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The Poetical Works of George MacDonald

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Go thou into thy closet; shut thy door; And pray to Him in secret: He will hear. But think not thou, by one wild bound, to clear The numberless ascensions, more and more, Of starry stairs that must be climbed, before Thou comest to the Father's likeness near, And bendest down to kiss the feet so dear That, step by step, their mounting flights passed o'er. Be thou content if on thy weary need There falls a sense of showers and of the spring; A hope that makes it possible to fling Sickness aside, and go and do the deed; For highest aspiration will not lead Unto the calm beyond all questioning.

SCENE I.--A cell in a convent. JULIAN alone.

Evening again slow creeping like a death! And the red sunbeams fading from the wall, On which they flung a sky, with streaks and bars Of the poor window-pane that let them in, For clouds and shadings of the mimic heaven! Soul of my cell, they part, no more to come. But what is light to me, while I am dark! And yet they strangely draw me, those faint hues, Reflected flushes from the Evening's face, Which as a bride, with glowing arms outstretched, Takes to her blushing heaven him who has left His chamber in the dim deserted east. Through walls and hills I see it! The rosy sea! The radiant head half-sunk! A pool of light, As the blue globe had by a blow been broken, And the insphered glory bubbled forth! Or the sun were a splendid water-bird, That flying furrowed with its golden feet A flashing wake over the waves, and home! Lo there!--Alas, the dull blank wall!--High up, The window-pane a dead gray eye! and night Come on me like a thief!--Ah, well! the sun Has always made me sad! I'll go and pray: The terror of the night begins with prayer.

(Vesper bell.)
Call them that need thee; I need not thy summons; My knees would not so pain me when I kneel, If only at thy voice my prayer awoke. I will not to the chapel. When I find Him, Then will I praise him from the heights of peace; But now my soul is as a speck of life Cast on the deserts of eternity; A hungering and a thirsting, nothing more. I am as a child new-born, its mother dead, Its father far away beyond the seas. Blindly I stretch my arms and seek for him: He goeth by me, and I see him not. I cry to him: as if I sprinkled ashes, My prayers fall back in dust upon my soul.

(Choir and organ-music.)
I bless you, sweet sounds, for your visiting. What friends I have! Prismatic harmonies Have just departed in the sun's bright coach, And fair, convolved sounds troop in to me, Stealing my soul with faint deliciousness. Would they took shapes! What levees I should hold! How should my cell be filled with wavering forms! Louder they grow, each swelling higher, higher; Trembling and hesitating to float off, As bright air-bubbles linger, that a boy Blows, with their interchanging, wood-dove-hues, Just throbbing to their flight, like them to die. --Gone now! Gone to the Hades of dead loves! Is it for this that I have left the world?-- Left what, poor fool? Is this, then, all that comes Of that night when the closing door fell dumb On music and on voices, and I went Forth from the ordered tumult of the dance, Under the clear cope of the moonless night, Wandering away without the city-walls, Between the silent meadows and the stars, Till something woke in me, and moved my spirit, And of themselves my thoughts turned toward God; When straight within my soul I felt as if An eye was opened; but I knew not whether 'Twas I that saw, or God that looked on me? It closed again, and darkness fell; but not To hide the memory; that, in many failings Of spirit and of purpose, still returned; And I came here at last to search for God. Would I could find him! Oh, what quiet content Would then absorb my heart, yet leave it free!

A knock at the door. Enter Brother ROBERT with a light.

Head in your hands as usual! You will fret Your life out, sitting moping in the dark. Come, it is supper-time.

I will not sup to-night.

Not sup? You'll never live to be a saint.

A saint! The devil has me by the heel.

So has he all saints; as a boy his kite, Which ever struggles higher for his hold. It is a silly devil to gripe so hard;-- He should let go his hold, and then he has you. If you'll not come, I'll leave the light with you. Hark to the chorus! Brother Stephen sings.

Chorus. Always merry, and never drunk.

That's the life of the jolly monk.


They say the first monks were lonely men, Praying each in his lonely den, Rising up to kneel again, Each a skinny male Magdalene, Peeping scared from out his hole Like a burrowing rabbit or a mole; But years ring changes as they roll--

Cho. Now always merry, &c.

When the moon gets up with her big round face, Like Mistress Poll's in the market-place, Down to the village below we pace;-- We know a supper that wants a grace: Past the curtsying women we go, Past the smithy, all a glow, To the snug little houses at top of the row--

Cho. For always merry, &c.

And there we find, among the ale, The fragments of a floating tale: To piece them together we never fail; And we fit them rightly, I'll go bail. And so we have them all in hand, The lads and lasses throughout the land, And we are the masters,--you understand?

Cho. So always merry, &c.

Last night we had such a game of play With the nephews and nieces over the way, All for the gold that belonged to the clay That lies in lead till the judgment-day! The old man's soul they'd leave in the lurch, But we saved her share for old Mamma Church. How they eyed the bag as they stood in the porch!

Oh! always merry, and never drunk. That's the life of the jolly monk!

The song is hardly to your taste, I see! Where shall I set the light?

I do not need it.

Come, come! The dark is a hot-bed for fancies. I wish you were at table, were it only To stop the talking of the men about you. You in the dark are talked of in the light.

Well, brother, let them talk; it hurts not me.

No; but it hurts your friend to hear them say, You would be thought a saint without the trouble; You do no penance that they can discover. You keep shut up, say some, eating your heart, Possessed with a bad conscience, the worst demon. You are a prince, say others, hiding here, Till circumstance that bound you, set you free. To-night, there are some whispers of a lady That would refuse your love.

Ay! What of her?

I heard no more than so; and that you came To seek the next best service you could find: Turned from the lady's door, and knocked at God's.

One part at least is true: I knock at God's; He has not yet been pleased to let me in. As for the lady--that is--so far true, But matters little. Had I less to think, This talking might annoy me; as it is, Why, let the wind set there, if it pleases it; I keep in-doors.

Gloomy as usual, brother!
Brooding on fancy's eggs. God did not send The light that all day long gladdened the earth, Flashed from the snowy peak, and on the spire Transformed the weathercock into a star, That you should gloom within stone walls all day. At dawn to-morrow, take your staff, and come: We will salute the breezes, as they rise And leave their lofty beds, laden with odours Of melting snow, and fresh damp earth, and moss-- Imprisoned spirits, which life-waking Spring Lets forth in vapour through the genial air. Come, we will see the sunrise; watch the light Leap from his chariot on the loftiest peak, And thence descend triumphant, step by step, The stairway of the hills. Free air and action Will soon dispel these vapours of the brain.

My friend, if one should tell a homeless boy, "There is your father's house: go in and rest;" Through every open room the child would pass, Timidly looking for the friendly eye; Fearing to touch, scarce daring even to wonder At what he saw, until he found his sire; But gathered to his bosom, straight he is The heir of all; he knows it 'mid his tears. And so with me: not having seen Him yet, The light rests on me with a heaviness; All beauty wears to me a doubtful look; A voice is in the wind I do not know; A meaning on the face of the high hills Whose utterance I cannot comprehend. A something is behind them: that is God. These are his words, I doubt not, language strange; These are the expressions of his shining thoughts; And he is present, but I find him not. I have not yet been held close to his heart. Once in his inner room, and by his eyes Acknowledged, I shall find my home in these, 'Mid sights familiar as a mother's smiles, And sounds that never lose love's mystery. Then they will comfort me. Lead me to Him.

(pointing to the Crucifix in a recess
). See, there

is God revealed in human form!

Julian (kneeling and crossing). Alas, my friend!--revealed--but as in nature: I see the man; I cannot find the God. I know his voice is in the wind, his presence Is in the Christ. The wind blows where it listeth; And there stands Manhood: and the God is there, Not here, not here!

(Pointing to his bosom.)
[Seeing Robert's bewildered look, and changing his tone--]

  You do not understand me.

Without my need, you cannot know my want. You will all night be puzzling to determine With which of the old heretics to class me. But you are honest; will not rouse the cry Against me. I am honest. For the proof, Such as will satisfy a monk, look here! Is this a smooth belt, brother? And look here! Did one week's scourging seam my side like that? I am ashamed to speak thus, and to show Things rightly hidden; but in my heart I love you, And cannot bear but you should think me true. Let it excuse my foolishness. They talk Of penance! Let them talk when they have tried, And found it has not even unbarred heaven's gate, Let out one stray beam of its living light, Or humbled that proud I that knows not God! You are my friend:--if you should find this cell Empty some morning, do not be afraid That any ill has happened.


  Well, perhaps

'Twere better you should go. I cannot help you, But I can keep your secret. God be with you. [Goes.

Amen.--A good man; but he has not waked, And seen the Sphinx's stony eyes fixed on him. God veils it. He believes in Christ, he thinks; And so he does, as possible for him. How he will wonder when he looks for heaven! He thinks me an enthusiast, because I seek to know God, and to hear his voice Talk to my heart in silence; as of old The Hebrew king, when, still, upon his bed, He lay communing with his heart; and God With strength in his soul did strengthen him, until In his light he saw light. God speaks to men. My soul leans toward him; stretches forth its arms, And waits expectant. Speak to me, my God; And let me know the living Father cares For me, even me; for this one of his children.-- Hast thou no word for me? I am thy thought. God, let thy mighty heart beat into mine, And let mine answer as a pulse to thine. See, I am low; yea, very low; but thou Art high, and thou canst lift me up to thee. I am a child, a fool before thee, God; But thou hast made my weakness as my strength. I am an emptiness for thee to fill; My soul, a cavern for thy sea. I lie Diffused, abandoning myself to thee.... --I will look up, if life should fail in looking. Ah me! A stream cut from my parent-spring! Ah me! A life lost from its father-life!

SCENE II.--The refectory. The monks at table. A buzz of conversation. ROBERT enters, wiping his forehead, as if he had just come in.

(speaking across the table). You see, my friend, it will not stand to logic; Or, if you like it better, stand to reason; For in this doctrine is involved a cause Which for its very being doth depend Upon its own effect. For, don't you see, He tells me to have faith and I shall live! Have faith for what? Why, plainly, that I shall Be saved from hell by him, and ta'en to heaven; What is salvation else? If I believe, Then he will save me! But, so, this his will Has no existence till that I believe; And there is nothing for my faith to rest on, No object for belief. How can I trust In that which is not? Send the salad, Cosmo. Besides, 'twould be a plenary indulgence; To all intents save one, most plenary-- And that the Church's coffer. 'Tis absurd.

'Tis most absurd, as you have clearly shown. And yet I fear some of us have been nibbling At this same heresy. 'Twere well that one Should find it poison. I have no pique at him-- But there's that Julian!--


  Hush! speak lower, friend.

Two Monks farther down the table--in a low tone.

1st Monk.
Where did you find her?

2nd Monk.

  She was taken ill

At the Star-in-the-East. I chanced to pass that way, And so they called me in. I found her dying. But ere she would confess and make her peace, She begged to know if I had ever seen, About this neighbourhood, a tall dark man, Moody and silent, with a little stoop As if his eyes were heavy for his shoulders, And a strange look of mingled youth and age,--

1st Monk.
Julian, by--

2nd Monk.

'St--no names! I had not seen him.

I saw the death-mist gathering in her eyes, And urged her to proceed; and she began; But went not far before delirium came, With endless repetitions, hurryings forward, Recoverings like a hound at fault. The past Was running riot in her conquered brain; And there, with doors thrown wide, a motley group Held carnival; went freely out and in, Meeting and jostling. But withal it seemed As some confused tragedy went on; Till suddenly the light sank, and the pageant Was lost in darkness; the chambers of her brain Lay desolate and silent. I can gather So much, and little more:--This Julian Is one of some distinction; probably rich, And titled Count. He had a love-affair, In good-boy, layman fashion, seemingly.-- Give me the woman; love is troublesome!-- She loved him too, but falsehood came between, And used this woman for her minister; Who never would have peached, but for a witness Hidden behind some curtain in her heart-- An unsuspected witness called Sir Conscience, Who has appeared and blabbed--but must conclude His story to some double-ghostly father, For she is ghostly penitent by this. Our consciences will play us no such tricks; They are the Church's, not our own. We must Keep this small matter secret. If it should Come to his ears, he'll soon bid us good-bye-- A lady's love before ten heavenly crowns! And so the world will have the benefit Of the said wealth of his, if such there be. I have told you, old Godfrey; I tell none else Until our Abbot comes.

1st Monk.

  That is to-morrow.

Another group near the bottom of the table, in which is ROBERT.

1st Monk.
'Tis very clear there's something wrong with him. Have you not marked that look, half scorn, half pity, Which passes like a thought across his face, When he has listened, seeming scarce to listen, A while to our discourse?--he never joins.

2nd Monk.
I know quite well. I stood beside him once, Some of the brethren near; Stephen was talking: He chanced to say the words, Our Holy Faith. "Their faith indeed, poor fools!" fell from his lips, Half-muttered, and half-whispered, as the words Had wandered forth unbidden. I am sure He is an atheist at the least.

3rd Monk (pale-faced and large-eyed).

And I

Fear he is something worse. I had a trance In which the devil tempted me: the shape Was Julian's to the very finger-nails. Non nobis, Domine! I overcame. I am sure of one thing--music tortures him: I saw him once, amid the Gloria Patri, When the whole chapel trembled in the sound, Rise slowly as in ecstasy of pain, And stretch his arms abroad, and clasp his hands, Then slowly, faintingly, sink on his knees.

2nd Monk.
He does not know his rubric; stands when others Are kneeling round him. I have seen him twice With his missal upside down.

4th Monk (plethoric and husky).

  He blew his nose

Quite loud on last Annunciation-day, And choked our Lady's name in the Abbot's throat.

When he returns, we must complain; and beg He'll take such measures as the case requires.

SCENE III.--Julian's cell. An open chest. The lantern on a stool, its candle nearly burnt out. JULIAN _lying on his bed, looking at the light.

And so all growth that is not toward God Is growing to decay. All increase gained Is but an ugly, earthy, fungous growth. 'Tis aspiration as that wick aspires, Towering above the light it overcomes, But ever sinking with the dying flame. O let me live, if but a daisy's life! No toadstool life-in-death, no efflorescence! Wherefore wilt thou not hear me, Lord of me? Have I no claim on thee? True, I have none That springs from me, but much that springs from thee. Hast thou not made me? Liv'st thou not in me? I have done naught for thee, am but a want; But thou who art rich in giving, canst give claims; And this same need of thee which thou hast given, Is a strong claim on thee to give thyself, And makes me bold to rise and come to thee. Through all my sinning thou hast not recalled This witness of thy fatherhood, to plead For thee with me, and for thy child with thee.

Last night, as now, I seemed to speak with him; Or was it but my heart that spoke for him? "Thou mak'st me long," I said, "therefore wilt give; My longing is thy promise, O my God! If, having sinned, I thus have lost the claim, Why doth the longing yet remain with me, And make me bold thus to besiege thy doors?" Methought I heard for answer: "Question on. Hold fast thy need; it is the bond that holds Thy being yet to mine. I give it thee, A hungering and a fainting and a pain, Yet a God-blessing. Thou art not quite dead While this pain lives in thee. I bless thee with it. Better to live in pain than die that death."

So I will live, and nourish this my pain; For oft it giveth birth unto a hope That makes me strong in prayer. He knows it too. Softly I'll walk the earth; for it is his, Not mine to revel in. Content I wait. A still small voice I cannot but believe, Says on within: God will reveal himself.

I must go from this place. I cannot rest. It boots not staying. A desire like thirst Awakes within me, or a new child-heart, To be abroad on the mysterious earth, Out with the moon in all the blowing winds.

'Tis strange that dreams of her should come again. For many months I had not seen her form, Save phantom-like on dim hills of the past, Until I laid me down an hour ago; When twice through the dark chamber full of eyes, The memory passed, reclothed in verity: Once more I now behold it; the inward blaze Of the glad windows half quenched in the moon; The trees that, drooping, murmured to the wind, "Ah! wake me not," which left them to their sleep, All save the poplar: it was full of joy, So that it could not sleep, but trembled on. Sudden as Aphrodite from the sea, She issued radiant from the pearly night. It took me half with fear--the glimmer and gleam Of her white festal garments, haloed round With denser moonbeams. On she came--and there I am bewildered. Something I remember Of thoughts that choked the passages of sound, Hurrying forth without their pilot-words; Of agony, as when a spirit seeks In vain to hold communion with a man; A hand that would and would not stay in mine; A gleaming of white garments far away; And then I know not what. The moon was low, When from the earth I rose; my hair was wet, Dripping with dew--

Enter ROBERT cautiously.

  Why, how now, Robert?

[Rising on his elbow.]
Robert (glancing at the chest). I see; that's well. Are
you nearly ready?

Why? What's the matter?


  You must go this night,

If you would go at all.


  Why must I go?

Robert (turning over the things in the chest).

Here, put

this coat on. Ah! take that thing too. No more such head-gear! Have you not a hat,

[Going to the chest again.]

Or something for your head? There's such a hubbub Got up about you! The Abbot comes to-morrow.

Ah, well! I need not ask. I know it all.

No, you do not. Nor is there time to tell you. Ten minutes more, they will be round to bar The outer doors; and then--good-bye, poor Julian!

[JULIAN has been rapidly changing his clothes.]

Now I am ready, Robert. Thank you, friend. Farewell! God bless you! We shall meet again.

Farewell, dear friend! Keep far away from this.


[JULIAN follows him out of the cell, steps along a narrow passage to a door, which he opens slowly. He goes out, and closes the door behind him.]

SCENE IV.--Night. The court of a country-inn. The Abbot, while his horse is brought out.

Now for a shrine to house this rich Madonna, Within the holiest of the holy place! I'll have it made in fashion as a stable, With porphyry pillars to a marble stall; And odorous woods, shaved fine like shaken hay, Shall fill the silver manger for a bed, Whereon shall lie the ivory Infant carved By shepherd hands on plains of Bethlehem. And over him shall bend the Mother mild, In silken white and coroneted gems. Glorious! But wherewithal I see not now-- The Mammon of unrighteousness is scant; Nor know I any nests of money-bees That could yield half-contentment to my need. Yet will I trust and hope; for never yet In journeying through this vale of tears have I Projected pomp that did not blaze anon.

SCENE V.--After midnight. JULIAN seated under a tree by the roadside.

So lies my journey--on into the dark! Without my will I find myself alive, And must go forward. Is it God that draws Magnetic all the souls unto their home, Travelling, they know not how, but unto God? It matters little what may come to me Of outward circumstance, as hunger, thirst, Social condition, yea, or love or hate; But what shall I be, fifty summers hence? My life, my being, all that meaneth me, Goes darkling forward into something--what? O God, thou knowest. It is not my care. If thou wert less than truth, or less than love, It were a fearful thing to be and grow We know not what. My God, take care of me; Pardon and swathe me in an infinite love, Pervading and inspiring me, thy child. And let thy own design in me work on, Unfolding the ideal man in me; Which being greater far than I have grown, I cannot comprehend. I am thine, not mine. One day, completed unto thine intent, I shall be able to discourse with thee; For thy Idea, gifted with a self, Must be of one with the mind where it sprang, And fit to talk with thee about thy thoughts. Lead me, O Father, holding by thy hand; I ask not whither, for it must be on.

This road will lead me to the hills, I think; And there I am in safety and at home.

SCENE VI.--The Abbot's room. The Abbot and one of the Monks.

Did she say Julian? Did she say the name?

She did.


What did she call the lady? What?

I could not hear.


Nor where she lived?


Nor that.

She was too wild for leading where I would.

So! Send Julian. One thing I need not ask: You have kept this matter secret?


  Yes, my lord.

Well, go and send him hither.

[Monk goes.]

  Said I well,

That prayer would burgeon into pomp for me? That God would hear his own elect who cried? Now for a shrine, so glowing in the means That it shall draw the eyes by power of light! So tender in conceit, that it shall draw The heart by very strength of delicateness, And move proud thought to worship!

I must act

With caution now; must win his confidence; Question him of the secret enemies That fight against his soul; and lead him thus To tell me, by degrees, his history. So shall I find the truth, and lay foundation For future acts, as circumstance requires. For if the tale be true that he is rich, And if----

Re-enter _Monk _in haste and terror.

He's gone, my lord! His cell is empty.

Abbot (starting up).

What! You are crazy! Gone?

His cell is empty?

'Tis true as death, my lord. Witness, these eyes!

Heaven and hell! It shall not be, I swear! There is a plot in this! You, sir, have lied! Some one is in his confidence!--who is it? Go rouse the convent.

[Monk goes.]

  He must be followed, found.

Hunt's up, friend Julian! First your heels, old stag! But by and by your horns, and then your side! 'Tis venison much too good for the world's eating. I'll go and sift this business to the bran. Robert and him I have sometimes seen together!--God's curse! it shall fare ill with any man That has connived at this, if I detect him.

SCENE VII.--Afternoon. The mountains. JULIAN.

Once more I tread thy courts, O God of heaven! I lay my hand upon a rock, whose peak Is miles away, and high amid the clouds. Perchance I touch the mountain whose blue summit, With the fantastic rock upon its side, Stops the eye's flight from that high chamber-window Where, when a boy, I used to sit and gaze With wondering awe upon the mighty thing, Terribly calm, alone, self-satisfied, The hitherto of my child-thoughts. Beyond, A sea might roar around its base. Beyond, Might be the depths of the unfathomed space, This the earth's bulwark over the abyss. Upon its very point I have watched a star For a few moments crown it with a fire, As of an incense-offering that blazed Upon this mighty altar high uplift, And then float up the pathless waste of heaven. From the next window I could look abroad Over a plain unrolled, which God had painted With trees, and meadow-grass, and a large river, Where boats went to and fro like water-flies, In white and green; but still I turned to look At that one mount, aspiring o'er its fellows: All here I saw--I knew not what was there. O love of knowledge and of mystery, Striving together in the heart of man! "Tell me, and let me know; explain the thing."-- Then when the courier-thoughts have circled round: "Alas! I know it all; its charm is gone!" But I must hasten; else the sun will set Before I reach the smoother valley-road. I wonder if my old nurse lives; or has Eyes left to know me with. Surely, I think, Four years of wandering since I left my home, In sunshine and in snow, in ship and cell, Must have worn changes in this face of mine Sufficient to conceal me, if I will.

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