James Collinson Poems >>
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.