Legends of the Saxon Saints
by Aubrey de Vere
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At once obedient, Ceadmon rose, and sang; And help was with him from great thoughts of old Yearly within his silent nature stored, That swelled, collecting like a flood which bursts In spring its icy bar. The Lord of all He sang; that God beneath whose hand eterne, Then when He willed forth-stretched athwart the abyss, Creation like a fiery chariot ran, Forth-borne on wheels of ever-living stars: Him first he sang. The builder, here below, From fair foundations rears at last the roof; But Song, a child of heaven, begins with heaven, The archetype divine, and end of all; More late descends to earth. He sang that hymn, 'Let there be light, and there was light;' and lo! On the void deep came down the seal of God And stamped immortal form. Clear laughed the skies; From circumambient deeps the strong earth brake, Both continent and isle; while downward rolled The sea-surge summoned to his home remote. Then came a second vision to the man There standing 'mid his oxen. Darkness sweet, He sang, of pleasant frondage clothed the vales, And purple glooms ambrosial cast from hills Now by the sun deserted, which the moon, A glory new-created in her place, Silvered with virgin beam, while sang the bird Her first of love-songs on the branch first-flower'd— Not yet the lion stalked. And Ceadmon sang O'er-awed, the Father of all humankind Standing in garden planted by God's hand, And girt by murmurs of the rivers four, Between the trees of Knowledge and of Life, With eastward face. In worship mute of God, Eden's Contemplative he stood that hour, Not her Ascetic, since, where sin is none, No need for spirit severe. And Ceadmon sang God's Daughter, Adam's Sister, Child, and Bride, Our Mother Eve. Lit by the matin star, That nearer drew to earth and brighter flashed To meet her gaze, that snowy Innocence Stood up with queenly port: she turned; she saw Earth's King, mankind's great Father: taught by God, Immaculate, unastonished, undismayed, In love and reverence to her Lord she drew, And, kneeling, kissed his hand: and Adam laid That hand, made holier, on that kneeler's head, And spake; 'For this shall man his parents leave, And to his wife cleave fast.' When Ceadmon ceased, Thus spake the Man Divine: 'At break of day Seek out some prudent man, and say that God Hath loosed thy tongue; nor hide henceforth thy gift.' Then Ceadmon turned, and slept among his kine Dreamless. Ere dawn he stood upon the shore In doubt: but when at last o'er eastern seas The sun, long wished for, like a god upsprang, Once more he found God's song upon his mouth Murmuring high joy; and sought an ancient friend, And told him all the vision. At the word He to the Abbess with the tidings sped, And she made answer, 'Bring me Ceadmon here.'

Then clomb the pair that sea-beat mount of God Fanned by sea-gale, nor trod, as others used, The curving way, but faced the abrupt ascent, And halted not, so worked in both her will, Till now between the unfinished towers they stood Panting and spent. The portals open stood: Ceadmon passed in alone. Nor ivory decked, Nor gold, the walls. That convent was a keep Strong 'gainst invading storm or demon hosts, And naked as the rock whereon it stood, Yet, as a church, august. Dark, high-arched roofs Slowly let go the distant hymn. Each cell Cinctured its statued saint, the peace of God On every stony face. Like caverned grot Far off the western window frowned: beyond, Close by, there shook an autumn-blazoned tree: No need for gems beside of storied glass.

He entered last that hall where Hilda sat Begirt with a great company, the chiefs Far ranged from end to end. Three stalls, cross-crowned, Stood side by side, the midmost hers. The years Had laid upon her brows a hand serene; There left alone a blessing. Levelled eyes Sable, and keen, with meditative might Conjoined the instinct and the claim to rule: Firm were her lips and rigid. At her right Sat Finan, Aidan's successor, with head Snow-white, and beard that rolled adown a breast Never by mortal passion heaved in storm, A cloister of majestic thoughts that walked, Humbly with God. High in the left-hand stall Oswy was throned, a man in prime, with brow Less youthful than his years. Exile long past, Or deepening thought of one disastrous deed, Had left a shadow in his eyes. The strength Of passion held in check looked lordly forth From head and hand: tawny his beard; his hair Thick-curled and dense. Alert the monarch sat Half turned, like one on horseback set that hears, And he alone, the advancing trump of war. Down the long gallery strangers thronged in mass, Dane or Norwegian, huge of arm through weight Of billows oar-subdued, with stormy looks Wild as their waves and crags; Southerns keen-browed; Pure Saxon youths, fair-fronted, with mild eyes, These less than others strove for nobler place, And Pilgrim travel-worn. Behind the rest, And higher-ranged in marble-arched arcade, Sat Hilda's sisterhood. Clustering they shone, White-veiled, and pale of face, and still and meek, An inly-bending curve, like some young moon Whose crescent glitters o'er a dusky strait. In front were monks dark-stoled: for Hilda ruled, Though feminine, two houses, one of men: Upon two chasm-divided rocks they stood, To various service vowed, though single Faith:— Not ever, save at rarest festival, Their holy inmates met. 'Is this the man Favoured, though late, with gift of song?' thus spake Hilda with gracious smile. Severer then She added: 'Son, the commonest gifts of God He counts His best, and oft temptation blends With ampler boon. Yet sing! That God who lifts The violet from the grass could draw not less Song from the stone hard by. That strain thou sang'st, Once more rehearse it.' Ceadmon from his knees Arose and stood. With princely instinct first The strong man to the Abbess bowed, and next To that great twain, the bishop and the king, Last to that stately concourse each side ranged Down the long hall; then, dubious, answered thus: 'Great Mother, if that God who sent the song Vouchsafe me to recall it, I will sing; But I misdoubt it lost.' Slowly his face Down-drooped, and all his body forward bent While brooding memory, step by step, retraced Its backward way. Vainly long time it sought The starting-point. Then Ceadmon's large, soft hands Opening and closing worked; for wont were they, In musings when he stood, to clasp his goad, And plant its point far from him, thereupon Propping his stalwart weight. Customed support Now finding not, unwittingly those hands Reached forth, and on Saint Finan's crosier-staff Settling, withdrew it from the old bishop's grasp; And Ceadmon leant thereon, while passed a smile From chief to chief to see earth's meekest man The spiritual sceptre claim of Lindisfarne. They smiled; he triumphed: soon the Cowherd found That first fair corner-stone of all his song; Thence rose the fabric heavenward. Lifting hands, Once more his lordly music he rehearsed, The void abyss at God's command forth-flinging Creation like a Thought: where night had reigned, The universe of God. The singing stars Which with the Angels sang when earth was made Sang in his song. From highest shrill of lark To ocean's moaning under cliffs low-browed, And roar of pine-woods on the storm-swept hills, No tone was wanting; while to them that heard Strange images looked forth of worlds new-born, Fair, phantom mountains, and, with forests plumed Heaven-topping headlands, for the first time glassed In waters ever calm. O'er sapphire seas Green islands laughed. Fairer, the wide earth's flower, Eden, on airs unshaken yet by sighs From bosom still inviolate forth poured Immortal sweets that sense to spirit turned. In part those noble listeners made that song! Their flashing eyes, their hands, their heaving breasts, Tumult self-stilled, and mute, expectant trance, 'Twas these that gave their bard his twofold might— That might denied to poets later born Who, singing to soft brains and hearts ice-hard, Applauded or contemned, alike roll round A vainly-seeking eye, and, famished, drop A hand clay-cold upon the unechoing shell, Missing their inspiration's human half.

Thus Ceadmon sang, and ceased. Silent awhile The concourse stood, for all had risen, as though Waiting from heaven its echo. Each on each Gazed hard and caught his hands. Fiercely ere long Their gratulating shout aloft had leaped But Hilda laid her finger on her lip, Or provident lest praise might stain the pure, Or deeming song a gift too high for praise. She spake: 'Through help of God thy song is sound: Now hear His Holy Word, and shape therefrom A second hymn, and worthier than the first.'

She spake, and Finan standing bent his head Above the sacred tome in reverence stayed Upon his kneeling deacon's hands and brow, And sweetly sang five verses, thus beginning, 'Cum esset desponsata,' and was still; And next rehearsed them in the Anglian tongue: Then Ceadmon took God's Word into his heart, And ruminating stood, as when the kine, Their flowery pasture ended, ruminate; And was a man in thought. At last the light Shone from his dubious countenance, and he spake: 'Great Mother, lo! I saw a second Song! T'wards me it sailed; but with averted face, And borne on shifting winds. A man am I Sluggish and slow, that needs must muse and brood; Therefore those verses till the sun goes down Will I revolve. If song from God be mine Expect me here at morn.' The morrow morn In that high presence Ceadmon stood and sang A second song, and worthier than his first; And Hilda said, 'From God it came, not man; Thou therefore live a monk among my monks, And sing to God.' Doubtful he stood—'From youth My place hath been with kine; their ways I know, And how to cure their griefs,' Smiling she spake, 'Our convent hath its meads, and kine; with these Consort each morn: at noon to us return.' Then Ceadmon knelt, and bowed, and said, 'So be it:' And aged Finan, and Northumbria's king Oswy, approved; and all that host had joy.

Thus in that convent Ceadmon lived, a monk, Humblest of all the monks, save him that knelt In cell close by, who once had been a prince. Seven times a day he sang God's praises, first When earliest dawn drew back night's sable veil With trembling hand, revisiting the earth Like some pale maid that through the curtain peers Round her sick mother's bed, misdoubting half If sleep lie there, or death; latest when eve Through nave and chancel stole from arch to arch, And laid upon the snowy altar-step At last a brow of gold. In later years, By ancient yearnings driven, through wood and vale He tracked Deirean or Bernician glades To holy Ripon, or late-sceptred York, Not yet great Wilfred's seat, or Beverley: The children gathered round him, crying, 'Sing!' They gave him inspiration with their eyes, And with his conquering music he returned it. Oftener he roamed that strenuous eastern coast To Jarrow and to Wearmouth, sacred sites The well-beloved of Bede, or northward more To Bamborough, Oswald's keep. At Coldingham His feet had rest; there where St. Ebba's Cape That ends the lonely range of Lammermoor, Sustained for centuries o'er the wild sea-surge In region of dim mist and flying bird, Fronting the Forth, those convent piles far-kenned, The worn-out sailor's hope. Fair English shores, Despite those blinding storms of north and east, Despite rough ages blind with stormier strife, Or froz'n by doubt, or sad with worldly care, A fragrance as of Carmel haunts you still Bequeathed by feet of that forgotten Saint Who trod you once, sowing the seed divine! Fierce tribes that kenned him distant round him flocked; On sobbing sands the fisher left his net, His lamb the shepherd on the hills of March, Suing for song. With wrinkled face all smiles, Like that blind Scian circling Grecian coasts, If God the song accorded, Ceadmon sang; If God denied it, after musings deep He answered, 'I am of the kine and dumb;'— The man revered his art, and fraudful song Esteemed as fraudful coin. Music denied, He solaced them with tales wherein, so seemed it, Nature and Grace, inwoven, like children played, Or like two sisters o'er one sampler bent, Braided one text. Ever the sorrowful chance Ending in joy, the human craving still, Like creeper circling up the Tree of Life, Lifted by hand unseen, witnessed that He, Man's Maker, is the Healer too of man, And life His school parental. Parables He shewed in all things. 'Mark,' one day he cried, 'Yon silver-breasted swan that stems the lake Taking nor chill nor moisture! Such the soul That floats o'er waters of a world corrupt, Itself immaculate still.' Better than tale They loved their minstrel's harp. The songs he sang Were songs to brighten gentle hearts; to fire Strong hearts with holier courage; hope to breathe Through spirits despondent, o'er the childless floor Or widowed bed, flashing from highest heaven A beam half faith, half vision. Many a tear, His own, and tears of those that listened, fell Oft as he sang that hand, lovely as light, Forth stretched, and gathering from forbidden boughs That fruit fatal to man. He sang the Flood, Sin's doom that quelled the impure, yet raised to height Else inaccessible, the just. He sang That patriarch facing at divine command The illimitable waste—then, harder proof, Lifting his knife o'er him, the seed foretold; He sang of Israel loosed, the ten black seals Down pressed on Egypt's testament of woe, Covenant of pride with penance; sang the face Of Moses glittering from red Sinai's rocks, The Tables twain, and Mandements of God. On Christian nights he sang that jubilant star Which led the Magians to the Bethlehem crib By Joseph watched, and Mary. Pale, in Lent, Tremulous and pale, he told of Calvary, Nor added word, but, as in trance, rehearsed That Passion fourfold of the Evangelists, Which, terrible and swift—not like a tale— With speed of things which must be done, not said, A river of bale, from guilty age to age Along the astonied shores of common life Annual makes way, the history of the world, Not of one day, one People. To its fount That stream he tracked, that primal mystery sang Which, chanted later by a thousand years, Music celestial, though with note that jarred, Some wandering orb troubling its starry chime, Amazed the nations, 'There was war in heaven: Michael and they, his angels, warfare waged With Satan and his angels.' Brief that war, That ruin total. Brief was Ceadmon's song: Therein the Eternal Face was undivulged: Therein the Apostate's form no grandeur wore: The grandeur was elsewhere. Who hate their God Change not alone to vanquished but to vile. On Easter morns he sang the Saviour Risen, Eden Regained. Since then on England's shores Though many sang, yet no man sang like him.

O holy House of Whitby! on thy steep Rejoice, howe'er the tempest, night or day, Afflict thee, or the hand of Time to earth Drag down thine airy arches long suspense; Rejoice, for Ceadmon in thy cloisters knelt, And singing paced beside thy sounding sea! Long years he lived; and with the whitening hair More youthful grew in spirit, and more meek; Yea, those that saw him said he sang within Then when the golden mouth but seldom breathed Sonorous strain, and when—that fulgent eye No longer bright—still on his forehead shone Not flame but purer light, like that last beam Which, when the sunset woods no longer burn, Maintains high place on Alpine throne remote, Or utmost beak of promontoried cloud, And heavenward dies in smiles. Esteem of men Daily he less esteemed, through single heart More knit with God. To please a sickly child He sang his latest song, and, ending, said, 'Song is but body, though 'tis body winged: The soul of song is love: the body dead, The soul should thrive the more.' That Patmian Sage Whose head had lain upon the Saviour's breast, Who in high vision saw the First and Last, Who heard the harpings of the Elders crowned, Who o'er the ruins of the Imperial House And ashes of the twelve great Caesars dead Witnessed the endless triumph of the Just, To humbler life restored, and, weak through age, But seldom spake, and gave but one command, The great 'Mandatum Novum' of his Lord, 'My children, love each other!' Like to his Was Ceadmon's age. Weakness with happy stealth Increased upon him: he was cheerful still: He still could pace, though slowly, in the sun, Still gladsomely converse with friends who wept, Still lay a broad hand on his well-loved kine.

The legend of the last of Ceadmon's days:— That hospital wherein the old monks died Stood but a stone's throw from the monastery: 'Make there my couch to-night,' he said, and smiled: They marvelled, yet obeyed. There, hour by hour, The man, low-seated on his pallet-bed, In silence watched the courses of the stars, Or casual spake at times of common things, And three times played with childhood's days, and twice His father named. At last, like one that, long Compassed with good, is smit by sudden thought Of greater good, thus spake he: 'Have ye, sons, Here in this house the Blessed Sacrament?' They answered, wrathful, 'Father, thou art strong; Shake not thy children! Thou hast many days!' 'Yet bring me here the Blessed Sacrament,' Once more he said. The brethren issued forth Save four that silent sat waiting the close. Ere long in grave procession they returned, Two deacons first, gold-vested; after these That priest who bare the Blessed Sacrament, And acolytes behind him, lifting lights. Then from his pallet Ceadmon slowly rose And worshipped Christ, his God, and reaching forth His right hand, cradled in his left, behold! Therein was laid God's Mystery. He spake: 'Stand ye in flawless charity of God T'ward me, my sons; or lives there in your hearts Memory the least of wrong?' The monks replied: 'Father, within us lives nor wrong, nor wrath, But love, and love alone.' And he: 'Not less Am I in charity with you, my sons, And all my sins of pride, and other sins, Humbly I mourn.' Then, bending the old head O'er the old hand, Ceadmon received his Lord To be his soul's viaticum, in might Leading from life that seems to life that is; And long, unpropped by any, kneeling hung And made thanksgiving prayer. Thanksgiving made, He sat upon his bed, and spake: 'How long Ere yet the monks begin their matin psalms?' 'That hour is nigh,' they answered; he replied, 'Then let us wait that hour,' and laid him down With those kine-tending and harp-mastering hands Crossed on his breast, and slept. Meanwhile the monks, The lights removed in reverence of his sleep, Sat mute nor stirred such time as in the Mass Between 'Orate Fratres' glides away, And 'Hoc est Corpus Meum.' Northward far The great deep, seldom heard so distant, roared Round those wild rocks half way to Bamborough Head; For now the mightiest spring-tide of the year, Following the magic of a maiden moon, Approached its height. Nearer, that sea which sobbed In many a cave by Whitby's winding coast, Or died in peace on many a sandy bar From river-mouth to river-mouth outspread, They heard, and mused upon eternity That circles human life. Gradual arose A softer strain and sweeter, making way O'er that sea-murmur hoarse; and they were ware That in the black far-shadowing church whose bulk Up-towered between them and the moon, the monks Their matins had begun. A little sigh That moment reached them from the central gloom Guarding the sleeper's bed; a second sigh Succeeded: neither seemed the sigh of pain: And some one said, 'He wakens.' Large and bright Over the church-roof sudden rushed the moon, And smote the cross above that sleeper's couch, And smote that sleeper's face. The smile thereon Was calmer than the smile of life. Thus died Ceadmon, the earliest bard of English song.


Oswy, King of Bernicia, being at war with his kinsman Oswin, slays him unarmed. He refuses to repent of this sin; yet at last, subdued by the penitence, humility, and charity of Eanfleda, his wife, repents likewise, and builds a monastery over the grave of Oswin. Afterwards he becomes a great warrior and dies a saint.

Young, beauteous, brave—the bravest of the brave— Who loved not Oswin? All that saw him loved: Aidan loved most, monk of Iona's Isle, Northumbria's bishop next, from Lindisfarne Ruling in things divine. One morn it chanced That Oswin, noting how with staff in hand Old Aidan roamed his spiritual realm, footbare, Wading deep stream, and piercing thorny brake, Sent him a horse—his best. The Saint was pleased; But, onward while he rode, and, musing, smiled To think of these his honours in old age, A beggar claimed his alms. 'Gold have I none,' Aidan replied; 'this horse be thine!' The King, Hearing the tale, was grieved. 'Keep I, my lord, No meaner horses fit for beggar's use That thus my best should seem a thing of naught?' The Saint made answer: 'Beggar's use, my King! What was that horse? The foal of some poor mare! The least of men—the sinner—is God's child!' Then dropped the King on both his knees, and cried: 'Father, forgive me!' As they sat at meat Oswin was mirthful, and at jest and tale His hungry thanes laughed loud. But great, slow tears In silence trickled down old Aidan's face: These all men marked; yet no man question made. At last to one beside him Aidan spake In Irish tongue, unknown to all save them, 'God will not leave such meekness long on earth.'

Who loved not Oswin? Not alone his realm, Deira, loved him, but Bernician lords Whose monarch, Oswy, was a man of storms, Fierce King albeit in youth baptized to Christ; At heart half pagan. Swift as northern cloud Through summer skies, he swept with all his host Down on the rival kingdom. Face to face The armies stood. But Oswin, when he marked His own a little flock 'mid countless wolves, Addressed them thus: 'Why perish, friends, for me? From exile came I: for my people's sake To exile I return, or gladlier die: Depart in peace.' He rode to Gilling Tower; And waited there his fate. Thither next day King Oswy marched, and slew him. Twelve days passed; Then Aidan, while through green Northumbria's woods Pensive he paced, steadying his doubtful steps, Felt death approaching. Giving thanks to God, The old man laid him by a church half raised Amid great oaks and yews, and, leaning there His head against the buttress, passed to God. They made their bishop's grave at Lindisfarne; But Oswin rested at the mouth of Tyne Within a wave-girt, granite promontory Where sea and river meet. For many an age The pilgrim from far countries came in faith To that still shrine—they called it 'Oswin's Peace,'— Thither the outcast fled for sanctuary: The sick man there found health. Thus Oswin lived, Though dead, a benediction in the land.

What gentlest form kneels on the rain-washed ground From Gilling's keep a stone's-throw? Whose those hands Now pressed in anguish on a bursting heart, Now o'er a tearful countenance spread in shame? What purest mouth, but roseless for great woe, With zeal to youthful lovers never known Presses a new-made grave, and through the blades Of grass wind-shaken breathes her piteous prayer? Save from remorse came ever grief like hers? Yet how could ever sin, or sin's remorse, Find such fair mansion? Oswin's grave it is; And she that o'er it kneels is Eanfleda, Kinswoman of the noble dead, and wife To Oswin's murderer—Oswy. Saddest one And sweetest! Lo, that cloud which overhung Her cradle swathes once more in deeper gloom Her throne late won, and new-decked bridal bed. This was King Edwin's babe, whose natal star Shone on her father's pathway doubtful long, Shone there a line of light, from pagan snares Leading to Christian baptism. Penda heard— Penda, that drew his stock from Odin's loins, Penda, that drank his wine from skulls of foes, Penda, fierce Mercia's king. He heard, and fell In ruin on the region. Edwin dead, Paulinus led the widow and her babe Back to that Kentish shore whereon had reigned Its grandsire Ethelbert. The infant's feet Pattered above the pavement of that church In Canterbury by Augustine raised; The child grew paler when Gregorian chants Shook the dim roofs. Gladly the growing girl Hearkened to stories of her ancestress Clotilda, boast of France, but weeping turned From legends whispered by her Saxon nurse Of Loke, the Spirit accursed that slanders gods, And Sinna, Queen of Hell. The years went by; The last had brought King Oswy's embassage With suit obsequious, 'Let the princess share With me her father's crown.' To simple hearts Changes come gently. Soon, all trust, she stood Before God's altar with her destined lord: Adown her finger while the bride-ring ran So slid into her heart a true wife's love: Rooted in faith, it ripened day by day— And now the end was this! There as she knelt A strong foot clanged behind her. 'Weeping still! Up, wife of mine! If Oswin had not died His gracious ways had filched from me my realm, The base so loved his meekness!' Turning not She answered low: 'He died an unarmed man:' And Oswy: 'Fool that fought not when he might; At least his slaughtered troop had decked his grave! I scorned him for his grief that men should die; And, scorning him, I hated; yea, for that His blood is on my sword!' The priests of God Had faced the monarch and denounced his crime: They might as well have preached to ocean waves: He felt no anger: he but deemed them mad, And smiling went his way. Thus autumn passed: The queen—he knew it—when alone wept on: Near him the pale face smiled; the voice was sweet; Loving the service; the obedience full: Neither by words, by silence, nor by looks She chid him. Like some penitent she walked That mourns her own great sin. Yet Oswy's heart, Remorseless thus, had moods of passionate love: A warrior of his host, Tosti by name, Lay low, plague-stricken: kith and kin had fled: Whole days the king sustained upon his knees The sufferer's head, and cheered his heart with songs Of Odin, strangely blent with Christian hymns, While ofttimes stormy bursts of tears descended Upon that face upturned. Ministering he sat Till death the vigil closed. One winter night From distant chase belated he returned, And passed by Oswin's grave. The snow, new-fallen, Whitened the precinct. In the blast she knelt, While coldly glared the broad and bitter moon Upon those flying flakes that on her hair Settled, or on her thin, light raiment clung. She heard him not draw nigh. She only beat Her breast, and, praying, wept: 'Our sin, our sin!' There as the monarch stood a change came o'er him: Old, exiled days in Alba as a dream Redawned upon his spirit, and that look In Aidan's eyes when, binding first that cross Long by his pupil craved, around his neck, He whispered: 'He who serveth Christ, his Lord, Must love his fellow-man.' As when a stream, The ice dissolved, grows audible once more, So came to him those words. They dragged him down: He knelt beside his wife, and beat his breast, And said, 'My sin, my sin!' Till earliest morn Glimmered through sleet that twain wept on, prayed on:— Was it the rising sun that lit at last The fair face upward lifted;—kindled there A lovelier dawn than o'er it blushed when first Dropped on her bridegroom's breast? Aloud she cried: 'Our prayer is heard: our penitence finds grace:' Then added: 'Let it deepen till we die! A monastery build we on this grave: So from this grave, while fleet the years, that prayer Shall rise both day and night, till Christ returns To judge the world—a prayer for him who died; A prayer for one who sinned, but sins no more.'

Where Gilling's long and lofty hill o'erlooks For leagues the forest-girdled plain, ere long A monastery stood. That self-same day In tears the penitential work began; In tears the sod was turned. The rugged brows Of March relaxed 'neath April's flying kiss: Again the violet rose, the thrush was loud; Mayday had come. Around that hallowed spot Full many a warrior met; some Christians vowed; Some muttering low of Odin. Near to these Stood one of lesser stature, keener eye, More fiery gesture. Splenetic, he marked, Christian albeit himself, those Christian walls By Saxon converts raised:—he was a Briton. Invisibly that morn a dusky crape O'erstretched the sky; and slowly swayed the bough Heavy with midnight rains. Through mist the woods Let out the witchery of their young fresh green Backed by the dusk of ruddy oaks that still Reserved at heart the old year's stubbornness, Yet blent it with that purple distance glimpsed Beyond the forest alleys. In a tent Finan sang Mass: his altar was that stone Which told where Oswin died. Before it knelt The king, the queen: alone their angels know Their thoughts that hour! The sacred rite complete, They raised their brows, and, hand-in-hand, made way To where, beyond the portal, shone blue skies, Nature's long-struggling smile at last divulged. The throng—with passion it had prayed for each— Divided as they passed. In either face They saw the light of that conceded prayer, The peace of souls forgiven. From that day forth Hourly in Oswy's spirit soared more high The one true greatness. Flaming heats of soul, Through faith subjected to a law divine, Like fire, man's vassal, mastering iron ore, Learned their true work. The immeasurable strength Had found at once its master and its end, And, balanced thus while weighted, soared to God. In all his ways he prospered, work and word Yoked to one end. Till then the Kingdoms Seven, Opposed in interests as diverse in name, Had looked on nothing like him. Now, despite Mercia that frowned, they named him king of kings, Bretwalda; and the standard of the Seven In peace foreran his feet. The Spirits of might Before his vanguard winged their way in war, Scattering the foe; and in his peacefuller years Upon the aerial hillside high and higher The golden harvest clomb, waving delight On eyes upraised from winding rivers clear That shone with milky sails. His feet stood firm, For with his growing greatness ever grew His penitence. Still sang the cloistered choir, Year after year pleading o'er Oswin's tomb, 'To him who perished grant thy Vision, Lord; To him the slayer, penitence and peace; Let Oswin pray for Oswy:' Oswin prayed.

What answered Penda when the tidings came Of Oswy glorying in the yoke of Christ, Of Oswy's victories next? Grinding his teeth, He spake what no man heard. Then rumour rose Of demon-magic making Oswy's tongue Fell as his sword. 'Within the sorcerer's court,' It babbled, 'stood the brave East Saxon king: Upon his shoulder Oswy laid a hand Accursed and whispered in his ear. The king, Down sank, perforce, a Christian!' Lightning flashed From under Penda's gray and shaggy brows;— 'Forth to Northumbria, son,' he cried, 'and back; And learn if this be true.' That son obeyed, Peada, to whose heart another's heart, Alcfrid's, King Oswy's son, was knit long since As David's unto Jonathan's. One time A tenderer heart had leaned, or seemed to lean, Motioning that way, Alfleda's, Alcfrid's sister, Younger than he six years. 'Twas so no more: No longer on Peada's eyes her eyes Rested well-pleased: not now the fearless hand Tarried in his contented. 'Sir and king,' Peada thus to Oswy spake, 'of old Thy child—then child indeed—would mount my knee; Now, when I seek her, like a swan she fleets That arches back its neck 'twixt snowy wings, And, swerving, sideway drifts. My lord and king, The child is maiden: give her me for wife!' Oswy made answer: 'He that serves not Christ Can wed no child of mine.' Alfleda then Dropping her broidery lifted on her sire Gently the dewy light of childlike eyes And spake, 'But he in time will worship Christ!' Then, without blush or tremor, to her work Softly returned. Silent her mother smiled. That moment, warned of God, from Lindisfarne Finan, unlooked for, entered. Week by week Reverend and mild he preached the Saviour-Lord: Grave-eyed, with listening face and forehead bowed, The prince gave ear, not like that trivial race Who catch the sense ere spoken, smile assent, And in a moment lose it. On his brow At times the apprehension dawned, at times Faded. Oft turned he to his Mercian lords:— 'How trow ye, friends? He speaks of what he knows! Good tidings these! Each evening while I muse Distinct they shine like yonder mountain range; Each morning, mists conceal them.' Passed a month; Then suddenly, as one that wakes from dream, Peada rose: 'Far rather would I serve Thy Christ,' he said, 'and thus Alfleda lose, Than win Alfleda, and reject thy Christ.' He spake: old Finan first gave thanks to God, Who grants the pure heart valour to believe, Then took his hand and led him to that Cross On Heaven-Field raised beneath the Roman Wall, That cross King Oswald's standard in the fight, That cross Cadwallon's sentence as he fell, 'That cross which conquered;'—there to God baptized; Likewise his thanes and earls. Meantime, far off In Penda's palace-keep the revel raged, High feast of rites impure. At banquet sat The monarch and his chiefs; chant followed chant Bleeding with wars foregone. The day went by, And, setting ere its time, a sanguine sun Dipped into tumult vast of gathering storm That soon incumbent leant from tower to tower And shook them to their base. As high within The gladness mounted, meeting storm with storm, Till cried that sacrificial priest whose knife Had pierced the warrior victim's willing throat That morn, 'Already with the gods we feast! Hark! round Valhalla swell the phantom wars!' Ere ceased the shout applausive, from his seat Uprose the warrior Saxo, in his hand The goblet, in the other Alp, his sword, Pointing to heaven. 'To Odin health!' he cried; 'Would that this hour he rode into this hall! He should not hence depart till blood of his Had reddened Sleipner's flank, his snow-white steed: This sword would shed that blood!' Warriors sixteen Leaped up in wrath, and for a moment rage Rocked the huge hall. But Saxo waved his sword, And, laughing, shouted, 'Odin's sons, be still! Count it no sin to battle with high gods! Great-hearted they! They give the blow and take! To Odin who was ever leal as I?' As sudden as it rose the tumult fell: So ceased the storm without: but with it ceased The rapture and the madness, and the shout: The wine-cup still made circuit; but the song Froze in mid-air. Strange shadow hung o'er all: Neighbour to neighbour whispered: courtiers slid Through doors scarce open. Rumour had arrived, If true or false none knew. The morrow morn From Penda's court the bravest fled in fear, Questioning with white lips, 'Will he slay his son?' Or skulked at distance. Penda by the throat Catching a white-cheeked courtier, cried: 'The truth! What whisper they in corners?' On his knees That courtier made confession. Penda then, 'Live, since my son is yet a living man! A Christian, say'st thou? Let him serve his Christ! That man whom ever most I scorned is he Who vows him to the service of some god, Yet breaks his laws; for that man walks, a lie. My son shall live, and after me shall reign: Northumbrian realm shall die!' Thus Penda spake And sent command from tower and town to blow Instant the trumpet of his last of wars, Fanning from Odin's hall with airs ice-cold Of doom the foes of Odin. 'Man nor child,' He sware,'henceforth shall tread Northumbrian soil, Nor hart nor hind: I spare the creeping worm: My scavenger is he,' The Mercian realm Rose at his call, innumerable mass Of warriors iron-armed. East Anglia sent Her hosts in aid. Apostate Ethelwald, Though Oswy's nephew, joined the hostile league, And thirty chiefs beside that ruled by right Princedom or province. Mightier far than these Old Cambria, brooding o'er the ancestral wrong, The Saxon's sin original, met his call, And vowed her to the vengeance. Bravest hearts Hate most the needless slaughter. Oswy mused: 'Long since too much of blood is on this hand: Shall I for pride or passion risk once more Northumbria, my mother;—rudely stain Her pretty babes with blood?' To Penda then, Camped on the confines of the adverse realms, He sent an embassage of reverend men, Warriors and priests. Before them, staff in hand, Peaceful, with hoary brows and measured tread, Twelve heralds paced. Twelve caskets bare they heaped With gems and gold, and thus addressed the King: 'Lord of the Mercian realm, renowned in arms! Our lord, Northumbria's monarch, bids thee hail: He never yet in little thing or great Hath wronged thy kingdom; yet thy peace he woos: Accept the gifts he sends thee, and, thus crowned, Depart content.' Penda with backward hand Waved them far from him, and vouchsafed no word. In sadness they returned: but Oswy smiled Hearing their tale, and said: 'My part is done: Let God decide the event,' He spake, and took The caskets twelve, and placed them, side by side, Before the altar of his chiefest church, And vowed to raise to God twelve monasteries, In honour of our Lord's Apostles Twelve, On greenest upland, or in sylvan glade Where purest stream kisses the richest mead. His vow recorded, sudden through the church Ran with fleet foot a lady mazed with joy, Crying, 'A maiden babe! and lo, the queen Late dying lives and thrives!' That eve the king Bestowed on God the new-born maiden babe, Laying her cradled 'mid those caskets twelve, Six at each side; and said: 'For her nor throne Nor marriage bower! She in some holy house Shall dwell the Bride of Christ. But thou, just God, This day avenge my people!' Windwaed field Heard, distant still, that multitudinous foe Trampling the darksome ways. With pallid face Morning beheld their standards, raven-black— Penda had thus decreed, before him sending Northumbria's sentence. On a hill, thick-set Stood Oswy's army, small, yet strong in faith, A wedge-like phalanx, fenced by rocks and woods; A river in its front. His standards white Sustained the Mother-Maid and Babe Divine: From many a crag his altars rose, choir-girt, And crowned by incense wreath. An hour ere noon, That river passed, in thunder met the hosts; But Penda, straitened by that hilly tract, Could wield not half his force. Sequent as waves On rushed they: Oswy's phalanx like a cliff Successively down dashed them. Day went by: At last the clouds dispersed: the westering sun Glared on the spent eyes of those Mercian ranks Which in their blindness each the other smote, Or, trapped by hidden pitfalls, fell on stakes, And died blaspheming. Little help that day Gat they from Cambria. She on Heaven-Field height Had felt her death-wound, slow albeit to die. The apostate Ethelwald in panic fled: The East Anglians followed. Swollen by recent rains, And choked with dead, the river burst its bound, And raced along the devastated plain Till cry of drowning horse and shriek of man Rang far and farther o'er that sea of death, A battle-field but late. This way and that Briton or Mercian where he might escaped Through flood or forest. Penda scorned to fly: Thrice with extended arms he met and cursed The fugitives on rushing. As they passed He flung his crowned helm into the wave, And bit his brazen shield, above its rim Levelling a look that smote with chill like death Their hearts that saw it. Yet one moment more He sat like statue on some sculptured horse With upraised hand, close-clenched, denouncing Heaven: Then burst his mighty heart. As stone he fell Dead on the plain. Not less in after times Mercian to Mercian said, 'Without a wound King Penda died, although on battle-field, Therefore with Odin Penda shares not feast.' Thus pagan died old Penda as he lived: Yet Penda's sons were Christian, kindlier none; His daughters nuns; and lamb-like Mercia's House, Lion one while, made end. King Oswy raised His monasteries twelve: benigner life Around them spread: wild waste, and robber bands Vanished: the poor were housed, the hungry fed: And Oswy sent his little new-born babe Dewed with her mother's tear-drops, Eanfleda, Like some young lamb with fillet decked and flower, Yet dedicated not to death, but life, To Hilda sent on Whitby's sea-washed hill, Who made her Bride of Christ. The years went by, And Oswy, now an old king, glory-crowned, His country from the Mercian thraldom loosed And free from north to south, in heart resolved A pilgrim, Romeward faring with bare feet, To make his rest by Peter's tomb and Paul's. God willed not thus: within his native realm The sickness unto death clasped him with hold Gentle but firm. Long sleepless, t'ward the close Amid his wanderings smiling, from the couch He stretched a shrivelled hand, and pointing said, 'Who was it fabled she had died in age? In all her youthful beauty holy and pure, Lo, where she kneels upon the wintry ground, The snow-flakes circling round her, yet with face Bright as a star!' so spake the king, and taking Into his heart that vision, slept in peace. His daughter, abbess then on Whitby's height, Within her church interred her father's bones Beside her grandsire's, Edwin. Side by side They rested, one Bernicia's king, and one Deira's—great Northumbrian sister realms; Long foes, yet blended by that mingling dust.


Osthryda, Queen of Mercia, translates the relics of her uncle, Oswald of Northumberland, to the Abbey of Bardeney. The monks refuse them admittance because King Oswald had conquered and kept for one year Lindsay, a province of Mercia. Though hourly expecting the destruction of their Abbey, they will yield neither to threats nor to supplications, nor even to celestial signs and wonders. At last, being convinced by the reasoning of a devout man, they repent of their anger.

Silent, with gloomy brows in conclave sat The monks of Bardeney, nigh the eastern sea;— Rumour, that still outruns the steps of ill, Smote on their gates with news: 'Osthryda comes To bury here her royal uncle's bones, Northumbrian Oswald.' Oswald was a Saint; Had loosed from Pagan bonds that Christian land His own by right. But Oswald had subdued Lindsay, a Mercian province; and the monks Were sons of Mercia leal and true. Osthryda, Northumbrian born, had wedded Mercia's King; Therefore the monks of Bardeney pondered thus: 'This Mercian Queen spurns her adopted country! Must Mercia therefore build her conqueror's tomb? Though earth and hell cried "Ay," it should not be!' Thus mused the brethren till the sun went down: Then lo! beyond a vista in the woods Drew nigh a Bier, black-plumed, with funeral train: Thereon the stern monks gazed, and gave command To close the Abbey's gate. Beside that gate Tent-roofed that Bier remained. Before them soon Stood up the royal herald. Thus he spake: 'Ye sacred monks of Bardeney's Abbey, hail! Osthryda, wife of Ethelred our King, Prays that God's peace may keep this House forever. The Queen has hither brought, by help of God, King Oswald's bones, and sues for them a grave Within this hallowed precinct.' Answer came: 'King Oswald, living, was Northumbria's King; King Oswald, by the pride of life seduced, Wrested from Mercia's sceptre Lindsay's soil; Therefore in Lindsay's soil King Oswald, dead, May never find repose.' Before them next Three earls advanced full-armed, and spake loud-voiced: 'Our Queen is consort of the Mercian King; Ye, monks, are Mercian subjects! Sirs, beware! Our King and Queen have loved you well till now, And ranked your abbey highest in their realm: But hearts ingrate can sour the mood of love; And Ethelred, though mild as summer skies When mildly used, once angered'——Answer came: 'We know it, and await our doom, content: If Mercia's King contemns his realm, more need That Mercia's priests her confessors should die: In Bardeney's church King Oswald ne'er shall rest: Ye have your answer, Earls!' Through that dim hall Ere long a gentler embassage made way, Three priests; arrived, they knelt, and, reverent, spake: 'Fathers and brethren, Oswald was a Saint! He loosed his native land from pagan thrall: Churches and convents everywhere he built: His relics, year by year, grow glorious more Through miracles and signs. Fathers revered, Within this sanctuary beloved of God Vouchsafe his dust interment!' They replied: 'We know that Oswald is a Saint with God: We know he freed his realm from pagan thrall; We know that churches everywhere he built; We know that from his relics Grace proceeds As light from sun and moon. In heaven a crown Rests on Saint Oswald's head: yet here on earth King Oswald's foot profaned our Mercian bound: Therefore in Mercian earth he finds not grave.' Silent those priests withdrew. An hour well-nigh Went by in silence. Then with forehead crowned And mourner's veil, and step of one that mourns, The Queen advanced, a lady at each side, And 'mid the circle stood, and thus implored: 'Not as your Sovereign come I, holy Sirs, Since all are equal in the House of God; Nor stand I here a stranger. Many a day In this your church, I knelt, while yet a child; Then too, as now, within my breast there lived The tenderest of its ardours and the best, Zeal for my kinsman's fame. That time how oft I heard my Father, Oswy, cry aloud, "O Brother, had I walked but in thy ways My foot had never erred!" In maiden youth I met with one who shared my loyal zeal, Mercian himself: 'twas thus he won my heart: My royal husband shared it; shares this hour My trust that 'mid the altars reared by us To grace this chiefest Minster of our realm May rest the relics of our household Saint— To spurn them from your threshold were to shame.' She spake: benign and soft the answering voice: 'Entreat us not, thou mourner true and kind, Lest we, by pity from the straight path drawn, Sin more than thou. Thou know'st what thing love is, Thus loving one who died before thy birth! Up to the measure of high love and fit Thou lov'st him for this cause, because thy heart Hath never rested on base love and bad: Lady, a sterner severance monks have made: Not base and bad alone do they reject, But lesser good for better and for best: Therefore what yet remains they love indeed: A single earthly love is theirs unblamed, Their Country! Lo, the wild-bird loves her nest, Lions their caves:—to us God gave a Country. What heart of man but loves that mother-land Whose omnipresent arms are round him still In vale and plain; whose voice in every stream; Whose breath his forehead cools; whose eyes with joy Regard her offspring issuing forth each morn On duteous tasks; to rest each eve returning? And who that loves her but must hate her foes? Lady, accept God's Will, nor strive by prayer To change it. In our guest-house rest this night, Thou, and thy train.'

Severe the Queen replied: 'Yea, in thy guest-house I will lodge this night, Unvanquished, undiscouraged, not to cease From prayer: of that be sure. I make henceforth My prayer to God, not man. To Him I pray, That Lord of all, Who changes at His will The stony heart to flesh.' She spake: then turned On those old faces, keenlier than before, Her large slow eyes; and instant in her face The sadness deepened: but the wrath was gone. That sadness said, 'Love then as deep as mine, And grief like mine, in other breasts may spring From source how different!' Long she gazed, like child That knows not she is seen to gaze, with looks As though she took that hoary-headed band Into her sorrowing heart. Silent she sighed; Then passed into the guest-house with her train: There prayed all night for him, that Saint in heaven Ill-honoured upon earth. Within their church Meantime the monks the 'Dies Irae' sang, The yellow tapers ranged as round a corse, And Penitential Psalms in order due. Their rite was for the living: ere the time They sang the obsequies of sentenced men, Foreboding wrath to come. Sad Fancy heard The flames up-rushing o'er their convent home, The ruin of their church late-built, the wreck It might be of their Order. Fierce they knew That Mercian royal House! Against their King They hurled no ban: venial they deemed his crime: 'He moves within the limits of his right, Though wrongly measuring right. He sees but this, His subjects break his laws. Some sin of youth It may be hides from him a right more high:'— Thus spake they in their hearts. While rival thus The brethren and the Queen sent up their prayer, And sacred night hung midway in her course, Behold, there fell from God tempest and storm Buffeting that abbey's walls. The woods around, Devastated by stress of blast on blast, Howled like the howling of wild beasts when fire Invests their ambush, and their cubs late-born Blaze in red flame. Trembling, the strong-built towers Echoed the woodland moans. All night the Queen, Propped by those two fair Seraphs, Faith and Love, Prayed on in hope, or hearing not that storm, Or mindful that where danger most abounds There God is nearest still. Meantime the Tent Covering that royal Bier, unshaken stood Beside the unyielding abbey-gates close-barred, Like something shielded by a heavenly charm: When morning came, shattered all round it lay Both trunk and bough; but in the rising sun The storm-drop shook not on that snowy shrine.

Things wondrous more that Legend old records: An hour past sunrise from the meads and moors Came wide-eyed herdsmen thronging, with demand, 'What means this marvel? All the long still night, While heaven and earth were dark, and peaceful sleep Closed in her arms the wearied race of men, Keeping our herds on meads and moorlands chill, We saw a glittering Tent beside your gates: Above it, and not far, a pillar stood, All light, and high as heaven!' The abbot answered, 'Fair Sirs, ye dreamed a dream; and sound your sleep Untroubled by the terror of the storm Whereof those woodland fragments witness still, And many a forest patriarch prostrate laid: There rose no pillar by our gates: yon Tent Stood there, and stood alone.' In two hours' space Shepherds arrived, from hills remoter sped, Making the same demand. With eye ill pleased Thus answered brief the prior: 'Friends, ye jest!' And they in wrath departed. Once again Came foresters from Lindsay's utmost bound, On horses blown, and spake: 'O'er yonder Tent, Through all the courses of the long still night, Behold, a shining pillar hovering stood: It rained a glory on your convent walls: It flung a trail of splendour o'er your woods: We watched it hour by hour. Like Oswald's Cross On Heaven-Field planted in the days of old, It waxed in height:—the stars were quenched.' Replied With reddening brows the youngest of those monks, 'Sirs, ye have had your bribe, and told your tale: Depart!' and they departed great in scorn.

Long time the brethren sat; discoursed long time Each with his neighbour. 'Craft of man would force Dishonest deed on this our holy House, By miracles suborned;' thus spake the first: The second answered, 'Ay, confederates they! The good Queen knew not of it:' then the third, 'Not so! these men are simple folks, I ween: Nor time for fraud had they. What sail is yon So weather-worn that nears the headland?' Soon A pilot stood before them; at his side A priest, long years an inmate of their House, But late a pilgrim in the Holy Land. Their greetings over, greetings warm and kind, Thus spake the Pilgrim: 'Brothers mine, rejoice; Our God is with us! For our House I prayed Three times with forehead on the Tomb of Christ; Last night there came to me, in visible form, An answer to that prayer. All day our ship, Before a great wind rushed t'ward Mercian shores: To them I turned not: on the East I gazed: "O happy East," I mused, "O Land, true home Of every Christian heart! The Saviour's feet Thy streets, thy cornfields trod! With these compared Our country's self seems nothing!" In my heart Imaged successive, rose once more those sites Capernaum, Nain, Bethsaida, Bethlehem— Where'er my feet had strayed. At midnight, cries Of wonder rang around me, and I turned: I saw once more our convent on its hill: I saw beside its gate a Tent snow-white; I saw a glittering pillar o'er that Tent 'Twixt heaven and earth suspense! Serene it shone, Such pillar as led forth the Chosen Race By night from Egypt's coasts. From wave to wave Moon-like it paved a path! I cried, "Thank God! For who shall stay yon splendour till it reach That Syrian shore? England," I said, "my country, Shall lay upon Christ's Tomb a hand all light, Whatever tempest shakes the world of men, Thenceforth His servant vowed!"' When ceased that voice There fell upon the monks a crisis strange; And where that Pilgrim looked for joy, behold, Doubt, wrath, and anguish! Faces old long since Grew older, stricken as by hectic spasm, So fierce a pang had clutched them by the throat; While drops of sweat on many a wrinkled brow Hung large like dewy beads condensed from mist On cliffs by torrents shaken. Mute they sat; Then sudden rose, uplifting helpless hands, As when from distant rock sore-wounded men, Who all day long have watched some dreadful fight, Behold it lost, or else foresee it lost, And with it lost their country's hearths and homes, And yet can bring no succour. Thus with them— They knew themselves defeated; deemed the stars Of heaven had fought against them in their course; Yet still believed, and could not but believe Their cause the cause of Justice, and its wreck The wreck of priestly honour, patriot faith: At last the youngest of the brethren spake: 'Come what come may, God's monks must guard the Right.' Death-like a silence on that conclave fell— Then rose a monk white-headed, well-nigh blind, Esteemed a Saint, who had not uttered speech Since came the tidings of the Queen's resolve: Low-voiced he spake, with eyes upon the ground And inward smile that dimly reached his lips: 'Brethren, be wary lest ye strive with God Through wrath, that blind incontinence of age, For what He wills He works. By passion warped Ye deem this trial strange, this conflict new, Yourselves doomed men that stand between two Fates, On one side right, on one side miracles! Brethren, the chief of miracles is this, That knowing what ye know ye know no more: Ye know long since that Oswald is a Saint: Ye know the sins of Saints are sins forgiven: What then? Shall man revenge where God forgives? Be wroth with those He loves? Ye, seeing much, See not the sun at noontide! God last night Sent you in love a miracle of love To quell in you a miracle of wrath:— Discern its import true! Sum up the past! Thus much is sure: we heard those thunder peals Unheard by hind or shepherd, near or far: 'Tis sure not less that light the shepherds saw We saw not; neither we nor yet the Queen What then? Is God not potent to divulge The thing He wills, or hide it? Brethren, God Shrouding from us that beam far dwellers saw Admonished us perchance that far is near; That ofttimes distance makes intelligible What, nigh at hand, is veiled. This too He taught, That when Northumbrian foot our Mercia spurned The men who saw that ruin saw not all: The light of Christ drew near us in that hour; His pillar o'er us stood, and in our midst: The pang, the shame, were transient. See the whole!' The old man paused a space, and then resumed: 'Brethren, that day our country suffered wrong: One day she may inflict it. Years may bring The aggressor of past time a penitent grief; The wronged may meet her penitence with scorn Guiltier through malice than her foe's worst rage: Were it not well to leave that time unborn Magnanimous ensample? Hard it were To lay in Mercian earth the unforgiven: Wholly to pardon—that I deem not hard. My voice is this: forgive we Oswald's sin, And lay his relics in our costliest shrine!' Thus spake the aged man. That self-same eve, The western sun descending, while the church, Grey shaft transfigured by the glow divine, Grey wall in flame of light pacific washed, Shone out all golden like that flower all gold Which shoots through sunset airs an arrowy beam, In charity perfected moved the monks, No longer sad, a long procession forth, With foreheads smoothed as by the kiss of death And eyes like eyes of Saints from death new risen, Bearing the relics of Northumbria's King, Oswald, the man of God. Behind them paced Warriors and chiefs; Osthryda last, the Queen, With face whereon that great miraculous light, By her all night unseen, appeared to rest, And foot that might have trod the ocean waves Unwetted save its palm. A shrine gem-wrought Received the royal relics. O'er them drooped Northumbria's standard, guest of Mercian airs Through which it once had sailed, a portent dire: And whosoe'er in after centuries knelt On Oswald's grave, and, praying, wooed his prayer, Departed, in his heart the peace of God, Passions corrupt expelled, and demon snares, Irreverent love, and anger past its bound.


Saint Cuthbert while a boy wanders among the woods of Northumbria, bringing solace to all. Later he lives alone in the island of Farne. Being made bishop, many predict that he will be able neither to teach his people nor to rule his diocese. His people flock to him gladly, but require that he should teach them by parable and tale. This he does, and likewise rules his diocese with might. He discourses concerning common life. Keeping his Pentecost at Carlisle, he preaches on that Feast and the Resurrection from the Dead. Herbert, an eremite, beseeching him that the two may die the same day, he prays accordingly, and they die the same hour.

Saint Cuthbert, yet a youth, for many a year Walked up and down the green Northumbrian vales Well loving God and man. The rockiest glens And promontories shadowing loneliest seas, Where lived the men least cared for, most forlorn, He sought, and brought to each the words of peace. Where'er he went he preached that God all Love; For, as the sun in heaven, so flamed in him That love which later fired Assisi's Saint: Yea, rumour ran that every mountain beast Obeyed his loving call; that when all night He knelt upon the frosty hills in prayer, The hare would couch her by his naked feet And warm them with her fur. To manhood grown, He dwelt in Lindisfarne; there, year by year, Prospering yet more in vigil and in fast; And paced its shores by night, and blent his hymns With din of waves. Yet ofttimes o'er the strait He passed, once more in search of suffering men, Wafting them solace still. Where'er he went, Those loved as children first, again he loved As youth and maid, and in them nursed that Faith Through which pure youth passes o'er passion's waves, Like Him Who trod that Galilean sea: He clasped the grey-grown sinner in his arms, And won from him repentance long delayed, Then with him shared the penance he enjoined. O heart both strong and tender! offering Mass, Awe-struck he stood as though on Calvary's height: The men who marked him shook. Twelve winters passed: Then mandate fell upon the Saint from God, Or breathed upon him from the heavenly height, Or haply from within. It drave him forth A hermit into solitudes more stern. 'Farewell,' he said, 'my brethren and my friends! No holier life than yours, pure Coenobites Pacing one cloister, sharing one spare meal, Chanting to God one hymn! yet I must forth— Farewell, my friends, farewell!' On him they gazed, And knew that God had spoken to his soul, And silent stood, though sorrowing. Long that eve, The brethren grieved, noting his vacant stall, Yet thus excused their sadness: 'Well for him, And high his place in heaven; but woe to those Henceforth of services like his amerced! Here lived he in the world; here many throng;— To him in time some lesser bishopric Might well have fallen, behoof of countless souls! Such dream is past forever!' Forth he fared To Farne, a little rocky islet nigh, Where man till then had never dared to dwell, By dreadful rumours scared. In narrow cave Worn from the rock, and roughly walled around, The anchoret made abode, with lonely hands Raising from one poor strip his daily food, Barley thin-grown, and coarse. He saw by day The clouds on-sailing, and by night the stars; And heard the eternal waters. Thus recluse The man lived on in vision still of God Through contemplation known: and as the shades, Each other chase all day o'er steadfast hills, Even so, athwart that Vision unremoved, Forever rushed the tumults of this world, Man's fleeting life, the rise and fall of states, While changeless measured change; the spirit of prayer Fanning that wondrous picture oft to flame Until the glory grew insufferable. Long years thus lived he. As the Apostle Paul, Though raised in raptures to the heaven of heavens, Not therefore loved his brethren less, but longed To give his life—his all—for Israel's sake, So Cuthbert, loving God, loved man the more, His wont of old. To him the mourners came, And sinners bound by Satan. At his touch Their chains fell from them light as summer dust: Each word he spake was as a Sacrament Clothed with God's grace; beside his feet they sat, And in their perfect mind; thence through the world Bare their deliverer's name. So passed his life: There old he grew, and older yet appeared, By fasts outworn, though ever young at heart; When lo! before that isle a barge there drew Bearing the royal banner. Egfrid there With regal sceptre sat, and many an earl, And many a mitred bishop at his side. Northumbria's see was void: a council's voice Joined with a monarch's called him to its throne: In vain he wept, and knelt, and sued for grace: Six months' reprieve alone he won; then ruled In Lindisfarne, chief Bishop of the North. But certain spake who deemed that they were wise, Fools all beside: 'Shall Cuthbert crosier lift? A child, 'tis known he herded flocks for hire, Housed in old Renspid's hut, his Irish nurse, Who told him tales of Leinster Kings, his sires, And how her hands, their palace wrecked in war, Had snatched him from its embers. Yet a boy He rode to Melrose and its wondering monks, A mimic warrior, in his hand a lance, With shepherd youth for page, and spake: "'Tis known Christ's kingdom is a kingdom militant: A son of Kings I come to guard His right And battle 'gainst his foes!" For lance and sword A book they gave him; and they made him monk: Savage since then he couches on a rock, As fame reports, with birds' nests in his beard! Can dreamers change to Bishops? Vision-dazed, Move where he may, that slowly wandering eye Will see in man no more than kites or hawks; Men, if they note, will flee him.' Thus they buzzed, Self-praised, and knowing not that simpleness Is sacred soil, and sown with royal seed, The heroic seed and saintly. Mitred once Such gibes no more assailed him: one short month Sufficed the petty cavil to confute; One month well chronicled in book which verse Late born, alas, in vain would emulate. At once he called to mind the days that were; His wanderings in Northumbrian glens; the hearths That welcomed him so joyously; at once Within his breast the heart parental yearned; He longed to see his children, scattered wide From Humber's bank to Tweed, from sea to sea, And cried to those around him: 'Let us forth, And visit all my charge; and since Carlisle Remotest sits upon its western bound, Keep there this year our Pentecost!' Next day He passed the sands, left hard by ebbing tide, His cross-bearer and brethren six in front, And trod the mainland. Reverent, first he sought His childhood's nurse, and 'neath her humble roof Abode one night. To Melrose next he fared Honouring his master old. Southward once more Returning, scarce a bow-shot from the woods There rode to him a mighty thane, one-eyed, With warriors circled, on a jet-black horse, Barbaric shape and huge, yet frank as fierce, Who thus made boast: 'A Jute devout am I! What raised that convent-pile on yonder rock? This hand! I wrenched the hillside from a foe By force, and gave it to thy Christian monks To spite yet more those Angles! Island Saint, Unprofitable have I found thy Faith! Behold, those priests, thy thralls, are savage men, Unrighteous, ruthless! For a sin of mine They laid on me a hundred days of fast! A man am I keen-witted: friend and liege I summoned, shewed my wrong, and ended thus: "Sirs, ye are ninety-nine, the hundredth I; I counsel that we share this fast among us! To-morrow from the dawn to evening's star No food as bulky as a spider's tongue Shall pass our lips; and thus in one day's time My hundred days of fast shall stand fulfilled." Wrathful they rose, and sware by Peter's keys That fight they would, albeit 'gainst Peter's self; But fast they would not save for personal sins. Signal I made: then backward rolled the gates, And, captured thus, they fasted without thanks, Cancelling my debt—a hundred days in one! Beseech you, Father, chide your priests who breed Contention thus 'mid friends!' The Saint replied, 'Penance is irksome, Thane: to 'scape its scourge Ways are there various; and the easiest this, Keep far from mortal sin.' Where'er he faced, The people round him pressed—the sick, the blind, Young mothers sad because a babe was pale; Likewise the wives of fishers, praying loud Their husbands' safe return. Rejoiced he was To see them, hear them, touch them; wearied never: Whate'er they said delighted still he heard: The rise and fall of empires touched him less, The book rich-blazoned, or the high-towered church: 'We have,' he said, 'God's children, and their God: The rest is fancy's work.' Him too they loved; Loved him the more because, so great and wise, He stumbled oft in trifles. Once he said, 'How well those pine-trees shield the lamb from wind!' A smile ran round; at last the boldest spake, 'Father, these are not pine-trees—these are oaks.' And Cuthbert answered, 'Oaks, good sooth, they are! In youth I knew the twain apart: the pine Wears on his head the Cross.' Instruction next He gave them, how the Cross had vanquished sin: Then first abstruse to some appeared his words. 'Father,' they answered, 'speak in parables! For pleasant is the tale, and, onward passed, Keeps in our hearts thy lesson.' While they spake, A youth rich-vested tossed his head and cried: 'Father, why thus converse with untaught hinds? Their life is but the life of gnats and flies: They think but of the hour. Behold yon church! I reared it both for reverence of thy Christ, And likewise that through ages yet to come My name might live in honour!' At that word Cuthbert made answer: 'Hear the parable! My people craved for such. A monk there lived Holiest of men reputed. He was first On winter mornings in the freezing stall; Meekest when chidden; fervent most in prayer: And, late in life, when heresies arose, That book he wrote, like tempest winged from God, Drave them to darkness back. Grey-haired he died; With honour was interred. The years went by; His grave they opened. Peacefully he slept, Unchanged, the smile of death upon his lips: O'er the right hand alone, for so it seemed, Had Death retained his power: five little lines, White ashes, showed where once the fingers lay. All saw it—simple, learned, rich and poor: None might divine the cause. That night, behold! A Saintly Shape beside the abbot stood, Bright like the sun except one lifted palm— Thereon there lay a stain. 'Behold that hand!' The Spirit spake, 'that, toiling twenty years, Sent forth that book which pacified the world; For it the world would canonise me Saint! See that ye do it not! Inferior tasks I wrought for God alone. Building that book Too oft I mused, "Far years will give thee praise." I expiate that offence.' Another day A sweet-faced woman raised her voice, and cried, 'Father! those sins denounced by God I flee; Yet tasks imposed by God too oft neglect: Stands thus a soul imperilled?' Cuthbert spake: 'Ye sued for parables; I speak in such, Though ill, a language strange to me, and new. There lived a man who shunned committed sin, Yet daily by omission sinned and knew it: In his own way, not God's, he served his God; And there was with him peace; yet not God's peace. So passed his youth. In age he dreamed a dream: He dreamed that, being dead, he raised his eyes, And saw a mountain range of frozen snows, And heard, "Committed sins innumerable Though each one small—so small thou knew'st them not— Uplifted, flake by flake as sin by sin, Yon barrier 'twixt thy God and thee! Arise, Remembering that of sins despair is worst: Be strong, and scale it!" Fifty years he scaled Those hills; so long it seemed. A cavern next Entering, with mole-like hands he scooped his way, And reached at last the gates of morn. Ah me! A stone's cast from him rose the Tree of Life: He heard its sighs ecstatic: Full in view The Beatific River rolled; beyond All-glorious shone the City of the Saints Clothed with God's light! And yet from him that realm Was severed by a gulf! Not wide that strait; It seemed a strong man's leap twice told—no more; But, as insuperably soared that cliff, Unfathomably thus its sheer descent Walled the abyss. Again he heard that Voice: "Henceforth no place remains for active toils, Penance for acts perverse. Inactive sloth Through passive suffering meets its due. On earth That sloth a nothing seemed; a nothing now That chasm whose hollow bars thee from the Blest, Poor slender film of insubstantial air. Self-help is here denied thee; for that cause A twofold term thou need'st of pain love-taught To expiate Love that lacked." That term complete An angel caught him o'er that severing gulf:— Thenceforth he saw his God.' With such discourse Progress, though slow and interrupted oft, The Saint of God, by no delay perturbed, Made daily through his sacred charge. One eve He walked by pastures arched along the sea, With many companied. The on-flowing breeze Glazed the green hill-tops, bending still one way The glossy grasses: limitless below The ocean mirror, clipped by cape or point With low trees inland leaning, lay like lakes Flooding rich lowlands. Southward far, a rock Touched by a rainy beam, emerged from mist, And shone, half green, half gold. That rock was Farne: Though strangers, those that kenned it guessed its name: 'Doubtless 'twas there,' they said, 'our Saint abode!' Then pressed around him, questioning: 'Rumour goes, Father beloved, that in thine island home Thou sat'st all day with hammer small in hand, Shaping, from pebbles veined, miraculous beads That save their wearers still from sword and lance:— Are these things true? 'Smiling the Saint replied: 'True, and not true! That isle in part is spread With pebbles divers-fashioned, some like beads: I gathered such, and gave to many a guest, Adding, "Such beads shall count thy nightly prayers; Pray well; then fear no peril!"' Others came And thus demanded: 'Rumour fills the world, Father, that birds miraculous crowned thine isle, And awe-struck let thee lift them in thy hand, Though scared by all beside.' Smiling once more The Saint made answer, 'True, and yet not true! Sea-birds elsewhere beheld not throng that isle; A breed so loving and so firm in trust That, yet unharmed by man, they flee not man; Wondering they gaze; who wills may close upon them! I signed a league betwixt that race and man, Pledging the mariners who sought my cell To reverence still that trust.' He ended thus: 'My friends, ye seek me still for parables; Seek them from Nature rather:—here are two! Those pebble-beads are words from Nature's lips Exhorting man to pray; those fearless birds Teach him that trust to innocence belongs By right divine, and more avails than craft To shield us from the aggressor.' Some were glad Hearing that doctrine; others cried, 'Not so! Our Saint—all know it—makes miraculous beads; But, being humble, he conceals his might:' And many an age, when slept that Saint in death, Passing his isle by night the sailor heard Saint Cuthbert's hammer clinking on the rock; And age by age men cried, 'Our Cuthbert's birds Revere the Saint's command.' While thus they spake A horseman over moorlands near the Tweed Made hasty way, and thus addressed the Saint: 'Father, Queen Ermenburga greets thee well, And this her message:—"Queen am I forlorn, Long buffeted by many a storm of state, And worn at heart besides; for in our house Peace lived not inmate, but a summer guest; And now, my lord, the King is slain in fight; And changed the aspect now things wore of old: Thou therefore, man of God, approach my gates With counsel sage. This further I require; Thy counsel must be worthy of a Queen, Nor aught contain displeasing."' Cuthbert spake: 'My charge requires my presence at Carlisle; Beseech the Queen to meet me near its wall On this day fortnight.' Thitherwards thenceforth Swiftlier he passed, while daily from the woods The woodmen flocked, and shepherds from the hills, Concourse still widening. These among there moved A hermit meek as childhood, calm as eld, Long years Saint Cuthbert's friend. Recluse he lived Within a woody isle of that fair lake By Derwent lulled and Greta. Others thronged Round Cuthbert's steps; that hermit stood apart With large dark eyes upon his countenance fixed, And pale cheek dewed with tears. The name he bore Was 'Herbert of the Lake.' Two weeks went by, And Cuthbert reached his journey's end. Next day God sent once more His Feast of Pentecost To gladden men; and all His Church on earth Shone out, irradiate as by silver gleams Flashed from her whiter Sister in the skies; And every altar laughed, and every hearth; And many a simple hind in spirit heard The wind which through that 'upper chamber' swept Careering through the universe of God, New life through all things poured. Cuthbert that day, Borne on by winged winds of rapturous thought, Forth from Carlisle had fared alone, and reached Ere long a mead tree-girded;—in its midst Swift-flowing Eden raced from fall to fall, Showering at times her spray on flowers as fair As graced that earlier Eden; flowers so light Each feeblest breath impalpable to man Now shook them and now swayed. Delighted eye The Saint upon them fixed. Ere long he gazed As glad on crowds thronging the river's marge, For now the high-walled city poured abroad Her children rich and poor. At last he spake: 'Glory to Him Who made both flowers and souls! He doeth all things well! A few weeks past Yon river rushed by wintry banks forlorn; What decks it thus to-day? The voice of Spring! She called those flowers from darkness forth: she flashed Her life into the snowy breast of each: This day she sits enthroned on each and all: The thrones are myriad; but the Enthroned is One!' He paused; then, kindling, added thus: 'O friends! 'Tis thus with human souls through faith re-born: One Spirit calls them forth from darkness; shapes One Christ, in each conceived, its life of life; One God finds rest enthroned on all. Once more The thrones are many; but the Enthroned is One!' Again he paused, and mused: again he spake: 'Yea, and in heaven itself, a hierarchy There is that glories in the name of "Thrones:" The high cherubic knowledge is not theirs; Not theirs the fiery flight of Seraph's love, But all their restful beings they dilate To make a single, myriad throne for God— Children, abide in unity and love! So shall your lives be one long Pentecost, Your hearts one throne for God!' As thus he spake A breeze, wide-wandering through the woodlands near, Illumed their golden roofs, while louder sang The birds on every bough. Then horns were heard Resonant from stem to stem, from rock to rock, While moved in sight a stately cavalcade Flushing the river's crystal. Of that host Foremost and saddest Ermenburga rode, A Queen sad-eyed, with large imperial front By sorrow seamed: a lady rode close by; Behind her earls and priests. Though proud to man Her inborn greatness made her meek to God: She signed the Saint to stay not his discourse, And placed her at his feet. His words were great: He spake of Pentecost; no transient grace, No fugitive act, consummated, then gone, But God's perpetual presence in that Church O'er-shadowed still, like Mary, by His Spirit, Fecundated in splendour by His Truth, Made loving through His Love. The reign of Love He showed, though perfected in Christ alone, Not less co-eval with the race of man: For what is man? Not mind: the beasts can think: Not passions; appetites: the beasts have these: Nay, but Affections ruled by Laws Divine: These make the life of man. Of these he spake; Proclaimed of these the glory. These to man Are countless loves revealing Love Supreme: These and the Virtues, warp and woof, enweave A single robe—that sacrificial garb Worn from the first by man, whose every act Of love in spirit was self-sacrifice, And prophesied the Sacrifice Eterne: Through these the world becomes one household vast; Through these each hut swells to a universe Traversed by stateliest energies wind-swift, And planet-crowned, beneath their Maker's eye. All hail, Affections, angels of the earth! Woe to that man who boasts of love to God, And yet his neighbour scorns! While Cuthbert spake A young man whispered to a priest, 'Is yon That Anchoret of the rock? Where learned he then This loving reverence for the hearth and home? Mark too that glittering brow!' The priest replied: 'What! shall a bridegroom's face alone be bright? He knows a better mystery! This he knows, That, come what may, all o'er the earth forever God keeps His blissful Bridal-feast with man: Each true heart there is guest!' Once more the Saint Arose and spake: 'O loving friends, my children, Christ's sons, His flock committed to my charge! I spake to you but now of humbler ties, Not highest, with intent that ye might know How pierced are earthly bonds by heavenly beam; Yet, speaking with lame tongue in parables, I shewed you but similitudes of things— Twilight, not day. Make question then who will; So shall I mend my teaching.' Prompt and bright As children issuing forth to holyday, Then flocked to Cuthbert's school full many a man Successive: each with simpleness of heart His doubt propounded; each his question asked, Or, careless who might hear, confessed his sins, And absolution won. Among the rest, A little seven years' boy, with sweet, still face, Yet strong not less, and sage, drew softly near, His great calm eyes upon the patriarch fixed, And silent stood. From Wessex came that boy: By chance Northumbria's guest. Meantime a chief Demanded thus: 'Of all the works of might, What task is worthiest?' Cuthbert made reply: 'His who to land barbaric fearless fares, And open flings God's palace gate to all, And cries "Come in!"' That concourse thrilled for joy: Alone that seven years' child retained the word: The rest forgat it. 'Winifrede' that day Men called him; later centuries, 'Boniface,' Because he shunned the ill, and wrought the good: In time the Teuton warriors knew that brow— Their great Apostle he: they knew that voice: And happy Fulda venerates this day Her martyr's gravestone. Next, to Cuthbert drew Three maidens hand in hand, lovely as Truth, Trustful, though shy: their thoughts, when hidden most, Wore but a semilucid veil, as when Through gold-touched crystal of the lime new-leaved On April morns the symmetry looks forth Of branch and bough distinct. Smiling, they put At last their question: 'Tell us, man of God, What life, of lives that women lead, is best; Then show us forth in parables that life!' He answered: 'Three; for each of these is best: First comes the Maiden's: she who lives it well Serves God in marble chapel white as snow, His priestess—His alone. Cold flowers each morn She culls ere sunrise by the stainless stream, And lays them on that chapel's altar-stone, And sings her matins there. Her feet are swift All day in labours 'mid the vales below, Cheering sad hearts: each evening she returns To that high fane, and there her vespers sings; Then sleeps, and dreams of heaven.' With witching smile The youngest of that beauteous triad cried: 'That life is sweetest! I would be that maid!' Cuthbert resumed: 'The Christian Wife comes next: She drinks a deeper draught of life: round her In ampler sweep its sympathies extend: An infant's cry has knocked against her heart, Evoking thence that human love wherein Self-love hath least. Through infant eyes a spirit Hath looked upon her, crying, "I am thine! Creature from God—dependent yet on thee!" Thenceforth she knows how greatness blends with weakness; Reverence, thenceforth, with pity linked, reveals To her the pathos of the life of man, A thing divine, and yet at every pore Bleeding from crowned brows. A heart thus large Hath room for many sorrows. What of that? Its sorrow is its dowry's noblest part. She bears it not alone. Such griefs, so shared— Sickness, and fear, and vigils lone and long, Waken her heart to love sublimer far Than ecstasies of youth could comprehend; Lift her perchance to heights serene as those The Ascetic treadeth.' 'I would be that wife!' Thus cried the second of those maidens three: Yet who that gazed upon her could have guessed Creature so soft could bear a heart so brave? She seemed that goodness which was beauteous too; Virtue at once, and Virtue's bright reward; Delight that lifts, not lowers us; made for heaven;— Made too to change to heaven some brave man's hearth. She added thus: 'Of lives that women lead Tell us the third!' Gently the Saint replied: 'The third is Widowhood—a wintry sound; And yet, for her who widow is indeed, That winter something keeps of autumn's gold, Something regains of Spring's first flower snow-white, Snow-cold, and colder for its rim of green. She feels no more the warmly-greeting hand; The eyes she brightened rest on her no more; Her full-orbed being now is cleft in twain: Her past is dead: daily from memory's self Dear things depart; yet still she is a wife, A wife the more because of bridal bonds Lives but their essence, waiting wings in heaven;— More wife; and yet, in that great loneliness, More maiden too than when first maidenhood Lacked what it missed not. Like that other maid She too a lonely Priestess serves her God; Yea, though her chapel be a funeral vault, Its altar black like Death;—the flowers thereon, Tinct with the Blood Divine. Above that vault She hears the anthems of the Spouse of Christ, Widowed, like her, though Bride.' 'O fair, O sweet, O beauteous lives all three; fair lot of women!' Thus cried again the youngest of those Three, Too young to know the touch of grief—or cause it— A plant too lightly leaved to cast a shade. The eldest with pale cheek, and lids tear-wet, Made answer sad: 'I would not be a widow.' Then Cuthbert spake once more with smile benign: 'I said that each of these three lives is best:— There are who live those three conjoined in one: The nun thus lives! What maid is maid like her Who, free to choose, has vowed a maidenhood Secure 'gainst chance or choice? What bride like her Whose Bridegroom is the spouse of vestal souls? What widow lives in such austere retreat, Such hourly thought of him she ne'er can join Save through the gate of death? If those three lives In separation lived are fair and sweet, How show they, blent in one?' Of those who heard The most part gladdened; those who knew how high Virtue, renouncing all besides for God, Hath leave to soar on earth. Yet many sighed, Jealous for happy homesteads. Cuthbert marked That shame-faced sadness, and continued thus: 'To praise the nun reproaches not, O friends, But praises best that life of hearth and home At Cana blessed by Him who shared it not. The uncloistered life is holy too, and oft Through changeful years in soft succession links Those three fair types of woman; holds, diffused, That excellence severe which life detached Sustains in concentration.' Long he mused; Then added thus: 'When last I roved these vales There lived, not distant far, a blessed one Revered by all: her name was Ethelreda: I knew her long, and much from her I learned. Beneath her Pagan father's roof there sat Ofttimes a Christian youth. With him the child Walked, calling him "her friend." He loved the maid: Still young, he drew her to the fold of Christ; Espoused her three years later; died in war Ere three months passed. For her he never died! Immortalised by faith that bond lived on; And now close by, and now 'mid Saints of heaven She saw her husband walk. She never wept; That fire which lit her eye and flushed her cheek Dried up, it seemed, her tears: the neighbours round Called her "the lady of the happy marriage." She died long since, I doubt not.' Forward stepped A slight, pale maid, the daughter of a bard, And answered thus: 'Two months ago she died.' Then Cuthbert: 'Tell me, maiden, of her death; And see you be not chary of your words, For well I loved that woman.' Tears unfelt Fast streaming down her pallid cheek, the maid Replied—yet often paused: 'A sad, sweet end! A long night's pain had left her living still: I found her on the threshold of her door:— Her cheek was white; but, trembling round her lips, And dimly o'er her countenance spread, there lay Something that, held in check by feebleness, Yet tended to a smile. A cloak tight-drawn From the cold March wind screened her, save one hand Stretched on her knee, that reached to where a beam, Thin slip of watery sunshine, sunset's last, Slid through the branches. On that beam, methought, Rested her eyes half-closed. It was not so: For when I knelt, and kissed that hand ill-warmed, Smiling she said: "The small, unwedded maid Has missed her mark! You should have kissed the ring! Full forty years upon a widowed hand It holds its own. It takes its latest sunshine." She lived through all that night, and died while dawned Through snows Saint Joseph's morn.' The Queen, with hand Sudden and swift, brushed from her cheek a tear; And many a sob from that thick-crowding host Confessed what tenderest love can live in hearts Defamed by fools as barbarous. Cuthbert sat In silence long. Before his eyes she passed, The maid, the wife, the widow, all in one; With these,—through these—he saw once more the child, Yea, saw the child's smile on the lips of death, That magic, mystic, smile! O heart of man, What strange capacities of grief and joy Are thine! How vain, how ruthless such, if given For transient things alone! O life of man! What wert thou but some laughing demon's scoff, If prelude only to the eternal grave! 'Deep cries to deep'—ay, but the deepest deep Crying to summits of the mount of God Drags forth for echo, 'Immortality.' It was the Death Divine that vanquished death! Shorn of that Death Divine the Life Divine, Albeit its feeblest tear had cleansed all worlds, Cancelled all guilt, had failed to reach and sound The deepest in man's nature, Love and Grief, Profoundest each when joined in penitent woe; Failed thence to wake man's hope. The loftiest light Flashed from God's Face on Reason's orient verge Answers that bird-cry from the Heart of man— Poor Heart that, darkling, kept so long its watch— The auspice of the dawn. Like one inspired The Saint arose, and raised his hands to God; Then to his people turned with such discourse As mocks the hand of scribe. No more he spake In parables; adumbrated no more 'Dimly as in a glass' his doctrine high, But placed it face to face before men's eyes, Essential Truth, God's image, meet for man, Himself God's image. Worlds he showed them new, Worlds countless as the stars that roof our night, Fair fruitage of illimitable boughs, Pushed from that Tree of Life from Calvary sprung That over-tops and crowns the earth and man; Preached the Resurgent, the Ascended God Dispensing 'gifts to men.' The tongue he spake Seemed Pentecostal—grace of that high Feast— For all who heard, the simple and the sage, Heard still a single language sounding forth To all one Promise. From that careworn Queen, Who doffed her crown, and placed it on the rock, Murmuring, 'Farewell forever, foolish gaud,' To him the humblest hearer, all made vow To live thenceforth for God. The form itself Of each was changed to saintly and to sweet; Each countenance beamed as though with rays cast down From fiery tongues, or angel choirs unseen. Thus like high gods on mountain-tops of joy Those happy listeners sat. The body quelled— With all that body's might usurped to cramp Through ceaseless, yet unconscious, weight of sense Conceptions spiritual, might more subtly skilled Than lusts avowed, to sap the spirit's life— In every soul its nobler Powers released Stood up, no more a jarring crowd confused Each trampling each and oft the worst supreme, Not thus, but grade o'er grade, in order due, And pomp hierarchical. Yet hand in hand, Not severed, stood those Powers. To every Mind That truth new learned was palpable and dear, Not abstract nor remote, with cordial strength Enclasped as by a heart; through every Heart Serene affections swam 'mid seas of light, Reason's translucent empire without bound, Fountained from God. Silent those listeners sat Parleying in wordless thought. For them the world Was lost—and won; its sensuous aspects quenched; Its heavenly import grasped. The erroneous Past Lay like a shrivelled scroll before their feet; And sweet as some immeasurable rose, Expanding leaf on leaf, varying yet one, The Everlasting Present round them glowed. Dead was desire, and dead not less was fear— The fear of change—of death. An hour went by; The sun declined: then rising from his seat, Herbert, the anchoret of the lonely lake, Made humble way to Cuthbert's feet with suit: 'O Father, and O friend, thou saw'st me not; Yet day by day thus far I tracked thy steps At distance, for my betters leaving place, The great and wise that round thee thronged; the young Who ne'er till then had seen thy face; the old Who saw it then, yet scarce again may see. Father, a happier lot was mine, thou know'st, Or had been save for sin of mine: each year I sought thy cell, thy words of wisdom heard; Yet still, alas! lived on like sensual men Who yield their hearts to creatures—fixing long A foolish eye on gold-touched leaf, or flower— Not Him, the great Creator. Father and Friend, The years run past. I crave one latest boon: Grant that we two may die the self-same day!' Then Cuthbert knelt, and prayed. At last he spake: 'Thy prayer is heard; the self-same day and hour We two shall die.' That promise was fulfilled; For two years only on exterior tasks God set His servant's hands—the man who 'sought In all things rest,' nor e'er had ceased from rest Then when his task was heaviest. Two brief years He roamed on foot his spiritual realm: The simple still he taught: the sad he cheered: Where'er he went he founded churches still, And convents; yea, and, effort costlier far, Spared not to scan defect with vigilant eye: That eye the boldest called not 'vision-dazed'; That Saint he found no 'dreamer:' sloth or greed 'Scaped not his vengeance: scandals hid he not, But dragged them into day, and smote them down: Before his face he drave the hireling priest, The bandit thane: unceasing cried, 'Ye kings, Cease from your wars! Ye masters, loose your slaves!' Two years sufficed; for all that earlier life Had trained the Ascetic for those works of might Beyond the attempt of all but boundless love, And in him kept unspent the fire divine. Never such Bishop walked till then the North, Nor ever since, nor ever, centuries fled, So lived in hearts of men. Two years gone by, His strength decayed. He sought once more his cell Sea-lulled; and lived alone with God; and saw Once more, like lights that sweep the unmoving hills, God's providences girdling all the world, With glory following glory. Tenderer-souled Herbert meantime within his isle abode, At midnight listening Derwent's gladsome voice Mingling with deep-toned Greta's, 'Mourner' named; Pacing, each day, the shore; now gazing glad On gold-touched leaf, or bird that cut the mere, Now grieved at wandering thoughts. For men he prayed; And ever strove to raise his soul to God; And God, Who venerates still the pure intent, Forgat not his; and since his spirit and heart Holy albeit, were in the Eyes Divine Less ripe than Cuthbert's for the Vision Blest, Least faults perforce swelling where gifts are vast, That God vouchsafed His servant sickness-pains Virtue to perfect in a little space, That both might pass to heaven the self-same hour. It came: that sun which flushed the spray up-hurled In cloud round Cuthbert's eastern rock, while he Within it dying chanted psalm on psalm, Ere long enkindled Herbert's western lake: The splendour waxed; mountain to mountain laughed, And, brightening, nearer drew, and, nearing, clasped That heaven-dropp'd beauty in more strict embrace: The cliffs successive caught their crowns of fire; Blencathara last. Slowly that splendour waned; And from the glooming gorge of Borrodale, Her purple cowl shadowing her holy head O'er the dim lake twilight with silent foot Stepped like a spirit. Herbert from his bed Of shingles watched that sunset till it died; And at one moment from their distant isles Those friends, by death united, passed to God.

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