Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WANDERER, by LEWIS MORRIS (1833-1907)



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THE WANDERER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I reared my growing soul on dainty food
Last Line: Living and dying, thine.
Subject(s): Doubt; Socrates (470-399 B.c.); Wandering & Wanderers; Skepticism


I REARED my growing Soul on dainty food,
I fed her with rich fruit and garnered gold
Sown freely by the pious provident hands
Of the wise dead of old.

The long procession of the fabulous Past,
Rolled by for her -- the earliest dawn of time;
The seven great Days; the garden and the sword;
The first red stain of crime;

The fierce rude chiefs who smote, and burned, and slew,
And all for God; the pitiless tyrants grand,
Who piled to heaven the eternal monuments,
Unchanged amid the sand;

The fairy commonwealths, where Freedom first
Inspired the ready hand and glowing tongue
To a diviner art and sweeter song
Than men have feigned or sung;

The strong bold sway that held mankind in thrall,
Soldier and jurist marching side by side,
Till came the sure slow blight, when all the world
Grew sick, and swooned, and died;

Again the long dark night, when Learning dozed
Safe in her cloister, and the world without
Rang with fierce shouts of war and cries of pain,
Base triumph, baser rout;

Till rose a second dawn of light again,
Again the freemen stood in firm array
Behind the foss, and Pope and Kaiser came,
Wondered and turned away;

And then the broadening stream, till the sleek priest
Aspired to tread the path the Pagan trod,
And Rome fell once again, and the brave North
Rose from the Church to God.

All these passed by for me, till the vast tide
Grew to a sea too wide for any shore;
Then doubt o'erspread me, and a cold disgust,
And I would look no more.

For something said, "The Past is dead and gone,
Let the dead bury their dead, why strive with Fate?
Why seek to feed the children on the husks
Their rude forefathers ate?"

"For even were the Past reflected back
As in a mirror, in the historic page,
For us its face is strange, seeing that the Race
Betters from age to age."

"And if, hearing the tale we told ourselves,
We marvel how the monstrous fable grew;
How in these far-off years shall men discern
The fictive from the true?"

* * * *

Then turned I to the broad domain of Art,
To seek if haply Truth lay hidden there;
Well knowing that of old close links connect
The true things and the fair.

Fair forms I found, and rounded limbs divine,
The maiden's grace, the tender curves of Youth,
The majesty of happy perfect years,
But only half the truth.

For there is more, I thought, in man, and higher,
Than animal graces cunningly combined;
Since oft within the unlovely frame is set
The shining, flawless mind.

So I grew weary of the pallid throng,
Deep - bosomed maids and stalwart heroes tall.
One type I saw, one earthy animal seal
Of comeliness in all!

But not the awful, mystical human soul --
The soul that grovels and aspires in turn --
The soul that struggles outward to the light
Through lips and eyes that burn.

So, from the soulless marbles, white and bare
And cold, too-perfect art, I turned and sought
The canvases, where Christian hands have fixed
The dreams of saintly thought.

Passion I found, and love, and godlike pain,
The swift soul rapt by mingled hopes and fears,
Eyes lit with glorious light from the Unseen,
Or dim with sacred tears.

But everywhere around the living tree
I marked the tangled growths of fable twine,
And gross material images confuse
The earthly and divine.

I saw the Almighty Ruler of the worlds,
The one unfailing Source of Light and Love,
A frowning gray-beard throned on rolling clouds,
Armed with the bolts of Jove.

The Eternal Son, a shapeless new-born child,
Supine upon His peasant - mother's knees,
Or else a ghastly victim, crushed and worn
By corporal agonies.

The virgin mother -- now a simple girl;
Or old and blurred with tears, and wan with sighs;
And now a Pagan goddess, giving back
Unspiritual eyes.

Till faring on what spark of heaven was there,
Grew pale, then went out quite; and in its stead,
Dull copies of dull common life usurped
The empire of the dead.

Or if sometimes, rapt in a sweet suspense,
I knew a passionate yearning thrill my soul,
As down long aisles from lofty quires I heard
The solemn music roll;

Or if at last the long-drawn symphony,
After much weary wandering seemed to soar
To a finer air, and subtle measures born
On some diviner shore,

I thought how much of poor mechanical skill,
How little fire of heart, or force of brain,
Was theirs who first devised or now declared
That magical sweet strain;

And how the art was partial, not immense,
As Truth is, or as Beauty, but confined
To this our later Europe, not spread out,
Wide as the width of mind.

* * * *

So then from Art, and all its empty shows
And outward-seeming truth, I turned and sought
The secret springs of knowledge which lie hid
Deep in the wells of thought.

The hoary thinkers of the Past I knew;
Whose dim vast thoughts, to too great stature grown,
Flashed round as fitful lightning flashes round
The black vault of the Unknown.

Who, seeing that things are Many, and yet are One;
That all things suffer change, and yet remain --
That opposite flows from opposite, Life and Death,
Love, Hatred, Pleasure, Plain --

Raised high upon the mystical throne of life
Some dim abstraction, hopeful to unwind
The tangled maze of things, by one rude guess
Of an untutored mind.

The sweet Ideal Essences revealed,
To that high poet-thinker's eyes I saw;
The archetypes which underset the world
With one broad perfect Law.

The fair fantastic Commonwealth, too fair
For earth, wherein the wise alone bore rule --
So wise that oftentimes the sage himself
Shows duller than the fool;

And that white soul, clothed with a satyr's form,
Which shone beneath the laurels day by day,
And, fired with burning faith in God and Right,
Doubted men's doubts away;

And him who took all knowledge for his own,
And with the same swift logical sword laid bare
The depths of heart and mind, the mysteries
Of earth and sea and air;

And those on whom the visionary East
Worked in such sort, that knowledge grew to seem
An ecstasy, a sudden blaze, revealed
To crown the mystic's dream;

Till, once again, the old light faded out,
And left no trace of that fair day remain --
Only a barren method, binding down
Men's thoughts with such a chain

That knowledge sank self-slain, like some stout knight
Clogged by his harness; nor could wit devise
Aught but ignoble quibbles, subtly mixed
With dull theologies.

Not long I paused with these; but passed to him
Who, stripping, like a skilful wrestler, cast
From his strong arms the precious deadly web,
The vesture of the past;

And looked in Nature's eyes, and, foot to foot,
Strove with her daily, till the witch at length
Gave up, reluctant, to the questing mind
The secret of her strength.

And then the old fight, fought on modern fields, --
Whether we know by sense or inward sight --
Whether a law within, or use alone,
Mark out the bounds of right --

All these were mine; and then the ancient doubt,
Which scarce kept silence as this master taught
The undying soul, or that one subtly probed
The process of our thought,

And shuddered at the dreadful innocent talk
To the cicala's chirp beneath the trees --
Love poised on silver wings, love fallen and fouled
By black iniquities;

And laughed to scorn their quest of cosmic law,
Saw folly in the Mystic and the Schools,
And in the Newer Method gleams of truth
Obscured by childish rules;

Rose to a giant's strength, and always cried --
You shall not find the truth here, she is gone;
What glimpse men had, was ages since, and these
Go idly babbling on --

Jangles of opposite creeds, alike untrue,
Quaint puzzles, meaningless logomachies,
Efforts to scan the infinite core of things
With purblind finite eyes.

Go, get you gone to Nature, she is kind
To reasonable worship; she alone
Thinks scorn, when humble seekers ask for bread,
To offer them a stone.

* * * *

And Nature drew me to her, and awhile
Enchained me. Day by day, things strange and new
Rose on me; day by day, I seemed to tread
Fresh footsteps of the true.

I laid life's house bare to its inmost room
With lens and scalpel, marked the simple cell
Which might one day be man or creeping worm,
For aught that sense could tell, --

Thrust life to its utmost home, a speck of gray
No more nor higher, traced the wondrous plan,
The wise appliances which seem to shape
The dwelling-place of man, --

Nor halted here, but thirsted still to know,
And, with half-blinded eyesight, loved to pore
On that scarce visible world, born of decay
Or stranded on the shore.

Marked how the Mother works with earth and gas,
And with what subtle alchemy knows to blend
The vast conflicting forces of the world
To one harmonious end;

And, nightly gazing on the splendid stars,
Essayed in vain with reverent eye to trace
The chain of miracles by which men learnt
The mysteries of space;

And toiled awhile with spade and hammer, to learn
The dim long sequences of life, and those
Unnumbered cycles of forgotten years
Ere life's faint light arose;

And loved to trace the strange sweet life of flowers,
And all the scarce suspected links which span
The gulf betwixt the fungus and the tree,
And 'twixt the tree and man.

Then suddenly, "What is it that I know?
I know the shows and changes, not the cause;
I know but long successions, which usurp
The name and rank of Laws.

"And what if the design I think I see
Be but a pitiless order, through the long
Slow wear of chance and suffering working out
Salvation for the strong?

"How else, if scheme there be, can I explain
The cripple or the blind, the ravening jaw,
The infinite waste of life, the plague, the sword,
The evil, thriftless law,

"Or seeming errors of design, or strange
Complexities of structure, which suggest
A will which sported with its power, or worked
Not careful for the best?"

I could not know the scheme, nor therefore spend
My soul in painful efforts to conform
With those who lavished life and brain to trace
The story of a worm;

Nor yet with those who, prizing overmuch
The unmeaning jargon of their science, sought
To hide, by arrogance, from God and man
Their poverty of thought,

And, blind with fact and stupefied by law,
Los sight of the Creator, and became
Dull bigots, narrowed to a hopeless creed,
And priests in all but name.

* * * *

Thus, tired with seeking truth, and not content
To dwell with those weak souls who love to feign
Unending problems of the life and love
Which they can ne'er explain;

Nor those who, parrot-like, are proud to clothe
In twenty tongues the nothing that they know;
Nor those whom barren lines and numbers blind
To all things else below;

And half-suspecting, when the poet sang
And drew my soul to his, and round me cast
Fine cords of fancy, but a sleight of words,
Part stolen from the past --

I thought, My life lies not with books, but men!
Surely the nobler part is his who guides
The State's great ship through hidden rocks and sands,
Rude winds and popular tides, --

A freeman amongst freemen, -- and contrives,
By years of thought and labour, to withdraw
Some portion of their load from lives bent down
By old abusive law!

A noble task; but how to walk with those
Who by fate's subtle irony ever hold
The freeman's ear -- the cunning fluent knave,
The dullard big with gold?

And how, when worthier souls bore rule, to hold
Faction more dear than Truth, or stoop to cheat,
With cozening words and shallow flatteries
The Solons of the street?

Or, failing this, to wear a hireling sword --
Ready, whate'er the cause, to kill and slay,
And float meanwhile, a gilded butterfly,
My brief inglorious day --

Or, in the name of Justice, to confuse,
For hire, with shameless tongue and subtle brain,
Dark riddles, which, to honest minds unwarped,
Were easy to explain --

Or, with keen salutary knife, to carve
For hire the shrinking limb; or else to feign
Wise words and healing powers, though knowing naught
In face of death and pain --

Or grub all day for pelf 'mid hides and oils,
Like a mole in some dark alley, to rise at last,
After dull years, to wealth and ease, when all
The use for them is past --

Or else to range myself with those who seek
By reckless throws with chance, by trick and cheat,
Swift riches lacking all the zest of toil,
And only bitter-sweet.

Or worst, and still for hire, to feign to hear
A voice which called not, calling me to tell
Now of an indolent heaven, and now, obscene
Threats of a bodily hell.

* * * *

Then left I all, and ate the husks of sense;
Oh, passionate coral lips! oh, shameful fair!
Bright eyes, and careless smiles, and reckless mirth!
Oh, golden rippling hair!

Oh, rose-strewn feats, made glad with wine and song
And laughter-lit! oh, whirling dances sweet,
When the mad music faints awhile and leaves
Low beats of rhythmic feet!

Oh, glorious terrible moments, when the sheen
Of silk, and straining limbs flash thundering by,
And name and fame and honour itself, await
Worse hazard than the die!

All these were mine. Then, thought I, I have found
The truth at last; here comes not doubt to pain;
Here things are what they seem, not figments, born
Of a too busy brain.

But soon, the broken law avenged itself;
For, oh, the pity of it! to feel the fire
Grow colder daily, and the soaring soul
Sunk deep in grosser mire.

And oh, the pity of it! to drag down lives
Which had been happy else, to ruin, and waste
The precious affluence of love, which else
Some humble home had graced.

And oh! the weariness of feasts and wine;
The jests where mirth was not, the nerves unstrung,
The throbbing brain, the tasteless joys, which keep
Their savour for the young.

These came upon me, and a vague unrest,
And then a gnawing pain; and then I fled,
As one some great destruction passes, flees
A city of the dead.

* * * *

Then, pierced by some vague sense of guilt and pain,
"God help me!" I said. "There is no help in life,
Only continual passions waging war,
Cold doubt and endless strife!"

But He is full of peace, and truth, and rest,
I give myself to Him; I yearn to find
What words divine have fallen from age to age
Fresh from the Eternal mind.

And so, upon the reverend page I dwelt,
Which shows Him formless, self-contained, all-wise,
Passionless, pure, the soul of visible things,
Unseen by mortal eyes;

Who oft across dim gulfs of time revealed,
Grew manifest, then passed and left a foul
Thick mist of secular error to obscure
The upward gazing soul;

And that which told of Opposite Principles,
Of Light with Darkness warring evermore;
Ah me! 'twas nothing new, I had felt the fight
Within my soul before.

And those wise Answers of the far-off sage,
So wise, they shut out God, and can enchain
To-day in narrow bonds of foolishness
The subtle Eastern brain.

And last, the hallowed pages dear to all,
Which bring God down to earth, a King to fight
With His people's hosts; or speaking awful words
From out the blaze of light, --

Which tell how earthly chiefs who loved the right,
Were dear to Him; and how the poet-king
Sang, from his full repentant heart, the strains
Sad hearts still love to sing.

And how the seer was filled with words of fire,
And passionate scorn and lofty hate of Ill,
So pure, that we who hear them seem to hear
God speaking to us still,

But mixed with these, dark tales of fraud and blood,
Like weeds in some fair garden; till I said,
"These are not His; how shall a man discern
The living from the dead?

"I will go to that fair Life, the flower of lives;
I will prove the infinite pity and love which shine
From each recorded word of Him who once
Was human, yet Divine.

"Oh, pure sweet life, crowned by a godlike death;
Oh, tender healing hand; oh, words that give
Rest to the weary, solace to the sad,
And bid the hopeless live!

"Oh, pity, spurning not the penitent thief;
Oh, wisdom, stooping to the little child;
Oh, infinite purity, taking thought for lives
By sinful stains defiled!

"With thee will I dwell, with thee." But as I mused,
Those pale ascetic words renewed my doubt:
The cheek, which to the smiter should be turned,
The offending eye plucked out.

The sweet impossible counsels which may seem
Too perfect for our need; nor recognise
A duty to the world, not all reserved
For that beyond the skies.

"And was it truth, or some too reverent dream
Which scorned God's precious processes of birth,
And spurned aside for Him, the changeless laws
Which rule all things of earth?

"Or how shall some strange breach of natural law
Be proof of moral truth; yet how deny
That He who holds the cords of life and death
Can raise up those who die?

"Yet how to doubt that God may be revealed;
Is He more strange, incarnate, shedding tears,
Than when the unaided scheme fulfils itself
Through countless painful years?

"But if revealed He be, how to escape
The critic who dissects the sacred page,
Till God's gift hangs on grammar, and the saint
Is weaker than the sage!"

These warring thoughts held me, and more; but when
The simple life divine shone forth no more,
And the fair truth came veiled in stately robes
Of philosophic lore;

And 'twas the apostle spoke, and not the Christ;
The scholar, not the Master; and the Church
Defined itself, and sank to earthly thrones:
"Surely," I said, "my search

"Is vain;" and when with magical rite and spell
They killed the Lord, and sought with narrow creed,
Half-fancy, half of barbarous logic born,
To heal the hearts that bleed;

And heretic strove with heretic, and the Church
Slew for the truth itself had made: again,
"Can these things be of Him?" I thought, and felt
The old undying pain.

And yet the fierce false prophet turned to God
The gross idolatrous East; and far away,
Beyond the horrible wastes, the lewd knave makes
A Paradise to-day.

* * * *

Yet deep within my being still I kept
Two sacred fires alight through all the strife, --
Faith in a living God; faith in a soul
Dowered with an endless life.

And therefore though the world's foundations shook,
I was not all unhappy; knowing well
That He whose hand sustained me would not bear
To leave my soul in hell.

But now I looked on nature with strange eyes,
For something whispered, "Surely all things pass;
All life decays on earth or air or sea, -- All wither like the grass."

"These are, then have been, we ourselves decline,
And cease and turn to earth, and are as they:
Shall our dear animals rise; shall the dead flowers
Bloom in another May?

"The seed springs like the herb, but not the same;
And like us, not the same, our children rise;
The type survives, though suffering gradual change,
The individual dies.

"How shall one seek to sever, e'en in thought,
Body and soul; how show to doubting eyes
That this returns to dust, while the other soars
Deathless beyond the skies?

"And if it be a lovely dream -- no more,
And life is ended with our latest breath,
May not the same sweet fancy have devised
The Lord of life and death?

"We know Him not at all, nor may conceive
Beginning or yet ending. Is it more
To image an Eternal World, than one
Where nothing was before?

"Whence came the Maker? Was He uncreate?
Then why must all things else created be?
Was He created? Then, the Lord I serve,
Lies farther off than He.

"Or if He be indeed, yet the soul dies.
Why, what is He to us? not here, not here!
His judgments fall, wrong triumphs here -- right sinks;
What hope have we, or fear?"

I could not answer, yet when others came,
Affirming He was not, and bade me live
In the present only, seizing unconcerned
What pleasures life could give,

My doubt grown fiercer, scoffed at them, "Oh fools,
And blind, your joys I know; the universe
Confutes you; can you see right yield to might,
The better to the worse, --

"Nor burn to adjust them? If it were a dream,
Would all men dream it? Can your thought conceive
The end you tell of better than the life,
Which all men else believe?

"Or if we shrink as from a hateful voice,
From mute analogies of frame and shape,
Surely no other than a breath Divine
Gave reason to the ape."

"What made all men to call on God? What taught
The soaring soul its lofty heavenward flight?
What led us to discern the strait bounds set,
To sever wrong from right?

"Be sure, no easier is it to declare
He is not than He is:" and I who sought
Firm ground, saw here the same too credulous faith
And impotence of thought.

And when they brought me their fantastic creed,
With a figment for a god -- mock ceremonies --
Man worshipping himself -- mock priests to kill
The soul's high liberties, --

I spurned the folly with a curse, and turned
To dwell with my own soul apart, and there
Found no companion but the old doubt grown
To an immense despair.

* * * *

Then, as a man who, on a sunny day,
Feeling some trivial ache, unknown before,
Goes careless from his happy home, and seeks
A wise physician's door.

And when he comes forth, neither heeds nor sees
The joyous tide of life or smiling sky,
But always, always hears a ceaseless voice
Repeating "Thou shalt die."

So all the world flowed by, and all my days
Passed like an empty vision, and I said,
"There is no help in life; seeming to live,
We are but as the dead."

And thus, I tossed about long time; at last
Nature rebelled beneath the constant pain,
And the dull sleepless care forgot itself,
In frenzy of the brain.

And sometimes all was darkness, unrelieved,
And sometimes I would wander day and night,
Through fiery long arcades, which seared my brain
With flakes of blinding light.

And then I lay unmoved in a gray calm;
Not life nor death, and the past came to seem
Thought, act, faith, doubt, things of but little worth
A dream within a dream.

* * * *

But, when I saw my country like a cloud,
Sink in the East, and the free ocean-wind
Fanned life's returning flame and roused again
Slow pulse and languid mind;

Soon the great rush and mystery of the sea,
The grisly depths, the great waves surging on,
Dark with white spuming crests which threaten death,
Swoop by, and so are gone.

And the strong sense of weakness, as we sped --
Tossed high, plunged low, through many a furious night,
And slept in faith, that some poor seaman woke
To guide our course aright.

All lightened something of my load, and seemed
To solace me a little, for they taught,
That the impalpable unknown might stretch,
Even to the realms of thought.

And so I wandered into many lands,
And over many seas; I felt the chill
Which in mid-ocean strikes on those who near
The spire-crowned icy hill,

And threaded fairy straits beneath the palms,
Where, year by year, the tepid waters sleep;
And where, round coral isles, the sudden sea
Sinks its unfathomed deep.

Upon the savage feverish swamp, I trod
The desert sands, the fat low plains of the East;
On glorious storied shores and those where man
Was ever as the beast.

And, day by day, I felt my frozen soul,
Soothed by the healing influence of change,
Grow softer, registering day by day,
Things new, unknown, and strange.

Not therefore, holding what it spurned before,
Nor solving riddles, which before perplexed;
But with new springs of sympathy, no more
By impotent musings vexed.


And last of all I knew the lovely land
Which was most mighty, and is still most fair;
Where world-wide rule and heavenward faith have left
Their traces everywhere.

And as from province to province I wandered on,
City or country, all was fair and sweet;
The air, the fields, the vines, the dark-eyed girls,
The dim arcaded street;

The ministers lit for vespers, in the cool;
Gay bridals, solemn burials, soaring chant,
Spent in high naves, gray cross, and wayside shrine,
And kneeling suppliant;

And painting, strong to aid the eye of faith,
And sculpture, figuring awful destinies:
Thin campanili, crowning lake-lit hills,
And sea-worn palaces.

Then, as the sweet days passed me one by one,
New tides of life through body and soul were sent;
And daily sights of beauty worked a calm
Ineffable content.

And soon, as in the spring, ere frosts are done,
Deep down in earth the black roots quicken and start,
I seemed to feel a spring of faith and love
Stir through my frozen heart.

* * * *

Till one still summer eve, when as I mused
By a fair lake, from many a silvery bell,
Thrilled from tall towers, I heard the Angelus,
Deep peace upon me fell.

And following distant organ-swells, I passed
Within the circuit of a lofty wall,
And thence within dim aisles, wherein I heard
The low chant rise and fall.

And dark forms knelt upon the ground, and all
Was gloom, save where some dying day-beam shone,
High in the roof, or where the votive lamp
Burned ever dimly on.

Then whether some chance sound or solemn word
Across my soul a precious influence cast,
Or whether the fair presence of a faith
Born of so great a Past,

Smote me; the wintry glooms were past and done,
And once again the Spring-time, and once more
Faith from its root bloomed heavenward -- and I sank
Weeping upon the floor!

* * * *

Long time within that peaceful home I dwelt
With those grave brethren, spending silent days
And watchful nights, in solemn reverent thought,
Made glad by frequent praise.

And the awakened longing for the Truth,
With the great dread of what had been before,
The ordered life, the nearer view of heaven,
Worked on me more and more.

So that, I lived their life of prayer and praise,
Alike in summer heats and wintry snows,
Pacing chill cloisters 'neath the waning stars,
Long ere the slow sun rose.

And speaking little, and bringing down my soul
With frequent fast and vigil, saw at length
Truth's face show daily clearer and more clear
To failing bodily strength.

For living in a mystical air, and parched
With thirst for faith and truth; at last I brought
The old too-active logic to enforce
The current of my thought.

And wishing to believe, I took for true
The shameless subtleties which dare to tell
How the Eternal charged one hand to hold
The keys of heaven and hell.

"For if a faith be given, then must there be
A Church to guard it, and a tongue to speak,
And an unerring mind to rule alike
The strong souls and the weak."

"And, because God's high purpose stands not still,
But He is ever with His own, the tide
Of miracle and dogma ceases not,
But flows down strong and wide,

"To the world's ending." So my mind fell prone,
Before the Church; and teachings new and strange;
The wafer, which to spirit and sense sustains
Some dim incredible change --

The substance which tho' altered yet retains
The self-same accidents; the Virgin Queen,
Immaculate in birth, and without death,
Soaring to worlds unseen --

The legends, ofttimes foolish, ofttimes fair,
Of saints who set all natural laws at naught;
The miracles, the portents, not the charm,
Of the old Pagan thought --

These shook me not at all, who only longed
To drain the healing draught of faith again,
And dreaded, with a coward dread, the thought
Of the old former pain.

The more incredible the tale, the more
The merit of belief; the more I sought
To reason out the truth, I knew the more
The impotence of thought.

And thus the swift months passed in prayer and praise,
Bringing the day when those tall gates should close,
And shut me out from thought and life and all
Our heritage of woes.

* * * *

Then, one day, when the end drew very near,
Which should erase the past for ever, and I
Waited impatient, longing for the hour
When my old self should die;

I knelt at noon, within the darkened aisle,
Before a doll tawdry with rich brocade,
And all ablaze with gems, the precious gifts
Which pious hands had made:

Nor aught of strange I saw, so changed was I,
In that dull fetish; nay, heaven's gate unsealed,
And the veiled angels bent before the throne,
Where sat their Lord revealed.

While like a flood the ecstasy of faith
Surged high and higher, swift to fall at last
Lower and lower, when the rapture failed
And faded, and was past.

Lo, a sweet sunbeam, straying through the gloom
Smote me, as when the first low shaft of day
Aslant the night-clouds shoots, and momently
Chases the mists away.

And that ideal heaven was closed, and all
That reverend house turned to a darkened room,
A den of magic, masking with close fumes
The odours of the tomb.

* * * *

Then passed I forth. Again my soul was free;
Again the summer sun and exquisite air
Made all things smile; and life and joy and love
Beamed on me everywhere.

And o'er the awakened earth there went a stir,
A movement, a renewal. Round the spring
In the broad village place, the darkeyed girls
Were fain to dance and sing

For the glad time. The children played their play,
Like us who play at life; light bursts of song
Came from the fields, and to the village church
A bridal gleamed along.

Far on the endless plain, the swift steam drew
A soft white riband. Down the lazy flow
Of the broad stream, I marked, round sylvan bends,
The seaward barges go.

The brown vine-dresser, bent among his vines,
Ceased sometimes from his toil to hold on high
His laughing child, while his deep-bosomed wife
Cheerful sat watching by.

And all the world was glad, and full of life,
And I grew glad with it, and quickly came
To see my past life as it was, and feel
A salutary shame.

For what was my desire? To set aside
The perfect scheme of things, to live apart
A sterile life, divorced from light and love,
Sole, with an empty heart.

And wherefore to fatigue the Eternal ear
With those incessant hymns of barren praise?
Does not a sweeter sound go up to Him
From well-spent toilsome days, --

And natural life, refined by honest love,
And sweet unselfish liturgies of home,
Heaven's will, borne onward by obedient souls,
Careless of what may come?

What need has He for praise? Forest and field,
The winds, the seas, the plains, the mountains, praise
Their Maker, with a grander litany
Than our poor voices raise.

What need has He of them? And looking back
To those gray walls which late had shown so fair,
I felt as one who from a dungeon 'scapes
To free unfettered air.

And half distrustful of myself, and full
Of terror of what might be, once more fled,
With scarce a glance behind, as one who flees
A city of the dead.

* * * *

All through that day and night I journeyed on
To the northward. With the dawn a tender rose
Blushed in mid-heaven, and looking up, I saw
Far off, the eternal snows.

Then all day higher, higher, from the plain,
Beyond the tinkling folds, beyond the fair
Dense, self-sown chestnuts, then the scented pines,
And then an eager air,

And then the ice-fields and the cloudless heavens;
And ever as I climbed, I seemed to cast
My former self behind, and all the rags
Of that unlovely past:

The doubts, the superstitions, the regrets,
The awakening; as the soul which hears the loud
Archangel summon, rising, casts behind
Corruption and the shroud.

For I was come into a higher land,
And breathed a purer air than in the past;
And He who brought me to the dust of death
Had holpen me at last.


What then? A dream of sojourn 'mid the hills,
A stir of homeward travel, swift and brief,
Because the very hurry of the change
Brought somewhat of relief.

A dream of a fair city, the chosen seat
Of all the pleasures, impotent to stay
The thirsty soul, whose water-springs were laid
In dear lands far away.

A dream of the old crowds, the smoke, the din
Of our dear mother, dearer far than fair;
The home of lofty souls and busy brains,
Keener for that thick air.

Then a long interval of patient toil,
Building the gradual framework of my art,
With eyes which cared no more to seek the whole,
Fast fixed upon the part.

And mind, which shunned the general, absorbed
In the particular only, till it saw
What boundless possibilities lie for men
'Twixt matter and high law!

How that which may be rules, not that which must;
And absolute truth revealed, would serve to blind
The soul's bright eye, and sear with tongues of flame
The sinews of the mind.

How in the web of life, the thread of truth
Is woven with error; yet a vesture fair
Comes from the loom -- a precious royal robe
Fit for a god to wear.

Till at the last, upon the crest of toil
Sat Knowledge, and I gained a newer truth:
Not the pale queen of old, but a soft maid,
Filled with a tender ruth.

And, ray by ray, the clear-faced unity
Orbed itself forth, and lo! the noble throng
Of patient souls, who sought the truth in act,
And grew, through silence, strong.

Till prizing union more than dissidence,
And holding dear the race, I came to prove
A spring of sympathy within, which swelled
To a deep stream of love.

And Knowledge gave me gold, and power, and fame,
And honour; and Love, a clearer, surer view:
Thus in calm depths I moored my weary soul
Fast anchored to the True.

* * * *

* * *

And now the past lies far away, and I
Can scarce recall those vanished days again;
No more the old faith stirs me, and no more
Comes the old barren pain.

For now each day brings its appointed toil,
And every hour its grateful sum of care;
And life grows sweeter, and the gracious world
Shows day by day more fair.

For now I live a two-fold life; my own
And yet another's; and another heart
Which beats to mine, makes glad the lonely world
Where once I lived apart.

And little lives are mine to keep unstained,
Strange mystic growths, which day by day expand,
Like the flowers they are, and set me in a fair
Perpetual wonderland.

New senses, gradual language, dawning mind,
And with each day that passes, traced more strong
On those white tablets, awful characters
That tell of right and wrong.

And what hand wrote them? One brief life declined,
Went from us, and is not. Ah! what and where
Is that fair soul? Surely it somewhere blooms
In purer, brighter air.

What took it hence, and whither? Can I bear
To think, that I shall turn to a herb, a tree,
A little earth or lime, nor care for these,
Whatever things may be?

Or shall the love and pity I feel for these
End here, nor find a higher type or task?
I am as God to them, bestowing more
Than they deserve or ask.

And shall I find no Father? Shall my being
Aspire in vain for ever, and always tend
To an impossible goal, which none shall reach, --
An aim without an end?

Or, shall I heed them when they bid me take
No care for aught but what my brain may prove?
I, through whose inmost depths from birth to death,
Strange heavenward currents move;

Vague whispers, inspirations, memories,
Sanctities, yearnings, secret questionings,
And oft amid the fullest blaze of noon,
The rush of hidden wings?

Nay; my soul spurns it! Less it is to know
Than to have faith: not theirs who cast away
The mind God gave them, eager to adore
Idols of baser clay.

But theirs, who marking out the bounds of mind,
And where thought rules, content to understand,
Know that beyond its kingdom lies a dread
Immeasurable land.

A land which is, though fainter than a cloud,
Full of sweet hopes and awful destinies:
A dim land, rising when the eye is clear
Across the trackless seas.


O life! O death! O faithful wandering soul!
O riddle of Being, hard to understand!
These are Thy dreadful secrets, Lord; and we
The creatures of Thy hand.

O'er wells of consciousness, too deep for thought,
Thou broodest always, awful Power Divine;
Thine are we still, the creatures of Thy hand,
Living and dying, Thine.





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