Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SERAPHIM, by ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING



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THE SERAPHIM, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: O seraph, pause no more!
Last Line: Before his heavenly throne should walk in white.
Subject(s): Crucifixion; Jesus Christ - Crucifixion


PART THE FIRST

Ador. O Seraph, pause no more!
Beside this gate of heaven we stand alone.
Zerah. Of heaven!
Ador. Our brother hosts are gone --
Zerah. Are gone before.
Ador. And the golden harps the angels bore
To help the songs of their desire,
Still burning from their hands of fire,
Lie without touch or tone
Upon the glass-sea shore.
Zerah. Silent upon the glass-sea shore!
Ador. There the Shadow from the throne
Formless with infinity
Hovers o'er the crystal sea
Awfuller than light derived,
And red with those primaeval heats
Whereby all life has lived.
Zerah. Our visible God, our heavenly seats!
Ador. Beneath us sinks the pomp angelical,
Cherub and seraph, powers and virtues, all, --
The roar of whose descent has died
To a still sound, as thunder into rain.
Immeasurable space spreads magnified
With that thick life, along the plane
The worlds slid out on. What a fall
And eddy of wings innumerous, crossed
By trailing curls that have not lost
The glitter of the God-smile shed
On every prostrate angel's head!
What gleaming up of hands that fling
Their homage in retorted rays,
From high instinct of worshipping,
And habitude of praise!
Zerah. Rapidly they drop below us:
Pointed palm and wing and hair
Indistinguishable show us
Only pulses in the air
Throbbing with a fiery beat,
As if a new creation heard
Some divine and plastic word,
And trembling at its new-found being,
Awakened at our feet.
Ador. Zerah, do not wait for seeing!
HIS voice, his, that thrills us so
As we our harpstrings, uttered Go,
Behold the Holy in his woe!
And all are gone, save thee and --
Zerah. Thee!
Ador. I stood the nearest to the throne
In hierarchical degree,
What time the Voice said Go!
And whether I was moved alone
By the storm-pathos of the tone
Which swept through heaven the alien name of woe,
Or whether the subtle glory broke
Through my strong and shielding wings,
Bearing to my finite essence
Incapacious of their presence,
Infinite imaginings
None knoweth save the Throned who spoke;
But I who at creation stood upright
And heard the God-breath move
Shaping the words that lightened, 'Be there light,'
Nor trembled but with love,
Now fell down shudderingly,
My face upon the pavement whence I had towered,
As if in mine immortal overpowered
By God's eternity.
Zerah. Let me wait! -- let me wait! --
Ador. Nay, gaze not backward through the gate!
God fills our heaven with God's own solitude
Till all the pavements glow:
His Godhead being no more subdued,
By itself, to glories low
Which seraphs can sustain.
What if thou, in gazing so,
Shouldst behold but only one
Attribute, the veil undone --
Even that to which we dare to press
Nearest, for its gentleness --
Ay, his love!
How the deep ecstatic pain
Thy being's strength would capture!
Without language for the rapture,
Without music strong to come
And set the adoration free,
For ever, ever, wouldst thou be
Amid the general chorus dumb,
God-stricken to seraphic agony.
Or, brother, what if on thine eyes
In vision bare should rise
The life-fount whence his hand did gather
With solitary force
Our immortalities!
Straightway how thine own would wither,
Falter like a human breath,
And shrink into a point like death,
By gazing on its source! --
My words have imaged dread.
Meekly hast thou bent thine head,
And dropt thy wings in languishment:
Overclouding foot and face,
As if God's throne were eminent
Before thee, in the place.
Yet not -- not so,
O loving spirit and meek, dost thou fulfil
The supreme Will.
Not for obeisance but obedience,
Give motion to thy wings! Depart from hence!
The voice said 'Go!'
Zerah. Beloved, I depart,
His will is as a spirit within my spirit,
A portion of the being I inherit.
His will is mine obedience. I resemble
A flame all undefiled though it tremble;
I go and tremble. Love me, O beloved!
O thou, who stronger art,
And standest ever near the Infinite,
Pale with the light of Light,
Love me, beloved! me, more newly made,
More feeble, more afraid;
And let me hear with mine thy pinions moved,
As close and gentle as the loving are,
That love being near, heaven may not seem so far.
Ador. I am near thee and I love thee.
Were I loveless, from thee gone,
Love is round, beneath, above thee,
God, the omnipresent one.
Spread the wing and lift the brow
Well-beloved, what fearest thou?
Zerah. I fear, I fear --
Ador. What fear?
Zerah. The fear of earth.
Ador. Of earth, the God-created and God-praised
In the hour of birth?
Where every night the moon in light
Doth lead the waters silver-faced?
Where every day the sun doth lay
A rapture to the heart of all
The leafy and reeded pastoral,
As if the joyous shout which burst
From angel lips to see him first,
Had left a silent echo in his ray?
Zerah. Of earth -- the God-created and God-curst,
Where man is, and the thorn
Where sun and moon have borne
No light to souls forlorn:
Where Eden's tree of life no more uprears
Its spiral leaves and fruitage, but instead
The yew-tree bows its melancholy head
And all the undergrasses kills and seres.
Ador. Of earth the weak.
Made and unmade?
Where men, that faint, do strive for crowns that fade?
Where, having won the profit which they seek,
They lie beside the sceptre and the gold
With fleshless hands that cannot wield or hold,
And the stars shine in their unwinking eyes?
Zerah. Of earth the bold,
Where the blind matter wrings
An awful potence out of impotence,
Bowing the spiritual things
To the things of sense.
Where the human will replies
With ay and no,
Because the human pulse is quick or slow.
Where Love succumbs to Change,
With only his own memories, for revenge.
And the fearful mystery --
Ador. Called Death?
Zerah. Nay, death is fearful, -- but who saith
'To die,' is comprehensible.
What's fearfuller, thou knowest well,
Though the utterance be not for thee,
Lest it blanch thy lips from glory --
Ay! the cursed thing that moved
A shadow of ill, long time ago,
Across our heaven's own shining floor,
And when it vanished, some who were
On thrones of holy empire there,
Did reign -- were seen -- were -- never more.
Come nearer, O beloved!
Ador. I am near thee. Didst thou bear thee
Ever to this earth?
Zerah. Before.
When thrilling from his hand along
Its lustrous path with spheric song
The earth was deathless, sorrowless.
Unfearing, then, pure feet might press
The grasses brightening with their feet,
For God's own voice did mix its sound
In a solemn confluence oft
With the rivers' flowing round,
And the life-tree's waving soft.
Beautiful new earth and strange!
Ador. Hast thou seen it since -- the change?
Zerah. Nay, or wherefore should I fear
To look upon it now?
I have beheld the ruined things
Only in depicturings
Of angels from an earthly mission, --
Strong one, even upon thy brow,
When, with task completed, given
Back to us in that transition,
I have beheld thee silent stand,
Abstracted in the seraph band,
Without a smile in heaven.
Ador. Then thou wast not one of those
Whom the loving Father chose
In visionary pomp to sweep
O'er Judaea's grassy places,
O'er the shepherds and the sheep,
Though thou art so tender? -- dimming
All the stars except one star
With their brighter kinder faces,
And using heaven's own tune in hymning,
While deep response from earth's own mountains ran,
'Peace upon earth, goodwill to man.'
Zerah. 'Glory to God.' I said amen afar.
And those who from that earthly mission are,
Within mine ears have told
That the seven everlasting Spirits did hold
With such a sweet and prodigal constraint
The meaning yet the mystery of the song
What time they sang it, on their natures strong,
That, gazing down on earth's dark steadfastness
And speaking the new peace in promises,
The love and pity made their voices faint
Into the low and tender music, keeping
The place in heaven of what on earth is weeping.
Ador. 'Peace upon earth.' Come down to it.
Zerah. Ah me!
I hear thereof uncomprehendingly.
Peace where the tempest, where the sighing is,
And worship of the idol, 'stead of his?
Ador. Yea, peace, where He is.
Zerah. He!
Say it again.
Ador. Where He is.
Zerah. Can it be
That earth retains a tree
Whose leaves, like Eden foliage, can be swayed
By the breathing of his voice, nor shrink and fade?
Ador. There is a tree! -- it hath no leaf nor root;
Upon it hangs a curse for all its fruit:
Its shadow on his head is laid.
For he, the crowned Son,
Has left his crown and throne,
Walks earth in Adam's clay,
Eve's snake to bruise and slay --
Zerah. Walks earth in clay?
Ador. And walking in the clay which he created,
He through it shall touch death.
What do I utter? what conceive? did breath
Of demon howl it in a blasphemy?
Or was it mine own voice, informed, dilated
By the seven confluent Spirits? -- Speak -- answer me!
Who said man's victim was his deity?
Zerah. Beloved, beloved, the word came forth from thee.
Thine eyes are rolling a tempestuous light
Above, below, around,
As putting thunder-questions without cloud,
Reverberate without sound,
To universal nature's depth and height.
The tremor of an inexpressive thought
Too self-amazed to shape itself aloud,
O'erruns the awful curving of thy lips;
And while thine hands are stretched above,
As newly they had caught
Some lightning from the Throne, or showed the Lord
Some retributive sword,
Thy brows do alternate with wild eclipse
And radiance, with contrasted wrath and love,
As God had called thee to a seraph's part,
With a man's quailing heart.
Ador. O heart -- O heart of man!
O ta'en from human clay
To be no seraph's but Jehovah's own!
Made holy in the taking,
And yet unseparate
From death's perpetual ban,
And human feelings sad and passionate:
Still subject to the treacherous forsaking
Of other hearts, and its own steadfast pain.
O heart of man -- of God! which God has ta'en
From out the dust, with its humanity
Mournful and weak yet innocent around it,
And bade its many pulses beating lie
Beside that incommunicable stir
Of Deity wherewith He interwound it.
O man! and is thy nature so defiled
That all that holy Heart's devout law-keeping,
And low pathetic beat in deserts wild,
And gushings pitiful of tender weeping
For traitors who consigned it to such woe --
That all could cleanse thee not, without the flow
Of blood, the life - blood -- his -- and streaming so?
O earth the thundercleft, windshaken, where
The louder voice of 'blood and blood' doth rise,
Hast thou an altar for this sacrifice?
O heaven! O vacant throne!
O crowned hierarchies that wear your crown
When his is put away!
Are ye unshamed that ye cannot dim
Your alien brightness to be liker him,
Assume a human passion, and down-lay
Your sweet secureness for congenial fears,
And teach your cloudless ever-burning eyes
The mystery of his tears?
Zerah. I am strong, I am strong.
Were I never to see my heaven again,
I would wheel to earth like the tempest rain
Which sweeps there with an exultant sound
To lose its life as it reaches the ground.
I am strong, I am strong.
Away from mine inward vision swim
The shining seats of my heavenly birth,
I see but his, I see but Him --
The Maker's steps on his cruel earth.
Will the bitter herbs of earth grow sweet
To me, as trodden by his feet?
Will the vexed, accurst humanity,
As worn by Him, begin to be
A blessed, yea, a sacred thing
For love and awe and ministering?
I am strong, I am strong.
By our angel ken shall we survey
His loving smile through his woeful clay?
I am swift, I am strong,
The love is bearing me along.
Ador. One love is bearing us along.

PART THE SECOND

Ador. Beloved! dost thou see? --
Zerah. Thee, -- thee.
Thy burning eyes already are
Grown wild and mournful as a star
Whose occupation is for aye
To look upon the place of clay
Whereon thou lookest now.
The crown is fainting on thy brow
To the likeness of a cloud,
The forehead's self a little bowed
From its aspect high and holy,
As it would in meekness meet
Some seraphic melancholy:
Thy very wings that lately flung
An outline clear, do flicker here
And wear to each a shadow hung,
Dropped across thy feet.
In these strange contrasting glooms
Stagnant with the scent of tombs,
Seraph faces, O my brother,
Show awfully to one another.
Ador. Dost thou see?
Zerah. Even so; I see
Our empyreal company,
Alone the memory of their brightness
Left in them, as in thee.
The circle upon circle, tier on tier,
Piling earth's hemisphere
With heavenly infiniteness,
Above us and around,
Straining the whole horizon like a bow:
Their songful lips divorced from all sound,
A darkness gliding down their silvery glances, --
Bowing their steadfast solemn countenances
As if they heard God speak, and could not glow.
Ador. Look downward! dost thou see?
Zerah. And wouldst thou press that vision on my words?
Doth not earth speak enough
Of change and of undoing,
Without a seraph's witness? Oceans rough
With tempest, pastoral swards
Displaced by fiery deserts, mountains ruing
The bolt fallen yesterday,
That shake their piny heads, as who would say
'We are too beautiful for our decay' --
Shall seraphs speak of these things? Let alone
Earth to her earthly moan!
Voice of all things. Is there no moan but hers?
Ador. Hearest thou the attestation
Of the roused universe
Like a desert-lion shaking
Dews of silence from its mane?
With an irrepressive passion
Uprising at once,
Rising up and forsaking
Its solemn state in the circle of suns,
To attest the pain
Of him who stands (O patience sweet!)
In his own hand-prints of creation,
With human feet?
Voice of all things. Is there no moan but ours?
Zerah. Forms, Spaces, Motions wide,
O meek, insensate things,
O congregated matters! who inherit,
Instead of vital powers,
Impulsions God-supplied;
Instead of influent spirit,
A clear informing beauty;
Instead of creature-duty,
Submission calm as rest.
Lights, without feet or wings,
In golden courses sliding!
Glooms, stagnantly subsiding,
Whose lustrous heart away was prest
Into the argent stars!
Ye crystal firmamental bars
That hold the skyey waters free
From tide or tempest's ecstasy!
Airs universal! thunders lorn
That wait your lightnings in cloud-cave
Hewn out by the winds! O brave
And subtle elements! the Holy
Hath charged me by your voice with folly.
Enough, the mystic arrow leaves its wound.
Return ye to your silences inborn,
Or to your inarticulated sound!
Ador. Zerah!
Zerah. Wilt thou rebuke?
God hath rebuked me, brother. I am weak.
Ador. Zerah, my brother Zerah! could I speak
Of thee, 't would be of love to thee.
Zerah. Thy look
Is fixed on earth, as mine upon thy face.
Where shall I seek his?
I have thrown
One look upon earth, but one,
Over the blue mountain-lines,
Over the forests of palms and pines,
Over the harvest-lands golden,
Over the valleys that fold in
The gardens and vines --
He is not there.
All these are unworthy
Those footsteps to bear,
Before which, bowing down
I would fain quench the stars of my crown
In the dark of the earthy.
Where shall I seek Him?
No reply?
Hath language left thy lips, to place
Its vocal in thine eye?
Ador, Ador! are we come
To a double portent, that
Dumb matter grows articulate
And songful seraphs dumb?
Ador, Ador!
Ador. I constrain
The passion of my silence. None
Of those places gazed upon
Are gloomy enow to fit his pain.
Unto Him, whose forming word
Gave to Nature flower and sward,
She hath given back again,
For the myrtle -- the thorn,
For the sylvan calm -- the human scorn.
Still, still, reluctant seraph, gaze beneath!
There is a city --
Zerah. Temple and tower,
Palace and purple would droop like a flower,
(Or a cloud at our breath)
If He neared in his state
The outermost gate.
Ador. Ah me, not so
In the state of a king did the victim go!
And THOU who hangest mute of speech
'Twixt heaven and earth, with forehead yet
Stained by the bloody sweat,
God! man! Thou hast forgone thy throne in each.
Zerah. Thine eyes behold Him?
Ador. Yea, below.
Track the gazing of mine eyes,
Naming God within thine heart
That its weakness may depart
And the vision rise!
Seest thou yet, beloved?
Zerah. I see
Beyond the city, crosses three
And mortals three that hang thereon
'Ghast and silent to the sun.
Round them blacken and welter and press
Staring multitudes whose father
Adam was, whose brows are dark
With his Cain's corroded mark, --
Who curse with looks. Nay -- let me rather
Turn unto the wilderness!
Ador. Turn not! God dwells with men.
Zerah. Above
He dwells with angels, and they love.
Can these love? With the living's pride
They stare at those who die, who hang
In their sight and die. They bear the streak
Of the crosses' shadow, black not wide,
To fall on their heads, as it swerves aside
When the victims' pang
Makes the dry wood creak.
Ador. The cross -- the cross!
Zerah. A woman kneels
The mid cross under,
With white lips asunder,
And motion on each.
They throb, as she feels,
With a spasm, not a speech;
And her lids, close as sleep,
Are less calm, for the eyes
Have made room there to weep
Drop on drop --
Ador. Weep? Weep blood,
All women, all men!
He sweated it, He,
For your pale womanhood
And base manhood. Agree
That these water-tears, then,
Are vain, mocking like laughter:
Weep blood! Shall the flood
Of salt curses, whose foam is the darkness, on roll
Forward, on from the strand of the storm-beaten years,
And back from the rocks of the horrid hereafter,
And up, in a coil, from the present's wrath-spring,
Yea, down from the windows of heaven opening,
Deep calling to deep as they meet on his soul --
And men weep only tears?
Zerah. Little drops in the lapse!
And yet, Ador, perhaps
It is all that they can.
Tears! the lovingest man
Has no better bestowed
Upon man.
Ador. Nor on God.
Zerah. Do all-givers need gifts?
If the Giver said 'Give,' the first motion would slay
Our Immortals, the echo would ruin away
The same worlds which he made. Why, what angel uplifts
Such a music, so clear,
It may seem in God's ear
Worth more than a woman's hoarse weeping? And thus,
Pity tender as tears, I above thee would speak,
Thou woman that weepest! weep unscorned of us!
I, the tearless and pure, am but loving and weak.
Ador. Speak low, my brother, low, -- and not of love
Or human or angelic! Rather stand
Before the throne of that Supreme above,
In whose infinitude the secrecies
Of thine own being lie hid, and lift thine hand
Exultant, saying, 'Lord God, I am wise!'
Than utter here, 'I love.'
Zerah. And yet thine eyes
Do utter it. They melt in tender light,
The tears of heaven.
Ador. Of heaven. Ah me!
Zerah. Ador!
Ador. Say on!
Zerah. The crucified are three.
Beloved, they are unlike.
Ador. Unlike.
Zerah. For one
Is as a man who has sinned and still
Doth wear the wicked will,
The hard malign life-energy,
Tossed outward, in the parting soul's disdain,
On brow and lip that cannot change again
Ador. And one --
Zerah. Has also sinned.
And yet (O marvel!) doth the Spirit-wind
Blow white those waters? Death upon his face
Is rather shine than shade,
A tender shine by looks beloved made:
He seemeth dying in a quiet place,
And less by iron wounds in hands and feet
Than heart-broke by new joy too sudden and sweet.
Ador. And ONE! --
Zerah. And ONE! --
Ador. Why dost thou pause?
Zerah. God! God!
Spirit of my spirit! who movest
Through seraph veins in burning deity
To light the quenchless pulses! --
Ador. But hast trod
The depths of love in thy peculiar nature,
And not in any thou hast made and lovest
In narrow seraph hearts! --
Zerah. Above, Creator!
Within, Upholder!
Ador. And below, below,
The creature's and the upholden's sacrifice!
Zerah. Why do I pause? --
Ador. There is a silentness
That answers thee enow,
That, like a brazen sound
Excluding others, doth ensheathe us round, --
Hear it. It is not from the visible skies
Though they are still,
Unconscious that their own dropped dews express
The light of heaven on every earthly hill.
It is not from the hills, though calm and bare
They, since their first creation,
Through midnight cloud or morning's glittering air
Or the deep deluge blindness, toward the place
Whence thrilled the mystic word's creative grace,
And whence again shall come
The word that uncreates,
Have lift their brows in voiceless expectation.
It is not from the places that entomb
Man's dead, though common Silence there dilates
Her soul to grand proportions, worthily
To fill life's vacant room.
Not there: not there.
Not yet within those chambers lieth he,
A dead one in his living world; his south
And west winds blowing over earth and sea,
And not a breath on that creating mouth.
But now, -- a silence keeps
(Not death's, nor sleep's)
The lips whose whispered word
Might roll the thunders round reverberated.
Silent art thou, O my Lord,
Bowing down thy stricken head!
Fearest thou, a groan of thine
Would make the pulse of thy creation fail
As thine own pulse? -- would rend the veil
Of visible things and let the flood
Of the unseen Light, the essential God,
Rush in to whelm the undivine?
Thy silence, to my thinking, is as dread.
Zerah. O silence!
Ador. Doth it say to thee -- the NAME,
Slow-learning seraph?
Zerah. I have learnt.
Ador. The flame
Perishes in thine eyes.
Zerah. He opened his,
And looked. I cannot bear --
Ador. Their agony?
Zerah. Their love. God's depth is in them. From his brows
White, terrible in meekness, didst thou see
The lifted eyes unclose?
He is God, seraph! Look no more on me,
O God -- I am not God.
Ador. The loving is
Sublimed within them by the sorrowful.
In heaven we could sustain them.
Zerah. Heaven is dull,
Mine Ador, to man's earth. The light that burns
In fluent, refluent motion
Along the crystal ocean;
The springing of the golden harps between
The bowery wings, in fountains of sweet sound,
The winding, wandering music that returns
Upon itself, exultingly self-bound
In the great spheric round
Of everlasting praises;
The God-thoughts in our midst that intervene,
Visibly flashing from the supreme throne
Full in seraphic faces
Till each astonishes the other, grown
More beautiful with worship and delight --
My heaven! my home of heaven! my infinite
Heaven-choirs! what are ye to this dust and death,
This cloud, this cold, these tears, this failing breath,
Where God's immortal love now issueth
In this MAN'S woe?
Ador. His eyes are very deep yet calm.
Zerah. No more
On me, Jehovah-man --
Ador. Calm-deep. They show
A passion which is tranquil. They are seeing
No earth, no heaven, no men that slay and curse,
No seraphs that adore;
Their gaze is on the invisible, the dread,
The things we cannot view or think or speak,
Because we are too happy, or too weak, --
The sea of ill, for which the universe,
With all its piled space, can find no shore,
With all its life, no living foot to tread.
But he, accomplished in Jehovah-being,
Sustains the gaze adown,
Conceives the vast despair,
And feels the billowy griefs come up to drown,
Nor fears, nor faints, nor fails, till all be finished.
Zerah. Thus, do I find thee thus? My undiminished
And undiminishable God! -- my God!
The echoes are still tremulous along
The heavenly mountains, of the latest song
Thy manifested glory swept abroad
In rushing past our lips: they echo aye
'Creator, thou art strong!
Creator, thou art blessed over all.'
By what new utterance shall I now recall,
Unteaching the heaven-echoes? Dare I say,
'Creator, thou art feebler than thy work!
Creator, thou art sadder than thy creature!
A worm, and not a man,
Yea, no worm, but a curse?'
I dare not so mine heavenly phrase reverse.
Albeit the piercing thorn and thistle-fork
(Whose seed disordered ran
From Eve's hand trembling when the curse did reach her)
Be garnered darklier in thy soul, the rod
That smites thee never blossoming, and thou
Grief-bearer for thy world, with unkinged brow --
I leave to men their song of Ichabod:
I have an angel-tongue -- I know but praise.
Ador. Hereafter shall the blood-bought captives raise
The passion-song of blood.
Zerah. And we, extend
Our holy vacant hands towards the Throne,
Crying 'We have no music.'
Ador. Rather, blend
Both musics into one.
The sanctities and sanctified above
Shall each to each, with lifted looks serene,
Their shining faces lean,
And mix the adoring breath
And breathe the full thanksgiving.
Zerah. But the love --
The love, mine Ador!
Ador. Do we love not?
Zerah. Yea,
But not as man shall! not with life for death,
New-throbbing through the startled being; not
With strange astonished smiles, that ever may
Gush passionate like tears and fill their place:
Nor yet with speechless memories of what
Earth's winters were, enverduring the green
Of every heavenly palm
Whose windless, shadeless calm
Moves only at the breath of the Unseen.
Oh, not with this blood on us -- and this face, --
Still, haply, pale with sorrow that it bore
In our behalf, and tender evermore
With nature all our own, upon us gazing --
Nor yet with these forgiving hands upraising
Their unreproachful wounds, alone to bless!
Alas, Creator! shall we love thee less
Than mortals shall?
Ador. Amen! so let it be.
We love in our proportion, to the bound
Thine infinite our finite set around,
And that is finitely, -- thou, infinite
And worthy infinite love! And our delight
Is, watching the dear love poured out to thee
From ever fuller chalice. Blessed they,
Who love thee more than we do: blessed we,
Viewing that love which shall exceed even this,
And winning in the sight a double bliss
For all so lost in love's supremacy.
The bliss is better. Only on the sad
Cold earth there are who say
It seemeth better to be great than glad.
The bliss is better. Love him more, O man,
Than sinless seraphs can!
Zerah. Yea, love him more!
Voices of the Angelic Multitude. Yea, more!
Ador. The loving word
Is caught by those from whom we stand apart.
For silence hath no deepness in her heart
Where love's low name low breathed would not be heard
By angels, clear as thunder.
Angelic Voices. Love him more!
Ador. Sweet voices, swooning o'er
The music which ye make!
Albeit to love there were not ever given
A mournful sound when uttered out of heaven,
That angel-sadness ye would fitly take.
Of love be silent now! we gaze adown
Upon the incarnate Love who wears no crown.
Zerah. No crown! the woe instead
Is heavy on his head,
Pressing inward on his brain
With a hot and clinging pain
Till all tears are prest away,
And clear and calm his vision may
Peruse the black abyss.
No rod, no sceptre is
Holden in his fingers pale;
They close instead upon the nail,
Concealing the sharp dole,
Never stirring to put by
The fair hair peaked with blood,
Drooping forward from the rood
Helplessly, heavily
On the cheek that waxeth colder,
Whiter ever, and the shoulder
Where the government was laid.
His glory made the heavens afraid;
Will he not unearth this cross from its hole?
His pity makes his piteous state;
Will he be uncompassionate
Alone to his proper soul?
Yea, will he not lift up
His lips from the bitter cup,
His brows from the dreary weight,
His hand from the clenching cross,
Crying, 'My Father, give to me
Again the joy I had with thee
Or ere this earth was made for loss?'
No stir: no sound.
The love and woe being interwound
He cleaveth to the woe;
And putteth forth heaven's strength below,
To bear.
Ador. And that creates his anguish now,
Which made his glory there.
Zerah. Shall it need be so?
Awake, thou Earth! behold.
Thou, uttered forth of old
In all thy life-emotion,
In all thy vernal noises,
In the rollings of thine ocean,
Leaping founts, and rivers running, --
In thy woods' prophetic heaving
Ere the rains a stroke have given,
In thy winds' exultant voices
When they feel the hills anear, --
In the firmamental sunning,
And the tempest which rejoices
Thy full heart with an awful cheer.
Thou, uttered forth of old
And with all thy music rolled
In a breath abroad
By the breathing God, --
Awake! he is here! behold!
Even thou --
Beseems it good
To thy vacant vision dim,
That the deadly ruin should,
For thy sake, encompass him?
That the Master-word should lie
A mere silence, while his own
Processive harmony,
The faintest echo of his lightest tone,
Is sweeping in a choral triumph by?
Awake! emit a cry!
And say, albeit used
From Adam's ancient years
To falls of acrid tears,
To frequent sighs unloosed,
Caught back to press again
On bosoms zoned with pain --
To corses still and sullen
The shine and music dulling
With closed eyes and ears
That nothing sweet can enter,
Commoving thee no less
With that forced quietness
Than the earthquake in thy centre --
Thou hast not learnt to bear
This new divine despair!
These tears that sink into thee,
These dying eyes that view thee,
This dropping blood from lifted rood,
They darken and undo thee.
Thou canst not presently sustain this corse --
Cry, cry, thou hast not force!
Cry, thou wouldst fainer keep
Thy hopeless charnels deep,
Thyself a general tomb
Where the first and the second Death
Sit gazing face to face
And mar each other's breath,
While silent bones through all the place
'Neath sun and moon do faintly glisten
And seem to lie and listen
For the tramp of the coming Doom.
Is it not meet
That they who erst the Eden fruit did eat,
Should champ the ashes?
That they who wrap them in the thunder-cloud
Should wear it as a shroud,
Perishing by its flashes?
That they who vexed the lion should be rent?
Cry, cry, 'I will sustain my punishment,
The sin being mine; but take away from me
This visioned Dread -- this man -- this Deity!'
The Earth. I have groaned; I have travailed: I am weary.
I am blind with my own grief, and cannot see,
As clear-eyed angels can, his agony,
And what I see I also can sustain,
Because his power protects me from his pain.
I have groaned; I have travailed: I am dreary,
Hearkening the thick sobs of my children's heart:
How can I say 'Depart'
To that Atoner making calm and free?
Am I a God as he,
To lay down peace and power as willingly?
Ador. He looked for some to pity. There is none.
All pity is within him and not for him,
His earth is iron under him, and o'er him
His skies are brass.
His seraphs cry 'Alas!'
With hallelujah voices that cannot weep.
And man, for whom the dreadful work is done ...
Scornful Voices from the Earth. If verily this be the
Eternal's son --
Ador. Thou hearest. Man is grateful.
Zerah. Can I hear
Nor darken into man and cease for ever
My seraph-smile to wear?
Was it for such,
It pleased him to overleap
His glory with his love and sever
From the God-light and the throne
And all angels bowing down,
For whom his every look did touch
New notes of joy on the unworn string
Of an eternal worshipping?
For such, he left his heaven?
There, though never bought by blood
And tears, we gave him gratitude:
We loved him there, though unforgiven.
Ador. The light is risen
Above, around,
And down in lurid fragments flung,
That catch the mountain-peak and stream
With momentary gleam,
Then perish in the water and the ground.
River and waterfall,
Forest and wilderness,
Mountain and city, are together wrung
Into one shape, and that is shapelessness;
The darkness stands for all.
Zerah. The pathos hath the day undone:
The death-look of his eyes
Hath overcome the sun
And made it sicken in its narrow skies.
Ador. Is it to death? He dieth.
Zerah. Through the dark
He still, he only, is discernible --
The naked hands and feet transfixed stark,
The countenance of patient anguish white,
Do make themselves a light
More dreadful than the glooms which round them dwell,
And therein do they shine.
Ador. God! Father-God!
Perpetual Radiance on the radiant throne!
Uplift the lids of inward deity,
Flashing abroad
Thy burning Infinite!
Light up this dark where there is nought to see
Except the unimagined agony
Upon the sinless forehead of the Son!
Zerah. God, tarry not! Behold, enow
Hath he wandered as a stranger,
Sorrowed as a victim. Thou
Appear for him, O Father!
Appear for him, Avenger!
Appear for him, just One and holy One,
For he is holy and just!
At once the darkness and dishonor rather
To the ragged jaws of hungry chaos rake,
And hurl aback to ancient dust
These mortals that make blasphemies
With their made breath, this earth and skies
That only grow a little dim,
Seeing their curse on him.
But him, of all forsaken,
Of creature and of brother,
Never wilt thou forsake!
Thy living and thy loving cannot slacken
Their firm essential hold upon each other,
And well thou dost remember how his part
Was still to lie upon thy breast and be
Partaker of the light that dwelt in thee
Ere sun or seraph shone;
And how while silence trembled round the throne
Thou countedst by the beatings of his heart
The moments of thine own eternity.
Awaken,
O right hand with the lightnings! Again gather
His glory to thy glory! What estranger,
What ill supreme in evil, can be thrust
Between the faithful Father and the Son?
Appear for him, O Father!
Appear for him, Avenger!
Appear for him, just One and holy One,
For he is holy and just!
Ador. Thy face upturned toward the throne is dark;
Thou hast no answer, Zerah.
Zerah. No reply,
O unforsaking Father?
Ador. Hark!
Instead of downward voice, a cry
Is uttered from beneath.
Zerah. And by a sharper sound than death,
Mine immortality is riven.
The heavy darkness which doth tent the sky
Floats backward as by a sudden wind:
But I see no light behind,
But I feel the farthest stars are all
Stricken and shaken,
And I know a shadow sad and broad
Doth fall -- doth fall
On our vacant thrones in heaven.
Voice from the Cross. MY GOD, MY GOD,
WHY HAST THOU ME FORSAKEN?
The Earth. Ah me, ah me, ah me! the dreadful Why!
My sin is on thee, sinless one! Thou art
God-orphaned, for my burden on thy head.
Dark sin, white innocence, endurance dread!
Be still, within your shrouds, my buried dead;
Nor work with this quick horror round mine heart.
Zerah. He hath forsaken him. I perish.
Ador. Hold
Upon his name! we perish not. Of old
His will --
Zerah. I seek his will. Seek, seraphim!
My God, my God! where is it? Doth that curse
Reverberate spare us, seraph or universe?
He hath forsaken him.
Ador. He cannot fail.
Angel Voices. We faint, we droop,
Our love doth tremble like fear.
Voices of Fallen Angels from the Earth.
Do we prevail?
Or are we lost? Hath not the ill we did
Been heretofore our good?
Is it not ill that one, all sinless, should
Hang heavy with all curses on a cross?
Nathless, that cry! With huddled faces hid
Within the empty graves which men did scoop
To hold more damned dead, we shudder through
What shall exalt us or undo,
Our triumph, or our loss.
Voice from the Cross. IT IS FINISHED.
Zerah. Hark, again!
Like a victor speaks the slain.
Angel Voices. Finished be the trembling vain!
Ador. Upward, like a well-loved son,
Looketh he, the orphaned one.
Angel Voices. Finished is the mystic pain.
Voices of Fallen Angels. His deathly forehead at the word,
Gleameth like a seraph sword.
Angel Voices. Finished is the demon reign.
Ador. His breath, as living God, createth,
His breath, as dying man, completeth.
Angel Voices. Finished work his hands sustain.
The Earth. In mine ancient sepulchres
Where my kings and prophets freeze,
Adam dead four thousand years,
Unwakened by the universe's
Everlasting moan,
Aye his ghastly silence mocking --
Unwakened by his children's knocking
At his old sepulchral stone,
'Adam, Adam, all this curse is
Thine and on us yet!" --
Unwakened by the ceaseless tears
Wherewith they made his cerement wet,
'Adam, must thy curse remain?' --
Starts with sudden life and hears
Through the slow dripping of the caverned eaves, --
Angel Voices. Finished is his bane.
Voice from the Cross. FATHER! MY SPIRIT TO THINE HANDS IS GIVEN.
Ador. Hear the wailing winds that be
By wings of unclean spirits made!
They, in that last look, surveyed
The love they lost in losing heaven,
And passionately flee
With a desolate cry that cleaves
The natural storms -- though they are lifting
God's strong cedar-roots like leaves,
And the earthquake and the thunder,
Neither keeping either under,
Roar and hurtle through the glooms --
And a few pale stars are drifting
Past the dark, to disappear,
What time, from the splitting tombs
Gleamingly the dead arise,
Viewing with their death-calmed eyes
The elemental strategies,
To witness, victory is the Lord's.
Hear the wail o' the spirits! hear!
Zerah. I hear alone the memory of his words.

EPILOGUE

I

My song is done.
My voice that long hath faltered shall be still.
The mystic darkness drops from Calvary's hill
Into the common light of this day's sun.

II

I see no more thy cross, O holy Slain!
I hear no more the horror and the coil
Of the great world's turmoil
Feeling thy countenance too still, -- nor yell
Of demons sweeping past it to their prison.
The skies that turned to darkness with thy pain
Make now a summer's day;
And on my changed ear that sabbath bell
Records how CHRIST IS RISEN.

III

And I -- ah! what am I
To counterfeit, with faculty earth-darkened,
Seraphic brows of light
And seraph language never used nor hearkened?
Ah me! what word that seraphs say, could come
From mouth so used to sighs, so soon to lie
Sighless, because then breathless, in the tomb?

IV

Bright ministers of God and grace -- of grace
Because of God! whether ye bow adown
In your own heaven, before the living face
Of him who died and deathless wears the crown,
Or whether at this hour ye haply are
Anear, around me, hiding in the night
Of this permitted ignorance your light,
This feebleness to spare, --
Forgive me, that mine earthly heart should dare
Shape images of unincarnate spirits
And lay upon their burning lips a thought
Cold with the weeping which mine earth inherits.
And though ye find in such hoarse music, wrought
To copy yours, a cadence all the while
Of sin and sorrow -- only pitying smile!
Ye know to pity, well.

V

I too may haply smile another day
At the far recollection of this lay,
When God may call me in your midst to dwell,
To hear your most sweet music's miracle
And see your wondrous faces. May it be!
For his remembered sake, the Slain on rood,
Who rolled his earthly garment red in blood
(Treading the wine-press) that the weak, like me,
Before his heavenly throne should walk in white.






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