On a solemn day
I clomb the shining bulwark of the skies:
Not by the beaten way,
But climbing by a prayer,
That like a golden thread hung by the giddy stair
Fleck'd on the immemorial blue,
By the strong step-stroke of the brave and few,
Who, stirr'd by echoes of far harmonies,
Must either lay them down and die of love,
Those empyrean walls that mock their starward eyes.
But midway in the dread emprize
The faint and fainter footsteps cease;
And, all my footing gone,
Like one who gathers samphire, I hold on,
And in the swaying air look up and down:
And up and down through answering vasts descry
Nor Earth nor Heaven;
The sheer eternal precipice; below,
The sheer eternal precipice.
Then when I,
Gigantic with my desperate agony,
The knotted grasp of bodily despair
Relaxing to let go,
A mighty music, like a wind of light,
Blew from the imminent height,
And caught me in its splendour; and, as flame
That flickers and again aspires,
Rose in a moment thither whence it came;
And I, that thought me lost,
Pass'd to the top of all my dear desires,
And stood among the everlasting host.
Then turn'd I to a seraph whose swift hands,
That lived angelic passion, struck his soul
Upon a harp-a seraph fair and strong,
And faultless for his harp and for his throne,
And yet, among
The Strength and Beauty of the heavenly bands,
No more to be remember'd than some one
Poor warrior, when a king of many kings
Stamps on the fields, and rears his glittering crop
Of standing steel, and the vex'd spirit wings
Above the human harvest, and in vain
Begins from morn till eve to sum the embattled plain;
After a day of peace, sudden and late
The beacon flashes and the war-drums roll,
And through the torches of the city gate,
All the long winter night a martial race
Streams to the nation's gathering-place,
And, like as water-drop to water-drop,
Pour on in changeless flood the innumerable men.
I turn'd, and as from footing in mid-seas
Looking o'er lessening waves thou may'st behold
The round horizon of unshadow'd gold,
I, standing on an amethyst, look'd round
The moving Heaven of Harpers throned and crown'd,
And said, 'Was it from these
I heard the great sound?' And he said, 'What sound?'
Then I grown bolder, seeing I had thriven
To win reply-'This that I hear from thee,
This that everywhere I hear,
Rolling a sea of choristry
Up and down the jewel of Heaven;
A sea which from thy seat of light,
That seems more loud and bright
Because more near,
To the white twinkle of yon furthest portal,
Swells up those circling shores of chrysolite,
And, like an odorous luminous mist, doth leap the eternal walls,
In wreaths of melody
Adown the azure mountain of the sky;
And round its lower slopes bedew'd
Breathes lost beatitude;
And far away,
Low, low, below the last of all its lucent scarps,
Sprinkles bewildering drops of immortality.
O angel fair, thou know'st what I would say-
This sound of harpers that I hear,
This sound of harpers harping on their harps.'
Then he bent his head
And shed a tear
'I perceive thou art a mortal.'
Then I to him-'Not only, O thou bright
Seraphic Pity! to a mortal ear
These sacred sounds are dear,
Or why withholdest not thy ceaseless hand?
Far as my dazzled eye
Can pierce the lustre of the radiant land,
See I the rapt celestial auditory,
Each, while he blessed hears, gives back his bliss
With never-tiring touch from golden harps like this?'
Then he to me-'Oh, wherefore hast thou trod
Beyond the limit of thine earthly lot?
These that we bear
Within our hands are instruments of glory,
Wherewith, day without night,
We make the glory of immortal light
In the eyes of God.
As for the sound, we hear it not;
Yet, speaking to thee, child of ignorance,
I do remember that I loved it once,
In the sweet lower air.'
Yet he spake once more,-
'But thou return to the remember'd shore;
Why shouldst thou leave thy nation,
Thy city, and the house of all most dear?
Do we not all dwell in eternity?
For we have been as thou, and thou
Shalt be as we.'
And he lean'd and kissèd me,
Saying, 'But now
Rejoice, O child, in other joys than mine
Hear the dear music of thy mortal ear
While yet it is the time with thee,
Nor make haste to thine exaltation,
Though our state be better than thine.'
On a solemn day