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The Poetical Works of George MacDonald (Parables)

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Can this dull sighing in my breast

  So faint and undefined, Be the worn edge of far unrest

  Borne on the spirit's wind?

The uproar of high battle fought

  Betwixt the bond and free, The thunderous roll of armed thought

  Dwarfed to an ache in me?


To G. E. M.

  'Tis a little room, my friend-- Baby walks from end to end; All the things look sadly real This hot noontide unideal;
Vaporous heat from cope to basement All you see outside the casement, Save one house all mud-becrusted, And a street all drought-bedusted! There behold its happiest vision, Trickling water-cart's derision! Shut we out the staring space, Draw the curtains in its face!

  Close the eyelids of the room, Fill it with a scarlet gloom: Lo, the walls with warm flush dyed! Lo, the ceiling glorified,
As when, lost in tenderest pinks, White rose on the red rose thinks! But beneath, a hue right rosy, Red as a geranium-posy,
Stains the air with power estranging, Known with unknown clouding, changing. See in ruddy atmosphere
Commonplaceness disappear!
Look around on either hand-- Are we not in fairyland?

  On that couch, inwrapt in mist Of vaporized amethyst,
Lie, as in a rose's heart:
Secret things I would impart; Any time you would believe them-- Easier, though, you will receive them Bathed in glowing mystery
Of the red light shadowy;
For this ruby-hearted hue,
Sanguine core of all the true, Which for love the heart would plunder Is the very hue of wonder;
This dissolving dreamy red
Is the self-same radiance shed From the heart of poet young, Glowing poppy sunlight-stung: If in light you make a schism 'Tis the deepest in the prism.

  This poor-seeming room, in fact Is of marvels all compact,
So disguised by common daylight By its disenchanting gray light, Only eyes that see by shining, Inside pierce to its live lining. Loftiest observatory
Ne'er unveiled such hidden glory; Never sage's furnace-kitchen Magic wonders was so rich in; Never book of wizard old
Clasped such in its iron hold.

  See that case against the wall, Darkly-dull-purpureal!--
A piano to the prosy,
But to us in twilight rosy-- What?--A cave where Nereids lie, Naiads, Dryads, Oreads sigh, Dreaming of the time when they Danced in forest and in bay. In that chest before your eyes Nature self-enchanted lies;-- Lofty days of summer splendour; Low dim eves of opal tender; Airy hunts of cloud and wind; Brooding storm--below, behind; Awful hills and midnight woods; Sunny rains in solitudes;
Babbling streams in forests hoar; Seven-hued icebergs; oceans frore.-- Yes; did I not say enchanted, That is, hid away till wanted? Do you hear a low-voiced singing? 'Tis the sorceress's, flinging Spells around her baby's riot, Binding her in moveless quiet:-- She at will can disenchant them, And to prayer believing grant them.

  You believe me: soon will night Free her hands for fair delight; Then invoke her--she will come. Fold your arms, be blind and dumb. She will bring a book of spells Writ like crabbed oracles;
Like Sabrina's will her hands Thaw the power of charmed bands. First will ransomed music rush Round thee in a glorious gush; Next, upon its waves will sally, Like a stream-god down a valley, Nature's self, the formless former, Nature's self, the peaceful stormer; She will enter, captive take thee, And both one and many make thee, One by softest power to still thee, Many by the thoughts that fill thee.-- Let me guess three guesses where She her prisoner will bear!

  On a mountain-top you stand Gazing o'er a sunny land;
Shining streams, like silver veins, Rise in dells and meet in plains; Up yon brook a hollow lies
Dumb as love that fears surprise; Moorland tracts of broken ground O'er it rise and close it round: He who climbs from bosky dale Hears the foggy breezes wail. Yes, thou know'st the nest of love, Know'st the waste around, above! In thy soul or in thy past, Straight it melts into the vast, Quickly vanishes away
In a gloom of darkening gray.

  Sinks the sadness into rest, Ripple like on water's breast: Mother's bosom rests the daughter-- Grief the ripple, love the water; And thy brain like wind-harp lies Breathed upon from distant skies, Till, soft-gathering, visions new Grow like vapours in the blue: White forms, flushing hyacinthine, Move in motions labyrinthine; With an airy wishful gait
On the counter-motion wait; Sweet restraint and action free Show the law of liberty;
Master of the revel still
The obedient, perfect will; Hating smallest thing awry, Breathing, breeding harmony; While the god-like graceful feet, For such mazy marvelling meet, Press from air a shining sound, Rippling after, lingering round: Hair afloat and arms aloft
Fill the chord of movement soft.

  Gone the measure polyhedral! Towers aloft a fair cathedral! Every arch--like praying arms Upward flung in love's alarms, Knit by clasped hands o'erhead-- Heaves to heaven a weight of dread; In thee, like an angel-crowd, Grows the music, praying loud, Swells thy spirit with devotion As a strong wind swells the ocean, Sweeps the visioned pile away, Leaves thy heart alone to pray.

  As the prayer grows dim and dies Like a sunset from the skies, Glides another change of mood O'er thy inner solitude:
Girt with Music's magic zone, Lo, thyself magician grown! Open-eyed thou walk'st through earth Brooding on the aeonian birth Of a thousand wonder-things In divine dusk of their springs: Half thou seest whence they flow, Half thou seest whither go-- Nature's consciousness, whereby On herself she turns her eye, Hoping for all men and thee Perfected, pure harmony.

  But when, sinking slow, the sun Leaves the glowing curtain dun, I, of prophet-insight reft, Shall be dull and dreamless left; I must hasten proof on proof, Weaving in the warp my woof!

  What are those upon the wall, Ranged in rows symmetrical? Through the wall of things external Posterns they to the supernal; Through Earth's battlemented height Loopholes to the Infinite;
Through locked gates of place and time, Wickets to the eternal prime Lying round the noisy day
Full of silences alway.

  That, my friend? Now, it is curious You should hit upon the spurious! 'Tis a door to nowhere, that; Never soul went in thereat; Lies behind, a limy wall
Hung with cobwebs, that is all.

  Do not open that one yet, Wait until the sun is set.
If you careless lift its latch Glimpse of nothing will you catch; Mere negation, blank of hue, Out of it will stare at you; Wait, I say, the coming night, Fittest time for second sight, Then the wide eyes of the mind See far down the Spirit's wind. You may have to strain and pull, Force and lift with cunning tool, Ere the rugged, ill-joined door Yield the sight it stands before: When at last, with grating sweep, Wide it swings--behold, the deep!

  Thou art standing on the verge Where material things emerge; Hoary silence, lightning fleet, Shooteth hellward at thy feet! Fear not thou whose life is truth, Gazing will renew thy youth; But where sin of soul or flesh Held a man in spider-mesh,
It would drag him through that door, Give him up to loreless lore, Ages to be blown and hurled Up and down a deedless world.

  Ah, your eyes ask how I brook Doors that are not, doors to look! That is whither I was tending, And it brings me to good ending.

  Baby is the cause of this; Odd it seems, but so it is;-- Baby, with her pretty prate Molten, half articulate,
Full of hints, suggestions, catches, Broken verse, and music snatches! She, like seraph gone astray, Must be shown the homeward way; Plant of heaven, she, rooted lowly, Must put forth a blossom holy, Must, through culture high and steady, Slow unfold a gracious lady; She must therefore live in wonder, See nought common up or under; She the moon and stars and sea, Worm and butterfly and bee, Yea, the sparkle in a stone, Must with marvel look upon; She must love, in heaven's own blueness, Both the colour and the newness; Must each day from darkness break, Often often come awake,
Never with her childhood part, Change the brain, but keep the heart.

  So, from lips and hands and looks, She must learn to honour books, Turn the leaves with careful fingers, Never lean where long she lingers; But when she is old enough
She must learn the lesson rough That to seem is not to be,
As to know is not to see;
That to man or book, appearing Gives no title to revering; That a pump is not a well,
Nor a priest an oracle:
This to leave safe in her mind, I will take her and go find Certain no-books, dreary apes, Tell her they are mere mock-shapes No more to be honoured by her But be laid upon the fire;
Book-appearance must not hinder Their consuming to a cinder.

  Would you see the small immortal One short pace within Time's portal? I will fetch her.--Is she white? Solemn? true? a light in light? See! is not her lily-skin
White as whitest ermelin
Washed in palest thinnest rose? Very thought of God she goes, Ne'er to wander, in her dance, Out of his love-radiance!

  But, my friend, I've rattled plenty To suffice for mornings twenty! I should never stop of course, Therefore stop I will perforce.-- If I led them up, choragic, To reveal their nature magic, Twenty things, past contradiction, Yet would prove I spoke no fiction Of the room's belongings cryptic Read by light apocalyptic:
There is that strange thing, glass-masked, With continual questions tasked, Ticking with untiring rock: It is called an eight-day clock, But to me the thing appears Busy winding up the years,
Drawing on with coiling chain The epiphany again.


'Tis the midnight hour; I heard The Abbey-bell give out the word. Seldom is the lamp-ray shed On some dwarfed foot-farer's head In the deep and narrow street Lying ditch-like at my feet Where I stand at lattice high Downward gazing listlessly
From my house upon the rock, Peak of earth's foundation-block.

  There her windows, every story, Shine with far-off nebulous glory! Round her in that luminous cloud Stars obedient press and crowd, She the centre of all gazing, She the sun her planets dazing! In her eyes' victorious lightning Some are paling, some are brightening: Those on which they gracious turn, Stars combust, all tenfold burn; Those from which they look away Listless roam in twilight gray! When on her my looks I bent Wonder shook me like a tent, And my eyes grew dim with sheen, Wasting light upon its queen! But though she my eyes might chain, Rule my ebbing flowing brain, Truth alone, without, within, Can the soul's high homage win!

  He, I do not doubt, is there Who unveiled my idol fair!
And I thank him, grateful much, Though his end was none of such. He from shapely lips of wit Let the fire-flakes lightly flit, Scorching as the snow that fell On the damned in Dante's hell; With keen, gentle opposition, Playful, merciless precision, Mocked the sweet romance of youth Balancing on spheric truth; He on sense's firm set plane Rolled the unstable ball amain: With a smile she looked at me, Stung my soul, and set me free.

  Welcome, friend! Bring in your bricks. Mortar there? No need to mix? That is well. And picks and hammers? Verily these are no shammers!-- There, my friend, build up that niche, That one with the painting rich!

  Yes, you're right; it is a show Picture seldom can bestow;
City palaces and towers,
Terraced gardens, twilight bowers, Vistas deep through swaying masts, Pennons flaunting in the blasts: Build; my room it does not fit; Brick-glaze is the thing for it!

  Yes, a window you may call it; Not the less up you must wall it: In that niche the dead world lies; Bury death, and free mine eyes.

  There were youths who held by me, Said I taught, yet left them free: Will they do as I said then? God forbid! As ye are men,
Find the secret--follow and find! All forget that lies behind; Me, the schools, yourselves, forsake; In your souls a silence make; Hearken till a whisper come, Listen, follow, and be dumb.

  There! 'tis over; I am dead! Of my life the broken thread Here I cast out of my hand!-- O my soul, the merry land!
On my heart the sinking vault Of my ruining past makes halt; Ages I could sit and moan
For the shining world that's gone!

  Haste and pierce the other wall; Break an opening to the All! Where? No matter; done is best. Kind of window? Let that rest: Who at morning ever lies
Pondering how to ope his eyes!

I bethink me: we must fall

On the thinnest of the wall! There it must be, in that niche!-- No, the deepest--that in which Stands the Crucifix.

  You start?--

Ah, your half-believing heart Shrinks from that as sacrilege, Or, at least, upon its edge! Worse than sacrilege, I say, Is it to withhold the day
From the brother whom thou knowest For the God thou never sawest!

  Reverently, O marble cold, Thee in living arms I fold! Thou who art thyself the way From the darkness to the day, Window, thou, to every land, Wouldst not one dread moment stand Shutting out the air and sky And the dayspring from on high! Brother with the rugged crown, Gently thus I lift thee down!

  Give me pick and hammer; you Stand aside; the deed I'll do. Yes, in truth, I have small skill, But the best thing is the will.

  Stroke on stroke! The frescoed plaster Clashes downward, fast and faster. Hark, I hear an outer stone Down the rough rock rumbling thrown! There's a cranny! there's a crack! The great sun is at its back! Lo, a mass is outward flung! In the universe hath sprung!

  See the gold upon the blue! See the sun come blinding through! See the far-off mountain shine In the dazzling light divine! Prisoned world, thy captive's gone! Welcome wind, and sky, and sun!


A recollection and attempted completion of a prose fragment read in boyhood.

  "Hear'st thou that sound upon the window pane?" Said the youth softly, as outstretched he lay Where for an hour outstretched he had lain-- Softly, yet with some token of dismay. Answered the maiden: "It is but the rain That has been gathering in the west all day! Why shouldst thou hearken so? Thine eyelids close, And let me gather peace from thy repose."

  "Hear'st thou that moan creeping along the ground?" Said the youth, and his veiling eyelids rose From deeps of lightning-haunted dark profound Ruffled with herald blasts of coming woes. "I hear it," said the maiden; "'tis the sound Of a great wind that here not seldom blows; It swings the huge arms of the dreary pine, But thou art safe, my darling, clasped in mine."

  "Hear'st thou the baying of my hounds?" said he; "Draw back the lattice bar and let them in." From a rent cloud the moonlight, ghostily, Slid clearer to the floor, as, gauntly thin, She opening, they leaped through with bound so free, Then shook the rain-drops from their shaggy skin. The maiden closed the shower-bespattered glass, Whose spotted shadow through the room did pass.

  The youth, half-raised, was leaning on his hand, But, when again beside him sat the maid, His eyes for one slow minute having scanned Her moonlit face, he laid him down, and said, Monotonous, like solemn-read command: "For Love is of the earth, earthy, and is laid Lifeless at length back in the mother-tomb." Strange moanings from the pine entered the room.

  And then two shadows like the shadow of glass, Over the moonbeams on the cottage floor, As wind almost as thin and shapeless, pass; A sound of rain-drops came about the door, And a soft sighing as of plumy grass; A look of sorrowing doubt the youth's face wore; The two great hounds half rose; with aspect grim They eyed his countenance by the taper dim.

  Shadow nor moaning sound the maiden noted, But on his face dwelt her reproachful look; She doubted whether he the saying had quoted Out of some evil, earth-begotten book, Or up from his deep heart, like bubbles, had floated Words which no maiden ever yet could brook; But his eyes held the question, "Yea or No?" Therefore the maiden answered, "Nay, not so;

  "Love is of heaven, eternal." Half a smile Just twinned his lips: shy, like all human best, A hopeful thought bloomed out, and lived a while; He looked one moment like a dead man blest-- His soul a bark that in a sunny isle At length had found the haven of its rest; But he could not remain, must forward fare: He spoke, and said with words abrupt and bare,

  "Maiden, I have loved other maidens." Pale Her red lips grew. "I loved them, yes, but they Successively in trial's hour did fail, For after sunset clouds again are gray." A sudden light shone through the fringy veil That drooping hid her eyes; and then there lay A stillness on her face, waiting; and then The little clock rung out the hour of ten.

  Moaning once more the great pine-branches bow To a soft plaining wind they would not stem. Brooding upon her face, the youth said, "Thou Art not more beautiful than some of them, But a fair courage crowns thy peaceful brow, Nor glow thine eyes, but shine serene like gem That lamps from radiant store upon the dark The light it gathered where its song the lark.

  "The horse that broke this day from grasp of three, Thou sawest then the hand thou holdest, hold: Ere two fleet hours are gone, that hand will be Dry, big-veined, wrinkled, withered up and old!-- No woman yet hath shared my doom with me." With calm fixed eyes she heard till he had told; The stag-hounds rose, a moment gazed at him, Then laid them down with aspect yet more grim.

  Spake on the youth, nor altered look or tone: "'Tis thy turn, maiden, to say no or dare."-- Was it the maiden's, that importunate moan?-- "At midnight, when the moon sets, wilt thou share The terror with me? or must I go alone To meet an agony that will not spare?" She answered not, but rose to take her cloak; He staid her with his hand, and further spoke.

  "Not yet," he said; "yet there is respite; see, Time's finger points not yet to the dead hour! Enough is left even now for telling thee The far beginnings whence the fearful power Of the great dark came shadowing down on me: Red roses crowding clothe my love's dear bower-- Nightshade and hemlock, darnel, toadstools white Compass the place where I must lie to-night!"

  Around his neck the maiden put her arm And knelt beside him leaning on his breast, As o'er his love, to keep it strong and warm, Brooding like bird outspread upon her nest. And well the faith of her dear eyes might charm All doubt away from love's primeval rest! He hid his face upon her heart, and there Spake on with voice like wind from lonely lair.

  A drearier moaning through the pine did go As if a human voice complained and cried For one long minute; then the sound grew low, Sank to a sigh, and sighing sank and died. Together at the silence two voices mow-- His, and the clock's, which, loud grown, did divide The hours into live moments--sparks of time Scorching the soul that trembles for the chime.

  He spoke of sins ancestral, born in him Impulses; of resistance fierce and wild; Of failure weak, and strength reviving dim; Self-hatred, dreariness no love beguiled; Of storm, and blasting light, and darkness grim; Of torrent paths, and tombs with mountains piled; Of gulfs in the unsunned bosom of the earth; Of dying ever into dawning birth.

  "But when I find a heart whose blood is wine; Whose faith lights up the cold brain's passionless hour; Whose love, like unborn rose-bud, will not pine, But waits the sun and the baptizing shower-- Till then lies hid, and gathers odours fine To greet the human summer, when its flower Shall blossom in the heart and soul and brain, And love and passion be one holy twain--

  "Then shall I rest, rest like the seven of yore; Slumber divine will steep my outworn soul And every stain dissolve to the very core. She too will slumber, having found her goal. Time's ocean o'er us will, in silence frore, Aeonian tides of change-filled seasons roll, And our long, dark, appointed period fill. Then shall we wake together, loving still."

  Her face on his, her mouth to his mouth pressed, Was all the answer of the trusting maid. Close in his arms he held her to his breast For one brief moment--would have yet assayed Some deeper word her heart to strengthen, lest It should though faithful be too much afraid; But the clock gave the warning to the hour-- And on the thatch fell sounds not of a shower.

  One long kiss, and the maiden rose. A fear Lay, thin as a glassy shadow, on her heart; She trembled as some unknown thing were near, But smiled next moment--for they should not part! The youth arose. With solemn-joyous cheer, He helped the maid, whose trembling hands did thwart Her haste to wrap her in her mantle's fold; Then out they passed into the midnight cold.

  The moon was sinking in the dim green west, Curled upward, half-way to the horizon's brink, A leaf of glory falling to its rest, The maiden's hand, still trembling, sought to link Her arm to his, with love's instinctive quest, But his enfolded her; hers did not sink, But, thus set free, it stole his body round, And so they walked, in freedom's fetters bound.

  Pressed to his side, she felt, like full-toned bell, A mighty heart heave large in measured play; But as the floating moon aye lower fell Its bounding force did, by slow loss, decay. It throbbed now like a bird; now like far knell Pulsed low and faint! And now, with sick dismay, She felt the arm relax that round her clung, And from her circling arm he forward hung.

  His footsteps feeble, short his paces grow; Her strength and courage mount and swell amain. He lifted up his head: the moon lay low, Nigh the world's edge. His lips with some keen pain Quivered, but with a smile his eyes turned slow Seeking in hers the balsam for his bane And finding it--love over death supreme: Like two sad souls they walked met in one dream.[A]

[Note A:

In a lovely garden walking

  Two lovers went hand in hand; Two wan, worn figures, talking

  They sat in the flowery land.

On the cheek they kissed one another,

  On the mouth with sweet refrain; Fast held they each the other,

  And were young and well again.

Two little bells rang shrilly--

  The dream went with the hour: She lay in the cloister stilly,

  He far in the dungeon-tower!

  From Uhland.]

  Hanging his head, behind each came a hound, Padding with gentle paws upon the road. Straight silent pines rose here and there around; A dull stream on the left side hardly flowed; A black snake through the sluggish waters wound. Hark, the night raven! see the crawling toad! She thinks how dark will be the moonless night, How feeblest ray is yet supernal light.

  The moon's last gleam fell on dim glazed eyes, A body shrunken from its garments' fold: An aged man whose bent knees could not rise, He tottered in the maiden's tightening hold. She shivered, but too slight was the disguise To hide from love what never yet was old; She held him fast, with open eyes did pray, Walked through the fear, and kept the onward way.

  Toward a gloomy thicket of tall firs, Dragging his inch-long steps, he turned aside. There Silence sleeps; not one green needle stirs. They enter it. A breeze begins to chide Among the cones. It swells until it whirs, Vibrating so each sharp leaf that it sighed: The grove became a harp of mighty chords, Wing-smote by unseen creatures wild for words.

  But when he turned again, toward the cleft Of a great rock, as instantly it ceased, And the tall pines stood sudden, as if reft Of a strong passion, or from pain released; Again they wove their straight, dark, motionless weft Across the moonset-bars; and, west and east, Cloud-giants rose and marched up cloudy stairs; And like sad thoughts the bats came unawares.

  'Twas a drear chamber for thy bridal night, O poor, pale, saviour bride! An earthen lamp With shaking hands he kindled, whose faint light Mooned out a tiny halo on the damp That filled the cavern to its unseen height, Dim glimmering like death-candle in a swamp. Watching the entrance, each side lies a hound, With liquid light his red eyes gleaming round.

  A heap rose grave-like from the rocky floor Of moss and leaves, by many a sunny wind Long tossed and dried--with rich furs covered o'er Expectant. Up a jealous glory shined In her possessing heart: he should find more In her than in those faithless! With sweet mind She, praying gently, did herself unclothe, And lay down by him, trusting, and not loath.

  Once more a wind came, flapping overhead; The hounds pricked up their ears, their eyes flashed fire. The trembling maiden heard a sudden tread-- Dull, yet plain dinted on the windy gyre, As if long, wet feet o'er smooth pavement sped-- Come fiercely up, as driven by longing dire To enter; followed sounds of hurried rout: With bristling hair, the hounds stood looking out.

  Then came, half querulous, a whisper old, Feeble and hollow as if shut in a chest: "Take my face on your bosom; I am cold." She bared her holy bosom's truth-white nest, And forth her two hands instant went, love-bold, And took the face, and close against her pressed: Ah, the dead chill!--Was that the feet again?-- But her great heart kept beating for the twain.

  She heard the wind fall, heard the following rain Swelling the silent waters till their sound Went wallowing through the night along the plain. The lamp went out, by the slow darkness drowned. Must the fair dawn a thousand years refrain? Like centuries the feeble hours went round. Eternal night entombed her with decay: To her live soul she clasped the breathless clay.

  The world stood still. Her life sank down so low That but for wretchedness no life she knew. A charnel wind moaned out a moaning--No; From the devouring heart of earth it blew. Fair memories lost all their sunny glow: Out of the dark the forms of old friends grew But so transparent blanched with dole and smart She saw the pale worm lying in each heart.

  And, worst of all--Oh death of keep-fled life! A voice within her woke and cried: In sooth Vain is all sorrow, hope, and care, and strife! Love and its beauty, its tenderness and truth Are shadows bred in hearts too fancy-rife, Which melt and pass with sure-decaying youth: Regard them, and they quiver, waver, blot; Gaze at them fixedly, and they are not.

  And all the answer the poor child could make Was in the tightened clasp of arms and hands. Hopeless she lay, like one Death would not take But still kept driving from his empty lands, Yet hopeless held she out for his dear sake; The darksome horror grew like drifting sands Till nought was precious--neither God nor light, And yet she braved the false, denying night.

  So dead was hope, that, when a glimmer weak Stole through a fissure somewhere in the cave, Thinning the clotted darkness on his cheek, She thought her own tired eyes the glimmer gave: He moved his head; she saw his eyes, love-meek, And knew that Death was dead and filled the Grave. Old age, convicted lie, had fled away! Youth, Youth eternal, in her bosom lay!

  With a low cry closer to him she crept And on his bosom hid a face that glowed: It was his turn to comfort--he had slept! Oh earth and sky, oh ever patient God, She had not yielded, but the truth had kept! New love, new bliss in weeping overflowed. I can no farther tell the tale begun; They are asleep, and waiting for the sun.


  Look! look there! Send your eyes across the gray By my finger-point away
Through the vaporous, fumy air. Beyond the air, you see the dark? Beyond the dark, the dawning day? On its horizon, pray you, mark Something like a ruined heap Of worlds half-uncreated, that go back: Down all the grades through which they rose Up to harmonious life and law's repose, Back, slow, to the awful deep Of nothingness, mere being's lack: On its surface, lone and bare, Shapeless as a dumb despair, Formless, nameless, something lies: Can the vision in your eyes Its idea recognize?

  'Tis a poor lost soul, alack!-- Half he lived some ages back; But, with hardly opened eyes, Thinking him already wise,
Down he sat and wrote a book; Drew his life into a nook;
Out of it would not arise
To peruse the letters dim,
Graven dark on his own walls; Those, he judged, were chance-led scrawls, Or at best no use to him.
A lamp was there for reading these; This he trimmed, sitting at ease, For its aid to write his book, Never at his walls to look-- Trimmed and trimmed to one faint spark Which went out, and left him dark.-- I will try if he can hear
Spirit words with spirit ear!

  Motionless thing! who once, Like him who cries to thee, Hadst thy place with thy shining peers, Thy changeful place in the changeless dance Issuing ever in radiance
From the doors of the far eternity, With feet that glitter and glide and glance To the music-law that binds the free, And sets the captive at liberty-- To the clang of the crystal spheres! O heart for love! O thirst to drink From the wells that feed the sea! O hands of truth, a human link 'Twixt mine and the Father's knee! O eyes to see! O soul to think! O life, the brother of me!
Has Infinitude sucked back all The individual life it gave? Boots it nothing to cry and call? Is thy form an empty grave?

  It heareth not, brothers, the terrible thing! Sounds no sense to its ear will bring! Let us away, 'tis no use to tarry; Love no light to its heart will carry! Sting it with words, it will never shrink; It will not repent, it cannot think! Hath God forgotten it, alas! Lost in eternity's lumber-room? Will the wind of his breathing never pass Over it through the insensate gloom? Like a frost-killed bud on a tombstone curled, Crumbling it lies on its crumbling world, Sightless and deaf, with never a cry, In the hell of its own vacuity!

  See, see yon angel crossing our flight Where the thunder vapours loom, From his upcast pinions flashing the light Of some outbreaking doom!
Up, brothers! away! a storm is nigh! Smite we the wing up a steeper sky! What matters the hail or the clashing winds, The thunder that buffets, the lightning that blinds! We know by the tempest we do not lie Dead in the pits of eternity!


What shall I be?--I will be a knight

  Walled up in armour black, With a sword of sharpness, a hammer of might.

  And a spear that will not crack-- So black, so blank, no glimmer of light

  Will betray my darkling track.

Saddle my coal-black steed, my men,

  Fittest for sunless work; Old Night is steaming from her den,

  And her children gather and lurk; Bad things are creeping from the fen,

  And sliding down the murk.

Let him go!--let him go! Let him plunge!--Keep away!

  He's a foal of the third seal's brood! Gaunt with armour, in grim array

  Of poitrel and frontlet-hood, Let him go, a living castle, away--

  Right for the evil wood.

I and Ravenwing on the course,

  Heavy in fighting gear-- Woe to the thing that checks our force,

  That meets us in career! Giant, enchanter, devil, or worse--

  What cares the couched spear!

Slow through the trees zigzag I ride.

  See! the goblins!--to and fro! From the skull of the dark, on either side,

  See the eyes of a dragon glow! From the thickets the silent serpents glide--

  I pass them, I let them go;

For somewhere in the evil night

  A little one cries alone; An aged knight, outnumbered in fight,

  But for me will be stricken prone; A lady with terror is staring white,

  For her champion is overthrown.

The child in my arms, to my hauberk prest,

  Like a trembling bird will cling; I will cover him over, in iron nest,

  With my shield, my one steel wing, And bear him home to his mother's breast,

  A radiant, rescued thing.

Spur in flank, and lance in rest,

  On the old knight's foes I flash; The caitiffs I scatter to east and west

  With clang and hurtle and crash; Leave them the law, as knaves learn it best,

  In bruise, and breach, and gash.

The lady I lift on my panting steed;

  On the pommel she holds my mace; Hand on bridle I gently lead

  The horse at a gentle pace; The thickets with martel-axe I heed,

  For the wood is an evil place.

What treasure is there in manly might

  That hid in the bosom lies! Who for the crying will not fight

  Had better be he that cries! A man is a knight that loves the right

  And mounts for it till he dies.

Alas, 'tis a dream of ages hoar!

  In the fens no dragons won; No giants from moated castles roar;

  Through the forest wide roadways run; Of all the deeds they did of yore

  Not one is left to be done!

If I should saddle old Ravenwing

  And hie me out at night, Scared little birds away would spring

  An ill-shot arrow's flight: The idle fancy away I fling,

  Now I will dream aright!

Let a youth bridle Twilight, my dapple-gray,

  With broad rein and snaffle bit; He must bring him round at break of day

  When the shadows begin to flit, When the darkness begins to dream away,

  And the owls begin to sit.

Ungraithed in plate or mail I go,

  With only my sword--gray-blue Like the scythe of the dawning come to mow

  The night-sprung shadows anew From the gates of the east, that, fair and slow,

  Maid Morning may walk through.

I seek no forest with darkness grim,

  To the open land I ride; Low light, from the broad horizon's brim,

  Lies wet on the flowing tide, And mottles with shadows dun and dim

  The mountain's rugged side.

Steadily, hasteless, o'er valley and hill.

  O'er the moor, along the beach, We ride, nor slacken our pace until

  Some city of men we reach; There, in the market, my horse stands still,

  And I lift my voice and preach.

Wealth and poverty, age and youth

  Around me gather and throng; I tell them of justice, of wisdom, of truth,

  Of mercy, and law, and wrong; My words are moulded by right and ruth

  To a solemn-chanted song.

They bring me questions which would be scanned,

  That strife may be forgot; Swerves my balance to neither hand,

  The poor I favour no jot; If a man withstand, out sweeps my brand.

  I slay him upon the spot.

But what if my eye have in it a beam

  And therefore spy his mote? Righteousness only, wisdom supreme

  Can tell the sheep from the goat! Not thus I dream a wise man's dream,

  Not thus take Wrong by the throat!

Lead Twilight home. I dare not kill;

  The sword myself would scare.-- When the sun looks over the eastern hill,

  Bring out my snow-white mare: One labour is left which no one will

  Deny me the right to share!

Take heed, my men, from crest to heel

  Snow-white have no speck; No curb, no bit her mouth must feel,

  No tightening rein her neck; No saddle-girth drawn with buckle of steel

  Shall her mighty breathing check!

Lay on her a cloth of silver sheen,

  Bring me a robe of white; Wherever we go we must be seen

  By the shining of our light-- A glistening splendour in forest green,

  A star on the mountain-height.

With jar and shudder the gates unclose;

  Out in the sun she leaps! A unit of light and power she goes

  Levelling vales and steeps: The wind around her eddies and blows,

  Before and behind her sleeps.

Oh joy, oh joy to ride the world

  And glad, good tidings bear! A flag of peace on the winds unfurled

  Is the mane of my shining mare: To the sound of her hoofs, lo, the dead stars hurled

  Quivering adown the air!

Oh, the sun and the wind! Oh, the life and the love!

  Where the serpent swung all day The loud dove coos to the silent dove;

  Where the web-winged dragon lay In its hole beneath, on the rock above

  Merry-tongued children play.

With eyes of light the maidens look up

  As they sit in the summer heat Twining green blade with golden cup--

  They see, and they rise to their feet; I call aloud, for I must not stop,

  "Good tidings, my sisters sweet!"

For mine is a message of holy mirth

  To city and land of corn; Of praise for heaviness, plenty for dearth,

  For darkness a shining morn: Clap hands, ye billows; be glad, O earth,

  For a child, a child is born!

Lo, even the just shall live by faith!

  None argue of mine and thine! Old Self shall die an ecstatic death

  And be born a thing divine, For God's own being and God's own breath

  Shall be its bread and wine.

Ambition shall vanish, and Love be king,

  And Pride to his darkness hie; Yea, for very love of a living thing

  A man would forget and die, If very love were not the spring

  Whence life springs endlessly!

The myrtle shall grow where grew the thorn;

  Earth shall be young as heaven; The heart with remorse or anger torn

  Shall weep like a summer even; For to us a child, a child is born,

  Unto us a son is given!

Lord, with thy message I dare not ride!

  I am a fool, a beast! The little ones only from thy side

  Go forth to publish thy feast! And I, where but sons and daughters abide,

  Would have walked about, a priest!

Take Snow-white back to her glimmering stall;

  There let her stand and feed!-- I am overweening, ambitious, small,

  A creature of pride and greed! Let me wash the hoofs, let me be the thrall,

  Jesus, of thy white steed!


From off the earth the vapours curled,

  Went up to meet their joy; The boy awoke, and all the world

  Was waiting for the boy!

The sky, the water, the wide earth

  Was full of windy play-- Shining and fair, alive with mirth,

  All for his holiday!

The hill said "Climb me;" and the wood

  "Come to my bosom, child; Mine is a merry gamboling brood,

  Come, and with them go wild."

The shadows with the sunlight played,

  The birds were singing loud; The hill stood up with pines arrayed--

  He ran to join the crowd.

But long ere noon, dark grew the skies,

  Pale grew the shrinking sun: "How soon," he said, "for clouds to rise

  When day was but begun!"

The wind grew rough; a wilful power

  It swept o'er tree and town; The boy exulted for an hour,

  Then weary sat him down.

And as he sat the rain began,

  And rained till all was still: He looked, and saw a rainbow span

  The vale from hill to hill.

He dried his tears. "Ah, now," he said,

  "The storm was good, I see! Yon pine-dressed hill, upon its head

  I'll find the golden key!"

He thrid the copse, he climbed the fence,

  At last the top did scale; But, lo, the rainbow, vanished thence,

  Was shining in the vale!

"Still, here it stood! yes, here," he said,

  "Its very foot was set! I saw this fir-tree through the red,

  This through the violet!"

He searched and searched, while down the skies

  Went slow the slanting sun. At length he lifted hopeless eyes,

  And day was nearly done!

Beyond the vale, above the heath,

  High flamed the crimson west; His mother's cottage lay beneath

  The sky-bird's rosy breast.

"Oh, joy," he cried, "not all the way

  Farther from home we go! The rain will come another day

  And bring another bow!"

Long ere he reached his mother's cot,

  Still tiring more and more, The red was all one cold gray blot,

  And night lay round the door.

But when his mother stroked his head

  The night was grim in vain; And when she kissed him in his bed

  The rainbow rose again.

Soon, things that are and things that seem

  Did mingle merrily; He dreamed, nor was it all a dream,

  His mother had the key.


A Microcosm In Terza Rima.

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