The Poetical Works of George MacDonald in Two Volumes, Volume I
Part 5 out of 9
I asked her if she knew it. She replied,
"I know it well. A woman used to live
In one of its low vaults, my mother says."
"I found a hole," I said, "and spiral stair,
Leading from level of the ground above
To a low-vaulted room within the rock,
Whence through a small square window I looked forth
Wide o'er the waters; the dim-sounding waves
Were many feet below, and shrunk in size
To a great ripple." "'Twas not there," she said,
"--Not in that room half up the cliff, but one
Low down, within the margin of spring tides:
When both the tide and northern wind are high,
'Tis more an ocean-cave than castle-vault."
And then she told me all she knew of her.
It was a simple tale, a monotone:
She climbed one sunny hill, gazed once abroad,
Then wandered down, to pace a dreary plain;
Alas! how many such are told by night,
In fisher-cottages along the shore!
Farewell, old summer-day! I turn aside
To tell her story, interwoven with thoughts
Born of its sorrow; for I dare not think
A woman at the mercy of a sea.
Aye as it listeth blows the listless wind,
Swelling great sails, and bending lordly masts,
Or hurrying shadow-waves o'er fields of corn,
And hunting lazy clouds across the sky:
Now, like a white cloud o'er another sky,
It blows a tall brig from the harbour's mouth,
Away to high-tossed heads of wallowing waves,
'Mid hoverings of long-pinioned arrowy birds.
With clouds and birds and sails and broken crests,
All space is full of spots of fluttering white,
And yet the sailor knows that handkerchief
Waved wet with tears, and heavy in the wind.
Blow, wind! draw out the cord that binds the twain;
Draw, for thou canst not break the lengthening cord.
Blow, wind! yet gently; gently blow, fair wind!
And let love's vision slowly, gently die;
Let the bright sails all solemn-slowly pass,
And linger ghost-like o'er the vanished hull,
With a white farewell to her straining eyes;
For never more in morning's level beams,
Will those sea-shadowing sails, dark-stained and worn,
From the gray-billowed north come dancing in;
Oh, never, gliding home 'neath starry skies,
Over the dusk of the dim-glancing sea,
Will the great ship send forth a herald cry
Of home-come sailors, into sleeping streets!
Blow gently, wind! blow slowly, gentle wind!
Weep not yet, maiden; 'tis not yet thy hour.
Why shouldst thou weep before thy time is come?
Go to thy work; break into song sometimes--
Song dying slow-forgotten, in the lapse
Of dreamy thought, ere natural pause ensue,
Or sudden dropt what time the eager heart
Hurries the ready eye to north and east.
Sing, maiden, while thou canst, ere yet the truth,
Slow darkening, choke the heart-caged singing bird!
The weeks went by. Oft leaving household work,
With bare arms and uncovered head she clomb
The landward slope of the prophetic hill;
From whose green head, as from the verge of time,
Far out on the eternity of blue,
Shading her hope-rapt eyes, seer-like she gazed,
If from the Hades of the nether world,
Slow climbing up the round side of the earth,
Haply her prayers were drawing his tardy sails
Over the threshold of the far sky-sea--
Drawing her sailor home to celebrate,
With holy rites of family and church,
The apotheosis of maidenhood.
Months passed; he came not; and a shadowy fear,
Long haunting the horizon of her soul,
In deeper gloom and sharper form drew nigh;
And growing in bulk, possessed her atmosphere,
And lost all shape, because it filled all space,
And reached beyond the bounds of consciousness--
In sudden incarnations darting swift
From out its infinite a gulfy stare
Of terror blank, of hideous emptiness,
Of widowhood ere ever wedding-day.
On granite ridge, and chalky cliff, and pier,
Far built into the waves along our shores,
Maidens have stood since ever ships went forth;
The same pain at the heart; the same slow mist
Clouding the eye; the same fixed longing look,
As if the soul had gone, and left the door
Wide open--gone to lean, hearken, and peer
Over the awful edge where voidness sinks
Sheer to oblivion--that horizon-line
Over whose edge he vanished--came no more.
O God, why are our souls, waste, helpless seas,
Tortured with such immitigable storm?
What is this love, that now on angel wing
Sweeps us amid the stars in passionate calm;
And now with demon arms fast cincturing,
Drops us, through all gyrations of keen pain,
Down the black vortex, till the giddy whirl
Gives fainting respite to the ghastly brain?
O happy they for whom the Possible
Opens its gates of madness, and becomes
The Real around them!--such to whom henceforth
There is but one to-morrow, the next morn,
Their wedding-day, ever one step removed,
The husband's foot ever upon the verge
Of the day's threshold, in a lasting dream!
Such madness may be but a formless faith--
A chaos which the breath of God will blow
Into an ordered world of seed and fruit.
Shall not the Possible become the Real?
God sleeps not when he makes his daughters dream.
Shall not the morrow dawn at last which leads
The maiden-ghost, confused and half awake,
Into the land whose shadows are our dreams?--
Thus questioning we stand upon the shore,
And gaze across into the Unrevealed.
Upon its visible symbol gazed the girl,
Till earth behind her ceased, and sea was all,
Possessing eyes and brain and shrinking soul--
A universal mouth to swallow up,
And close eternally in one blue smile!
A still monotony of pauseless greed,
Its only voice an endless, dreary song
Of wailing, and of craving from the world!
A low dull dirge that ever rose and died,
Recurring without pause or change or close,
Like one verse chaunted ever in sleepless brain,
Still drew her to the shore. It drew her down,
Like witch's spell, that fearful endless moan;
Somewhere, she thought, in the green abyss below,
His body, at the centre of the moan,
Obeyed the motions whence the moaning grew;
Now, now, in circle slow revolved, and now
Swayed like a wind-swung bell, now swept along
Hither and thither, idly to and fro,
Heedlessly wandering through the heedless sea.
Its fascination drew her onward still--
On to the ridgy rocks that seaward ran,
And out along their furrows and jagged backs,
To the last lonely point where the green mass
Arose and sank, heaved slow and forceful. There
She shuddered and recoiled. Thus, for a time,
Sport-slave of power occult, she came and went,
Betwixt the shore and sea alternating,
Drawn ever to the greedy lapping lip,
Then, terror-stung, driven backward: there it lay,
The heartless, cruel, miserable deep,
Ambushed in horror, with its glittering eye
Still drawing her to its green gulfing maw!
But every ocean hath its isles, each woe
Its scattered comfortings; and this was one
That often came to her--that she, wave-caught,
Must, in the wash of ever-shifting waters,
In some good hour sure-fixed of pitiful fate,
_All-conscious still of love, despite the sea_,
Float over some stray bone, some particle,
Which far-diffused sense would know as his:
Heart-glad she would sit down, and watch the tide
Slow-growing--till it reached at length her feet,
When, at its first cold touch, up she would spring,
And, ghastful, flee, with white-rimmed sightless eye.
But still, where'er she fled, the sea-voice followed;
Whisperings innumerable of water-drops
Would grow together to a giant cry;
Now hoarse, half-stifled, pleading, warning tones,
Now thunderous peals of billowy, wrathful shouts,
Called after her to come, and make no pause.
From the loose clouds that mingled with the spray,
And from the tossings of the lifted seas,
Where plunged and rose the raving wilderness,
Outreaching arms, pursuing, beckoning hands,
Came shoreward, lengthening, feeling after her.
Then would she fling her own wild arms on high,
Over her head, in tossings like the waves,
Or fix them, with clasped hands of prayer intense,
Forward, appealing to the bitter sea.
Sometimes she sudden from her shoulders tore
Her garments, one by one, and cast them out
Into the roarings of the heedless surge,
In vain oblation to the hungry waves.
As vain was Pity's will to cover her;
Best gifts but bribed the sea, and left her bare.
In her poor heart and brain burned such a fire
That all-unheeded cold winds lapped her round,
And sleet-like spray flashed on her tawny skin.
Her food she seldom ate; her naked arms
Flung it far out to feed the sea; her hair
Streamed after it, like rooted ocean-weed
In headlong current. But, alas, the sea
Took it, and came again--it would have _her_!
And as the wave importunate, so despair,
Back surging, on her heart rushed ever afresh:
Sickening she moaned--half muttered and half moaned--
"She winna be content; she'll hae mysel!"
But when the night grew thick upon the sea,
Quenching it almost, save its quenchless voice,
Then, half-released until the light, she rose,
And step by step withdrew--as dreaming man,
With an eternity of slowness, drags
His earth-bound, lead-like, irresponsive feet
Back from a sleeping horror, she withdrew.
But when, upon the narrow beach at last,
She turned her back upon her hidden foe,
It blended with her phantom-breeding brain,
And, scared at very fear, she cried and fled--
Fled to the battered base of the old tower,
And round the rock, and through the arched gap
Into the yawning blackness of the vault--
There sank upon the sand, and gasped, and raved.
Close cowering in a nook, she sat all night,
Her face turned to the entrance of the vault,
Through which a pale light shimmered--from the eye
Of the great sleepless ocean--Argus more dread
Than he with hundred lidless watching orbs,
And slept, and dreamed, and dreaming saw the sea.
But in the stormy nights, when all was dark,
And the wild tempest swept with slanting wing
Against her refuge, and the heavy spray
Shot through the doorway serpentine cold arms
To seize the fore-doomed morsel of the sea,
She slept not, evermore stung to new life
By new sea-terrors. Now it was the gull:
His clanging pinions darted through the arch,
And flapped about her head; now 'twas a wave
Grown arrogant: it rushed into her house,
Clasped her waist-high, then out again and away
To swell the devilish laughter in the fog,
And leave her clinging to the rocky wall,
With white face watching. When it came no more,
And the tide ebbed, not yet she slept--sat down,
And sat unmoving, till the low gray dawn
Grew on the misty dance of spouting waves,
That made a picture in the rugged arch;
Then the old fascination woke and drew;
And, rising slowly, forth she went afresh,
To haunt the border of the dawning sea.
Yet all the time there lay within her soul
An inner chamber, quietest place; but she
Turned from its door, and staid out in the storm.
She, entering there, had found a refuge calm
As summer evening, as a mother's arms.
There had she found her lost love, only lost
In that he slept, and she was still awake.
There she had found, waiting for her to come,
The Love that waits and watches evermore.
Thou too hast such a chamber, quietest place,
Where that Love waits for thee. What is it, say,
That will not let thee enter? Is it care
For the provision of the unborn day,
As if thou wert a God that must foresee?
Is it poor hunger for the praise of men?
Is it ambition to outstrip thy fellow
In this world's race? Or is it love of self--
That greed which still to have must still destroy?--
Go mad for some lost love; some voice of old,
Which first thou madest sing, and after sob;
Some heart thou foundest rich, and leftest bare,
Choking its well of faith with thy false deeds--
Unlike thy God, who keeps the better wine
Until the last, and, if he giveth grief,
Giveth it first, and ends the tale with joy:
Such madness clings about the feet of God,
Nor lets them go. Better a thousandfold
Be she than thou! for though thy brain be strong
And clear and workful, hers a withered flower
That never came to seed, her heart is full
Of that in whose live might God made the world;
She is a well, and thou an empty cup.
It was the invisible unbroken cord
Between the twain, her and her sailor-lad,
That drew her ever to the ocean marge.
Better to die for love, to rave for love,
Than not to love at all! but to have loved,
And, loved again, then to have turned away--
Better than that, never to have been born!
But if thy heart be noble, say if thou
Canst ever all forget an hour of pain,
When, maddened with the thought that could not be,
Thou might'st have yielded to the demon wind
That swept in tempest through thy scorching brain,
And rushed into the night, and howled aloud,
And clamoured to the waves, and beat the rocks;
And never found thy way back to the seat
Of conscious self, and power to rule thy pain,
Had not God made thee strong to bear and live!
The tale is now in thee, not thou in it;
But the sad woman, in her wildest mood,
Thou knowest her thy sister! She is fair
No more; her eyes like fierce suns blaze and burn;
Her cheeks are parched and brown; her haggard form
Is wasted by wild storms of soul and sea;
Yet in her very self is that which still
Reminds thee of a story, old, not dead,
Which God has in his keeping--of thyself.
Ah, not forgot are children when they sleep!
The darkness lasts all night, and clears the eyes;
Then comes the morning with the joy of light.
Oh, surely madness hideth not from Him!
Nor doth a soul cease to be beautiful
In his sight, that its beauty is withdrawn,
And hid by pale eclipse from human eyes.
As the chill snow is friendly to the earth,
And pain and loss are friendly to the soul,
Shielding it from the black heart-killing frost;
So madness is but one of God's pale winters;
And when the winter over is and gone,
Then smile the skies, then blooms the earth again,
And the fair time of singing birds is come:
Into the cold wind and the howling night,
God sent for her, and she was carried in
Where there was no more sea.
Ran from the door of heaven to bring her home?
The sea, her terror.
In the rocks that stand
Below the cliff, there lies a rounded hollow,
Scooped like a basin, with jagged and pinnacled sides:
Low buried when the wind heaps up the surge,
It lifts in the respiration of the tide
Its broken edges, and, then, deep within
Lies resting water, radiantly clear:
There, on a morn of sunshine, while the wind
Yet blew, and heaved yet the billowy sea
With memories of a night of stormy dreams,
At rest they found her: in the sleep which is
And is not death, she, lying very still,
Absorbed the bliss that follows after pain.
O life of love, conquered at last by fate!
O life raised from the dead by saviour Death!
O love unconquered and invincible!
The enemy sea had cooled her burning brain;
Had laid to rest the heart that could not rest;
Had hid the horror of its own dread face!
'Twas but one desolate cry, and then her fear
Became a blessed fact, and straight she knew
What God knew all the time--that it was well.
O thou whose feet tread ever the wet sands
And howling rocks along the wearing shore,
Roaming the borders of the sea of death!
Strain not thine eyes, bedimmed with longing tears,
No sail comes climbing back across that line.
Turn thee, and to thy work; let God alone,
And wait for him: faint o'er the waves will come
Far-floating whispers from the other shore
To thine averted ears. Do thou thy work,
And thou shalt follow--follow, and find thine own.
And thou who fearest something that may come;
Around whose house the storm of terror breaks
All night; to whose love-sharpened ear, all day,
The Invisible is calling at the door,
To render up a life thou canst not keep,
Or love that will not stay,--open thy door,
And carry out thy dying to the marge
Of the great sea; yea, walk into the flood,
And lay thy dead upon the moaning waves.
Give them to God to bury; float them again,
With sighs and prayers to waft them through the gloom,
Back to the spring of life. Say--"If they die,
Thou, the one life of life, art still alive,
And thou canst make thy dead alive again!"
Ah God, the earth is full of cries and moans,
And dull despair, that neither moans nor cries;
Thousands of hearts are waiting helplessly;
The whole creation groaneth, travaileth
For what it knows not--with a formless hope
Of resurrection or of dreamless death!
Raise thou the dead; restore the Aprils withered
In hearts of maidens; give their manhood back
To old men feebly mournful o'er a life
That scarce hath memory but the mournfulness!
There is no past with thee: bring back once more
The summer eves of lovers, over which
The wintry wind that raveth through the world
Heaps wretched leaves in gusts of ghastly snow;
Bring back the mother-heaven of orphans lone,
The brother's and the sister's faithfulness;--
Bring in the kingdom of the Son of Man.
They troop around me, children wildly crying;
Women with faded eyes, all spent of tears;
Men who have lived for love, yet lived alone;
Yea, some consuming in cold fires of shame!
O God, thou hast a work for all thy strength
In saving these thy hearts with full content--
Except thou give them Lethe's stream to drink,
And that, my God, were all unworthy thee!
Dome up, O heaven, yet higher o'er my head!
Back, back, horizon; widen out my world!
Rush in, O fathomless sea of the Unknown!
For, though he slay me, I will trust in God.
To all who fain
Would keep the grain,
And cast the husk away--
That it may feed
The living seed,
And serve it with decay--
I offer this dim story
Whose clouds crack into glory.
The times are changed, and gone the day
When the high heavenly land,
Though unbeheld, quite near them lay,
And men could understand.
The dead yet find it, who, when here,
Did love it more than this;
They enter in, are filled with cheer,
And pain expires in bliss.
All glorious gleams the blessed land!--
O God, forgive, I pray:
The heart thou holdest in thy hand
Loves more this sunny day!
I see the hundred thousand wait
Around the radiant throne:
Ah, what a dreary, gilded state!
What crowds of beings lone!
I do not care for singing psalms;
I tire of good men's talk;
To me there is no joy in palms,
Or white-robed, solemn walk.
I love to hear the wild winds meet,
The wild old winds at night;
To watch the cold stars flash and beat,
The feathery snow alight.
I love all tales of valiant men,
Of women good and fair:
If I were rich and strong, ah, then
I would do something rare!
But for thy temple in the sky,
Its pillars strong and white--
I cannot love it, though I try,
And long with all my might.
Sometimes a joy lays hold on me,
And I am speechless then;
Almost a martyr I could be,
To join the holy men.
Straightway my heart is like a clod,
My spirit wrapt in doubt:--
_A pillar in the house of God,
And never more go out_!
No more the sunny, breezy morn;
All gone the glowing noon;
No more the silent heath forlorn,
The wan-faced waning moon!
My God, this heart will never burn,
Must never taste thy joy!
Even Jesus' face is calm and stern:
I am a hapless boy!
* * * * *
I read good books. My heart despairs.
In vain I try to dress
My soul in feelings like to theirs--
These men of holiness.
My thoughts, like doves, abroad I fling
Into a country fair:
Wind-baffled, back, with tired wing,
They to my ark repair.
Or comes a sympathetic thrill
With long-departed saint,
A feeble dawn, without my will,
Of feelings old and quaint,
As of a church's holy night,
With low-browed chapels round,
Where common sunshine dares not light
On the too sacred ground,--
One glance at sunny fields of grain,
One shout of child at play--
A merry melody drives amain
The one-toned chant away!
My spirit will not enter here
To haunt the holy gloom;
I gaze into a mirror mere,
A mirror, not a room.
And as a bird against the pane
Will strike, deceived sore,
I think to enter, but remain
Outside the closed door.
Oh, it will call for many a sigh
If it be what it claims--
This book, so unlike earth and sky,
Unlike man's hopes and aims!--
To me a desert parched and bare--
In which a spirit broods
Whose wisdom I would gladly share
At cost of many goods!
* * * * *
O hear me, God! O give me joy
Such as thy chosen feel;
Have pity on a wretched boy;
My heart is hard as steel.
I have no care for what is good;
Thyself I do not love;
I relish not this Bible-food;
My heaven is not above.
Thou wilt not hear: I come no more;
Thou heedest not my woe.
With sighs and tears my heart is sore.
Thou comest not: I go.
* * * * *
Once more I kneel. The earth is dark,
And darker yet the air;
If light there be, 'tis but a spark
Amid a world's despair--
One hopeless hope there yet may be
A God somewhere to hear;
The God to whom I bend my knee--
A God with open ear.
I know that men laugh still to scorn
The grief that is my lot;
Such wounds, they say, are hardly borne,
But easily forgot.
What matter that my sorrows rest
On ills which men despise!
More hopeless heaves my aching breast
Than when a prophet sighs.
AEons of griefs have come and gone--
My grief is yet my mark.
The sun sets every night, yet none
Sees therefore in the dark.
There's love enough upon the earth,
And beauty too, they say:
There may be plenty, may be dearth,
I care not any way.
The world hath melted from my sight;
No grace in life is left;
I cry to thee with all my might,
Because I am bereft.
In vain I cry. The earth is dark,
And darker yet the air;
Of light there trembles now no spark
In my lost soul's despair.
* * * * *
I sit and gaze from window high
Down on the noisy street:
No part in this great coil have I,
No fate to go and meet.
My books unopened long have lain;
In class I am all astray:
The questions growing in my brain,
Demand and have their way.
Knowledge is power, the people cry;
Grave men the lure repeat:
After some rarer thing I sigh,
That makes the pulses beat.
Old truths, new facts, they preach aloud--
Their tones like wisdom fall:
One sunbeam glancing on a cloud
Hints things beyond them all.
* * * * *
But something is not right within;
High hopes are far gone by.
Was it a bootless aim--to win
Sight of a loftier sky?
They preach men should not faint, but pray,
And seek until they find;
But God is very far away,
Nor is his countenance kind.
Yet every night my father prayed,
Withdrawing from the throng!
Some answer must have come that made
His heart so high and strong!
Once more I'll seek the God of men,
Redeeming childhood's vow.--
--I failed with bitter weeping then,
And fail cold-hearted now!
Why search for God? A man I tread
This old life-bearing earth;
High thoughts awake and lift my head--
In me they have their birth.
The preacher says a Christian must
Do all the good he can:--
I must be noble, true, and just,
Because I am a man!
They say a man must watch, and keep
Lamp burning, garments white,
Else he shall sit without and weep
When Christ comes home at night:--
A man must hold his honour free,
His conscience must not stain,
Or soil, I say, the dignity
Of heart and blood and brain!
Yes, I say well--said words are cheap!
For action man was born!
What praise will my one talent reap?
What grapes are on my thorn?
Have high words kept me pure enough?
In evil have I no part?
Hath not my bosom "perilous stuff
That weighs upon the heart"?
I am not that which I do praise;
I do not that I say;
I sit a talker in the ways,
A dreamer in the day!
The preacher's words are true, I know--
That man may lose his life;
That every man must downward go
Without the upward strife.
'Twere well my soul should cease to roam,
Should seek and have and hold!
It may be there is yet a home
In that religion old.
Again I kneel, again I pray:
_Wilt thou be God to me?
Wilt thou give ear to what I say,
And lift me up to thee_?
Lord, is it true? Oh, vision high!
The clouds of heaven dispart;
An opening depth of loving sky
Looks down into my heart!
There _is_ a home wherein to dwell--
The very heart of light!
Thyself my sun immutable,
My moon and stars all night!
I thank thee, Lord. It must be so,
Its beauty is so good.
Up in my heart thou mad'st it go,
And I have understood.
The clouds return. The common day
Falls on me like a _No_;
But I have seen what might be--may,
And with a hope I go.
I am a stranger in the land;
It gives no welcome dear;
Its lilies bloom not for my hand,
Its roses for my cheer.
The sunshine used to make me glad,
But now it knows me not;
This weight of brightness makes me sad--
It isolates a blot.
I am forgotten by the hills,
And by the river's play;
No look of recognition thrills
The features of the day.
Then only am I moved to song,
When down the darkening street,
While vanishes the scattered throng,
The driving rain I meet.
The rain pours down. My thoughts awake,
Like flowers that languished long;
From bare cold hills the night-winds break,
From me the unwonted song.
I read the Bible with my eyes,
But hardly with my brain;
Should this the meaning recognize,
My heart yet reads in vain.
These words of promise and of woe
Seem but a tinkling sound;
As through an ancient tomb I go,
With dust-filled urns around.
Or, as a sadly searching child,
Afar from love and home,
Sits in an ancient chamber, piled
With scroll and musty tome,
So I, in these epistles old
From men of heavenly care,
Find all the thoughts of other mould
Than I can love or share.
No sympathy with mine they show,
Their world is not the same;
They move me not with joy or woe,
They touch me not with blame.
I hear no word that calls my life,
Or owns my struggling powers;
Those ancient ages had their strife,
But not a strife like ours.
Oh, not like men they move and speak,
Those pictures in old panes!
They alter not their aspect meek
For all the winds and rains!
Their thoughts are full of figures strange,
Of Jewish forms and rites:
A world of air and sea I range,
Of mornings and of nights!
I turn me to the gospel-tale:--
My hope is faint with fear
That hungriest search will not avail
To find a refuge here.
A misty wind blows bare and rude
From dead seas of the past;
And through the clouds that halt and brood,
Dim dawns a shape at last:
A sad worn man who bows his face,
And treads a frightful path,
To save an abject hopeless race
From an eternal wrath.
Kind words he speaks--but all the time
As from a formless height
To which no human foot can climb--
Half-swathed in ancient night.
Nay, sometimes, and to gentle heart,
Unkind words from him go!
Surely it is no saviour's part
To speak to women so!
Much rather would I refuge take
With Mary, dear to me,
To whom that rough hard speech he spake--
_What have I to do with thee_?
Surely I know men tenderer,
Women of larger soul,
Who need no prayer their hearts to stir,
Who always would make whole!
Oftenest he looks a weary saint,
Embalmed in pallid gleam;
Listless and sad, without complaint,
Like dead man in a dream.
And, at the best, he is uplift
A spectacle, a show:--
The worth of such an outworn gift
I know too much to know!
How find the love to pay my debt?--
He leads me from the sun!--
Yet it is hard men should forget
A good deed ever done!--
Forget that he, to foil a curse,
Did, on that altar-hill,
Sun of a sunless universe,
Hang dying, patient, still!
But what is He, whose pardon slow
At so much blood is priced?--
If such thou art, O Jove, I go
To the Promethean Christ!
A word within says I am to blame,
And therefore must confess;
Must call my doing by its name,
And so make evil less.
"I could not his false triumph bear,
For he was first in wrong."
"Thy own ill-doings are thy care,
His to himself belong."
"To do it right, my heart should own
Some sorrow for the ill."
"Plain, honest words will half atone,
And they are in thy will."
The struggle comes. Evil or I
Must gain the victory now.
I am unmoved and yet would try:
O God, to thee I bow.
The skies are brass; there falls no aid;
No wind of help will blow.
But I bethink me:--I am made
A man: I rise and go.
To Christ I needs must come, they say;
Who went to death for me:
I turn aside; I come, I pray,
My unknown God, to thee.
He is afar; the story old
Is blotted, worn, and dim;
With thee, O God, I can be bold--
I cannot pray to him.
_Pray_! At the word a cloudy grief
Around me folds its pall:
Nothing I have to call belief!
How can I pray at all?
I know not if a God be there
To heed my crying sore;
If in the great world anywhere
An ear keeps open door!
An unborn faith I will not nurse,
Pursue an endless task;
Loud out into its universe
My soul shall call and ask!
Is there no God--earth, sky, and sea
Are but a chaos wild!
Is there a God--I know that he
Must hear his calling child!
I kneel. But all my soul is dumb
With hopeless misery:
Is he a friend who will not come,
Whose face I must not see?
I do not think of broken laws,
Of judge's damning word;
My heart is all one ache, because
I call and am not heard.
A cry where there is none to hear,
Doubles the lonely pain;
Returns in silence on the ear,
In torture on the brain.
No look of love a smile can bring,
No kiss wile back the breath
To cold lips: I no answer wring
From this great face of death.
Yet sometimes when the agony
Dies of its own excess,
A dew-like calm descends on me,
A shadow of tenderness;
A sense of bounty and of grace,
A cool air in my breast,
As if my soul were yet a place
Where peace might one day rest.
God! God! I say, and cry no more,
But rise, and think to stand
Unwearied at the closed door
Till comes the opening hand.
But is it God?--Once more the fear
Of _No God_ loads my breath:
Amid a sunless atmosphere
I fight again with death.
Such rest may be like that which lulls
The man who fainting lies:
His bloodless brain his spirit dulls,
Draws darkness o'er his eyes.
But even such sleep, my heart responds,
May be the ancient rest
Rising released from bodily bonds,
And flowing unreprest.
The o'ertasked will falls down aghast
In individual death;
God puts aside the severed past,
Breathes-in a primal breath.
For how should torture breed a calm?
Can death to life give birth?
No labour can create the balm
That soothes the sleeping earth!
I yet will hope the very One
Whose love is life in me,
Did, when my strength was overdone,
When the hot sun's too urgent might
Hath shrunk the tender leaf,
Water comes sliding down the night,
And makes its sorrow brief.
When poet's heart is in eclipse,
A glance from childhood's eye,
A smile from passing maiden's lips,
Will clear a glowing sky.
Might not from God such influence come
A dying hope to lift?
Might he not send to poor heart some
My child lies moaning, lost in dreams,
Abandoned, sore dismayed;
Her fancy's world with horror teems,
Her soul is much afraid:
I lay my hand upon her breast,
Her moaning dies away;
She does not wake, but, lost in rest,
Sleeps on into the day.
And when my heart with soft release
Grows calm as summer-sea,
Shall I not hope the God of peace
Hath laid his hand on me?
But why from thought should fresh doubt start--
An ever-lengthening cord?
Might he not make my troubled heart
Right sure it was the Lord?
God will not let a smaller boon
Hinder the coming best;
A granted sign might all too soon
Rejoice thee into rest.
Yet could not any sign, though grand
As hosts of fire about,
Though lovely as a sunset-land,
Secure thy soul from doubt.
A smile from one thou lovedst well
Gladdened thee all the day;
The doubt which all day far did dwell
Came home with twilight gray.
For doubt will come, will ever come,
Though signs be perfect good,
Till heart to heart strike doubting dumb,
And both are understood.
I shall behold him, one day, nigh.
Assailed with glory keen,
My eyes will open wide, and I
Shall see as I am seen.
Of nothing can my heart be sure
Except the highest, best
When God I see with vision pure,
That sight will be my rest.
Forward I look with longing eye,
And still my hope renew;
Backward, and think that from the sky
_Did_ come that falling dew.
But if a vision should unfold
That I might banish fear;
That I, the chosen, might be bold,
And walk with upright cheer;
My heart would cry: But shares my race
In this great love of thine?
I pray, put me not in good case
Where others lack and pine.
Nor claim I thus a loving heart
That for itself is mute:
In such love I desire no part
As reaches not my root.
But if my brothers thou dost call
As children to thy knee,
Thou givest me my being's all,
Thou sayest child to me.
If thou to me alone shouldst give,
My heart were all beguiled:
It would not be because I live,
And am my Father's child!
As little comfort would it bring,
Amid a throng to pass;
To stand with thousands worshipping
Upon the sea of glass;
To know that, of a sinful world,
I one was saved as well;
My roll of ill with theirs upfurled,
And cast in deepest hell;
That God looked bounteously on one,
Because on many men;
As shone Judea's earthly sun
On all the healed ten.
No; thou must be a God to me
As if but me were none;
I such a perfect child to thee
As if thou hadst but one.
Oh, then, my Father, hast thou not
A blessing just for me?
Shall I be, barely, not forgot?--
Never come home to thee?
Hast thou no care for this one child,
This thinking, living need?
Or is thy countenance only mild,
Thy heart not love indeed?
For some eternal joy I pray,
To make me strong and free;
Yea, such a friend I need alway
As thou alone canst be.
Is not creative infinitude
Able, in every man,
To turn itself to every mood
Since God man's life began?
Art thou not each man's God--his own,
With secret words between,
As thou and he lived all alone,
Insphered in silence keen?
Ah, God, my heart is not the same
As any heart beside;
My pain is different, and my blame,
My pity and my pride!
My history thou know'st, my thoughts
Different from other men's;
Thou knowest all the sheep and goats
That mingle in my pens.
Thou knowest I a love might bring
By none beside me due;
One praiseful song at least might sing
Which could not but be new.
Nor seek I thus to stand apart,
In aught my kind above;
My neighbour, ah, my troubled heart
Must rest ere thee it love!
If God love not, I have no care,
No power to love, no hope.
What is life here or anywhere?
Or why with darkness cope?
I scorn my own love's every sign,
So feeble, selfish, low,
If his love give no pledge that mine
Shall one day perfect grow.
But if I knew Thy love even such,
As tender and intense
As, tested by its human touch,
Would satisfy my sense
Of what a father never was
But should be to his son,
My heart would leap for joy, because
My rescue was begun.
Oh then my love, by thine set free,
Would overflow thy men;
In every face my heart would see
God shining out again!
There are who hold high festival
And at the board crown Death:
I am too weak to live at all
Except I breathe thy breath.
Show me a love that nothing bates,
Even at Gehenna's prayerless gates
I should not "taint with fear."
I cannot brook that men should say--
Nor this for gospel take--
That thou wilt hear me if I pray
Asking for Jesus' sake.
For love to him is not to me,
And cannot lift my fate;
The love is not that is not free,
Love is salvation: life without
No moment can endure.
Those sheep alone go in and out
Who know thy love is pure.
But what if God requires indeed,
For cause yet unrevealed,
Assent to one fixed form of creed,
Such as I cannot yield?
Has God made _for Christ's sake_ a test--
To take or leave the crust,
That only he may have the best
Who licks the serpent-dust?
No, no; the words I will not say
With the responding folk;
I at his feet a heart would lay,
Not shoulders for a yoke.
He were no lord of righteousness
Who subjects such would gain
As yield their birthright for a mess
Of liberty from pain!
"And wilt thou bargain then with Him?"
The priest makes answer high.
'Tis thou, priest, makest the sky dim:
My hope is in the sky.
But is my will alive, awake?
The one God will not heed
If in my lips or hands I take
A half-word or half-deed.
Hour after hour I sit and dream,
Amazed in outwardness;
The powers of things that only seem
The things that are oppress;
Till in my soul some discord sounds,
Till sinks some yawning lack;
Then turn I from life's rippling rounds,
And unto thee come back.
Thou seest how poor a thing am I,
Yet hear, whate'er I be;
Despairing of my will, I cry,
Be God enough to me.
My spirit, low, irresolute,
I cast before thy feet;
And wait, while even prayer is mute,
For what thou judgest meet.
My safety lies not, any hour,
In what I generate,
But in the living, healing power
Of that which doth create.
If he is God to the incomplete,
Fulfilling lack and need,
Then I may cast before his feet
A half-word or half-deed.
I bring, Lord, to thy altar-stair,
To thee, love-glorious,
My very lack of will and prayer,
And cry--Thou seest me thus!
From some old well of life they flow!
The words my being fill!--
"Of me that man the truth shall know
Who wills the Father's will."
What is his will?--that I may go
And do it, in the hope
That light will rise and spread and grow,
As deed enlarges scope.
I need not search the sacred book
To find my duty clear;
Scarce in my bosom need I look,
It lies so very near.
Henceforward I must watch the door
Of word and action too;
There's one thing I must do no more,
Another I must do.
Alas, these are such little things!
No glory in their birth!
Doubt from their common aspect springs--
If God will count them worth.
But here I am not left to choose,
My duty is my lot;
And weighty things will glory lose
If small ones are forgot.
I am not worthy high things yet;
I'll humbly do my own;
Good care of sheep may so beget
A fitness for the throne.
Ah fool! why dost thou reason thus?
Ambition's very fool!
Through high and low, each glorious,
Shines God's all-perfect rule.
'Tis God I need, not rank in good:
'Tis Life, not honour's meed;
With him to fill my every mood,
I am content indeed.
_Will do: shall know_: I feel the force,
The fullness of the word;
His holy boldness held its course,
Claiming divine accord.
What if, as yet, I have never seen
The true face of the Man!
The named notion may have been
A likeness vague and wan;
A thing of such unblended hues
As, on his chamber wall,
The humble peasant gladly views,
And _Jesus Christ_ doth call.
The story I did never scan
With vision calm and strong;
Have never tried to see the Man,
The many words among.
Pictures there are that do not please
With any sweet surprise,
But gain the heart by slow degrees
Until they feast the eyes;
And if I ponder what they call
The gospel of God's grace,
Through mists that slowly melt and fall
May dawn a human face.
What face? Oh, heart-uplifting thought,
That face may dawn on me
Which Moses on the mountain sought,
God would not let him see!
All faint at first, as wrapt in veil
Of Sinai's cloudy dark,
But dawning as I read the tale,
I slow discern and mark
A gracious, simple, truthful man,
Who walks the earth erect,
Nor stoops his noble head to one
From fear or false respect;
Who seeks to climb no high estate,
No low consent secure,
With high and low serenely great,
Because his love is pure.
Oh not alone, high o'er our reach,
Our joys and griefs beyond!
To him 'tis joy divine to teach
Where human hearts respond;
And grief divine it was to him
To see the souls that slept:
"How often, O Jerusalem!"
He said, and gazed, and wept.
Love was his very being's root,
And healing was its flower;
Love, human love, its stem and fruit,
Its gladness and its power.
Life of high God, till then unseen!
Undreamt-of glorious show!
Glad, faithful, childlike, love-serene!--
How poor am I! how low!
As in a living well I gaze,
Kneeling upon its brink:
What are the very words he says?
What did the one man think?
I find his heart was all above;
Obedience his one thought;
Reposing in his father's love,
His father's will he sought.
* * * * *
Years have passed o'er my broken plan
To picture out a strife,
Where ancient Death, in horror wan,
Faced young and fearing Life.
More of the tale I tell not so--
But for myself would say:
My heart is quiet with what I know,
With what I hope, is gay.
And where I cannot set my faith,
Unknowing or unwise,
I say "If this be what _he_ saith,
Here hidden treasure lies."
Through years gone by since thus I strove,
Thus shadowed out my strife,
While at my history I wove,
Thou wovest in the life.
Through poverty that had no lack
For friends divinely good;
Through pain that not too long did rack,
Through love that understood;
Through light that taught me what to hold
And what to cast away;
Through thy forgiveness manifold,
And things I cannot say,
Here thou hast brought me--able now
To kiss thy garment's hem,
Entirely to thy will to bow,
And trust thee even for them
Who in the darkness and the mire
Walk with rebellious feet,
Loose trailing, Lo, their soiled attire
For heavenly floor unmeet!
Lord Jesus Christ, I know not how--
With this blue air, blue sea,
This yellow sand, that grassy brow,
All isolating me--
Thy thoughts to mine themselves impart,
My thoughts to thine draw near;
But thou canst fill who mad'st my heart,
Who gav'st me words must hear.
Thou mad'st the hand with which I write,
The eye that watches slow
Through rosy gates that rosy light
Across thy threshold go;
Those waves that bend in golden spray,
As if thy foot they bore:
I think I know thee, Lord, to-day,
Shall know thee evermore.
I know thy father thine and mine:
Thou the great fact hast bared:
Master, the mighty words are thine--
Such I had never dared!
Lord, thou hast much to make me yet--
Thy father's infant still:
Thy mind, Son, in my bosom set,
That I may grow thy will.
My soul with truth clothe all about,
And I shall question free:
The man that feareth, Lord, to doubt,
In that fear doubteth thee.
THE GOSPEL WOMEN.
_THE MOTHER MARY_.
Mary, to thee the heart was given
For infant hand to hold,
And clasp thus, 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.
Thine was the grief, O mother high,
Which all thy sisters share
Who keep the gate betwixt the sky
And this our lower air;
But unshared sorrows, gathering slow,
Will rise within thy heart,
Strange thoughts which like a sword will go
Thorough thy inward part.
For, if a woman bore a son
That was of angel brood,
Who lifted wings ere day was done,
And soared from where she stood,
Wild grief would rave on love's high throne;
She, sitting in the door,
All day would cry: "He was my own,
And now is mine no more!"
So 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 godlike tenderness
Would sometimes seem, in human speech,
To thee than human less.
Strange pangs await thee, mother mild,
A sorer travail-pain;
Then will the spirit of thy child
Be born in thee again.
Till then thou wilt forebode and dread;
Loss will be still thy fear--
Till he be gone, and, in his stead,
His very self appear.
For, when thy son hath reached his goal,
And vanished from the earth,
Soon wilt thou find him in thy soul,
A second, holier birth.
Ah, there he stands! With wondering face
Old men surround the boy;
The solemn looks, the awful place
Bestill the mother's joy.
In sweet reproach her gladness hid,
Her trembling voice says--low,
Less like the chiding than the chid--
"How couldst thou leave us so?"
But will her dear heart understand
The answer that he gives--
Childlike, eternal, simple, grand,
The law by which he lives?
"Why sought ye me?" Ah, mother dear,
The gulf already opes
That will in thee keep live the fear,
And part thee from thy hopes!
"My father's business--that ye know
I cannot choose but do."
Mother, if he that work forego,
Not long he cares for you.
Creation's harder, better part
Now occupies his hand:
I marvel not the mother's heart
Not yet could understand.
The Lord of life among 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,
Their last red drops outpour;
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
Ere yet her words arise.
"They have no wine!" she, halting, said,
Her prayer but half begun;
Her eyes went on, "Lift up thy head,
Show what thou art, my son!"
A vision rose before his eyes,
The cross, the waiting tomb,
The people's rage, the darkened skies,
His unavoided doom:
Ah woman dear, thou must not fret
Thy heart's desire to see!
His hour of honour is not yet--
'Twill come too soon for thee!
His word was dark; his tone was kind;
His heart the mother knew;
His eyes in hers looked deep, and shined;
They gave her heart the cue.
Another, on the word intent,
Had read refusal there;
She heard in it a full consent,
A sweetly answered prayer.
"Whate'er he saith unto you, do."
Out flowed his grapes divine;
Though then, as now, not many knew
Who makes the water wine.
"He is beside himself!" Dismayed,
His mother, brothers talked:
He from the well-known path had strayed
In which their fathers walked!
With troubled hearts they sought him. Loud
Some one the message bore:--
He stands within, amid a crowd,
They at the open door:--
"Thy mother and thy brothers would
Speak with thee. Lo, they stand
Without and wait thee!" Like a flood
Of sunrise on the land,
A new-born light his face o'erspread;
Out from his eyes it poured;
He lifted up that gracious head,
Looked round him, took the word:
"My mother--brothers--who are they?"
Hearest thou, Mary mild?
This is a sword that well may slay--
Disowned by thy child!
Ah, no! My brothers, sisters, hear--
They are our humble lord's!
O mother, did they wound _thy_ ear?--
_We_ thank him for the words.
"Who are my friends?" Oh, hear him say,
Stretching his hand abroad,
"My mother, sisters, brothers, are they
That do the will of God!"
_My brother_! Lord of life and me,
If life might grow to this!--
Would it not, brother, sister, be
Enough for all amiss?
Yea, mother, hear him and rejoice:
Thou art his mother still,
But may'st be more--of thy own choice
Doing his Father's will.
Ambition for thy son restrain,
Thy will to God's will bow:
Thy son he shall be yet again.
And twice his mother thou.
O humble man, O faithful son!
That woman most forlorn
Who yet thy father's will hath done,
Thee, son of man, hath born!
Life's best things gather round its close
To light it from the door;
When woman's aid no further goes,
She weeps and loves the more.
She doubted oft, feared for his life,
Yea, feared his mission's loss;
But now she shares the losing strife,
And weeps beside the cross.
The dreaded hour is come at last,
The sword hath reached her soul;
The hour of tortured hope is past,
And gained the awful goal.
There hangs the son her body bore,
The limbs her arms had prest!
The hands, the feet the driven nails tore
Had lain upon her breast!
He speaks; the words how faintly brief,
And how divinely dear!
The mother's heart yearns through its grief
Her dying son to hear.
"Woman, behold thy son.--Behold
Thy mother." Blessed hest
That friend to her torn heart to fold
Who understood him best!
Another son--ah, not instead!--
He gave, lest grief should kill,
While he was down among the dead,
Doing his father's will.
No, not _instead_! the coming joy
Will make him hers anew;
More hers than when, a little boy,
His life from hers he drew.
_THE WOMAN THAT LIFTED UP HER VOICE_.
Filled with his words of truth and right,
Her heart will break or cry:
A woman's cry bursts forth in might
Of loving agony.
"Blessed the womb, thee, Lord, that bare!
The bosom that thee fed!"
A moment's silence filled the air,
All heard the words she said.
He turns his face: he knows the cry,
The fountain whence it springs--
A woman's heart that glad would die
For woman's best of things.
Good thoughts, though laggard in the rear,
He never quenched or chode:
"Yea, rather, blessed they that hear
And keep the word of God!"
He would uplift her, not rebuke.
The crowd began to stir.
We miss how she the answer took;
We hear no more of her.
_THE MOTHER OF ZEBEDEE'S CHILDREN_.
She knelt, she bore a bold request,
Though shy to speak it out:
Ambition, even in mother's breast,
Before him stood in doubt.
"What is it?" "Grant thy promise now,
My sons on thy right hand
And on thy left shall sit when thou
Art king, Lord, in the land."
"Ye know not what ye ask." There lay
A baptism and a cup
She understood not, in the way
By which he must go up.
Her mother-love would lift them high
Above their fellow-men;
Her woman-pride would, standing nigh,
Share in their grandeur then!
Would she have joyed o'er prosperous quest,
Counted her prayer well heard,
Had they, of three on Calvary's crest,
Hung dying, first and third?
She knoweth neither way nor end:
In dark despair, full soon,
She will not mock the gracious friend
With prayer for any boon.
Higher than love could dream or dare
To ask, he them will set;
They shall his cup and baptism share,
And share his kingdom yet!
They, entering at his palace-door,
Will shun the lofty seat;
Will gird themselves, and water pour,
And wash each other's feet;
Then down beside their lowly Lord
On the Father's throne shall sit:
For them who godlike help afford
God hath prepared it.
_THE SYROPHENICIAN WOMAN_.
"Grant, Lord, her prayer, and let her go;
She crieth after us."
Nay, to the dogs ye cast it so;
Serve not a woman thus.
Their pride, by condescension fed,
He shapes with teaching tongue:
"It is not meet the children's bread
To little dogs be flung."
The words, for tender heart so sore,
His voice did seem to rue;
The gentle wrath his countenance wore,
With her had not to do.
He makes her share the hurt of good,
Takes what she would have lent,
That those proud men their evil mood
May see, and so repent;
And that the hidden faith in her
May burst in soaring flame:
With childhood deeper, holier,
Is birthright not the same?
Ill names, of proud religion born--
She'll wear the worst that comes;
Will clothe her, patient, in their scorn,
To share the healing crumbs!
"Truth, Lord; and yet the puppies small
Under the table eat
The crumbs the little ones let fall--
That is not thought unmeet."
The prayer rebuff could not amate
Was not like water spilt:
"O woman, but thy faith is great!
Be it even as thou wilt."
Thrice happy she who yet will dare,
Who, baffled, prayeth still!
He, if he may, will grant her prayer
In fulness of _her_ will!
_THE WIDOW OF NAIN_.
Forth from the city, with the load
That makes the trampling low,
They walk along the dreary road
That dust and ashes go.
The other way, toward the gate
Their trampling strong and loud,
With hope of liberty elate,
Comes on another crowd.
Nearer and nearer draw the twain--
One with a wailing cry!
How could the Life let such a train
Of death and tears go by!
"Weep not," he said, and touched the bier:
They stand, the dead who bear;
The mother knows nor hope nor fear--
He waits not for her prayer.
"Young man, I say to thee, arise."
Who hears, he must obey:
Up starts the body; wide the eyes
Flash wonder and dismay.
The lips would speak, as if they caught
Some converse sudden broke
When the great word the dead man sought,
And Hades' silence woke.
The lips would speak: the eyes' wild stare
Gives place to ordered sight;
The murmur dies upon the air;
The soul is dumb with light.
He brings no news; he has forgot,
Or saw with vision weak:
Thou sees! all our unseen lot,
And yet thou dost not speak.
Hold'st thou the news, as parent might
A too good gift, away,
Lest we should neither sleep at night,
Nor do our work by day?
The mother leaves us not a spark
Of her triumph over grief;
Her tears alone have left their mark
Upon the holy leaf:
Oft gratitude will thanks benumb,
Joy will our laughter quell:
May not Eternity be dumb
With things too good to tell?
Her straining arms her lost one hold;
Question she asketh none;
She trusts for all he leaves untold;
Enough, to clasp her son!
The ebb is checked, the flow begun,
Sent rushing to the gate:
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