Like Some Wild Sleeper
Like some wild sleeper who alone at night
Walks with unseeing eyes along a height,
With death below and only stars above;
I, in broad daylight, walk as if in sleep,
Along the edges of life's perilous steep,
The lost somnambulist of love.
I, in broad day, go walking in a dream,
Led on in safety by the starry gleam
Of thy blue eyes that hold my heart in thrall;
Let no one wake me rudely, lest one day,
Startled to find how far I've gone astray,
I dash my life out in my fall.
WE are so tired, my heart and I.
Of all things here beneath the sky
One only thing would please us best--
Endless, unfathomable rest.
We are so tired; we ask no more
Than just to slip out by Life's door;
And leave behind the noisy rout
And everlasting turn about.
Once it seemed well to run on too
With her importunate, fevered crew,
And snatch amid the frantic strife
Some morsel from the board of life.
But we are tired. At Life's crude hands
We ask no gift she understands;
But kneel to him she hates to crave
The absolution of the grave.
Love-cradling Night, lit by the lucent moon,
Most pitiful and mother-hearted Night!
Blest armistice in life's tumultuous fight,
Resolving discords to a spheral tune!
When tired with heat and strenuous toil of noon,
With ceaseless conflict betwixt might and right,
With ebb and flow of sorrow and delight,
Our panting hearts beneath their burdens swoon:
To thee, O star-eyes comforter, we creep,
Earth's ill-used step-children to thee make moan,
As hiding in thy dark skirts' ample sweep;
--Poor debtors whose brief life is not their own;
For dunned by Death, to whom we owe its loan,
Give us, O Night, the interest paid in sleep.
The Sleeping Beauty
There was intoxication in the air;
The wind, keen blowing from across the seas,
O'er leagues of new-ploughed land and heathery leas,
Smelt of wild gorse whose gold flamed everywhere.
And undertone of song pulsed far and near,
The soaring larks filled heaven with ecstasies,
And, like a living clock among the trees,
The shouting cuckoo struck the time of year.
For now the Sun had found the earth once more,
And woke the Sleeping Beauty with a kiss;
Who thrilled with light of love in every pore,
Opened her flower-blue eyes, and looked in his.
Then all things felt life fluttering at their core--
The world shook mystical in lambent bliss.
Like putting forth upon a sea
On which the moonbeams shimmer,
Where reefs and unknown perils be
To wreck, yea, wreck one utterly,
It were to love you, lady fair,
In whose black braids of billowy hair
The misty moonstones glimmer.
Oh, misty moonstone-coloured eye,
Latticed behind long lashes,
Within whose clouded orbs there lies,
Like lightning in the sleeping skies,
A spark to kindle and ignite,
And set a fire of love alight
To burn one's heart to ashes.
I will not put forth on this deep
Of perilous emotion;
No, though your hands be soft as sleep,
They shall not have my heart to keep,
Nor draw it to your fatal sphere.
Lady, you are as much to fear
As is the fickle ocean.
Between Sleep And Waking
SOFTLY in a dream I heard,
Ere the day was breaking,
Softly call a cuckoo bird
Between sleep and waking.
Calling through the rippling rain
And red orchard blossom;
Calling up old love again,
Buried in my bosom;
Calling till he brought you too
From some magic region;
And the whole spring followed you,
Birds on birds in legion.
Youth was in your beaming glance,
Love a rainbow round you;
Blushing trees began to dance,
Wreaths of roses crowned you.
And I called your name, and woke
To the cuckoo's calling;
And you waned in waning smoke,
As the rain was falling.
Had the cuckoo called 'Adieu,'
Ere the day was breaking?
All the old wounds bled anew
Between sleep and waking.
Sun-Tanned men and women, toiling there together;
Seven I count in all, in yon field of wheat,
Where the rich ripe ears in the harvest weather
Glow an orange gold through the sweltering heat.
Busy life is still, sunk in brooding leisure:
Birds have hushed their singing in the hushed tree tops;
Not a single cloud mars the flawless azure;
Not a shadow moves o'er the moveless crops;
In the grassy shallows, that no breath is creasing,
Chestnut-coloured cows in the rushes dank
Stand like cows of bronze, save when they flick the teasing
Flies with switch of tail from each quivering flank.
Nature takes a rest-even her bees are sleeping,
And the silent wood seems a church that's shut;
But these human creatures cease not from their reaping
While the corn stands high, waiting to be cut.
THE willows whisper very, very low
Unto the listening breeze;
Sometimes they lose a leaf which, flickering slow,
Faints on the sunburnt leas.
Beneath the whispering boughs and simmering skies,
On the hot ground at rest,
Still as a stone, a ragged woman lies,
Her baby at the breast.
Nibbling around her browse monotonous sheep,
Flies buzz about her head;
Her heavy eyes are shuttered by a sleep
As of the slumbering dead.
The happy birds that live to love and sing,
Flitting from bough to bough,
Peer softly at this ghastly human thing
With grizzled hair and brow.
O'er what strange ways may not these feet have trod
That match the cracking clay?
Man had no pity on her--no, nor God--
A nameless castaway!
But Mother Earth now hugs her to her breast,
Defiled or undefiled;
And willows rock the weary soul to rest,
As she, even she, her child.
On A Viola D'Amore
CARVED WITH A CUPID'S HEAD, AND PLAYED ON FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTER MORE THAN A CENTURY.
What fairy music clear and light,
Responsive to your fingers,
Swells rippling on the summer night,
And amorously lingers
Upon the sense, as long ago
In days of rouge and rococo!
A century of silence lay
On strings that had not spoken
Since powdered lords to ladies gay
Gave, for a lover's token,
Fans glowing fresh from Watteau's art,
Well worth a marchioness's heart.
Your dormant music, tranced and bound,
Was like the Sleeping Beauty
Prince Charming in the forest found,
And kissed in loyal duty:
And when she woke her eyes' blue fire
Turned the dumb forest to a lyre.
Thus Amor with the bandaged eyes,
Fit symbol of hushed numbers,
Most musically wakes and sighs
After an age of slumbers:
Beneath your magic bow's control
The Viol has regained her soul.
SHE sat by the wayside and wept, where roses, red roses and white,
Lay wasted and withered and sere, like her life and its ruined delight;
Like chaff blown about in the wind whirled roses, white roses and red,
And pale, on night's threshold, the moon bent over the day that was dead.
She sat by the wayside and wept; far over the desolate plain
A noise as of one that is weeping re-echoed in wind and in rain,
And the long dim line of the spectral poplars with dolorous wail
Nodded their bald-headed tops as they chattered with cold in the gale.
She sat by the wayside and wept in a passion of vain desire,
And her weak heart fluttered and failed like the flame of a faltering fire,
Fluttered and failed in her breast like the broken wing of a bird
When its feathers are dabbled with gore, and the low last gurgle is heard.
And behold, like balm on her soul, while she sat by the wayside and wept,
There came a forgetting of sorrow, a lulling of grief, and she slept;
Yea, like the wings of a dove when cooing it broods on the nest,
So the wings of slumber about her assuaged and filled her with rest.
And a light that was not the sun's nor the moon's light illumined her brain;
From afar in the country of dreams three maidens stole over the plain,
Three loveliest maidens they were, like roses, red roses and white;
And behold the earth and the heavens were glorified in their light.
And the first of the maidens was fair, as fair as the blue-kirtled Spring,
When she comes with a snowfall of blossoms and a rustling of birds on the wing,
When a glimmer of green like a tide rolls over the woodland and vales,
And odours are blown on the winds with the song of the nightingales.
The second was loftier of stature, a huntress of grief;
The wilderness glowed as she passed and broke into blossom and leaf;
Yea, it seemed that her upturned eyes, with their fathomless gaze,
Could pierce to the shining stars through the veil of the noonday blaze.
But the third was a splendour incarnate, a luminous form,
Thrilling with raptures that keep the heart of the cold earth warm,
Who hidden far in the mystical glory of quivering rays
Sets the whole world on fire for an absolute sight of her face.
But darkling ever they see her, and ever as through a veil,
For if naked she lightens upon them, their lives must shrivel and fail,
Must fail and shrivel consumed by that burst of insufferable light,
As a tree set on fire by lightning which burns to the ground in a night.
The first one kissed her cheek, her cheek grew pallid and wan:
'Goodbye,' she cried, 'we must part; I am Youth, and I follow the sun;
I am Youth, and I love to build in the heart that is buoyant and gay;
Goodbye, we shall meet not again,' she cried, as she fluttered away.
The second she kissed her eyes, then the glamour went out of their gaze,
Through the magical show she beheld life staring her straight in the face;
With a terrible Gorgon stare that turned her heart into stone--
'Adieu,' she sighed, 'I am Hope, all is over between us and done.'
The third one she kissed her lips, and the kiss was a quenchless fire,
It burned up her life like a victim's in the flames of a funeral pyre--
'Farewell,' she wailed, 'I am Love,' and her wings were spread as for flight--
It seemed like the wail of the wind as they left her alone with the night.
ACROSS the barren moors the wild, wild wind
Went sweeping on, and with his sobs and shrieks
Filled the still night, and tore the woof of clouds
Through which the moon did shed her cold clear light.
From age to age a houseless wanderer he--
Neither of heaven, nor yet of earth, but doomed
For evermore to waver 'twixt the two:--
Begging the moon with moans to take him up
Into her charmèd calm; now with a wail,
Piteous and low, beseeching that the earth
Might fold him to her bosom, but in vain!
A lonely outcast, frenzied does he storm
Wildly from land to land, from sea to sea,
Driving the clouds before him, ploughing up
The shaking sod, splitting the tow'ring masts,
And laying low the oaks of thousand years.
But I that night ne'er closed an eye in sleep,
For I did see him wand'ring o'er the moor--
A giant phantom lost in midnight gloom,
Flitting a restless shadow 'twixt the earth
And round orbed moon; loose tattered folds of clouds,
Ragged with ages, swept behind, as he
With Titan strides did bridge the rocky chasms;
Oh how he sobbed and shrieked, and howled and roared,
Torn with eternal hunger after home.
So roars the lion from Numidian peaks,
Swaying his manèd head from side to side,
As low, then loud and louder swell his tones,
Till big with horror thro' the forest lone
They roll towards the plain, curdling the blood
Of flocks and herds returning to the fold.
So howls the famished wolf across the waste
Siberian snows, with glare of restless eyes,
Making a hideous brilliance in the dark.
Now worn away, the wild wind's voice would die
Fainting with its excess; then draw a sigh--
Sounding far off, and then a soughing wail,
A roar, a shriek, to pierce the ears of night;
So on and on, through all the livelong night;
And all the livelong night I tossed about;
His stormy voice, it would not let me rest,
But woke an echo in me, rolling on
Over my boundless waste of soul, till all
The weary longings and the phantoms wild,
The cravings with their thirst unquenchable,
The doubts--dark looming in the nether mists,
Rose up in tumult, shrieking with one voice:
'Is there no goal? shall we for aye and aye
Be hurried restlessly through endless space?
Oh has the storm no nest? the soul no home?
And the foundation stone of all my being
Shook, and a flood, brackish with tears unshed,
Surged o'er and o'er me.--Tortured I arose,
Went to the open casement, and looked out.--
There was a lull.--Upon the gravelled talks
And smooth-cut sward, patches of moonlight lay;
The clouds were swept away; and sharp and clear
The trees did cast their shadows on the ground.
Weird-like and moonlit the wan brood of night
Did flit adown the ridges of the moors,
Up from the river, and from out the trees,
Gliding with noiseless movements in and out
The pale moonlight, making my flesh to creep;
And sick with fear I turned me to my rest--
But not to sleep, for he on dewèd wings
Had shyly fled before the moaning wind,
Who now arose again in all his strength,
And tore along, blasting the peace of night;
And the old clock did toll the weary hours,
As one by one night dropped them from her lap,
And weary, wearily I counted them,
With burning eyes and with a burning brain.
What golden touch falls on the curtain now?
Up from my bed I spring--I look, I see
A trembling light gleam faintly in the east,
A trembling light, while all around is dark;
It grows, it deepens into liquid gold
And glowing orange and vermilion bright;
It spreads along in billowy ripples, like
A glittering ocean when the tide rolls in.
Smiling, it greets the mist-enshrouded earth,
And draws her up with hill and tree and field,
Driving the host of pris'ning fogs to flight,
That brooding vengeance fly behind the hills,
And gath'ring force from night, swoop in one mass
Of densest black across the swooning earth.
Trees weep, and long drawn sighs float here and there;
Have shadows then wiped out the golden light?
See! see! the strangling cloud
Sinks back; pierced by the arrow of the dawn,
Her blood--it trickles on the grass, and all
The vague wan children of the night, they fly
In dire confusion westward. . . . Hark! oh hark!
The lovely morn now blows his silver horn,
And like a lavish prodigal he strews
Red roses, thick as sands on amber shores
Along heaven's eastern floor: for now the sun,
The radiant conqueror of the night, steps forth
Upon the gorgeous path, with dazzling shield,
Greeted by pealing chants as he begins
His grand triumphal march: hills, vales, and streams,
Laugh glowing up to him; the heavy tears
Wept through the night, now sparkle on the grass
Like orient pearls, well knowing that the sun
Will kiss them all away; the merry birds
Shake out their plumage wet with drops, and flit
In airy gambols twitt'ring to and fro;
The flowers smile again, and shyly play
With morning rays.
But in the west, a white mist like a dream
With languid rooks, floats o'er the winding stream,
And wearied out, the wind, a phantom, strides
On with the faded moon and flick'ring star,
Towards the hazy stretch of western moors;
His strong voice dying slowly as he goes.
But by my side a radiant spirit stood,
A sunbeam, whispering, with a smile, 'Behold!
After the darkness still there falls a light;
After the storm a trancèd calm there falls.
There is a light; yea, and there is a rest!'
And all the weary and the restless gusts
That had been shaking at my roots of being
Were lulled, a silence came, and dewy sleep
Fell on my burning eyes and burning brain.
OH come, thou power divine,
Thou lovely spirit with the wings of light,
And let thy dewy eyes
Shed their sweet influences on my soul;
Oh let me hear thy voice,
Whose sound thrills with a keener, deeper bliss,
Than the shrill jubilance the bird of joy
Pours on the air!
Or the child babblings of the gladsome rill
When, issuing first from out its mossy couch
In venturesome delight, it frisks in glee
Adown the hoary mountain, silver-fraught.
Where I do lie drenched in my bitter tears,
And drowning in dejection: haunted by
The pale gaunt fears that spectre-like rush forth
In shadowy swarms from out the brains's black cells,
Like glaring madmen in confusion 'scaped
From out their dens, whirling with shambling limbs
In whooping dances through the startled dusk,
And pouncing wildly on my shiv'ring soul,
Where in her hour of weakness prostrate she
Doth palpitate in terror, like a deer,
That hunted by the swift pursuing hounds,
Wounded and bleeding, sinks upon the ground,
While with hoarse croaks the ravening birds of prey
Wheel close and closer, darkening all the air.
Come breathe upon me with thy balmy breath,
Like a young wind, born in the rosèd east,
That leapeth boy-like from the lap of morn,
To blow the land all clear from crouching fogs:
Thus drive thou hence the phantoms; cleanse my soul!
Thou sweet enchantress, with the magic spells!
Wails there a heart, lone on the populous earth,--
Like a weak infant lost within the night
That crieth piteously in helplessness,
And pusheth its blind limbs with gestures scared
Against the gloom,--
Then with an airy footfall glidest thou
Gently anigh, as softly as a cloud,
When one alone in crimson glory slides
Along the twilight sky: tak'st the bewildered thing
Into thine arms, thy fair and downy arms,
And rock'st it on thy bosom--singing low
An old, old song, old as the flowers that bloom,
And like them ever young; till dreams rise up,
Like cool white mists from out the heart of hills,
And lie dew-sweet upon it in its sleep!
Sits there an orphan girl with sunken cheeks,
And red-rimmed eyes, high up beneath the leads,
Stitching with aching fingers all the night
Beside the meagre flame, to earn her bread,
And feed with scanty fuel the low fire
Of life, while the shrill blast
Dashes the rain against the rattling panes,
And down the chimney roars with smoke and wet;--
Then comest thou, with memories all dim
And faint, with beauty from the childish years,
Transposing them into the time to come
With a new lustre of the full-grown heart.
Where the bare walls stood with a hungry stare,
The golden cornfields, weighed down by their wealth,
Sway to and fro; purling the brook flows on;
And, like a bit of sky drawn down by love,
Wilds of forget-me-nots run riot round;
And meadows scent the air; and lowing kine
Are driven home; and silver geese hiss loud
Within the pools; and childhood's silver laughs
Ring o'er the green like chimes of silver bells
In the clear atmosphere; and through green boughs
Curls up the smoke from many a thatchèd roof,
Flushed all the land with roseate floods of eve,
While large and full glows low the harvest moon,
There as through homely fields she lightly walks,
And one is by her side, and whispers low,
And thine, oh hope! the future's kindling glow.
Rocks there a sailor on a reeling ship,
That staggers blindly like a brain-struck man,
Around the staring cliffs!
While the wild blast, the fiddler of the deep,
Wakes such mad music on his shrieking strings
That the fierce elements in huge delight
Vault from their torpor, rearing giant heights!
Ha! The maned billows from abysmal deeps
Leap like live Alps, and catch the tearing clouds
That dizzy haste along the wilds of sky;
Tossing them round in labyrinthic whirls
To the witch light of lightning, and the roar
Of thunder, in its crashing clattering fall.
Yea, while the ocean yawneth for its prey,
Yelling with starvèd jaws around the hull,
Man's sole frail guardian from the fangs of death,--
Thou softly float'st,
Like to the dove that bore the olive branch
Across the waste of waters, to his side. . . .
No longer sees he then the wide wild sea,
No longer hears he the tempestuous blast:
But where the cottage leans against the cliff,
The evening star shedding its peace adown,
He lifts the latch, and with one bound of joy
He stands in the low room, beside the hearth,
Where sits his winsome wife, and rocks her babe
With lullabies; and heaving one big sob
He strains her to his breast, her whom he thought
On this side of the grave to see no more!
Then does she take him by the hand, and leads
Him round from cot to cot, where with round cheeks
His children lie, sleep-flushed, 'twixt snow-white sheets,
And snatching up the youngest in his arms,
With an untameable emotion, weeps
His kisses on him, till it opens wide
Large dream-dew'd eyes, and lisps with cherry mouth,
'Oh, Dada, Dada!'----That thou dost for him!
Wanders the patriot on a stranger shore,
And exile from the land he loved too well:
Within his heart
The festering wound a thankless nation strikes,
When cloud-capp'd by its ignorance and fear,
And goaded on by spurring king and priest,
Like a mad dog it turns and bites the hand
Stretched out to heal.
He sees his friends fall off like rotten leaves
That scrambling flee the tempest-girted oak;
He sees the enemies he boldly braved,
Forging the red-hot slanders wherewithal
To scorch his writhing soul!
Alone in the wide world, alone he stands;
Alone, save where beyond the roaring seas
His mother weeps, and weeps, oh God! through him.
Then, blowing from dead deserts the simoom
Of doubt breathes on him, with its killing breath,
With'ring the flowers of faith, the groves of youth,
And buffeting his heart on cruel waves
Of wind, e'en like a quiv'ring autumn leaf.
Oh, is it strange?
That in the midnight, on the dark there grow
Pale faces sweating blood, and wrapped in shrouds,
Turning reproachful eyes upon his eyes,
And asking dumbly, 'Wherefore did we die,
And spill the wine-filled goblets of our youth
On barren soil that will not teem with birth?'
That brides, like broken lilies whirled along
By arrowy streams, glide past and sadly sob,
'Thou'st mowed us down, and mowed us down in vain!'
That infants thrill the silence with their wail,
'Why are we fatherless, if fatherland
Is still denied?' And that his heartstrings quake
With sobs of mothers' hearts that hopeless break?
Strange that his purpose, that did seem so fair,
With a white blaze of light around her head,
Which fell like orient beams on nations' brows,
Should wane before his terror-stricken eyes?
And that in direst agony of soul
His noble nature tott'ring on her base,
Should question if his deeds were rightful deeds?
Stirred up by God's own living breath, or pushed
By hot ambition's ravenous desire?
And if the aim that drew were but a dream
By which his visionary youth was mocked,
As travellers in the desert by the shine
Of fair false waters?--At that torturing thought
Smells of cold graves struck damp upon his brow,
Till his wilds eyes grew void, and limp his limbs,
And he had dropped resistless in the jaws
Of madness or of death!
Hadst thou not come, perennial presence! bright
As Phosphorus in the dim morning skies!
And poured thy morning sunbeams on his heart,
And blown thy morning breezes on his soul,
Till freshly born the world, and on him smiled
With eyes as tender as his mother's were,
When sowing love upon his cradled self.
Then back plucked he his purpose, fixed it firm
In iron steadfastness upon his soul,
And called on faith, where with upturnèd eyes
Above the clouds she treads the mountain peaks,
And on that love, which boundless as the sky,
Stretches o'er all mankind its azured vault.
Then rose he, set his trustful eyes on high,
And set his heart among the lowly born:
For in the vasty glimmerings of the dawn
He saw such visions of the things to be,
Such heights of being ascended, and such love
And justice throning on the seats of men,
That with unflagging steps he calmly trod
The walks of martyrdom! Oh, crown his brows
With buds of those full summers of the race!
Mourns there an aged mother, lying low
Upon the lowly grave,
Round which the autumn moans her mournful dirge,
And shivering cadence of the shrunken leaves
Keeps saddest measure with the wailing wind;
While the pale glimm'rings of the waning moon
Fall in cold tears upon the unknown tomb,
Beneath whose sod, washed by the ghastly mists,
Lies he, her one sole flower, that on the breast
Of life bloomed for her all the days and nights;
In the midsummer of his lusty life
Devoured by that grim beast, whose reeking breath
Is saturated with the blood of man--
The twin of pestilence--the foul firstborn
Of her who spinneth in the nether gloom
The phantasms that turn mad the brains of men,
And him whose savage lusts and greedy soul
Would make his footstool on the necks of men!
Oh here, even here like a stray beam of light
That glides unscared in sacred tenderness
Across the heavy vapours, brooding blind
In shapeless masses o'er a joyless tarn
Deep sunk in mountains,--even here the gleam
Of thy gold hair makes music in the dark,
Cradlest the head of grief on thy warm breast,
Whisperest in tones sweeter than honeycomb
Of that new heaven where death shall be no more,
Nor grief, nor crying, neither shall there be
More pain; for former things have passed away.
And with thy wings of light around her soul,
And with thy dewy eyes upon her heart,
Death takes her gently like a cherubim
By the shrunk hand, and leads her to her rest.
* * * * *
Oh Hope! thou consolation of the soul!
Flash forth, and like a sun strike on the clouds
Of dull despondency, that pour their rain
In showers upon the sad heart's shivering soil;
Flash forth, and force each drop e'en as it falls
To glass thy loveliness, and on the cloud
Frowning in dumb defiance, paint such bloom
Etherial, that its blackness but becomes
A foil on which thy brightness brighter beams,
Till spanned with rainbow-glory the sad soul
Glistens in glimmering smiles through all her tears,
And life shone through by white eternity,
Circled with calm as by a covenant,
Is born in beauty of the bitter tears,
Like Aphrodite from the salt sea waves.
The Prophecy Of St. Oran: Part Iii
'A CURSE is on this work!' Columba cried;
And with their dark robes flapping in the gale,
The frightened monks came hurrying to his side,
And looked at one another turning pale;
For every night the work done in the day
Strewn on the ground in wild confusion lay.
'A curse is on this work!' he cried again
As his keen glances swept each face in turn:
'Behold, God smites us in the hurricane,
And in the lightning doth His anger burn.
Brethren, some secret deadly sin there is
Known to the Lord for which we suffer this.
'Why is it that the elements combine
Against us, raging in relentless ire
Against our humble wave-encircled shrine?
That air, that water, that consuming fire
Inveterately war against this fane
Which we would build, but ever build in vain?
'Why is it that the billows of the deep
Rise in revolt against the rock-bound shore,
Lashing themselves to fury on each steep,
Till inland lakes, awakening at the roar,
Now roar in mad response, and swell amain,
Till broadening waters hide the drowning plain?
'One night, ye know, from out the imminent gloom,
Shrouding the firmament as in a pall,
The levin, like a spirit from the tomb,
Leaped with a ghastly glare, and in its fall
Struck the new roof-tree with reverberate crash,
And left a little heap of shrivelled ash.
'Another night--why need I tell the tale?--
The winds in legions thundered through the air,
Battering the walls with sudden gusts of hail,
They rushed with piercing shrieks and strident blare
Athwart the cloisters and the roofless hall,
Till stone by stone fell from the rocking wall.
'And then the very water turned our foe,
For in the dead of night it slowly crept,
Soft wave on wave, till in its overflow
It deluged all the basement while we slept;
And where the convent yesterday did stand,
There spreads the lake as level as my hand.
'And then, when slowly after many days
The waters had subsided to the main,
And through the toilsome hours we sought to raise
Our ever-shattered structure once again,
Behold! the earth herself with stone and block
Shudders convulsive and begins to rock.
'For lo, the fiends let loose at God's command
Burrow and delve in subterranean gloom,
Till like the troubled ocean all the land
Heaves to and fro as tottering to its doom:
The quiet graves themselves now bursting yawn,
God's holy house once more lies overthrown!
'And now hath come the hour of darkest need--
The people have abandoned us! They wail
That their dead fathers rage against our creed,
That in dark rushing cloud and roaring gale
The houseless spirits ride and fill the air
With lamentations for the gods that were!
'The Lord rebukes us in His wrath! I ask,
Again I ask, what man among you all
Living in deadly sin, yet wears the mask
Of sanctity? Yea, let him cleanse his soul,
Confessing all the crying guilt of it,
Or go for ever to the burning pit!'
Again his eagle glances swept each face,
While the assembled monks, with anxious sigh,
Asked with a thrill of horror and amaze,
'Was it indeed a judgment from on high?'
As with one voice then cried the saintly throng,
'Not I--not I--know of that hidden wrong.'
And with uplifted arms they loudly prayed,
'Oh Lord, if in our midst the traitor bides
Who breaks the sacramental vow he made,
And takes Thy name in vain, and basely hides
His wicked ways from every eye save Thine--
Let his dark sin stand forth, and make a sign.'
All day expectant, waiting on His will,
The monks in reverential silence stand
Beneath the rustling pine-trees of the hill,
Whence their eyes sweep across the level land:
Lo, from afar the vision of a maid
Comes o'er the shining pools the flood has made.
Swiftly she came across the devious track,
With glimmering waterways on either hand;
Against the luminous vapour at her back
Her dusky form looms mystically grand;
While in the liquid crystal by her side
The phantom of herself seems still to glide.
Was she a spirit risen from the grave
When its foul depths lay open to the sky,
Or ghost of Druid priestess wont to rave
Her blasphemous oracles in times gone by,
Who ventured thus upon the sacred isle
For ever barred against a woman's wile?
But no! as nearer and more near she draws,
They see a maiden with the wild deer's grace
Bounding from stone to stone, whose beauty awes
These Christian fathers, riveting their gaze;
For like the full moon framed in amber air
Her face shone mid the glory of her hair.
Then in their midst all breathless did she stand,
But paused bewildered and as one affrayed,--
Even as a swift wave making for the strand
With all its waters gathering to a head
Delays, suspended with back-fluttering locks,
Then breaks in showers of brine upon the rocks.
So for a moment motionless she stood,
From monk to monk her wildered glances stray;
Immovable, like figures carved in wood,
These waited what their master's lips would say,
But ever and anon, in mute appeal,
Her piteous eyes to Oran's face would steal.
Only for one brief moment she delayed,
Struck speechless at his cold averted mien,
Then with a long low moan she blindly swayed
With her fair arms towards him, and in keen
Unutterable anguish cried aghast--
'Is this a dream, or am I mad at last?
'Dost thou not know me, Oran--Oran mine?
Look on me; I am Mona, I am she
For whom thy soul so thirstily did pine!
Nay, turn not from me! Say, art thou not he
Whose mouth to my mouth yearningly was pressed,
Whose dearest head lay pillowed on my breast?
'Dear, be not wroth with me in that I came;
For our love's sake look not so stern and grave;
Ah, surely thou wilt think me free from blame
For having dared to break the word I gave,
When I have told thee what has brought me here,
How sore distraught I was with grief and fear.
Oh love, when night came swooping o'er the sea,
And on the poor folk's tired eyelids sleep
Fell like a seabird's feather, stealthily
I climbed the jagged overhanging steep
Whose giddy summit looks towards thy home,
Wondering if haply I might see thee come.
When, lo! the solid cliff began to shake
As in an ague fit, and while I stood
Trembling, methought the maddening sea would break
Its everlasting limits, for the flood
Came crashing in loud thunder o'er the land,
And swept our huts like seaweed from the sand.
Then a great horror seized me, and I reeled
And fell upon my face, and knew no more.
When from that trance I woke, the sun had wheeled
Far up the sky and shone upon the shore,
And there beneath the bright and cloudless sky
I saw a heap of mangled corpses lie.
Shrieking I fled, and paused not in my fright
Fleeing I knew not whither, but my feet
Flew swift as ever arrow in its flight
To thee, my love! Hast thou no smile to greet
Thy Mona with,--no kiss? For pity's sake,
Speak to me, Oran, or my heart will break.'
All held their breath when she had made her moan:
All eyes were fixed on that pale monk, who stood
Unnaturally quiet--like a stone
Whose flinty sides are fretted by the flood--
When St. Columba turned on him, and said,
'I bid thee speak,--man, knowest thou this maid?'
Then answered him the other, but his words
Rang hollow like the toll of funeral bell,
And on his humid brows like knotted cords
The livid veins and arteries seemed to swell,
Facing the accusation of his eyes,
'Master, I know her not--the woman lies!'
A hum of indignation, doubt, alarm,
Ran through their circle, but none durst to speak
Before the Master, who with lifted arm
And eyes whence fiery flashes seemed to break,
Cried very loudly, 'Is it even so,--
Then help me God but I will rout this foe!
'Look, brethren, on this lovely maiden, fair
As virginal white lilies newly blown,
Fresh as the first breath of the vernal air,
Pure as an incarnation of the dawn;
Look on that golden glory of her hair,--
It is a man-trap, Satan's deadliest snare.
'Brethren, let the two eldest of you seize
This fiend in angel's garb, this beast of prey
Which lies in wait behind that snowy fleece
Lusting to take our brother's name away,
And blast his fame for purest sanctity
With lies forged by our common enemy!
'Seize her, and bear her to that frightful steep
Where, bristling with huge pier and jagged spire,
The spectre rock which overhangs the deep
Pierces the ghastly clouds like frozen fire;
There standing, fling her from its giddiest cone--
Into the ocean fling her, like a stone.'
The sentence had gone forth; the monks obeyed;
Two venerable brothers, deep in years,
First crossed themselves, then seized the struggling maid
In their stout arms; despite her prayers and tears,
And wild appears on him she called her love,
They with their burden now began to move.
But he, whose human flesh seemed petrified
To marble, started from that rigid mood,
And blindly running after them, he cried,
'Hold! hold! stain not your hands with innocent blood;
I broke my vow, I am the sinner, I
Seduced the maid,--spare her, and let me die.'
They halted midway, marvelling, aghast,
When St. Columba thundered to them 'Stay!'
His voice was like a dreadful battle-blast,
And startled coveys rose and whirred away:
'He broke his vow, he is the sinner; aye
Do as he says--spare her, and let him die!
'Yea, well I saw the gnawing worm within,
But wished to tear the mask from off his soul,
That in the naked hideousness of sin
He might stand pilloried before you all:
This is a judgment on me from above
For loving him with more than woman's love.'
His voice here failed him and he hid his face;
And as before some imminent storm all sound
In earth, air, ocean ceases for a space,
There fell a breathless silence on that mound;
But when Columba raised his voice once more,
It seemed the muffled thunder's boding roar.
'Oh perjured one! oh breaker of thy vow!
Oh base, apostate monk, whose guilt abhorred
Weighed down our walls and laid our chapel low!
Thy life shall be an offering to the Lord,
And with thy blood we will cement the fane
Which for thy sin's sake still was built in vain.
'Seize him, and bear him to that dolorous site
Where mid our ruined cells the chapel stands
Whose holy walls and columns every night
Have fallen beneath the blow of dæmon hands;
There, living, bury him beneath its sod,
And so propitiate the Lord our God.'
The Prophecy Of St. Oran: Part Ii
THERE was a windless mere, on whose smooth breast
A little island, flushed with purple bloom,
Lay gently cradled like a moorhen's nest:
It glowed like some rich jewel 'mid the gloom
Of sluggish leagues of peat and black morass,
Without or shrub or tree or blade of grass.
But on the isle itself the birch was seen
With its ethereal foliage, like some haze
Floating among the rowan's vivid green;
The ground with fern all feathered, and ablaze
With heath's and harebell's hyacinthine hue,
Was mirrored in the wave's intenser blue.
This was the immemorial isle of graves,
Here, under nameless mound and dateless stone,
The generations, like successive waves,
Had rolled one o'er the other, and had gone
As these go, indistinguishably fused
Their separate lives in common death confused.
And here amid the dead Columba chose
To found God's holy house and sow His word;
Already here and there the walls arose,
Built from the stones imbedded in the sward;
These did the natives without mortar pile,
As was the ancient custom of their isle.
For many of them to the work were won
By reverence for the saint, and thus apace
The chapel grew which they had first begun
As dedicate to God's perpetual praise;
So many of the monks again were free
To give thought wholly to their ministry.
And ever first in hastening to his task
St. Oran was, though last to seek repose;
Columba's best beloved, he still would ask
For heaviest share of duty, while he chose
Rude penances, till shadow-like he grew
With fasts and vigils that the flesh subdue.
Yet there was that which would not be subdued--
A shape, a presence haunting every dream;
Fair as the moon that shines above a flood,
And ever trembles on the trembling stream;
Sweet as some gust of fragrance, unaware
Stealing upon us on the summer air.
Even so it stole upon his ravished heart,
Suffusing every fibre with delight,
Till from his troubled slumber he would start,
And, as with ague shivering and affright,
Catch broken speech low murmuring in his ears,
And feel his eyelids ache with unshed tears.
But it befell one windy afternoon,
While monks and men were busied with the roof,
Laying the beams through which the sun and moon
Might shed their light as yet without reproof,
That there came one across the lonely waste
Toward these men of God, crying in haste,--
'Ye say ye came to save us, save us then!
Save us if ye spake truth, and not a lie!
Famine and fever stalk among us,--men,
Women, and children are struck down and die!
For lo, the murrain smites our cowering sheep,
The fishers haul no fish from out the deep.
'Ye tell us that your God did multiply
A few small fishes, wherewithal He fed
A multitude; in sooth, if 'tis no lie,
Then come, ye holy men, and give us bread!
For they are starving by the waterside,--
Come then, and give us bread,' he loudly cried.
He was a man inspiring dread surprise,
Half-naked, with long glibs of bristling hair
In fiery meshes tumbling o'er his eyes,
Which, like a famished wolf's from out its lair,
Glanced restlessly; his dog behind him came,
Whose lolling tongue hung down like scarlet flame.
'Let me arise, and go to them withal!'
Cried Oran, flinging down his implement:
'This heavy tribulation is a call
From the Most High; a blessed instrument
To compass their salvation: let me go
Teach them what mercy worketh in their woe.'
'Go then, my son, and God go with thee still,
While I abide to speed His temple here,'
Said St. Columba; 'and thy basket fill
With herbs and cordials, also wine to cheer
And bread to feed the poor, so that their days
May still endure to God's eternal praise.'
Then Oran and that wild man forth did fare,
And o'er the little lake they rowed in haste,
And mounting each a small and shaggy mare,
They ambled o'er that solitary waste,
Then through a sterile glen their road did lie
Whose shrouded peaks loomed awfully on high.
When for a mile or two they thus had gone,
The mountains opened wide on either hand,
And lo, amid those labyrinths of stone
The sea had got entangled in the land,
And turned and twisted, struggling to get free,
And be once more the immeasurable sea.
It was a sorcerous, elemental place,
O'er which there now came rushing from the plain--
Like some dark host whom yelling victors chase--
A moving pillar of resistless rain
Shivering the gleaming lances in its flight
Against the bastions of each monstrous height.
Fast, fast it raced before the roaring gale,
With shrieks and frenzied howlings that did shake
The very stones with long-resounding wail,
And in outlying gorges would it wake
The startled echo's sympathetic scream,
Then whirling on would vanish like a dream,--
Would vanish dream-like, whither no man knows,
Fading afar in vaporous gulfs of light,
While the wet mountain-tops flushed like a rose,
And following the spent tempest in its flight
Its hues ethereal mantling o'er the gloom,
There glowed the rainbow's evanescent bloom.
And while that rain still drenched him to the skin,
St. Oran, unappalled, intoned a psalm,
And lifting up his voice amidst the din,
He sang, 'We laud Thee, Lord, through storm and calm,
In the revolving stars we see Thine hand,
The sun and moon rise as Thou dost command.
'We laud Thee for the evening and the morn,
And the prolific seasons' changing boon,
For singing-birds, and flowers, and ripening corn,
For tides that rise and fall beneath the moon;
As in a mirror darkling do we see
The shadow that Thou castest on the sea.'
Up many a wild ascent, down many a steep
Clothed with scant herbage, rode that battered pair,
Where lay the bleaching bones of mangled sheep,
And carrion crows wheeled hoarsely in the air;
At last through mist and darkness they espied
Small lights that twinkled by the waterside.
There in dark turf-built hovels close to earth
Lay the poor sufferers on their beds of heath,
Gnawed to the very bone by cruel dearth,
Cold to the marrow with approaching death;
Thither came Oran like some vision bright,
And ministered to each one through the night.
And so dispensing alms he went and came,
Stooping to enter the last house of all;
There, by the peat-fire's orange-coloured flame,
Whose flashes fitfully did rise and fall
On the smoke-blackened rafters--sat a crone
Ancient it might be as the lichened stone.
Fast through her bony fingers flies the thread,
And as her foot still turns the whirring wheel,
She seems to spin the yarn of quick and dead!
But oh, what makes St. Oran's senses reel?
Whose is the shape clad in its golden hair
That turns and tosses on the pallet there?
Like some wan water lily veiled in mist
When puffs of wind its tender petals shake,
Whose chalice by the shining moonbeams kissed
Sways to and fro upon the swelling lake,
So white--so wan--so wonderfully fair,
Showed Mona tossing mid her golden hair.
What should he do? Ah, whither should he turn?
Why had God let this trial come again?
Her beauty, half-revealed, did straightly burn
Through his hot eyeballs to his kindling brain.
Was it his duty to go hence or stay?
He wavered--gazed on her--then turned away.
But that old woman tottered to the door
And clutched his cassock with a shaking hand,
And mumbled, 'Priest, ah! dost thou shun the poor?
They say that ye go bragging through the land
Of some new God called Christian Charity;
But in our need ye turn from us and fly.'
So spake the crone, but Oran bowed his head
And murmured, 'If thou bid'st me, I abide.'
With downcast eyes he turned towards the bed
In fervent prayer low kneeling by its side:
At last he rose, pale, cold, and deadly still,
With heart subdued to his stern Maker's will.
Thus through her fever did he tend the maid,
Who babbled wildly in delirious trance
Of her lost home, and her loved kindred laid
In alien earth--and of a countenance
Fair as a spirit's comforting her pain,
But soon withdrawn to its own heaven again.
All this unflinching would the monk endure,
And having cured her body's sickness, strove
With double zeal her sicker soul to cure:
But when he told her of the Saviour's love,
Of sin, and its atonement, and free grace,
She looked in puzzled wonder on his face.
She could not understand his mournful creed,
Nor knew, poor child, of what she should repent,
Nor why her heart was wicked, and had need
That some poor pitying God should once have spent
His blood for her five hundred years ago--
Ancestral voices never told her so!
She could not understand, but she could feel!
And while she sat before him by the flame
The pathos of his pleading voice would steal
Sweeter than sweetest music through her frame,
And as the ocean murmur in a shell
Through her dim soul his solemn accents swell.
He was the air she breathed--all living things
Were pale reflections of him--as the hart
In desert places thirsts for water-springs,
Even thus for him she thirsted in her heart;
To her it seemed as if life's aim and end
Were just to lay her hand within his hand.
Her eyes were full of love as stars of light,
And pierced the cold obstructive atmosphere
Of his joy-killing creed, and did ignite
His inmost spirit of sense with fire as clear
And radiant as their own--their beaming looks
Mingled as flames of fire or meeting brooks.
Was he not young and beautiful?--in face
Like to that radiant god whose flame divine
The Druid worshipped in those younger days
Ere sin had stamped the green earth with its sign,
Had made the loveliness of flowers a snare,
And bid frail man of woman's love beware.
Oh, not for him, through all the lonely years
Never for him a woman's love might bloom;
Her smiles would never cheer him, nor her tears
Fall softly on his unlamented tomb;
Never till quenched in death's supreme eclipse
His lips would know the sweetness of her lips.
Oh God! would nothing quench that secret fire,
Nor yet assuage that hunger of the heart?
To feel this flagellation of desire,
To be so near, yet evermore apart,
Never to clasp this woman as a wife--
This was the crowning penance of his life.
But lo! one day at dusk they were alone,
The rain was beating down on roof and wall,
The round of earth with solid rock and stone
Had turned phantasmal in its misty pall:
They were alone, but neither spake a word--
Only their hearts in throbbing might be heard.
Whose is that low involuntary cry
That like a flash of lightning shook each frame
With thrill electric? Simultaneously
Their yearning lips had sobbed each other's name!
With swift instinctive dread they move apart
While magnet-like each draws the other's heart.
What boots it thus to struggle with his sin,
So much more sweet than all his virtues were?
Like a great flood let all her love roll in
And his soul stifle mid her golden hair!
And so he barters his eternal bliss
For the divine delirium of her kiss!
What cares he for his soul's salvation now?
Let it go to perdition evermore
For breaking that accursed monastic vow
Which cankers a man's nature to the core;
For he had striven as never mortal strove,
But than his Lord a mightier lord was Love.
The Prophecy Of St. Oran: Part I
'Earth, earth on the mouth of Oran, that he may blab no more.' Gaelic Proverb.
THE storm had ceased to rave: subsiding slow
Lashed ocean heaved, and then lay calm and still;
From the clear North a little breeze did blow
Severing the clouds: high o'er a wooded hill
The slant sun hung intolerably bright,
And spanned the sea with a broad bridge of light.
Now St. Columba rose from where he sat
Among his monkish crew; and lifting high
His pale worn hands, his eagle glances met
The awful glory which suffused the sky.
As soars the lark, sweet singing from the sod,
So prayer is wafted from his soul to God.
For they in their rude coracle that day
Shuddered had climbed the crests of mountainous wave,
To plunge down glassy walls of shifting spray,
From which death roared as from an open grave;
Till, the grim fury of the tempest o'er,
Bursts on their ravished sight an azure shore.
Ah! is this solid earth which meets their view,
Or some still cloud-land islanded on high?
Those crags are too aërially blue,
Too soft those mountains mingling with the sky,
And too ineffable their dewy gleam,
For aught but fabric of a fleeting dream.
Entranced they gaze, and o'er the glimmering track
Of seething gold and foaming silver row:
Now to their left tower headlands, bare and black
And blasted, with grey centuries of snow,
Deep in whose echoing caves, with hollow sighs,
Monotonous seas for ever ebb and rise.
Rounding these rocks, they glide into a deep
And tranquil bay, in whose translucent flood
The shadows of the azure mountains sleep:
High on a hill, amid green foliage, stood
A square and rough-hewn tower, whose time-bleached stone,
Like some red beacon, with the sunset shone.
A few more vigorous strokes, and the sharp keel
Grates on the beach, on which, inclining low
Their tonsured heads, the monks adoring kneel;
While St. Columba, his pale face aglow
With outward light and inward, lifts on high
The Cross, swart outlined on the burning sky.
Impassive, though in silent wonder, stood
The islesmen while these worshipped, on their shore,
A thorn-crowned figure nailed upon the wood,
From whose pierced side the dark blood seemed to pour;
While on the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
They loudly called as brow and breast they crost.
Spoke now their Master, in a voice whose ring
Was like the west wind's in a twilight grove:
'Glad tidings to this sea-girt isle we bring,
Good tidings of our heavenly Father's love,
Who sent His only Son,--oh, marvellous
Deep love!--to die that He might ransom us.'
'Come! listen to the story of our Lord!
Sweet Jesus Christ, a child of lowly birth,
Whom in the manger the wise kings adored,
For well they knew Him Lord of Heaven and Earth,
With myrrh and spice they journeyed from the far
Prophetic East, led by the Pilgrim Star:
'And when the star stood still, and mildly shone
Above a shed where lay the new-born child,
They hailed Him God's only-begotten Son,
Saviour of sinners and Redeemer mild;
Eve's promised seed, when she with streaming eyes
Saw the bright sword wave her from Paradise.
'For we are children of a fallen race,
Our sins are grievous in the Father's sight,
Death was our doom, but that by heavenly grace
God sent His Son to be a steadfast light,
Which calmly shining o'er life's troubled wave,
The storm-tossed souls of erring men might save.
'Go unto Him, all ye that toil and weep,
Ye that are weary with the long day's load;
He is the Shepherd watching o'er His sheep,
He leads His flock along the narrow road;
And when He hears the bleating lamb's alarm
He folds the weak one in His sheltering arm.
'Ah, tender Shepherd, who didst love us so,
Choosing to die that we Thy flock might live;
What bitter anguish, ah! what heavy woe
To think, O Lord! that mortal hands should give
This wound that cleaves Thy side, that mortal scorn
In mockery crowned Thee with the barren thorn!'
Sad was Columba's face, his words were slow
As though reluctant to the piteous tale--
But now his eyes with sacred rapture glow,
And his wan features kindle, like a pale
Dissolving cloud through which the moon is shed:
He speaks of Christ re-risen from the dead.
He ceased, then cried: 'Glory unto the Lord
Whose mercy is as boundless as the sea;
Fruitful to-day makes He my feeble word,
For with faith's eye an ancient chief I see,
Whose bark o'er the blue deep is drawing nigh,
He comes to be baptised before he die.'
Scarce had he ended when towards the land
A wicker boat sped swiftly o'er the bay;
There by the Pictish chieftain, hand in hand,
Her golden locks entangled with his grey,
His grandchild sat, lit by the level rays;
The loveliest and the last of all her race.
They hailed the Chief as to a sea-worn stone
Two fishers bore him; and his muffled sense
Struggled with feeble eld to seize the tone
Of the Saint's voice, as he in words intense
Proclaimed the saving truth of gospel lore,
Then with his hands baptised the Chieftain hoar.
And when the holy dew had wet his brow,
And his wan lips tasted the sacrament,
His head against Columba's breast sank low,
And o'er his face a smile of rapt content
Played softly, smoothing out the lines of care
Which joy and grief and toil had planted there.
Then on the spot where he has breathed his last
They lay him, letting dust to dust return;
Then one by one, as solemnly they cast
A little earth upon his grave, they turn
To the benighted heathen, look above,
And chaunt: 'His soul is God's, and God is love.'
A piteous cry and terrible then rung
Even like a very echo to the word
Upon the startled hearers, whom it wrung
With answering grief, as when along the chord
Of palpitating harp the breezes sigh
Each string responsive wails in sympathy.
A maiden with wild eyes and streaming hair
And features white with horror rose aghast,
Unconscious of the pitying people's stare,
And on the new-made grave herself she cast
In utter desolation, till her frame
Convulsed by sobs shook like a wind-blown flame.
'Oh father, father,' she at last made moan,
'My father's father, last of all our race,
Hast thou gone too, and left me here alone
So helpless as I am, so weak to face
The dreadful shifts of war with all its woes,
Cold, hunger, shame, fear of insulting foes.'
'Nay, child, blaspheme not in thine agony!
Art thou not in our heavenly Father's care?
He who upholds the everlasting sky
Throughout the ages, suffers not a hair
Of thine to fall but that it is His will;
Bless Him for joy, for sorrow bless Him still.
'Yea! clasp thine unused hands in prayer, and lift
Thy still down-drooping eyes to Him above.
Is not the giver greater than His gift?
Must not His love contain all lesser love
Of father, mother, brother, husband, wife--
The Alpha He and Omega of life?'
Thus spake Columba, burning to allay
The pains of earthly love with saving truth;
But she, who deemed confusedly that they
With their sad rites had slain her sire, forsooth,
Was deaf to him, and ever made her moan,
'Hast thou gone too, and left me here alone!'
At last--when all his words and prayers had failed
To comfort or assuage the orphan's woe,
Who prostrate on the grave still wept and wailed,--
Columba muttered as he turned to go:
'Nay, sooner parley with the roaring main
Than with a woman maddening in her pain.'
So thus they left her, as she would not come,
Left her to night and a few firstling stars
That here and there from the celestial dome
Peered brightly through the narrow cloudy bars,
As though some great white seraph's lidless eyes
Were looking down on her from Paradise.
But one there was who could not rest in peace,
For pity of that maiden's lonely pain!
Was there no balm in Gilead to appease
Her wounded spirit?--yea, might not he gain
That soul benighted to eternal bliss,
By teaching her God's love through grief like this?
Thus Oran mused, the youngest and most fair
Of that devoted zealous little band
That now for many a laborious year
Followed Columba's lead from land to land,
Daring the danger of the narrow seas
To plant the Cross among the Hebrides.
Young, but most fervid of their brotherhood,
Fair Oran was, whose faith leaped like a sword
From out the sheath, and could not be subdued
When brandished in the service of the Lord,
To whom--as sparks leap upward from a fire--
His soaring thoughts incessantly aspire.
Yea, he must save her soul, that like a bark
Drifting without a rudder, rudely tossed
On life's rough sea, might founder in the dark,
In the abysm of hell engulfed and lost.
Thus musing, he retraced his steps once more
Towards the grave beside the sounding shore.
'Arise, and let the dead bury their dead!'
He said to her still shedding stanchless tears.
Affrighted by his voice, she raised her head
With eyes dilated like a startled deer's;
With lovely, longing, melancholy eyes,
She looked up at him with a dumb surprise.
'Come unto Jesus, He will give thee rest,'
Oran began, but stammered as he spoke:
Why throbbed his heart so loudly in his breast,
As if impatient of the heavy yoke
Of faith, that curbed desire as soon as born,
That nipped the rose, but left its piercing thorn?
A moment has undone the work of years!
A single glance o'erthrown an austere saint!
And the clear faith, achieved with stripes and tears
And midnight fasts and vigils, now grows faint,
And like a star lost in the new-born light
Flickers awhile, then fades into the night.
Still Oran wrestles with the fiend within,
Striving to teach the gospel to the maid;
He tells her of man's fall through deadly sin,
And of the Saviour who our ransom paid:
She, with her eyes now bent upon the ground,
Listens like one by strong enchantment bound.
It was a clear and cloudless summer night,
Stars without number clustered in the blue,
Some like mere sparks of evanescent light
Receding infinite from mortal view,
Some with a steadier lustre softly glow,
Like golden flames or silver flakes of snow.
But lo! like some lost soul from heaven's height
Hurled headlong, shivering to its awful doom,
A wingèd star shoots dazzling through the night,
And vanishes in some stupendous gloom:
Thus once the brightest of the angels fell
Through yawning space into profoundest hell.
And trembling for his own soul, Oran prayed:
'Oh blessed Virgin, whom the angelic quire
Rapturous adore! immaculate Mother-maid!
Pure Queen! make pure my heart of every fire
Which is not kindled on thy sacred shrine,
Of every thought not wholly, solely thine!'
Even while suppliant's lips devoutly move,
A heavenly face, though not the Virgin's, filled
His eyes with beauty, and his heart with love,
Till with dread rapture all his pulses thrilled:
A face whose heavenly innocence might well
Eradicate the very thought of hell.
Perplexed, bewildered, breathless Oran stood,
Torn by the passions he had still suppressed
With macerations of the flesh and blood;
But now this idol which enthralled his breast
With subtle witchcraft, snake-like seemed to hiss,
'Thine immortality for one long kiss!'
'Get thee behind me, Satan!' wildly cries
The monk, and flees in horror from the place.
Did not the devil tempt him through those eyes
Burning like two fair lights in that fair face,
Till moth-like drawn in ever-narrowing rings
Towards the flame, his soul must scorch her wings?
Far o'er the moorland through the starlit night
He rushed, like one who flies in mortal fear
Of some dread enemy that dogs his flight,
And who, whate'er his speed, still draweth near:
Yea, though he shall outspeed the wingèd wind,
How fly the haunting thought of his own mind?
At last he knelt all breathless on the sod,
And gathered up his whole soul in one prayer,
Yea,--even as Jacob wrestled before God
While angels hovered on the heavenly stair,
He wrestled,--loudly calling on the Lord
To keep him from the sin his soul abhorred.
When his long prayer was done, and the pale priest
Rose cold with clinging vapour, one by one
The flickering stars went out, and in the East
The dim air kindled with the coming sun,
While in illimitable sheer delight
The holy larks rose worshipping the light.