?

"Why sought ye me?" Ah, mother dear,
The gulf already opes
That will in thee keep live the fear,
And part thee from thy hopes!

"My father's business--that ye know
I cannot choose but do."
Mother, if he that work forego,
Not long he cares for you.

Creation's harder, better part
Now occupies his hand:
I marvel not the mother's heart
Not yet could understand.


The Lord of life among them rests;
They quaff the merry wine;
They do not know, those wedding guests,
The present power divine.

Believe, on such a group he smiled,
Though he might sigh the while;
Believe not, sweet-souled Mary's child
Was born without a smile.

He saw the pitchers, high upturned,
Their last red drops outpour;
His mother's cheek with triumph burned,
And expectation wore.

He knew the prayer her bosom housed,
He read it in her eyes;
Her hopes in him sad thoughts have roused
Ere yet her words arise.

"They have no wine!" she, halting, said,
Her prayer but half begun;
Her eyes went on, "Lift up thy head,
Show what thou art, my son!"

A vision rose before his eyes,
The cross, the waiting tomb,
The people's rage, the darkened skies,
His unavoided doom:

Ah woman dear, thou must not fret
Thy heart's desire to see!
His hour of honour is not yet--
'Twill come too soon for thee!

His word was dark; his tone was kind;
His heart the mother knew;
His eyes in hers looked deep, and shined;
They gave her heart the cue.

Another, on the word intent,
Had read refusal there;
She heard in it a full consent,
A sweetly answered prayer.

"Whate'er he saith unto you, do."
Out flowed his grapes divine;
Though then, as now, not many knew
Who makes the water wine.


"He is beside himself!" Dismayed,
His mother, brothers talked:
He from the well-known path had strayed
In which their fathers walked!

With troubled hearts they sought him. Loud
Some one the message bore:--
He stands within, amid a crowd,
They at the open door:--

"Thy mother and thy brothers would
Speak with thee. Lo, they stand
Without and wait thee!" Like a flood
Of sunrise on the land,

A new-born light his face o'erspread;
Out from his eyes it poured;
He lifted up that gracious head,
Looked round him, took the word:

"My mother--brothers--who are they?"
Hearest thou, Mary mild?
This is a sword that well may slay--
Disowned by thy child!

Ah, no! My brothers, sisters, hear--
They are our humble lord's!
O mother, did they wound _thy_ ear?--
_We_ thank him for the words.

"Who are my friends?" Oh, hear him say,
Stretching his hand abroad,
"My mother, sisters, brothers, are they
That do the will of God!"

_My brother_! Lord of life and me,
If life might grow to this!--
Would it not, brother, sister, be
Enough for all amiss?

Yea, mother, hear him and rejoice:
Thou art his mother still,
But may'st be more--of thy own choice
Doing his Father's will.

Ambition for thy son restrain,
Thy will to God's will bow:
Thy son he shall be yet again.
And twice his mother thou.

O humble man, O faithful son!
That woman most forlorn
Who yet thy father's will hath done,
Thee, son of man, hath born!


Life's best things gather round its close
To light it from the door;
When woman's aid no further goes,
She weeps and loves the more.

She doubted oft, feared for his life,
Yea, feared his mission's loss;
But now she shares the losing strife,
And weeps beside the cross.

The dreaded hour is come at last,
The sword hath reached her soul;
The hour of tortured hope is past,
And gained the awful goal.

There hangs the son her body bore,
The limbs her arms had prest!
The hands, the feet the driven nails tore
Had lain upon her breast!

He speaks; the words how faintly brief,
And how divinely dear!
The mother's heart yearns through its grief
Her dying son to hear.

"Woman, behold thy son.--Behold
Thy mother." Blessed hest
That friend to her torn heart to fold
Who understood him best!

Another son--ah, not instead!--
He gave, lest grief should kill,
While he was down among the dead,
Doing his father's will.

No, not instead! the coming joy
Will make him hers anew;
More hers than when, a little boy,
His life from hers he drew.

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