The Mariner's Cave
Once on a time there walked a mariner,
That had been shipwrecked;—on a lonely shore,
And the green water made a restless stir,
And a great flock of mews sped on before.
He had nor food nor shelter, for the tide
Rose on the one, and cliffs on the other side.
Brown cliffs they were; they seemed to pierce the sky,
That was an awful deep of empty blue,
Save that the wind was in it, and on high
A wavering skein of wild-fowl tracked it through.
He marked them not, but went with movement slow,
Because his thoughts were sad, his courage low.
His heart was numb, he neither wept nor sighed,
But wearifully lingered by the wave;
Until at length it chanced that he espied,
Far up, an opening in the cliff, a cave,
A shelter where to sleep in his distress,
And lose his sorrow in forgetfulness.
With that he clambered up the rugged face
Of that steep cliff that all in shadow lay,
And, lo, there was a dry and homelike place,
Comforting refuge for the castaway;
And he laid down his weary, weary head,
And took his fill of sleep till dawn waxed red.
When he awoke, warm stirring from the south
Of delicate summer air did sough and flow;
He rose, and, wending to the cavern's mouth,
He cast his eyes a little way below
Where on the narrow ledges, sharp and rude,
Preening their wings the blue rock-pigeons cooed.
Then he looked lower and saw the lavender
And sea-thrift blooming in long crevices,
And the brown wallflower—April's messenger,
The wallflower marshalled in her companies.
Then lower yet he looked adown the steep,
And sheer beneath him lapped the lovely deep.
The laughing deep;—and it was pacified
As if it had not raged that other day.
And it went murmuring in the morningtide
Innumerable flatteries on its way,
Kissing the cliffs and whispering at their feet
With exquisite advancement, and retreat.
This when the mariner beheld he sighed,
And thought on his companions lying low.
But while he gazed with eyes unsatisfied
On the fair reaches of their overthow,
Thinking it strange he only lived of all,
But not returning thanks, he heard a call!
A soft sweet call, a voice of tender ruth,
He thought it came from out the cave. And, lo,
It whispered, 'Man, look up!' But he, forsooth,
Answered, 'I cannot, for the long waves flow
Across my gallant ship where sunk she lies
With all my riches and my merchandise.
'Moreover, I am heavy for the fate
Of these my mariners drowned in the deep;
I must lament me for their sad estate
Now they are gathered in their last long sleep.
O! the unpitying heavens upon me frown,
Then how should I look up?—I must look down.'
And he stood yet watching the fair green sea
Till hunger reached him; then he made a fire,
A driftwood fire, and wandered listlessly
And gathered many eggs at his desire,
And dressed them for his meal, and then he lay
And slept, and woke upon the second day.
Whenas he said, 'The cave shall be my home;
None will molest me, for the brown cliffs rise
Like castles of defence behind,—the foam
Of the remorseless sea beneath me lies;
'Tis easy from the cliff my food to win—
The nations of the rock-dove breed therein.
'For fuel, at the ebb yon fair expanse
Is strewed with driftwood by the breaking wave,
And in the sea is fish for sustenance.
I will build up the entrance of the cave,
And leave therein a window and a door,
And here will dwell and leave it nevermore.'
Then even so he did: and when his task,
Many long days being over, was complete,
When he had eaten, as he sat to bask
In the red firelight glowing at his feet,
He was right glad of shelter, and he said,
'Now for my comrades am I comforted.'
Then did the voice awake and speak again;
It murmured, 'Man, look up!' But he replied,
'I cannot. O, mine eyes, mine eyes are fain
Down on the red wood-ashes to abide
Because they warm me.' Then the voice was still,
And left the lonely mariner to his will.
And soon it came to pass that he got gain.
He had great flocks of pigeons which he fed,
And drew great store of fish from out the main,
And down from eiderducks; and then he said,
'It is not good that I should lead my life
In silence, I will take to me a wife.'
He took a wife, and brought her home to him;
And he was good to her and cherished her
So that she loved him; then when light waxed dim
Gloom came no more; and she would minister
To all his wants; while he, being well content,
Counted her company right excellent.
But once as on the lintel of the door
She leaned to watch him while he put to sea,
This happy wife, down-gazing at the shore,
Said sweetly, 'It is better now with me
Than it was lately when I used to spin
In my old father's house beside the lin.'
And then the soft voice of the cave awoke—
The soft voice which had haunted it erewhile—
And gently to the wife it also spoke,
'Woman, look up!' But she, with tender guile,
Gave it denial, answering, 'Nay, not so,
For all that I should look on lieth below.
'The great sky overhead is not so good
For my two eyes as yonder stainless sea,
The source and yielder of our livelihood,
Where rocks his little boat that loveth me.'
This when the wife had said she moved away,
And looked no higher than the wave all day.
Now when the year ran out a child she bore,
And there was such rejoicing in the cave
As surely never had there been before
Since God first made it. Then full, sweet, and grave,
The voice, 'God's utmost blessing brims thy cup,
O, father of this child, look up, look up!'
'Speak to my wife,' the mariner replied.
'I have much work—right welcome work 'tis true—
Another mouth to feed.' And then it sighed,
'Woman, look up!' She said, 'Make no ado,
For I must needs look down, on anywise,
My heaven is in the blue of these dear eyes.'
The seasons of the year did swiftly whirl,
They measured time by one small life alone;
On such a day the pretty pushing pearl,
That mouth they loved to kiss had sweetly shown,
That smiling mouth, and it had made essay
To give them names on such another day.
And afterward his infant history,
Whether he played with baubles on the floor,
Or crept to pat the rock-doves pecking nigh,
And feeding on the threshold of the door,
They loved to mark, and all his marvellings dim,
The mysteries that beguiled and baffled him.
He was so sweet, that oft his mother said,
'O, child, how was it that I dwelt content
Before thou camest? Blessings on thy head,
Thy pretty talk it is so innocent,
That oft for all my joy, though it be deep,
When thou art prattling, I am like to weep.'
Summer and winter spent themselves again,
The rock-doves in their season bred, the cliff
Grew sweet, for every cleft would entertain
Its tuft of blossom, and the mariner's skiff,
Early and late, would linger in the bay,
Because the sea was calm and winds away.
The little child about that rocky height,
Led by her loving hand who gave him birth,
Might wander in the clear unclouded light,
And take his pastime in the beauteous earth;
Smell the fair flowers in stony cradles swung,
And see God's happy creatures feed their young.
And once it came to pass, at eventide,
His mother set him in the cavern door,
And filled his lap with grain, and stood aside
To watch the circling rock-doves soar, and soar,
Then dip, alight, and run in circling bands,
To take the barley from his open hands.
And even while she stood and gazed at him,
And his grave father's eyes upon him dwelt,
They heard the tender voice, and it was dim,
And seemed full softly in the air to melt;
'Father,' it murmured, 'Mother,' dying away,
'Look up, while yet the hours are called to-day.'
'I will,' the father answered, 'but not now;'
The mother said, 'Sweet voice, O speak to me
At a convenient season.' And the brow
Of the cliff began to quake right fearfully,
There was a rending crash, and there did leap
A riven rock and plunge into the deep.
They said, 'A storm is coming;' but they slept
That night in peace, and thought the storm had passed,
For there was not a cloud to intercept
The sacred moonlight on the cradle cast;
And to his rocking boat at dawn of day,
With joy of heart the mariner took his way.
But when he mounted up the path at night,
Foreboding not of trouble or mischance,
His wife came out into the fading light,
And met him with a serious countenance;
And she broke out in tears and sobbings thick,
'The child is sick, my little child is sick.'
They knelt beside him in the sultry dark,
And when the moon looked in his face was pale,
And when the red sun, like a burning barque,
Rose in a fog at sea, his tender wail
Sank deep into their hearts, and piteously
They fell to chiding of their destiny.
The doves unheeded cooed that livelong day,
Their pretty playmate cared for them no more;
The sea-thrift nodded, wet with glistening spray,
None gathered it; the long wave washed the shore;
He did not know, nor lift his eyes to trace,
The new fallen shadow in his dwelling-place.
The sultry sun beat on the cliffs all day,
And hot calm airs slept on the polished sea,
The mournful mother wore her time away,
Bemoaning of her helpless misery,
Pleading and plaining, till the day was done,
'O look on me, my love, my little one.
'What aileth thee, that thou dost lie and moan?
Ah would that I might bear it in thy stead!'
The father made not his forebodings known,
But gazed, and in his secret soul he said,
'I may have sinned, on sin waits punishment,
But as for him, sweet blameless innocent,
'What has he done that he is stricken down?
O it is hard to see him sink and fade,
When I, that counted him my dear life's crown,
So willingly have worked while he has played;
That he might sleep, have risen, come storm, come heat,
And thankfully would fast that he might eat.'
My God, how short our happy days appear!
How long the sorrowful! They thought it long,
The sultry morn that brought such evil cheer,
And sat, and wished, and sighed for evensong;
It came, and cooling wafts about him stirred,
Yet when they spoke he answered not a word.
'Take heart,' they cried, but their sad hearts sank low
When he would moan and turn his restless head,
And wearily the lagging morns would go,
And nights, while they sat watching by his bed,
Until a storm came up with wind and rain,
And lightning ran along the troubled main.
Over their heads the mighty thunders brake,
Leaping and tumbling down from rock to rock,
Then burst anew and made the cliffs to quake
As they were living things and felt the shock;
The waiting sea to sob as if in pain,
And all the midnight vault to ring again.
A lamp was burning in the mariner's cave,
But the blue lightning flashes made it dim;
And when the mother heard those thunders rave,
She took her little child to cherish him;
She took him in her arms, and on her breast
Full wearily she courted him to rest,
And soothed him long until the storm was spent,
And the last thunder peal had died away,
And stars were out in all the firmament.
Then did he cease to moan, and slumbering lay,
While in the welcome silence, pure and deep,
The care-worn parents sweetly fell asleep.
And in a dream, enwrought with fancies thick,
The mother thought she heard the rock-doves coo
(She had forgotten that her child was sick),
And she went forth their morning meal to strew;
Then over all the cliff with earnest care
She sought her child, and lo, he was not there!
But she was not afraid, though long she sought
And climbed the cliff, and set her feet in grass,
Then reached a river, broad and full, she thought,
And at its brink he sat. Alas! alas!
For one stood near him, fair and undefiled,
An innocent, a marvellous man-child.
In garments white as wool, and O, most fair,
A rainbow covered him with mystic light;
Upon the warm?grass his feet were bare,
And as he breathed, the rainbow in her sight
In passions of clear crimson trembling lay,
With gold and violet mist made fair the day.
Her little life! she thought, his little hands
Were full of flowers that he did play withal;
But when he saw the boy o' the golden lands,
And looked him in the face, he let them fall,
Held through a rapturous pause in wistful wise
To the sweet strangeness of those keen child-eyes.
'Ah, dear and awful God, who chastenest me,
How shall my soul to this be reconciled!
It is the Saviour of the world,' quoth she,
'And to my child He cometh as a child.'
Then on her knees she fell by that vast stream—
Oh, it was sorrowful, this woman's dream!
For lo, that Elder Child drew nearer now,
Fair as the light, and purer than the sun.
The calms of heaven were brooding on his brow,
And in his arms He took her little one,
Her child, that knew her, but with sweet demur
Drew back, nor held his hands to come to her.
With that in mother misery sore she wept—
'O Lamb of God, I love my child so MUCH!
He stole away to Thee while we two slept,
But give him back, for Thou hast many such;
And as for me I have but one. O deign,
Dear Pity of God, to give him me again.'
His feet were on the river. Oh, his feet
Had touched the river now, and it was great;
And yet He hearkened when she did entreat,
And turned in quietness as He would wait—
Wait till she looked upon Him, and behold,
There lay a long way off a city of gold.
Like to a jasper and a sardine stone,
Whelmed in the rainbow stood that fair man-child,
Mighty and innocent, that held her own,
And as might be his manner at home he smiled,
Then while she looked and looked, the vision brake,
And all amazed she started up awake.
And lo, her little child was gone indeed!
The sleep that knows no waking he had slept,
Folded to heaven's own heart; in rainbow brede
Clothed and made glad, while they two mourned and wept,
But in the drinking of their bitter cup
The sweet voice spoke once more, and sighed, 'Look up!'
They heard, and straightway answered, 'Even so:
For what abides that we should look on here?
The heavens are better than this earth below,
They are of more account and far more dear.
We will look up, for all most sweet and fair,
Most pure, most excellent, is garnered there.'
Only you'd have me speak.
Whether to speak
Or whether to be silent is all one;
Whether to sleep and in my dreaming front
Her small scared face forlorn; whether to wake
And muse upon her small soft feet that paced
The hated, hard, inhospitable stone—
I say all's one. But you would have me speak,
And change one sorrow for the other. Ay,
Right reverend father, comfortable father,
Old, long in thrall, and wearied of the cell,
So will I here—here staring through the grate,
Whence, sheer beneath us lying the little town,
Her street appears a riband up the rise;
Where 't is right steep for carts, behold two ruts
Worn in the flat, smooth, stone.
That side I stood;
My head was down. At first I did but see
Her coming feet; they gleamed through my hot tears
As she walked barefoot up yon short steep hill.
Then I dared all, gazed on her face, the maid
Martyr and utterly, utterly broke my heart.
Her face, O! it was wonderful to me,
There was not in it what I look'd for—no,
I never saw a maid go to her death,
How should I dream that face and the dumb soul?
Her arms and head were bare, seemly she walked
All in her smock so modest as she might;
Upon her shoulders hung a painted cape
For horrible adornment, flames of fire
Portrayed upon it, and mocking demon heads.
Her eyes—she did not see me—opened wide,
Blue-black, gazed right before her, yet they marked
Nothing; and her two hands uplift as praying,
She yet prayed not, wept not, sighed not. O father,
She was past that, soft, tender, hunted thing;
But, as it seemed, confused from time to time,
She would half-turn her or to left or right
To follow other streets, doubting her way.
Then their base pikes they basely thrust at her,
And, like one dazed, obedient to her guides
She came; I knew not if 't was present to her
That death was her near goal; she was so lost,
And set apart from any power to think.
But her mouth pouted as one brooding, father,
Over a lifetime of forlorn fear. No,
Scarce was it fear; so looks a timid child
(Not more affrighted; ah! but not so pale)
That has been scolded or has lost its way.
Mother and father—father and mother kind,
She was alone, where were you hidden? Alone,
And I that loved her more, or feared death less,
Rushed to her side, but quickly was flung back,
And cast behind o' the pikemen following her
Into a yelling and a cursing crowd.
That bristled thick with monks and hooded friars;
Moreover, women with their cheeks ablaze,
Who swarm?after up the narrowing street.
Pitiful heaven! I knew she did not hear
In that last hour the cursing, nor the foul
Words; she had never heard like words, sweet soul,
In her life blameless; even at that pass,
That dreadful pass, I felt it had been worse,
Though nought I longed for as for death, to know
She did. She saw not 'neath their hoods those eyes
Soft, glittering, with a lust for cruelty;
Secret delight, that so great cruelty,
All in the sacred name of Holy Church,
Their meed to look on it should be anon.
Speak! O, I tell you this thing passeth word!
From roofs and oriels high, women looked down;
Men, maidens, children, and a fierce white sun
Smote blinding splinters from all spears aslant.
Lo! next a stand, so please you, certain priests
(May God forgive men sinning at their ease),
Whose duty 't was to look upon this thing,
Being mindful of thick pungent smoke to come,
Had caused a stand to rise hard by the stake,
Upon its windward side.
My life! my love!
She utter'd one sharp cry of mortal dread
While they did chain her. This thing passeth words,
Albeit told out for ever in my soul.
As the torch touched, thick volumes of black reek
Rolled out and raised the wind, and instantly
Long films of flaxen hair floated aloft,
Settled alow, in drifts upon the crowd.
The vile were merciful; heaped high, my dear,
Thou didst not suffer long. O! it was soon,
Soon over, and I knew not any more,
Till grovelling on the ground, beating my head,
I heard myself, and scarcely knew 't was I,
At Holy Church railing with fierce mad words,
Crying and craving for a stake, for me.
While fast the folk, as ever, such a work
Being over, fled, and shrieked 'A heretic!
More heretics; yon ashes smoking still.'
And up and almost over me came on
A robed—ecclesiastic—with his train
(I choose the words lest that they do some wrong)
Call him a robed ecclesiastic proud.
And I lying helpless, with my bruised face
Beat on his garnished shoon. But he stepped back,
Spurned me full roughly with them, called the pikes,
Delivering orders, 'Take the bruised wretch.
He raves. Fool! thou'lt hear more of this anon.
Bestow him there.' He pointed to a door.
With that some threw a cloth upon my face
Because it bled. I knew they carried me
Within his home, and I was satisfied;
Willing my death. Was it an abbey door?
Was 't entrance to a palace? or a house
Of priests? I say not, nor if abbot he,
Bishop or other dignity; enough
That he so spake. 'Take in the bruised wretch.'
And I was borne far up a turret stair
Into a peak?chamber taking form
O' the roof, and on a pallet bed they left
Me miserable. Yet I knew forsooth,
Left in my pain, that evil things were said
Of that same tower; men thence had disappeared,
Suspect of heresy had disappeared,
Deliver'd up, 't was whisper'd, tried and burned.
So be it methought, I would not live, not I.
But none did question me. A beldame old,
Kind, heedless of my sayings, tended me.
I raved at Holy Church and she was deaf,
And at whose tower detained me, she was dumb.
So had I food and water, rest and calm.
Then on the third day I rose up and sat
On the side of my low bed right melancholy,
All that high force of passion overpast,
I sick with dolourous thought and weak through tears
Spite of myself came to myself again
(For I had slept), and since I could not die
Looked through the window three parts overgrown
With leafage on the loftiest ivy ropes,
And saw at foot o' the rise another tower
In roof whereof a grating, dreary bare.
Lifetimes gone by, long, slow, dim, desolate,
I knew even there had been my lost love's cell.
So musing on the man that with his foot
Spurned me, the robed ecclesiastic stern,
'Would he had haled me straight to prison' methought,
'So made an end at once.'
My sufferings rose
Like billows closing over, beating down;
Made heavier far because of a stray, strange,
Sweet hope that mocked me at the last.
'T was thus,
I came from Oxford secretly, the news
Terrible of her danger smiting me,—
She was so young, and ever had been bred
With whom 't was made a peril now to name.
There had been worship in the night; some stole
To a mean chapel deep in woods, and heard
Preaching, and prayed. She, my betrothed, was there.
Father and mother, mother and father kind,
So young, so innocent, had ye no ruth,
No fear, that ye did bring her to her doom?
I know the chiefest Evil One himself
Sanded that floor. Their footsteps marking it
Betrayed them. How all came to pass let be.
Parted, in hiding some, other in thrall,
Father and mother, mother and father kind,
It may be yet ye know not this—not all.
I in the daytime lying perdue looked up
At the castle keep impregnable,—no foot
How rash so e'er might hope to scale it. Night
Descending, come I near, perplexedness,
Contempt of danger, to the door o' the keep
Drawing me. There a short stone bench I found,
And bitterly weeping sat and leaned my head
Against the hopeless hated massiveness
Of that detested hold. A lifting moon
Had made encroachment on the dark, but deep
Was shadow where I leaned. Within a while
I was aware, but saw no shape, of one
Who stood beside me, a dark shadow tall.
I cared not, disavowal mattered nought
Of grief to one so out of love with life.
But after pause I felt a hand let down
That rested kindly, firmly, a man's hand,
Upon my shoulder; there was cheer in it.
And presently a voice clear, whispering, low,
With pitifulness that faltered, spoke to me.
Was I, it asked, true son of Mother Church?
Coldly I answer'd 'Ay;' then blessed words
That danced into mine ears more excellent
Music than wedding bells had been were said,
With certitude that I might see my maid,
My dear one. He would give a paper, he
The man beside me. 'Do thy best endeavour,
Dear youth. Thy maiden being a right sweet child
Surely will hearken to thee; an she do,
And will recant, fair faultless heretic,
Whose knowledge is but scant of matters high
Which hard men spake on with her, hard men forced
From her mouth innocent, then shall she come
Before me; have good cheer, all may be well.
But an she will not she must burn, no power—
Not Solomon the Great on 's ivory throne
With all his wisdom could find out a way,
Nor I nor any to save her, she must burn.
Now hast thou till day dawn. The Mother of God
Speed thee.' A twisted scroll he gave; himself
Knocked at the door behind, and he was gone,
A darker pillar of darkness in the dark.
Straightway one opened and I gave the scroll.
He read, then thrust it in his lanthorn flame
Till it was ashes; 'Follow' and no more
Whisper'd, went up the giddy spiring way,
I after, till we reached the topmost door.
Then took a key, opened, and crying 'Delia,
Delia my sweetheart, I am come, I am come,'
I darted forward and he locked us in.
Two figures; one rose up and ran to me
Along the ladder of moonlight on the floor,
Fell on my neck. Long time we kissed and wept.
But for that other, while she stood appeased
For cruel parting past, locked in mine arms,
I had been glad, expecting a good end.
The cramped pale fellow prisoner; 'Courage' cried.
Then Delia lifting her fair face, the moon
Did show me its incomparable calms.
Her effluent thought needed no word of mine,
It whelmed my soul as in a sea of tears.
The warm enchantment leaning on my breast
Breathed as in air remote, and I was left
To infinite detachment, even with hers
To take cold kisses from the lips of doom,
Look in those eyes and disinherit hope
From that high place late won.
Then murmuring low
That other spake of Him on the cross, and soft
As broken-hearted mourning of the dove,
She 'One deep calleth to another' sighed.
'The heart of Christ mourns to my heart, 'Endure.
There was a day when to the wilderness
My great forerunner from his thrall sent forth
Sad messengers, demanding Art thou He?
Think'st thou I knew no pang in that strange hour?
How could I hold the power, and want the will
Or want the love? That pang was his—and mine.
He said not, Save me an thou be the Son,
But only Art thou He? In my great way
It was not writ,—legions of Angels mine,
There was one Angel, one ordain'd to unlock
At my behest the doomed deadly door.
I could not tell him, tell not thee, why.' Lord,
We know not why, but would not have Thee grieve,
Think not so deeply on 't; make us endure
For thy blest sake, hearing thy sweet voice mourn
'I will go forth, thy desolations meet,
And with my desolations solace them.
I will not break thy bonds but I am bound,
I feared. That speech deep furrows cut
In my afflicted soul. I whisper'd low,
'Thou wilt not heed her words, my golden girl.'
But Delia said not ought; only her hand
Laid on my cheek and on the other leaned
Her own. O there was comfort, father,
In love and nearness, e'en at the crack of doom.
Then spake I, and that other said no more,
For I appealed to God and to his Christ.
Unto the strait-barred window led my dear;
No table, bed, nor plenishing; no place
They had for rest: maugre two narrow chairs
By day, by night they sat thereon upright.
One drew I to the opening; on it set
My Delia, kneeled; upon its arm laid mine,
And prayed to God and prayed of her.
If you should ask e'en now, 'And art thou glad
Of what befell?' I could not say it, father,
I should be glad; therefore God make me glad,
Since we shall die to-morrow!
Think not sin,
O holy, harmless reverend man, to fear.
'T will be soon over. Now I know thou fear'st
Also for me, lest I be lost; but aye
Strong comfortable hope doth wrap me round,
A token of acceptance. I am cast
From Holy Church, and not received of thine;
But the great Advocate who knoweth all,
He whispers with me.
O my Delia wept
When I did plead; 'I have much feared to die,'
Answering. (The moonlight on her blue-black eyes
Fell; shining tears upon their lashes hung;
Fair showed the dimple that I loved; so young,
So very young.) 'But they did question me
Straitly, and make me many times to swear,
To swear of all alas, that I believed.
Truly, unless my soul I would have bound
With false oaths—difficult, innumerous, strong,
Way was not left me to get free.
Said she, I am happy; I have seen the place
Where I am going.
I will tell it you,
Love, Hubert. Do not weep; they said to me
That you would come, and it would not be long.
Thus was it, being sad and full of fear,
I was crying in the night; and prayed to God
And said, 'I have not learned high things;' and said
To the Saviour, 'Do not be displeased with me,
I am not crying to get back and dwell
With my good mother and my father fond,
Nor even with my love, Hubert—my love,
Hubert; but I am crying because I fear
Mine answers were not rightly given—so hard
Those questions. If I did not understand,
Wilt thou forgive me?' And the moon went down
While I did pray, and looking on the floor,
Behold a little diamond lying there,
So small it might have dropped from out a ring.
I could but look! The diamond waxed—it grew—
It was a diamond yet, and shot out rays,
And in the midst of it a rose-red point;
It waxed till I might see the rose-red point
Was a little Angel 'mid those oval rays,
With a face sweet as the first kiss, O love,
You gave me, and it meant that self-same thing.
Now was it tall as I, among the rays
Standing; I touched not. Through the window drawn,
This barred and narrow window,—but I know
Nothing of how, we passed, and seemed to walk
Upon the air, till on the roof we sat.
It spoke. The sweet mouth did not move, but all
The Angel spoke in strange words full and old,
It was my Angel sent to comfort me
With a message, and the message, 'I might come,
And myself see if He forgave me.' Then
Deliver'd he admonition, 'Afterwards
I must return and die.' But I being dazed,
Confused with love and joy that He so far
Did condescend, 'Ay, Eminence,' replied,
'Is the way great?' I knew not what I said.
The Angel then, 'I know not far nor near,
But all the stars of God this side it shine.'
And I forgetful wholly for this thing
My soul did pant in—a rapture and a pain,
So great as they would melt it quite away
To a vanishing like mist when sultry rays
Shot from the daystar reckon with it—I
Said in my simpleness, 'But is there time?
For in three days I am to burn, and O
I would fain see that he forgiveth first.
Pray you make haste.' 'I know not haste,' he said;
'I was not fashioned to be thrall of time.
What is it?' And I marvelled, saw outlying,
Shaped like a shield and of dimensions like
An oval in the sky beyond all stars,
And trembled with foreknowledge. We were bound
To that same golden holy hollow. I
Misdoubted how to go, but we were gone.
I set off wingless, walking empty air
Beside him. In a moment we were caught
Among thick swarms of lost ones, evil, fell
Of might, only a little less than gods,
And strong enough to tear the earth to shreds,
Set shoulders to the sun and rend it out
O' its place. Their wings did brush across my face,
Yet felt I nought; the place was vaster far
Than all this wholesome pastoral windy world.
Through it we spinning, pierced to its far brink,
Saw menacing frowns and we were forth again.
Time has no instant for the reckoning ought
So sudden; 't was as if a lightning flash
Threw us within it, and a swifter flash,
We riding harmless down its swordlike edge,
Shot us fast forth to empty nothingness.
All my soul trembled, and my body it seemed
Pleaded than such a sight rather to faint
To the last silence, and the eery grave
Inhabit, and the slow solemnities
Of dying faced, content me with my shroud.
And yet was lying athwart the morning star
That shone in front, that holy hollow; yet
It loomed, as hung atilt towards the world,
That in her time of sleep appeared to look
Up to it, into it.
We, though I wept,
Fearing and longing, knowing not how to go,
My heart gone first, both mine eyes dedicate
To its all-hallowed sweet desir?gold,
We on the empty limitless abyss
Walked slowly. It was far;
And I feared much,
For lo! when I looked down deep under me
The little earth was such a little thing,
How in the vasty dark find her again?
The crescent moon a moor?boat hard by,
Did wait on her and touch her ragged rims
With a small gift of silver.
Love! my life!
Hubert, while I yet wept, O we were there.
A menai of Angels first, a swarm of stars
Took us among them (all alive with stars
Shining and shouting each to each that place),
The feathered multitude did lie so thick
We walked upon them, walked on outspread wings,
And the great gates were standing open.
The country is not what you think; but oh!
When you have seen it nothing else contents.
The voice, the vision was not what you think—
But oh! it was all. It was the meaning of life,
Excellent consummation of desires
For ever, let into the heart with pain
Most sweet. That smile did take the feeding soul
Deeper and deeper into heaven. The sward
(For I had bowed my face on it) I found
Grew in my spirit's longed for native land—
At last I was at home.'
And here she paused:
I must needs weep. I have not been in heaven,
Therefore she could not tell me what she heard,
Therefore she might not tell me what she saw,
Only I understood that One drew near
Who said to her she should e'en come, 'Because,'
Said He, 'My Father loves Me. I will ask
He send, a guiding Angel for My sake,
Since the dark way is long, and rough, and hard,
So that I shall not lose whom I love—thee.'
Other words wonderful of things not known,
When she had uttered, I gave hope away,
Cried out, and took her in despairing arms,
Asking no more. Then while the comfortless
Dawn till night fainted grew, alas! a key
That with abhorr?jarring probed the door.
We kissed, we looked, unlocked our arms. She sighed
'Remember,' 'Ay, I will remember. What?'
'To come to me.' Then I, thrust roughly forth—
I, bereft, dumb, forlorn, unremedied
My hurt for ever, stumbled blindly down,
And the great door was shut behind and chained.
The weird pathetic scarlet of day dawning,
More kin to death of night than birth of morn,
Peered o'er yon hill bristling with spires of pine.
I heard the crying of the men condemned,
Men racked, that should be martyr'd presently,
And my great grief met theirs with might; I held
All our poor earth's despairs in my poor breast,
The choking reek, the faggots were all mine.
Ay, and the partings they were all mine—mine.
Father, it will be very good methinks
To die so, to die soon. It doth appease
The soul in misery for its fellows, when
There is no help, to suffer even as they.
Father, when I had lost her, when I sat
After my sickness on the pallet bed,
My forehead dropp'd into my hand, behold
Some one beside me. A man's hand let down
With that same action kind, compassionate,
Upon my shoulder. And I took the hand
Between mine own, laying my face thereon.
I knew this man for him who spoke with me,
Letting me see my Delia. I looked up.
Lo! lo! the robed ecclesiastic proud,
He and this other one. Tell you his name?
Am I a fiend? No, he was good to me,
Almost he placed his life in my hand.
He with good pitying words long talked to me,
'Did I not strive to save her?' 'Ay,' quoth I.
'But sith it would not be, I also claim
Death, burning; let me therefore die—let me.
I am wicked, would be heretic, but, faith,
I know not how, and Holy Church I hate.
She is no mother of mine, she slew my love.'
What answer? 'Peace, peace, thou art hard on me.
Favour I forfeit with the Mother of God,
Lose rank among the saints, foresee my soul
Drenched in the unmitigated flame, and take
My payment in the lives snatched at all risk
From battling in it here. O, an thou turn
And tear from me, lost to that other world
My heart's reward in this, I am twice lost;
Now have I doubly failed.'
Father, I know
The Church would rail, hound forth, disgrace, try, burn,
Make his proud name, discover'd, infamy,
Tread underfoot his ashes, curse his soul.
But God is greater than the Church. I hope
He shall not, for that he loved men, lose God.
I hope to hear it said 'Thy sins are all
Forgiven; come in, thou hast done well.'
My chronicle comes down to its last page.
'Is not life sweet?' quoth he, and comforted
My sick heart with good words, 'duty' and 'home.'
Then took me at moonsetting down the stair
To the dark deserted midway of the street,
Gave me a purse of money, and his hand
Laid on my shoulder, holding me with words
A father might have said, bad me God speed,
So pushed me from him, turned, and he was gone.
There was a Pleiad lost; where is she now?
None knoweth,—O she reigns, it is my creed,
Otherwhere dedicate to making day.
The God of Gods, He doubtless looked to that
Who wasteth never ought He fashion?
I have no vision, but where vision fails
Faith cheers, and truly, truly there is need,
The god of this world being so unkind.
O love! My girl for ever to the world
Wanting. Lost, not that any one should find,
But wasted for the sake of waste, and lost
For love of man's undoing, of man's tears,
By envy of the evil one; I mourn
For thee, my golden girl, I mourn, I mourn.
He set me free. And it befell anon
That I must imitate him. Then 't befell
That on the holy Book I read, and all,
The mediating Mother and her Babe,
God and the Church, and man and life and death,
And the dark gulfs of bitter purging flame,
Did take on alteration. Like a ship
Cast from her moorings, drifting from her port,
Not bound to any land, not sure of land,
My dull'd soul lost her reckoning on that sea
She sailed, and yet the voyage was nigh done.
This God was not the God I had known; this Christ
Was other. O, a gentler God, a Christ—
By a mother and a Father infinite—
In distance each from each made kin to me.
Blest Sufferer on the rood; but yet, I say
Other. Far gentler, and I cannot tell,
Father, if you, or she, my golden girl,
Or I, or any aright those mysteries read.
I cannot fathom them. There is not time,
So quickly men condemned me to this cell.
I quarrell'd not so much with Holy Church
For that she taught, as that my love she burned.
I die because I hid her enemies,
And read the Book.
But O, forgiving God,
I do elect to trust thee. I have thought,
What! are there set between us and the sun
Millions of miles, and did He like a tent
Rear up yon vasty sky? Is heaven less wide?
And dwells He there, but for His wing?host,
Almost alone? Truly I think not so;
He has had trouble enough with this poor world
To make Him as an earthly father would,
Love it and value it more.
He did not give
So much to have us with Him, and yet fail.
And now He knows I would believe e'en so
As pleaseth Him, an there was time to learn
Or certitude of heart; but time fails, time.
He knoweth also 't were a piteous thing
Not to be sure of my love's welfare—not
To see her happy and good in that new home.
Most piteous. I could all forego but this.
O let me see her, Lord.
What, also I!
White ashes and a waft of vapour—I
To flutter on before the winds. No, no.
And yet for ever ay—my flesh shall hiss
And I shall hear 't. Dreadful, unbearable!
Is it to-morrow?
Ay, indeed, indeed,
To-morrow. But my moods are as great waves
That rise and break and thunder down on me,
And then fall'n back sink low.
I have waked long
And cannot hold my thoughts upon th' event;
They slip, they wander forth.
How the dusk grows.
This is the last moonrising we shall see.
Methought till morn to pray, and cannot pray.
Where is mine Advocate? let Him say all
And more was in my mind to say this night,
Because to-morrow—Ah! no more of that,
The tale is told. Father, I fain would sleep.
Truly my soul is silent unto God.