The Child Jesus: A Record typical of the five Sorrowful Mysteries
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.
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.
And so it came to pass, one Summer morn,
The mother dove first brought her fledgling out
To see the sun. It was her only one,
And she had breasted it through 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,
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.
II. The Scourging.
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.
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.
III. The Crowning with Thorns.
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.
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.
IV. Jesus Carrying his Cross.
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.
V. The Crucifixion.
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.
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
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
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.
Published in The Germ, 1850, although probably written by 1848.
Collinson, The Child Jesus (1850, Tate).