Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AT THE CHURCH DOOR, by GEORGE SANTAYANA

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

AT THE CHURCH DOOR, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Why is it sweet to hear the church-bells ringing
Last Line: And seal the poem with a noble rhyme!
Subject(s): Churches; Cathedrals

Why is it sweet to hear the church-bells ringing
As if for me they had a message still? --
These old bells question not why they are swinging
But feel their ancient music's iron thrill:
Without mistrust the tender blades are springing;
The birds at singing season sing their fill;
The morning sun is without reasons there;
And why should my stirred bosom stifle prayer!

Though I lack faith to love, I have compassion
In sight of things unhappy, yet so fair,
And feel the bitter wrong that God should fashion
An instrument for idle winds to tear,
And wake tumultuous rhapsodies of passion
To die insulted in the vacant air:
Or does God catch the sweet delirious notes
That thrill in little love-birds' swelling throats?

Almost, almost I think I might believe it
And trust the echoes of these ancient walls,
For to a heart too willing to receive it
The tender promise of the ages calls.
Count I faith's loss a loss? Why not retrieve it,
Since fatal logic logically falls
And that proud reason from its base is hurled
That makes one vast unreason of the world!

Ah, if salvation were a trick of reason
How easily would all the world be saved!
But roses bloom not in the winter season,
Nor hope of heaven in a heart enslaved.
To break the bond with earth were easy treason
If it were God alone the bosom craved;
But we have chosen love and chosen rest
And with our wings' plucked feathers built our nest.

So from a high-walled garden, rich in flowers,
Upon the driving clouds I like to look,
That cast their pleasant shadow on my bowers
And feed the trickling fountain and the brook.
Nor should I tremble if the gusty showers
Fell on my blossoms, and if thunder shook
My fragrant arbours and their leafy gloom
And with the things I love bestrewed my tomb.

But if I sickened of my hidden pleasure
And shuddered at the all enclosing void;
If my heart pined for some excessive treasure
In whose fruition it were never cloyed,
Or, doting on existence over measure,
If I should hate the Maker who destroyed,
Then I should leave my garden to decay,
Nor notice if the fountain ceased to play.

But putting idle thoughts of ease behind me
Forth I should wander to the wind-swept moor,
And bid the mountain and the sea remind me
Of perfect goods, that should like them endure.
And no false joy, no length of toil should blind me
To the exceeding wealth that made me poor,
And more were my unbroken spirit blest
By heaven hoped for than by earth possessed.

Is there, within the breast of the Eternal
A sanctuary left for banished joy,
Where aureoled in golden splendour vernal
The angel of my dream is still a boy,
Saved from oblivion, and the pit infernal,
And time's apostasy, and shame's annoy,
Saved from his own tide's ebbing, silent, fair,
Benignant, holy, and for ever there!

O bright ideal! lead the unsuspecting
To pluck their berries among thorns and briers,
And teach them the sad lesson of detecting
What fate will yield of all the heart's desires.
But spare me now that, thy dear shrine neglecting,
I cast not reason in thy quenchless fires,
Ablaze with mad saints' hearts: How wise a sin
To smile at the vain torment they are in!

I bless the unearned alms the minutes proffer
And bask, a happy beggar, in the sun,
And hold at churches' gates my little coffer
Snatching the dropping pennies, one by one.
Within, the faithful may petitions offer
And pardon crave for sins that they have done;
But I am merry if I lose or win
Nor deem possession of my nature sin.

Oh, it is mete and pleasant to be small
Making our step no longer than our tether,
And, without languishing for wings, to crawl
And love the fragrance of our native heather.
O peace, to scan our fate and say: That's all!
O happiness, to meet that fate together!
O crowning boon, to die in fitting time,
And seal the poem with a noble rhyme!

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