Her eyes are homes of silent prayer,
Nor other thought her mind admits
But, he was dead, and there he sits,
And he that brought him back is there.

Then one deep love doth supersede
All other, when her ardent gaze
Roves from the living brother’s face,
And rests upon the Life indeed.

All subtle thought, all curious fears,
Borne down by gladness so complete,
She bows, she bathes the Saviour’s feet
With costly spikenard and with tears.

Thrice blest whose lives are faithful prayers,
Whose loves in higher love endure;
What souls possess themselves so pure,
Or is there blessedness like theirs?


This is a meditation on Mary, sister of Lazarus, whose delight in having her dead brother returned to life, issues in her anointed Jesus with precious oil. Her love for her brother, says Tennyson is taken up in her deeper love of Jesus. He conflates several biblical accounts here. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14 a nameless woman in Bethany pours precious oil on Jesus’ head. In Luke 7 a nameless woman pouts oil on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with hair. Mary the sister of Lazarus is not credited with either of these actions. Tennyson puts bits of them all together and attributes the action to Mary sister of Lazarus. This was a common enough mistake then as now.

Tennyson identifies her as one whose love for her brother endures in love for Jesus Christ. He asks if there is any blessedness compared with hers, and gives an answer in the next canto.

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