Poetical Works of George MacDonald, Vol. 2
Part 2 out of 9
I saw my brother by the open door,
And followed him out into the night blue-gray.
The houses stood up hard in limpid air,
The moon hung in the heavens in half decay,
And all the world to my bare feet lay bare.
Now I had suffered in my life, as they
Must suffer, and by slow years younger grow,
From whom the false fool-self must drop away,
Compact of greed and fear, which, gathered slow,
Darkens the angel-self that, evermore,
Where no vain phantom in or out shall go,
Moveless beholds the Father--stands before
The throne of revelation, waiting there,
With wings low-drooping on the sapphire-floor,
Until it find the Father's ideal fair,
And be itself at last: not one small thorn
Shall needless any pilgrim's garments tear;
And but to say I had suffered I would scorn
Save for the marvellous thing that next befell:
Sudden I grew aware I was new-born;
All pain had vanished in the absorbent swell
Of some exalting peace that was my own;
As the moon dwelt in heaven did calmness dwell
At home in me, essential. The earth's moan
Lay all behind. Had I then lost my part
In human griefs, dear part with them that groan?
"'Tis weariness!" I said; but with a start
That set it trembling and yet brake it not,
I found the peace was love. Oh, my rich heart!
For, every time I spied a glimmering spot
Of window pane, "There, in that silent room,"
Thought I, "mayhap sleeps human heart whose lot
Is therefore dear to mine!" I cared for whom
I saw not, had not seen, and might not see!
After the love crept prone its shadow-gloom,
But instant a mightier love arose in me,
As in an ocean a single wave will swell,
And heaved the shadow to the centre: we
Had called it prayer, before on sleep I fell.
It sank, and left my sea in holy calm:
I gave each man to God, and all was well.
And in my heart stirred soft a sleeping psalm.
No gentlest murmur through the city crept;
Not one lone word my brother to me had spoken;
But when beyond the city-gate we stept
I knew the hovering silence would be broken.
A low night wind came whispering: through and through
It did baptize me with the pledge and token
Of that soft spirit-wind which blows and blew
And fans the human world since evermore.
The very grass, cool to my feet, I knew
To be love also, and with the love I bore
To hold far sympathy, silent and sweet,
As having known the secret from of yore
In the eternal heart where all things meet,
Feelings and thinkings, and where still they are bred.
Sudden he stood, and with arrested feet
I also. Like a half-sunned orb, his head
Slow turned the bright side: lo, the brother-smile
That ancient human glory on me shed
Clothéd in which Jesus came forth to wile
Unto his bosom every labouring soul,
And all dividing passions to beguile
To winsome death, and then on them to roll
The blessed stone of the holy sepulchre!
"Thank God," he said, "thou also now art whole
And sound and well! For the keen pain, and stir
Uneasy, and sore grief that came to us all,
In that we knew not how the wine and myrrh
Could ever from the vinegar and gall
Be parted, are deep sunk, yea drowned in God;
And yet the past not folded in a pall,
But breathed upon, like Aaron's withered rod,
By a sweet light that brings the blossoms through,
Showing in dreariest paths that men have trod
Another's foot-prints, spotted of crimson hue,
Still on before wherever theirs did wend;
Yea, through the desert leading, of thyme and rue,
The desert souls in which young lions rend
And roar--the passionate who, to be blest,
Ravin as bears, and do not gain their end,
Because that, save in God, there is no rest."
Something my brother said to me like this,
But how unlike it also, think, I pray:
His eyes were music, and his smile a kiss;
Himself the word, his speech was but a ray
In the clear nimbus that with verity
Of absolute utterance made a home-born day
Of truth about him, lamping solemnly;
And when he paused, there came a swift repose,
Too high, too still to be called ecstasy--
A purple silence, lanced through in the close
By such keen thought that, with a sudden smiling,
It grew sheen silver, hearted with burning rose.
He was a glory full of reconciling,
Of faithfulness, of love with no self-stain,
Of tenderness, and care, and brother-wiling
Back to the bosom of a speechless gain.
I cannot tell how long we joyous talked,
For from my sense old time had vanished quite,
Space dim-remaining--for onward still we walked.
No sun arose to blot the pale, still night--
Still as the night of some great spongy stone
That turns but once an age betwixt the light
And the huge shadow from its own bulk thrown,
And long as that to me before whose face
Visions so many slid, and veils were blown
Aside from the vague vast of Isis' grace.
Innumerous thoughts yet throng that infinite hour,
And hopes which greater hopes unceasing chase,
For I was all responsive to his power.
I saw my friends weep, wept, and let them weep;
I saw the growth of each grief-nurtured flower;
I saw the gardener watching--in their sleep
Wiping their tears with the napkin he had laid
Wrapped by itself when he climbed Hades' steep;
What wonder then I saw nor was dismayed!
I saw the dull, degraded monsters nursed
In money-marshes, greedy men that preyed
Upon the helpless, ground the feeblest worst;
Yea all the human chaos, wild and waste,
Where he who will not leave what God hath cursed
Now fruitless wallows, now is stung and chased
By visions lovely and by longings dire.
"But who believeth, he shall not make haste,
Even passing through the water and the fire,
Or sad with memories of a better lot!
He, saved by hope, for all men will desire,
Knowing that God into a mustard-jot
May shut an aeon; give a world that lay
Wombed in its sun, a molten unorbed clot,
One moment from the red rim to spin away
Librating--ages to roll on weary wheel
Ere it turn homeward, almost spent its day!
Who knows love all, time nothing, he shall feel
No anxious heart, shall lift no trembling hand;
Tender as air, but clothed in triple steel,
He for his kind, in every age and land,
Hoping will live; and, to his labour bent,
The Father's will shall, doing, understand."
So spake my brother as we onward went:
His words my heart received, as corn the lea,
And answered with a harvest of content.
We came at last upon a lonesome sea.
And onward still he went, I following
Out on the water. But the water, lo,
Like a thin sheet of glass, lay vanishing!
The starry host in glorious twofold show
Looked up, looked down. The moment I saw this,
A quivering fear thorough my heart did go:
Unstayed I walked across a twin abyss,
A hollow sphere of blue; nor floor was found
Of questing eye, only the foot met the kiss
Of the cool water lightly crisping round
The edges of the footsteps! Terror froze
My fallen eyelids. But again the sound
Of my guide's voice on the still air arose:
"Hast thou forgotten that we walk by faith?
For keenest sight but multiplies the shows.
Lift up thine eyelids; take a valiant breath;
Terrified, dare the terror in God's name;
Step wider; trust the invisible. Can Death
Avail no more to hearten up thy flame?"
I trembled, but I opened wide mine eyes,
And strode on the invisible sea. The same
High moment vanished all my cowardice,
And God was with me. The well-pleased stars
Threw quivering smiles across the gulfy skies,
The white aurora flashed great scimitars
From north to zenith; and again my guide
Full turned on me his face. No prison-bars
Latticed across a soul I there descried,
No weather-stains of grief; quiet age-long
Brooded upon his forehead clear and wide;
Yet from that face a pang shot, vivid and strong,
Into my heart. For, though I saw him stand
Close to me in the void as one in a throng,
Yet on the border of some nameless land
He stood afar; a still-eyed mystery
Caught him whole worlds away. Though in my hand
His hand I held, and, gazing earnestly,
Searched in his countenance, as in a mine,
For jewels of contentment, satisfy
My heart I could not. Seeming to divine
My hidden trouble, gently he stooped and kissed
My forehead, and his arms did round me twine,
And held me to his bosom. Still I missed
That ancient earthly nearness, when we shared
One bed, like birds that of no morrow wist;
Roamed our one father's farm; or, later, fared
Along the dusty highways of the old clime.
Backward he drew, and, as if he had bared
My soul, stood reading there a little time,
While in his eyes tears gathered slow, like dew
That dims the grass at evening or at prime,
But makes the stars clear-goldener in the blue:
And on his lips a faint ethereal smile
Hovered, as hangs the mist of its own hue
Trembling about a purple flower, the while
Evening grows brown. "Brother! brother!" I cried;
But straight outbursting tears my words beguile,
And in my bosom all the utterance died.
A moment more he stood, then softly sighed.
"I know thy pain; but this sorrow is far
Beyond my help," his voice at length replied
To my beseeching tears. "Look at yon star
Up from the low east half-way, all ablaze:
Think'st thou, because no cloud between doth mar
The liquid glory that from its visage rays,
Thou therefore knowest that same world on high,
Its people and its orders and its ways?"
"What meanest thou?" I said. "Thou know'st that
Would hold, not thy dear form, but the self-thee!
Thou art not near me! For thyself I cry!"
"Not the less near that nearer I shall be.
I have a world within thou dost not know--
Would I could make thee know it! but all of me
Is thine, though thou not yet canst enter so
Into possession that betwixt us twain
The frolic homeliness of love should flow
As o'er the brim of childhood's cup again:
Away the deeper childhood first must wipe
That clouded consciousness which was our pain.
When in thy breast the godlike hath grown ripe,
And thou, Christ's little one, art ten times more
A child than when we played with drum and pipe
About our earthly father's happy door,
Then--" He ceased not; his holy utterance still
Flowing went on, like spring from hidden store
Of wasteless waters; but I wept my fill,
Nor heeded much the comfort of his speech.
At length he said: "When first I clomb the hill--
With earthly words I heavenly things would reach--
Where dwelleth now the man we used to call
Father, whose voice, oh memory dear! did teach
Us in our beds, when straight, as once a stall
Became a temple, holy grew the room,
Prone on the ground before him I did fall,
So grand he towered above me like a doom;
But now I look into the well-known face
Fearless, yea, basking blessed in the bloom
Of his eternal youthfulness and grace."
"But something separates us," yet I cried;
"Let light at least begin the dark to chase,
The dark begin to waver and divide,
And clear the path of vision. In the old time,
When clouds one heart did from the other hide,
A wind would blow between! If I would climb,
This foot must rise ere that can go up higher:
Some big A teach me of the eternal prime."
He answered me: "Hearts that to love aspire
Must learn its mighty harmony ere they can
Give out one perfect note in its great quire;
And thereto am I sent--oh, sent of one
Who makes the dumb for joy break out and sing:
He opens every door 'twixt man and man;
He to all inner chambers all will bring."
It was enough; Hope waked from dreary swound,
And Hope had ever been enough for me,
To kennel driving grim Tomorrow's hound;
From chains of school and mode she set me free,
And urged my life to living.--On we went
Across the stars that underlay the sea,
And came to a blown shore of sand and bent.
Beyond the sand a marshy moor we crossed
Silent--I, for I pondered what he meant,
And he, that sacred speech might not be lost--
And came at length upon an evil place:
Trees lay about like a half-buried host,
Each in its desolate pool; some fearful race
Of creatures was not far, for howls and cries
And gurgling hisses rose. With even pace
Walking, "Fear not," he said, "for this way lies
Our journey." On we went; and soon the ground
Slow from the waste began a gentle rise;
And tender grass in patches, then all round,
Came clouding up, with its fresh homely tinge
Of softest green cold-flushing every mound;
At length, of lowly shrubs a scattered fringe;
And last, a gloomy forest, almost blind,
For on its roof no sun-ray did impinge,
So that its very leaves did share the mind
Of a brown shadowless day. Not, all the year,
Once part its branches to let through a wind,
But all day long the unmoving trees appear
To ponder on the past, as men may do
That for the future wait without a fear,
And in the past the coming present view.
I know not if for days many or few
Pathless we thrid the wood; for never sun,
Its sylvan-traceried windows peeping through,
Mottled with brighter green the mosses dun,
Or meted with moving shadows Time the shade.
No life was there--not even a spider spun.
At length we came into a sky-roofed glade,
An open level, in a circle shut
By solemn trees that stood aside and made
Large room and lonely for a little hut
By grassy sweeps wide-margined from the wood.
'Twas built of saplings old, that had been cut
When those great trees no larger by them stood;
Thick with an ancient moss, it seemed to have grown
Thus from the old brown earth, a covert rude,
Half-house, half-grave; half-lifted up, half-prone.
To its low door my brother led me. "There
Is thy first school," he said; "there be thou shown
Thy pictured alphabet. Wake a mind of prayer,
And praying enter." "But wilt thou not come,
Brother?" I said. "No," said he. And I, "Where
Then shall I find thee? Thou wilt not leave me dumb,
And a whole world of thoughts unuttered?"
With half-sad smile and dewy eyes, and some
Conflicting motions of his kingly head,
He pointed to the open-standing door.
I entered: inward, lo, my shadow led!
I turned: his countenance shone like lightning hoar!
Then slow he turned from me, and parted slow,
Like one unwilling, whom I should see no more;
With voice nor hand said, _Farewell, I must go!_
But drew the clinging door hard to the post.
No dry leaves rustled 'neath his going; no
Footfalls came back from the departing ghost.
He was no more. I laid me down and wept;
I dared not follow him, restrained the most
By fear I should not see him if I leapt
Out after him with cries of pleading love.
Close to the wall, in hopeless loss, I crept;
There cool sleep came, God's shadow, from above.
I woke, with calmness cleansed and sanctified--
The peace that filled my heart of old, when I
Woke in my mother's lap; for since I died
The past lay bare, even to the dreaming shy
That shadowed my yet gathering unborn brain.
And, marvelling, on the floor I saw, close by
My elbow-pillowed head, as if it had lain
Beside me all the time I dreamless lay,
A little pool of sunlight, which did stain
The earthen brown with gold; marvelling, I say,
Because, across the sea and through the wood,
No sun had shone upon me all the way.
I rose, and through a chink the glade I viewed,
But all was dull as it had always been,
And sunless every tree-top round it stood,
With hardly light enough to show it green;
Yet through the broken roof, serenely glad,
By a rough hole entered that heavenly sheen.
Then I remembered in old years I had
Seen such a light--where, with dropt eyelids gloomed,
Sitting on such a floor, dark women sad
In a low barn-like house where lay entombed
Their sires and children; only there the door
Was open to the sun, which entering plumed
With shadowy palms the stones that on the floor
Stood up like lidless chests--again to find
That the soul needs no brain, but keeps her store
In hidden chambers of the eternal mind.
Thence backward ran my roused Memory
Down the ever-opening vista--back to blind
Anticipations while my soul did lie
Closed in my mother's; forward thence through bright
Spring morns of childhood, gay with hopes that fly
Bird-like across their doming blue and white,
To passionate summer noons, to saddened eves
Of autumn rain, so on to wintred night;
Thence up once more to the dewy dawn that weaves
Saffron and gold--weaves hope with still content,
And wakes the worship that even wrong bereaves
Of half its pain. And round her as she went
Hovered a sense as of an odour dear
Whose flower was far--as of a letter sent
Not yet arrived--a footstep coming near,
But, oh, how long delayed the lifting latch!--
As of a waiting sun, ready to peer
Yet peering not--as of a breathless watch
Over a sleeping beauty--babbling rime
About her lips, but no winged word to catch!
And here I lay, the child of changeful Time
Shut in the weary, changeless Evermore,
A dull, eternal, fadeless, fruitless clime!
Was this the dungeon of my sinning sore--
A gentle hell of loneliness, foredoomed
For such as I, whose love was yet the core
Of all my being? The brown shadow gloomed
Persistent, faded, warm. No ripple ran
Across the air, no roaming insect boomed.
"Alas," I cried, "I am no living man!
Better were darkness and the leave to grope
Than light that builds its own drear prison! Can
This be the folding of the wings of Hope?"
That instant--through the branches overhead
No sound of going went--a shadow fell
Isled in the unrippled pool of sunlight fed
From some far fountain hid in heavenly dell.
I looked, and in the low roofs broken place
A single snowdrop stood--a radiant bell
Of silvery shine, softly subdued by grace
Of delicate green that made the white appear
Yet whiter. Blind it bowed its head a space,
Half-timid--then, as in despite of fear,
Unfolded its three rays. If it had swung
Its pendent bell, and music golden clear--
Division just entrancing sounds among--
Had flickered down as tender as flakes of snow,
It had not shed more influence as it rung
Than from its look alone did rain and flow.
I knew the flower; perceived its human ways;
Dim saw the secret that had made it grow:
My heart supplied the music's golden phrase.
Light from the dark and snowdrops from the earth,
Life's resurrection out of gross decays,
The endless round of beauty's yearly birth,
And nations' rise and fall--were in the flower,
And read themselves in silence. Heavenly mirth
Awoke in my sad heart. For one whole hour
I praised the God of snowdrops. But at height
The bliss gave way. Next, faith began to cower;
And then the snowdrop vanished from my sight.
Last, I began in unbelief to say:
"No angel this! a snowdrop--nothing more!
A trifle which God's hands drew forth in play
From the tangled pond of chaos, dank and frore,
Threw on the bank, and left blindly to breed!
A wilful fancy would have gathered store
Of evanescence from the pretty weed,
White, shapely--then divine! Conclusion lame
O'erdriven into the shelter of a creed!
Not out of God, but nothingness it came:
Colourless, feeble, flying from life's heat,
It has no honour, hardly shunning shame!"
When, see, another shadow at my feet!
Hopeless I lifted now my weary head:
Why mock me with another heavenly cheat?--
A primrose fair, from its rough-blanketed bed
Laughed, lo, my unbelief to heavenly scorn!
A sun-child, just awake, no prayer yet said,
Half rising from the couch where it was born,
And smiling to the world! I breathed again;
Out of the midnight once more dawned the morn,
And fled the phantom Doubt with all his train.
I was a child once more, nor pondered life,
Thought not of what or how much. All my soul
With sudden births of lovely things grew rife.
In peeps a daisy: on the instant roll
Rich lawny fields, with red tips crowding the green,
Across the hollows, over ridge and knoll,
To where the rosy sun goes down serene.
From out of heaven in looks a pimpernel:
I walk in morning scents of thyme and bean;
Dewdrops on every stalk and bud and bell
Flash, like a jewel-orchard, many roods;
Glow ruby suns, which emerald suns would quell;
Topaz saint-glories, sapphire beatitudes
Blaze in the slanting sunshine all around;
Above, the high-priest-lark, o'er fields and woods--
Rich-hearted with his five eggs on the ground--
The sacrifice bore through the veil of light,
Odour and colour offering up in sound.--
Filled heart-full thus with forms of lowly might
And shapeful silences of lovely lore,
I sat a child, happy with only sight,
And for a time I needed nothing more.
Supine to the revelation I did lie,
Passive as prophet to his dreaming deep,
Or harp Aeolian to the breathing sky,
And blest as any child whom twilight sleep
Holds half, and half lets go. But the new day
Of higher need up-dawned with sudden leap:
"Ah, flowers," I said, "ye are divinely gay,
But your fair music is too far and fine!
Ye are full cups, yet reach not to allay
The drought of those for human love who pine
As the hart for water-brooks!" At once a face
Was looking in my face; its eyes through mine
Were feeding me with tenderness and grace,
And by their love I knew my mother's eyes.
Gazing in them, there grew in me apace
A longing grief, and love did swell and rise
Till weeping I brake out and did bemoan
My blameful share in bygone tears and cries:
"O mother, wilt thou plead for me?" I groan;
"I say not, plead with Christ, but plead with those
Who, gathered now in peace about his throne,
Were near me when my heart was full of throes,
And longings vain alter a flying bliss,
Which oft the fountain by the threshold froze:
They must forgive me, mother! Tell them this:
No more shall swell the love-dividing sigh;
Down at their feet I lay my selfishness."
The face grew passionate at this my cry;
The gathering tears up to its eyebrims rose;
It grew a trembling mist, that did not fly
But slow dissolved. I wept as one of those
Who wake outside the garden of their dream,
And, lo, the droop-winged hours laborious close
Its opal gates with stone and stake and beam.
But glory went that glory more might come.
Behold a countless multitude--no less!
A host of faces, me besieging, dumb
In the lone castle of my mournfulness!
Had then my mother given the word I sent,
Gathering my dear ones from the shining press?
And had these others their love-aidance lent
For full assurance of the pardon prayed?
Would they concentre love, with sweet intent,
On my self-love, to blast the evil shade?
Ah, perfect vision! pledge of endless hope!
Oh army of the holy spirit, arrayed
In comfort's panoply! For words I grope--
For clouds to catch your radiant dawn, my own,
And tell your coming! From the highest cope
Of blue, down to my roof-breach came a cone
Of faces and their eyes on love's will borne,
Bright heads down-bending like the forward blown,
Heavy with ripeness, golden ears of corn,
By gentle wind on crowded harvest-field,
All gazing toward my prison-hut forlorn
As if with power of eyes they would have healed
My troubled heart, making it like their own
In which the bitter fountain had been sealed,
And the life-giving water flowed alone!
With what I thus beheld, glorified then,
"God, let me love my fill and pass!" I sighed,
And dead, for love had almost died again.
"O fathers, brothers, I am yours!" I cried;
"O mothers, sisters. I am nothing now
Save as I am yours, and in you sanctified!
O men, O women, of the peaceful brow,
And infinite abysses in the eyes
Whence God's ineffable gazes on me, how
Care ye for me, impassioned and unwise?
Oh ever draw my heart out after you!
Ever, O grandeur, thus before me rise
And I need nothing, not even for love will sue!
I am no more, and love is all in all!
Henceforth there is, there can be nothing new--
All things are always new!" Then, like the fall
Of a steep avalanche, my joy fell steep:
Up in my spirit rose as it were the call
Of an old sorrow from an ancient deep;
For, with my eyes fixed on the eyes of him
Whom I had loved before I learned to creep--
God's vicar in his twilight nursery dim
To gather us to the higher father's knee--
I saw a something fill their azure rim
That caught him worlds and years away from me;
And like a javelin once more through me passed
The pang that pierced me walking on the sea:
"O saints," I cried, "must loss be still the last?"
When I said this, the cloud of witnesses
Turned their heads sideways, and the cloud grew dim
I saw their faces half, but now their bliss
Gleamed low, like the old moon in the new moon's rim.
Then as I gazed, a better kind of light
On every outline 'gan to glimmer and swim,
Faint as the young moon threadlike on the night,
Just born of sunbeams trembling on her edge:
'Twas a great cluster of profiles in sharp white.
Had some far dawn begun to drive a wedge
Into the night, and cleave the clinging dark?
I saw no moon or star, token or pledge
Of light, save that manifold silvery mark,
The shining title of each spirit-book.
Whence came that light? Sudden, as if a spark
Of vital touch had found some hidden nook
Where germs of potent harmonies lay prest,
And their outbursting life old Aether shook,
Rose, as in prayer to lingering promised guest,
From that great cone of faces such a song,
Instinct with hope's harmonical unrest,
That with sore weeping, and the cry "How long?"
I bore my part because I could not sing.
And as they sang, the light more clear and strong
Bordered their faces, till the glory-sting
I could almost no more encounter and bear;
Light from their eyes, like water from a spring,
Flowed; on their foreheads reigned their flashing hair;
I saw the light from eyes I could not see.
"He comes! he comes!" they sang, "comes to our prayer!"
"Oh my poor heart, if only it were _He!_"
I cried. Thereat the faces moved! those eyes
Were turning on me! In rushed ecstasy,
And woke me to the light of lower skies.
"What matter," said I, "whether clank of chain
Or over-bliss wakes up to bitterness!"
Stung with its loss, I called the vision vain.
Yet feeling life grown larger, suffering less,
Sleep's ashes from my eyelids I did brush.
The room was veiled, that morning should not press
Upon the slumber which had stayed the rush
Of ebbing life; I looked into the gloom:
Upon her brow the dawn's first grayest flush,
And on her cheek pale hope's reviving bloom,
Sat, patient watcher, darkling and alone,
She who had lifted me from many a tomb!
One then was left me of Love's radiant cone!
Its light on her dear face, though faint and wan,
Was shining yet--a dawn upon it thrown
From the far coming of the Son of Man!
In every forehead now I see a sky
Catching the dawn; I hear the wintriest breeze
About me blow the news the Lord is nigh.
Long is the night, dark are the polar seas,
Yet slanting suns ascend the northern hill.
Round Spring's own steps the oozy waters freeze
But hold them not. Dreamers are sleeping still,
But labourers, light-stung, from their slumber start:
Faith sees the ripening ears with harvest fill
When but green blades the clinging earth-clods part.
Lord, I have spoken a poor parable,
In which I would have said thy name alone
Is the one secret lying in Truth's well,
Thy voice the hidden charm in every tone,
Thy face the heart of every flower on earth,
Its vision the one hope; for every moan
Thy love the cure! O sharer of the birth
Of little children seated on thy knee!
O human God! I laugh with sacred mirth
To think how all the laden shall go free;
For, though the vision tarry, in healing ruth
One morn the eyes that shone in Galilee
Will dawn upon them, full of grace and truth,
And thy own love--the vivifying core
Of every love in heart of age or youth,
Of every hope that sank 'neath burden sore!
A Part Of The Story Omitted In The Old Romances.
_How sir Galahad despaired of finding the Grail._
Through the wood the sunny day
Glimmered sweetly glad;
Through the wood his weary way
Rode sir Galahad.
All about stood open porch,
Long-drawn cloister dim;
'Twas a wavering wandering church
Every side of him.
On through columns arching high,
Rode in thirst that made him sigh,
Came the moon, and through the trees
Glimmered faintly sad;
Withered, worn, and ill at ease
Down lay Galahad;
Closed his eyes and took no heed
What might come or pass;
Heard his hunger-busy steed
Cropping dewy grass.
Cool and juicy was the blade,
Good to him as wine:
For his labour he was paid,
Galahad must pine!
Late had he at Arthur's board,
Arthur strong and wise,
Pledged the cup with friendly lord,
Looked in ladies' eyes;
Now, alas! he wandered wide,
Resting never more,
Over lake and mountain-side,
Over sea and shore!
Swift in vision rose and fled
All he might have had;
Weary tossed his restless head,
And his heart grew sad.
With the lowliest in the land
He a maiden fair
Might have led with virgin hand
From the altar-stair:
Youth away with strength would glide,
Age bring frost and woe;
Through the world so dreary wide
Mateless he must go!
Lost was life and all its good,
Gone without avail!
All his labour never would
Find the Holy Grail!
_How sir Galahad found and lost the Grail._
Galahad was in the night,
And the wood was drear;
But to men in darksome plight
Radiant things appear:
Wings he heard not floating by,
Heard no heavenly hail;
But he started with a cry,
For he saw the Grail.
Hid from bright beholding sun,
Hid from moonlight wan,
Lo, from age-long darkness won,
It was seen of man!
Three feet off, on cushioned moss,
As if cast away,
Homely wood with carven cross,
Rough and rude it lay!
To his knees the knight rose up,
Loosed his gauntlet-band;
Fearing, daring, toward the cup
Went his naked hand;
When, as if it fled from harm,
Sank the holy thing,
And his eager following arm
Plunged into a spring.
Oh the thirst, the water sweet!
Down he lay and quaffed,
Quaffed and rose up on his feet,
Rose and gayly laughed;
Fell upon his knees to thank,
Loved and lauded there;
Stretched him on the mossy bank,
Fell asleep in prayer;
Dreamed, and dreaming murmured low
Ave, pater, creed;
When the fir-tops gan to glow
Waked and called his steed;
Bitted him and drew his girth,
Watered from his helm:
Happier knight or better worth
Was not in the realm!
Belted on him then his sword,
Braced his slackened mail;
Doubting said: "I dreamed the Lord
Offered me the Grail."
_How sir Galahad gave up the Quest for the Grail._
Ere the sun had cast his light
On the water's face,
Firm in saddle rode the knight
From the holy place,
Merry songs began to sing,
Let his matins bide;
Rode a good hour pondering,
And was turned aside,
Saying, "I will henceforth then
Yield this hopeless quest;
Tis a dream of holy men
This ideal Best!"
"Every good for miracle
Heart devout may hold;
Grail indeed was that fair well
Full of water cold!
"Not my thirst alone it stilled
But my soul it stayed;
And my heart, with gladness filled,
Wept and laughed and prayed!
"Spectral church with cryptic niche
I will seek no more;
That the holiest Grail is, which
Helps the need most sore!"
And he spake with speech more true
Than his thought indeed,
For not yet the good knight knew
His own sorest need.
_How sir Galahad sought yet again for the Grail._
On he rode, to succour bound,
But his faith grew dim;
Wells for thirst he many found,
Water none for him.
Never more from drinking deep
Rose he up and laughed;
Never more did prayerful sleep
Follow on the draught.
Good the water which they bore,
Plenteously it flowed,
Quenched his thirst, but, ah, no more
Eased his bosom's load!
For the _Best_ no more he sighed;
Rode as in a trance;
Life grew poor, undignified,
And he spake of chance.
Then he dreamed through Jesus' hand
That he drove a nail--
Woke and cried, "Through every land,
Lord, I seek thy Grail!"
_That sir Galahad found the Grail._
Up the quest again he took,
Rode through wood and wave;
Sought in many a mossy nook,
Many a hermit-cave;
Sought until the evening red
Sunk in shadow deep;
Sought until the moonlight fled;
Slept, and sought in sleep.
Where he wandered, seeking, sad,
Story doth not say,
But at length sir Galahad
Found it on a day;
Took the Grail with holy hand,
Had the cup of joy;
Carried it about the land,
Gleesome as a boy;
Laid his sword where he had found
Boot for every bale,
Stuck his spear into the ground,
Kept alone the Grail.
_How sir Galahad carried about the Grail._
Horse and crested helmet gone,
Greaves and shield and mail,
Caroling loud the knight walked on,
For he had the Grail;
Caroling loud walked south and north,
East and west, for years;
Where he went, the smiles came forth,
Where he left, the tears.
Glave nor dagger mourned he,
Axe nor iron flail:
Evil might not brook to see
Once the Holy Grail.
Wilds he wandered with his staff,
Woods no longer sad;
Earth and sky and sea did laugh
Round sir Galahad.
Bitter mere nor trodden pool
Did in service fail,
Water all grew sweet and cool
In the Holy Grail.
Without where to lay his head,
Chanting loud he went;
Found each cave a palace-bed,
Every rock a tent.
Age that had begun to quail
In the gathering gloom,
Counselled he to seek the Grail
And forget the tomb.
Youth with hope or passion pale,
Youth with eager eyes,
Taught he that the Holy Grail
Was the only prize.
Maiden worn with hidden ail,
Restless and unsure,
Taught he that the Holy Grail
Was the only cure.
Children rosy in the sun
Ran to hear his tale
How twelve little ones had won
Each of them the Grail.
_How sir Galahad hid the Grail._
Very still was earth and sky
When he passing lay;
Oft he said he should not die,
Would but go away.
When he passed, they reverent sought,
Where his hand lay prest,
For the cup he bare, they thought,
Hidden in his breast.
Hope and haste and eager thrill
Turned to sorrowing wail:
Hid he held it deeper still,
Took with him the Grail.
_THE FAILING TRACK_.
Where went the feet that hitherto have come?
Here yawns no gulf to quench the flowing past!
With lengthening pauses broke, the path grows dumb;
The grass floats in; the gazer stands aghast.
Tremble not, maiden, though the footprints die;
By no air-path ascend the lark's clear notes;
The mighty-throated when he mounts the sky
Over some lowly landmark sings and floats.
Be of good cheer. Paths vanish from the wave;
There all the ships tear each its track of gray;
Undaunted they the wandering desert brave:
In each a magic finger points the way.
No finger finely touched, no eye of lark
Hast thou to guide thy steps where footprints fail?
Ah, then, 'twere well to turn before the dark,
Nor dream to find thy dreams in yonder vale!
The backward way one hour is plain to thee,
Hard hap were hers who saw no trace behind!
Back to confession at thy mother's knee,
Back to the question and the childlike mind!
Then start afresh, but toward unending end,
The goal o'er which hangs thy own star all night;
So shalt thou need no footprints to befriend,
Child-heart and shining star will guide thee right.
"Traveller, what lies over the hill?
Traveller, tell to me:
Tip-toe-high on the window-sill
Over I cannot see."
"My child, a valley green lies there,
Lovely with trees, and shy;
And a tiny brook that says, 'Take care,
Or I'll drown you by and by!'"
"And what comes next?"--"A little town,
And a towering hill again;
More hills and valleys up and down,
And a river now and then."
"And what comes next?"--"A lonely moor
Without one beaten way,
And slow clouds drifting dull before
A wind that will not stay."
"And then?"--"Dark rocks and yellow sand,
Blue sea and a moaning tide."
"And then?"--"More sea, and then more land,
With rivers deep and wide."
"And then?"--"Oh, rock and mountain and vale,
Ocean and shores and men,
Over and over, a weary tale,
And round to your home again!"
"And is that all? From day to day,
Like one with a long chain bound,
Should I walk and walk and not get away,
But go always round and round?"
"No, no; I have not told you the best,
I have not told you the end:
If you want to escape, away in the west
You will see a stair ascend,
"Built of all colours of lovely stones,
A stair up into the sky
Where no one is weary, and no one moans,
Or wishes to be laid by."
"Is it far away?"--"I do not know:
You must fix your eyes thereon,
And travel, travel through thunder and snow,
Till the weary way is gone.
"All day, though you never see it shine,
You must travel nor turn aside,
All night you must keep as straight a line
Through moonbeams or darkness wide."
"When I am older!"--"Nay, not so!"
"I have hardly opened my eyes!"
"He who to the old sunset would go,
Starts best with the young sunrise."
"Is the stair right up? is it very steep?"
"Too steep for you to climb;
You must lie at the foot of the glorious heap
And patient wait your time."
"How long?"--"Nay, that I cannot tell."
"In wind, and rain, and frost?"
"It may be so; and it is well
That you should count the cost.
"Pilgrims from near and from distant lands
Will step on you lying there;
But a wayfaring man with wounded hands
Will carry you up the stair."
Brother artist, help me; come!
Artists are a maimed band:
I have words but not a hand;
Thou hast hands though thou art dumb.
Had I thine, when words did fail--
Vassal-words their hasting chief,
On the white awaiting leaf
Shapes of power should tell the tale.
Had I hers of music-might,
I would shake the air with storm
Till the red clouds trailed enorm
Boreal dances through the night.
Had I his whose foresight rare
Piles the stones with lordliest art,
From the quarry of my heart
Love should climb a heavenly stair!
Had I his whose wooing slow
Wins the marble's hidden child,
Out in passion undefiled
Stood my Psyche, white as snow!
Maimed, a little help I pray;
Words suffice not for my end;
Let thy hand obey thy friend,
Say for me what I would say.
Draw me, on an arid plain
With hoar-headed mountains nigh,
Under a clear morning sky
Telling of a night of rain,
Huge and half-shaped, like a block
Chosen for sarcophagus
By a Pharaoh glorious,
One rude solitary rock.
Cleave it down along the ridge
With a fissure yawning deep
To the heart of the hard heap,
Like the rent of riving wedge.
Through the cleft let hands appear,
Upward pointed with pressed palms
As if raised in silent psalms
For salvation come anear.
Turn thee now--'tis almost done!--
To the near horizon's verge:
Make the smallest arc emerge
Of the forehead of the sun.
One thing more--I ask too much!--
From a brow which hope makes brave
Sweep the shadow of the grave
With a single golden touch.
Thanks, dear painter; that is all.
If thy picture one day should
Need some words to make it good,
I am ready to thy call.
_AFTER AN OLD LEGEND._
The monk was praying in his cell,
With bowed head praying sore;
He had been praying on his knees
For two long hours and more.
As of themselves, all suddenly,
His eyelids opened wide;
Before him on the ground he saw
A man's feet close beside;
And almost to the feet came down
A garment wove throughout;
Such garment he had never seen
In countries round about!
His eyes he lifted tremblingly
Until a hand they spied:
A chisel-scar on it he saw,
And a deep, torn scar beside.
His eyes they leaped up to the face,
His heart gave one wild bound,
Then stood as if its work were done--
The Master he had found!
With sudden clang the convent bell
Told him the poor did wait
His hand to give the daily bread
Doled at the convent-gate.
Then Love rose in him passionate,
And with Duty wrestled strong;
And the bell kept calling all the time
With merciless iron tongue.
The Master stood and looked at him
He rose up with a sigh:
"He will be gone when I come back
I go to him by and by!"
He chid his heart, he fed the poor
All at the convent-gate;
Then with slow-dragging feet went back
To his cell so desolate:
His heart bereaved by duty done,
He had sore need of prayer!
Oh, sad he lifted the latch!--and, lo,
The Master standing there!
He said, "My poor had not to stand
Wearily at thy gate:
For him who feeds the shepherd's sheep
The shepherd will stand and wait."
_Yet, Lord--for thou would'st have us judge,
And I will humbly dare--
If he had staid, I do not think
Thou wouldst have left him there.
Thy voice in far-off time I hear,
With sweet defending, say:
"The poor ye always have with you,
Me ye have not alway!"
Thou wouldst have said: "Go feed my poor,
The deed thou shalt not rue;
Wherever ye do my father's will
I always am with you."_
_A MEDITATION OF ST. ELIGIUS_.
_Queen Mary one day Jesus sent
To fetch some water, legends tell;
The little boy, obedient,
Drew a full pitcher from the well;
But as he raised it to his head,
The water lipping with the rim,
The handle broke, and all was shed
Upon the stones about the brim.
His cloak upon the ground he laid
And in it gathered up the pool; [Proverbs xxx. 4.]
Obedient there the water staid,
And home he bore it plentiful._
Eligius said, "Tis fabled ill:
The hands that all the world control,
Had here been room for miracle,
Had made his mother's pitcher whole!
"Still, some few drops for thirsty need
A poor invention even, when told
In love of thee the Truth indeed,
Like broken pitcher yet may hold:
"Thy truth, alas, Lord, once I spilt:
I thought to bear the pitcher high;
Upon the shining stones of guilt
I slipped, and there the potsherds lie!
_"Master,_ I cried, _no man will drink,
No human thirst will e'er be stilled
Through me, who sit upon the brink,
My pitcher broke, thy water spilled!
"What will they do I waiting left?
They looked to me to bring thy law!
The well is deep, and, sin-bereft,
I nothing have wherewith to draw!"_
"But as I sat in evil plight,
With dry parched heart and sickened brain,
Uprose in me the water bright,
Thou gavest me thyself again!"
_THE EARLY BIRD._
A little bird sat on the edge of her nest;
Her yellow-beaks slept as sound as tops;
Day-long she had worked almost without rest,
And had filled every one of their gibbous crops;
Her own she had filled just over-full,
And she felt like a dead bird stuffed with wool.
"Oh dear!" she sighed, as she sat with her head
Sunk in her chest, and no neck at all,
Looking like an apple on a feather-bed
Poked and rounded and fluffed to a ball,
"What's to be done if things don't reform?
I cannot tell where there is one more worm!
"I've had fifteen to-day, and the children five each,
Besides a few flies, and some very fat spiders:
Who will dare say I don't do as I preach?
I set an example to all providers!
But what's the use? We want a storm:
I don't know where there's a single worm!"
"There's five in my crop," chirped a wee, wee bird
Who woke at the voice of his mother's pain;
"I know where there's five!" And with the word
He tucked in his head and went off again.
"The folly of childhood," sighed his mother,
"Has always been my especial bother!"
Careless the yellow-beaks slept on,
They never had heard of the bogy, Tomorrow;
The mother sat outside making her moan--
"I shall soon have to beg, or steal, or borrow!
I have always to say, the night before,
Where shall I find one red worm more!"
Her case was this, she had gobbled too many,
And sleepless, had an attack she called foresight:
A barn of crumbs, if she knew but of any!
Could she but get of the great worm-store sight!
The eastern sky was growing red
Ere she laid her wise beak in its feather-bed.
Just then, the fellow who knew of five,
Nor troubled his sleep with anxious tricks,
Woke, and stirred, and felt alive:
"To-day," he said, "I am up to six!
But my mother feels in her lot the crook--
What if I tried my own little hook!"
When his mother awoke, she winked her eyes
As if she had dreamed that she was a mole:
Could she believe them? "What a huge prize
That child is dragging out of its hole!"
The fledgeling indeed had just caught his third!
_And here is a fable to catch the bird!_
_SIR LARK AND KING SUN._
"Good morrow, my lord!" in the sky alone
Sang the lark as the sun ascended his throne.
"Shine on me, my lord: I only am come,
Of all your servants, to welcome you home!
I have shot straight up, a whole hour, I swear,
To catch the first gleam of your golden hair."
"Must I thank you then," said the king, "sir Lark,
For flying so high and hating the dark?
You ask a full cup for half a thirst:
Half was love of me, half love to be first.
Some of my subjects serve better my taste:
Their watching and waiting means more than your haste."
King Sun wrapt his head in a turban of cloud;
Sir Lark stopped singing, quite vexed and cowed;
But higher he flew, for he thought, "Anon
The wrath of the king will be over and gone;
And, scattering his head-gear manifold,
He will change my brown feathers to a glory of gold!"
He flew, with the strength of a lark he flew,
But as he rose the cloud rose too;
And not one gleam of the flashing hair
Brought signal of favour across the air;
And his wings felt withered and worn and old,
For their feathers had had no chrism of gold.
Outwearied at length, and throbbing sore,
The strong sun-seeker could do no more;
He faltered and sank, then dropped like a stone
Beside his nest, where, patient, alone,
Sat his little wife on her little eggs,
Keeping them warm with wings and legs.
Did I say alone? Ah, no such thing!
There was the cloudless, the ray-crowned king!
"Welcome, sir Lark!--You look tired!" said he;
"_Up_ is not always the best way to me:
While you have been racing my turban gray,
I have been shining where you would not stay!"
He had set a coronet round the nest;
Its radiance foamed on the wife's little breast;
And so glorious was she in russet gold
That sir Lark for wonder and awe grew cold;
He popped his head under her wing, and lay
As still as a stone till king Sun went away.
_THE OWL AND THE BELL._
_Bing, Bim, Bang, Bome!_
Sang the Bell to himself in his house at home,
High in the church-tower, lone and unseen,
In a twilight of ivy, cool and green;
With his _Bing, Bing, Bim, Bing, Bang, Bome!_
Singing bass to himself in his house at home.
Said the Owl, on a shadowy ledge below,
Like a glimmering ball of forgotten snow,
"Pest on that fellow sitting up there,
Always calling the people to prayer!
He shatters my nerves with his _Bing, Bang, Bome!_---
Far too big in his house at home!
"I think I will move.--But it suits me well,
And one may get used to it, who can tell!"
So he slept again with all his might,
Then woke and snooved out in the hush of night
When the Bell was asleep in his house at home,
Dreaming over his _Bing, Bang, Bome!_
For the Owl was born so poor and genteel
What could he do but pick and steal?
He scorned to work for honest bread--
"Better have never been hatched!" he said.
So his day was the night, for he dared not roam
Till sleep had silenced the _Bing, Bang, Bome!_
When five greedy Owlets chipped the egg
He wanted two beaks and another leg,
And they ate the more that they did not sleep well:
"It's their gizzards," said Owless; said Owl, "It's that Bell!"
For they quivered like leaves of a wind-blown tome
When the Bell bellowed out his _Bing, Bang, Bome!_
But the Bell began to throb with the fear
Of bringing his house about his one ear;
And his people came round it, quite a throng,
To buttress the walls and make them strong:
A full month he sat, and felt like a mome
Not daring to shout his _Bing, Bang, Bome!_
Said the Owl to himself, and hissed as he said,
"I trust in my heart the old fool is dead!
No more will he scare church-mice with his bounce,
And make them so thin they're scarce worth a pounce!
Once I will see him ere he's laid in the loam,
And shout in his ear _Bing, Bim, Bang, Bome!_"
"Hoo! hoo!" he cried, as he entered the steeple,
"They've hanged him at last, the righteous people!
His swollen tongue lolls out of his head!
Hoo! hoo! at last the old brute is dead!
There let him hang, the shapeless gnome,
Choked with a throatful of _Bing, Bang, Bome!_"
He fluttered about him, singing _Too-whoo!_
He flapped the poor Bell, and said, "Is that you?
You that never would matters mince,
Banging poor owls and making them wince?
A fig for you now, in your great hall-dome!
_Too-whit_ is better than _Bing, Bang, Bome!_"
Still braver he grew, the downy, the dapper;
He flew in and perched on the knob of the clapper,
And shouted _Too-whoo!_ An echo awoke
Like a far-off ghostly _Bing-Bang_ stroke:
"Just so!" he cried; "I am quite at home!
I will take his place with my _Bing, Bang, Bome!_"
He hissed with the scorn of his grand self-wonder,
And thought the Bell's tremble his own great thunder:
He sat the Jove of creation's fowl.--
_Bang!_ went the Bell--through the rope-hole the owl,
A fluffy avalanche, light as foam,
Loosed by the boom of the _Bing, Bang, Bome!_
He sat where he fell, as if he had meant it,
Ready for any remark anent it.
Said the eldest Owlet, "Pa, you were wrong;
He's at it again with his vulgar song!"
"Child," said the Owl, "of the mark you are wide:
I brought him to life by perching inside."
"Why did you, my dear?" said his startled wife;
"He has always been the plague of your life!"
"I have given him a lesson of good for evil:
Perhaps the old ruffian will now be civil!"
The Owl sat righteous, he raised his comb.
The Bell bawled on, _Bing, Bim, Bang, Bome!_
The croak of a raven hoar!
A dog's howl, kennel-tied!
Loud shuts the carriage-door:
The two are away on their ghastly ride
To Death's salt shore!
Where are the love and the grace?
The bridegroom is thirsty and cold!
The bride's skull sharpens her face!
But the coachman is driving, jubilant, bold,
The devil's pace.
The horses shivered and shook
Waiting gaunt and haggard
With sorry and evil look;
But swift as a drunken wind they staggered
'Longst Lethe brook.
Long since, they ran no more;
Heavily pulling they died
On the sand of the hopeless shore
Where never swelled or sank a tide,
And the salt burns sore.
Flat their skeletons lie,
White shadows on shining sand;
The crusted reins go high
To the crumbling coachman's bony hand
On his knees awry.
Side by side, jarring no more,
Day and night side by side,
Each by a doorless door,
Motionless sit the bridegroom and bride
On the Dead-Sea-shore.
_A SONG IN THE NIGHT._
A brown bird sang on a blossomy tree,
Sang in the moonshine, merrily,
Three little songs, one, two, and three,
A song for his wife, for himself, and me.
He sang for his wife, sang low, sang high,
Filling the moonlight that filled the sky;
"Thee, thee, I love thee, heart alive!
Thee, thee, thee, and thy round eggs five!"
He sang to himself, "What shall I do
With this life that thrills me through and through!
Glad is so glad that it turns to ache!
Out with it, song, or my heart will break!"
He sang to me, "Man, do not fear
Though the moon goes down and the dark is near;
Listen my song and rest thine eyes;
Let the moon go down that the sun may rise!"
I folded me up in the heart of his tune,
And fell asleep with the sinking moon;
I woke with the day's first golden gleam,
And, lo, I had dreamed a precious dream!
Love, the baby,
Crept abroad to pluck a flower:
One said, Yes, sir; one said, Maybe;
One said, Wait the hour.
Love, the boy,
Joined the youngsters at their play:
But they gave him little joy,
And he went away.
Love, the youth,
Roamed the country, quiver-laden;
From him fled away in sooth
Many a man and maiden!
Love, the man,
Sought a service all about;
But they called him feeble, one
They could do without.
Love, the aged,
Walking, bowed, the shadeless miles,
Read a volume many-paged,
Full of tears and smiles.
Love, the weary,
Tottered down the shelving road:
At its foot, lo, Night, the starry,
Meeting him from God!
"Love, the holy,"
Sang a music in her dome,
Sang it softly, sang it slowly,
"Love is coming home!"
THE LARK AND THE WIND.
In the air why such a ringing?
On the earth why such a droning?
In the air the lark is singing;
On the earth the wind is moaning.
"I am blest, in sunlight swinging!"
"Sad am I: the world lies groaning!"
In the sky the lark kept singing;
On the earth the wind kept moaning.
A DEAD HOUSE.
When the clock hath ceased to tick
Soul-like in the gloomy hall;
When the latch no more doth click
Tongue-like in the red peach-wall;
When no more come sounds of play,
Mice nor children romping roam,
Then looks down the eye of day
On a dead house, not a home!
But when, like an old sun's ghost,
Haunts her vault the spectral moon;
When earth's margins all are lost,
Melting shapes nigh merged in swoon,
Then a sound--hark! there again!--
No, 'tis not a nibbling mouse!
'Tis a ghost, unseen of men,
Walking through the bare-floored house!
And with lightning on the stair
To that silent upper room,
With the thunder-shaken air
Sudden gleaming into gloom,
With a frost-wind whistling round,
From the raging northern coasts,
Then, mid sieging light and sound,
All the house is live with ghosts!
Brother, is thy soul a cell
Empty save of glittering motes,
Where no live loves live and dwell,
Only notions, things, and thoughts?
Then thou wilt, when comes a Breath
Tempest-shaking ridge and post,
Find thyself alone with Death
In a house where walks no ghost.
'BELL UPON ORGAN.
It's all very well,
Said the Bell,
To be the big Organ below!
But the folk come and go,
Said the Bell,
And you never can tell
What sort of person the Organ will blow!
And, besides, it is much at the mercy of the weather
For 'tis all made in pieces and glued together!
But up in my cell
Next door to the sky,
Said the Bell,
And with glorious go
I swing to and fro;
I swing swift or slow,
I swing as I please,
With summons or knell;
I swing at my ease,
Said the Bell:
Not the tallest of men
Can reach up to touch me,
To smirch me or smutch me,
Or make me do what
I would not be at!
The weather can't cause me to shrink or increase:
I chose to be made in one perfect piece!
MASTER AND BOY.
"WHO is this little one lying,"
Said Time, "at my garden-gate,
Moaning and sobbing and crying,
Out in the cold so late?"
"They lurked until we came near,
Master and I," the child said,
"Then caught me, with 'Welcome, New-year!
Happy Year! Golden-head!'
"See Christmas-day, my Master,
On the meadow a mile away!
Father Time, make me run faster!
I'm the Shadow of Christmas-day!"
"Run, my child; still he's in sight!
Only look well to his track;
Little Shadow, run like the light,
He misses you at his back!"
Old Time sat down in the sun
On a grave-stone--his legs were numb:
"When the boy to his master has run,"
He said, "Heaven's New Year is come!"
_THE CLOCK OF THE UNIVERSE_.
A clock aeonian, steady and tall,
With its back to creation's flaming wall,
Stands at the foot of a dim, wide stair.
Swing, swang, its pendulum goes,
Its tick and its tack like the sledge-hammer blows
Of Tubal Cain, the mighty man!
But they strike on the anvil of never an ear,
On the heart of man and woman they fall,
With an echo of blessing, an echo of ban;
For each tick is a hope, each tack is a fear,
Each tick is a _Where_, each tack a _Not here_,
Each tick is a kiss, each tack is a blow,
Each tick says _Why_, each tack _I don't know_.
Swing, swang, the pendulum!
Tick and tack, and _go_ and _come_,
With a haunting, far-off, dreamy hum,
With a tick, tack, loud and dumb,
Swings the pendulum.
Two hands, together joined in prayer,
With a roll and a volley of spheric thunder;
Two hands, in hope spread half asunder,
An empty gulf of longing embrace;
Two hands, wide apart as they can fare
In a fear still coasting not touching Despair,
But turning again, ever round to prayer:
Two hands, human hands, pass with awful motion
From isle to isle of the sapphire ocean.
The silent, surfaceless ocean-face
Is filled with a brooding, hearkening grace;
The stars dream in, and sink fainting out,
And the sun and the moon go walking about,
Walking about in it, solemn and slow,
Solemn and slow, at a thinking pace,
Walking about in it to and fro,
Walking, walking about.
With open beak and half-open wing
Ever with eagerness quivering,
On the peak of the clock
Stands a cock:
Tip-toe stands the cock to crow--
Golden cock with silver call
Clear as trumpet tearing the sky!
No one yet has heard him cry,
Nor ever will till the hour supreme
When Self on itself shall turn with a scream,
What time the hands are joined on high
In a hoping, despairing, speechless sigh,
The perfect groan-prayer of the universe
When the darkness clings and will not disperse
Though the time is come, told ages ago,
For the great white rose of the world to blow:
--Tick, tack, to the waiting cock,
Tick, tack, goes the aeon-clock!
A polar bear, golden and gray,
Crawls and crawls around the top.
Black and black as an Ethiop
The great sea-serpent lies coiled beneath,
Living, living, but does not breathe.
For the crawling bear is so far away
That he cannot hear, by night or day,
The bourdon big of his deep bear-bass
Roaring atop of the silent face,
Else would he move, and none knows then
What would befall the sons of men!
Eat up old Time, O raging Bear;
Take Bald-head, and the children spare!
Lie still, O Serpent, nor let one breath
Stir thy pool and stay Time's death!
Steady, Hands! for the noon is nigh:
See the silvery ghost of the Dawning shy
Low on the floor of the level sky!
Warn for the strike, O blessed Clock;
Gather thy clarion breath, gold Cock;
Push on the month-figures, pale, weary-faced Moon;
Tick, awful Pendulum, tick amain;
And soon, oh, soon,
Lord of life, and Father of boon,
Give us our own in our arms again!
Then the great old clock to pieces will fall
Sans groaning of axle or whirring of wheel.
And away like a mist of the morning steal,
To stand no more in creation's hall;
Its mighty weights will fall down plumb
Into the regions where all is dumb;
No more will its hands, in horror or prayer,
Be lifted or spread at the foot of the stair
That springs aloft to the Father's room;
Its tick and its tack, _When?--Not now_,
Will cease, and its muffled groan below;
Its sapphire face will dissolve away
In the dawn of the perfect, love-potent day;
The serpent and bear will be seen no more,
Growling atop, or prone on the floor;
And up the stair will run as they please
The children to clasp the Father's knees.
O God, our father, Allhearts' All,
Open the doors of thy clockless hall!
_THE THORN IN THE FLESH._
Within my heart a worm had long been hid.
I knew it not when I went down and chid
Because some servants of my inner house
Had not, I found, of late been doing well,
But then I spied the horror hideous
Dwelling defiant in the inmost cell--
No, not the inmost, for there God did dwell!
But the small monster, softly burrowing,
Near by God's chamber had made itself a den,
And lay in it and grew, the noisome thing!
Aghast I prayed--'twas time I did pray then!
But as I prayed it seemed the loathsome shape
Grew livelier, and did so gnaw and scrape
That I grew faint. Whereon to me he said--
Some one, that is, who held my swimming head,
"Lo, I am with thee: let him do his worst;
The creature is, but not his work, accurst;
Thou hating him, he is as a thing dead."
Then I lay still, nor thought, only endured.
At last I said, "Lo, now I am inured
A burgess of Pain's town!" The pain grew worse.
Then I cried out as if my heart would break.
But he, whom, in the fretting, sickening ache,
I had forgotten, spoke: "The law of the universe
Is this," he said: "Weakness shall be the nurse
Of strength. The help I had will serve thee too."
So I took courage and did bear anew.
At last, through bones and flesh and shrinking skin,
Lo, the thing ate his way, and light came in,
And the thing died. I knew then what it meant,
And, turning, saw the Lord on whom I leant.
A name of the Year. Some say the word means _a march of wolves_,
which wolves, running in single file, are the Months of the Year.
Others say the word means _the path of the light_.
O ye months of the year,
Are ye a march of wolves?
Lycabas! Lycabas! twelve to growl and slay?
Men hearken at night, and lie in fear,
Some men hearken all day!
Lycabas, verily thou art a gallop of wolves,
Gaunt gray wolves, gray months of the year, hunting in twelves,
Running and howling, head to tail,
In a single file, over the snow,
A long low gliding of silent horror and fear!
On and on, ghastly and drear,
Not a head turning, not a foot swerving, ye go,
Twelve making only a one-wolf track!
Onward ye howl, and behind we wail;
Wail behind your narrow and slack
Wallowing line, and moan and weep,
As ye draw it on, straight and deep,
Thorough the night so swart!
Behind you a desert, and eyes a-weary,
A long, bare highway, stony and dreary,
A hungry soul, and a wolf-cub wrapt,
A live wolf-cub, sharp-toothed, steel-chapt,
In the garment next the heart!
One of them hurt me sore!
Two of them hurt and tore!
Three of them made me bleed!
The fourth did a terrible deed,
Rent me the worst of the four!
Rent me, and shook me, and tore,
And ran away with a growl!
Lycabas, if I feared you a jot,
You, and your devils running in twelves,
Black-mouthed, hell-throated, straight-going wolves,
I would run like a wolf, I too, and howl!
I live, and I fear you not.
But shall I not hate you, low-galloping wolves
Hunting in ceaseless twelves?
Ye have hunted away my lambs!
Ye ran at them open-mouthed,
And your mouths were gleamy-toothed,
And their whiteness with red foam frothed,
And your throats were a purple-black gulf:
My lambs they fled, and they came not back!
Lovely white lambs they were, alack!
They fled afar and they left a track
Which at night, when the lone sky clears,
Glistens with Nature's tears!
Many a shepherd scarce thinks of a lamb
But he hears behind it the growl of a wolf,
And behind that the wail of its dam!
They ran, nor cried, but fled
From day's sweet pasture, from night's soft bed:
Ah me, the look in their eyes!
For behind them rushed the swallowing gulf,
The maw of the growl-throated wolf,
And they fled as the thing that speeds or dies:
They looked not behind,
But fled as over the grass the wind.
Oh my lambs, I would drop away
Into a night that never saw day
That so in your dear hearts you might say,
"_All is well for ever and aye!_"
Yet it was well to hurry away,
To hurry from me, your shepherd gray:
I had no sword to bite and slay,
And the wolfy Months were on your track!
It was well to start from work and play,
It was well to hurry from me away--
But why not once look back?
The wolves came panting down the lea--
What was left you but somewhere flee!
Ye saw the Shepherd that never grows old,
Ye saw the great Shepherd, and him ye knew,
And the wolves never once came near to you;
For he saw you coming, threw down his crook,
Ran, and his arms about you threw;
He gathered you into his garment's fold,
He kneeled, he gathered, he lifted you,
And his bosom and arms were full of you.
He has taken you home to his stronghold:
Out of the castle of Love ye look;
The castle of Love is now your home,
From the garden of Love you will never roam,
And the wolves no more shall flutter you.
For all your hunting and howling and cries,
Your yelling of _woe_! and _alas_!
For all your thin tongues and your fiery eyes,
Your questing thorough the windy grass,
Your gurgling gnar, and your horrent hair,
And your white teeth that will not spare--
Wolves, I fear you never a jot,
Though you come at me with your mouths red-hot,
Eyes of fury, and teeth that foam:
Ye can do nothing but drive me home!
Wolves, wolves, you will lie one day--
Ye are lying even now, this very day,
Wolves in twelves, gaunt and gray,
At the feet of the Shepherd that leads the dams,
At the feet of the Shepherd that carries the lambs!
And now that I see you with my mind's eye,
What are you indeed? my mind revolves.
Are you, are you verily wolves?
I saw you only through twilight dark,
Through rain and wind, and ill could mark!
Now I come near--are you verily wolves?
Ye have torn, but I never saw you slay!
Me ye have torn, but I live to-day,
Live, and hope to live ever and aye!
Closer still let me look at you!--
Black are your mouths, but your eyes are true!--
Now, now I know you!--the Shepherd's sheep-dogs!
Friends of us sheep on the moors and bogs,
Lost so often in swamps and fogs!
Dear creatures, forgive me; I did you wrong;
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