Alice O. Howell   


Written April 20, 1945



The Song of Magdalen



Lo, I am Magdalen

            and I was born for love.


Ah, my daughters, come into the vineyard

            and brighten the grass with your skirts

            and the air with your bracelets;

            bring back your jugs from the wells of Jerusalem

            and set them in the sand

            for my heart is ripe

            and bendeth the bough with wisdom.


Listen, my daughters, - for whosoever among you

            hath known the pain of too much love,

            even she is my daughter-

            List ye then and know that I am Magdalen,

            Mary of the Tower,

            for men came unto me like unto a tower

            that they might climb.

            And all that came in unto me

            and knew me

            looked forth from a new height

            upon the land of love,

            which is to say, the land of life.


I am a tower, firm in my foundation,

            built unto all time.

            High is my body and white the flesh thereof,

            and the light that shineth forth

            from my eyes in the darkness,

            it is love.


Listen, my daughters, for  ye are of me

            and more than I -

            there are three loves:


And the first of these is the love of a child

            which taketh unto itself,

            as a seed taketh on the earth

            for its dark riches

            that it may grow into the light


And the second of these is the love of a maid

            which leapeth forth to man as to a torment,

            even as a tree riseth into the sun and the wind,

            and beareth with the storm,

            and weepeth in the rain.

            Many are the birds of love

            that may nest among your branches

            and pick at your blossoms and your fruit.


Take hope, when the wind would possess you

            to break you,

            or the rains, to wash you away.

            Fear not, if the earth dry up and crumble

            beneath you,

            or if fire come to lick at your bark.

            Weep not, if your bird fly from you

            to nest in another tree -


For the third of these, is the love of a woman

            which is everlasting, and a giving love,

            even as that of the tree in the year

            which bringeth forth the fruit

            for the sun to loosen.

            For there is a season to love,

            and who but the Lord of Light

            can set the moment when the little stem

            shall break in the night, and the fruit

            come tumbling to earth

            bearing the new life?


Lo, my daughters, they named me Mary Magdalen

            and I was born for love.


Behold, I am a pear tree that groweth in the wood.

            Blessed, among the daughters of men,

            who can find me?


On my branches hang golden fruit.

            High hang my golden pears,

            and whosoever tasteth of them

            tasteth of life.

            Name him, who can find me in the wood?


They who come with greed

            shall spit out the fruit and call it sour.

            Sour maketh a sour taste.

            The sickness lieth within,

            but they shall curse the tree.

            They have not wiped their eyes

            and they call the sun unclean.


They who seek me shall not be turned away,

            not one shall by turned away,

            but they shall taste of themselves in my fruit.

            Bitter to the bitter, sweet to the sweet,

            fine to the fine.


I am a pear tree, much fruit is mine

            but all I have given men

            I have given Him who is my love.

            From Him did I receive even that which I gave.

            Who is my Lord?

            Name Him, to whom do I belong?


To the birds in my branches?

            To him that sleepeth within the cool shadow of me?

            To him that picketh at my fruit

            with hungry hands and lips?


Who loveth me utterly, and findeth me

            in the wood, day after day,

            and sendeth the moon with a message by night?


To whom do I open at dawn

            secretly, and with a smile?

            Who caresseth the whole and length of me?

            Who kisseth the dew off my fingers?

            Who maketh the sap to rise and flow in me

            that I may grow?

            To whom do I open my buds in the spring

            and give my honey in the summer

            and my fruit in the fall?

            Whom do I trust in the winter

            to return in the spring?


Ah, my daughters, who is He?

            Who is my Lord?

            Name Him, to whom do I belong?


Behold it is winter, and you find me stripped.

            He, whom they named the Son of Man, is gone.

            My face it is plain, my daughters,

            my fingers bear no rings,

            no birds come to nest in my arms,

            yet I do not weep.


He, whom I love utterly,

            even He, is with me now and I know Him.

            The silent winter air bringeth His love as a promise.

            For there is a season for root,

            a season for bud, a season for leaf

            and for the golden pear.


I am His and He is mine

            even as you, too, are His, my daughters.

            Lift up your faces and your arms to men, in love,

            but save ye the seed and the fruit

            and give them, O my children, to Him

            whose body is the wheat field

            and whose blood yet courseth in the grape.


I am a pear tree waiting in the wood,

            who findeth me with a finger of love?