Once more I thank thee For all that thou hast made me—most of all, That thou didst make me wonder and seek thee. I thank thee for my wife: to thee I trust her; Forget her not, my God. If thou save her, I shall be able then to thank thee so As will content thee—with full-flowing song, The very bubbles on whose dancing waves Are daring thoughts flung faithful at thy feet.
My heart sinks in me.—I grow faint. Oh! whence This wind of love that fans me out of life? One stoops to kiss me!—Ah, my lily child! God hath not flung thee over his garden-wall.
[Re-enter LORD SEAFORD with the doctor. JULIAN takes no heed of them. The doctor shakes his head.]
My little child, I'll never leave thee more; We are both children now in God's big house. Come, lead me; you are older here than I By three whole days, my darling angel-child!
[A letter is brought in. LORD SEAFORD holds it before JULIAN'S eyes. He looks vaguely at it.]
Lord S. It is a letter from your wife, I think.
Julian (feebly). A letter from my Lilia! Bury it with me— I'll read it in my chamber, by and by: Dear words should not be read with others nigh. Lilia, my wife! I am going home to God.
Lord S. (pending over him). Your wife is innocent. I know she is.
JULIAN gazes at him blankly. A light begins to grow in his eyes. It grows till his face is transfigured. It vanishes. He dies.
AND do not fear to hope. Can poet's brain More than the Father's heart rich good invent? Each time we smell the autumn's dying scent, We know the primrose time will come again; Not more we hope, nor less would soothe our pain. Be bounteous in thy faith, for not mis-spent Is confidence unto the Father lent: Thy need is sown and rooted for his rain. His thoughts are as thine own; nor are his ways Other than thine, but by pure opulence Of beauty infinite and love immense. Work on. One day, beyond all thoughts of praise, A sunny joy will crown thee with its rays; Nor other than thy need, thy recompense.
SCENE I.—"A world not realized." LILY. To her JULIAN.
Lily. O father, come with me! I have found her—mother!
SCENE II.—A room in a cottage. LILIA on her knees before a crucifix. Her back only is seen, for the Poet dares not look on her face. On a chair beside her lies a book, open at CHAPTER VIII. Behind her stands an Angel, bending forward, as if to protect her with his wings partly expanded. Appear JULIAN, with LILY in his arms. LILY looks with love on the angel, and a kind of longing fear on her mother.
Julian. Angel, thy part is done; leave her to me.
Angel. Sorrowful man, to thee I must give place; Thy ministry is stronger far than mine; Yet have I done my part.—She sat with him. He gave her rich white flowers with crimson scent, The tuberose and datura ever burning Their incense to the dusky face of night. He spoke to her pure words of lofty sense, But tinged with poison for a tranced ear. He bade low music sound of faint farewells, Which fixed her eyes upon a leafy picture, Wherein she wandered through an amber twilight Toward a still grave in a sleepy nook. And ever and anon she sipped pale wine, Rose-tinged, rose-odoured, from a silver cup. He sang a song, each pause of which closed up, Like a day-wearied daisy for the night, With these words falling like an echo low: "Love, let us love and weep and faint and die." With the last pause the tears flowed at their will, Without a sob, down from their cloudy skies. He took her hand in his, and it lay still.— blast of music from a wandering band Billowed the air with sudden storm that moment. The visible rampart of material things Was rent—the vast eternal void looked in Upon her awe-struck soul. She cried and fled.
It was the sealing of her destiny. A wild convulsion shook her inner world; Its lowest depths were heaved tumultuously; Far unknown molten gulfs of being rushed Up into mountain-peaks, rushed up and stood. The soul that led a fairy life, athirst For beauty only, passed into a woman's: In pain and tears was born the child-like need For God, for Truth, and for essential Love. But first she woke to terror; was alone, For God she saw not;—woke up in the night, The great wide night alone. No mother's hand, To soothe her pangs, no father's voice was near. She would not come to thee; for love itself Too keenly stung her sad, repentant heart, Giving her bitter names to give herself; But, calling back old words which thou hadst spoken, In other days, by light winds borne afar, And now returning on the storm of grief, Hither she came to seek her Julian's God. Farewell, strange friend! My care of her is over.
Julian. A heart that knows what thou canst never know, Fair angel, blesseth thee, and saith, farewell.
[The Angel goes. JULIAN and LILY take his place. LILIA is praying, and they hear parts of her prayer.]
Lilia. O Jesus, hear me! Let me speak to thee. No fear oppresses me; for misery Fills my heart up too full for any fear.
Is there no help, O Holy? Am I stained Beyond release?
Julian. Lilia, thy purity Maketh thy heart abuse thee. I, thy husband, Sinned more against thee, in believing ill, Than thou, by ten times what thou didst, poor child, Hadst wronged thy husband.
Lilia. Pardon will not do: I need much more, O Master. That word go Surely thou didst not speak to send away The sinful wife thou wouldst not yet condemn! Or was that crime, though not too great for pardon, Too great for loving-kindness afterward? Might she not too have come behind thy feet, And, weeping, wiped and kissed them, Mary's son, Blessed for ever with a heavenly grief? Ah! she nor I can claim with her who gave Her tears, her hair, her lips, her precious oil, To soothe feet worn with Galilean roads:— She sinned against herself, not against—Julian.
My Lord, my God, find some excuse for me. Find in thy heart something to say for me, As for the crowd that cried against thee, then, When heaven was dark because thy lamp burned low.
Julian. Not thou, but I am guilty, Lilia. I made it possible to tempt thee, child. Thou didst not fall, my love; only, one moment, Beauty was queen, and Truth not lord of all.
Lilia. O Julian, my husband, is it strange, That, when I think of Him, he looks like thee? That, when he speaks to comfort me, the voice Is like thy voice, my husband, my beloved? Oh! if I could but lie down at thy feet, And tell thee all—yea, every thought—I know That thou wouldst think the best that could be thought, And love and comfort me. O Julian, I am more thine than ever.—Forgive me, husband, For calling me, defiled and outcast, thine. Yet may I not be thine as I am His? Would I might be thy servant—yes, thy slave, To wash thy feet, and dress thy lovely child, And bring her at thy call—more wife than I. But I shall never see thee, till the earth Lies on us both—apart—oh, far apart! How lonely shall I lie the long, long years!
Lily. O mother, there are blue skies here, and flowers, And blowing winds, and kisses, mother dear! And every time my father kisses me, It is not father only, but another. Make haste and come. My head never aches here.
Lilia. Can it be that they are dead? Is it possible? I feel as if they were near me!—Speak again, Beloved voices; comfort me; I need it.
Come to us: above the storm Ever shines the blue. Come to us: beyond its form Ever lies the True.
Mother, darling, do not weep— All I cannot tell: By and by you'll go to sleep, And you'll wake so well.
There is sunshine everywhere For thy heart and mine: God, for every sin and care, Is the cure divine.
We're so happy all the day, Waiting for another! All the flowers and sunshine stay, Watching for my mother.
Julian. My maiden! for true wife is always maiden To the true husband: thou art mine for ever.
Lilia. What gentle hopes keep passing to and fro! Thou shadowest me with thine own rest, my God; A cloud from thee stoops down and covers me.
[She falls asleep on her knees]
SCENE III.—JULIAN on the summit of a mountain-peak. The stars are brilliant around a crescent moon, hanging half-way between the mountain and the zenith. Below lies a sea of vapour. Beyond rises a loftier pinnacle, across which is stretched a bar of cloud. LILY lies on the cloud, looking earnestly into the mist below.
Julian (gazing upward). And thou wast with me all the time, my God, Even as now! I was not far from thee. Thy spirit spoke in all my wants and fears, And hopes and longings. Thou art all in all. I am not mine, but thine. I cannot speak The thoughts that work within me like a sea. When on the earth I lay, crushed down beneath A hopeless weight of empty desolation, Thy loving face was lighted then, O Christ, With expectation of my joy to come, When all the realm of possible ill should lie Under my feet, and I should stand as now Heart-sure of thee, true-hearted, only One. Was ever soul filled to such overflowing With the pure wine of blessedness, my God! Filled as the night with stars, am I with joys; Filled as the heavens with thee, am I with peace; For now I wait the end of all my prayers— Of all that have to do with old-world things: What new things come to wake new prayers, my God, Thou know'st; I wait on thee in perfect peace.
[He turns his gaze downward.—From the fog-sea below half-rises a woman-form, which floats toward him.]
Lo, as the lily lifts its shining bosom From the lone couch of waters where it slept, When the fair morn toucheth and waketh it; So riseth up my lily from the deep Where human souls are vexed in awful dreams!
[LILY spies her mother, darts down, and is caught in her arms. They land on JULIAN'S peak, and climb, LILY leading her mother.]
Lily. Come faster, mother dear; father is waiting.
Lilia. Have patience with me, darling. By and by, I think, I shall do better.—Oh my Julian!
Julian. I may not help her. She must climb and come.
[He reaches his hand, and the three are clasped in an infinite embrace.]
O God, thy thoughts, thy ways, are not as ours: They fill our longing hearts up to the brim.
[The moon and the stars and the blue night close around them; and the poet awakes from his dream.]
A HIDDEN LIFE.
TO MY FATHER: with my second volume of verse.
Take of the first fruits, father, of thy care, Wrapped in the fresh leaves of my gratitude, Late waked for early gifts ill understood; Claiming in all my harvests rightful share, Whether with song that mounts the joyful air I praise my God, or, in yet deeper mood, Sit dumb because I know a speechless good, Needing no voice, but all the soul for prayer. Thou hast been faithful to my highest need; And I, thy debtor, ever, evermore, Shall never feel the grateful burden sore. Yet most I thank thee, not for any deed, But for the sense thy living self did breed Of fatherhood still at the great world's core.
All childhood, reverence clothed thee, undefined, As for some being of another race; Ah, not with it, departing—growing apace As years did bring me manhood's loftier mind, Able to see thy human life behind— The same hid heart, the same revealing face— My own dim contest settling into grace, Of sorrow, strife, and victory combined! So I beheld my God, in childhood's morn, A mist, a darkness, great, and far apart, Moveless and dim—I scarce could say Thou art: My manhood came, of joy and sadness born;— Full soon the misty dark, asunder torn, Revealed man's glory, God's great human heart.
ALGIERS, April, 1857.
A HIDDEN LIFE.
Proudly the youth, sudden with manhood crowned, Went walking by his horses, the first time, That morning, to the plough. No soldier gay Feels at his side the throb of the gold hilt (Knowing the blue blade hides within its sheath, As lightning in the cloud) with more delight, When first he belts it on, than he that day Heard still the clank of the plough-chains against His horses' harnessed sides, as to the field They went to make it fruitful. O'er the hill The sun looked down, baptizing him for toil.
A farmer's son, a farmer's grandson he; Yea, his great-grandsire had possessed those fields. Tradition said they had been tilled by men Who bore the name long centuries ago, And married wives, and reared a stalwart race, And died, and went where all had followed them, Save one old man, his daughter, and the youth Who ploughs in pride, nor ever doubts his toil; And death is far from him this sunny morn. Why should we think of death when life is high? The earth laughs all the day, and sleeps all night. The daylight's labour and the night's repose Are very good, each better in its time.
The boy knew little; but he read old tales Of Scotland's warriors, till his blood ran swift As charging knights upon their death-career. He chanted ancient tunes, till the wild blood Was charmed back into its fountain-well, And tears arose instead. That poet's songs, Whose music evermore recalls his name, His name of waters babbling as they run, Rose from him in the fields among the kine, And met the skylark's, raining from the clouds. But only as the poet-birds he sang— From rooted impulse of essential song; The earth was fair—he knew not it was fair; His heart was glad—he knew not it was glad; He walked as in a twilight of the sense— Which this one day shall turn to tender morn.
Long ere the sun had cleared the feathery tops Of the fir-thicket on the eastward hill, His horses leaned and laboured. Each great hand Held rein and plough-stilt in one guiding grasp— No ploughman there would brook a helper. Proud With a true ploughman's pride—nobler, I think, Than statesman's, ay, or poet's, or painter's pride, For little praise will come that he ploughs well— He did plough well, proud of his work itself, And not of what would follow. With sure eye, He saw his horses keep the arrow-track; He saw the swift share cut the measured sod; He saw the furrow folding to the right, Ready with nimble foot to aid at need:— Turning its secrets upward to the sun, And hiding in the dark the sun-born grass, And daisies dipped in carmine, lay the tilth— A million graves to nurse the buried seed, And send a golden harvest up the air.
When the steep sun had clomb to his decline, And pausing seemed, at edge of slow descent, Upon the keystone of his airy bridge, They rested likewise, half-tired man and horse, And homeward went for food and courage new. Therewith refreshed, they turned again to toil, And lived in labour all the afternoon; Till, in the gloaming, once again the plough Lay like a stranded bark upon the lea, And home with hanging neck the horses went, Walking beside their master, force by will: Then through the lengthening shades a vision came.
It was a lady mounted on a horse, A slender girl upon a mighty steed, That bore her with the pride horses must feel When they submit to women. Home she went, Alone, or else her groom lagged far behind. Scarce had she bent simple acknowledgment Of the hand in silent salutation lifted To the bowed head, when something faithless yielded: The saddle slipped, the horse stopped, and the girl Stood on her feet, still holding fast the reins.
Three paces bore him bounding to her side; Her radiant beauty almost fixed him there; But with main force, as one that grapples fear, He threw the fascination off, and saw The work before him. Soon his hand and knife Had set the saddle firmer than before Upon the gentle horse; and then he turned To mount the maiden. But bewilderment A moment lasted; for he knew not how, With stirrup-hand and steady arm, to throne, Elastic, on her steed, the ascending maid: A moment only; for while yet she thanked, Nor yet had time to teach her further will, About her waist he put his brawny hands, That all but zoned her round; and like a child Lifting her high, he set her on the horse; Whence like a risen moon she smiled on him, Nor turned aside, although a radiant blush Shone in her cheek, and shadowed in her eyes. And he was never sure if from her heart Or from the rosy sunset came the flush. Again she thanked him, while again he stood Bewildered in her beauty. Not a word Answered her words that flowed, folded in tones Round which dissolving lambent music played, Like dropping water in a silver cup; Till, round the shoulder of the neighbouring hill, Sudden she disappeared. And he awoke, And called himself hard names, and turned and went After his horses, bending like them his head.
Ah God! when Beauty passes from the door, Although she came not in, the house is bare: Shut, shut the door; there's nothing in the house! Why seems it always that she should be ours? A secret lies behind which thou dost know, And I can partly guess.
But think not then, The holder of the plough sighed many sighs Upon his bed that night; or other dreams Than pleasant rose upon his view in sleep; Nor think the airy castles of his brain Had less foundation than the air admits. But read my simple tale, scarce worth the name, And answer, if he had not from the fair Beauty's best gift; and proved her not, in sooth, An angel vision from a higher world.
Not much of her I tell. Her glittering life, Where part the waters on the mountain-ridge, Ran down the southern side, away from his. It was not over-blessed; for, I know, Its tale wiled many sighs, one summer eve, From her who told, and him who, in the pines Walking, received it from her loving lips; But now she was as God had made her, ere The world had tried to spoil her; tried, I say, And half succeeded, failing utterly. Fair was she, frank, and innocent as a child That looks in every eye; fearless of ill, Because she knew it not; and brave withal, Because she led a simple country life, And loved the animals. Her father's house— A Scottish laird was he, of ancient name— Was distant but two miles among the hills; Yet oft as she had passed his father's farm, The youth had never seen her face before, And should not twice. Yet was it not enough? The vision tarried. She, as the harvest moon That goeth on her way, and knoweth not The fields of corn whose ripening grain she fills With strength of life, and hope, and joy for men, Went on her way, and knew not of the virtue Gone out of her; yea, never thought of him, Save at such times when, all at once, old scenes Return uncalled, with wonder that they come. Soon was she orphaned of her sheltering hills, And rounded with dead glitter, not the shine Of leaves and waters dancing in the sun; While he abode in ever breaking dawns, Breathed ever new-born winds into his soul; And saw the aurora of the heavenly day Still climb the hill-sides of the heapy world.
Again I say, no fond romance of love, No argument of possibilities, If he were some one, and she sought his help, Turned his clear brain into a nest of dreams. As soon he had sat down and twisted cords To snare, and carry home for household help, Some woman-angel, wandering half-seen On moonlight wings, o'er withered autumn fields. But when he rose next morn, and went abroad, (The exultation of his new-found rank Already settling into dignity,) Behold, the earth was beautiful! The sky Shone with the expectation of the sun. Only the daisies grieved him, for they fell Caught in the furrow, with their innocent heads Just out, imploring. A gray hedgehog ran, With tangled mesh of rough-laid spikes, and face Helplessly innocent, across the field: He let it run, and blessed it as it ran. Returned at noon-tide, something drew his feet Into the barn: entering, he gazed and stood. For, through the rent roof lighting, one sunbeam Blazed on the yellow straw one golden spot, Dulled all the amber heap, and sinking far, Like flame inverted, through the loose-piled mound, Crossed the keen splendour with dark shadow-straws, In lines innumerable. 'Twas so bright, His eye was cheated with a spectral smoke That rose as from a fire. He had not known How beautiful the sunlight was, not even Upon the windy fields of morning grass, Nor on the river, nor the ripening corn! As if to catch a wild live thing, he crept On tiptoe silent, laid him on the heap, And gazing down into the glory-gulf, Dreamed as a boy half sleeping by the fire— Half dreaming rose, and got his horses out.
God, and not woman, is the heart of all. But she, as priestess of the visible earth, Holding the key, herself most beautiful, Had come to him, and flung the portals wide. He entered: every beauty was a glass That gleamed the woman back upon his view. Shall I not rather say: each beauty gave Its own soul up to him who worshipped her, For that his eyes were opened now to see?
Already in these hours his quickened soul Put forth the white tip of a floral bud, Ere long to be a crown-like, aureole flower. His songs unbidden, his joy in ancient tales, Had hitherto alone betrayed the seed That lay in his heart, close hidden even from him, Yet not the less mellowing all his spring: Like summer sunshine came the maiden's face, And in the youth's glad heart the seed awoke. It grew and spread, and put forth many flowers, Its every flower a living open eye, Until his soul was full of eyes within. Each morning now was a fresh boon to him; Each wind a spiritual power upon his life; Each individual animal did share A common being with him; every kind Of flower from every other was distinct, Uttering that for which alone it was— Its something human, wrapt in other veil.
And when the winter came, when thick the snow Armed the sad fields from gnawing of the frost, When the low sun but skirted his far realms, And sank in early night, he drew his chair Beside the fire; and by the feeble lamp Read book on book; and wandered other climes, And lived in other lives and other needs, And grew a larger self by other selves. Ere long, the love of knowledge had become A hungry passion and a conscious power, And craved for more than reading could supply. Then, through the night (all dark, except the moon Shone frosty o'er the heath, or the white snow Gave back such motes of light as else had sunk In the dark earth) he bent his plodding way Over the moors to where the little town Lay gathered in the hollow. There the student Who taught from lingering dawn to early dark, Had older scholars in the long fore-night; For youths who in the shop, or in the barn, Or at the loom, had done their needful work, Came gathering there through starlight, fog, or snow, And found the fire ablaze, the candles lit, And him who knew waiting for who would know. Here mathematics wiled him to their heights; And strange consent of lines to form and law Made Euclid a profound romance of truth. The master saw with wonder how he seized, How eagerly devoured the offered food, And longed to give him further kinds. For Knowledge Would multiply like Life; and two clear souls That see a truth, and, turning, see at once Each the other's face glow in that truth's delight, Are drawn like lovers. So the master offered To guide the ploughman through the narrow ways To heights of Roman speech. The youth, alert, Caught at the offer; and for years of nights, The house asleep, he groped his twilight way With lexicon and rule, through ancient story, Or fable fine, embalmed in Latin old; Wherein his knowledge of the English tongue, Through reading many books, much aided him— For best is like in all the hearts and tongues.
At length his progress, through the master's pride In such a pupil, reached the father's ears. Great gladness woke within him, and he vowed, If caring, sparing might accomplish it, He should to college, and there have his fill Of that same learning.
To the plough no more, All day to school he went; and ere a year, He wore the scarlet gown with the closed sleeves.
Awkward at first, but with a dignity Soon finding fit embodiment in speech And gesture and address, he made his way, Unconscious all, to the full-orbed respect Of students and professors; for whose praise More than his worth, society, so called, To its rooms in that great city of the North, Invited him. He entered. Dazzled at first By brilliance of the shining show, the lights, The mirrors, gems, white necks, and radiant eyes, He stole into a corner, and was quiet Until the vision too had quieter grown. Bewildered next by many a sparkling word, Nor knowing the light-play of polished minds, Which, like rose-diamonds cut in many facets, Catch and reflect the wandering rays of truth As if they were home-born and issuing new, He held his peace, and silent soon began To see how little fire it needs to shimmer. Hence, in the midst of talk, his thoughts would wander Back to the calm divine of homely toil; While round him still and ever hung an air Of breezy fields, and plough, and cart, and scythe— A kind of clumsy grace, in which gay girls Saw but the clumsiness—another sort Saw the grace too, yea, sometimes, when he spoke, Saw the grace only; and began at last, For he sought none, to seek him in the crowd, And find him unexpected, maiden-wise. But oftener far they sought him than they found, For seldom was he drawn away from toil; Seldomer stinted time held due to toil; For if one night his panes were dark, the next They gleamed far into morning. And he won Honours among the first, each session's close.
Nor think that new familiarity With open forms of ill, not to be shunned Where many youths are met, endangered much A mind that had begun to will the pure. Oft when the broad rich humour of a jest With breezy force drew in its skirts a troop Of pestilential vapours following— Arose within his sudden silent mind The maiden face that once blushed down on him— That lady face, insphered beyond his earth, Yet visible as bright, particular star. A flush of tenderness then glowed across His bosom—shone it clean from passing harm: Should that sweet face be banished by rude words? It could not stay what maidens might not hear! He almost wept for shame, that face, such jest, Should meet in his house. To his love he made Love's only worthy offering—purity.
And if the homage that he sometimes met, New to the country lad, conveyed in smiles, Assents, and silent listenings when he spoke, Threatened yet more his life's simplicity; An antidote of nature ever came, Even Nature's self. For, in the summer months, His former haunts and boyhood's circumstance Received him to the bosom of their grace. And he, too noble to despise the past, Too proud to be ashamed of manly toil, Too wise to fancy that a gulf gaped wide Betwixt the labouring hand and thinking brain, Or that a workman was no gentleman Because a workman, clothed himself again In his old garments, took the hoe, the spade, The sowing sheet, or covered in the grain, Smoothing with harrows what the plough had ridged. With ever fresher joy he hailed the fields, Returning still with larger powers of sight: Each time he knew them better than before, And yet their sweetest aspect was the old. His labour kept him true to life and fact, Casting out worldly judgments, false desires, And vain distinctions. Ever, at his toil, New thoughts would rise, which, when God's night awoke, He still would seek, like stars, with instruments— By science, or by truth's philosophy, Bridging the gulf betwixt the new and old. Thus laboured he with hand and brain at once, Nor missed due readiness when Scotland's sons Met to reap wisdom, and the fields were white.
His sire was proud of him; and, most of all, Because his learning did not make him proud: He was too wise to build upon his lore. The neighbours asked what he would make his son: "I'll make a man of him," the old man said; "And for the rest, just what he likes himself. He is my only son—I think he'll keep The old farm on; and I shall go content, Leaving a man behind me, as I say."
So four years long his life swung to and fro, Alternating the red gown and blue coat, The garret study and the wide-floored barn, The wintry city and the sunny fields: In every change his mind was well content, For in himself he was the growing same.
In no one channel flowed his seeking thoughts; To no profession did he ardent turn: He knew his father's wish—it was his own. "Why should a man," he said, "when knowledge grows, Leave therefore the old patriarchal life, And seek distinction in the noise of men?" He turned his asking face on every side; Went reverent with the anatomist, and saw The inner form of man laid skilful bare; Went with the chymist, whose wise-questioning hand Made Nature do in little, before his eyes, And momently, what, huge, for centuries, And in the veil of vastness and lone deeps, She labours at; bent his inquiring eye On every source whence knowledge flows for men: At some he only sipped, at others drank.
At length, when he had gained the master's right— By custom sacred from of old—to sit With covered head before the awful rank Of black-gowned senators; and each of those, Proud of the scholar, was ready at a word To speed him onward to what goal he would, He took his books, his well-worn cap and gown, And, leaving with a sigh the ancient walls, Crowned with their crown of stone, unchanging gray In all the blandishments of youthful spring, Chose for his world the lone ancestral farm.
With simple gladness met him on the road His gray-haired father—elder brother now. Few words were spoken, little welcome said, But, as they walked, the more was understood. If with a less delight he brought him home Than he who met the prodigal returned, It was with more reliance, with more peace; For with the leaning pride that old men feel In young strong arms that draw their might from them, He led him to the house. His sister there, Whose kisses were not many, but whose eyes Were full of watchfulness and hovering love, Set him beside the fire in the old place, And heaped the table with best country-fare.
When the swift night grew deep, the father rose, And led him, wondering why and where they went, Thorough the limpid dark, by tortuous path Between the corn-ricks, to a loft above The stable, where the same old horses slept Which he had guided that eventful morn. Entering, he saw a change-pursuing hand Had been at work. The father, leading on Across the floor, heaped high with store of grain Opened a door. An unexpected light Flashed on him cheerful from a fire and lamp, That burned alone, as in a fairy-tale: Behold! a little room, a curtained bed, An easy chair, bookshelves, and writing-desk; An old print of a deep Virgilian wood, And one of choosing Hercules! The youth Gazed and spoke not. The old paternal love Had sought and found an incarnation new! For, honouring in his son the simple needs Which his own bounty had begot in him, He gave him thus a lonely thinking space, A silent refuge. With a quiet good night, He left him dumb with love. Faintly beneath, The horses stamped, and drew the lengthening chain.
Three sliding years, with slowly blended change, Drew round their winter, summer, autumn, spring, Fulfilled of work by hands, and brain, and heart. He laboured as before; though when he would, And Nature urged not, he, with privilege, Would spare from hours of toil—read in his room, Or wander through the moorland to the hills; There on the apex of the world would stand, As on an altar, burning, soul and heart— Himself the sacrifice of faith and prayer; Gaze in the face of the inviting blue That domed him round; ask why it should be blue; Pray yet again; and with love-strengthened heart Go down to lower things with lofty cares.
When Sundays came, the father, daughter, son Walked to the church across their own loved fields. It was an ugly church, with scarce a sign Of what makes English churches venerable. Likest a crowing cock upon a heap It stood—but let us say—St. Peter's cock, Lacking not many a holy, rousing charm For one with whose known self it was coeval, Dawning with it from darkness of the unseen! And its low mounds of monumental grass Were far more solemn than great marble tombs; For flesh is grass, its goodliness the flower. Oh, lovely is the face of green churchyard On sunny afternoons! The light itself Nestles amid the grass; and the sweet wind Says, I am here,—no more. With sun and wind And crowing cocks, who can believe in death? He, on such days, when from the church they Came, And through God's ridges took their thoughtful way, The last psalm lingering faintly in their hearts, Would look, inquiring where his ridge would rise; But when it gloomed or rained, he turned aside: What mattered it to him?
And as they walked Homeward, right well the father loved to hear The fresh rills pouring from his son's clear well. For the old man clung not to the old alone, Nor leaned the young man only to the new; They would the best, they sought, and followed it. "The Pastor fills his office well," he said, In homely jest; "—the Past alone he heeds! Honours those Jewish times as he were a Jew, And Christ were neither Jew nor northern man! He has no ear for this poor Present Hour, Which wanders up and down the centuries, Like beggar-boy roaming the wintry streets, With witless hand held out to passers-by; And yet God made the voice of its many cries. Mine be the work that comes first to my hand! The lever set, I grasp and heave withal. I love where I live, and let my labour flow Into the hollows of the neighbour-needs. Perhaps I like it best: I would not choose Another than the ordered circumstance. This farm is God's as much as yonder town; These men and maidens, kine and horses, his; For them his laws must be incarnated In act and fact, and so their world redeemed."
Though thus he spoke at times, he spake not oft; Ruled chief by action: what he said, he did. No grief was suffered there of man or beast More than was need; no creature fled in fear; All slaying was with generous suddenness, Like God's benignant lightning. "For," he said, "God makes the beasts, and loves them dearly well— Better than any parent loves his child, It may be," would he say; for still the may be Was sacred with him no less than the is— "In such humility he lived and wrought— Hence are they sacred. Sprung from God as we, They are our brethren in a lower kind, And in their face we see the human look." If any said: "Men look like animals; Each has his type set in the lower kind;" His answer was: "The animals are like men; Each has his true type set in the higher kind, Though even there only rough-hewn as yet. The hell of cruelty will be the ghosts Of the sad beasts: their crowding heads will come, And with encircling, slow, pain-patient eyes, Stare the ill man to madness."
When he spoke, His word behind it had the force of deeds Unborn within him, ready to be born; But, like his race, he promised very slow. His goodness ever went before his word, Embodying itself unconsciously In understanding of the need that prayed, And cheerful help that would outrun the prayer.
When from great cities came the old sad news Of crime and wretchedness, and children sore With hunger, and neglect, and cruel blows, He would walk sadly all the afternoon, With head down-bent, and pondering footstep slow; Arriving ever at the same result— Concluding ever: "The best that I can do For the great world, is the same best I can For this my world. What truth may be therein Will pass beyond my narrow circumstance, In truth's own right." When a philanthropist Said pompously: "It is not for your gifts To spend themselves on common labours thus: You owe the world far nobler things than such;" He answered him: "The world is in God's hands, This part of it in mine. My sacred past, With all its loves inherited, has led Hither, here left me: shall I judge, arrogant, Primaeval godlike work in earth and air, Seed-time and harvest—offered fellowship With God in nature—unworthy of my hands? I know your argument—I know with grief!— The crowds of men, in whom a starving soul Cries through the windows of their hollow eyes For bare humanity, nay, room to grow!— Would I could help them! But all crowds are made Of individuals; and their grief and pain, Their thirst and hunger—all are of the one, Not of the many: the true, the saving power Enters the individual door, and thence Issues again in thousand influences Besieging other doors. I cannot throw A mass of good into the general midst, Whereof each man may seize his private share; And if one could, it were of lowest kind, Not reaching to that hunger of the soul. Now here I labour whole in the same spot Where they have known me from my childhood up And I know them, each individual: If there is power in me to help my own, Even of itself it flows beyond my will, Takes shape in commonest of common acts, Meets every humble day's necessity: —I would not always consciously do good, Not always work from full intent of help, Lest I forget the measure heaped and pressed And running over which they pour for me, And never reap the too-much of return In smiling trust and beams from kindly eyes. But in the city, with a few lame words, And a few wretched coins, sore-coveted, To mediate 'twixt my cannot and my would, My best attempts would never strike a root; My scattered corn would turn to wind-blown chaff; I should grow weak, might weary of my kind, Misunderstood the most where almost known, Baffled and beaten by their unbelief: Years could not place me where I stand this day High on the vantage-ground of confidence: I might for years toil on, and reach no man. Besides, to leave the thing that nearest lies, And choose the thing far off, more difficult— The act, having no touch of God in it, Who seeks the needy for the pure need's sake, Must straightway die, choked in its selfishness." Thus he. The world-wise schemer for the good Held his poor peace, and went his trackless way.
What of the vision now? the vision fair Sent forth to meet him, when at eve he went Home from his first day's ploughing? Oft he dreamed She passed him smiling on her stately horse; But never band or buckle yielded more; Never again his hands enthroned the maid; He only worshipped with his eyes, and woke. Nor woke he then with foolish vain regret; But, saying, "I have seen the beautiful," Smiled with his eyes upon a flower or bird, Or living form, whate'er, of gentleness, That met him first; and all that morn, his face Would oftener dawn into a blossomy smile.
And ever when he read a lofty tale, Or when the storied leaf, or ballad old, Or spake or sang of woman very fair, Or wondrous good, he saw her face alone; The tale was told, the song was sung of her. He did not turn aside from other maids, But loved their faces pure and faithful eyes. He may have thought, "One day I wed a maid, And make her mine;" but never came the maid, Or never came the hour: he walked alone. Meantime how fared the lady? She had wed One of the common crowd: there must be ore For the gold grains to lie in: virgin gold Lies in the rock, enriching not the stone. She was not one who of herself could be; And she had found no heart which, tuned with hers, Would beat in rhythm, growing into rime. She read phantasmagoric tales, sans salt, Sans hope, sans growth; or listlessly conversed With phantom-visitors—ladies, not friends, Mere spectral forms from fashion's concave glass. She haunted gay assemblies, ill-content— Witched woods to hide in from her better self, And danced, and sang, and ached. What had she felt, If, called up by the ordered sounds and motions, A vision had arisen—as once, of old, The minstrel's art laid bare the seer's eye, And showed him plenteous waters in the waste;— If the gay dance had vanished from her sight, And she beheld her ploughman-lover go With his great stride across a lonely field, Under the dark blue vault ablaze with stars, Lifting his full eyes to the radiant roof, Live with our future; or had she beheld Him studious, with space-compelling mind Bent on his slate, pursue some planet's course; Or reading justify the poet's wrath, Or sage's slow conclusion?—If a voice Had whispered then: This man in many a dream, And many a waking moment of keen joy, Blesses you for the look that woke his heart, That smiled him into life, and, still undimmed, Lies lamping in the cabinet of his soul;— Would her sad eyes have beamed with sudden light? Would not her soul, half-dead with nothingness, Have risen from the couch of its unrest, And looked to heaven again, again believed In God and life, courage, and duty, and love? Would not her soul have sung to its lone self: "I have a friend, a ploughman, who is wise. He knows what God, and goodness, and fair faith Mean in the words and books of mighty men. He nothing heeds the show of worldly things, But worships the unconquerable truth. This man is humble and loves me: I will Be proud and very humble. If he knew me, Would he go on and love me till we meet!"?
In the third year, a heavy harvest fell, Full filled, before the reaping-hook and scythe. The heat was scorching, but the men and maids Lightened their toil with merry jest and song; Rested at mid-day, and from brimming bowl, Drank the brown ale, and white abundant milk. The last ear fell, and spiky stubble stood Where waved the forests of dry-murmuring corn; And sheaves rose piled in shocks, like ranged tents Of an encamping army, tent by tent, To stand there while the moon should have her will.
The grain was ripe. The harvest carts went out Broad-platformed, bearing back the towering load, With frequent passage 'twixt homeyard and field. And half the oats already hid their tops, Their ringing, rustling, wind-responsive sprays, In the still darkness of the towering stack; When in the north low billowy clouds appeared, Blue-based, white-crested, in the afternoon; And westward, darker masses, plashed with blue, And outlined vague in misty steep and dell, Clomb o'er the hill-tops: thunder was at hand. The air was sultry. But the upper sky Was clear and radiant.
Downward went the sun, Below the sullen clouds that walled the west, Below the hills, below the shadowed world. The moon looked over the clear eastern wall, And slanting rose, and looked, rose, looked again, And searched for silence in her yellow fields, But found it not. For there the staggering carts, Like overladen beasts, crawled homeward still, Sped fieldward light and low. The laugh broke yet, That lightning of the soul's unclouded skies— Though not so frequent, now that toil forgot Its natural hour. Still on the labour went, Straining to beat the welkin-climbing heave Of the huge rain-clouds, heavy with their floods. Sleep, old enchantress, sided with the clouds, The hoisting clouds, and cast benumbing spells On man and horse. One youth who walked beside A ponderous load of sheaves, higher than wont, Which dared the lurking levin overhead, Woke with a start, falling against the wheel, That circled slow after the slumbering horse. Yet none would yield to soft-suggesting sleep, And quit the last few shocks; for the wild storm Would catch thereby the skirts of Harvest-home, And hold her lingering half-way in the rain.
The scholar laboured with his men all night. He did not favour such prone headlong race With Nature. To himself he said: "The night Is sent for sleep; we ought to sleep in the night, And leave the clouds to God. Not every storm That climbeth heavenward overwhelms the earth; And when God wills, 'tis better he should will; What he takes from us never can be lost." But the father so had ordered, and the son Went manful to his work, and held his peace.
When the dawn blotted pale the clouded east, The first drops, overgrown and helpless, fell On the last home-bound cart, oppressed with sheaves; And by its side, the last in the retreat, The scholar walked, slow bringing up the rear. Half the still lengthening journey he had gone, When, on opposing strength of upper winds Tumultuous borne, at last the labouring racks Met in the zenith, and the silence ceased: The lightning brake, and flooded all the world, Its roar of airy billows following it. The darkness drank the lightning, and again Lay more unslaked. But ere the darkness came, In the full revelation of the flash, Met by some stranger flash from cloudy brain, He saw the lady, borne upon her horse, Careless of thunder, as when, years agone, He saw her once, to see for evermore. "Ah, ha!" he said, "my dreams are come for me! Now shall they have me!" For, all through the night, There had been growing trouble in his frame, An overshadowing of something dire. Arrived at home, the weary man and horse Forsook their load; the one went to his stall, The other sought the haven of his bed— There slept and moaned, cried out, and woke, and slept: Through all the netted labyrinth of his brain The fever shot its pent malignant fire. 'Twas evening when to passing consciousness He woke and saw his father by his side: His guardian form in every vision drear That followed, watching shone; and the healing face Of his true sister gleamed through all his pain, Soothing and strengthening with cloudy hope; Till, at the weary last of many days, He woke to sweet quiescent consciousness, Enfeebled much, but with a new-born life— His soul a summer evening after rain.
Slow, with the passing weeks, he gathered strength, And ere the winter came, seemed half restored; And hope was busy. But a fire too keen Burned in his larger eyes; and in his cheek Too ready came the blood at faintest call, Glowing a fair, quick-fading, sunset hue.
Before its hour, a biting frost set in. It gnawed with icy fangs his shrinking life; And that disease bemoaned throughout the land, The smiling, hoping, wasting, radiant death, Was born of outer cold and inner heat.
One morn his sister, entering while he slept, Spied in his listless hand a handkerchief Spotted with red. Cold with dismay, she stood, Scared, motionless. But catching in the glass The sudden glimpse of a white ghostly face, She started at herself, and he awoke. He understood, and said with smile unsure, "Bright red was evermore my master-hue; And see, I have it in me: that is why." She shuddered; and he saw, nor jested more, But smiled again, and looked Death in the face.
When first he saw the red blood outward leap, As if it sought again the fountain-heart Whence it had flowed to fill the golden bowl, No terror seized—an exaltation swelled His spirit: now the pondered mystery Would fling its portals wide, and take him in, One of the awful dead! Them, fools conceive As ghosts that fleet and pine, bereft of weight, And half their valued lives: he otherwise;— Hoped now, and now expected; and, again, Said only, "I await the thing to come."
So waits a child the lingering curtain's rise, While yet the panting lamps restrained burn At half-height, and the theatre is full.
But as the days went by, they brought sad hours, When he would sit, his hands upon his knees, Drooping, and longing for the wine of life. For when the ninefold crystal spheres, through which The outer light sinks in, are cracked and broken, Yet able to keep in the 'piring life, Distressing shadows cross the chequered soul: Poor Psyche trims her irresponsive lamp, And anxious visits oft her store of oil, And still the shadows fall: she must go pray! And God, who speaks to man at door and lattice, Glorious in stars, and winds, and flowers, and waves, Not seldom shuts the door and dims the pane, That, isled in calm, his still small voice may sound The clearer, by the hearth, in the inner room— Sound on until the soul, fulfilled of hope, Look undismayed on that which cannot kill; And saying in the dark, I will the light, Glow in the gloom the present will of God: Then melt the shadows of her shaken house.
He, when his lamp shot up a spiring flame, Would thus break forth and climb the heaven of prayer: "Do with us what thou wilt, all-glorious heart! Thou God of them that are not yet, but grow! We trust thee for the thing we shall be yet; We too are ill content with what we are." And when the flame sank, and the darkness fell, He lived by faith which is the soul of sight.
Yet in the frequent pauses of the light, When all was dreary as a drizzling thaw, When sleep came not although he prayed for sleep, And wakeful-weary on his bed he lay, Like frozen lake that has no heaven within; Then, then the sleeping horror woke and stirred, And with the tooth of unsure thought began To gnaw the roots of life:—What if there were No truth in beauty! What if loveliness Were but the invention of a happier mood! "For, if my mind can dim or slay the Fair, Why should it not enhance or make the Fair?" "Nay," Psyche answered; "for a tired man May drop his eyelids on the visible world, To whom no dreams, when fancy flieth free, Will bring the sunny excellence of day. 'Tis easy to destroy; God only makes. Could my invention sweep the lucid waves With purple shadows—next create the joy With which my life beholds them? Wherefore should One meet the other without thought of mine, If God did not mean beauty in them and me, But dropped them, helpless shadows, from his sun? There were no God, his image not being mine, And I should seek in vain for any bliss! Oh, lack and doubt and fear can only come Because of plenty, confidence, and love! Those are the shadow-forms about the feet Of these—because they are not crystal-clear To the all-searching sun in which they live: Dread of its loss is Beauty's certain seal!" Thus reasoned mourning Psyche. Suddenly The sun would rise, and vanish Psyche's lamp, Absorbed in light, not swallowed in the dark.
It was a wintry time with sunny days, With visitings of April airs and scents, That came with sudden presence, unforetold, As brushed from off the outer spheres of spring In the great world where all is old and new. Strange longings he had never known till now, Awoke within him, flowers of rooted hope. For a whole silent hour he would sit and gaze Upon the distant hills, whose dazzling snow Starred the dim blue, or down their dark ravines Crept vaporous; until the fancy rose That on the other side those rampart walls, A mighty woman sat, with waiting face, Calm as that life whose rapt intensity Borders on death, silent, waiting for him, To make him grand for ever with a kiss, And send him silent through the toning worlds.
The father saw him waning. The proud sire Beheld his pride go drooping in the cold, Like snowdrop on its grave; and sighed deep thanks That he was old. But evermore the son Looked up and smiled as he had heard strange news Across the waste, of tree-buds and primroses. Then all at once the other mood would come, And, like a troubled child, he would seek his father For father-comfort, which fathers all can give: Sure there is one great Father in the world, Since every word of good from fathers' lips Falleth with such authority, although They are but men as we! This trembling son, Who saw the unknown death draw hourly nigher, Sought solace in his father's tenderness, And made him strong to die.
One shining day, Shining with sun and snow, he came and said, "What think you, father—is death very sore?" "My boy," the father answered, "we will try To make it easy with the present God. But, as I judge, though more by hope than sight, It seems much harder to the lookers on Than to the man who dies. Each panting breath We call a gasp, may be in him the cry Of infant eagerness; or, at worst, the sob With which the unclothed spirit, step by step. Wades forth into the cool eternal sea. I think, my boy, death has two sides to it— One sunny, and one dark—as this round earth Is every day half sunny and half dark. We on the dark side call the mystery death; They on the other, looking down in light, Wait the glad birth, with other tears than ours." "Be near me, father, when I die," he said. "I will, my boy, until a better Father Draws your hand out of mine. Be near in turn, When my time comes—you in the light beyond, And knowing well the country—I in the dark."
The days went by, until the tender green Shone through the snow in patches. Then the hope Of life, reviving faintly, stirred his heart; For the spring drew him—warm, soft, budding spring, With promises, and he went forth to meet her.
But he who once had strode a king on the fields, Walked softly now; lay on the daisied grass; And sighed sometimes in secret, that so soon The earth, with all its suns and harvests fair, Must lie far off, an old forsaken thing.
But though I lingering listen to the old, Ere yet I strike new chords that seize the old And lift their lost souls up the music-stair— Think not he was too fearful-faint of heart To look the blank unknown full in the void; For he had hope in God—the growth of years, Of ponderings, of childish aspirations, Of prayers and readings and repentances; For something in him had ever sought the peace Of other something deeper in him still— A faint sound sighing for a harmony With other fainter sounds, that softly drew Nearer and nearer from the unknown depths Where the Individual goeth out in God: The something in him heard, and, hearing, listened, And sought the way by which the music came, Hoping at last to find the face of him To whom Saint John said Lord with holy awe, And on his bosom fearless leaned the while.
As his slow spring came on, the swelling life, The new creation inside of the old, Pressed up in buds toward the invisible. And burst the crumbling mould wherein it lay. Not once he thought of that still churchyard now; He looked away from earth, and loved the sky. One earthly notion only clung to him:— He thanked God that he died not in the cold; "For," said he, "I would rather go abroad When the sun shines, and birds are singing blithe.—It may be that we know not aught of place, Or any sense, and only live in thought; But, knowing not, I cling to warmth and light. I may pass forth into the sea of air That swings its massy waves around the earth, And I would rather go when it is full Of light, and blue, and larks, than when gray fog Dulls it with steams of old earth winter-sick. Now in the dawn of summer I shall die— Sinking asleep ere sunset, I will hope, And going with the light. And when they say, 'He's dead; he rests at last; his face is changed;' I shall be saying: Yet, yet, I live, I love!'"
The weary nights did much to humble him; They made the good he knew seem all ill known: He would go by and by to school again! "Father," he said, "I am nothing; but Thou art!" Like half-asleep, whole-dreaming child, he was, Who, longing for his mother, has forgot The arms about him, holding him to her heart: Mother he murmuring moans; she wakes him up That he may see her face, and sleep indeed.
Father! we need thy winter as thy spring; We need thy earthquakes as thy summer showers; But through them all thy strong arms carry us, Thy strong heart bearing large share in our grief. Because thou lovest goodness more than joy In them thou lovest, thou dost let them grieve: We must not vex thee with our peevish cries, But look into thy face, and hold thee fast, And say O Father, Father! when the pain Seems overstrong. Remember our poor hearts: We never grasp the zenith of the time! We have no spring except in winter-prayers! But we believe—alas, we only hope!—That one day we shall thank thee perfectly For every disappointment, pang, and shame, That drove us to the bosom of thy love.
One night, as oft, he lay and could not sleep. His spirit was a chamber, empty, dark, Through which bright pictures passed of the outer world: The regnant Will gazed passive on the show; The magic tube through which the shadows came, Witch Memory turned and stayed. In ones and troops, Glided across the field the things that were, Silent and sorrowful, like all things old: Even old rose-leaves have a mournful scent, And old brown letters are more sad than graves.
At length, as ever in such vision-hours, Came the bright maiden, high upon her horse. Will started all awake, passive no more, And, necromantic sage, the apparition That came unbid, commanded to abide.
Gathered around her form his brooding thoughts: How had she fared, spinning her history Into a psyche-cradle? With what wings Would she come forth to greet the aeonian summer? Glistening with feathery dust of silver? or Dull red, and seared with spots of black ingrained? "I know," he said, "some women fail of life! The rose hath shed her leaves: is she a rose?"
The fount of possibilities began To gurgle, threatful, underneath the thought: Anon the geyser-column raging rose;— For purest souls sometimes have direst fears In ghost-hours when the shadow of the earth Is cast on half her children, and the sun Is busy giving daylight to the rest.
"Oh, God!" he cried, "if she be such as those!— Angels in the eyes of poet-boys, who still Fancy the wavings of invisible wings, But, in their own familiar, chamber-thoughts, Common as clay, and of the trodden earth!— It cannot, cannot be! She is of God!— And yet things lovely perish! higher life Gives deeper death! fair gifts make fouler faults!— Women themselves—I dare not think the rest!" Such thoughts went walking up and down his soul But found at last a spot wherein to rest, Building a resolution for the day.
The next day, and the next, he was too worn To clothe intent in body of a deed. A cold dry wind blew from the unkindly east, Making him feel as he had come to the earth Before God's spirit moved on the water's face, To make it ready for him.
But the third Morning rose radiant. A genial wind Rippled the blue air 'neath the golden sun, And brought glad summer-tidings from the south.
He lay now in his father's room; for there The southern sun poured all the warmth he had. His rays fell on the fire, alive with flames, And turned it ghostly pale, and would have slain— Even as the sunshine of the higher life, Quenching the glow of this, leaves but a coal. He rose and sat him down 'twixt sun and fire; Two lives fought in him for the mastery; And half from each forth flowed the written stream "Lady, I owe thee much. Stay not to look Upon my name: I write it, but I date From the churchyard, where it shall lie in peace, Thou reading it. Thou know'st me not at all; Nor dared I write, but death is crowning me Thy equal. If my boldness yet offend, Lo, pure in my intent, I am with the ghosts; Where when thou comest, thou hast already known God equal makes at first, and Death at last."
"But pardon, lady. Ere I had begun, My thoughts moved toward thee with a gentle flow That bore a depth of waters: when I took My pen to write, they rushed into a gulf, Precipitate and foamy. Can it be That Death who humbles all hath made me proud?"
"Lady, thy loveliness hath walked my brain, As if I were thy heritage bequeathed From many sires; yet only from afar I have worshipped thee—content to know the vision Had lifted me above myself who saw, And ta'en my angel nigh thee in thy heaven. Thy beauty, lady, hath overflowed, and made Another being beautiful, beside, With virtue to aspire and be itself. Afar as angels or the sainted dead, Yet near as loveliness can haunt a man, Thy form hath put on each revealing dress Of circumstance and history, high or low, In which, from any tale of selfless life, Essential womanhood hath shone on me."
"Ten years have passed away since the first time, Which was the last, I saw thee. What have these Made or unmade in thee?—I ask myself. O lovely in my memory! art thou As lovely in thyself? Thy glory then Was what God made thee: art thou such indeed? Forgive my boldness, lady—I am dead: The dead may cry, their voices are so small."
"I have a prayer to make thee—hear the dead. Lady, for God's sake be as beautiful As that white form that dwelleth in my heart; Yea, better still, as that ideal Pure That waketh in thee, when thou prayest God, Or helpest thy poor neighbour. For myself I pray. For if I die and find that she, My woman-glory, lives in common air, Is not so very radiant after all, My sad face will afflict the calm-eyed ghosts, Unused to see such rooted sorrow there. With palm to palm my kneeling ghost implores Thee, living lady—justify my faith In womanhood's white-handed nobleness, And thee, its revelation unto me."
"But I bethink me:—If thou turn thy thoughts Upon thyself, even for that great sake Of purity and conscious whiteness' self, Thou wilt but half succeed. The other half Is to forget the former, yea, thyself, Quenching thy moonlight in the blaze of day, Turning thy being full unto thy God. Be thou in him a pure, twice holy child, Doing the right with sweet unconsciousness— Having God in thee, thy completing soul."
"Lady, I die; the Father holds me up. It is not much to thee that I should die; It may be much to know he holds me up."
"I thank thee, lady, for the gentle look Which crowned me from thine eyes ten years ago, Ere, clothed in nimbus of the setting sun, Thee from my dazzled eyes thy horse did bear, Proud of his burden. My dull tongue was mute— I was a fool before thee; but my silence Was the sole homage possible to me then: That now I speak, and fear not, is thy gift. The same sweet look be possible to thee For evermore! I bless thee with thine own, And say farewell, and go into my grave— No, to the sapphire heaven of all my hopes."
Followed his name in full, and then the name Of the green churchyard where his form should lie.
Back to his couch he crept, weary, and said: "O God, I am but an attempt at life! Sleep falls again ere I am full awake. Light goeth from me in the morning hour. I have seen nothing clearly; felt no thrill Of pure emotion, save in dreams, ah—dreams! The high Truth has but flickered in my soul— Even at such times, in wide blue midnight hours, When, dawning sudden on my inner world, New stars came forth, revealing unknown depths, New heights of silence, quelling all my sea, And for a moment I saw formless fact, And knew myself a living lonely thought, Isled in the hyaline of Truth alway! I have not reaped earth's harvest, O my God; Have gathered but a few poor wayside flowers, Harebells, red poppies, daisies, eyebrights blue— Gathered them by the way, for comforting! Have I aimed proudly, therefore aimed too low, Striving for something visible in my thought, And not the unseen thing hid far in thine? Make me content to be a primrose-flower Among thy nations, so the fair truth, hid In the sweet primrose, come awake in me, And I rejoice, an individual soul, Reflecting thee—as truly then divine As if I towered the angel of the sun. Once, in a southern eve, a glowing worm Gave me a keener joy than the heaven of stars: Thou camest in the worm nearer me then! Nor do I think, were I that green delight, I would change to be the shadowy evening star. Ah, make me, Father, anything thou wilt, So be thou will it! I am safe with thee. I laugh exulting. Make me something, God— Clear, sunny, veritable purity Of mere existence, in thyself content. And seeking no compare. Sure I have reaped Earth's harvest if I find this holy death!— Now I am ready; take me when thou wilt."
He laid the letter in his desk, with seal And superscription. When his sister came, He told her where to find it—afterwards.
As the slow eve, through paler, darker shades, Insensibly declines, until at last The lordly day is but a memory, So died he. In the hush of noon he died. The sun shone on—why should he not shine on? Glad summer noises rose from all the land; The love of God lay warm on hill and plain: 'Tis well to die in summer.
When the breath, After a hopeless pause, returned no more, The father fell upon his knees, and said: "O God, I thank thee; it is over now! Through the sore time thy hand has led him well. Lord, let me follow soon, and be at rest." Therewith he rose, and comforted the maid, Who in her brother had lost the pride of life, And wept as all her heaven were only rain.
Of the loved lady, little more I know. I know not if, when she had read his words, She rose in haste, and to her chamber went, And shut the door; nor if, when she came forth, A dawn of holier purpose gleamed across The sadness of her brow. But this I know, That, on a warm autumnal afternoon, When headstone-shadows crossed three neighbour graves, And, like an ended prayer, the empty church Stood in the sunshine, or a cenotaph, A little boy, who watched a cow near by Gather her milk where alms of clover-fields Lay scattered on the sides of silent roads, All sudden saw, nor knew whence she had come, A lady, veiled, alone, and very still, Seated upon a grave. Long time she sat And moved not, weeping sore, the watcher said— Though how he knew she wept, were hard to tell. At length, slow-leaning on her elbow down, She hid her face a while in the short grass, And pulled a something small from off the mound— A blade of grass it must have been, he thought, For nothing else was there, not even a daisy— And put it in a letter. Then she rose, And glided silent forth, over the wall, Where the two steps on this side and on that Shorten the path from westward to the church.— The clang of hoofs and sound of light, swift wheels Arose and died upon the listener's ear.
A STORY OF THE SEA-SHORE.
TO THEM THAT MOURN.
Let your tears flow; let your sad sighs have scope; Only take heed they fan, they water Hope.
A STORY OF THE SEA-SHORE.
I sought the long clear twilights of my home, Far in the pale-blue skies and slaty seas, What time the sunset dies not utterly, But withered to a ghost-like stealthy gleam, Round the horizon creeps the short-lived night, And changes into sunrise in a swoon. I found my home in homeliness unchanged: The love that made it home, unchangeable, Received me as a child, and all was well. My ancient summer-heaven, borne on the hills, Once more embraced me; and once more the vale, So often sighed for in the far-off nights, Rose on my bodily vision, and, behold, In nothing had the fancy mocked the fact! The hasting streams went garrulous as of old; The resting flowers in silence uttered more; The blue hills rose and dwelt alone in heaven; Householding Nature from her treasures brought Things old and new, the same yet not the same, For all was holier, lovelier than before; And best of all, once more I paced the fields With him whose love had made me long for God So good a father that, needs-must, I sought A better still, Father of him and me.
Once on a day, my cousin Frank and I Sat swiftly borne behind the dear white mare That oft had carried me in bygone days Along the lonely paths of moorland hills; But now we sought the coast, where deep waves foam 'Gainst rocks that lift their dark fronts to the north. And with us went a girl, on whose kind face I had not looked for many a youthful year, But the old friendship straightway blossomed new. The heavens were sunny, and the earth was green; The large harebells in families stood along The grassy borders, of a tender blue Transparent as the sky, haunted with wings Of many butterflies, as blue as they. And as we talked and talked without restraint, Brought near by memories of days that were, And therefore are for ever; by the joy Of motion through a warm and shining air; By the glad sense of freedom and like thoughts; And by the bond of friendship with the dead, She told the tale which here I tell again.
I had returned to childish olden time, And asked her if she knew a castle worn, Whose masonry, razed utterly above, Yet faced the sea-cliff up, and met the waves:— 'Twas one of my child-marvels; for, each year, We turned our backs upon the ripening corn, And sought some village on the Moray shore; And nigh this ruin, was that I loved the best.
For oh the riches of that little port!— Down almost to the beach, where a high wall Inclosed them, came the gardens of a lord, Free to the visitor with foot restrained— His shady walks, his ancient trees of state; His river—that would not be shut within, But came abroad, went dreaming o'er the sands, And lost itself in finding out the sea; Inside, it bore grave swans, white splendours—crept Under the fairy leap of a wire bridge, Vanished in leaves, and came again where lawns Lay verdurous, and the peacock's plumy heaven Bore azure suns with green and golden rays. It was my childish Eden; for the skies Were loftier in that garden, and the clouds More summer-gracious, edged with broader white; And when they rained, it was a golden rain That sparkled as it fell—an odorous rain. And then its wonder-heart!—a little room, Half-hollowed in the side of a steep hill, Which rose, with columned, windy temple crowned, A landmark to far seas. The enchanted cell Was clouded over in the gentle night Of a luxuriant foliage, and its door, Half-filled with rainbow hues of coloured glass, Opened into the bosom of the hill. Never to sesame of mine that door Gave up its sanctuary; but through the glass, Gazing with reverent curiosity, I saw a little chamber, round and high, Which but to see was to escape the heat, And bathe in coolness of the eye and brain; For all was dusky greenness; on one side, A window, half-blind with ivy manifold, Whose leaves, like heads of gazers, climbed to the top, Gave a joy-saddened light, for all that came Through the thick veil was green, oh, kindest hue! But the heart has a heart—this heart had one: Still in the midst, the ever more of all, On a low column stood, white, cold, dim-clear, A marble woman. Who she was I know not— A Psyche, or a Silence, or an Echo: Pale, undefined, a silvery shadow, still, In one lone chamber of my memory, She is a power upon me as of old.
But, ah, to dream there through hot summer days, In coolness shrouded and sea-murmurings, Forgot by all till twilight shades grew dark! To find half-hidden in the hollowed wall, A nest of tales, old volumes such as dreams Hoard up in bookshops dim in tortuous streets! That wondrous marble woman evermore Filling the gloom with calm delirium Of radiated whiteness, as I read!— The fancied joy, too plenteous for its cup, O'erflowed, and turned to sadness as it fell.
But the gray ruin on the shattered shore, Not the green refuge in the bowering hill, Drew forth our talk that day. For, as I said, I asked her if she knew it. She replied, "I know it well. A woman used to live In one of its low vaults, my mother says." "I found a hole," I said, "and spiral stair, Leading from level of the ground above To a low-vaulted room within the rock, Whence through a small square window I looked forth Wide o'er the waters; the dim-sounding waves Were many feet below, and shrunk in size To a great ripple." "'Twas not there," she said, "—Not in that room half up the cliff, but one Low down, within the margin of spring tides: When both the tide and northern wind are high, 'Tis more an ocean-cave than castle-vault." And then she told me all she knew of her.
It was a simple tale, a monotone: She climbed one sunny hill, gazed once abroad, Then wandered down, to pace a dreary plain; Alas! how many such are told by night, In fisher-cottages along the shore!
Farewell, old summer-day! I turn aside To tell her story, interwoven with thoughts Born of its sorrow; for I dare not think A woman at the mercy of a sea.
Aye as it listeth blows the listless wind, Swelling great sails, and bending lordly masts, Or hurrying shadow-waves o'er fields of corn, And hunting lazy clouds across the sky: Now, like a white cloud o'er another sky, It blows a tall brig from the harbour's mouth, Away to high-tossed heads of wallowing waves, 'Mid hoverings of long-pinioned arrowy birds. With clouds and birds and sails and broken crests, All space is full of spots of fluttering white, And yet the sailor knows that handkerchief Waved wet with tears, and heavy in the wind. Blow, wind! draw out the cord that binds the twain; Draw, for thou canst not break the lengthening cord. Blow, wind! yet gently; gently blow, fair wind! And let love's vision slowly, gently die; Let the bright sails all solemn-slowly pass, And linger ghost-like o'er the vanished hull, With a white farewell to her straining eyes; For never more in morning's level beams, Will those sea-shadowing sails, dark-stained and worn, From the gray-billowed north come dancing in; Oh, never, gliding home 'neath starry skies, Over the dusk of the dim-glancing sea, Will the great ship send forth a herald cry Of home-come sailors, into sleeping streets! Blow gently, wind! blow slowly, gentle wind!
Weep not yet, maiden; 'tis not yet thy hour. Why shouldst thou weep before thy time is come? Go to thy work; break into song sometimes— Song dying slow-forgotten, in the lapse Of dreamy thought, ere natural pause ensue, Or sudden dropt what time the eager heart Hurries the ready eye to north and east. Sing, maiden, while thou canst, ere yet the truth, Slow darkening, choke the heart-caged singing bird!
The weeks went by. Oft leaving household work, With bare arms and uncovered head she clomb The landward slope of the prophetic hill; From whose green head, as from the verge of time, Far out on the eternity of blue, Shading her hope-rapt eyes, seer-like she gazed, If from the Hades of the nether world, Slow climbing up the round side of the earth, Haply her prayers were drawing his tardy sails Over the threshold of the far sky-sea— Drawing her sailor home to celebrate, With holy rites of family and church, The apotheosis of maidenhood.
Months passed; he came not; and a shadowy fear, Long haunting the horizon of her soul, In deeper gloom and sharper form drew nigh; And growing in bulk, possessed her atmosphere, And lost all shape, because it filled all space, And reached beyond the bounds of consciousness— In sudden incarnations darting swift From out its infinite a gulfy stare Of terror blank, of hideous emptiness, Of widowhood ere ever wedding-day.
On granite ridge, and chalky cliff, and pier, Far built into the waves along our shores, Maidens have stood since ever ships went forth; The same pain at the heart; the same slow mist Clouding the eye; the same fixed longing look, As if the soul had gone, and left the door Wide open—gone to lean, hearken, and peer Over the awful edge where voidness sinks Sheer to oblivion—that horizon-line Over whose edge he vanished—came no more. O God, why are our souls, waste, helpless seas, Tortured with such immitigable storm? What is this love, that now on angel wing Sweeps us amid the stars in passionate calm; And now with demon arms fast cincturing, Drops us, through all gyrations of keen pain, Down the black vortex, till the giddy whirl Gives fainting respite to the ghastly brain? O happy they for whom the Possible Opens its gates of madness, and becomes The Real around them!—such to whom henceforth There is but one to-morrow, the next morn, Their wedding-day, ever one step removed, The husband's foot ever upon the verge Of the day's threshold, in a lasting dream! Such madness may be but a formless faith— A chaos which the breath of God will blow Into an ordered world of seed and fruit. Shall not the Possible become the Real? God sleeps not when he makes his daughters dream. Shall not the morrow dawn at last which leads The maiden-ghost, confused and half awake, Into the land whose shadows are our dreams?— Thus questioning we stand upon the shore, And gaze across into the Unrevealed.
Upon its visible symbol gazed the girl, Till earth behind her ceased, and sea was all, Possessing eyes and brain and shrinking soul— A universal mouth to swallow up, And close eternally in one blue smile! A still monotony of pauseless greed, Its only voice an endless, dreary song Of wailing, and of craving from the world!
A low dull dirge that ever rose and died, Recurring without pause or change or close, Like one verse chaunted ever in sleepless brain, Still drew her to the shore. It drew her down, Like witch's spell, that fearful endless moan; Somewhere, she thought, in the green abyss below, His body, at the centre of the moan, Obeyed the motions whence the moaning grew; Now, now, in circle slow revolved, and now Swayed like a wind-swung bell, now swept along Hither and thither, idly to and fro, Heedlessly wandering through the heedless sea. Its fascination drew her onward still— On to the ridgy rocks that seaward ran, And out along their furrows and jagged backs, To the last lonely point where the green mass Arose and sank, heaved slow and forceful. There She shuddered and recoiled. Thus, for a time, Sport-slave of power occult, she came and went, Betwixt the shore and sea alternating, Drawn ever to the greedy lapping lip, Then, terror-stung, driven backward: there it lay, The heartless, cruel, miserable deep, Ambushed in horror, with its glittering eye Still drawing her to its green gulfing maw!
But every ocean hath its isles, each woe Its scattered comfortings; and this was one That often came to her—that she, wave-caught, Must, in the wash of ever-shifting waters, In some good hour sure-fixed of pitiful fate, All-conscious still of love, despite the sea, Float over some stray bone, some particle, Which far-diffused sense would know as his: Heart-glad she would sit down, and watch the tide Slow-growing—till it reached at length her feet, When, at its first cold touch, up she would spring, And, ghastful, flee, with white-rimmed sightless eye.
But still, where'er she fled, the sea-voice followed; Whisperings innumerable of water-drops Would grow together to a giant cry; Now hoarse, half-stifled, pleading, warning tones, Now thunderous peals of billowy, wrathful shouts, Called after her to come, and make no pause. From the loose clouds that mingled with the spray, And from the tossings of the lifted seas, Where plunged and rose the raving wilderness, Outreaching arms, pursuing, beckoning hands, Came shoreward, lengthening, feeling after her. Then would she fling her own wild arms on high, Over her head, in tossings like the waves, Or fix them, with clasped hands of prayer intense, Forward, appealing to the bitter sea. Sometimes she sudden from her shoulders tore Her garments, one by one, and cast them out Into the roarings of the heedless surge, In vain oblation to the hungry waves. As vain was Pity's will to cover her; Best gifts but bribed the sea, and left her bare. In her poor heart and brain burned such a fire That all-unheeded cold winds lapped her round, And sleet-like spray flashed on her tawny skin. Her food she seldom ate; her naked arms Flung it far out to feed the sea; her hair Streamed after it, like rooted ocean-weed In headlong current. But, alas, the sea Took it, and came again—it would have her! And as the wave importunate, so despair, Back surging, on her heart rushed ever afresh: Sickening she moaned—half muttered and half moaned— "She winna be content; she'll hae mysel!"
But when the night grew thick upon the sea, Quenching it almost, save its quenchless voice, Then, half-released until the light, she rose, And step by step withdrew—as dreaming man, With an eternity of slowness, drags His earth-bound, lead-like, irresponsive feet Back from a sleeping horror, she withdrew. But when, upon the narrow beach at last, She turned her back upon her hidden foe, It blended with her phantom-breeding brain, And, scared at very fear, she cried and fled— Fled to the battered base of the old tower, And round the rock, and through the arched gap Into the yawning blackness of the vault— There sank upon the sand, and gasped, and raved. Close cowering in a nook, she sat all night, Her face turned to the entrance of the vault, Through which a pale light shimmered—from the eye Of the great sleepless ocean—Argus more dread Than he with hundred lidless watching orbs, And slept, and dreamed, and dreaming saw the sea. But in the stormy nights, when all was dark, And the wild tempest swept with slanting wing Against her refuge, and the heavy spray Shot through the doorway serpentine cold arms To seize the fore-doomed morsel of the sea, She slept not, evermore stung to new life By new sea-terrors. Now it was the gull: His clanging pinions darted through the arch, And flapped about her head; now 'twas a wave Grown arrogant: it rushed into her house, Clasped her waist-high, then out again and away To swell the devilish laughter in the fog, And leave her clinging to the rocky wall, With white face watching. When it came no more, And the tide ebbed, not yet she slept—sat down, And sat unmoving, till the low gray dawn Grew on the misty dance of spouting waves, That made a picture in the rugged arch; Then the old fascination woke and drew; And, rising slowly, forth she went afresh, To haunt the border of the dawning sea.
Yet all the time there lay within her soul An inner chamber, quietest place; but she Turned from its door, and staid out in the storm. She, entering there, had found a refuge calm As summer evening, as a mother's arms. There had she found her lost love, only lost In that he slept, and she was still awake. There she had found, waiting for her to come, The Love that waits and watches evermore.
Thou too hast such a chamber, quietest place, Where that Love waits for thee. What is it, say, That will not let thee enter? Is it care For the provision of the unborn day, As if thou wert a God that must foresee? Is it poor hunger for the praise of men? Is it ambition to outstrip thy fellow In this world's race? Or is it love of self— That greed which still to have must still destroy?— Go mad for some lost love; some voice of old, Which first thou madest sing, and after sob; Some heart thou foundest rich, and leftest bare, Choking its well of faith with thy false deeds— Unlike thy God, who keeps the better wine Until the last, and, if he giveth grief, Giveth it first, and ends the tale with joy: Such madness clings about the feet of God, Nor lets them go. Better a thousandfold Be she than thou! for though thy brain be strong And clear and workful, hers a withered flower That never came to seed, her heart is full Of that in whose live might God made the world; She is a well, and thou an empty cup. It was the invisible unbroken cord Between the twain, her and her sailor-lad, That drew her ever to the ocean marge. Better to die for love, to rave for love, Than not to love at all! but to have loved, And, loved again, then to have turned away— Better than that, never to have been born!
But if thy heart be noble, say if thou Canst ever all forget an hour of pain, When, maddened with the thought that could not be, Thou might'st have yielded to the demon wind That swept in tempest through thy scorching brain, And rushed into the night, and howled aloud, And clamoured to the waves, and beat the rocks; And never found thy way back to the seat Of conscious self, and power to rule thy pain, Had not God made thee strong to bear and live! The tale is now in thee, not thou in it; But the sad woman, in her wildest mood, Thou knowest her thy sister! She is fair No more; her eyes like fierce suns blaze and burn; Her cheeks are parched and brown; her haggard form Is wasted by wild storms of soul and sea; Yet in her very self is that which still Reminds thee of a story, old, not dead, Which God has in his keeping—of thyself.
Ah, not forgot are children when they sleep! The darkness lasts all night, and clears the eyes; Then comes the morning with the joy of light. Oh, surely madness hideth not from Him! Nor doth a soul cease to be beautiful In his sight, that its beauty is withdrawn, And hid by pale eclipse from human eyes. As the chill snow is friendly to the earth, And pain and loss are friendly to the soul, Shielding it from the black heart-killing frost; So madness is but one of God's pale winters; And when the winter over is and gone, Then smile the skies, then blooms the earth again, And the fair time of singing birds is come: Into the cold wind and the howling night, God sent for her, and she was carried in Where there was no more sea.
What messenger Ran from the door of heaven to bring her home? The sea, her terror.
In the rocks that stand Below the cliff, there lies a rounded hollow, Scooped like a basin, with jagged and pinnacled sides: Low buried when the wind heaps up the surge, It lifts in the respiration of the tide Its broken edges, and, then, deep within Lies resting water, radiantly clear: There, on a morn of sunshine, while the wind Yet blew, and heaved yet the billowy sea With memories of a night of stormy dreams, At rest they found her: in the sleep which is And is not death, she, lying very still, Absorbed the bliss that follows after pain. O life of love, conquered at last by fate! O life raised from the dead by saviour Death! O love unconquered and invincible! The enemy sea had cooled her burning brain; Had laid to rest the heart that could not rest; Had hid the horror of its own dread face! 'Twas but one desolate cry, and then her fear Became a blessed fact, and straight she knew What God knew all the time—that it was well.
O thou whose feet tread ever the wet sands And howling rocks along the wearing shore, Roaming the borders of the sea of death! Strain not thine eyes, bedimmed with longing tears, No sail comes climbing back across that line. Turn thee, and to thy work; let God alone, And wait for him: faint o'er the waves will come Far-floating whispers from the other shore To thine averted ears. Do thou thy work, And thou shalt follow—follow, and find thine own.
And thou who fearest something that may come; Around whose house the storm of terror breaks All night; to whose love-sharpened ear, all day, The Invisible is calling at the door, To render up a life thou canst not keep, Or love that will not stay,—open thy door, And carry out thy dying to the marge Of the great sea; yea, walk into the flood, And lay thy dead upon the moaning waves. Give them to God to bury; float them again, With sighs and prayers to waft them through the gloom, Back to the spring of life. Say—"If they die, Thou, the one life of life, art still alive, And thou canst make thy dead alive again!"
Ah God, the earth is full of cries and moans, And dull despair, that neither moans nor cries; Thousands of hearts are waiting helplessly; The whole creation groaneth, travaileth For what it knows not—with a formless hope Of resurrection or of dreamless death! Raise thou the dead; restore the Aprils withered In hearts of maidens; give their manhood back To old men feebly mournful o'er a life That scarce hath memory but the mournfulness! There is no past with thee: bring back once more The summer eves of lovers, over which The wintry wind that raveth through the world Heaps wretched leaves in gusts of ghastly snow; Bring back the mother-heaven of orphans lone, The brother's and the sister's faithfulness;— Bring in the kingdom of the Son of Man.
They troop around me, children wildly crying; Women with faded eyes, all spent of tears; Men who have lived for love, yet lived alone; Yea, some consuming in cold fires of shame! O God, thou hast a work for all thy strength In saving these thy hearts with full content— Except thou give them Lethe's stream to drink, And that, my God, were all unworthy thee!
Dome up, O heaven, yet higher o'er my head! Back, back, horizon; widen out my world! Rush in, O fathomless sea of the Unknown! For, though he slay me, I will trust in God.
To all who fain Would keep the grain, And cast the husk away— That it may feed The living seed, And serve it with decay— I offer this dim story Whose clouds crack into glory.
The times are changed, and gone the day When the high heavenly land, Though unbeheld, quite near them lay, And men could understand.
The dead yet find it, who, when here, Did love it more than this; They enter in, are filled with cheer, And pain expires in bliss.
All glorious gleams the blessed land!— O God, forgive, I pray: The heart thou holdest in thy hand Loves more this sunny day!
I see the hundred thousand wait Around the radiant throne: Ah, what a dreary, gilded state! What crowds of beings lone!
I do not care for singing psalms; I tire of good men's talk; To me there is no joy in palms, Or white-robed, solemn walk.
I love to hear the wild winds meet, The wild old winds at night; To watch the cold stars flash and beat, The feathery snow alight.
I love all tales of valiant men, Of women good and fair: If I were rich and strong, ah, then I would do something rare!
But for thy temple in the sky, Its pillars strong and white— I cannot love it, though I try, And long with all my might.
Sometimes a joy lays hold on me, And I am speechless then; Almost a martyr I could be, To join the holy men.
Straightway my heart is like a clod, My spirit wrapt in doubt:— A pillar in the house of God, And never more go out!
No more the sunny, breezy morn; All gone the glowing noon; No more the silent heath forlorn, The wan-faced waning moon!
My God, this heart will never burn, Must never taste thy joy! Even Jesus' face is calm and stern: I am a hapless boy!
* * * * *
I read good books. My heart despairs. In vain I try to dress My soul in feelings like to theirs— These men of holiness.
My thoughts, like doves, abroad I fling Into a country fair: Wind-baffled, back, with tired wing, They to my ark repair.
Or comes a sympathetic thrill With long-departed saint, A feeble dawn, without my will, Of feelings old and quaint,
As of a church's holy night, With low-browed chapels round, Where common sunshine dares not light On the too sacred ground,—
One glance at sunny fields of grain, One shout of child at play— A merry melody drives amain The one-toned chant away!
My spirit will not enter here To haunt the holy gloom; I gaze into a mirror mere, A mirror, not a room.
And as a bird against the pane Will strike, deceived sore, I think to enter, but remain Outside the closed door.
Oh, it will call for many a sigh If it be what it claims— This book, so unlike earth and sky, Unlike man's hopes and aims!—
To me a desert parched and bare— In which a spirit broods Whose wisdom I would gladly share At cost of many goods!
* * * * *
O hear me, God! O give me joy Such as thy chosen feel; Have pity on a wretched boy; My heart is hard as steel.
I have no care for what is good; Thyself I do not love; I relish not this Bible-food; My heaven is not above.
Thou wilt not hear: I come no more; Thou heedest not my woe. With sighs and tears my heart is sore. Thou comest not: I go.
* * * * *
Once more I kneel. The earth is dark, And darker yet the air; If light there be, 'tis but a spark Amid a world's despair—
One hopeless hope there yet may be A God somewhere to hear; The God to whom I bend my knee— A God with open ear.
I know that men laugh still to scorn The grief that is my lot; Such wounds, they say, are hardly borne, But easily forgot.
What matter that my sorrows rest On ills which men despise! More hopeless heaves my aching breast Than when a prophet sighs.
AEons of griefs have come and gone— My grief is yet my mark. The sun sets every night, yet none Sees therefore in the dark.
There's love enough upon the earth, And beauty too, they say: There may be plenty, may be dearth, I care not any way.
The world hath melted from my sight; No grace in life is left; I cry to thee with all my might, Because I am bereft.
In vain I cry. The earth is dark, And darker yet the air; Of light there trembles now no spark In my lost soul's despair.
* * * * *
I sit and gaze from window high Down on the noisy street: No part in this great coil have I, No fate to go and meet.
My books unopened long have lain; In class I am all astray: The questions growing in my brain, Demand and have their way.