The Poetical Works of George MacDonald in Two Volumes, Volume I
Part 9 out of 9
It breathes up damp and fust!
What man would for his lost loves grope
Amid the charnel dust!
Down, down! The coffined mould glooms high!
Methinks, with anguish dull,
I enter by the empty eye
Into a monstrous skull!
Stumbling on what I dare not guess,
Blind-wading through the gloom,
Still down, still on, I sink, I press,
To meet some awful doom.
My searching hands have caught a door
With iron clenched and barred:
Here, the gaunt spider's castle-core,
Grim Death keeps watch and ward!
Its two leaves shake, its bars are bowed,
As if a ghastly wind,
That never bore a leaf or cloud,
Were pressing hard behind.
They shake, they groan, they outward strain:
What thing of dire dismay
Will freeze its form upon my brain,
And fright my soul away?
They groan, they shake, they bend, they crack;
The bars, the doors divide;
A flood of glory at their back
Hath burst the portals wide!
In flows a summer afternoon;
I know the very breeze!
It used to blow the silvery moon
About the summer trees.
The gulf is filled with flashing tides;
Blue sky through boughs looks in;
Mosses and ferns o'er floor and sides
A mazy arras spin.
The empty church, the yawning cleft,
The earthy, dead despair
Are gone, and I alive am left
In sunshine and in air!
Some dreams, in slumber's twilight, sly
Through the ivory wicket creep;
Then suddenly the inward eye
Sees them outside the sleep.
Once, wandering in the border gray,
I spied one past me swim;
I caught it on its truant way
To nowhere in the dim.
All o'er a steep of grassy ground,
Lay ruined statues old,
Such forms as never more are found
Save deep in ancient mould,
A host of marble Anakim
Shattered in deadly fight!
Oh, what a wealth one broken limb
Had been to waking sight!
But sudden, the weak mind to mock
That could not keep its own,
Without a shiver or a shock,
Behold, the dream was gone!
For each dim form of marble rare
Stood broken rush or reed;
So bends on autumn field, long bare,
Some tall rain-battered weed.
The shapeless night hung empty, drear,
O'er my scarce slumbering head;
There is no good in staying here,
My spirit moaned, and fled.
The simplest joys that daily pass
Grow ecstasies in sleep;
A wind on heights of waving grass
In a dream has made me weep.
No wonder then my heart one night
Was joy-full to the brim:
I was with one whose love and might
Had drawn me close to him!
But from a church into the street
Came pouring, crowding on,
A troubled throng with hurrying feet,
And Lo, my friend was gone!
Alone upon a miry road
I walked a wretched plain;
Onward without a goal I strode
Through mist and drizzling rain.
Low mounds of ruin, ugly pits,
And brick-fields scarred the globe;
Those wastes where desolation sits
Without her ancient robe.
The dreariness, the nothingness
Grew worse almost than fear;
If ever hope was needful bliss,
Hope sure was needful here!
Did potent wish work joyous change
Like wizard's glamour-spell?
Wishes not always fruitless range,
And sometimes it is well!
I know not. Sudden sank the way,
Burst in the ocean-waves;
Behold a bright, blue-billowed bay,
Red rocks and sounding caves!
Dreaming, I wept. Awake, I ask--
Shall earthly dreams, forsooth,
Set the old Heavens too hard a task
To match them with the truth?
Once more I build a dream, awake,
Which sleeping I would dream;
Once more an unborn fancy take
And try to make it seem!
Some strange delight shall fill my breast,
Enticed from sleep's abyss,
With sense of motion, yet of rest,
Of sleep, yet waking bliss!
It comes!--I lie on something warm
That lifts me from below;
It rounds me like a mighty arm
Though soft as drifted snow.
A dream, indeed!--Oh, happy me
Whom Titan woman bears
Afloat upon a gentle sea
Of wandering midnight airs!
A breeze, just cool enough to lave
With sense each conscious limb,
Glides round and under, like a wave
Of twilight growing dim!
She bears me over sleeping towns,
O'er murmuring ears of corn;
O'er tops of trees, o'er billowy downs,
O'er moorland wastes forlorn.
The harebells in the mountain-pass
Flutter their blue about;
The myriad blades of meadow grass
Float scarce-heard music out.
Over the lake!--ah! nearer float,
Nearer the water's breast;
Let me look deeper--let me doat
Upon that lily-nest.
Old homes we brush--in wood, on road;
Their windows do not shine;
Their dwellers must be all abroad
In lovely dreams like mine!
Hark--drifting syllables that break
Like foam-bells on fleet ships!
The little airs are all awake
With softly kissing lips.
Light laughter ripples down the wind,
Sweet sighs float everywhere;
But when I look I nothing find,
For every star is there.
O lady lovely, lady strong,
Ungiven thy best gift lies!
Thou bear'st me in thine arms along,
Dost not reveal thine eyes!
Pale doubt lifts up a snaky crest,
In darts a pang of loss:
My outstretched hand, for hills of rest,
Finds only mounds of moss!
Faint and far off the stars appear;
The wind begins to weep;
'Tis night indeed, chilly and drear,
And all but me asleep!
Better to smell the violet
Than sip the glowing wine;
Better to hearken to a brook
Than watch a diamond shine.
Better to have a loving friend
Than ten admiring foes;
Better a daisy's earthy root
Than a gorgeous, dying rose.
Better to love in loneliness
Than bask in love all day;
Better the fountain in the heart
Than the fountain by the way.
Better be fed by mother's hand
Than eat alone at will;
Better to trust in God, than say,
My goods my storehouse fill.
Better to be a little wise
Than in knowledge to abound;
Better to teach a child than toil
To fill perfection's round.
Better to sit at some man's feet
Than thrill a listening state;
Better suspect that thou art proud
Than be sure that thou art great.
Better to walk the realm unseen
Than watch the hour's event;
Better the _Well done, faithful slave_!
Than the air with shoutings rent.
Better to have a quiet grief
Than many turbulent joys;
Better to miss thy manhood's aim
Than sacrifice the boy's.
Better a death when work is done
Than earth's most favoured birth;
Better a child in God's great house
Than the king of all the earth.
_AN OLD SERMON WITH A NEW TEXT_.
My wife contrived a fleecy thing
Her husband to infold,
For 'tis the pride of woman still
To cover from the cold:
My daughter made it a new text
For a sermon very old.
The child came trotting to her side,
Ready with bootless aid:
"Lily make veckit for papa,"
The tiny woman said:
Her mother gave the means and ways,
And a knot upon her thread.
"Mamma, mamma!--it won't come through!"
In meek dismay she cried.
Her mother cut away the knot,
And she was satisfied,
Pulling the long thread through and through,
In fabricating pride.
Her mother told me this: I caught
A glimpse of something more:
Great meanings often hide behind
The little word before!
And I brooded over my new text
Till the seed a sermon bore.
Nannie, to you I preach it now--
A little sermon, low:
Is it not thus a thousand times,
As through the world we go?
Do we not tug, and fret, and cry--
Instead of _Yes, Lord--No_?
While all the rough things that we meet
Which will not move a jot,
The hindrances to heart and feet,
_The Crook in every Lot_,
Mean plainly but that children's threads
Have at the end a knot.
This world of life God weaves for us,
Nor spares he pains or cost,
But we must turn the web to clothes
And shield our hearts from frost:
Shall we, because the thread holds fast,
Count labour vain and lost?
If he should cut away the knot,
And yield each fancy wild,
The hidden life within our hearts--
His life, the undefiled--
Would fare as ill as I should fare
From the needle of my child.
As tack and sheet unto the sail,
As to my verse the rime,
As mountains to the low green earth--
So hard for feet to climb,
As call of striking clock amid
The quiet flow of time,
As sculptor's mallet to the birth
Of the slow-dawning face,
As knot upon my Lily's thread
When she would work apace,
God's _Nay_ is such, and worketh so
For his children's coming grace.
Who, knowing God's intent with him,
His birthright would refuse?
What makes us what we have to be
Is the only thing to choose:
We understand nor end nor means,
And yet his ways accuse!
This is my sermon. It is preached
Against all fretful strife.
Chafe not with anything that is,
Nor cut it with thy knife.
Ah! be not angry with the knot
That holdeth fast thy life.
I have a puppet-jointed child,
She's but three half-years old;
Through lawless hair her eyes gleam wild
With looks both shy and bold.
Like little imps, her tiny hands
Dart out and push and take;
Chide her--a trembling thing she stands,
And like two leaves they shake.
But to her mind a minute gone
Is like a year ago;
And when you lift your eyes anon,
Anon you must say _No_!
Sometimes, though not oppressed with care,
She has her sleepless fits;
Then, blanket-swathed, in that round chair
The elfish mortal sits;--
Where, if by chance in mood more grave,
A hermit she appears
Propped in the opening of his cave,
Mummied almost with years;
Or like an idol set upright
With folded legs for stem,
Ready to hear prayers all the night
And never answer them.
But where's the idol-hermit thrust?
Her knees like flail-joints go!
Alternate kiss, her mother must,
Now that, now this big toe!
I turn away from her, and write
For minutes three or four:
A tiny spectre, tall and white,
She's standing by the door!
Then something comes into my head
That makes me stop and think:
She's on the table, the quadruped,
And dabbling in my ink!
O Elfie, make no haste to lose
Thy ignorance of offence!
Thou hast the best gift I could choose,
A heavenly confidence.
'Tis time, long-white-gowned Mrs. Ham,
To put you in the ark!
Sleep, Elfie, God-infolded lamb,
Sleep shining through the dark.
Her mother, Elfie older grown,
One evening, for adieu,
Said, "You'll not mind being left alone,
For God takes care of you!"
In child-way her heart's eye did see
The correlation's node:
"Yes," she said, "God takes care o' me,
An' I take care o' God."
The child and woman were the same,
She changed not, only grew;
'Twixt God and her no shadow came:
The true is always true!
As daughter, sister, promised wife,
Her heart with love did brim:
Now, sure, it brims as full of life,
Hid fourteen years in him!
My little boy, with smooth, fair cheeks,
And dreamy, large, brown eyes,
Not often, little wisehead, speaks,
But hearing, weighs and tries.
"God is not only in the sky,"
His sister said one day--
Not older much, but she would cry
Like Wisdom in the way--
"He's in this room." His dreamy, clear,
Large eyes look round for God:
In vain they search, in vain they peer;
His wits are all abroad!
"He is not here, mamma? No, no;
I do not see him at all!
He's not the shadows, is he?" So
His doubtful accents fall--
Fall on my heart, no babble mere!
They rouse both love and shame:
But for earth's loneliness and fear,
I might be saying the same!
Nay, sometimes, ere the morning break
And home the shadows flee,
In my dim room even yet I take
Those shadows, Lord, for thee!
Heavily slumbered noonday bright
Upon the lone field, glory-dight,
A burnished grassy sea:
The child, in gorgeous golden hours,
Through heaven-descended starry flowers,
Went walking on the lea.
Velvety bees make busy hum;
Green flies and striped wasps go and come;
The butterflies gleam white;
Blue-burning, vaporous, to and fro
The dragon-flies like arrows go,
Or hang in moveless flight:--
Not one she followed; like a rill
She wandered on with quiet will;
Received, but did not miss;
Her step was neither quick nor long;
Nought but a snatch of murmured song
Ever revealed her bliss.
An almost solemn woman-child,
Not fashioned frolicsome and wild,
She had more love than glee;
And now, though nine and nothing more,
Another little child she bore,
Almost as big as she.
No silken cloud from solar harms
Had she to spread; with shifting arms
She dodged him from the sun;
Mother and sister both in heart,
She did a gracious woman's part,
Life's task even now begun!
They came upon a stagnant ditch,
The slippery sloping banks of which
More varied blossoms line;
Some ragged-robins baby spies,
Stretches his hands, and crows and cries,
Plain saying, "They are mine!"
What baby wants, that baby has--
A law unalterable as
The poor shall serve the rich:
They are beyond her reach--almost!
She kneels, she strains, and, too engrossed,
Topples into the ditch.
Adown the side she slanting rolled,
But her two arms convulsive hold
The precious baby tight;
She lets herself sublimely go,
And in the ditch's muddy flow
Stands up, in evil plight.
'Tis nothing that her feet are wet,
But her new shoes she can't forget--
They cost five shillings bright!
Her petticoat, her tippet blue,
Her frock, they're smeared with slime like glue!
But baby is all right!
And baby laughs, and baby crows;
And baby being right, she knows
That nothing can be wrong;
So, with a troubled heart yet stout,
She plans how _ever_ to get out
With meditation long.
The high bank's edge is far away,
The slope is steep, and made of clay;
And what to do with baby?
For even a monkey, up to run,
Would need his four hands, every one:--
She is perplexed as may be.
And all her puzzling is no good!
Blank-staring up the side she stood,
Which, settling she, grew higher.
At last, seized with a fresh dismay
Lest baby's patience should give way,
She plucked her feet from the mire,
And up and down the ditch, not glad,
But patient, very, did promenade--
Splash, splash, went her small feet!
And baby thought it rare good fun,
Sucking his bit of pulpy bun,
And smelling meadow-sweet.
But, oh, the world that she had left--
The meads from her so lately reft--
Poor infant Proserpine!
A fabled land they lay above,
A paradise of sunny love,
In breezy space divine!
Frequent from neighbouring village-green
Came sounds of laughter, faintly keen,
And barks of well-known dogs,
While she, the hot sun overhead,
Her lonely watery way must tread
In mud and weeds and frogs!
Sudden, the ditch about her shakes;
Her little heart, responsive, quakes
With fear of uncouth woes;
She lifts her boding eyes perforce--
To see the huge head of a horse
Go past upon its nose.
Then, hark, what sounds of tearing grass
And puffing breath!--With knobs of brass
On horns of frightful size,
A cow's head through the broken hedge
Looks awful from the other edge,
Though mild her pondering eyes.
The horse, the cow are passed and gone;
The sun keeps going on and on,
And still no help comes near.--
At misery's last--oh joy, the sound
Of human footsteps on the ground!
She cried aloud, "_I_'m here!"
It was a man--oh, heavenly joy!
He looked amazed at girl and boy,
And reached his hand so strong:
"Give me the child," he said; but no!
Care would not let the burden go
Which Love had borne so long.
Smiling he kneels with outstretched hands,
And them unparted safely lands
In the upper world again.
Her low thanks feebly murmured, she
Drags her legs homeward painfully--
Poor, wet, one-chickened hen!
Arrived at length--Lo, scarce a speck
Was on the child from heel to neck,
Though she was sorely mired!
No tear confessed the long-drawn rack,
Till her mother took the baby back,
And the she cried, "I'm tired!"
And, intermixed with sobbing wail,
She told her mother all the tale,
Her wet cheeks in a glow:
"But, mother, mother, though I fell,
I kept the baby pretty well--
I did not let him go!"
_HE HEEDED NOT_.
Of whispering trees the tongues to hear,
And sermons of the silent stone;
To read in brooks the print so clear
Of motion, shadowy light, and tone--
That man hath neither eye nor ear
Who careth not for human moan.
Yea, he who draws, in shrinking haste,
From sin that passeth helpless by;
The weak antennae of whose taste
From touch of alien grossness fly--
Shall, banished to the outer waste,
Never in Nature's bosom lie.
But he whose heart is full of grace
To his own kindred all about,
Shall find in lowest human face,
Blasted with wrong and dull with doubt,
More than in Nature's holiest place
Where mountains dwell and streams run out.
Coarse cries of strife assailed my ear,
In suburb-ways, one summer morn;
A wretched alley I drew near
Whence on the air the sounds were borne--
Growls breaking into curses clear,
And shrill retorts of keener scorn.
Slow from its narrow entrance came,
His senses drowned with revels dire,
Scarce fit to answer to his name,
A man unconscious save of ire;
Fierce flashes of dull, fitful flame
Broke from the embers of his fire.
He cast a glance of stupid hate
Behind him, every step he took,
Where followed him, like following fate,
An aged crone, with bloated look:
A something checked his listless gait;
She neared him, rating till she shook.
Why stood he still to be disgraced?
What hindered? Lost in his employ,
His eager head high as his waist,
Half-buttressed him a tiny boy,
An earnest child, ill-clothed, pale-faced,
Whose eyes held neither hope nor joy.
Perhaps you think he pushed, and pled
For one poor coin to keep the peace
With hunger! or home would have led
And given him up to sleep's release:
Well he might know the good of bed
To make the drunken fever cease!
Not so; like unfledged, hungry bird
He stood on tiptoe, reaching higher,
But no expostulating word
Did in his anxious soul aspire;
With humbler care his heart was stirred,
With humbler service to his sire.
He, sleepless-pale and wrathful red,
Though forward leaning, held his foot
Lest on the darling he should tread:
A misty sense had taken root
Somewhere in his bewildered head
That round him kindness hovered mute.
The words his simmering rage did spill
Passed o'er the child like breeze o'er corn;
Safer than bee whose dodging skill
And myriad eyes the hail-shower scorn,
The boy, absorbed in loving will,
Buttoned his father's waistcoat worn.
Over his calm, unconscious face
No motion passed, no change of mood;
Still as a pool in its own place,
Unsunned within a thick-leaved wood,
It kept its quiet shadowy grace,
As round it all things had been good.
Was the boy deaf--the tender palm
Of him that made him folded round
The little head to keep it calm
With a _hitherto_ to every sound--
And so nor curse nor shout nor psalm
Could thrill the globe thus grandly bound?
Or came in force the happy law
That customed things themselves erase?
Or was he too intent for awe?
Did love take all the thinking place?
I cannot tell; I only saw
An earnest, fearless, hopeless face.
_THE SHEEP AND THE GOAT_.
The thousand streets of London gray
Repel all country sights;
But bar not winds upon their way,
Nor quench the scent of new-mown hay
In depth of summer nights.
And here and there an open spot,
Still bare to light and dark,
With grass receives the wanderer hot;
There trees are growing, houses not--
They call the place a park.
Soft creatures, with ungentle guides,
God's sheep from hill and plain,
Flow thitherward in fitful tides,
There weary lie on woolly sides,
Or crop the grass amain.
And from dark alley, yard, and den,
In ragged skirts and coats,
Come thither children of poor men,
Wild things, untaught of word or pen--
The little human goats.
In Regent's Park, one cloudless day,
An overdriven sheep,
Come a hard, long, and dusty way,
Throbbing with thirst and hotness lay,
A panting woollen heap.
But help is nearer than we know
For ills of every name:
Ragged enough to scare the crow,
But with a heart to pity woe,
A quick-eyed urchin came.
Little he knew of field or fold,
Yet knew what ailed; his cap
Was ready cup for water cold;
Though creased, and stained, and very old,
'Twas not much torn, good hap!
Shaping the rim and crown he went,
Till crown from rim was deep;
The water gushed from pore and rent,
Before he came one half was spent--
The other saved the sheep.
O little goat, born, bred in ill,
Unwashed, half-fed, unshorn,
Thou to the sheep from breezy hill
Wast bishop, pastor, what you will,
In London dry and lorn!
And let priests say the thing they please,
My faith, though poor and dim,
Thinks he will say who always sees,
In doing it to one of these
Thou didst it unto him.
_THE WAKEFUL SLEEPER_.
When things are holding wonted pace
In wonted paths, without a trace
Or hint of neighbouring wonder,
Sometimes, from other realms, a tone,
A scent, a vision, swift, alone,
Breaks common life asunder.
Howe'er it comes, whate'er its door,
It makes you ponder something more--
Unseen with seen things linking:
To neighbours met one festive night,
Was given a quaint and lovely sight,
That set some of them thinking.
They stand, in music's fetters bound
By a clear brook of warbled sound,
A canzonet of Haydn,
When the door slowly comes ajar--
A little further--just as far
As shows a tiny maiden.
Softly she enters, her pink toes
Daintily peeping, as she goes,
Her long nightgown from under.
The varied mien, the questioning look
Were worth a picture; but she took
No notice of their wonder.
They made a path, and she went through;
She had her little chair in view
Close by the chimney-corner;
She turned, sat down before them all,
Stately as princess at a ball,
And silent as a mourner.
Then looking closer yet, they spy
What mazedness hid from every eye
As ghost-like she came creeping:
They see that though sweet little Rose
Her settled way unerring goes,
Plainly the child is sleeping.
"Play on, sing on," the mother said;
"Oft music draws her from her bed."--
Dumb Echo, she sat listening;
Over her face the sweet concent
Like winds o'er placid waters went,
Her cheeks like eyes were glistening.
Her hands tight-clasped her bent knees hold
Like long grass drooping on the wold
Her sightless head is bending;
She sits all ears, and drinks her fill,
Then rising goes, sedate and still,
On silent white feet wending.
Surely, while she was listening so,
Glad thoughts in her went to and fro
Preparing her 'gainst sorrow,
And ripening faith for that sure day
When earnest first looks out of play,
And thought out of to-morrow.
She will not know from what fair skies
Troop hopes to front anxieties--
In what far fields they gather,
Until she knows that even in sleep,
Yea, in the dark of trouble deep,
The child is with the Father.
_A DREAM OF WAKING_.
A child was born in sin and shame,
Wronged by his very birth,
Without a home, without a name,
One over in the earth.
No wifely triumph he inspired,
Allayed no husband's fear;
Intruder bare, whom none desired,
He had a welcome drear.
Heaven's beggar, all but turned adrift
For knocking at earth's gate,
His mother, like an evil gift,
Shunned him with sickly hate.
And now the mistress on her knee
The unloved baby bore,
The while the servant sullenly
Prepared to leave her door.
Her eggs are dear to mother-dove,
Her chickens to the hen;
All young ones bring with them their love,
Of sheep, or goats, or men!
This one lone child shall not have come
In vain for love to seek:
Let mother's hardened heart be dumb,
A sister-babe will speak!
"Mother, keep baby--keep him _so_;
Don't let him go away."
"But, darling, if his mother go,
Poor baby cannot stay."
"He's crying, mother: don't you see
He wants to stay with you?"
"No, child; he does not care for me."
"Do keep him, mother--_do_."
"For his own mother he would cry;
He's hungry now, I think."
"Give him to me, and let _me_ try
If I can make him drink."
"Susan would hurt him! Mother _will_
Let the poor baby stay?"
Her mother's heart grew sore, but still
Baby must go away!
The red lip trembled; the slow tears
Came darkening in her eyes;
Pressed on her heart a weight of fears
That sought not ease in cries.
'Twas torture--must not be endured!--
A too outrageous grief!
Was there an ill could _not_ be cured?
She _would_ find some relief!
All round her universe she pried:
No dawn began to break:
In prophet-agony she cried--
"Mother! when _shall_ we wake?"
O insight born of torture's might!--
Such grief _can_ only seem.
Rise o'er the hills, eternal light,
And melt the earthly dream.
_A MANCHESTER POEM_.
'Tis a poor drizzly morning, dark and sad.
The cloud has fallen, and filled with fold on fold
The chimneyed city; and the smoke is caught,
And spreads diluted in the cloud, and sinks,
A black precipitate, on miry streets.
And faces gray glide through the darkened fog.
Slave engines utter again their ugly growl,
And soon the iron bands and blocks of stone
That prison them to their task, will strain and quiver
Until the city tremble. The clamour of bells,
Importunate, keeps calling pale-faced forms
To gather and feed those Samsons' groaning strength
With labour; and among the many come
A man and woman--the woman with her gown
Drawn over her head, the man with bended neck
Submissive to the rain. Amid the jar,
And clash, and shudder of the awful force,
They enter and part--each to a different task,
But each a soul of knowledge to brute force,
Working a will through the organized whole
Of cranks and belts and levers, pinions and screws
Wherewith small man has eked his body out,
And made himself a mighty, weary giant.
In labour close they pass the murky day,
'Mid floating dust of swift-revolving wheels,
And filmy spoil of quick contorted threads,
Which weave a sultry chaos all about;
Until, at length, old darkness, swelling slow
Up from the caves of night to make an end,
Chokes in its tide the clanking of the looms,
The monster-engines, and the flying gear.
'Tis Earth that draws her curtains, and calls home
Her little ones, and sets her down to nurse
Her tired children--like a mother-ghost
With her neglected darlings in the dark.
So out they walk, with sense of glad release,
And home--to a dreary place! Unfinished walls,
Earth-heaps, and broken bricks, and muddy pools
Lie round it like a rampart against the spring,
The summer, and all sieges of the year.
But, Lo, the dark has opened an eye of fire!
The room reveals a temple, witnessed by signs
Seen in the ancient place! Lo, here is light,
Yea, burning fire, with darkness on its skirts;
Pure water, ready to baptize; and bread;
And in the twilight edges of the light,
A book; and, for the cunning-woven veil,
Their faces--hiding God's own holiest place!
Even their bed figures the would-be grave
Where One arose triumphant, slept no more!
So at their altar-table they sit down
To eat their Eucharist; for, to the heart
That reads the live will in the dead command,
_He_ is the bread, yea, all of every meal.
But as, in weary rest, they silent sit,
They gradually grow aware of light
That overcomes their lamp, and, through the blind,
Casts from the window-frame two shadow-glooms
That make a cross of darkness on the white.
The woman rises, eagerly looks out:
Lo, some fair wind has mown the earth-sprung fog,
And, far aloft, the white exultant moon,
From her blue window, curtained all with white,
Looks greeting them--God's creatures they and she!
Smiling she turns; he understands the smile:
To-morrow will be fair--as holy, fair!
And lying down, in sleep they die till morn,
While through their night throb low aurora-gleams
Of resurrection and the coming dawn.
They wake: 'tis Sunday. Still the moon is there,
But thin and ghostly--clothed upon with light,
As if, while they were sleeping, she had died.
They dress themselves, like priests, in clean attire,
And, through their lowly door, enter God's room.
The sun is up, the emblem on his shield.
One side the street, the windows all are moons
To light the other side that lies in shade.
See, down the sun-side, an old woman come
In a red cloak that makes the whole street glad!
A long-belated autumn-flower she seems,
Dazed by the rushing of the new-born life
Up hidden stairs to see the calling sun,
But in her cloak and smile they know the spring,
And haste to meet her through slow dissolving streets
Widening to larger glimmers of growing green.
Oh, far away the streets repel the spring!
Yet every stone in the dull pavement shares
The life that thrills anew the outworn earth,
A right Bethesda angel--for all, not some!
A street unfinished leads them forth at length
Where green fields bask, and hedgerow trees, apart,
Stand waiting in the air as for some good,
And the sky is broad and blue--and there is all!
No peaceful river meditates along
The weary flat to the less level sea!
No forest brown, on pillared stems, its boughs
Meeting in gothic arches, bears aloft
A groined vault, fretted with tremulous leaves!
No mountains lift their snows, and send their brooks
Down babbling with the news of silent things!
But love itself is commonest of all,
And loveliest of all, in all the worlds!
And he that hath not forest, brook, or hill,
Must learn to read aright what commoner books
Unfold before him. If ocean solitudes--
Then darkness dashed with glory, infinite shades,
And misty minglings of the sea and sky.
If only fields--the humble man of heart
Will revel in the grass beneath his foot,
And from the lea lift his glad eye to heaven,
God's palette, where his careless painter-hand
Sweeps comet-clouds that net the gazing soul;
Streaks endless stairs, and blots half-sculptured blocks;
Curves filmy pallors; heaps huge mountain-crags;
Nor touches where it leaves not beauty's mark.
To them the sun and air are feast enough,
As through field-paths and lanes they slowly walk;
But sometimes, on the far horizon dim
A veil is lifted, and they spy the hills,
Cloudlike and faint, yet sharp against the sky;
Then wakes an unknown want, which asks and looks
As for some thing forgot--loved long ago,
But on the hither verge of childhood dropt:
'Tis but home-sickness roused in the soul by Spring!
Fresh birth and eager growth, reviving life,
Which _is_ because it _would be_, fill the world;
The very light is new-born with the grass;
The stones themselves are warm; the brown earth swells,
Filled, sponge-like, with dark beams, which nestle close
And brood unseen and shy, and potent warm
In every little corner, nest, and crack
Where buried lurks a blind and sleepy seed
Waiting the touch of the finger of the sun.
The mossy stems and boughs, where yet no life
Oozes exuberant in brown and green,
Are clad in golden splendours, crossed and lined
With shuttle-shadows weaving lovely change.
Through the tree-tops the west wind rushing goes,
Calling and rousing the dull sap within:
The fine jar down the stem sinks tremulous,
From airy root thrilling to earthy branch.
And though as yet no buddy baby dots
Sparkle the darkness of the hedgerow twigs,
The smoke-dried bark appears to spread and swell
In the soft nurture of the warm light-bath.
The sun had left behind him the keystone
Of his low arch half-way when they turned home,
Filled with pure air, and light, and operant spring:
Back, like the bees, they went to their dark house
To store their innocent spoil in honeyed thought.
But on their way, crossing a field, they chanced
Upon a spot where once had been a home,
And roots of walls still peered out, grown with moss.
'Twas a dead cottage, mouldered quite, where yet
Lay the old shadow of a vanished care;
The little garden's blunt, half-blotted map
Was yet discernible by thinner grass
Upon the walks. There, in the midst of dry
Bushes, dead flowers, rampant, uncomely weeds,
A single snowdrop drooped its snowy drop,
The lonely remnant of a family
That in the garden dwelt about the home--
Reviving with the spring when home was gone:
They see; its spiritual counterpart
Wakes up and blossoms white in their meek souls--
A longing, patient, waiting hopefulness,
The snowdrop of the heart; a heavenly child,
That, pale with the earthly cold, hangs its fair head
As it had nought to say 'gainst any world;
While they in whom it dwells, nor knows itself,
Inherit in their meekness all the worlds.
I love thee, flower, as a slow lingerer
Upon the verge of my humanity.
Lo, on thine inner leaves and in thy heart
The loveliest green, acknowledging the grass--
White-minded memory of lowly friends!
But almost more I love thee for the earth
Which clings to thy transfigured radiancy,
Uplifted with thee from thine abandoned grave;
Say rather the soiling of thy garments pure
Upon thy road into the light and air,
The heaven of thy new birth. Some gentle rain
Will one day wash thee white, and send the earth
Back to the earth; but, sweet friend, while it clings,
I love the cognizance of our family.
With careful hands uprooting it, they bore
The little plant a willing captive home--
Fearless of dark abode, because secure
In its own tale of light. As once of old
The angel of the annunciation shone,
Bearing all heaven into a common house,
It brings in with it field and sky and air.
A pot of mould its one poor tie to earth,
Its heaven an ell of blue 'twixt chimney-tops,
Its world the priests of that small temple-room,
It takes its prophet-place with fire and book,
Type of primeval spring, whose mighty arc
Hath not yet drawn the summer up the sky.
At night, when the dark shadow of the cross
Will enter, clothed in moonlight, still and wan
Like a pale mourner at its foot the flower
Will, drooping, wait the dawn. Then the dark bird
Which holds breast-caged the secret of the sun,
And therefore hangs himself a prisoner caged,
Will break into its song--Lo, God is light!
Weary and hopeful, to their sleep they go;
And all night long the snowdrop glimmers white
Thinning the dark, unknowing it, and unseen.
* * * * *
Out of my verse I woke, and saw my room,
My precious books, the cherub-forms above,
And rose, and walked abroad, and sought the woods;
And roving odours met me on my way.
I entered Nature's church, a shimmering vault
Of boughs, and clouded leaves--filmy and pale
Betwixt me and the sun, while at my feet
Their shadows, dark and seeming solid, lay
Like tombstones o'er the vanished flowers of Spring.
The place was silent, save for the broken song
Of some Memnonian, glory-stricken bird
That burst into a carol and was still;
It was not lonely: golden beetles crept,
Green goblins, in the roots; and squirrel things
Ran, wild as cherubs, through the tracery;
And here and yonder a flaky butterfly
Was doubting in the air, scarlet and blue.
But 'twixt my heart and summer's perfect grace,
Drove a dividing wedge, and far away
It seemed, like voice heard loud yet far away
By one who, waking half, soon sleeps outright:--
Where was the snowdrop? where the flower of hope?
In me the spring was throbbing; round me lay
Resting fulfilled, the odour-breathing summer!
My heart heaved swelling like a prisoned bud,
And summer crushed it with its weight of light!
Winter is full of stings and sharp reproofs,
Healthsome, not hurtful, but yet hurting sore;
Summer is too complete for growing hearts--
Too idle its noons, its morns too triumphing,
Too full of slumberous dreams its dusky eves;
Autumn is full of ripeness and the grave;
We need a broken season, where the cloud
Is ruffled into glory, and the dark
Falls rainful o'er the sunset; need a world
Whose shadows ever point away from it;
A scheme of cones abrupt, and flattened spheres,
And circles cut, and perfect laws the while
That marvellous imperfection ever points
To higher perfectness than heart can think;
Therefore to us, a flower of harassed Spring,
Crocus, or primrose, or anemone,
Is lovely as was never rosiest rose;
A heath-bell on a waste, lonely and dry,
Says more than lily, stately in breathing white;
A window through a vaulted roof of rain
Lets in a light that comes from farther away,
And, sinking deeper, spreads a finer joy
Than cloudless noon-tide splendorous o'er the world:
Man seeks a better home than Paradise;
Therefore high hope is more than deepest joy,
A disappointment better than a feast,
And the first daisy on a wind-swept lea
Dearer than Eden-groves with rivers four.
_WHAT THE LORD SAITH_.
Trust my father, saith the eldest-born;
I did trust him ere the earth began;
Not to know him is to be forlorn;
Not to love him is--not to be man.
He that knows him loves him altogether;
With my father I am so content
That through all this dreary human weather
I am working, waiting, confident.
He is with me; I am not alone;
Life is bliss, because I am his child;
Down in Hades will I lay the stone
Whence shall rise to Heaven his city piled.
Hearken, brothers, pray you, to my story!
Hear me, sister; hearken, child, to me:
Our one father is a perfect glory;
He is light, and there is none but he.
Come then with me; I will lead the way;
All of you, sore-hearted, heavy-shod,
Come to father, yours and mine, I pray;
Little ones, I pray you, come to God!
_HOW SHALL HE SING WHO HATH NO SONG_?
How shall he sing who hath no song?
He laugh who hath no mirth?
Will cannot wake the sleeping song!
Yea, Love itself in vain may long
To sing with them that have a song,
Or, mirthless, laugh with Mirth!
He who would sing but hath no song
Must speak the right, denounce the wrong,
Must humbly front the indignant throng,
Must yield his back to Satire's thong,
Nor shield his face from liar's prong,
Must say and do and be the truth,
And fearless wait for what ensueth,
Wait, wait, with patience sweet and strong,
Until God's glory fill the earth;
Then shall he sing who had no song,
He laugh who had no mirth!
Yea, if in land of stony dearth
Like barren rock thou sit,
Round which the phantom-waters flit
Of heart- and brain-mirage
That can no thirst assuage,
Yet be thou still, and wait, wait long;
A right sea comes to drown the wrong;
God's glory comes to fill the earth,
And thou, no more a scathed rock,
Shalt start alive with gladsome shock,
Shalt a hand-clapping billow be,
And shout with the eternal sea!
To righteousness and love belong
The dance, the jubilance, the song,
When the great Right hath quelled the wrong,
And Truth hath stilled the lying tongue!
Then men must sing because of song,
And laugh because of mirth!
And this shall be their anthem strong--
Hallow! the glad God fills the earth,
And Love sits down by every hearth!
Thy world is made to fit thine own,
A nursery for thy children small,
The playground-footstool of thy throne,
Thy solemn school-room, Father of all!
When day is done, in twilight's gloom,
We pass into thy presence-room.
Because from selfishness and wrath,
Our cold and hot extremes of ill,
We grope and stagger on the path--
Thou tell'st us from thy holy hill,
With icy storms and sunshine rude,
That we are all unripe in good.
Because of snaky things that creep
Through our soul's sea, dim-undulant,
Thou fill'st the mystery of thy deep
With faces heartless, grim, and gaunt;
That we may know how ugly seem
The things our spirit-oceans teem.
Because of half-way things that hold
Good names, and have a poisonous breath--
Prudence that is but trust in gold,
And faith that is but fear of death--
Amongst thy flowers, the lovely brood,
Thou sendest some that are not good.
Thou stay'st thy hand from finishing things
To make thy child love the complete;
Full many a flower comes up thy springs
Unshamed in imperfection sweet;
That through good all, and good in part,
Thy work be perfect in the heart.
Because, in careless confidence,
So oft we leave the narrow way,
Its borders thorny hedges fence,
Beyond them marshy deeps affray;
But farther on, the heavenly road
Lies through the gardens of our God.
Because thy sheep so often will
Forsake the meadow cool and damp
To climb the stony, grassless hill,
Or wallow in the slimy swamp,
Thy sicknesses, where'er they roam,
Go after them to bring them home.
One day, all fear, all ugliness,
All pain, all discord, dumb or loud,
All selfishness, and all distress,
Will melt like low-spread morning cloud,
And heart and brain be free from thrall,
Because thou, God, art all in all!
O Peter, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Indeed the spray flew fast about,
But he was there whose walking foot
Could make the wandering hills take root;
And he had said, "Come down to me,"
Else hadst thou not set foot on sea!
Christ did not call thee to thy grave!
Was it the boat that made thee brave?
"Easy for thee who wast not there
To think thou more than I couldst dare!
It hardly fits thee though to mock
Scared as thou wast that railway shock!
Who saidst this morn, 'Wife, we must go--
The plague will soon be here, I know!'
Who, when thy child slept--not to death--
Saidst, 'Life is now not worth a breath!'"
Saint Peter, thou rebukest well!
It needs no tempest me to quell,
Not even a spent lash of its spray!
Things far too little to affray
Will wake the doubt that's worst of all--
Is there a God to hear me call?
But if he be, I never think
That he will hear and let me sink!
Lord of my little faith, my Lord,
Help me to fear nor fire nor sword;
Let not the cross itself appall
Which bore thee, Life and Lord of all;
Let reeling brain nor fainting heart
Wipe out the soreness that thou art;
Dwell farther in than doubt can go,
And make _I hope_ become _I know_.
Then, sure, if thou should please to say,
"Come to my side," some stormy way,
My feet, atoning to thy will,
Shall, heaved and tossed, walk toward thee still;
No heart of lead shall sink me where
Prudence lies crowned with cold despair,
But I shall reach and clasp thy hand,
And on the sea forget the land!
To whom the heavy burden clings,
It yet may serve him like a staff;
One day the cross will break in wings,
The sinner laugh a holy laugh.
The dwarfed Zacchaeus climbed a tree,
His humble stature set him high;
The Lord the little man did see
Who sought the great man passing by.
Up to the tree he came, and stopped:
"To-day," he said, "with thee I bide."
A spirit-shaken fruit he dropped,
Ripe for the Master, at his side.
Sure never host with gladder look
A welcome guest home with him bore!
Then rose the Satan of rebuke
And loudly spake beside the door:
"This is no place for holy feet;
Sinners should house and eat alone!
This man sits in the stranger's seat
And grinds the faces of his own!"
Outspoke the man, in Truth's own might:
"Lord, half my goods I give the poor;
If one I've taken more than right
With four I make atonement sure!"
"Salvation here is entered in;
This man indeed is Abraham's son!"
Said he who came the lost to win--
And saved the lost whom he had won.
_AFTER THOMAS KEMPIS_.
Who follows Jesus shall not walk
In darksome road with danger rife;
But in his heart the Truth will talk,
And on his way will shine the Life.
So, on the story we must pore
Of him who lives for us, and died,
That we may see him walk before,
And know the Father in the guide.
In words of truth Christ all excels,
Leaves all his holy ones behind;
And he in whom his spirit dwells
Their hidden manna sure shall find.
Gather wouldst thou the perfect grains,
And Jesus fully understand?
Thou must obey him with huge pains,
And to God's will be as Christ's hand.
What profits it to reason high
And in hard questions court dispute,
When thou dost lack humility,
Displeasing God at very root!
Profoundest words man ever spake
Not once of blame washed any clear;
A simple life alone could make
Nathanael to his master dear.
The eye with seeing is not filled,
The ear with hearing not at rest;
Desire with having is not stilled;
With human praise no heart is blest.
Vanity, then, of vanities
All things for which men grasp and grope!
The precious things in heavenly eyes
Are love, and truth, and trust, and hope.
Better the clown who God doth love
Than he that high can go
And name each little star above
But sees not God below!
What if all things on earth I knew,
Yea, love were all my creed,
It serveth nothing with the True;
He goes by heart and deed.
If thou dost think thy knowledge good,
Thy intellect not slow,
Bethink thee of the multitude
Of things thou dost not know.
Why look on any from on high
Because thou knowest more?
Thou need'st but look abroad, to spy
Ten thousand thee before.
Wouldst thou in knowledge true advance
And gather learning's fruit,
In love confess thy ignorance,
And thy Self-love confute.
This is the highest learning,
The hardest and the best--
From self to keep still turning,
And honour all the rest.
If one should break the letter,
Yea, spirit of command,
Think not that thou art better,
Thou may'st not always stand!
We all are weak--but weaker
Hold no one than thou art;
Then, as thou growest meeker,
Higher will go thy heart.
Sense and judgment oft indeed
Spy but little and mislead,
Ground us on a shelf!
Happy he whom Truth doth teach,
Not by forms of passing speech,
But her very self!
Why of hidden things dispute,
Mind unwise, howe'er astute,
Making that thy task
Where the Judge will, at the last,
When disputing all is past,
Not a question ask?
Folly great it is to brood
Over neither bad nor good,
Eyes and ears unheedful!
Ears and eyes, ah, open wide
For what may be heard or spied
Of the one thing needful!
TO AND OF FRIENDS.
_TO LADY NOEL BYRON_.
Men sought, ambition's thirst to slake,
The lost elixir old
Whose magic touch should instant make
The meaner metals gold.
A nobler alchymy is thine
Which love from pain doth press:
Gold in thy hand becomes divine,
Grows truth and tenderness.
_TO THE SAME_.
Dead, why defend thee, who in life
For thy worst foe hadst died;
Who, thy own name a word of strife,
Didst silent stand aside?
Grand in forgiveness, what to thee
The big world's puny prate!
Or thy great heart hath ceased to be
Or loveth still its mate!
_TO AURELIO SAFFI_.
_To God and man be simply true;
Do as thou hast been wont to do;
Bring out thy treasures, old and new_--
Mean all the same when said to you.
I love thee: thou art calm and strong;
Firm in the right, mild to the wrong;
Thy heart, in every raging throng,
A chamber shut for prayer and song.
Defeat thou know'st not, canst not know,
Although thy aims so lofty go
They need as long to root and grow
As infant hills to reach the snow.
Press on and prosper, holy friend!
I, weak and ignorant, would lend
A voice, thee, strong and wise, to send
Prospering onward without end.
_A THANKSGIVING FOR F. D. MAURICE_.
The veil hath lifted and hath fallen; and him
Who next it stood before us, first so long,
We see not; but between the cherubim
The light burns clearer: come--a thankful song!
Lord, for thy prophet's calm commanding voice,
For his majestic innocence and truth,
For his unswerving purity of choice,
For all his tender wrath and plenteous ruth;
For his obedient, wise, clear-listening care
To hear for us what word The Word would say,
For all the trembling fervency of prayer
With which he led our souls the prayerful way;
For all the heavenly glory of his face
That caught the white Transfiguration's shine
And cast on us the reflex of thy grace--
Of all thy men late left, the most divine;
For all his learning, and the thought of power
That seized thy one Idea everywhere,
Brought the eternal down into the hour,
And taught the dead thy life to claim and share;
For his humility, dove-clear of guile;--
The sin denouncing, he, like thy great Paul,
Still claimed in it the greatest share, the while
Our eyes, love-sharpened, saw him best of all!
For his high victories over sin and fear,
The captive hope his words of truth set free;
For his abiding memory, holy, dear;
Last, for his death and hiding now in thee,
We praise, we magnify thee, Lord of him:
Thou hast him still; he ever was thine own;
Nor shall our tears prevail the path to dim
That leads where, lowly still, he haunts thy throne.
When thou, O Lord, ascendedst up on high
Good gifts thou sentest down to cheer thy men:
Lo, he ascends!--we follow with the cry,
His spirit send thou back in thine again.
Dead art thou? No more dead than was the maid
Over whose couch the saving God did stand--
"She is not dead but sleepeth," said,
And took her by the hand!
Thee knowledge never from Life's pathway wiled,
But following still where life's great father led,
He turned, and taking up his child,
Raised thee too from the dead,
O living, thou hast passed thy second birth,
Found all things new, and some things lovely strange;
But thou wilt not forget the earth,
Or in thy loving change!
TO GORDON, LEAVING KHARTOUM.
The silence of traitorous feet!
The silence of close-pent rage!
The roar, and the sudden heart-beat!
And the shot through the true heart going,
The truest heart of the age!
And the Nile serenely flowing!
Carnage and curses and cries!
He utters never a word;
Still as a child he lies;
The wind of the desert is blowing
Across the dead man of the Lord;
And the Nile is softly flowing.
But the song is stilled in heaven
To welcome one more king:
For the truth he hath witnessed and striven,
And let the world go crowing,
And Mammon's church-bell go ring,
And the Nile blood-red go flowing!
Man who hated the sword
Yet wielded the sword and axe--
Farewell, O arm of the Lord,
The Lord's own harvest mowing--
With a wind in the smoking flax
Where our foul rivers are flowing!
In war thou didst cherish peace,
Thou slewest for love of life:
Hail, hail thy stormy release
Go home and await thy sowing,
The patient flower of thy strife,
Thy bread on the Nile cast flowing.
Not thy earth to our earth alone,
Thy spirit is left with us!
Thy body is victory's throne,
And our hearts around it are glowing:
Would that we others died thus
Where the Thames and the Clyde are flowing!
_SONG OF THE SAINTS AND ANGELS_,
JANUARY 26, 1885.
Gordon, the self-refusing,
Gordon, the lover of God,
Gordon, the good part choosing,
Welcome along the road!
Thou knowest the man, O Father!
To do thy will he ran;
Men's praises he did not gather:
There is scarce such another man!
Thy black sheep's faithful shepherd
Who knew not how to flee,
Is torn by the desert leopard,
And comes wounded home to thee!
Home he is coming the faster
That the way he could not miss:
In thy arms, oh take him, Master,
And heal him with a kiss!
Then give him a thousand cities
To rule till their evils cease,
And their wailing minor ditties
Die in a psalm of peace.
Farewell, O Arm of the Lord!
Man who hated the sword,
Yet struck and spared not the thing abhorred!
Farewell, O word of the Word!
Man who knew no failure
But the failure of the Lord!
_TO E. G., DEDICATING A BOOK_.
A broken tale of endless things,
Take, lady: thou art not of those
Who in what vale a fountain springs
Would have its journey close.
Countless beginnings, fair first parts,
Leap to the light, and shining flow;
All broken things, or toys or hearts,
Are mended where they go.
Then down thy stream, with hope-filled sail,
Float faithful fearless on, loved friend;
'Tis God that has begun the tale
And does not mean to end.
_TO G. M. T_.
The sun is sinking in the west,
Long grow the shadows dim;
Have patience, sister, to be blest,
Wait patiently for Him.
Thou knowest love, much love hast had,
Great things of love mayst tell,
Ought'st never to be very sad
For thou too hast lov'd well.
His house thou know'st, who on the brink
Of death loved more than thou,
Loved more than thy great heart can think,
And just as then loves now--
In that great house is one who waits
For thy slow-coming foot;
Glad is he with his angel-mates
Yet often listens mute,
For he of all men loves thee best:
He haunts the heavenly clock;
Ah, he has long been up and drest
To open to thy knock!
Fear not, doubt not because of those
On whom earth's keen winds blow;
God's love shames all our pitying woes,
Be ready thou to go.
Forsaken dream not hearts which here
Bask in no sunny shine;
Each shall one coming day be dear
To love as good as thine.
_LADY CAROLINE CHARTERIS_.
The mountain-stream may humbly boast
For her the loud waves call;
The hamlet feeds the nation's host,
The home-farm feeds the hall;
And unto earth heaven's Lord doth lend
The right, of high import,
The gladsome privilege to send
New courtiers to Love's court.
Not strange to thee, O lady dear,
Life in that palace fair,
For thou while waiting with us here
Didst just as they do there!
Thy heart still open to receive,
Open thy hand to give,
God had thee graced with more than leave
In heavenly state to live!
And though thou art gone up so high
Thou art not gone so far
But that thy love to us comes nigh,
As starlight from a star.
And ours must reach where'er thou art,
In far or near abode,
For God is of all love the heart,
And we are all in God.
END OF VOL. I.
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