Thus spake the Stranger, and was seen no more: But whether o'er the waters, as of old Footing that Galilean Sea, with faith Not now infirm he reached the southern shore, Or passed from sight as one whom crowds conceal, The fisher knew not. At the tent arrived, Before its little door he bent, and lo! Within, there knelt a venerable man With hoary hands screening a hoary head, Who prayed, and prayed. His tale the fisher told: With countenance unamazed, yet well content, That kneeler answered, 'Son, thy speech is true! Hence, and announce thy tidings to the King, Who leaves his couch but now.' 'How beautiful'— That old man sang, as down the Thames at morn In multitudinous pomp the barges dropped, Following those twain that side by side advanced, One royal, one pontific, bearing each The Cross in silver blazoned or in gold— 'How beautiful, O Sion, are thy courts! Lo, on thy brow thy Maker's name is writ: Fair is this place and awful; porch of heaven: Behold, God's Church is founded on a rock: It stands, and shall not fall: the gates of Hell Shall not prevail against it.' From the barge Of Sebert and his Queen, antiphonal Rapturous response was wafted: 'I beheld Jerusalem, the City sage and blest; From heaven I saw it to the earth descending In sanctity gold-vested, as a Bride Decked for her Lord. I heard a voice which sang, Behold the House where God will dwell with men: And God shall wipe the tears from off their face; And death shall be no more.' Old Thames that day Brightened with banners of a thousand boats Winnowed by winds flower-scented. Countless hands Tossed on the brimming river chaplets wov'n On mead or hill, or branches lopped in woods With fruit-bloom red, or white with clustering cone, Changing clear stream to garden. Mile on mile Now song was heard, now bugle horn that died Gradual 'mid sedge and reed. Alone the swan High on the western waters kept aloof; Remote she eyed the scene with neck thrown back, Her ancient calm preferring, and her haunt Crystalline still. Alone the Julian Tower Far down the eastern stream, though tap'stries waved From every window, every roof o'er-swarmed With anthem-echoing throngs, maintained, unmoved, Roman and Stoic, her Caesarean pride: On Saxon feasts she fixed a cold, grey gaze; 'Mid Christian hymns heard but the old acclaim— 'Consul Romanus.' When the sun had reached Its noonday height, a people and its king Around their minster pressed. With measured tread And Introit chanted, up the pillared nave Reverent they moved: then knelt. Between their ranks Their Bishop last advanced with mitred brow And in his hand the Cross, at every step Signing the benediction of his Lord. The altar steps he mounted. Turning then Westward his face to that innumerous host, Thus spake he unastonished: 'Sirs, ere now This church's Consecration rite was sung:— Be ours to sing thanksgiving to our God, "Ter-Sanctus," and "Te Deum."'
THE PENANCE OF SAINT LAURENCE.
Eadbald, King of Kent, persecuting the Church, Laurence the Bishop deems himself the chief of sinners because he has consented, like the neighbouring bishops, to depart; but, being consoled by a wonderful reprimand, faces the King, and offers himself up to death. The King reproves them that gave him evil counsel.
The day was dying on the Kentish downs And in the oakwoods by the Stour was dead, While sadly shone o'er snowy plains of March Her comfortless, cold star. The daffodil That year was past its time. The leaden stream Had waited long that lamp of river-beds Which, when the lights of Candlemas are quenched, Looks forth through February mists. A film Of ice lay brittle on the shallows: dark And swift the central current rushed: the wind Sighed through the tawny sedge. 'So fleets our life— Like yonder gloomy stream; so sighs our age— Like yonder sapless sedge!' Thus Laurence mused Standing on that sad margin all alone, His twenty years of gladsome English toil Ending at last abortive. 'Stream well-loved, Here on thy margin standing saw I first, My head by chance uplifting from my book, King Ethelbert's strong countenance; he is dead; And, next him, riding through the April gleams, Bertha, his Queen, with face so lit by love Its lustre smote the beggar as she passed And changed his sigh to song. She too is dead; And half their thanes that chased the stag that day, Like echoes of their own glad bugle-horn, Have passed and are not. Why must I abide? And why must age, querulous and coward both, Past days lamenting, fear not less that stroke Which makes an end of grief? Base life of man! How sinks thy slow infection through our bones; Then when you fawned upon us, high-souled youth Heroic in its gladness, spurned your gifts, Yearning for noble death. In age, in age We kiss the hand that nothing holds but dust, Murmuring, "Not yet!"' A tear, ere long ice-glazed, Hung on the old man's cheek. 'What now remains?' Some minutes passed; then, lifting high his head, He answered, 'God remains.' His faith, his heart, Were unsubverted. 'Twas the weight of grief, The exhausted nerve, the warmthless blood of age, That pressed him down like sin, where sin was none— Not sin, but weakness only. Long he mused, Then slowly walked, and feebly, through the woods Towards his house monastic. Vast it loomed Through ground-fog seen; and vaster, close beside, That convent's church by great Augustine reared Where once old woodlands clasped a temple old, Vaunt of false Gods. To Peter and to Paul That church was dedicate, albeit so long High o'er the cloudy rack of fleeting years It bore, and bears, its founder's name, not theirs. Therein that holy founder slept in Christ, And Ethelbert, and Bertha. All was changed: King Eadbald, new-crowned and bad of life, Who still, whate'er was named of great or good, Made answer, 'Dreams! I say the flesh rules all!' Hated the Cross. His Queen, that portent crowned, She that with name of wife was yet no wife, Abhorred that Cross and feared. A Baptist new In that Herodian court had Laurence stood, Commanding, 'Put the evil thing away!' Since then the woman's to the monarch's hate Had added strength—the serpent's poison-bag Venoming the serpent's fang. 'Depart the realm!' With voice scarce human thus the tyrant cried, 'Depart or die;' and gave the Church's goods To clown and boor. Upon the bank of Thames Settled like ruin. Holy Sebert dead, In that East Saxon kingdom monarch long, Three sons unrighteous now their riot held. Frowning into the Christian Church they strode, Full-armed, and each, with far-stretched foot firm set Watching the Christian rite. 'Give us,' they cried, While knelt God's children at their Paschal Feast, 'Give us those circlets of your sacred bread: Ye feed therewith your beggars; kings are we!' The Bishop answered, 'Be, like them, baptized, Sons of God's Church, His Sacrament with man, For that cause Mother of Christ's Sacraments, So shall ye share her Feast.' With lightning speed Their swords leaped forth; contemptuous next they cried, 'For once we spare to sweep a witless head From worthless shoulders. Ere to-morrow's dawn Hence, nor return!' He sped to Rochester: Her bishop, like himself, was under ban: The twain to Canterbury passed, and there Resolved to let the tempest waste its wrath, And crossed the seas. By urgency outworn, 'Gainst that high judgment of his holier will Laurence to theirs deferred, but tarried yet For one day more to cast a last regard On regions loved so long. As compline ceased He reached the abbey gates, and entered in: Sadly the brethren looked him in the face, Yet no one said, 'Take comfort!' Sad and sole He passed to the Scriptorium: round he gazed, And thought of happy days, when Gregory, One time their Abbot, next their Pope, would send Some precious volume to his exiled sons, While they in reverence knelt, and kissed its edge, And, kissing, heard once more, as if in dream, Gregorian chants through Roman palm trees borne With echoes from the Coliseum's wall Adown that Coelian Hill; and saw God's poor At feast around that humble board which graced That palace senatorial once. He stood: He raised a casket from an open chest, And from that casket drew a blazoned scroll, And placed it on the window-sill up-sloped Breast-high, and faintly warmed by sinking sun; Then o'er it bent a space. With sudden hands The old man raised that scroll; aloud he read: 'I, Ethelbert the King, and all my Thanes, Honouring the Apostle Peter, cede to God This Abbey and its lands. If heir of mine Cancel that gift, when Christ with angels girt Makes way to judge the Nations of this world, His name be cancelled from the Book of Life.' The old man paused; then read the signatures, 'I, Ethelbert, of Kent the King.' Who next? 'I, Eadbald, his son;' to these succeeding, 'I, Hennigisil, Duke;' 'I, Hocca, Earl.'— 'Can such things be?' Around the old man's brow The veins swelled out; dilated nostril, mouth Working as mouth of him that tasteth death, With what beside is wiselier unrevealed, Witnessed that agony which spake no more; He dashed the charter on the pavement down; Then on it gazed a space. Remembering soon Whose name stood first on that dishonoured list, Contrite he raised that charter to his breast, And pressed it there in silence. Hours went by; Then dark was all that room, and dark around The windy corridors and courts stone-paved; And bitter blew the blast: his unlooped cloak Fell loose: the cold he noted not. At last A brother passed the door with lamp in hand: Dazzled, he started first: then meekly spake, 'Beseech the brethren that they strew my bed Within the church. Until the second watch There must I fast, and pray,' The brethren heard, And strewed his couch within the vast, void nave, A mat and deer-skin, and, more high, that stone The old head's nightly pillow. Echoes faint Ere long of their receding footsteps died While from the dark fringe of a rainy cloud An ice-cold moon, ascending, streaked the church With gleam and gloom alternate. On his knees Meantime that aged priest was creeping slow From stone to stone, as when on battle-plain, The battle lost, some warrior wounded sore, By all forsaken, or some war-horse maimed, Drags a blind bulk along the field in search Of thirst-assuaging spring. Glittered serene That light before the Sacrament of Love: Thither he bent his way, and long time prayed: Thence onward crept to where King Ethelbert Slept, marble-shrined—his ashes, not the King, Yet ashes kingly since God's temple once, And waiting God's great day. Before that tomb, Himself as rigid, with lean arms outspread, Thus made the man his moan: 'King Ethelbert! Hear'st thou in glory? Ofttimes on thy knees Thou mad'st confession of thine earthly sins To me, a wounded worm this day on earth: Now comforted art thou, and I brought low: Yet, though I see no more that beaming front, And haply for my sins may see it never, Yet inwardly I gladden, knowing this That thou art glad. Perchance thou hear'st me not, For thou wert still a heedless man of mirth, Though sage as strong at need. If this were so, Not less thy God would hear my prayer to thee, And grant it in thy reverence. Ethelbert! Thou hadst thy trial time, since, many a year All shepherdless thy well-loved people strayed What time thyself, their shepherd, knew'st not Christ, Sole shepherd of man's race. King Ethelbert! Rememberest thou that day in Thanet Isle? That day the Bride of God on English shores Set her pure foot; and thou didst kneel to kiss it: Thou gav'st her meat and drink in kingly wise; Gav'st her thy palace for her bridal bower; This Abbey build'dst—her fortress! O those days Crowned with such glories, with such sweetness winged! Thou saw'st thy realm made one with Christ's: thou saw'st Thy race like angels ranging courts of Heaven: This day, behold, thou seest the things thou seest! If there be any hope, King Ethelbert, Help us this day with God!' Upon his knees Then crept that exile old to Bertha's tomb, And there made moan: 'Thou tenderest Queen and sweetest, Whom no man ever gazed on save with joy, Or spake of, dead, save weeping! Well I know That on thee in thy cradle Mary flung A lily whiter from her hand, a rose Warm from her breath and breast, for all thy life Was made of Chastities and Charities— This hour thine eyes are on that Vision bent Whereof the radiance, ere by thee beheld, Gave thee thine earthly brightness. Mirrored there, Seest thou, like moat in sunbeam well-nigh lost, Our world of temporal anguish? See it not! For He alone, the essential Peace Eterne, Could see it unperturbed. In Him rejoice! Yet, 'mid thy heavenly triumph, plead, O plead For hearts that break below!' Upon the ground Awhile that man sore tried his forehead bowed; Then raised it till the frore and foggy beam Mixed with his wintry hair. Once more he crept Upon his knees through shadow; reached at length His toilsome travel's last and dearest bourn, The grave of Saint Augustine. O'er it lay The Patriarch's statued semblance as in sleep: He knew it well, and found it, though to him In darkness lost and veil beside of tears, With level hands grazing those upward feet Oft kissed, yet ne'er as now. 'Farewell forever! Farewell, my Master, and farewell, my friend! Since ever thou in heaven abid'st—and I—— Gregory the Pontiff from that Roman Hill Sent thee to work a man's work far away, And manlike didst thou work it. Prince, yet child, Men saw thee, and obeyed thee. O'er the earth Thy step was regal, meekness of thy Christ Weighted with weight of conquerors and of kings: Men saw a man who toiled not for himself, Yet never ceased from toil; who warred on Sin; Had peace with all beside. In happy hour God laid His holy hand upon thine eyes: I knelt beside thy bed: I leaned mine ear Down to thy lips to catch their last; in vain: Yet thou perchance wert murmuring in thy heart: "I leave my staff within no hireling's hand; Therefore my work shall last," Ah me! Ah me! There was a Laurence once on Afric's shore: He with his Cyprian died. I too, methinks, Had shared—how gladly shared—my Bishop's doom. Father, with Gregory pray this night! That God Who promised, "for my servant David's sake," Even yet may hear thy prayer.' Thus wept the man, Till o'er him fell half slumber. Soon he woke, And, from between that statue's marble feet Lifting a marble face, in silence crept To where far off his bed was strewn, and drew The deer-skin covering o'er him. With its warmth Deep sleep, that solace of lamenting hearts Which makes the waking bitterer, o'er him sank, Nor wholly left him, though in sleep he moaned When from the neighbouring farm, an hour ere dawn, The second time rang out that clarion voice Which bids the Christian watch. As thus he lay T'wards him there moved in visions of the Lord A Venerable Shape, compact of light, And loftier than our mortal. Near arrived, That mild, compassionate Splendour shrank his beam, Or healed with strengthening touch the gazer's eyes Made worthier of such grace; and Laurence saw Princedom not less than his, the Apostles' Chief, To whom the Saviour answered, 'Rock art thou,' And later—crowning Love, not less than Faith— 'Feed thou My Sheep, My Lambs!' He knew that shape, For oft, a child 'mid catacombs of Rome, And winding ways girt by the martyred dead, His eyes had seen it. Pictured on those vaults Stood Peter, Moses of the Christian Law, Figured in one that by the Burning Bush Unsandalled knelt, or drew with lifted hand The torrent from the rock, yet wore not less In aureole round his head the Apostle's name 'Petros,' and in his hand sustained the Keys— Such shape once more he saw. 'And comest thou then Long-waited, or with sceptre-wielding hand Earthward to smite the unworthiest head on earth, Or with the darker of those Keys thou bearest Him from the synod of the Saints to shut Who fled as flies the hireling? Let it be! Not less in that bright City by whose gate Warder thou sitt'st, my Master thou shalt see Pacing the diamond terraces of God And bastions jacinth-veined, my great Augustine, When all who wrought the ill have passed to doom, And all who missed the good. Nor walks he sole: By him forever and forever pace My Ethelbert, my Bertha! Who can tell But in the on-sweeping centuries thrice or twice These three may name my name?' He spake and wept. To whom the Apostolic Splendour thus: 'Live, and be strong: for those thou lovest in Christ Not only in far years shall name thy name; This day be sure that name they name in Christ: Else wherefore am I here? Not thou alone, Much more in grief's bewilderment than fear, Hast from the right way swerved. Was I not strong? I, from the first Elect, and named anew? I who received, at first, divine command The Brother-band to strengthen; last to rule? I who to Hebrew and to Gentile both Flung wide the portals of the heavenly realm? Was I not strong? Behold, thou know'st my fall! A second fall was near. At Rome the sword Against me raged. Forth by the Appian Way I fled; and, past the gateway, face to face, Him met, Who up the steep of Calvary, bare For man's behoof the Cross. "Where goest thou, Lord?" I spake; then He: "I go to Rome, once more To die for him who fears for me to die." To Rome returned I; and my end was peace. Return thou too. Thy brethren have not sinned: They fled, consentient with the Will Supreme: Their names are written in the Book of Life: Enough that He Who gives to each his part Hath sealed thy sons and thee to loftier fates; Therefore more sternly tries. Be strong; be glad: For strength from joyance comes.' The Vision passed: The old man, seated on his narrow bed, Rolled thrice his eyes around the vast, dim church, Desiring to retain it. Vain the quest! Yet still within his heart that Radiance lived: The sweetness of that countenance fresh from God Would not be dispossessed, but kindled there Memorial dawn of brightness, more and more Growing to perfect day: inviolate peace, Such peace as heavenly visitants bequeath, O'er-spread his spirit, gradual, like a sea: Forth from the bosom of that peace upsoared Hope, starry-crowned, and winged, that liberates oft Faith, unextinct, though bound by Powers accursed That o'er her plant the foot, and hold the chain— Terror and Sloth. To noble spirits set free Delight means gratitude. Thus Laurence joyed: But soon, remembering that unworthy past, Remorse succeeded, sorrow born of love, Consoled by love alone. 'Ah! slave,' he cried, That, serving such a God, could'st dream of flight: How many a babe, too weak to lift his head, Is strong enough to die!' While thus he mused The day-dawn reaching to his pallet showed That Discipline, wire-woven, in ancient days Guest of monastic bed. He snatched it thence: Around his bending neck and shoulders lean In dire revenge he hurled it. Spent at last, Though late, those bleeding hands down dropped: the cheek Sank on the stony pillow. Little birds, Low-chirping ere their songs began, attuned Slumber unbroken. In a single hour He slept a long night's sleep. The rising sun Woke him: but in his heart another sun, New-risen serene with healing on its wings, Outshone that sun in brightness. 'Mid the choir His voice was loudest while they chanted lauds: Brother to brother whispered, issuing forth, 'He walks in stature higher by a head Than in the month gone by!' That day at noon King Eadwald, intent to whiten theft And sacrilege with sanctitudes of law, Girt by his warriors and his Witena, Enthroned sat. 'What boots it?' laughed a thane; 'Laurence has fled! we battle with dead men!' 'Ay, ay,' the King replied, 'I told you oft Sages can brag; your dreamer weaves his dream: But honest flesh rules all!' While thus they spake Confusion filled the hall: through guarded gates A priest advanced with mitre and with Cross, A monk that seemed not monk, but prince disguised: It was Saint Laurence. As he neared the throne The fashion of the tyrant's face was changed: 'Dar'st thou?' he cried, 'I deemed thee fled the realm— What seek'st thou here?' The Saint made answer, 'Death.' Calmly he told his tale; then ended thus: 'To me that sinful past is sin of one Buried in years gone by. All else is dream Save that last look the Apostle on me bent Ere from my sight he ceased. I saw therein The reflex of that wondrous last Regard Cast by the sentenced Saviour of mankind On one who had denied Him, standing cold Beside the High Priest's gate. Like him, I wept; His countenance wrought my penance, not his hand: I scarcely felt the scourge.' King Eadbald Drave back the sword half drawn, and round him stared; Then sat as one amazed. He rose; he cried, 'Ulf! Kathnar! Strip his shoulders bare! If true His tale, the brand remains!' Two chiefs stepped forth: They dragged with trembling hand, and many a pause, The external garb pontific first removed, Dark, blood-stained garment from the bleeding flesh, The old man kneeling. Once, and only once, The monarch gazed on that disastrous sight, Muttering, 'and yet he lives!' A time it was Of swift transitions. Hearts, how proud soe'er, Made not that boast—consistency in sin, Though dark and rough accessible to Grace As earth to vernal showers. With hands hard-clenched The King upstarted: thus his voice rang out: 'Beware, who gave ill counsel to their King! The royal countenance is against them set, Ill merchants trafficking with his lesser moods! Does any say the King wrought well of late, Warring on Christ, and chasing hence his priests? The man that lies shall die! This day, once more I ratify my Father's oath, and mine, To keep the Church in peace: and though I sware To push God's monks from yonder monastery And lodge therein the horses of the Queen, Those horses, and the ill-persuading Queen, Shall flee my kingdom, and the monks abide! Brave work ye worked, my loose-kneed Witena, This day, Christ's portion yielding to my wrath! See how I prize your labours!' With his sword He clave the red seal from their statute scroll And stamped it under foot. Once more he spake, Gazing with lion gaze from man to man: 'The man that, since my Father, Ethelbert, Though monarch, stooped to common doom of men, Hath filched from Holy Church fee-farm, or grange, Sepulchral brass, gold chalice, bell or book, See he restore it ere the sun goes down; If not, he dies! Not always winter reigns; May-breeze returns, and bud-releasing breath, When hoped the least:—'tis thus with royal minds!' He spake: from that day forth in Canterbury Till reigned the Norman, crowned on Hastings' field, God's Church had rest. In many a Saxon realm Convulsion rocked her cradle: altars raised By earlier kings by later were o'erthrown: One half the mighty Roman work, and more, Fell to the ground: Columba's Irish monks The ruin raised. From Canterbury's towers, 'Rome of the North' long named, from them alone Above sea-surge still shone that vestal fire By tempest fanned, not quenched; and at her breast For centuries six were nursed that Coelian race, The Benedictine Primates of the Land.
KING SIGEBERT OF EAST ANGLIA, AND HEIDA THE PROPHETESS.
Sigebert, King of East Anglia, moved by what he has heard from a Christian priest, consults the Prophetess Heida. In the doctrine he reports Heida recognises certain sacred traditions from the East, originally included in the Northern religion, and affirms that the new Faith is the fulfilment of the great Voluspa prophecy, the earliest record of that religion, which foretold the destruction both of the Odin-Gods and the Giant race, the restoration of all things, and the reign of Love.
Long time upon the late-closed door the King Kept his eyes fixed. The wondrous guest was gone; Yet, seeing that his words were great and sage, Compassionate for the sorrowful state of man, Yet sparing not man's sin, their echoes lived Thrilling large chambers in the monarch's breast Silent for many a year. Exiled in France The mystery of the Faith had reached his ear In word but not in power. The westering sun Lengthened upon the palace floor its beam, Yet the strong hand which propped that thoughtful head Sank not, nor moved. Sudden, King Sigebert Arose and spake: 'I go to Heida's Tower: Await ye my return.' The woods ere long Around him closed. Upon the wintry boughs An iron shadow pressed; and as the wind Increased beneath their roofs, an iron sound Clangoured funereal. Down their gloomiest aisle, With snow flakes white, the monarch strode, till now Before him, and not distant, Heida's Tower, The Prophetess by all men feared yet loved, Smit by a cold beam from the yellowing west, Shone like a tower of brass. Her ravens twain Crested the turrets of its frowning gate, Unwatched by warder. Sigebert passed in: Beneath the stony vault the queenly Seer Sat on her ebon throne. With pallid lips The King rehearsed his tale; how one with brow Lordlier than man's, and visionary eyes Which, wander where they might, saw Spirits still, Had told him many marvels of some God Mightier than Odin thrice. He paused awhile: A warning shadow came to Heida's brow: Nathless she nothing spake. The King resumed: 'He spake—that stranger—of the things he saw: For he, his body tranced, it may be dead, In spirit oft hath walked the Spirit-Land: Thence, downward gazing, once he saw our earth, A little vale obscure, and, o'er it hung, Those four great Fires that desolate mankind: The Fire of Falsehood first; the Fire of Lust, Ravening for weeds and scum; the Fire of Hate, Hurling, on war-fields, brother-man 'gainst man; The Fire of tyrannous Pride. While yet he gazed, Behold, those Fires, widening, commixed, then soared Threatening the skies. A Spirit near him cried, "Fear nought; for breeze-like pass the flames o'er him In whom they won no mastery there below: But woe to those who, charioted therein, Rode forth triumphant o'er the necks of men, And had their day on earth. Proportioned flames Of other edge shall try their work and them!" Thus spake my guest: the frost wind smote his brows, While on that moonlit crag we sat, ice-cold, Yet down them, like the reaper's sweat at noon, The drops of anguish streamed. Till then, methinks, That thing Sin is I knew not. Calm of voice Again he spake. He told me of his God: That God, like Odin, is a God of War: Who serve Him wear His armour day and night: The maiden, nay, the child, must wield the sword; Yet none may hate his neighbour. Thus he spake, That Prophet from far regions: "Wherefore wreck Thy brother man? upon his innocent babes Drag down the ruinous roof? Seek manlier tasks! The death in battle is the easiest death: Be yours the daily dying; lifelong death; Death of the body that the soul may live:— War on the Spirits unnumbered and accurst Which, rulers of the darkness of this world, Drive, hour by hour, their lances through man's soul That wits not of the wounding!"' Heida turned A keen eye on the King: 'Whence came your guest? Not from those sun-bright southern shores, I ween?' He answered, 'Nay, from western isle remote That Prophet came.' Then Heida's countenance fell: 'The West! the West! it should have been the East! Conclude your tale: what saith your guest of God?' The King replied: 'His God so loved mankind That, God remaining, he became a man; So hated sin that, sin to slay, He died. One tear of His had paid the dreadful debt:— Not so He willed it: thus He willed, to wake In man, His lost one, quenchless hate of sin, Proportioned to the death-pang of a God; Nor chose He lonely majesty of death: 'Twixt sinners paired He died.' In Heida's eye Trembled a tear. 'A dream was mine in youth, When first the rose of girlhood warmed my cheek, A dream of some great Sacrifice that claimed Not praise—not praise—it only yearned to die Helping the Loved. A maid alone, I thought, Such sacrifice could offer.' As she spake, She pressed upon the pale cheek, warmed once more, Her cold, thin hand a moment. 'Maiden-born Was He, my guest revealed,' the King replied: 'Then from that Angel's "Hail," and her response, "So be it unto me," when sinless doubt Vanished in world-renewing, free consent, He told the tale;—the Infant in the crib; The shepherds o'er him bowed;' (with widening eyes Heida, bent forward, saw like them that Child) 'The Star that led the Magians from the East——' 'The East, the East! It should have been the East!' Once more she cried; 'our race is from the East: The Persian worshipped t'ward the rising sun: You said, but now, the West.' The King resumed: 'God's priest was from the West; but in the East The great Deliverer sprang.' Next, step by step, Like herald panting forth in leaguered town Tidings unhoped for of deliverance strange Through victory on some battle field remote, The King rehearsed his theme, from that first Word, 'The Woman's Seed shall bruise the Serpent's head,' Prime Gospel, ne'er forgotten in the East, To Calvary's Cross, the Resurrection morn, Lastly the great Ascension into heaven: And ever as he spake on Heida's cheek The red spot, deepening, spread; within her eyes An unastonished gladness waxed more large: Back to the marble woman came her youth: Once more within her heaving breast it lived, Once more upon her forehead shone, as when The after-glow returns to Alpine snows Left death-like by dead day. Question at times She made, yet seemed the answer to foreknow. That tale complete, low-toned at last she spake: 'Unhappy they to whom these things are hard!' Then silent sat, and by degrees became Once more that dreaded prophet, stern and cold. The silence deeper grew: the sun, not set, Had sunk beneath the forest's western ridge; And jagged shadows tinged that stony floor Whereon the monarch knelt. Slowly therefrom He raised his head; then slowly made demand: 'Is he apostate who discards old Faith?'
Long time in musings Heida sat, then spake: 'Yea, if that Faith discarded be the Truth: Not so, if it be falsehood. God is Truth; God-taught, true hearts discern that Truth, and guard: Whom God forsakes forsake it. O thou North, That beat'st thy brand so loud against thy shield, Hearing nought else, what Truth one day was thine! Behold within corruption's charnel vaults It sleeps this day. What God shall lift its head? We came from regions of the rising sun: Scorning the temples built by mortal hand, We worshipp'd God—one God—the Immense, All-Just: That worship was the worship of great hearts: Duty was worship then: that God received it: I know not if benignly He received; If God be Love I know not. This I know, God loves not priest that under roofs of gold Lifts, in his right hand held, the Sacrifice; The left, behind him, fingering for the dole. King of East Anglia's realm, the primal Truths Are vanished from our Faith: the ensanguined rite, The insane carouse survive!' Thus Heida spake, Heida, the strong one by the strong ones feared; Heida, the sad one by the mourners loved; Heida, the brooder on the sacred Past, The nursling of a Prophet House, the child Of old traditions sage! She paused, and then Milder, resumed: 'What moved thee to believe?' And Sigebert made answer thus: 'The Sword: For as a sword that Truth the stranger preached Ran down into my heart.' Heida to him, 'Well saidst thou "as a Sword:" a Sword is Truth;— As sharp a sword is Love: and many a time In youth, but not the earliest, happiest youth, When first I found that grief was in the world, Had learned how deep its root, an infant's wail Went through me like a sword. Man's cry it seemed, The blindfold, crowned creature's cry for Truth, His spirit's sole deliverer.' Once again She mused, and then continued, 'Truth and Love Are gifts too great to give themselves for nought; Exacting Gods. Within man's bleeding heart, If e'er to man conceded, both shall lie Crossed, like two swords— Behold thine image, crowned Humanity! Better such dower than life exempt from woe: Our Fathers knew to suffer; joyed in pain; They knew not this—how deep its root!' Once more The Prophetess was mute: again she spake: 'How named thy guest his God?' The King replied: 'The Warrior God, Who comes to judge the world; The Lord of Love; the God Who wars on Sin, And ceases not to war.' 'Ay, militant,' Heida rejoined, with eyes that shone like stars: 'The Persian knew Him. Ormuzd was His name: Unpitying Light against the darkness warred; Against the Light the Darkness. Could the Light Remit, one moment's length, to pierce that gloom, Himself in gloom were swallowed.' Yet again In silence Heida sat; then cried aloud, 'Odin, and all his radiant AEsir Gods Forth thronging daily from the golden gates Of Asgard City, their supernal house, War on that giant brood of Jotuenheim, Lodged 'mid their mountains of eternal ice Which circles still that sea surrounding earth, Man's narrow home. I know that mystery now! That warfare means the war of Good on Ill: We shared that warfare once! This day, depraved, Warring, we war alone for rage and hate; Men fight as fight the lion and the pard: For them the sanctity of war is lost, Lost like the kindred sanctity of Love, Our household boast of old. The Father-God Vowed us to battle but as Virtue's proof, High test of softness scorned. His warrior knew 'Twas Odin o'er the battle field who sent Pure-handed maiden Goddesses, the Norns, Not vulture-like, but dove-like, mild as dawn, To seal the foreheads of his sons elect, Seal them to death, the bravest with a kiss: His warrior, arming, cried aloud, "This day I speed five Heroes to Valhalla's Hall: To-morrow night in love I share their Feast!" He honoured whom he slew.' To her the King: 'That Stranger with severer speech than thine, Sharp flail and stigma, charged the world with sin, The vast, wide world, and not one race alone: Each nation, he proclaimed, from Man's great stem Issuing, had with it borne one Word divine Rapt from God's starry volume in the skies, Each word a separate Truth, that, angel-like, Before them winging, on their faces flung Splendour of destined morn, and led man's race Triumphant long on virtue's road. Themselves Had changed that True to False. The Judge had come; That Power Who both beginning is and end Had stooped to earth to judge the earth with fire; A fire of Love, He came to cleanse the just; A fire of Vengeance, to consume the impure: His fan is in His hand: the chaff shall burn; The grain be garnered. "Fall, high palace roofs," He cried, "for ye have sheltered dens of sin: Fall, he that, impious, scorned the First and Last; Fall, he that bowed not to the hoary head; Fall, he that loosed by fraud the maiden zone; Fall, he that lusted for the poor man's field; Fall, rebel Peoples; fall, disloyal Kings; And fall"—dread Mother, is the word offence?— "False Gods, long served; for God Himself is nigh."'
The monarch ceased: on Heida's face that hour He feared to look; but when she spake, her voice Betrayed no passion of a soul perturbed: Austere it was; not wrathful; these her words: 'Son, as I hearkened to thy tale this day, Memory returned to me of visions three That lighted three great junctures of my life: And thrice thy words were echoes strange of words That shook my tender childhood, slumbering half, Half-waked by matin beams—"The Gods must die." Three times that awful sound was in mine ear: Later I learned that voice was nothing new. My Son, the earliest record of our Faith, So sacred that on Runic stave or stone None dared to grave it, lore from age to age Transmitted by white lips of trembling seers, Spared not to wing, like arrow sped from God, That word to man, "Valhalla's Gods must die!" The Gods and Giant Race that strove so long, Met in their last and mightiest battle field, Must die, and die one death. That prophet-voice The Gods have heard. Therefore they daily swell Valhalla's Hall with heroes rapt from earth To aid them in that fight.' On Heida's face At last the King, his head uplifting, gazed:— There where the inviolate calm had dwelt alone A million thoughts, each following each, on swept, That calm beneath them still, as when some grove, O'er-run by sudden gust of summer storm, With inly-working panic thrills at first, Then springs to meet the gale, while o'er it rush Shadows with splendours mixed. Upon her breast Came down the fire divine. With lifted hands She stood: she sang a death-song centuries old, The dirge prophetic both of Gods and men:
'The iron age shall make an iron end: The men who lived in hate, or impious love, Shall meet in one red battle field. That day The forests of the earth, blackening, shall die; The stars down-fall; the Winged Hound of Heaven, That chased the Sun from age to age, shall close O'er it at last; the Ash Tree, Ygdrasil, Whose boughs o'er-roof the skies, whose roots descend To Hell, whose leaves are lives of men, whose boughs The destined empires that o'er-awe the world, Shall drop its fruit unripe. The Midgard Snake, Circling that sea which girds the orb of earth, Shall wake, and turn, and ocean in one wave O'er-sweep all lands. Thereon shall Naglfar ride, The skeleton ship all ribbed with bones of men, Whose sails are woven of night, and by whose helm Stand the Three Fates. When heaves that ship in sight, Then know the end draws nigh.' She ceased; then spake: 'If any doubt, the Voluspa tells all, The song the mystic maiden, Vola, sang; Our first of prophets she, as I the last: She sang that song no Prophet dared to write.' But Sigebert made answer where he knelt, Old Faith back rushing blindly on his heart: 'Though man's last nation lay a wreath of dust, Though earth were sea, not less in heaven the Gods Would hold their revels still; Valhalla's Halls Resound the heroes' triumph!' Once again Heida arose: once more her pallid face Shone lightning-like, wan cheeks and flashing eyes; Once more she sang: 'The Warder of the Gods, Soundeth the Gjallar Trumpet, never heard Before by Gods or mortals: from their feast The everlasting synod of the Gods Rush forth, gold-armed, with chariot and with horse: First rides the Father of the flock divine, Odin, our King, and, at his right hand, Thor Whose thunder hammer splits the mountain crags And level lays the summits of the world; Heimdall and Bragi, Uller, Njord, and Tyr, Behind them throng; with these the concourse huge Of lesser Gods, and Heroes snatched from earth, Since man's first battle, part to bear with Gods In this their greatest. From their halls of ice To meet them stride the mighty Giant-Brood, The moving mountains of old Joetunheim, Strong with all strengths of Nature, flood or fire, Glacier, or stream volcanic from red hills Cutting through grass-green billows;—on they throng Topping the clouds, and, leagues before them, flinging Huge shade, like shade of mountains cast o'er wastes When sets the sun.' A little time she ceased; Then fiercelier sang: 'Flanking that Giant-Brood I see two Portents, terrible as Sin:— The Midgard Snake primeval at the right, With demon-crest as haughtily upheaved As though all ocean curled into one wave:— A million rainbows braid that glooming arch; And Death therein is mirrored. At the left, On moves that brother Terror, wolf in shape, Which, bound till now by craft of prescient Gods, Weltered in Hell's abyss. Till came the hour A single hair inwoven by heavenly hand Sufficed to chain that monster to his rock;— His fast is over now; his dusky jaws At last the Eternal Hunger lifts distent As far as heaven from earth.' The Prophetess One moment pressed her palms upon her eyes, Then flung them wide. 'The Father of the Gods, Our Odin, at that Portent hurls his lance; And Thor, though bleeding fast, with hammer raised Deals with that Serpent's scales.' 'The Gods shall win,' Shouted the King, forgetting at that hour All save the strife, while on his brow there burned Hue of the battle at the battle's height When no man staunches wound. With voice serene (The storm had left her) Heida made reply: 'If any doubt, the Voluspa tells all. Ere yet Valhalla's lower heaven was shaped Muspell, the great Third Heaven immeasurable, Above it towered, throne of that God Supreme, Who knew beginning none, and knows no end: High on its southern cliff that dread One sits, Nor ever from the South withdraws His gaze, Nor ever drops that bright, sky-pointing Sword Whose splendour dims the noontide sun. That God— He, and the Spirit-Host that wing His light, When shines the Judgment Sign, shall stand on earth, And judge the earth with fire. Nor men nor Gods Shall face that fire and live.' As Heida spake The broad full moon above the forest soared, And changed her form to light. With hands out-stretched She sang her last of songs: 'The Hour is come: Bifrost, the rainbow-bridge 'twixt heaven and earth Shatters; the crystal walls of heaven roll in: Above the ruins ride the Sons of Light. That dread One first— Forth from His helm the intolerable beam Strikes to the battle-field; the Giant-Brood Die in that flame; and Odin, and his Gods: Valhalla falls, and with it Joetunheim, Its ice-piled mountains melting into waves: In fire are all things lost!' Then wept the King: 'Alas for Odin and his brethren Gods That in their great hands stayed the northern land! Alas for man!' But Heida, with fixed face Whereon there sat its ancient calm, replied: 'Nothing that lived but shall again have life, Such life as virtue claims. Ill-working men With Loki and with Hela, evil Gods, Shall dwell far down in Nastroend's death-black pile Compact of serpent scales, whose thousand gates Face to the North, blinded by endless storm: But from the sea shall rise a happier earth, Holier and happier. There the good and true Secure shall gladden, and the fiery flame Harm them no more. Another Asgard there Where stood that earlier, ere our fathers left Their native East, shall lift sublimer towers Dawn-lighted by a loftier Ararat: Just men and pure shall pace its palmy steeps With him of race divine yet human heart, Baldur, upon whose beaming front the Gods Gazing, exulted; from whose lips mankind Shall gather counsel. Hand in hand with him Shall stand the blind God, Hoedur, now not blind, That, witless, slew him with the mistletoe, Yet loved him well. Others, both men and Gods, That dread Third Heaven attained, shall make abode With Him Who ever is, and ever was, Enthroned like Him upon its southern cliff, Drinking the light immortal. From beneath, Like winds from flowery wildernesses borne, The breath of all good deeds and virtuous thoughts, Their own, or others', since the worlds were made, All generous sufferings, o'er their hearts shall hang, Fragrance perpetual; and, where'er they gaze, The Vision of their God shall on them shine.'
Thus Heida spake, and ceased; then added, 'Son, Our Faith shall never suffer wreck: fear nought! Fulfilment, not Destruction, is its end. But thou return, and bid thy herald guest Who sought thee, wandering from his westward Isle, Approach my gates at dawn, and in mine ear Divulge his message to this land. Farewell!'
Then from his knees the monarch rose, and took Through the huge moonlit woods his homeward way.
KING SIGEBERT OF ESSEX, OR A FRIEND AT NEED.
Sigebert, King of Essex, labours with Cedd the Bishop for the conversion of his people; but he feasts with a certain impious kinsman; and it is foretold to him that for that sin, though pardoned, he shall die by that kinsman's hand. This prophecy having been accomplished, Cedd betakes himself to Lastingham, there to pray with his three brothers for the king's soul. His prayer is heard, and in a few days he dies. Thirty of Cedd's monks, issuing from Essex to pray at his grave, die also, and are buried in a circle round it.
'At last resolve, my brother, and my friend! Fling from you, as I fling this cloak, your Gods, And cleave to Him, the Eternal, One and Sole, The All-Wise, All-Righteous and Illimitable, Who made us, and will judge.' Thus Oswy spake To Sigebert, his friend, of Essex King, Essex once Christian. Royal Sebert dead, The Church of God had sorrow by the Thames: Three Pagan brothers in his place held sway: They warred upon God's people; for which cause God warred on them, and by the Wessex sword In one day hewed them down. King Sigebert, Throned in their place, to Oswy thus replied: 'O friend, I saw the Truth, yet saw it not! 'Twas like the light forth flashed from distant oar, Now vivid, vanished now. Not less, methinks, Thy Christ ere now had won me save for this; I feared that in my bosom love for thee, Not Truth alone, prevailed. I left thy court; I counselled with my wisest; by degrees, Though grieving thus to outrage loyal hearts, Reached my resolve: henceforth I serve thy God: My kingdom may renounce me if it will.' Then came the Bishop old, and nigh that Wall Which spans the northern land from sea to sea Baptized him to the God Triune. At night The King addressed him thus: 'My task is hard; Yield me four priests of thine from Holy Isle To shape my courses.' Finan gazed around And made election—Cedd and others three; He consecrated Cedd with staff and ring; And by the morning's sunrise Sigebert Rode with them, face to south. The Spring, long checked, Fell, like God's Grace, or fire, or flood, at once O'er all the land: it swathed the hills in green; It fringed with violets cleft and rock; illumed The stream with primrose tufts: but mightier far That Spring which triumphed in the monarch's breast, All doubt dispelled. That smile which knew not cause Looked like his angel's mirrored on his face: At times he seemed with utter gladness dazed; At times he laughed aloud. 'Father,' he cried, 'That darkness from my spirit is raised at last: Ah fool! ah fool! to wait for proof so long! Unseal thine eyes, and all things speak of God: The snows on yonder thorn His pureness show; Yon golden iris bank His love. But now I marked a child that by its father ran: Some mystery they seemed of love in heaven Imaged in earthly love. 'With sad, sweet smile The old man answered: 'Pain there is on earth— Bereavement, sickness, death.' The King replied: 'It was by suffering, not by deed, or word, God's Son redeemed mankind.' Then answered Cedd: 'God hath thee in His net; and well art thou! That Truth thou seest this day, and feelest, live! So shall it live within thee. If, more late, Rebuke should come, or age, remember then This day-spring of thy strength, and answer thus, "With me God feasted in my day of youth: So feast He now with others!"' Years went by, And Cedd in work and word was mighty still, And throve with God. The strong East Saxon race Grew gentle in his presence: they were brave, And faith is courage in the things divine, Courage with meekness blent. The heroic heart Beats to the spiritual cognate, paltering not Fraudulent with truth once known. Like winds from God God's message on them fell. Old bonds of sin, Snapt by the vastness of the growing soul, Burst of themselves; and in the heart late bound Virtue had room to breathe. As when that Voice Primeval o'er the formless chaos rolled, And, straight, confusions ceased, the greater orb Ruling the day, the lesser, night; even so, Born of that Bethlehem Mystery, order lived: Divine commandments fixed a firmament Betwixt man's lower instincts and his mind: From unsuspected summits of his spirit The morning shone. The nation with the man Partook the joy: from duty freedom flowed; And there where tribes had roved a people lived. A pathos of strange beauty hung thenceforth O'er humblest hamlet: he who passed it prayed 'May never sword come here!' Bishop and King Together laboured: well that Bishop's love Repaid that royal zeal. If random speech Censured the King, though justly, sudden red Circling the old man's silver-tressed brow Showed, though he spake not, that in saintly breast The human heart lived on. In Ithancester He dwelt, and toiled: not less to Lindisfarne, His ancient home, in spirit oft he yearned, Longing for converse with his God alone; And made retreat there often, not to shun Labour allotted, but to draw from heaven Strength for his task. One year, returning thence, Deira's King addressed him as they rode: 'My father, choose the richest of my lands And build thereon a holy monastery; So shall my realm be blessed, and I, and mine.' He answered: 'Son, no wealthy lands for us! Spake not the prophet: "There where dragons roamed, In later days the grass shall grow—the reed"? I choose those rocky hills that, on our left, Drag down the skiey waters to the woods: Such loved I from my youth: to me they said, "Bandits this hour usurp our heights, and beasts Cumber our caves: expel the seed accurst, And yield us back to God!"' The King gave ear; And Cedd within those mountains passed his Lent, Driving with prayer and fast the spirits accurst With ignominy forth. Foundations next He laid with sacred pomp. Fair rose the walls: All day the March sea blew its thunder blasts Through wide-mouthed trumpets of ravine or rift On winding far to where in wooden cell The old man prayed, while o'er him rushed the cloud Storm-borne from crag to crag. Serener breeze, With alternation soft in Nature's course, Following ere long, great Easter's harbinger, Thus spake he: 'I must keep the Feast at home; My children there expect me.' Parting thence, He left his brothers three to consummate His work begun, Celin, and Cynabil, And Chad, at Lichfield Bishop ere he died. Thus Lastingham had birth. Beside the Thames Meantime dark deeds were done. There dwelt two thanes, The kinsmen of the King, his friends in youth, Of meanest friend unworthy. Far and wide They ravined, and the laws of God and man Despised alike. Three times, in days gone by, A warning hand their Bishop o'er them raised; The fourth like bolt from heaven on them it fell, And clave them from God's Church. They heeded not; And now the elder kept his birthday feast, Summoning his friends around him, first the King. Doubtful and sad, the o'er-gentle monarch mused: 'To feast with sinners is to sanction sin, A deed abhorred; the alternative is hard: Must then their sovereign shame with open scorn Kinsman and friend? I think they mourn the past, And, were our Bishop here, would pardon sue.' Boding, yet self-deceived, he joined that feast: Thereat he saw scant sign of penitence: Ere long he bade farewell. That self-same hour Cedd from his northern pilgrimage returned; The monarch met him at the offenders' gate, And, instant when he saw that reverend face, His sin before him stood. Down from his horse Leaping, he told him all, and penance prayed. Long time the old man on that royal front Fixed a sad eye. 'Thy sin was great, my son, Shaming thy God to spare a sinner's shame: That sin thy God forgives, and I remit: But those whom God forgives He chastens oft: My son, I see a sign upon thy brow! Ere yonder lessening moon completes her wane Behold, the blood-stained hand late clasped in thine Shall drag thee to thy death.' The King replied: 'A Sigebert there lived, East Anglia's King, Whose death was glorious to his realm. May mine, Dark and inglorious, strengthen hearts infirm, And profit thus my land.' A time it was When Christian mercy, judged by Pagan hearts, Not virtue seemed but sin. That sin's reproach The King had long sustained. Ere long it chanced That, near the stronghold of that impious feast, A vanquished rebel, long in forests hid, Drew near, and knelt to Sigebert for grace, And won his suit. The monarch's kinsmen twain, Those men of blood, forth-gazing from a tower, Saw all; heard all. Upon them fury fell, As when through cloudless skies there comes a blast From site unknown, that, instant, finds its prey, Circling some white-sailed bark, or towering tree, And, with a touch, down-wrenching; all things else Unharmed, though near. They snatched their daggers up, And rushed upon their prey, and, shouting thus, 'White-livered slave, that mak'st thy throne a jest, And mock'st great Odin's self, and us, thy kin, To please thy shaveling,' struck him through the heart; Then, spurring through the woodlands to the sea, Were never heard of more. Throughout the land Lament was made; lament in every house, As though in each its eldest-born lay dead; Lament far off and near. The others wept: Cedd, in long vigils of the lonely night, Not wept alone, but lifted strength of prayer And, morn by morn, that Sacrifice Eterne, Mightier tenfold in impetrative power Than prayers of all man's race, from Adam's first To his who latest on the Judgment Day Shall raise his hands to God. Four years went by: That mourner's wound they staunched not. Oft in sleep He murmured low, 'Would I had died for thee!' And once, half-waked by rush of morning rains, 'Why saw I on his brow that fatal sign?— He might have lived till now!' Within his heart At last there rose a cry, 'To Lastingham! Pray with thy brothers three, for saints are they: So shall thy friend, who resteth in the Lord With perfect will submiss, the waiting passed, Gaze on God's Vision with an eye unscaled, In glory everlasting.' At that thought Peace on the old man settled. Staff in hand Forth on his way he fared. Nor horse he rode Nor sandals wore. He walked with feet that bled, Paying, well pleased, that penance for his King; And murmured ofttimes, 'Not my blood alone!— Nay, but my life, my life!' Yet penance pain, Like pain of suffering Souls at peace with God, Quelled not that gladness which, from secret source Rising, o'erflowed his heart. Old times returned: Once more beside him rode his King in youth Southward to where his realm—his duty—lay, Exulting captive of the Saviour Lord, With face love-lit. As then, the vernal prime Hourly with ampler respiration drew Delight of purer green from balmier airs: As then the sunshine glittered. By their path Now hung the woodbine; now the hare-bell waved; Rivulets new-swoll'n by melted snows, and birds 'Mid echoing boughs with rival rapture sang: At times the monks forgat their Christian hymns, By humbler anthems charmed. They gladdened more Beholding oft in cottage doors cross-crowned Angelic faces, or in lonely ways; Once as they passed there stood a little maid, Some ten years old, alone 'mid lonely pines, With violets crowned and primrose. Who were those, The forest's white-robed guests, she nothing knew; Not less she knelt. With hand uplifted Cedd Signed her his blessing. Hand she kissed in turn; Then waved, yet ceased not from her song, 'Alone 'Two lovers sat at sunset.' Every eve Some village gave the wanderers food and rest, Or half-built convent with its church thick-walled And polished shafts, great names in after times, Ely, and Croyland, Southwell, Medeshamstede, Adding to sylvan sweetness holier grace, Or rising lonely o'er morass and mere With bowery thickets isled, where dogwood brake Retained, though late, its red. To Boston near, Where Ouse, and Aire, and Derwent join with Trent, And salt sea waters mingle with the fresh, They met a band of youths that o'er the sands Advanced with psalm, cross-led. The monks rejoiced, Save one from Ireland—Dicul. He, quick-eared, Had caught that morn a war-cry on the wind, And, sideway glancing from his Office-book, Descried the cause. From Mercia's realm a host Had crossed Northumbria's bound. His thin, worn face O'er-flamed with sudden anger, thus he cried: 'In this, your land, men say, "Who worketh prays;" In mine we say, "Well prays who fighteth well:" A Pagan race treads down your homesteads! Slaves, That close not with their throats!' Advancing thus, On the tenth eve they came to Lastingham: Forth rushed the brethren, watching long far off, To meet them, first the brothers three of Cedd, Who kissed him, cheek and mouth. Gladly that night Those foot-worn travellers laid them down, and slept, Save one alone. Old Cedd his vigil made, And, kneeling by the tabernacle's lamp, Prayed for the man he mourned for, ending thus: 'Thou Lord of Souls, to Thee the Souls are dear! Thou yearn'st toward them as they yearn to Thee; Behold, not prayer alone for him I raise: I offer Thee my life.' When morning's light In that great church commingled with its gloom, The monks, slow-pacing, by that kneeler knelt, And prayed for Sigebert, beloved of God; And lastly offered Mass: and it befell That when, the Offering offered, and the Dead Rightly remembered, he who sang that Mass Had reached the 'Nobis quoque famulis,' There came to Cedd an answer from the Lord Heard in his heart; and he beheld his King Throned 'mid the Saints Elect of God who keep Perpetual triumph, and behold that Face Which to its likeness hourly more compels Those faces t'ward It turned. That function o'er, Thus spake the Bishop: 'Brethren, sing "Te Deum;"' They sang it; while within him he replied, 'Lord, let Thy servant now depart in peace.'
A week went by with gladness winged and prayer. In wonder Cedd beheld those structures new From small beginnings reared, though many a gift, Sent for that work's behoof, had fed the poor In famine time laid low. Moorlands he saw By cornfields vanquished; marked the all-beauteous siege Of pasture yearly threatening loftier crags Loud with the bleat of lambs. Their shepherd once Had roved a bandit; next had toiled a slave; Now with both hands he poured his weekly wage Down on his young wife's lap, his pretty babes Gambolling around for joy. A hospital Stood by the convent's gate. With moistened eye, Musing on Him Who suffers in His sick, The Bishop paced it. There he found his death: That year a plague had wasted all the land: It reached him. Late that night he said, ''Tis well!' In three days more he lay with hands death cold Crossed on a peaceful breast. Like winter cloud Borne through dark air, that portent feared of man, Ill tidings, making way with mystic speed, Shadowed ere long the troubled bank of Thames, And spread a wailing round its Minsters twain, Saint Peter's and Saint Paul's. Saint Alban's caught That cry, and northward echoed. Southward soon Forlorn it rang 'mid towers of Rochester; Then seaward died. But in that convent pile, Wherein so long the Saint had made abode, A different grief there lived, a deeper grief, That grief which part hath none in sobs or tears— Which needs must act. There thirty monks arose, And, taking each his staff, made vow thenceforth To serve God's altar where their father died, Or share his grave. Through Ithancestor's gate As forth they paced between two kneeling crowds, A little homeless boy, who heard their dirge (Late orphaned, at its grief he marvelled not), So loved them that he followed, shorter steps Doubling 'gainst theirs. At first the orphan went That mood relaxed: before them now he ran To pluck a flower; as oft he lagged behind, The wild bird's song so aptly imitating That, by his music drawn, or by his looks, That bird at times forgat her fears, and perched Pleased on his arm. As flower and bird to him Such to those monks the child. Better each day He loved them; yet, revering, still he mocked, And though he mocked, he kissed. The westering sun On the eighth eve from towers of Lastingham Welcomed those strangers. In another hour, Well-nigh arrived, they saw that grave they sought Sole on the church's northern slope. As when, Some father, absent long, returns at last, His children rush loud-voiced from field to house, And cling about his knees; and they that mark— Old reaper, bent no more, with hook in hand, Or ploughman, leaning 'gainst the old blind horse— Beholding wonder not; so to that grave Rushed they; so clung. Around that grave ere long Their own were ranged. That plague which smote the sire Spared not his sons. With ministering hand From pallet still to pallet passed the boy, Now from the dark spring wafting colder draught, Now moistening fevered lips, or on the brow Spreading the new-bathed cincture. Him alone The infection reached not. When the last was gone He felt as though the earth, man's race—yea, God Himself—were dead. Around he gazed, and spake, 'Why then do I remain?' From hill to hill (The monks on reverend offices intent) All solitary oft that boy repaired, From each in turn forth gazing, fain to learn If friend were t'wards him nighing. Many a hearth More late, bereavement's earlier anguish healed, Welcomed the creature: many a mother held The milk-bowl to his mouth, in both hands stayed, With smile the deeper for the draught prolonged, And lodged, as he departed, in his hand Her latest crust. With children of his age Seldom he played. That convent gave him rest; Nor lost he aught, surviving thus his friends, Since childhood's sacred innocence he kept, While life remained, unspotted. When mature Five years he lived there monk, and reverence drew To that high convent through his saintly ways; Then died. Within that cirque of thirty graves They laid him, close to Cedd. In later years, Because they ne'er could learn his name or race, Nor yet forget his gentle looks, the name Of Deodatus graved they on his tomb.
KING OSWALD OF NORTHUMBRIA, OR THE BRITON'S REVENGE.
Northumbria having been subdued by Pagan Mercia, Oswald raises there again the Christian standard. Penda wages war against him, in alliance with Cadwallon, a Cambrian prince who hates the Saxon conquerors the more bitterly when become Christians. Encouraged by St. Columba in a vision, Oswald with a small force vanquishes the hosts of Cadwallon, who is slain. He sends to Iona for monks of St. Columba's order, converts his country to the Faith, and dies for her. The earlier British race expiates its evil revenge.
The agony was over which but late Had shook to death Northumbrian realm new-raised By Edwin, dear to God. The agony At last was over; but the tear flowed on: The Faith of Christ had fallen once more to dust, That Faith which spoused with golden marriage ring The land to God, when Coiffi, horsed and mailed, Chief Priest himself, hurled at the Temple's wall His lance, and quivering left it lodged therein. The agony had ceased; yet Rachael's cry Still pierced the childless region. Penda's sword Had swept it, Mercia's Christian-hating King; Fiercelier Cadwallon's, Cambria's Christian Prince, Christian in vain. The British wrong like fire Burned in his heart. Well-nigh two hundred years That British race, they only of the tribes By Rome subdued, sustained unceasing war 'Gainst those barbaric hordes that, nursed long since 'Mid Teuton woods, when Rome her death-wound felt, And 'Habet' shrilled from every trampled realm, Rushed forth in ruin o'er her old domain:— That race against the Saxon still made head; Large remnant yet survived. The Western coast Was theirs; old sea-beat Cornwall's granite cliffs, And purple hills of Cambria; northward thence Strathclyde, from towered Carnegia's winding Dee To Morecombe's shining sands, and those fair vales, Since loved by every muse, where silver meres Slept in the embrace of yew-clad mountain walls; With tracts of midland Britain and the East. Remained the memory of the greatness lost; The Druid circles of the olden age; The ash-strewn cities radiant late with arts Extinct this day; bath, circus, theatre Mosaic-paved; the Roman halls defaced; The Christian altars crushed. That last of wrongs The vanquished punished with malign revenge: Never had British priest to Saxon preached; And when that cry was heard, 'The Saxon King Edwin hath bowed to Christ,' on Cambrian hills Nor man nor woman smiled. They had not lacked The timely warning. From his Kentish shores Augustine stretched to them paternal hands: Later, he sought them out in synod met, Their custom, under open roof of heaven. 'The Mother of the Churches,' thus he spake, 'Commands—implores you! Seek from her, and win The Sacrament of Unity Divine! Thus strengthened, be her strength! With her conjoined, Subdue your foe to Christ!' He sued in vain. The British bishops hurled defiance stern Against his head, while Cambrian peaks far off Darkened, and thunder muttered. From his seat, Slowly and sadly as the sun declined At last, though late, that Roman rose and stretched A lean hand t'ward that circle, speaking thus: 'Hear then the sentence of your God on sin! Because ye willed not peace, behold the sword! Because ye grudged your foe the Faith of Christ, Nor holp to lead him on the ways of life, For that cause from you by the Saxon hand Your country shall be taken!' Edwin slain, Far off in exile dwelt his nephews long, Oswald and Oswy. Alba gave them rest, Alba, not yet called Scotland. Ireland's sons, Then Scoti named, had warred on Alba's Picts: Columba's Gospel vanquished either race; Won both to God. It won not less those youths, In boyhood Oswald, Oswy still a child. That child was wild and hot, and had his moods, Despotic now, now mirthful. Mild as Spring Was Oswald's soul, majestic and benign; Thoughtful his azure eyes, serene his front; He of his ravished sceptre little recked; The shepherds were his friends; the mountain deer Would pluck the ivy fearless from his hand: In gladness walked he till Northumbria's cry Smote on his heart. 'Why rest I here in peace,' Thus mused he, 'while my brethren groan afar?' By night he fled with twelve companion youths, Christians like him, and reached his native land. Too fallen it seemed to aid him. On he passed; The ways were desolate, yet evermore A slender band around his footsteps drew, Less seeking victory than an honest death. Oft gazed their King upon them; murmured oft, 'Few hands—true hearts!' Sudden aloud he cried, 'Plant here the royal Standard, friends, and hence Let sound the royal trumpet.' Stern response Reached him ere long: not Mercia's realm alone; Cambria that heard the challenge joined the war: Cambria, upon whose heart the ancestral woe, For ever with the years, like letters graved On growing pines, grew larger and more large;— To Penda forth she stretched a hand blood-red; Christian with Pagan joined, an unblest bond, A league accursed. The indomitable hate Compelled that league. Still from his cave the Seer Admonished, 'Set the foe against the foe; Slay last the conqueror!' and from rock and hill The Bard cried, 'Vengeance!' In the bardic clan That hatred of their country's ancient bane Lived like a faith. One night it chanced a tarn, Secreted high 'mid cold and moonless hills, Bursting its bank down burst. That valley's Bard Clomb to the church-roof from his buried house: Thence rang his song,—'twas 'Vengeance!—Vengeance' still! That torrent reached the roof: he clomb the tower: The torrent mounted: on the bleak hill-side All night the dalesmen, wailing o'er their drowned, Amid the roar of winds and downward rocks, Still heard that war-song, 'Vengeance! Blood for blood!' At last the tower fell flat, and winter morn Shone on the waters only. Three short weeks Dinned with alarums passed; in Mercia still Lay Penda, sickness-struck, when, face to face, The Cambrian host and Oswald's little band Exulting met at sunset near a height Then 'Heaven-Field' named, but later 'Oswald's Field,' Backed by that Wall the Roman built of old His fence from sea to sea. There Oswald stood: There raised with hands outstretched a mighty Cross, Strong-based, and deep in earth: his comrades twelve Around it heaped the soil, while priests white-stoled Chanted 'Vexilla Regis.' Work and rite Complete, the King knelt down and made his prayer: 'True God Eternal, look upon this Cross, The sole now standing on Northumbria's breast, And help Thine own, though few, who trust in Thee!'
That night before his tent the wanderer sate Listening the circling sentinel, or bay Of wakeful hound remote, or downward course Of streams from moorland hills. Before his view His whole life rose: his father's angry brow; The eyes all-wondrous, and all-tender hand Of her, his mother, striving evermore To keep betwixt her husband and her sire Unbroken bond: his exiled days returned, The kind that pitied them, the rude that jeered; Lastly, that monk whose boast was evermore Columba of Iona, Columkille; That monk who made him Christian. 'Come what may,' Thus Oswald mused, 'I have not lived in vain: Lose I or win, a kingdom there remains; Though not on earth!' A tear the vision dimmed As thus he closed, 'My mother will be there!' Then sank his lids in slumber. On his sleep— Was this indeed but dream?—a glory brake: Columba, dear to Oswald from his youth, Columba, clad in glory as the sun, Beside him stood, and spake: 'Be strong! On earth There lives not who can guess the might of prayer: What then is prayer on high?' The saintly Shape Heavenward his hands upraised, while rose to heaven His stature, towering ever high and higher, Warlike and priestly both. As morning cloud Blown by a mighty wind his robe ran forth, Then stood, a golden wall that severance made 'Twixt Oswald's band and that unnumbered host. Again he spake, 'Put on thee heart of man And fight: though few, thy warriors shall not die In darkness of an unbelieving land, But live, and live to God.' The vision passed: By Oswald's seat his warriors stood and cried, 'The Bull-horn! Hark!' The monarch told them all: They answered, 'Let thy God sustain thy throne:— Thenceforth our God is He.' The sun uprose: Ere long the battle joined. Three dreadful hours Doubtful the issue hung. Fierce Cambria's sons With chief and clan, with harper and with harp, Though terrible yet mirthful in their mood, Rushed to their sport. Who mocked their hope that day? Did Angels help the just? Their falling blood, Say, leaped it up once more, each drop a man Their phalanx to replenish? Backward driven, Again that multitudinous foe returned With clangour dire; futile, again fell back Down dashed, like hailstone showers from palace halls Where princes feast secure. Astonishment Smote them at last. Through all those serried ranks, Compact so late, sudden confusions ran Like lines divergent through a film of ice Stamped on by armed heel, or rifts on plains Prescient of earthquake underground. Their chiefs Sounded the charge;—in vain: Distrust, Dismay, Ill Gods, the darkness lorded of that hour: Panic to madness turned. Cadwallon sole From squadron on to squadron speeding still As on a winged steed—his snow-white hair Behind him blown—a mace in either hand— Stayed while he might the inevitable rout; Then sought his death, and found. Some fated Power Mightier than man's that hour dragged back his hosts Against their will and his; as when the moon, Shrouded herself, drags back the great sea-tides That needs must follow her receding wheels Though wind and wave gainsay them, breakers wan Thundering indignant down nocturnal shores, And city-brimming floods against their will Down drawn to river-mouths. In after days Who scaped made oath that in the midmost fight The green earth sickened with a brazen glare While darkness held the skies. They saw besides On Heaven-Field height a Cross, and, at its foot, A sworded warrior vested like a priest, Who still in stature high and higher towered As raged the battle. Higher far that Cross Above him rose, barring with black the stars That bickered through the eclipse's noonday night, And ever from its bleeding arms sent forth Thick-volleyed lightnings, azure fork and flame, Through all that headlong host. At eventide, Where thickest fight had mingled, Oswald stood With raiment red as his who treads alone The wine-vat when the grapes are all pressed out, Yet scathless and untouched. His mother's smile Was radiant on his pure and youthful face, Joyous, but not exulting. At his foot Cadwallon lay, with four-score winters white, A threatening corse: not death itself could shake The mace from either rigid hand close-clenched, Or smooth his brow. Above him Oswald bent, Then spake: 'He also loved his native land: Bear him with honour hence to hills of Wales, And lay him with his Fathers.' Thus was raised In righteousness King Oswald's throne. But he, Mindful in victory of Columba's word, Thus mused, 'The Master is as he that serves: How shall I serve this people?' O'er the waves Then sent he of his Twelve the eldest three: They to Iona sailed, and standing there In full assembly of Iona's saints Addressed them: 'To Columba Oswald thus: Let him that propped the King on Heaven-Field's height, That held the battle-balance high that day, Unite my realm to Christ!' The monks replied, 'Such mission should be Aidan's.' Aidan went. With gladness Oswald met him, and with gifts: But Aidan said, 'Entreat me not to dwell There where Paulinus dwelt, the man of God, In thy chief city, York. Thy race is fierce; And meekness only can subdue the proud: Thy people first I want;—through them the great. Grant me some island 'mid the raging main, Humble and low, not cheered by smiling meads, Where with my brethren I may watch with God, Henceforth my only aid.' Oswald replied, 'Let Lindisfarne be thine. That rock-based keep Built by my grandsire Ida o'er it peers: I shall be near thee though I see thee not.'
Then Aidan on the Isle of Lindisfarne Upreared that monastery which ruled in Christ So long the Northern realm. A plain rock-girt Level it lies and low: nor flower nor fruit Gladdens its margin: thin its sod, and bleak: Twice, day by day, the salt sea hems it round: And twice a day the melancholy sands, O'er-wailed by sea-bird, and with sea-weed strewn, Replace the lonely ocean. Sacred Isles That westward, eastward, guard the imperial realm, Iona! Lindisfarne! With you compared How poor that lilied Delos of old Greece, For all its laurel bowers and nightingales! England's great hands were ye to God forth stretched Through adverse climes, beneath the Boreal star, That took His Stigmata. In sanctity Were her foundations laid. Her later crowns Of Freedom first, of Science, and of Song She owes them all to you! In Lindisfarne Aidan, and his, rejoicing dwelt with God: Amid the winter storm their anthems rose; And from their sanctuary lamp the gleam Far shone from wave to wave. On starless nights From Bamborough's turret Oswald watched it long, Before his casement kneeling—first alone, Companioned later. Kineburga there Beside him knelt ere long, his tender bride, Young, beauteous, modest, noble. 'Not for them,' Thus spake the newly wedded, 'not for them, For man's sake severed from the world of men, In ceaseless vigil warring upon sin, Ah, not for them the flower of life, the harp, High feast, or bridal torch!' Purer perchance Their bridal torch burned on because from far That sacred lamp had met its earliest beam!
There Aidan lived, and wafted, issuing thence, O'er wilds Bernician and fierce battle-fields The strength majestic of his still retreat, The puissance of a soul whose home was God. 'What man is this,' the warriors asked, 'that moves Unarmed among us; lifts his crucifix, And says, "Ye swords, lie prone"?' The revelling crew Rose from their cups: 'He preaches abstinence: Behold, the man is mortified himself: The moonlight of his watchings and his fasts He carries on his face.' When Princes forced Largess upon him, he replied, 'I want Not yours but you;' and with their gifts redeemed The orphan slave. The poor were as his children: He to the beggar stinted not his hand Nor, giving, said 'Be brief.' Such seed bare fruit:— God in the dark, primeval woods had reared A race whose fierceness had its touch of ruth; Brave, cordial, chaste, and simple. Reverence That race preserved: Reverence advanced to Love: The ties of life it honoured: lit from heaven They wore a meaning new. The Faith of Christ Banished the bestial from the heart of man; Restored the Hope divine. In all his toils Oswald with Aidan walked. Impartial law, Not licence, not despotic favour, stands To Truth auxiliar true. Such laws were his: Yet not through such alone he worked for Truth; Function he claimed more high. When Aidan preached; In forest depths when thousands girt him round; When countless eyes, a clinging weight, were bent Upon his lips—all knew they spake from God,— The King, with monks from Ireland knit of old, Beside the Bishop stood; each word he spake Changed to the Saxon tongue. Earth were not earth, If reign like Oswald's lasted. Penda lived; Nor e'er from Oswald turned for eight long years An eye like some swart planet feared of man, Omen of wars or plague. Cadwallon's fate, Ally ill-starred, that fought without his aid, O'er-flushed old hatred with a fiery shame: Cadwallon nightly frowned above his dreams. The tyrant watched his time. At Maserfield The armies met. There on Northumbria's day Settled what seemed, yet was not, endless night There Faith and Virtue, deathless, seemed to die: There holy Oswald fell. For God he fought, Fought for his country. Walled with lances round, A sheaf of arrows quivering in his breast, One moment yet he stood. 'Preserve,' he cried, 'My country, God!' then added, gazing round, 'And these my soldiers: make their spirits thine!' Thus perished good King Oswald, King and Saint; Saint by acclaim of nations canonised Ere yet the Church had spoken. Year by year The Hexham monks to Heaven-Field, where of old Had stood that 'Cross which conquered,' made repair, With chanted psalm; and pilgrims daily prayed Where died the just and true. Not vain their vows: In righteousness foundations had been laid: The earthquake reached them not. The Dane passed by High up the Norman glittered: but beneath, On Faith profounder based, and gentler Law The Saxon realm lived on. But never more From Heaven-Field's wreck the Briton raised his head Britain thenceforth was England. His the right; The land was his of old; and in God's House His of the island races stood first-born: Not less he sinned through hate, esteeming more Memories of wrong than forward-looking hopes And triumphs of the Truth. For that cause God His face in blessing to the younger turned, More honouring Pagans who in ignorance erred, Than those who, taught of God, concealed their gift, Divorcing Faith from Love. Natheless they clung, That remnant spared, to rocky hills of Wales With eagle clutch, whoe'er in England ruled, From Horsa's day to Edward's. Centuries eight In gorge or vale sea-lulled they held their own, By native monarchs swayed, while native harps Rang out from native cliffs defiant song Wild as their singing pines. Heroic Land! Freedom was thine; the torrent's plunge; the peak; The pale mist past it borne! Heroic Race! Caractacus was thine, and Galgacus, And Boadicea, greater by her wrongs Than by her lineage. Battle-axe of thine Rang loud and long on Roman helms ere yet Hengist had trod the island. Thine that King World-famed, who led to fifty war-fields forth 'Gainst Saxon hosts his sinewy, long-haired race Unmailed, yet victory-crowned; that King who left Tintagel, Camelot, and Lyonnesse, Immortal names, though wild as elfin notes From phantom rocks echoed in fairy land— Great Arthur! Year by year his deeds were sung, While he in Glastonbury's cloister slept, First by the race he died for, next by those Their children, exiles in Armoric Gaul, By Europe's minstrels then, from age to age; But ne'er by ampler voice, or richlier toned Than England lists to-day. Race once of Saints! Thine were they, Ninian thine and Kentigern, Iltud and Beino, yea and David's self, Thy crown of Saints, and Winifred, their flower, Who fills her well with healing virtue still. Cadoc was thine, who to his Cambrian throne Preferred that western convent at Lismore, Yet taught the British Princes thus to sing: 'None loveth Song that loves not Light and Truth: None loveth Light and Truth that loves not Justice: None loveth Justice if he loves not God: None loveth God that lives not blest and great.'
CEADMON THE COWHERD, THE FIRST ENGLISH POET.
Ceadmon, a cowherd, being at a feast, declares when the harp reaches him, that he cannot sing. As he sleeps, a divine Voice commands him to sing. He obeys, and the gift of song is imparted to him. Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, enrolls him among her monks; and in later years he sings the revolt of the Fallen Angels, and many Christian mysteries, thus becoming the first English poet.
Alone upon the pleasant bank of Esk Ceadmon the Cowherd stood. The sinking sun Reddened the bay, and fired the river-bank, And flamed upon the ruddy herds that strayed Along the marge, clear-imaged. None was nigh: For that cause spake the Cowherd, 'Praise to God! He made the worlds; and now, by Hilda's hand Planteth a crown on Whitby's holy crest: Daily her convent towers more high aspire: Daily ascend her Vespers. Hark that strain! He stood and listened. Soon the flame-touched herds Sent forth their lowings, and the cliffs replied, And Ceadmon thus resumed: 'The music note Rings through their lowings dull, though heard by few! Poor kine, ye do your best! Ye know not God, Yet man, his likeness, unto you is God, And him ye worship with obedience sage, A grateful, sober, much-enduring race That o'er the vernal clover sigh for joy, With winter snows contend not. Patient kine, What thought is yours, deep-musing? Haply this, "God's help! how narrow are our thoughts, and few! Not so the thoughts of that slight human child Who daily drives us with her blossomed rod From lowland valleys to the pails long-ranged!" Take comfort, kine! God also made your race! If praise from man surceased, from your broad chests That God would perfect praise, and, when ye died, Resound it from yon rocks that gird the bay: God knoweth all things. Let that thought suffice!'
Thus spake the ruler of the deep-mouthed kine: They were not his; the man and they alike A neighbour's wealth. He was contented thus: Humble he was in station, meek of soul, Unlettered, yet heart-wise. His face was pale; Stately his frame, though slightly bent by age: Slow were his eyes, and slow his speech, and slow His musing step; and slow his hand to wrath; A massive hand, but soft, that many a time Had succoured man and woman, child and beast, And yet could fiercely grasp the sword. At times As mightily it clutched his ashen goad When like an eagle on him swooped some thought: Then stood he as in dream, his pallid front Brightening like eastern sea-cliffs when a moon Unrisen is near its rising. Round the bay Meantime, as twilight deepened, many a fire Up-sprang, and horns were heard. Around the steep With bannered pomp and many a tossing plume Advancing slow a cavalcade made way. Oswy, Northumbria's king, the foremost rode, Oswy triumphant o'er the Mercian host, Invoking favour on his sceptre new; With him an Anglian prince, student long time In Bangor of the Irish, and a monk Of Frankish race far wandering from the Marne: They came to look on Hilda, hear her words Of far-famed wisdom on the Interior Life; For Hilda thus discoursed: 'True life of man Is life within: inward immeasurably The being winds of all who walk the earth; But he whom sense hath blinded nothing knows Of that wide greatness: like a boy is he, A boy that clambers round some castle's wall In search of nests, the outward wall of seven, Yet nothing knows of those great courts within, The hall where princes banquet, or the bower Where royal maids discourse with lyre and lute, Much less its central church, and sacred shrine Wherein God dwells alone.' Thus Hilda spake; And they that gazed upon her widening eyes Low whispered, each to each, 'She speaks of things Which she hath seen and known.' On Whitby's height The royal feast was holden: far below, A noisier revel dinned the shore; therein The humbler guests made banquet. Many a tent Gleamed on the yellow sands by ripples kissed; And many a savoury dish sent up its steam; The farmer from the field had brought his calf; Fishers that increase scaled which green-gulfed seas From womb crystalline, teeming, yield to man; And Jock, the woodsman, from his oaken glades The tall stag, arrow-pierced. In gay attire Now green, now crimson, matron sat and maid: Each had her due: the elder, reverence most, The lovelier that and love. Beside the board The beggar lacked not place. When hunger's rage, Sharpened by fresh sea-air, was quelled, the jest Succeeded, and the tale of foreign lands; Yet, boast who might of distant chief renowned, His battle-axe, or fist that felled an ox, The Anglian's answer was 'our Hilda' still: 'Is not her prayer trenchant as sworded hosts? Her insight more than wisdom of the seers? What birth like hers illustrious? Edwin's self, Deira's exile, next Northumbria's king, Her kinsman was. Together bowed they not When he of holy hand, missioned from Rome, Paulinus, o'er them poured the absolving wave And joined to Christ? Kingliest was she, that maid Who spurned earth-crowns!' More late the miller rose— He ruled the feast, the miller old, yet blithe— And cried, 'A song!' So song succeeded song, For each man knew that time to chant his stave, But no man yet sang nobly. Last the harp Made way to Ceadmon, lowest at the board: He pushed it back, answering, 'I cannot sing:' The rest around him flocked with clamour, 'Sing!' And one among them, voluble and small, Shot out a splenetic speech: 'This lord of kine, Our herdsman, grows to ox! Behold, his eyes Move slow, like eyes of oxen!' Slowly rose Ceadmon, and spake: 'I note full oft young men Quick-eyed, but small-eyed, darting glances round Now here, now there, like glance of some poor bird, That light on all things and can rest on none: As ready are they with their tongues as eyes; But all their songs are chirpings backward blown On winds that sing God's song, by them unheard: My oxen wait my service: I depart.' Then strode he to his cow-house in the mead, Displeased though meek, and muttered, 'Slow of eye! My kine are slow: if rapid I, my hand Might tend them worse.' Hearing his step, the kine Turned round their horned fronts; and angry thoughts Went from him as a vapour. Straw he brought, And strewed their beds; and they, contented well, Laid down ere long their great bulks, breathing deep Amid the glimmering moonlight. He, with head Propped on a favourite heifer's snowy flank, Rested, his deer-skin o'er him drawn. Hard days Bring slumber soon. His latest thought was this: 'Though witless things we are, my kine and I, Yet God it was who made us.' As he slept, Beside him stood a Man Divine, and spake: 'Ceadmon, arise, and sing,' Ceadmon replied, 'My Lord, I cannot sing, and for that cause Forth from the revel came I. Once, in youth, I willed to sing the bright face of a maid, And failed, and once a gold-faced harvest-field, And failed, and once the flame-eyed face of war, And failed again.' To him the Man Divine, 'Those themes were earthly. Sing!' And Ceadmon said, 'What shall I sing, my Lord?' Then answer came, 'Ceadmon, stand up, and sing thy song of God.'