Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE PROPHECY OF ST. ORAN, by MATHILDE BLIND



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THE PROPHECY OF ST. ORAN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The storm had ceased to rave: subsiding slow
Last Line: "that his blaspheming tongue may blab no more."
Alternate Author Name(s): Lake, Claude
Subject(s): Columba, Saint (521-597); Ireland; Missionaries & Missions; Oran, Saint; Scotland; Colum, Saint; Columcille, Saint; Irish


PART I.

"Earth, earth on the mouth of Oran, that he may blab no more." Gaelic
Proverb.



I.

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.


II.

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.


III.

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.


IV.

Ah! is this solid earth which meets their view,
Or some still cloud-land islanded on high?
Those crags are too aerially blue,
Too soft those mountains mingling with the sky,
And too ineffable their dewy gleam,
For aught but fabric of a fleeting dream.


V.

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.


VI.

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.



VII.

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.


VIII.

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.


IX.

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."


X.

"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:


XI.

"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.


XII.

"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.


XIII.

"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.


XIV.

"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!"


XV.

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.


XVI.

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."


XVII.

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.


XVIII.

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.


XIX.

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.


XX.

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."


XXI.

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.


XXII.

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.


XXIII.

"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."


XXIV.

"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.


XXV.

"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?"


XXVI.

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!"


XXVII.

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."


XXVIII.

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.



XXIX.

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?


XXX.

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.


XXXI.

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.


XXXII.

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.


XXXIII.

"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.


XXXIV.

"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?


XXXV.

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.



XXXVI.

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.


XXXVII.

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.


XXXVIII.

But lo! like some lost soul from heaven's height
Hurled headlong, shivering to its awful doom,
A winged 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.


XXXIX.

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!"


XL.

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.


XLI.

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!"


XLII.

"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?


XLIII.

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 winged wind,
How fly the haunting thought of his own mind?


XLIV.

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.


XLV.

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.


PART II.


I.

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.


II.

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.


III.

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.


IV.

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.


V.

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.


VI.

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.


VII.

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.


VIII.

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.


IX.

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, --


X.

"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.


XI.

"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.


XII.

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.


XIII.

"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."


XIV.

"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."


XV.

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.


XVI.

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.


XVII.

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.


XVIII.

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, --


XIX.

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.


XX.

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.


XXI.

"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."


XXII.

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.


XXIII.

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.


XXIV.

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.


XXV.

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?


XXVI.

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.


XXVII.

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.


XXVIII.

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."


XXIX.

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.


XXX.

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.


XXXI.

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.


XXXII.

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!


XXXIII.

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.


XXXIV.

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.


XXXV.

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.


XXXVI.

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.


XXXVII.

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.


XXXVIII.

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.


XXXIX.

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.


XL.

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.


XLI.

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!


XLII.

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.


PART III.


I.

"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.


II.

"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.


III.

"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?



IV.

"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?


V.

"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.


VI.

"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.


VII.

"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.


VIII.

"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.


IX.

"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!


X.

"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!


XI.

"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!"


XII.

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."


XIII.

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."


XIV.

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.


XV.

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.


XVI.

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?


XVII.

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.


XVIII.

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.


XIX.

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.


XX.

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?


XXI.

"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?


XXII.

"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.


XXIII.

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.


XXIV.

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.


XXV.

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.


XXVI.

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."


XXVII.

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?"


XXVIII.

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!"


XXIX.

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!


XXX.

"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.


XXXI.

"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!


XXXII.

"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."


XXXIII.

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.


XXXIV.

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."


XXXV.

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!


XXXVI.

"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."


XXXVII.

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.


XXXVIII.

"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.


XXXIX.

"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 daemon hands;
There, living, bury him beneath its sod,
And so propitiate the Lord our God."


PART IV.


I.

It is the night: across the starless waste
Of silent heaven the solitary moon
Flits like a frightened maid who flies in haste,
And wild with terror seems to reel and swoon,
As in her rear the multitudinous clouds
Follow like spectral huntsmen in their shrouds.


II.

And sometimes the wild rout o'ertakes its prey,
And holds her captive in the lowering sky,
But ever and anon she bursts away,
And her white orb floats lustrously on high,
And with its lambent flame transmutes the haze
Into a living halo for her face.


III.

And far o'er black morass and barren moor
The fitful splendour of the moonlight falls,
Its broken eddies sweep across the floor,
And dance in chequered silver on the walls,
And flood the chapel's grave-encircled site
With sudden flashes of unearthly light.


IV.

And as the unquiet moonlight comes and flies
Athwart the little roofless house of prayer,
Like some lost spirit strayed from Paradise
Or daemon-angel of the realms of air,
A pallid shape flits through the open door
And flings itself, low wailing, on the floor;


V.

And wailing, wailing, lay there in its pain,
When suddenly it snatched from the out the sod
Some late-forgotten spade, while tears like rain
Poured from its eyes, enough to melt the clod,
And digging hard the small breach grew apace,
Till the soil lay like molehills round the place.


VI.

But through the silence suddenly there swells
Along the gusty breaths of midnight air
The mellow tinkling sound of magic bells,
Such as the pious brethren love to wear,
To keep the fiends and goblins off that prowl
For ever near to catch a tripping soul.


VII.

And as the monks, chanting a solemn hymn,
Draw nigh the chapel to perform their rite,
That wailing shape flies far into the dim
Recess behind the altar full of night;
While they with burning torches move in file
To consecrate afresh their sacred pile.


VIII.

Three days, three nights have fled since in that spot,
Where fiends and daemons revelled unforbid,
They buried that false monk who was a blot
Upon their rule: but since the earth has hid
His bones accursed, God's sun has shone again,
Nor has fresh ill assailed their prospering fane


IX.

Which now they enter, singing hymns of praise,
Columba at their head -- when lo, behold
The grave yawns open and a bloodless face,
The face of him they knew, rose from the mould:
Slowly he rose from the incumbent clay
Lifting the white shroud in the moonlight grey.


X.

Slowly his arm beneath the winding-sheet
He waved three times, as though to bid them hear;
Then in the moonlight rose he to his feet
Showing his shrunken body, and his sere
Discoloured hair, and smouldering eyes that lie
Sunk in their sockets, glaring hot and dry.


XI.

Slowly he raised his voice -- once rich in tone
Like sweetest music, now a mournful knell
With dull sepulchral sounds, as of a stone
Cast down into a black unfathomed well --
And murmured, "Lo, I come back from the grave, --
Behold, there is no God to smite or save.


XII.

"Poor fools! wild dreamers! No, there is no God;
Yon heaven is deaf and dumb to prayer and praise;
Lo, no almighty tyrant wields the rod
For evermore above our hapless race;
Nor fashioned us, frail creatures that we be,
To bear the burden of eternity.



XIII.

"Hear it, self-torturing monks, and cease to wage
Your mad, delirious, suicidal war;
There is no devil who from age to age
Waylays and tempts all souls of men that are;
For ever seeking whom he may devour,
And damn with wine and woman, gold and power.


XIV.

"Deluded priests, ye think the world a snare,
Denouncing every tender human tie!
Behold, your heaven is unsubstantial air,
Your future bliss a sick brain's phantasy;
There is no room amid the stars which gem
The firmament for your Jerusalem.


XV.

"Rejoice, poor sinners, for I come to tell
To you who hardly dare to live for fright;
There is no burning everlasting hell
Where souls shall be tormented day and night:
The fever ye call life ends with your breath;
All weary souls set in the night of death.


XVI.

"Then let your life on earth be life indeed!
Nor drop the substance, snatching at a shade!
Ye can have Eden here! ye bear the seed
Of all the hells and heavens and gods ye made
Within that mighty world-transforming thought
Which permeates the universe it wrought --


XVII.

"Wrought out of stones and plants and birds and beasts,
To flower in man, and know itself at last:
Around, about you, see what endless feasts
The spring and summer bountifully cast!
"A vale of tears," ye cry -- "if ye were wise,
The earth itself would change to Paradise.


XVIII.

"The earth itself -- the old despised earth,
Would render back your love a thousandfold,
Nor yet afflict the sons of men with dearth,
Disease, and misery, and drought and cold;
If you would seek a blessing in her sod,
Instead of crying vainly on your God.


XIX.

"Cast down the crucifix, take up the plough!
Nor waste your breath which is the life in prayer!
Dare to be men, and break you impious vow,
Nor fly from woman as the devil's snare!
For if within, around, beneath, above
There is a living God, that God is Love."


XX.

"The fool says in his heart, There is no God,"
Cried St. Columba, white with Christian ire
"Seize Oran, re-inter him in the sod
And may his soul awake in endless fire:
Earth on his mouth -- the earth he would adore,
That his blaspheming tongue may blab no more."


XXI.

Then like swart ravens swooping on their prey
These monks rushed upon Oran; when there came
One gliding towards them in wild disarray
With hair that streamed behind her like a flame
And face dazed with the moon, who shrilly cried,
"Let not death part the bridegroom from his bride."


XXII.

But deeming her some fiend in female guise,
They drive her forth with threats, till, crazed with fear,
Across the stones and mounded graves she flies
Towards that lapping, moon-illumined mere;
And like a child seeking its mother's breast
She casts her life thereon, and is at rest.


XXIII.

And while the waves close gurgling o'er her head,
A grave is dug whence he may never stray,
Or come back prophesying from the dead, --
All shouting as they stifle him with clay:
"Earth on his mouth -- the earth he would adore,
That his blaspheming tongue may blab no more."






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