Classic and Contemporary Poetry
THE VISION OF RABBI BEN ISAAC, by JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY Poet's Biography
First Line: For three score years my wandering
Last Line: A snow-white feather fell.
Alternate Author Name(s): Johnson Of Boone, Benj. F.
Subject(s): Clergy; God; Roads; Vision; Wandering & Wanderers; Priests; Rabbis; Ministers; Bishops; Paths; Trails
FOR three score years my wandering feet have strayed
Along a path wherein no footprint lay
Of Him, who of the cross a guide-board made
To point me out the way.
With open eyes I dreamed that I was dead --
Dead to all outward semblance, though I lay
With some old scrap of reason in my head
That would not fade away.
And peering up in wonderment I saw
My floating spirit plume its wings elate,
Yet gazing upward with a look of awe,
It seemed to hesitate.
"Go on!" I called to it. "Leap into space,
And sweep a way to glory with thy wings!"
"Alas!" it answered back, with troubled face,
"They are such trembling things!"
And hovering above me, spread them wide,
And all their glossy plumage o'er my eyes
Shook out in downy splendor, crimsondyed
With hues of Paradise.
"Nay, glorious things are they," I cried amazed,
And veiled my vision from their dazzling light --
"So, get thee gone -- their maker must be praised" --
And upward through the night
It lifted like a meteor, and sailed
Across the gulf of darkness like a flame,
While down the smoldering wake behind it trailed
The ashes of my name.
It called to me -- not larger than a flake
Of starlight did it glimmer through the gloom --
"Pray for me," fell the voice, "for Jesus' sake!
I see the heavens bloom."
And loathful to myself I whispered then,
As wholly from my gaze the glimmer went --
"O Lord, through Christ, receive my soul, Amen."
And like an instrument
Of music in some heavenly tumult tipped,
Outpouring the elixir of its voice,
Down-showering upon my senses dripped
The utterance, "Rejoice!
"God listens, for the angels at the door
Are swarming out and in and out again,
And o'er and round about me evermore
They sing 'Good will to men!'"
Then suddenly the voice in quaverings
Fell wailingly -- "Alas! for I alone
Of all the glorious throng have tarnished wings
That Heaven will not own.
"The angel Truth has pityingly said
That every plume impure Christ will condemn,
And that the stain self-righteousness is red
As blood on all of them."
Then to my soul I cried aloud: "Return
That I may bow my head in holier prayer,
And all the recompense of good I earn
Shall blossom everywhere."
"Not so." It answered, as in some surprise --
"The angel Faith has whispered 'Look above,'
And shading with her wings my dazzled eyes,
Points out the angel Love,
"Who, weeping, bends above me, and her tears
Baptize me, and her sister Mercy trips
Along the golden clouds, and Christ appears
With sorrow on His lips" --
Then silence, and as one who vainly wars
With inner strife: "Come back to me!" I cried,
And pealing down a pathway of the stars
A ringing voice replied --
"Now is thy soul's probation so complete
It may but answer thee with one farewell";
And, filtered through the gloom, lo! at my feet
A snow-white feather fell.
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