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The Poetical Works of George MacDonald (Parables)

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  How sir Galahad hid the Grail.

Very still was earth and sky

  When he passing lay; Oft he said he should not die,

  Would but go away.

When he passed, they reverent sought,

  Where his hand lay prest, For the cup he bare, they thought,

  Hidden in his breast.

Hope and haste and eager thrill

  Turned to sorrowing wail: Hid he held it deeper still,

  Took with him the Grail.


Where went the feet that hitherto have come?

  Here yawns no gulf to quench the flowing past! With lengthening pauses broke, the path grows dumb;

  The grass floats in; the gazer stands aghast.

Tremble not, maiden, though the footprints die;

  By no air-path ascend the lark's clear notes; The mighty-throated when he mounts the sky

  Over some lowly landmark sings and floats.

Be of good cheer. Paths vanish from the wave;

  There all the ships tear each its track of gray; Undaunted they the wandering desert brave:

  In each a magic finger points the way.

No finger finely touched, no eye of lark

  Hast thou to guide thy steps where footprints fail? Ah, then, 'twere well to turn before the dark,

  Nor dream to find thy dreams in yonder vale!

The backward way one hour is plain to thee,

  Hard hap were hers who saw no trace behind! Back to confession at thy mother's knee,

  Back to the question and the childlike mind!

Then start afresh, but toward unending end,

  The goal o'er which hangs thy own star all night; So shalt thou need no footprints to befriend,

  Child-heart and shining star will guide thee right.


"Traveller, what lies over the hill?

  Traveller, tell to me: Tip-toe-high on the window-sill

  Over I cannot see."

"My child, a valley green lies there,

  Lovely with trees, and shy; And a tiny brook that says, 'Take care,

  Or I'll drown you by and by!'"

"And what comes next?"--"A little town,

  And a towering hill again; More hills and valleys up and down,

  And a river now and then."

"And what comes next?"--"A lonely moor

  Without one beaten way, And slow clouds drifting dull before

  A wind that will not stay."

"And then?"--"Dark rocks and yellow sand,

  Blue sea and a moaning tide." "And then?"--"More sea, and then more land,

  With rivers deep and wide."

"And then?"--"Oh, rock and mountain and vale,

  Ocean and shores and men, Over and over, a weary tale,

  And round to your home again!"

"And is that all? From day to day,

  Like one with a long chain bound, Should I walk and walk and not get away,

  But go always round and round?"

"No, no; I have not told you the best,

  I have not told you the end: If you want to escape, away in the west

  You will see a stair ascend,

"Built of all colours of lovely stones,

  A stair up into the sky Where no one is weary, and no one moans,

  Or wishes to be laid by."

"Is it far away?"--"I do not know:

  You must fix your eyes thereon, And travel, travel through thunder and snow,

  Till the weary way is gone.

"All day, though you never see it shine,

  You must travel nor turn aside, All night you must keep as straight a line

  Through moonbeams or darkness wide."

"When I am older!"--"Nay, not so!"

  "I have hardly opened my eyes!" "He who to the old sunset would go,

  Starts best with the young sunrise."

"Is the stair right up? is it very steep?"

  "Too steep for you to climb; You must lie at the foot of the glorious heap

  And patient wait your time."

"How long?"--"Nay, that I cannot tell."

  "In wind, and rain, and frost?" "It may be so; and it is well

  That you should count the cost.

"Pilgrims from near and from distant lands

  Will step on you lying there; But a wayfaring man with wounded hands

  Will carry you up the stair."


Brother artist, help me; come!

Artists are a maimed band: I have words but not a hand;

Thou hast hands though thou art dumb.

Had I thine, when words did fail--

Vassal-words their hasting chief, On the white awaiting leaf

Shapes of power should tell the tale.

Had I hers of music-might,

I would shake the air with storm Till the red clouds trailed enorm

Boreal dances through the night.

Had I his whose foresight rare

Piles the stones with lordliest art, From the quarry of my heart

Love should climb a heavenly stair!

Had I his whose wooing slow

Wins the marble's hidden child, Out in passion undefiled

Stood my Psyche, white as snow!

Maimed, a little help I pray;

Words suffice not for my end; Let thy hand obey thy friend,

Say for me what I would say.

Draw me, on an arid plain

With hoar-headed mountains nigh, Under a clear morning sky

Telling of a night of rain,

Huge and half-shaped, like a block

Chosen for sarcophagus By a Pharaoh glorious,

One rude solitary rock.

Cleave it down along the ridge

With a fissure yawning deep To the heart of the hard heap,

Like the rent of riving wedge.

Through the cleft let hands appear,

Upward pointed with pressed palms As if raised in silent psalms

For salvation come anear.

Turn thee now--'tis almost done!--

To the near horizon's verge: Make the smallest arc emerge

Of the forehead of the sun.

One thing more--I ask too much!--

From a brow which hope makes brave Sweep the shadow of the grave

With a single golden touch.

Thanks, dear painter; that is all.

If thy picture one day should Need some words to make it good,

I am ready to thy call.


The monk was praying in his cell,

  With bowed head praying sore; He had been praying on his knees

  For two long hours and more.

As of themselves, all suddenly,

  His eyelids opened wide; Before him on the ground he saw

  A man's feet close beside;

And almost to the feet came down

  A garment wove throughout; Such garment he had never seen

  In countries round about!

His eyes he lifted tremblingly

  Until a hand they spied: A chisel-scar on it he saw,

  And a deep, torn scar beside.

His eyes they leaped up to the face,

  His heart gave one wild bound, Then stood as if its work were done--

  The Master he had found!

With sudden clang the convent bell

  Told him the poor did wait His hand to give the daily bread

  Doled at the convent-gate.

Then Love rose in him passionate,

  And with Duty wrestled strong; And the bell kept calling all the time

  With merciless iron tongue.

The Master stood and looked at him

  He rose up with a sigh: "He will be gone when I come back

  I go to him by and by!"

He chid his heart, he fed the poor

  All at the convent-gate; Then with slow-dragging feet went back

  To his cell so desolate:

His heart bereaved by duty done,

  He had sore need of prayer! Oh, sad he lifted the latch!--and, lo,

  The Master standing there!

He said, "My poor had not to stand

  Wearily at thy gate: For him who feeds the shepherd's sheep

  The shepherd will stand and wait."

_Yet, Lord--for thou would'st have us judge,

  And I will humbly dare-- If he had staid, I do not think

  Thou wouldst have left him there.

Thy voice in far-off time I hear,

  With sweet defending, say: "The poor ye always have with you,

  Me ye have not alway!"

Thou wouldst have said: "Go feed my poor,

  The deed thou shalt not rue; Wherever ye do my father's will

  I always am with you."_


_Queen Mary one day Jesus sent

  To fetch some water, legends tell; The little boy, obedient,

  Drew a full pitcher from the well;

But as he raised it to his head,

  The water lipping with the rim, The handle broke, and all was shed

  Upon the stones about the brim.

His cloak upon the ground he laid

  And in it gathered up the pool; [Proverbs xxx. 4.] Obedient there the water staid,

  And home he bore it plentiful._

Eligius said, "Tis fabled ill:

  The hands that all the world control, Had here been room for miracle,

  Had made his mother's pitcher whole!

"Still, some few drops for thirsty need

  A poor invention even, when told In love of thee the Truth indeed,

  Like broken pitcher yet may hold:

"Thy truth, alas, Lord, once I spilt:

  I thought to bear the pitcher high; Upon the shining stones of guilt

  I slipped, and there the potsherds lie!

"Master, I cried, _no man will drink,

  No human thirst will e'er be stilled Through me, who sit upon the brink,

  My pitcher broke, thy water spilled!

"What will they do I waiting left?

  They looked to me to bring thy law! The well is deep, and, sin-bereft,

  I nothing have wherewith to draw!"_

"But as I sat in evil plight,

  With dry parched heart and sickened brain, Uprose in me the water bright,

  Thou gavest me thyself again!"


A little bird sat on the edge of her nest;

  Her yellow-beaks slept as sound as tops; Day-long she had worked almost without rest,

  And had filled every one of their gibbous crops; Her own she had filled just over-full, And she felt like a dead bird stuffed with wool.

"Oh dear!" she sighed, as she sat with her head

  Sunk in her chest, and no neck at all, Looking like an apple on a feather-bed

  Poked and rounded and fluffed to a ball, "What's to be done if things don't reform? I cannot tell where there is one more worm!

"I've had fifteen to-day, and the children five each,

  Besides a few flies, and some very fat spiders: Who will dare say I don't do as I preach?

  I set an example to all providers! But what's the use? We want a storm: I don't know where there's a single worm!"

"There's five in my crop," chirped a wee, wee bird

  Who woke at the voice of his mother's pain; "I know where there's five!" And with the word

  He tucked in his head and went off again. "The folly of childhood," sighed his mother, "Has always been my especial bother!"

Careless the yellow-beaks slept on,

  They never had heard of the bogy, Tomorrow; The mother sat outside making her moan--

  "I shall soon have to beg, or steal, or borrow! I have always to say, the night before, Where shall I find one red worm more!"

Her case was this, she had gobbled too many,

  And sleepless, had an attack she called foresight: A barn of crumbs, if she knew but of any!

  Could she but get of the great worm-store sight! The eastern sky was growing red Ere she laid her wise beak in its feather-bed.

Just then, the fellow who knew of five,

  Nor troubled his sleep with anxious tricks, Woke, and stirred, and felt alive:

  "To-day," he said, "I am up to six! But my mother feels in her lot the crook-- What if I tried my own little hook!"

When his mother awoke, she winked her eyes

  As if she had dreamed that she was a mole: Could she believe them? "What a huge prize

  That child is dragging out of its hole!" The fledgeling indeed had just caught his third! And here is a fable to catch the bird!


"Good morrow, my lord!" in the sky alone Sang the lark as the sun ascended his throne. "Shine on me, my lord: I only am come, Of all your servants, to welcome you home! I have shot straight up, a whole hour, I swear, To catch the first gleam of your golden hair."

"Must I thank you then," said the king, "sir Lark, For flying so high and hating the dark? You ask a full cup for half a thirst: Half was love of me, half love to be first. Some of my subjects serve better my taste: Their watching and waiting means more than your haste."

King Sun wrapt his head in a turban of cloud; Sir Lark stopped singing, quite vexed and cowed; But higher he flew, for he thought, "Anon The wrath of the king will be over and gone; And, scattering his head-gear manifold, He will change my brown feathers to a glory of gold!"

He flew, with the strength of a lark he flew, But as he rose the cloud rose too; And not one gleam of the flashing hair Brought signal of favour across the air; And his wings felt withered and worn and old, For their feathers had had no chrism of gold.

Outwearied at length, and throbbing sore, The strong sun-seeker could do no more; He faltered and sank, then dropped like a stone Beside his nest, where, patient, alone, Sat his little wife on her little eggs, Keeping them warm with wings and legs.

Did I say alone? Ah, no such thing! There was the cloudless, the ray-crowned king! "Welcome, sir Lark!--You look tired!" said he; "_Up_ is not always the best way to me: While you have been racing my turban gray, I have been shining where you would not stay!"

He had set a coronet round the nest; Its radiance foamed on the wife's little breast; And so glorious was she in russet gold That sir Lark for wonder and awe grew cold; He popped his head under her wing, and lay As still as a stone till king Sun went away.


Bing, Bim, Bang, Bome!
Sang the Bell to himself in his house at home, High in the church-tower, lone and unseen, In a twilight of ivy, cool and green; With his Bing, Bing, Bim, Bing, Bang, Bome! Singing bass to himself in his house at home.

Said the Owl, on a shadowy ledge below, Like a glimmering ball of forgotten snow, "Pest on that fellow sitting up there, Always calling the people to prayer! He shatters my nerves with his Bing, Bang, Bome!--- Far too big in his house at home!

"I think I will move.--But it suits me well, And one may get used to it, who can tell!" So he slept again with all his might, Then woke and snooved out in the hush of night When the Bell was asleep in his house at home, Dreaming over his Bing, Bang, Bome!

For the Owl was born so poor and genteel What could he do but pick and steal? He scorned to work for honest bread-- "Better have never been hatched!" he said. So his day was the night, for he dared not roam Till sleep had silenced the Bing, Bang, Bome!

When five greedy Owlets chipped the egg He wanted two beaks and another leg, And they ate the more that they did not sleep well: "It's their gizzards," said Owless; said Owl, "It's that Bell!" For they quivered like leaves of a wind-blown tome When the Bell bellowed out his Bing, Bang, Bome!

But the Bell began to throb with the fear Of bringing his house about his one ear; And his people came round it, quite a throng, To buttress the walls and make them strong: A full month he sat, and felt like a mome Not daring to shout his Bing, Bang, Bome!

Said the Owl to himself, and hissed as he said, "I trust in my heart the old fool is dead! No more will he scare church-mice with his bounce, And make them so thin they're scarce worth a pounce! Once I will see him ere he's laid in the loam, And shout in his ear Bing, Bim, Bang, Bome!"

"Hoo! hoo!" he cried, as he entered the steeple, "They've hanged him at last, the righteous people! His swollen tongue lolls out of his head! Hoo! hoo! at last the old brute is dead! There let him hang, the shapeless gnome, Choked with a throatful of Bing, Bang, Bome!"

He fluttered about him, singing Too-whoo! He flapped the poor Bell, and said, "Is that you? You that never would matters mince, Banging poor owls and making them wince? A fig for you now, in your great hall-dome! Too-whit is better than Bing, Bang, Bome!"

Still braver he grew, the downy, the dapper; He flew in and perched on the knob of the clapper, And shouted Too-whoo! An echo awoke Like a far-off ghostly Bing-Bang stroke: "Just so!" he cried; "I am quite at home! I will take his place with my Bing, Bang, Bome!"

He hissed with the scorn of his grand self-wonder, And thought the Bell's tremble his own great thunder: He sat the Jove of creation's fowl.-- Bang! went the Bell--through the rope-hole the owl, A fluffy avalanche, light as foam, Loosed by the boom of the Bing, Bang, Bome!

He sat where he fell, as if he had meant it, Ready for any remark anent it. Said the eldest Owlet, "Pa, you were wrong; He's at it again with his vulgar song!" "Child," said the Owl, "of the mark you are wide: I brought him to life by perching inside."

"Why did you, my dear?" said his startled wife; "He has always been the plague of your life!" "I have given him a lesson of good for evil: Perhaps the old ruffian will now be civil!" The Owl sat righteous, he raised his comb. The Bell bawled on, Bing, Bim, Bang, Bome!

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