The Mother Mary by George MacDonald


Mary, to thee the heart was given
For infant hand to hold,
Thus clasping, 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.

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

And unshared sorrows, gathering slow;
New thoughts within thy heart,
Which through thee like a sword will go,
And make thee mourn apart.

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

Strange grief would fill each mother-moan,
Wild longing, dim, and sore:
“My child! my child! he is my own,
And yet is mine no more!”

And 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 childish tenderness
Had deeper springs than act or speech
To eye or ear express.

Strange pangs await thee, mother mild!
A sorer travail-pain,
Before the spirit of thy child
Is born in thee again.

And thou wilt still forbode and dread,
And loss be still thy fear,
Till form be gone, and, in its stead,
The very self appear.

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For, when thy Son hath reached his goal,
His own obedient choice,
Him thou wilt know within thy soul,
And in his joy rejoice.


Ah, there He stands! With wondering face
Old men surround the boy;
The solemn looks, the awful place,
Restrain the mother’s joy.

In sweet reproach her joy is hid;
Her trembling voice is low,
Less like the chiding than the chid:
“How couldst Thou leave us so?”

Ah, mother! will thy heart mistake,
Depressed by rising fear,
The answering words that gently break
The silence of thine ear?

“Why sought ye me? Did ye not know
My father’s work I do?”
Mother, if He that work forego,
Not long He cares for you.

“Why sought ye me?” Ah, mother dear!
The gulf already opes,
That soon will keep thee to thy fear,
And part thee from thy hopes.

A greater work He hath to do,
Than they can understand;
And therefore mourn the loving few,
With tears throughout the land.


The Lord of life beside 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,
The last red drops to pour;
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,
Before her words arise.

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“They have no wine,” the mother said,
And ceased while scarce begun;
Her eyes went on, “Lift up thy head,
Show what Thou art, my Son!”

A vision rose before his eyes,
The cross, the early tomb,
The people’s rage, the darkened skies,
His unavoided doom.

“Ah, woman-heart! what end is set
Common to thee and me?
My hour of honour is not yet,–
‘Twill come too soon for thee.”

And yet his eyes so sweetly shined,
His voice so gentle grew,
The mother knew the answer kind–
“Whate’er He sayeth, do.”

The little feast more joyous grew,
Fast flowed the grapes divine;
Though then, as now, not many knew
Who made the water wine.


“He is beside himself,” they said;
His days, so lonely spent,
Him from the well-known path have led
In which our fathers went.”

“Thy mother seeks thee.” Cried aloud,
The message finds its way;
He stands within, amidst a crowd,
She in the open day.

A flush of light o’erspreads his face,
And pours from forth his eyes;
He lifts that head, the home of grace,
Looks round Him, and replies.

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

Not so. But, brothers, sisters, hear!
What says our human Lord?
O mother, did it wound thy ear?
We thank Him for the word.

“Who are my friends?” Oh! hear Him say,
And spread it far and broad.
“My mother, sisters, brothers, they
Who keep the word of God.”

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My brother! Lord of life and me,
I am inspired with this!
Ah! brother, sister, this must be
Enough for all amiss.

Yet think not, mother, He denies,
Or would thy claim destroy;
But glad love lifts more loving eyes
To Him who made the joy.

Oh! nearer Him is nearer thee:
With his obedience bow,
And thou wilt rise with heart set free,
Yea, twice his mother now.


The best of life crowds round its close,
To light it from the door;
When woman’s art no further goes,
She weeps, and loves the more.

Howe’er she doubted, in his life,
And feared his mission’s loss,
The mother shares the awful strife,
And stands beside the cross.

Mother, the hour of tears is past;
The sword hath reached thy soul;
No veil of swoon is round thee cast,
No darkness hides the whole.

Those are the limbs which thou didst bear;
Thy arms, they were his rest;
And now those limbs the irons tear,
And hold Him from thy breast.

He speaks. With torturing joy the sounds
Drop burning on thine ear;
The mother-heart, though bleeding, bounds
Her dying Son to hear.

Ah! well He knew that not alone
The cross of pain could tell;
That griefs as bitter as his own
Around it heave and swell.

And well He knew what best repose
Would bring a true relief:
He gave, each to the other, those
Who shared a common grief.

“Mother, behold thy son. O friend,
My mother take for thine.”
“Ah, son, he loved thee to the end.”
“Mother, what honour mine!”

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Another son instead, He gave,
Her crying heart to still.
For him, He went down to the grave,
Doing his Father’s will.

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