Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE ASCENSION, SELECTION, by CYNEWULF



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THE ASCENSION, SELECTION, by            
First Line: By the spirit of wisdom, illustrious one
Last Line: In holiness on high, has opened by his ascension.
Alternate Author Name(s): Cynwulf
Subject(s): Redemption


By the spirit of wisdom, Illustrious One,
With meditation and discerning mind,
Strive now earnestly to understand,
To comprehend, how it came to pass
When the Saviour was born in purest birth
(Who had sought a shelter in Mary's womb,
The Flower of virgins, the Fairest of maids)
That angels came not clothed in white
When the Lord was born, a Babe in Bethlehem.
Angels were seen there who sang to the shepherds
Songs of great gladness: that the Son of God
Was born upon earth in Bethlehem.
But the Scriptures tell not in that glorious time
That they came arrayed in robes of white,
As they later did when the Mighty Lord,
The Prince of splendour, summoned His thanes,
The well-loved band, to Bethany.
Not long they delayed their Master's bidding,
Their Lord's behest, on that happy day;
But swift set forth to the Holy City
Where the Lord of glory, the Giver of grace,
Made many things plain which the prophets had sung
Ere the Only-Begotten, One with the Father,
Forty days after He rose from the dead
Out of the earth, ascended on high.
He had fulfilled what was formerly spoken,
The words of the prophets through all the world,
By His Cross and Passion. His followers praised Him
Gratefully loving the Lord of life,
The God of Creation. He graciously gave
Fit reward to His well-loved thanes,
And ready to fare to His Father's kingdom
The Lord of angels uttered this word:
"Be of stout heart; I will never forsake you
But will grant you favour and give you might
And remain with you ever, that you never may know
Any lack of good within My gift.
Go now through all the regions of earth
Over wide-running ways. Make known to the nations,
Preach and publish, radiant faith;
Baptizing the people turn them to heaven.
Destroy their idols, break and abolish;
Snuff out enmity, sow seeds of peace
In the minds of men with abundant might;
And I will be with you and bring you blessing
And steadfast strength, wherever you may be."
Then suddenly in air came a rush of sound,
A host of heaven's angels, a beauteous, bright band,
Messengers of glory, in gathering throngs.
Our King rose up through the temple's roof,
Where the gazing throng of His chosen thanes
Remained on earth in their place of meeting.
They saw their Lord ascend on high,
Their God from the ground. Their souls were sad,
Their spirits burning within their breasts;
They mourned in heart that they might no longer
See their Beloved beneath the sky.
Then sang their songs the heavenly angels,
Adored the Prince, and praised life's Lord,
Rejoiced in the light that shone from the Saviour.
There by the First-Born, the Flower of kings,
They saw two angels in shining white.
In wondrous words clear-voiced they called
From heaven on high o'er the hosts of men:
"Why remain ye waiting ye men of Galilee?
Clearly you see the Saviour Lord,
The Ruler of triumph, rising to glory.
The Prince of princes, Lord of all peoples,
With this angel host ascends to His home,
His Father's country. With this great crowd,
This blithesome company, we will bring our Lord
To the bright City above the arching sky,
This Best and Strongest of the sons of triumph
On Whom you gaze, and see for your solace
Gleaming with glory. Yet shall He come
With countless train to the tribes of earth
On a later day, and will judge each deed
That men have performed, the folk under heaven.
"Now has the Holy One harrowed hell
Of all the tribute that in days of old
It wrongfully swallowed in that seat of strife.
Now the fiends' warriors are overwhelmed,
Laid low and imprisoned in living pain,
Deprived of blessings in the pit of hell.
God's adversaries could not win at war
In the casting of weapons when the King of glory,
The Defender of heaven, with His Ancient Foe
Engaged in strife by His single might;
There He freed from bondage abundant spoil,
A countless folk from the City of fiends,
This very host which you here behold!
"And now the Saviour ascends to seek
The throne of grace, God's Own Son,
After the battle-play. Plainly you know t
Who is the Lord that leads this band.
Go ye glad-minded to meet with friends!
Open ye gates! The Lord of all
Will enter in; the King will come
Unto His City with assembled hosts,
The Lord of Creation leading this folk
That by His triumph He took from the fiends.
Peace shall prosper for angels and mortals,
And a covenant common to God and man;
Holy faith, and hope of life,
Love for ever, and joy in all light."
Then the Lord of glory was compassed with clouds
O'er the roofs of earth High-King of angels,
Helm of the holy. Hope was renewed,
Bliss in the cities, through the Saviour's Coming.
He was seated triumphant, Author of joy,
At the right hand of His Ruling Father.
The disciples set forth to the Holy City,
Unto Jerusalem, sad of soul,
From the spot where so lately their eyes had seen
God ascending, their Giver of good.
There was sound of weeping; with bitter sorrow
True love was flooded, hot at heart;
Their souls welled up, their spirits burned.
There in the great city those glorious thanes
Awaited the promises of their Prince
For ten nights' time, as the Ruler of all,
The Lord of glory, had given command
Ere He entered in through the arching heavens.
Clothed in white came angels to meet Him,
The Saviour of men; it is well said,
As the Writings tell, that radiant angels
In that holy hour came forth in hosts
From heaven on high to attend their Lord.
In celestial glory was the greatest of feasts,
And fitting was it to that festival
Came angels in white, a beauteous band,
To the City of Christ. Most welcome they saw
Heaven's Lord seated on His High-throne,
Life-Giver of men, in radiance ruling
Over all this world and the heavenly hosts.
Lo! now we have heard how the Healing Saviour
Through His hither-coming has granted us grace,
Has freed and defended the folk under heaven,
God's Mighty Son, that every man
In his days on earth by his deeds may choose;
The shame of hell or the splendour of heaven,
The shining light or the loathsome night,
The rush of glory or the gloom of darkness,
Rapture with God or riot with fiends,
Glory with angels or anguish with devils,
Or life or death, as he may find dearer
While body and spirit abide in this world.
Glory to the Trinity and eternal thanks!

* * *
Then the Son of God Who shaped this world
Showed us honour and gave us gifts,
Eternal homes with angels in heaven;
In men's minds also He sowed and set
Manifold skills. He sends to one
Wisdom of speech in word and thought,
Excellent insight; he may sing and say
All things well who has wisdom's power
Locked in his heart. Loud before men
One stirs with fingers the sounding harp,
Strikes sweetly the glee-wood. Godly law
One may interpret. One tells aright
The stars in their courses, the spacious sky.
One fashions well the eloquent word.
To one He awards war-might in battle
When the archers send a shower of darts,
A flickering arrow-flight o'er the shield's defence.
One may with boldness drive his bark
Over the salt wave, stirring the foam.
One can mount on the tall steep tree.
One can work weapons, the tempered sword.
One knows the plains, and earth's far paths.
Even so the Ruler, the Son of God,
Gives His gifts to us on earth.
But to no one man will He give all wisdom
Lest in his might beyond other men
Pride take hold upon him to his hurt.
Thus God Almighty, King of all creatures,
Honours earth's offspring with great gifts.
Likewise to the blessed He gives bliss in glory
Stablishing peace for ever for angels and men.

* * *

As here on earth's soil God's Son Eternal
Mounted by leaps above the high hills,
Bold on the mountains, so we mortal men
In our hearts' musings must mount by leaps
From strength to strength, and strive for glory,
That we may ascend by holy works
To the highest heavens, where are joy and hope,
A goodly band of thanes. Great is our need
In our secret souls that we seek salvation,
If we have in our hearts a fervent faith
That the Healing Son, the Living Saviour,
With our own body ascended from earth.
Wherefore we should ever despise idle lusts,
The wounds of sin, finding bliss in the better,
We have for our comfort our Father on high,
Almighty God. From heaven the Holy One
Sends His angels hither to earth,
Who shield us from spoilers and their deadly darts
Lest the fiends work wounds when the Author of evil
Against God's people shoots bitter shafts
From his bended bow. Therefore fast and firm
We must warily watch against the sudden shot
Lest poisoned arrow or pitiless dart,
Or the Foe's swift cunning, should pierce our frame.
Grievous that hurt, most ghastly of wounds!
Let us guard against it while we dwell on earth.
Let us pray the Father that He grant us peace,
The Son of God, and the blithe Spirit,
That He who shaped us with life and limbs,
With body and soul, may shield us well
From the wiles of the wicked, the weapons of foes.
To Him be praise and glory in heaven
For ever and ever, world without end.
Nor need any man of the race of men
Fear darts of devils or spear-flights of fiends
If the Lord God of hosts is his defence.
The Judgment is near; we shall know reward
According as we have won it by our works
During days of life dwelling on earth.
The Scriptures tell us how the Treasure of might,
God's Glorious Son, in the beginning
Stooped to the world, to the womb of the Virgin,
Holy from heaven. Verily I await,
And also dread, a sterner doom
When the King of angels shall come again --
I who obeyed not well what my Saviour bade me
In the Books. I shall surely see
The terror of vengeance of sin, as I count it true,
Where many shall be summoned to the Assembly
Before the face of the Eternal Judge.
C Then even the bold shall tremble in terror
Hearing the King, the Ruler of heaven,
Speak wrathful words to those in the world
YN Who obeyed Him feebly when affliction and need
Most easily may find comfort. There many a one
In that place shall wearily await with fear
What dreadful punishment God shall ordain
W According to man's works. Winsomeness of earth's treasures
U Shall be departed. Our portion of life's joy
LF Was long washed with floods, all wealth on earth.
In that day earth's treasures shall burn in the blast;
Fiercely shall ravage the swift, red flame.
It shall rush in rage over the wide world;
Plains shall perish, castles shall crumble;
The fire shall be fleet; most greedy of spirits
It shall eat up all the ancient treasure
Men gained of old when was glory on earth.
Therefore I urge each of my beloved
That he never slight the need of his soul,
Nor engulf it in pride while God may will
That here in the world he has his dwelling
While soul fares in body, that friendly inn.
Let each of men earnestly in his days on earth
Muse in his heart how the Lord of might
First came with pity by the angel's promise.
But He shall be grim when He comes again,
Just and stern. Then the heavens shall be shaken,
And the mighty limits of earth shall be moved.
He shall give their reward to those who through wickedness
Lived upon earth soiled with their sin.
Soul-weary and sad they shall long receive,
In the bath of fire begirt with flame,
In return for their sin a terrible requital.
Then the King of might shall come to that meeting
With the greatest of hosts; loud shall be heard
The terror of men 'mid the tumult of heaven,
The wailing of them that weep. The lost shall lament
Before the face of the Eternal Judge,
Those who rely but little on their works.
To many shall be manifest more of terror
Than ever was known from the world's creation.
To every sinner in that sudden hour
It shall be dearer far than all this fleeting world
That he may have shelter in that happy band
When the Lord of hosts, the Prince of princes,
Shall judge unto all, the loved and the loathed,
Unto every one a just reward.
Dire is our need ere that day of terror
That we think of the soul's beauty in this barren time.
Now is it most like as if on ocean
Across cold water we sail in our keels,
Over the wide sea in our ocean-steeds,
Faring on in our flood-wood. Fearful the stream,
The tumult of waters, whereon we toss
In this feeble world. Fierce are the surges
On the ocean lanes. Hard was our life
Before we made harbour o'er the foaming seas.
Then help was vouchsafed us when God's Spirit-Son
Guided us to the harbour of salvation and granted us grace
That we may understand over the ship's side
Where to moor our sea-steeds, our ocean-stallions,
Fast at anchor. Let us fix our hope
Upon that haven which the Lord of heaven,
In holiness on high, has opened by His Ascension.






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