One Thing Needful

This little-known poem is by Bram Stoker, better known as the author of Dracula.

The one thing needful

In Martha’s house the weary Master lay,
Spent with His faring through the burning day.
The busy hostess bustled through the room
On household cares intent, and at His feet
The gentle Mary took her wonted seat.
Soft came His words in music through the gloom.

Cumbered about much serving Martha wrought
Her sister listening as the Master taught
Till something fretful an appeal she made:
“Doth it not matter that on me doth fall
The burden ; Mary helpeth not at all?
Master, command her that she give me aid.”

“Ah, Martha, Martha! thou art full of care,
And many things thy needless trouble share.”
Thus with the love that chides the Master spake:

“One thing alone is needful. That good part
Hath Mary chosen from her loving heart;
And that part from her shall I never take.”

One thing alone we lack. Our souls, indeed,
Have fiercer hunger than the body’s need.
Ah, happy they that look in loving eyes.
The harsh world round them fades. The Master’s Voice
In sweetest music bids their souls rejoice
And wakes an echo there that never dies.

I listened to the novel Dracula as an audiobook not long ago, which was my first time “reading” the book. I was struck by the religious worldview of the work, which at once attributes significant power to God and leaves room for strange malevolent creatures to wreak havoc on human beings. Having taken the usual entry point to acquaint myself with Stoker’s work, it was a pleasant surprise to then happen across his retelling of a famous story from the Gospel of Luke. Apparently it was his first poem to be published. What do you think of it?

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  • John MacDonald

    I like the lines: “One thing alone we lack. Our souls, indeed,/Have fiercer hunger than the body’s need.” This reminds me of the Greek notion of δεινόν, which is sometimes rendered into philosophical German as “das Unheimische,” or “Unhomely” as we might say in English (a fundamental and tragic interpretation of the essence of being human – Unless you have something like faith to fill this void/emptiness/longing).

  • Gary

    “Recipe for Religious Studies” and “Happy Mother’s Day”:

    One thing alone we lack. Our souls, indeed,
    Have fiercer hunger than the body’s need.
    So Martha replied, as a feminist might,
    “You can order out, then,
    For your family feed. Do it yourself, while your soul is in need!”
    Ah, happy they that look in loving eyes.
    The harsh world round them fades. The Master’s Voice
    In sweetest music bids their souls rejoice
    And wakes an echo there that never dies.
    The Master’s Voice says,
    “Is it a pizza pie, or a shawarma feed? Grubhub for the Soul is OK with Me!