Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE DISCIPLES: OVERTURE, by HARRIET ELEANOR HAMILTON (BAILLE) KING



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THE DISCIPLES: OVERTURE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I write of the disciples, because he
Last Line: Grace to endure yet faithful to the end.
Alternate Author Name(s): Hamilton-king, Harriet Eleanor
Subject(s): Apostles; Bible; God; Jesus Christ - Life & Ministry; Disciples, Twelve


I WRITE of the Disciples, because He
Who was their Master, having left on earth
The memory of a face that none could paint,
The echo of a voice that none could reach,
Hath left his own immortal words and works
To be a witness for him. Who should dare
To add one line or lesson unto these?
And in this year of loss, this first blank year
For us whom he held near and dear to him,
The heart is far too full to speak of thee,
Except through speaking of thy faithful ones,
JOSEPH MAZZINI, Master, first of those
The Sons of Men who are the Sons of God!

O Book of mine, which he commanded! long
Waited and worked for, and achieved too late!
Whose first leaves flying over-seas, like flights
Of white doves loosened sweeping straight to home.
Were carried unto Pisa, and found there
Mourning, and at the dead feet were laid low,
Instead of in the master's living hand;—
One day too late, and so came short for all,
And missed the confirmation of his eyes;
Missed for this world the comfort of his voice;—
But have not therefore been unknown to him.
I do but write as he inspired it me;
There is no passage but he knew it first;
I know there is no line but must have passed
Some time or other through his brain to mine;
Though not by utterance, by the finer threads,
Which we, who live by vision more than speech,
Are conscious of, but cannot frame again.

For he was gone that day without farewell,—
Suddenly parted from the martyrdom
Of lifelong sorrow to immortal peace;—
And in the momentary shock of loss,
That made this world henceforth another world,
Something we knew of what he first had felt,
Who walked alone with God, and had no Higher
Of humankind to be a help to him.
The sweetness of his praise shall not be mine;
Instead, the more pathetic sacred sense
Of something wanting, and for ever here;
Of something striven for, not without God's grace,
And stamped with His denial; therefore ranked
With other loss in life unmerited,
Remembered ever with some faint far hope
Of its repayment on another day.

Now no man fears thee: so the slanderer's voice,
More busy with the living than the dead,
Is turned from thee; and men begin to praise,
Seeing thy work was wrought without their aid;
And eyes are lifted to behold the true
Life-proven figure of the man who long
Went in and out amongst them undiscerned.
And though the generation is not born
Yet, that shall look upon thee in the light,
When the things prophesied have come to pass,
Yet the world's heart is softening unto thee
Whom the world hated, following with hate,
And wrong, and falsehood, through a holy life.

But I loved thee; I knew thee the first time
My eyes fell on some words of thine by chance.
I was a child then:—and when I am old,
And my eyes fail from following in their flights
The autumn birds into the far-off heavens,
Still mid the youth of that day I shall stand
Prouder than any in their pride of life,
Having beheld what they shall never see,
Having heard words that they can never hear,
Having a face to make the darkness dawn,
Ever within my memory for a friend;
Remembering through the twilight of those days
This solace of the sunrise, this delight,
Bought by such pain as then shall nigh be past.—
For grace he gave me that outweighs all pain,
And light of heart I follow, dark or clear;
Because I hold a prouder laurel-leaf
Than any singer of imperial courts:
For he, the Seer, the Master, and the Saint,
Named me his poet, crowned me laureate
Of his Republic:—therefore are these words.

I hold this charge for ever on my soul;—
He loved me, he looked on me with such eyes
As sent forth many a young heroic life
To die rejoicing on a lonely quest;
Saying to me, 'Do not die, but live, and speak
The words that God speaks to thee. Do not shrink
For youth or for subjection:—I endorse
Thy speech beforehand, for I see thy soul.
Hath not God written somewhat on thy face
To fade and flicker, for a few to see?
Write it out large in words that will not fade,
And that can travel farther than thine eyes,
And will not die when thou art laid in dust.
I lay it on thee that thou keep not back
That fire of life that burns thy brows so clear.
What springs from a pure heart and a true mind,
And a will bound to the Eternal Will,
With eyes that look beyond the world to God,
Is worth the hearing. Do not doubt, but speak.
For nine long years I held my peace, while God,
By tender tokens irresistible,
Laid silence on me; or by manifold
Pressure of claims and voices from without;
Or overmastering constancy of pain;
(The cares and troubles of the outer courts,
Not of the inner, where the angels sing
Ever, through clouds, through winds, through fires, through calm).

And once he chided me because the songs
Were slow in coming:—now I think he knows
(Or would know, were it not too small a thing)
The truth he took in trust upon my word.
For I made answer, 'If I must be dumb,
If breath but lasts for labour, not for speech,
It is not that I falter in my faith,
It is not that I alter in my will,
It is not that I fail from idleness:
It is that God hath set such bounds for me,
I cannot pass them;—I can say no more.
But grant me this assurance once for all—
By that obedience which is life to me,
Binding me one with higher law of life—
That thou wilt trust me. I am true to thee.
Dost thou believe it? And if, all the years,
My lips are loosed not, and no word of mine
Bear witness for me that my faith is firm,
And still I follow in the speechless trance,
Wilt thou believe it?' And he looked at me
With searching eyes,—then answered grave and clear,
'I will believe it.' And we spake no more.

And now I speak, not with the bird's free voice,
Who wakens the first mornings of the year
With low sweet pipings, dropped among the dew;
Then stops and ceases, saying, 'All the spring
And summer lies before me; I will sleep;
And sing a little louder, while the green
Builds up the scattered spaces of the boughs;
And faster, while the grasses grow to flower
Beneath my music; let the full song grow
With the full year, till the heart too is filled.

But as the Swan (who has pass'd through the spring,
And found it snow still in the white North land,
And over perilous wilds of Northern seas,
White wings above the white and wintry waves,
Has won, through night and battle of the blasts,
Breathless, alone, without one note or cry)
Sinks into summer by a land at last;
And knows his wings are broken, and the floods
Will bear him with them whither God shall will;
And knows he has one hour between the tides;—
And sees the salt and silent marshes spread
Before him outward to the shining sea,
Whereon was never any music heard.—

I am not proud for anything of mine,
Done, dreamed, or suffered, but for this alone:
That the great orb of that great human soul
Did once deflect and draw this orb of mine,
(In the shadow of it, not the sunward side,)
Until it touched and trembled on the line
By which my orbit crossed the plane of his;
And heard the music of that glorious sphere
Resound a moment; and so passed again,
Vibrating with it, out on its own way;
Where, intertwined with others, it may yet
Spin through its manifold mazes of ellipse,
Amid the clangour of a myriad more,
Revolving, and the dimness of the depths
Remotest, through the shadows without shape,
Arcs of aphelion, silences of snow:
But henceforth doth no more go spiritless,
But knows its own pole through the whirling ways
And hath beheld the Angel of the Sun,
And yearns to it, and follows thereunto;
And feels the conscious thrill that doth transmute
Inertia to obedience, underneath
The ordered sway of balanced counter-force,
That speedeth all life onward through all space,
And hears the key-note of all various worlds,
Caught and combined in one vast harmony,
And floated down the perfect Heavens of God.

But when? but when? O, Master, thou didst say
The time was coming. Is it come? Alas,
It seems not so! The days are dark with storm;-
The coming revolutions have no face
Of peace and music, but of blood and fire;
The strife of Races scarce consolidate,
Succeeded by the far more bitter strife
Of Classes—that which eighteen hundred years
Since Christ spake have not yet availed to close,
But rather brought to issue only now,
When first the Peoples international
Know their own strength, and know the world is theirs,
Which has been kept from them by force so long;—
By force, not right; for no man spake them fair,
To keep them patient through their helplessness;
It was enough that they were chained and dumb.
Will they be spoken fair to now? who knew
No Saviour through the serfdom's centuries,
Who will not know Him now their turn has come
Will not their day of reckoning be a day
Of judgment, and of cursing all divine
And human laws, to whom the world was made
So hopeless and so cruel that all names
Holy and dear are mockery unto them,
The fatherless, who pay with violence
The violence suffered, and in the recoil,
Hating the world, hate God for its sake too?

For Might instead of Right is hell on earth,
Battle of darkness still against God's side.
Whether it be soft-handed tyrannies
Of those who at kings' tables daintily
Feast in the bloom of eyes and bloom of wine;
Or of the swarming millions from the mire,
With masks of swine for images of God,
More blind, more brutal, and more terrible;
Yet not so blasphemous:—for these will come,
Having not known God, and denying Him;
But those did know, and took His name in vain,
And wrought the works of Cain by words of His.

We of the royal lineage, of the line
Unbroken of all kingdoms of the North,
Up to the dim names of mythologies—
If once the people whom our fathers spoiled,
And drove as sheep, and shut their ears against,
Should rise against us, and despoil us too,
Seizing the fruits of their own ignorant hands
(Which power and mind transmute to luxury);
And take our children to be under them,
And grind for them, until in face and form
They too degenerate—shall we dare complain?
Our limbs are beautiful through drudgeries
Of theirs, which left them rest and space to grow
Through generations to the perfect curves;
Our hair has got the gold because the dust
Of the world's highways never soiled the feet
Of our forefathers; and the blue-veined hands
Were moulded to their tenderness of touch
By centuries of service rude and hard.
It is God's judgment if He smite us so;
Let us endure it, saying, He is just;
But yet pray on as we were taught to pray,
In an immortal hope,—Thy kingdom come!

For when thou first didst find the Prophet's robe
Thrust upon thee with utterance of lament,
There was between the rulers of the earth
What they in blasphemy did dare to call
Holy Alliance: and the peoples slept.
Thank God thy word has cleared the world of such
As kings were in those days, not long ago!
But thou didst reach the root of things even then
With thy prophetic eyes, and God did set
A witness for Himself in words of thine
Which still the world may read;—but no man stood
Up in the place of power, and gave the hand
To thee, and took the helm to the Untried.
Is the world Christ's yet? Wherefore then wast thou
Outlaw in every kingdom of the world,
Except in England? England, thank thou God
For that cold shelter that thou gavest him,
For which he blessed thee, giving thee back love
For the long years of scornful disregard!
Was he not branded with all calumny
Because he dared to teach the naked truth,
Christ's words were not a book for Sabbath days,
But law of life, and judgment of the land;
Not to be chosen, and pieced, and dogmatised,
But lived up to—the whole and not a part,
Alive not dead, one spirit in new forms;—
And lived as Christ lived, poor, despised, alone,
Apart with God, and working miracles,
Not on the waves and winds, but on the wills
Of men, upon the hearts of multitudes,
The hidden germs of fresh humanities,
Of live confederations yet unborn,
The hidden founts of gathering river-floods,
To bear one day the music of his name
Through lands of harvest to the boundless sea.

The rulers would not hear thee in their day:
And now perchance the tide is on the turn,
And the next flood will bring the fierce waves in—
The long-pent surges of the deeper depths—
To swallow up the landmarks of the Old.
And thou wilt meet them, as thou heretofore
Hast met the men who built the walls and towers
To hold them safe against the shocks of doom—
Thou, living yet in words that cannot die,
Saying, 'Come no farther; not upon this road,
But on that other whither Christ has gone!
Have for your watchword not the Rights of Man,
But this more sacred, more invincible,
Duties of Man, and Law of Life in God!'
And will those deep eyes turn them in their wrath
More than they did those others? We shall see.
It may be so; for he held Hope with Faith,
And set his hope upon the people's heart.

I write of days that will not come again;
Not in our time:—the dream of Italy
Is now a dream no longer; and the night
Is over, with its beacons in the dark.
Look you, who follow to the heritage
Of a fair day, that you be worthy those
Who conquered it for you against the world.
Let God's idea grow in you, and the faith
Of Italy burn holier:—but no more
Will blood be shed for it; that page is turned.
Now mayst thou shine or fade; the star that shone
Far on the lonely dreamer through the depths,
(When all men mocked, and said, 'It is the light
Of the marsh-phantoms luring wanderers on
Who once have floundered out of the broad road'),
Is now set clear in sight of all men's eyes,
And ranked among the glittering Pleiades.
Italia has to-day the name and place,
And the fair body of freedom;—but the soul?
Of all he left behind, there is not one
Found worthy even to follow him to a grave!
O Star, be worthy of that starry soul
That rose and set, that loved and worshipped thee

Italia! when thy name was but a name,
When to desire thee was a vain desire,
When to achieve thee was impossible,
When to love thee was madness, when to live
For thee was the extravagance of fools,
When to die for thee was to fling away
Life for a shadow,—in those darkest days
Were some who never swerved, who lived and strove,
And suffered for thee, and attained their end.
And most of these have died that thou mayst live,
And he is dead now who was First of them.

And they are dead; and I half scorn myself
That I sit here to sing the songs of them,
Of which no word did echo in their ears
When they were dying. Nay, it was to them
Not words, but music;—music went with them
Along the Sacred Way Capitoline;
And inarticulate the trumpets rang
About the dying ears of those that fell;
And symphonies of some orchestral strain
Floated, and fell, and joined its notes again,
All day, all night, in one vibrating stream,
Across the darkness of the prison walls;
And sweeter than the sounds that from the harp
Of him who vanquished sirens in their song,
Thrilled out of Argo o'er Italian seas,
Some far-off bells did echo through the lands
Of exile, to the weary wayfarers,
Pierced them with pain, and struck them with desire,
And timed their bleeding steps upon the march
With some great watchword still reverberate.

Yet, even so, I could not speak the same,
If it had cost me nothing, heart or health;
For some may follow Truth from dawn to dark,
As a child follows by his mother's hand,
Knowing no fear, rejoicing all the way;
And unto some her face is as a Star
Set through an avenue of thorns and fires,
And waving branches black without a leaf;
And still It draws them, though the feet must bleed,
Though garments must be rent, and eyes be scorched
And if the valley of the shadow of death
Be passed, and to the level road they come,
Still with their faces to the polar star,
It is not with the same looks, the same limbs;
But halt and maimed, and of infirmity.
And for the rest of the way they have to go,
It is not day but night, and oftentimes
A night of clouds wherein the stars are lost.
And such are some of those who speak, and live,
And wait, and work, though blunted of desire,
And know that their true life is hid with God.

The way is smoother, not so glorious.
These days are darker, for we yet may die
In some great battle for the cause of God,
(Call no man happy till he so has died);
But not as these died, with the morning lights
Upon their faces, standing rapture-pale
Before the guns, or under sword and scourge
Of those whom they had hated as we hate
Untruth and malice and disdain of God;—
But by the hand and under heel of those
Whom we have loved against their hate for us,
Trusted in spite of wrongs for heritage,
And die at last by;—some of us who may
Have given up youth and hope of happy life
While one remained to suffer for and save,
And come without their calling, and stepped down
Out of the guarded fold and pastures green,
Into the ranks of those for sacrifice;
And have not stirred thence, though the iron be hard,
And flesh be faint, and death be slow to come
All these long years, for whose sake grant us, God,
Grace to endure yet faithful to the end.





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