Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, KING'S COLLEGE CHAPEL, by GEORGE SANTAYANA

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

KING'S COLLEGE CHAPEL, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: The buttress frowns, the gorgeous windows blaze
Last Line: And the same hand that finished overthrew.
Subject(s): Churches; Cambridge University

The buttress frowns, the gorgeous windows blaze,
The vault hangs wonderful with woven fans,
The four stone sentinels to heaven raise
Their heads, in a more constant faith than man's.

The College gathers, and the courtly prayer
Is answered still by hymn and organ-groan;
The beauty and the mystery are there,
The Virgin and Saint Nicholas are gone.

Not one Ora pro nobis bids them pause
In their far flight, to hear this anthem roll;
No heart, of all that the King's relic awes,
Sings Requiescat to his mournful soul.

No grain of incense thrown upon the embers
Of their cold hearth, no lamp in witness hung
Before their image. One alone remembers;
Only the stranger knows their mother tongue.

Long rows of tapers light the people's places;
The little choristers may read, and mark
The rhythmic fall; I see their wondering faces;
Only the altar -- like the soul -- is dark.

Ye floating voices through these arches ringing
With measured music, subtle, sweet, and strong,
Feel ye the inmost reason of your singing?
Know ye the ancient burden of your song?

The twilight deepens, and the blood-dyed glories
Of all these fiery blazonings are dim.
Oh, they are jumbled, sad, forgotten stories!
Why should ye read them, children? Chant your hymn.

But I must con them while the rays of even
Kindle aloft some fading jewel-gleam
And the vast windows glow a peopled heaven,
Rich with the gathering pageant of my dream.

Eden I see, where from the leafy cover
The green-eyed snake begins to uncoil his length
And whispers to the woman and her lover,
As they lie musing, large, in peaceful strength.

I see their children, bent with toil and terror,
Lurking in caves, or heaping madly on
The stones of Babel, or the endless error
Of Sodom, Nineveh, and Babylon.

Here the Egyptian, wedding life with death,
Flies from the sun into his painted tomb,
And winds the secret of his antique faith
Tight in his shroud, and seals in sterile gloom.

There the bold prophets of the heart's desire
Hail the new Zion God shall build for them,
And rapt Isaiah strikes the heavenly lyre,
And Jeremiah mourns Jerusalem.

Here David's daughter, full of grace and truth,
Kneels in the temple, waiting for the Lord;
With the first Ave comes the winged youth,
Bringing the lily ere he bring the sword.

There, to behold the Mother and the Child,
The sturdy shepherds down the mountain plod,
And angels sing, with voices sweet and wild
And wide lips parted: "Glory be to God."

Here, mounted on an ass, the twain depart
To hallowed Egypt, safe from Herod's wrong;
And Mary ponders all things in her heart,
And pensive Joseph sadly walks along.

There with the Twelve, before his blood is shed,
Christ blesses bread and breaks it with his hands,
"This is my body." Thomas shakes his head,
They marvel all, and no one understands,

Save John, whom Jesus loved above the rest.
He marvels too, but, seeking naught beside,
Leans, as his wont is, on his Master's breast.
Ah! the Lord's body also should abide.

There Golgotha is dark against the blue
In the broad east, above the painted crowd,
And many look upon the sign, but few
Read the hard lesson of the cross aloud.

And from this altar, now an empty tomb,
The Lord is risen. Lo! he is not here.
No shining angel sitteth in the gloom,
No Magdalen in anguish draweth near.

All pure in heart, or all in aspect pure,
The seemly Christians, kneeling, line the choir,
And drop their eyelids, tender and demure,
As the low lingering harmonies expire.

In that Amen are the last echoes blended
Of all the ghostly world. The shades depart
Into the sacred night. In peace is ended
The long delirious fever of the heart.

Then I go forth into the open wold
And breathe the vigour of the freshening wind,
And with the piling drift of cloud I hold
A worship sweeter to the homeless mind,

Where the squat willows with their osiers crowned
Border the humble reaches of the Cam,
And the deep meadows stretching far around
Make me forget the exile that I am, --

Exile not only from the wind-swept moor
Where Guadarrama lifts his purple crest,
But from the spirit's realm, celestial, sure
Goal of all hope and vision of the best.

They also will go forth, these gentle youths,
Strong in the virtues of their manful isle,
Till one the pathway of the forest smooths,
And one the Ganges rules, and one the Nile;

And to whatever wilderness they choose
Their hearts will bear the sanctities of home,
The perfect ardours of the Grecian Muse,
The mighty labour of the arms of Rome;

But, ah! how little of these storied walls
Beneath whose shadow all their nurture was!
No, not one passing memory recalls
The Blessed Mary and Saint Nicholas.

Unhappy King, look not upon these towers,
Remember not thine only work that grew.
The moving world that feeds thy gift devours,
And the same hand that finished overthrew.

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