Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A MODERN APOSTLE, by CONSTANCE CAROLINE WOODHILL NADEN



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A MODERN APOSTLE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A garret room, outlooking on dull streets
Last Line: Her features almost mirrored his repose.


I.

A GARRET room, outlooking on dull streets;
A bed, a chair or two, a half-starved fire;
A little table, with a lamp, and sheets
Of printed proofs, and many a written quire;
Bending o'er these, as though they held the sweets
Of Power or Wisdom, one in mean attire;
A slender youth, with sallow mobile face,
Quick, dark-browed, nervous -- sure, of Celtic race.

You cry, "A common picture!" Look again --
A massive forehead shades the features thin;
The deep-set eyes are like stilettos twain,
That might transfix a heart grown hard with sin,
Or pierce a clean-edged wound through skull and brain,
A pathway for the Truth to enter in:
What strange bright soul inspires that body frail?
Hear if you will, and know young Alan's tale:

He was the prophet of a little sect
Which deemed itself a plot of favoured ground,
A nursery-garden for the Lord's elect,
Rich-soiled, high-walled, and sentinelled around
By angel-bands so keenly circumspect
They challenged every wind of dubious sound,
And quarantined the sunbeams, lest afloat
In any ray should lurk some poison-mote.

And Alan, nurtured from his infant years
To be a Levite, holy to the Lord,
Took up the ark of God with reverent fears,
And girded on the spiritual sword;
He would not flinch before Philistine jeers,
Nor take the Babylonish spoils abhorred,
Clean would he keep his soul, pure from the stain
Of thought, of earthly love, of lore profane.

Alas! not every saint can quite disown
Those two unsaintly organs, brain and heart,
Nor dwell upon a pedestal of stone
Until he grow the pillar's counterpart;
Nor can he by long prayers and fasts atone
For unregenerate virtues -- the black art
Of feeling and of thought is ne'er unlearned,
And spirits come, although the books be burned.

Poor Alan, with the Gael in his hot blood,
And that insatiate mind, which rather durst
Plunge and be drowned in the full tidal flood
Of human wisdom, than live on athirst --
Ah! how could he, though bred from babyhood
To deem what most he craved a thing accurst,
Dwell in a land of streams innumerous,
And pine a self-afflicted Tantalus?

A second-hand bookstall was his fatal tree
Of knowledge, bearing divers kinds of fruit:
Peaches soft-rinded, melting lusciously,
Yet bitter-flavoured; on another shoot
Ruddy-cheeked apples, innocent to see,
But yielding potent cider; from one root,
It seemed, grew stimulants and anodynes,
Green opium capsules, and rich-clustered vines.

Here Alan read; at first, the guilt of reading
Weighed on his conscience; he would toss all night,
Praying the Holy Ghost to grant him leading,
And quell or quench this lawless appetite;
And then for days from that unhallowed feeding
Would hold aloof, till in his own despite
He turned unthinking down the accustomed street --
The serpent tempted him, and he did eat.

Soon he waxed bolder; could it be a crime
To learn how men with spirit overcast
Doubted, and told their doubts in prose or rhyme,
Prating of "Cosmos" or of "Protoplast"?
What then of Job, rash questioner sublime?
What of the weary throned Ecclesiast?
He reasoned; thus accomplishing his fall,
For Reason is the Sin Original.

And so at last he shut his eyes and plunged,
And took whate'er he found, both good and ill --
Pale Christianity with Christ expunged,
Faint Unbelief deploring its own skill,
Great tomes of metaphysic lore, that sponged
The World away, leaving the lonely Will:
Carlyle he conned, and -- guilt of dye intenser!
Dallied with Darwin and with Herbert Spencer.

A thousand thoughts within his head ran riot,
Shunning at first his Faith, ensceptred long;
As Rome's old senators, august and quiet,
Sat on their ivory chairs, and cowed the strong
Victorious Gauls, as by a speechless fiat
Divine; till one of that barbarian throng
Stroked a grey beard; the answering blow began
The slaughter; weak wrath proved the god but man.

And thus, when Alan's Faith, by touches rude
Disturbed, in angry tone began to speak,
And let the invading spirits know how crude
She was in wit, in argument how weak,
What marvel that the unbaptized brood
Taunted and mocked, and smote her on the cheek,
Cast her to earth, discrowned her reverend head,
And left her bleeding, senseless, well-nigh dead?

Yet still she was not slain, and Alan grieved,
And fain had stanched her wounds and set the crown
On her scarred forehead, and again believed;
But Reason came and stayed him with a frown,
Saying, "Why crave and yearn to be deceived?
She who lies low deserved to be cast down;
'Tis Nature's mandate -- to the puny rival
Defeat and death: to the more fit, survival."

Yet many times poor wounded Faith uprose,
But each time paler, fainter, freshly maimed,
And stronger and more valiant grew her foes,
Their skill more sure, their strokes more truly aimed;
Till tortured Alan, reft of all repose,
Plagued night and day by fiery thoughts untamed,
Sought, not the Deity on sapphire throne
Circled with elders; but a God Unknown.

It was a broken prayer, a wild appeal;
He spoke aloud, nor knew what words he said.
He did not clasp his hands, or bend, or kneel,
But paced the room with quick uneven tread,
Now hurrying in the tumult of his zeal,
Now halting, with a pang of sudden dread,
And now he seemed, with fixed gaze, to invoke
Some present Power: and these strange words he spoke:

"My God! whether thou be my Father too,
The Father who willed not to take from Christ
That bitter cup, but rather to renew
His strength to suffer and be sacrificed;
Or whether the green earth, the heavens blue,
And men -- kings high enthroned, slaves cheaply priced --
Be but thy Visions -- transient thoughts and themes,
Which thou, the World-Soul, shadowest in thy dreams:

"My God! if thou dost hear, or if indeed
Thy Spirit breathes in mine, and prays this prayer --
Thou knowest my pain, my strife, my famished need;
For health, love, gladness, let the morrow care,
To-day I hunger for a perfect creed:
If I be but thy dream, in me declare
Some symbol of the Truth -- or let me die,
That, fleeting, l may know the Dawn is nigh.

"Is not this madness? Wherefore do I pray
To my own soul, and cheat myself with hope?
Seeking for earnest in the Cosmic play,
Weak victim of an Oriental trope!
And yet, O Truth, whom I blaspheme to-day,
Because with doubt and dread I scarce may cope,
Reveal thyself, and let thy sole word be --
'Leave all, take up thy cross, and follow me!'"

His deep eyes shone with rapture as he bade
To Love and Faith, for Hope's dear sake, adieu:
He owned no "great possessions;" but he had
Home, friends, a pittance, and from hearers few
Credence devout; though some looked shrewd and sad,
And shook their heads, and whispered that he drew
His doctrines from vile books of Babylon,
By scoffers, named Carlyle and Emerson.

Little he cared in that ecstatic hour
For friendly or for hostile tongues and pens;
Let the grim Orthodox be starched and sour,
The dull beasts growl morosely in their dens!
He felt but his own spirit's fervent power,
Which -- by his thought as by a crystal lens
Converged and focussed in one burning spot --
Imaged that Sun, which mortal eyes see not.

A wondrous Vision rose before his sight --
The Earth in all her glory; flowers and trees;
Purple-robed mountain-ranges, every height
Gleaming like gold; rich meadows; boundless seas,
That changed from sapphire to green chrysolite
And topaz; in the land and ocean breeze
Life's voices murmured; scale and fur and wing
Bright glistened; while Man trod, apparent king.

But as he looked, there passed a stormful cloud
Athwart the sun, and wakened fiery strife
In heaven; he heard the waves roar, and the loud
Thunders; then deeper gazing, saw how life
Preyed upon life; how men, ruthless and proud,
Destroyed their fellow-men with club and knife
And fire-brand; or by deadlier arms, and fraud
Refined, and smooth hypocrisy unawed.

Yet in the stained Earth and the darkened Sun,
He saw, by some revealing miracle,
The Eternal Power which makes the Many, One,
Shining through all; the Law made visible:
As though this embryo world had just begun
To quicken with the shaping Principle
Which silently prepares its robe of youth
A body all translucent to the Truth.

Then came a Voice -- "Behold what thou hast sought
So long; thyself, and Nature's Self, behold!
Thou couldst not spend thy prayers and tears for nought,
By human pain my Being I unfold;
I am the end and essence of thy thought,
The life of all new creeds and symbols old;
I rule in star and atom; all mankind
Work out my purpose in their battlings blind.

"But thou, whose eyes are opened; who dost see
Thy true Soul, and yet livest -- thou, rejoice!
Go forth into the world and speak of me;
I choose thee from all men by thine own choice;
In evil and in good, in bond and free
I live, and utter truth in every voice;
Each sings his few faint notes of joy and woe,
Only my Prophets the full concord know."

The Voice passed, and the Vision, and gave place
To darkness and deep silence, as of death;
And the young mystic fell upon his face,
Scarce his heart beat, and scarce he drew his breath:
This glorious message to the human race,
Unknown to ancient seers, who cried, "Thus saith
The Lord," held all his sense and soul entranced,
While the hours fled, night deepened, morn advanced.

He felt as one who, having grasped the whole
Of his desire, may rest; he seemed estranged
From realms of Space, and freed from Time's control,
Pure Spirit; not from dream to dream he ranged,
Nor prayed, nor hoped, nor pondered; for his soul
Was all concentred in one thought unchanged:
Till slowly he awoke, when dawn was near,
Mortal again; but God's anointed seer.

II.

SMALL, fragile, and dark-eyed was Alan's mother,
Of Highland blood; her solemn Saxon mate
Had ne'er been able quite to quench or smother
The poet-flame within her breast innate;
She had been wont, to Alan and no other,
Strange tales of wraith and kelpie to relate,
And wondrous legends of the second sight,
Claimed by her race as its ancestral right.

She told her tales in rapid whispers, sitting
Over the fire, with changeful glances wild,
And quick dramatic hands, that wove unwitting
A spiritual garment for her child,
Who all the while, his bright eyes never quitting
Her face, beside her crouched, enrapt, beguiled:
But these were secret pleasures: when she heard
A slow step, hushed was the half-spoken word

For Alan's father, tall, large-boned, and grim,
Considered works of fiction merely lies,
And banned all poetry except the hymn;
His creed forbade him earthly gifts to prize,
Calling mirth, folly -- love, a sinful whim:
Such faith at once contracts and satisfies
The constant soul; that one ideal spark
Shows all the world around blank, cold, and dark.

Each day he opened with a prayer, and singing;
The prayer a little sermon in disguise,
Teaching the Lord His own designs, and slinging
Smooth pebbles at unwise and overwise;
The hymn was loud, aggressive, as though flinging
Contemptuous pearls to neighbours or to spies;
Like a big drum he sang, beat with small skill;
Alan, more low; the mother, clear and shrill.

That morning, Alan sang with fervour double;
His inner exaltation overbore
All sad presentiment of toil and trouble
And severance of old friendships, and welled o'er
In natural song: the hymn said, "Life's a bubble,
A wave that breaks in foam upon the shore,
A fading leaf:" but Alan's voice rang out
As though its burden were a triumph-shout.

And after prayer, and hymn, and frugal meal,
He spoke, and all his glorious Vision told;
At first with painful strivings to reveal
His secret heart: but soon he grew more bold,
And e'en his father's look could not congeal
His ardour; as the petrifying cold
That binds the dull stream, Winter's prisoned vagrant,
Freezes not generous wine, nor ether fragrant.

The old man heard with bony brows drawn down,
And keen eyes watchful, and thin lips compressed;
The anxious mother shivered at his frown,
And trembled for her son, yet unconfessed
Shared in the new belief; she plucked her gown
With nervous fingers, while her loving breast
Was rent with fear, and hope, and awe-struck joy
That Heaven had found a Prophet in her boy.

The story ended; then with look austere,
And speech deliberate, calm, the father spoke:
"I understand you well; your words are clear;
You fain would cast away the ancient yoke,
Renounce the Lord of Hosts, whom devils fear
And angels worship; and, forsooth, invoke
Some newer God, who dwells in rogue and thief,
Yet speaks by you, of his apostles chief.

"Call on your Baal! Try what he can do --
Surely he is a god, though he begins
With blasphemy -- doubt not -- your course pursue;
Shout, leap, and wound your soul, till suffering wins
Success; and then remember, that while you
Are feasting, I am fasting for my sins,
And wishing Heaven had blotted out the morn
On which a man-child to the world was born."

He broke off with a sob; Alan, aghast
At such emotion, hastened to his side,
Crying, "My father!" But he roughly cast
His son away, with gestures that defied
Sorrow and pity, and in silence passed
Out from the house, in his unbending pride
That did brave battle with a love and grief
More deep than aught except his stern belief.

And now the son and mother, each to each
The best-loved thing on earth, were left alone;
Then on his knees beside her, without speech
He fell, and took her cold hands in his own;
And she, all trembling, weeping the new breach
Between her dear ones, spoke in faintest tone,
Pleadingly, brokenly, as though she prayed
For grace, that some hard sentence might be stayed.

"My Alan, my dear son! my heart will break --
Although I always knew that God would send
His Spirit -- that some morning you would wake
And feel that strength was granted you to spend
In some great service -- only, for my sake
And for your father's, wait a little -- bend
Awhile, before his anger -- who can tell?
This wrathful mood may pass -- he loves you well."

But he replied, "My mother, tempt me not!
For you I would do all things -- all, save this --
Nay, I could wish my father's wish, to blot
My hour of birth, rather than idly miss
My birthright: grieve you that my zeal is hot?
You taught me, by your songs, your tales, your kiss
That human love, that heed of Wisdom's ray,
By which the heavenly Voice I now obey.

"Ah, do not weep, dear mother! Even those
Who cast me forth, shall hear the Word divine;
To-morrow, in the face of friends and foes,
My charge, once held so dear, I must resign --
But weep not!" He embraced her and arose
And went forth, that the April sun might shine
Into his heart, and quiet grief and wrath
And exultation, and make plain his path.

'Twas in an English town that Alan dwelt,
A town marked Liberal both by creeds and votes,
Where every individual voice did melt
In the loud hum of Progress; jarring notes
Of small exclusive sects were merely felt
Like nettle-stings when dock-leaf antidotes
Are plenteous; there, the party-leader's cue
Was to hope all things, and believe a few.

Turning a corner sharply, Alan met
George, an old school-mate, strong in politics,
Ruddy and fair, short-statured and thick-set,
Well versed in all the rhetorician's tricks;
An eye he had that you could ne'er forget,
Blue, humorous, clear; not steady to transfix
The erring, but most skilful to detect
A meeting's mood, and watch a word's effect.

"'Tis you!" he cried -- " we have not met for long;
In truth, I wonder you are still alive,
Pacing your treadmill round with weary song,
Seeking rich honey in a dronish hive,
Boring deep wells Artesian in the wrong
Strata, whence you may dig, till you arrive
At the earth's core, yet no refreshing drop
You find, till at the central fire you stop.

"Some day, your friends will leave you in the lurch,
For what know you about the selfish springs
That move them to condemn all true research?
Like Gallio, I care nothing for such things --
And yet I care for you -- I know a church
Where you might fearlessly unfold your wings,
Read, think, and labour, and perchance do good --
A free church, in a crowded neighbourhood.

"They want a parson now -- the salary
Is poor, but better than your present pay;
And what is worse than the dull destiny
Of one condemned, year after year, to stay
Shut in a sect, and preach incessantly
The same old doctrines in the same old way?
Come forth, nor heed how bigots may abuse
The step -- shake off their dry dust from your shoes."

The words, though kindly meant -- the flippant cavil --
The confident suggestions, like commands,
Jarred upon Alan; then, he fain would travel,
And scatter the good seed in many lands;
Yet might he not, by George's aid, unravel
Present perplexities, and set his hands
To the Lord's plough? And would not God enlarge
His field, if true he were in one small charge?

Therefore he answered -- "Come to-morrow night,
And tell me of this church -- my trust I leave
Not for its dulness, nor for any spite
Against the people, who in faith receive
My words, and to their utmost power requite
My service; nay, I willingly would cleave
To this old home; but God has called me thence,
Granting me sight of his Omnipotence."

"Well," said the other -- "so that you come out
I care not why. On Sunday evening, late,
When none of your good friends will be about,
And your last sermon will have fixed your fate,
Expect me. Now, good-bye; I have to spout
To-night, at a political debate,
And must begin to think what I shall say --
So, till to-morrow!" And he went his way.

Then Alan wandered far, beyond the town,
Past budding hedge-rows, where the spider weaves
Her tracery; past trees with branches brown
Seen through their April robe of light green leaves;
And past bright gardens, where the tulip-crown
And fruit-buds pink, are spoiled by winged thieves;
Such common sights, and the soft wind's caress
Filled all his soul with strength and happiness.

Farther he rambled; on through country lanes
And copses where the ferns their fronds unrolled,
And pastures where the gentle spring-tide rains
Jewelled anemone and marigold;
Thrushes and blackbirds carolled joyful strains,
And all things sang, in cadence manifold --
"Rejoice, rejoice, with bird and tree and flower!
Rejoice, rejoice, in plenitude of power!"

Homeward he turned, his ardent mind sincere
Feasting on this glad gospel; soon, ah soon!
The trembling mother must forget her fear,
The steadfast father must accept that boon
Dearer than rubies; all should see and hear
With souls undimmed, exultant in the noon
Of cloudless Truth; Faith, Hope, and Love, these three,
At last should blend in perfect trinity.

III.

ALAN had preached his sermon -- grave, devout,
Yet full of lightnings and electric shocks
For tender souls who reckoned even doubt
Less damnable than faith unorthodox;
Henceforth the young apostle stood without
Their iron gates, made fast with bars and locks,
Till his last banishment to realms beneath,
Where scoffers ever weep and gnash their teeth.

But now he sat and chatted in his room
With his friend George, who comfortably smoked
His pipe, unthinking of so dread a doom,
And talked in worldly tone, that half-provoked
Alan to wrath; yet on the tranquil fume
Floated kind wishes, clad in words that joked,
And many a scheme, by friendly warmth begot,
And pictures quaint of Alan's future lot.

"The people, chiefly poor and ignorant,
Will be a stony field for you to plough;
What thoughts they spare from misery and from want
May they be yours! But let me show you now
Another aspect: you will have a scant
Sprinkling of better hearers, to allow
Scope for your genius -- men of moderate wealth,
Whose tonic for their spiritual health

"Has been to found a church where all is free,
The seats, the service, and the preacher's thought,
Where e'en the poorest may behold the Tree
Of Life, and taste, and eat his fill for nought:
A fine idea, though such things to me
Are nothings: well, their cleverest member caught
Directly, at your name; for he had heard
You once, and had remembered every word.

"Their cleverest, not their richest: though he rules
The others, he is but a dilettante;
(Our thirty millions, true, are 'mostly fools,'
Wisdom is rare, and men of mind are scanty!);
They reverence him, with faith that never cools
For having meant to write a book on Dante --
All, save his helpmate; commonplace and keen,
Through her sage lord her wifely eyes have seen.

"Then their one daughter -- did you meet her ever?
Slim shape, and soft brown hair, and dark-blue eyes,
So gentle, that you scarce believe her clever,
And quite entrancing, were she not so wise:
But oh, beware of Ella's beauty! never
Let that Madonna fairness win your sighs;
Or, if you should address her, use your tact,
And study first the sciences exact.

"The heavenly host she watches from her attics,
She knows the name and place of every star;
True incarnation of Pure Mathematics,
She cares for all that is abstruse or far:
Go, woo her with Dynamics and with Statics,
And term your love a force molecular;
She then, perchance, may fathom your intention --
Plain language is beneath her comprehension.

"Enough of this! you are a son of God,
And do not haunt the daughters of the earth --
Yet who can tell? you are no frozen clod;
Perchance fair Venus, whose celestial worth
You long have slighted, may prepare a rod
To torture you, or else a cup of mirth
To tempt you -- Well, I hope 'twill be the latter:
As to the church, be easy, for that matter

"Is practically settled. Now, good-night,
And happy dreams of -- whatsoe'er you choose!"
They parted. Alan, by the fire's dim light
Long meditated on the hopeful news,
And felt that he unthankfully should slight
Heaven's leading, could he hesitate to use
A proffered chance of free unfettered work,
Came it from Jew, or Infidel, or Turk.

And then he looked from out his window high,
As though the fresh night air could put to proof
His purity of heart: against the sky
Each house stood black, distinct, and each wet roof
Gleamed in the moonlight; tapering slenderly
Rose many a spire: the city seemed aloof
From care and toil; and said, by silence deep --
"Doubt not nor ponder, but in gladness sleep."

Why should I weary the long-suffering Muse
And listener patient-souled, with tedious telling
Of letters, of official interviews,
Of change of ministry, and change of dwelling,
And how the fond proud mother wept to lose
Her son, and how the father's heart was knelling
The death of hope, or how the elders prayed
In vigorous language for the renegade?

Enough, that Alan found himself installed
In his new church, and gloried in the sense
Of working unimpeded, unenthralled;
Here was no sentinel, demanding "Whence
Come you, and whither go?" A town unwalled
Was that society, with no defence
Save the united force of Faith and Science --
In truth, a somewhat perilous alliance.

Here he proclaimed the Brotherhood of Men --
God lives in all; by Him are all inspired,
And so are equal; to the Prophet's ken
The king is level with the drudge o'ertired,
And what he is, should seem: with tongue and pen
He preached Equality, until he fired
His people; and ere long, the novel schism
Was christened "Pantheistic Socialism."

Such was his lot, when first I bade you look,
Kind listener, at his study, where he wrote
His deep thoughts in a world-convincing book;
But that was night -- his days he would devote
To patient work in many a squalid nook,
Amid such sights and odours, as denote
The homes of women dulled in heart and eye,
Mothers of starveling babies, born to die,

Or for worse fates. Such wretches he would aid
From his own scanty income; sometimes even
They ventured in to hear him, half afraid,
And did not understand, but felt near heaven:
Of motley stuff his little flock was made,
Rich men, poor men, and beggars, with a leaven
Of gentle women; but for him, the place
Contained but one, with sweet Madonna-face.

The blue eyes gleamed with quivering light, as though
Some lamp within had just begun to shine,
The pale cheeks flushed, as 'mid the latest snow
Bloom faint pink almond blossoms -- welcome sign
Of coming Spring -- he deemed this changeful glow
Enkindled by an intuition fine
That pierced through speech and symbol, ne'er content
Until it knew the soul of what he meant.

He watched the face on Sundays, dreamed of it
Through all the week; in haunts of dark distress
And sordid shame, he saw its beauty flit,
Now, for a moment, calm and passionless,
And now again with sudden radiance lit,
Like some new-born diviner consciousness
Evolving from completed human grace
The future parent of a nobler race.

No Raphaelite Madonna has a brow
Like Ella's, nor could e'er have learnt the use
Of sciences to which by voiceless vow
Her strength was dedicate; in themes abstruse
She locked herself, and scarce had craved till now
A truth not yielded by her life recluse;
As little children, miserably fed,
Grow faint, but are not hungry for their bread.

For she, with innocent clear sight, had found
That those about her merely thought of thinking,
And felt they ought to feel; with quick rebound
She drew her life away from theirs, and shrinking
From windy verbiage, craved some solid ground,
Trying to satisfy her soul by linking
Truths abstract; no vague talk of liberal views
Can alter cosine and hypotenuse.

Her mother, with shrewd mind of meaner class
Laughed inly, when she heard some "thinker" draw
The wonted music from his sounding brass,
Showing that with approval Christ foresaw
This nineteenth century of steam and gas,
And Mammon, and "Inexorable Law,"
Or wresting from St. Paul a strong opinion
In favour of the theory Darwinian.

But Ella grieved; her father's lucubration
On Dante (which, in sooth, till Doomsday comes
Shall never be writ down) -- the declamation
Of pseudo-scientific Chrysostoms
Rejoiced her not; she gained a reputation
For gentle chillness; and, since nought benumbs
The heart so much as when our friends suppose
It cold, poor Ella slowly, sadly froze.

Yet Ella was a woman, and the frost
Bound not her inmost nature; still she kept
The natural love for children; she had lost
A baby sister once, and when she slept
Often the little child's white image crossed
Her dreams, and nearer stole to her, and crept
Close to her heart; then, piercing through her sleep
Remembrance thrilled, and she would wake and weep.

When Alan came, at first she only smiled
At his fresh ardour; yet she oft would check
Her satire; for he seemed a very child,
Pure, single-minded, with no marring fleck
Of self-conceit, although by dreams beguiled;
And she would sigh, to think how time must wreck
His hopes, and all his fancies disenchant;
So mused the girl, like some old maiden aunt.

But soon, a strange new light began to break
Upon her mind, and dubiously to fall
O'er thought and feeling: what if the mistake
In truth, were hers; and what if after all
This visionary seer were more awake
Than she, the sage and mathematical?
'Twas thus she pondered, as in church she sate
Listening, with changeful colours delicate.

From pitying, she began to sympathise,
From sympathising, almost to revere;
The inner light grew radiant in her eyes,
And she forgot her wise predictions drear,
And she forgot to carp and criticise,
And all things she forgot, except to hear,
And hope, and with willing mind receive
The mystic word -- and lastly, to believe.

Her face grew fairer, and her step more light,
As though she entertained, not unaware,
An angel: as some holy anchorite,
When heavenly visitants have deigned to share
His hut and food, will feel a sweet delight
Henceforth, in water pure and meagre fare;
So Ella found new pleasures in her home,
And fresh gradations in Life's monochrome.

More bright and blithe she was, than any yet
Had known her; all around might well discern
The change, much marvelling what amulet
Transformed the gentle maiden taciturn
So gladsomely. When she and Alan met,
As soon they must meet, haply might she learn
The spirit of all prophets who have dwelt
On earth, and dream what Christ's apostles felt.

IV.

AT last they met, once, twice, and many times,
Until she knew the secret of his being,
That essence which an ardent zeal sublimes
From the dull ashes; faith was slowly freeing
Her soul from fear; she felt as one who climbs
High peaks at midnight, knowing, but not seeing
The depths beneath him, while his lantern's glow
Shines brilliantly before him on the snow.

What shall the sun reveal? A cloud-robed world,
A space of white about the traveller's feet,
And all things else impenetrably furled
In vapours cold? Or will the mist retreat,
Unveiling valleys green, with lakes impearled,
And bounded by a curve of Alps, that greet
The dawn with rosy summits, towering high
Beneath the paling moon and faint blue sky?

But Alan -- with heart pure and passionate
That ne'er of any woman's love had dreamed,
To noble service ever consecrate --
Now joyed in broadening, brightening noon, that streamed
Above him and around, till Life and Fate
Were nought but one glad radiance, and Love seemed
The fruit of Truth's white flower, grown sweet and ripe;
Nay, Truth herself was here, the perfect type

In a fair woman's form; the one Ideal
Shining all glorious 'mid the figures grey
Of Earth; how different from the hideous Real
He saw in court and alley day by day!
He was of those who going down to Sheol
Can find God there, yet none the less do pray
To see Him, not through veils of shame and vice,
But as man first beheld in Paradise.

Yet when the Truth is clad in beauteous flesh
That man may know it, human love will claim
Its rights; and daily deeper in the mesh
Sank Alan's heart, and all his fine-strung frame
With passion throbbed. One August evening fresh
He walked in Ella's garden, while the flame
Of sunset lit the trees with golden sheen,
Changing to chrysoprase their sombre green.

And she was at his side; he spoke to her
Eagerly, earnestly, and yet he said
No word whose mere significance could stir
The pulse; but every syllable, instead
Of telling its own tale, was messenger
Of Love; and answering came the fitful red
To Ella's cheeks; though, as they slowly walked,
'Twas but of Alan's mission that they talked.

Until he said, close-bending, "When at first
I came, and saw the rows of faces blank,
The brutish and the ignorant, and worst
The self-complacent rich, my spirit sank
A moment; then a flood of sunshine burst
Upon me, for I saw your eyes that drank
The message, and returned it richly bright,
As this deep rose gives beauty to the light.

"And as the rose within her petals hides
The rays which they reflect not, yet receive,
Oh, tell me now that in your heart abides
Full confidence -- nay, Ella, do not grieve,
Look up -- assure me that one Vision guides
Your steps and mine -- that you in truth believe;
I know it, yet forgive me if I seek
To hear it -- Ella! speak to me -- oh speak!"

She faltered "I believe" with head low-drooped,
And tearful eyes -- new longings and alarms
Athwart her inward vision swiftly trooped;
As one whom unfamiliar music charms
Breathless and mute she stood; but Alan stooped
And kissed her lips, and clasped her in his arms,
Crying, "I love -- I worship you! We share
One life -- oh joy too great for man to bear!"

And she replied; such answers are not made
In speech articulate; no word she spoke
For Alan's ears, but on his breast she laid
Her head, as though she sought at once to cloak
And to express her passion. They had stayed
Thus, for long hours, but that a loud sound broke
Upon their rapt communion, like the knell
Of that bright moment -- 'twas the evening bell

For prayer. They hurried in, nor watched the glow
Of sunset fading from the purple beech,
And, bidding fond good-night, she bade him go,
That she, with chosen words, might try to reach
Her parents' hearts, before she slept. And so
The sacred love-tale was profaned by speech,
Till from the two she won a slow consent,
Mingled with scolding and with merriment.

The father, half in earnest, half to tease,
Exclaimed -- "Just like Cadijah and Mahomet,
Or Beatrice and Dante -- whom you please!
I wish you joy, my daughter, and your comet
Is brilliant." The shrewd mother, ill at ease,
Said "No -- your will-o'-the-wisp! What can come from it?
And what's the use of all your Conic Sections
If like a fool you yield to your affections?"

But Ella gloried in the grudging "Yes;"
Love lent the charmed days bright plumes to fly,
Woke her each morn, and filled her loneliness
With light, and sang at eve her lullaby:
Yet, as the spring-buds burst, her joy grew less --
No chill distrust of Alan's constancy,
Nor any fear that time could e'er abate
His fervid love, made her disconsolate.

It was not this; but her deep-thinking brain
Learned slowly, mournfully, against her will,
How mystic faiths are woven from a vain
Tissue of dreams, which hold men captive still
In day-light; and she saw, with bitter pain,
That every thought, deed, passion, good or ill,
Might thus be sanctified, and at its need
Find refuge in some hospitable creed.

And when she conned the pages of his book,
And saw his cherished thoughts, all printed clear,
Robbed of that glow suffused of voice and look
Which made their mellow misty atmosphere,
She shivered, almost thinking she mistook
The words, that seemed so living to her ear,
So spectral to her eye -- men praised the style,
Bold, fiery: mute she heard, with pallid smile.

Not that her love diminished -- nay, it grew:
As oft from wild delirious words we know
The spirit's beauty, so his nature true
Shone out more bright through the delusive show
Of gloaming fantasies; but well she knew
Her Reason tipped the dart, and strung the bow,
To slay his Passion: with a wife to dwell
Not wedded to his soul, for him were Hell.

Confute a theologian; with sharp word
He answers you, yet may forgive the thrust
If he be quite convinced that you have erred:
But tell Jehovah's prophet that his trust
Is nought -- he will not rage, but he will gird
His loins in silence, and will shake the dust
From off his feet, and go his lonely way,
Over dry desert sand, or fenlands grey.

She pined with strange distress -- the woman's heart
Throbbed, quivered, bled; while the logician's mind
Worked on relentless, heeding not the smart,
Ne'er to be drugged, or deafened, or made blind;
Against herself her riven self took part,
The martyr and the torturer combined:
Stretched on the rack, bound with flesh-cutting rope,
What is the poor maimed anguished victim's hope?

What is a woman's hope when she is torn
By passion and by thought, and cannot cease
To think or love, nor teach herself to scorn
Her deepest life, nor ever win release
From the harsh yoke, too heavy to be borne,
Of iron principles that crush her peace:
Will not some opiate give her dreamful rest
Till she return to the Great Mother's breast?

Nay! rather let her maim her shrinking soul --
That groping she may climb her lame way in
To Life -- than down to Death, seeing and whole,
Spring, damned by the inexpiable sin
Of treachery; and in the longed-for goal
Find that fair-seeming Heaven which traitors win
Whose gate is bliss; whose midmost point, a germ
Of Hell, whence issues the undying worm.

'Twas a May twilight -- and the two once more
Paced round the walks where they were wont to spend
Sweet hours: but Ella spoke as ne'er before --
Calmly, as one who, dying, tells his friend,
His best-beloved friend, that life is o'er,
That now is come the dead, blank, hopeless end;
Yet weeps not, neither moans, because his breath
Is well-nigh quenched by the chill winds of Death.

But Alan stayed her -- "No, it cannot be!
This is some fevered nightmare dream!" he cried --
"Wake and believe, dear Ella! wake and see
How Earth and Heaven by God are glorified;
His presence shines in every flower and tree,
And in ourselves -- and shall He be denied
By those who breathe His Spirit? Be not you
Like the blind throng, who know not what they do!

"Forgive me, Dearest; you are sad and pale;
I speak too harshly." But she answered -- " Nay,
Be not so gentle, lest your words avail
Too much -- lest I be tempted to obey
Love, and not conscience: my resolve is frail,
Yet I will speak: oh turn your eyes away,
And do not touch my hand, the while I try
To tell my thought -- until we say good-bye.

"You are as true as any seer of old,
Prophet, or martyr; you would sell your life
That Faith might rise up from her torpor cold,
And vanquish doubt, hypocrisy, and strife:
For this I loved you -- yes, long ere you told
Your love -- yet, Alan, if I were your wife
I should be but a mist, a leaden cloud,
Folding your spirit in its clinging shroud.

"For all my faith is gone, that seemed so sure
Even that God who every day is wroth
With sinners, gives a refuge more secure
For the sad heart; the banquet is of froth
Which you in mercy set before the poor,
Not knowing: Alan, Alan, that we both
Might strive to find, by patient thought and search,
Some firm foundation for a nobler Church!"

Her voice grew stronger, and more clear her glance,
As thus she pleaded, and to thoughts long pent
Within her breast, gave language; she perchance
Clung to some hope: but Alan, eloquent,
Broke forth with all the story of his trance,
And how he was inspired of God, and sent
To tend the flame Divine 'mid vapours damp
And cold -- the dim yet ever-burning lamp.

She listened -- then she said, in tones that fell
Upon his soul and senses heavily --
"Long have I pondered o'er this vision-spell;
For me it holds no magic. You are free,
And we must part -- kiss me and say Farewell.
Yet are you mine to all Eternity --
No other voice or look my heart can move,
I love you with irrevocable love."

The pallid mournful face, the solemn tone,
Slew all his hope. He clasped her to his breast,
And kissed the passive lips, that chilled his own
Like icicles, and speechlessly expressed
Her anguish -- till she cried, with sudden moan
Thrusting him from her -- "Leave me -- it is best --
I am too weak to bear it." Forth he went
Alone, with quick blind steps, and head low-bent.

When some poor lonely pilgrim devotee
Who worships in the temple of a saint,
Coming one morning with his fervent plea
Finds the shrine empty -- trembling then and faint
He leaves the stone, deep-printed by his knee,
And goes out homeless, with no wild complaint,
But stricken. Yet to feel what Alan felt
Is sharper pain -- to see the spirit melt

And fade and vanish from some image fair
Of Truth, whose glory clothed it like the sun,
But now departs, leaving it cold and bare
And lifeless. One dark moment, only one
He doubted his Ideal; but his prayer
And answering Vision, came afresh, and spun
A web, that nought could break except the power
Of Life's last sad illuminating hour.

And Ella? Almost stupefied with woe,
Of him were all her thoughts, as bowed, forlorn,
He left her, sorely wounded, as a foe
Can never wound. She scarce could stay to mourn
Her own maimed life, but, pacing to and fro,
Pictured his days of weary labour, shorn
Of joy; until the bitterness of loss
O'erwhelmed her, and she stooped to take her cross.

She set herself to suffer and endure
In silence. Life, though mutilated, marred,
Must yet be lived; there was not any cure,
Nor any further stab; the gate seemed barred
Alike to hope and fear, and she was pure
At least, of treason; yet the thought was hard
That this last act of loyalty could gain
Nought from her Love, save haply his disdain.

Heart-sore, all probing hints she sought to parry,
But when at length she spoke, her father said --
"My dear, a man of genius should not marry,
It should be penal for a seer to wed;
You know, Ezekiel's wife must help to carry
His 'burden.'" "Yes, and help to earn the bread,
And bake it," said the mother -- "glorious fate
No doubt -- for 'glorious' means 'unfortunate'!"

V.

SUMMER passed by, and Autumn; Winter came
With grey cold days and black unpitying nights,
And many children gathered round the flame
Of Yule-tide logs, and dreamed of new delights
With the New Year: many, with shivering frame,
Half-naked, famished, crept to see the sights
In gay shop-windows -- a celestial treat!
On earth there might be bread, and sometimes meat,
A silence, as of worship, is their speech.

But this was Heaven. They had their make-believe,
For every child can find an open door
Even from Hell, and thoughtlessly achieve
Proserpine's miracle; while she who bore
The starvelings, crouches too benumbed to grieve
In her cold room, and sees but the bare floor
And fireless hearth, and hungers through the day,
Idle, or toiling hard for paltry pay.

Wages were low that winter; work was scant;
And many little groups of men would cluster
Round the street corners; grim they were and gaunt,
With hollow cheeks and sunken eyes lack-lustre;
And oft, attracted by the ready rant
Of some stump orator, a throng would muster
To hear of wrongs and rights, and pass a plan
For straightway equalising man and man.

And Alan went among them; he was pale
And thin as they, but his deep eyes outshone
With self-consuming light, that told a tale
Of Hope and Love irrevocably gone,
But Faith still clinging to her Holy Grail --
That sacred poison-wine, which made him wan
And fiery, giving strength to brave and bear
All ills, all woes; strength even to despair.

But at the people's groan, his heart waxed hot,
And loathed the miserable prayers and pence
He had to give, and private pangs forgot
In the one sorrow of his impotence
To succour; he would say he scarce knew what
In fire-words, winged with fatal eloquence,
And then go home, and in his study brood
Through night, till dawn, careless of sleep and food.

Thus the drear days dragged on; and with the spring
No comfort came, but rather woe more keen,
For Poverty more deeply plunged her sting,
And stalwart frames grew slouching, pinched, and lean,
And there arose that sullen murmuring
Which may mean little, but perchance may mean
The roll of coming thunder, and the flash
Of lightning -- or the earthquake's deadlier crash.

One day, as Alan sat intently writing
An earnest tract on Dives and his dogs,
A sudden tumult, as of fire or fighting,
Pierced through the smoky mist which ever clogs
The air of towns; he heard a voice inciting
To deeds of vengeance -- "Are you stones or logs?
Prove yourselves men! Burst on them like a flood --
The rich, who batten on your flesh and blood!"

He started up; that moment, his old friend
George rushed in, crying -- "Quick! the mob! a riot!
The people cried for bread, and we who tend
Their souls political, replied 'Be quiet!
Hope on!' while such as you, the case to mend,
Fed them on too inflammable a diet;
And so, among us all, the mischief's done,
The fire brand lit, the rioting begun.

"But now, make haste! for some of them have taken
The road to Ella's home -- don't turn so white!
Perhaps they'll only ask for bread and bacon,
And beer, their one inalienable right;
Cheer up, my friend! I know you are forsaken,
But here's a chance to act the doughty knight,
Boldly to face the many-headed giant,
And hold your Love 'gainst all the world defiant!"

They chose the quiet streets, where the fierce rabble
Came not; all doors were barred, all shops were shut.
No children in the gutters dared to dabble,
No woman chatted with her neighbour; but
From the great thoroughfares they heard the babble
Of many voices; once, the fog was cut
By springing flame, and the friends faster strode,
Winding through bye-ways to that dear abode.

Alan, impatient, fevered, onward urged
His comrade; they came nearer to the noise,
And in a fair broad road at last emerged,
Filled with a ragged rout of men and boys
And women; like a stormy sea it surged,
That blindly, deafly, ruthlessly destroys:
Some carried stones; some, staves; some, iron crows
And rails; some, bludgeons, fit for deadliest blows.

Some faces were pale, wolfish; some on fire
With drink, and hope of spoil or forced largess
From wealthy homes; in tawdry torn attire
The women scarcely hid their nakedness;
And there were jests, foul as the city mire
Whose old stains clung to many a tattered dress:
Such was the tide that towards the suburb rolled
Where Ella dwelt. One moment, speechless, cold,

Stood Alan: then, with sudden leap, he sprang
On a low wall, and beckoned to the crowd
That fought, broke windows, trampled gardens, sang
And swore, around him; but his voice rose loud,
And through the clamour like a trumpet rang;
Its clear bold accents for a minute cowed
The people; or perchance they thought he came
To spur them forward to their desperate game.

"My friends!" he cried, "all human hopes and lives
Are truly one; no man can harm another
But blindly with his proper Self he strives,
His own soul in the body of his brother:
In you, in all, the spark of Truth survives --
Is there no father here, is there no mother,
No husband, wife or friend, who knows the tie
Which makes two beings one until they die?

"That tie is but an image and a sign
Of universal kinship -- to reveal
How men are sharers in the life Divine:
Think not the rich man's woe the poor man's weal!
When the brain languishes the heart must pine;
To hate is atheism, and to steal
Is sacrilege; to murder, suicide:
I too have erred, who should have been your guide;

"Oft I spoke rashly, for my heart was sore
To see you suffer; humbly I avow
My fault, my crime -- Ah help me to restore
The peace I troubled; let me lead you now
Back to your homes." Then rose an angry roar,
And a great stone struck Alan on the brow,
He staggered; and before his friend could bound
To save him, he fell prone with heavy sound.

George raised him in his arms -- bleeding, death-white,
Unconscious -- then to face the crowd he turned:
"This is the man who laboured day and night
For you and for your children -- yes, he burned
His life away, and loved you in despite
Of all ingratitude, and still returned
Good for your evil -- his own wants denied
For you -- that you might live, he would have died.

"And you have slain him. Help me, some of you,
To stanch his wounds -- those whom he visited
When they were ill, and brought them aid -- those, too,
Who starved, until he gave them his own bread --
And if by chance there should be here a few
Who were in prison, and he came and said
Kind words of hope -- 'tis only these I pray
Now for their help to carry him away

"And bear him to his friends." The crowd was hushed.
But he who seemed the chief, a strong tall man,
Came forth with halting step, and features flushed,
And look half-shamed, half-sorry, and began --
"The parson nursed me when my foot was crushed,
I would not do him harm. Here, Ned and Dan,
Help us to carry him -- and you, John, go
Quick, for a doctor -- 'tis an ugly blow,

"But worse have mended." Now the throng, subdued
Almost to soberness, his words obeyed,
Seeming a funeral pageant motley-hued:
As once through Florence paced a cavalcade
Of skeletons and spectres -- all the brood
Of Famine and of Death -- such show they made;
And bearing Alan in procession grim
Straightway to Ella's home they carried him.

They passed fair gardened homes that rich men build,
But every man was hidden, as a rat
Hides in his hole; like birds affrighted, stilled
By coming storm, crouched those who "eat the fat
And drink the sweet," that Scripture be fulfilled --
On, till George saw the house where Ella sat
Alone, for both her parents were away,
Spending in Rome their Easter holiday.

She all the day had shivered in suspense
For Alan's safety, growing sick with fear,
And making now and then a vain pretence
To read, but straining all the while her ear,
And starting at each murmur, to see whence
The voices came; for as they grew more clear
She felt, she knew, that Alan must be nigh,
To turn the rabble backward, or to die.

There came a roar -- she shuddered -- then a lull --
She waited at the window, in her dread,
And soon she heard again the murmurs dull,
And saw at last a strange procession, led
By men who bore some burden pitiful --
Was it a comrade, wounded -- dying -- dead?
But knew she not the figure and the gait
Of Alan's friend? Oh Heaven! Came they too late,

And did they bring him dead, that she might see
His face, and weep with unavailing woe?
Nearer they came and nearer -- Yes, 'twas he --
Her cheeks turned white, her heart stood still, as though
She too must fall; but, tottering dizzily,
She left her room in piteous need to know
The truth -- with quivering hands unbarred the door,
And ran to meet the crowd, and what it bore.

George saw her coming in her breathless haste,
With wide eyes, feet that terror seemed to spur,
Long hair unknotted, floating to her waist;
Till then, he scarce had spent a thought on her,
But now he groaned; 'twere easier to have faced
A furious mob; he felt a murderer:
Forward he stepped, and lest her strength should fail,
Stayed her, and told, as best he might, the tale.

"He is not dead!" she cried -- "not dead!" and then
Her heart grew stronger; Alan's face she saw
And scarcely trembled; to those rugged men,
Those hungering, thirsting breakers of the law,
She spoke, with accents that seemed alien
To her own voice; they listened half in awe,
And bore him to the house; and then dispersed
With money for their hunger and their thirst.

Alan lay still unconscious; months of toil,
And care, and grief, had done their work by stealth;
The mental and the physical turmoil,
The evil deeds of poverty and wealth,
The city's filth and crime, that could not soil
His spirit, drained away his body's health:
"But he will live!" cried Ella, fain to grope
For light. The surgeon said, "There still is hope."

"There still is hope." Thus sounds the first low note,
The first faint tremor of the passing bell!
"There still is hope." The dread that loomed remote
Draws near; the poison-pang we sought to quell
Stings sharper for this futile antidote:
So heavy on her ears the comfort fell --
"There still is hope." She watched his sighing breath,
Feeling herself the very pains of death.

VI.

ELLA kept anxious vigil by the bed:
How strange it is to watch through creeping hours
A face which was Thought's temple, and instead
To find blank nothingness, or jarring powers;
For mind, and soul, and senses, all are fled,
And weirdly wander in a world not ours,
Some Tartarus, whereof we seek the key,
Striving to follow and to set them free.

Ere night, there came a change; for Alan woke
From torpor to delirium; now he seemed
To see again his Vision, and invoke
With prayer, some Power divine; anon, he dreamed
Of his old home and his old faith, and broke
Into sad cries of "Mother!" and there streamed
From his hot lips full many a wonder wild
Of elves, and wraiths, and witches who beguiled

The hearts of chieftains. Then he wandered back
From childish days, and softly moaned the name
Of Ella; or he trod his wonted track
'Mid squalor and disease, and vice and shame,
Crying, "I cannot eat while others lack,
I eat their flesh!" But still again he came
To that old home, and raved with strange despair
Because he could not find his mother there.

And Ella listened; these lamentings moved
Her inmost heart; her sorrowing eyes grew dim
With bitterer tears -- this woman she had loved,
Tenderly loved, when first betrothed to him,
But, at the severance, haply it behoved
A prophet's mother to resent the whim
That harmed her idol; and the two, estranged,
For many months no greeting word had changed.

And who would tell the mother? She must come;
But who would say to her -- "Your son is lying
Wounded to death -- he wakes from swoonings dumb
To rave and moan -- perchance he may be dying
E'en while I speak." Poor Ella, cold and numb,
Pondered of this, and felt her heart replying --
"You, you must bear the message -- only you
Have wrecked his life -- take anguish as your due.

As thus she mused, George entered. "Go awhile,"
He said, "and sleep, for you are tired and worn,
And I will watch." She gave a faint wan smile
At thought of sleep, with this envenomed thorn
Deep in her breast -- better the weary mile
To Alan's home -- better to greet the mom
With wakeful eyes, than half to see its beams
In the sad Limbo of unslumbrous dreams.

But forth she went; and loitering at the gate
She saw that stalwart limping rioter
Who championed Alan 'gainst the blinded hate
Of the brute mob. No tumult was astir,
But only this one man had come to wait
For news. In whispering tones he questioned her,
As though a louder sound the ear might reach
Of him who heard but his own babbling speech.

And when she told her errand, he besought
That he might guide her through the darkening streets,
For some of those who swore and robbed and fought
That morning, were not sated with their feats;
He had no fear -- he never would be caught
By any slow policeman on his beats;
She would be safe with him -- for well enough
His face was known to every city rough.

So, with her strange companion, Ella wound
Through many streets, with foot that could not tire,
And scarcely saw the wrecks that lay around,
The havoc wrought by pillage and by fire;
Nor did her speed grow slack, until she found
Her goal; and then, refusing gift or hire,
Her guide departed; timidly she knocked,
And a slow trembling hand the door unlocked

And Ella stepped into the homely room
Where, two years past, Alan his Vision told;
There, sitting upright in the fire-lit gloom,
Was the grey father, stern yet unconsoled,
Still mourning for his son's eternal doom:
The careworn mother, thinner than of old,
Flitted from spot to spot, or crouching sate
Like a poor bird with nest made desolate.

I know not how the story was begun,
Nor ended how; the father's face, hard-set,
Just quivered -- "Lord," he said, "Thy will be done!"
But with reluctant tears his eyes grew wet,
Oozing like drops of blood -- " My son, my son!"
He murmured, seeming all things to forget
Save sorrow; but the mother, pallid, fierce,
Gazed at the girl, as though she fain would pierce

Her heart. "Your fault!" she cried -- "it is your fault!
His blood be on your head, if he must die;
Like the proud Pharisees, who did exalt
Their barren lore, and shouted 'Crucify!'
You slew my son!" But now the tear-drops salt
Choked her mad words; and Ella made reply
By kneeling at her feet and weeping -- "Nay,
Mother! it was myself I meant to slay."

She kissed the slender hand, by toil made hard,
And the poor mother, seeing her so mild,
And feeling the hot tears, her heart unbarred
With quick repentance for those plainings wild;
Saying -- "Forgive me -- kiss me -- I should guard
My lips from evil. Take me to my child."
The women clung together; then the three
Set out on their sad errand silently.

They neared the house with many a wordless prayer,
And knew not whether that they came to seek
Were life or death: George met them on the stair
With mien so haggard, that it seemed to speak
All that they dreaded; but he said, "Prepare
To see him -- he is conscious, but as weak
As any babe, and his unceasing cry
Is 'Let my mother come before I die!'"

And the two parents, by his tone bereft
Well-nigh of hope, passed to the sick man's side;
While Ella in her loneliness was left
Waiting without, uncalled. Should Death divide
Their hearts for ever, leaving still the cleft
Between his soul and hers unbridged and wide?
She lingered; oft against her will she heard
The tender sighing of a farewell word.

Was there for her no longing and no call,
Not even one poor good-bye message, sent
Like ears of corn that careless hands let fall
For one who gleans -- was this her punishment?
Was parting not enough, without the gall
Of this immedicable pain, unblent
With joy, and stinging backward, till at last
It should empoison all the sacred Past?

But now the two came out to her; their tears
Were dried, and in their faces there was calm;
The father seemed as one who dimly hears
The music of some new revealing psalm;
The mother, past all hopes and past all fears
And memories of anger, with cold palm
Pressed Ella's hand -- "Go in," she said, "be brave,
He loves you now -- yes, even to the grave."

He loved her -- then the utmost bitterness
Was gone from pain, leaving remembered joy
Unsullied -- happy they who still possess
Gladness in grief embalmed, that cannot cloy
With full fruition, nor by time grow less,
Nor can estrangement any more destroy
This Love ideal: thus doth Heaven accord
Through Death, its one immutable reward.

She went in softly; he lay white and still,
Though his dark eyes unquenched were burning clear;
She laid her hand in his, already chill,
And heard his faint voice whisper, "Dear, more dear
In death -- forgive me, Ella, and fulfil
My last petition, for the end is near,
Is close; oh stay, and hold awhile my hand,
And listen -- only you will understand.

"Stay with me, while I linger on the verge
Of the unknown abyss, yet void of awe
And fear, and ecstasy; I hear a dirge
Wailing that Vision which of old I saw;
Yet not in darkness but in glory merge
My dreams, and yield to some transcendent Law,
I know not how; for all is plunged and drowned
In the bright waters of this peace profound.

"But that my eyesight wanes, now might I see;
But that my thoughts grow dim, at last might learn;
But that sleep weighs me down so wearily,
Rise to that Truth, for whose pure light I yearn:
Unworshipped on her mount she dwells, in free
And maiden loneliness; her wooers turn
Toward fair reflected images, that gleam
And waver with the mist or with the stream.

"I cannot think, and scarcely can I feel --
But you are strong, and now again you shine
Truth's radiant herald, come to wound and heal
A generation hungry for a sign --
Be no sign granted, saving to unseal
The meaning of the ages, and unshrine
All errors, all illusions -- theirs, my own:
For though the wine-press that I trod alone

"Held blood-red grapes from the volcano's edge,
Yet the true purple full-ripe fruit I missed:
Seek you and find; oh give this one last pledge --
Ella, my Love -- my Wife!" His lips she kissed
With tender lingering pressure: sacrilege
It seemed, to mar that silent Eucharist
By uttered vow; the very soul of each
Shone visible, disrobed of veiling speech.

Grieve not for them; but rather grieve for such
As live with what they love, and night and noon
Have joy of gentle voice and kindly touch,
Yet famish for some unimagined boon;
Too little Heaven they have, and all too much
Of Earth, whose bounties deaden, late or soon,
Their aspiration; or its torrent-force
Frays out some fleshly or ethereal course.

For such your grief; what husbands and their wives
Once in long years each other's soul can see?
But these found all to which high Passion strives --
Perfect communion, from cold symbols free,
The fleeting quintessence of myriad lives,
A concentrated brief Eternity,
The mountain-vista of an endless age
Not known by weary winding pilgrimage.

At length she spoke -- "Myself I dedicate
To this great service: all my spirit's power --
Through joy and grief, in good or evil fate,
Whether the desert pathways bud and flower,
Or the fair fields be ravaged by man's hate --
Shall bear the superscription of this hour:
I give whate'er I have of strength and skill;
Trust me in this -- what Woman can, I will."

Then she was silent: for his look was fraught
With peace that quenches all desire and dread,
Yet spares the impress of each noble thought
That ruled in life the converse of the dead;
As Night brings every trivial thing to nought,
While still the mountains tower, the oceans spread:
Long time she knelt; and when at last she rose
Her features almost mirrored his repose.





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