James Williams.

Thomas of Kempen online

. (page 1 of 4)
Online LibraryJames WilliamsThomas of Kempen → online text (page 1 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



THOMAS OF KEMPEN

BY

JAMES WILLIAMS



?



SSCOND EDITION



LONOON

KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRUBNER & CO., Ltd.

DRYDEJV HOUSB, 43 GKRBARD STRRBT, W.
1911






The brief sermonettes in verse, to
which passages from the Imitatio Chnsti
are prefixed as Texts, will, the writer
hopes, be found to contain something
of St Thomas' inspiring thought. None
have been taken from the Fourth
Book. The reason of this omission
will be found in the concluding sonnet.

J. W.

Oxford,

30<A November 1910.



941



o.-^':



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Thou wast named Thomas, still didst thou believe,

Thy life a long denial of thy name,
Disciple of thy Lord thou didst not grieve

That till thy death the world denied thee fame.

Humility and faith — with lamps like these
To light the pathway leading to thy tomb —

Small wonder that thy spirit was at ease
As nearer drew the tardy feet of doom.

Perchance as life ebbed faster day by day

Thou didst gaze wistful to the wondrous West,

And mark beyond the turbid Zuyder Zee
Cloud-palaces in islands of the blest ;

And sloping moors that smiled with purple heath,
And glimmering meads that man hath never trod.

And golden amaranth wherewith to wreath
The martyrs nearest to the throne of God.



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



II

Our minds are bounded by the paltry lust
Of human combat and of human hope,
Ourselves what can we do but blindly grope ?
'Tis therefore we believe because we must.

There is no happiness where is no trust ;
We know not all, let Kaiser or let Pope
Proclaim what is to come, we cannot cope
With things unseen beyond our world of dust.

We dwell in middle days ; we cannot know
Or what hath been or what is still to be,
Or whither footsteps of the future go.

Faith is our substitute for prophecy,
Till science can interpret us with glow
Behind the curtain of eternity.



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Qui sequitur me non ambulat in tenebris, i, 1, I.

The moon has set, the stars are veiled,

In this deep Devon lane
The beauty of the earth has failed

Before the sleet and rain.

Black skies accord with blacker thought.

The very heaven is hell.
The wind amid the trees has wrought

Their rustling to a knell.

'Tis past ; I step on firmer feet,

My timid heart grows bold.
There is a pause of rain and sleet.

Warmth waxes out of cold.

Redeemer of the world, 'tis Thou
Who smooth'st the road for me,

I walk no more in darkness now
Because I walk with Thee.



3



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



DocTRiNA Christi omnes doctrinas sanctorum

PRAECELLIT, i. i. 2.

Oh, teach my spirit, Lord, that I
May learn a new philosophy
And bring Thy kingdom nearer me

Before the hour that I must die.

It is all strange and full of doubt,
The day is indistinct from night,
The wrong is mingled with the right,

And errors compass me about.

The Power that bade the high priest's rod
Burst into blossom in his hand, —
Mayhap for me that Power has planned

Strong keys to fit the locks of God.



4



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Quid prodest tibi alta de Trinitate disputare si

CAREAS HUMILITATE UNDE DISPLICEAS TrINITATI ?

i. 1, 3.

Methought it dazzled me, the splendid scene
The Tuscan poet limned, the whirling sheen
Of those three mystic orbs enclasped in one.^
Methought I saw again the midday sun
Obscured by stronger light whose waves beat round
The great white throne itself. Then came the sound
Of harmony not earthly, and my soul
Was stilled in marvel. So the measured roll
Of sad sea music smites along the chines
And over whispering wheat and answering pines
To mingle with the sheep-bells on the down.
The glory was to me the pearl and crown
Of all that day. To its interpreting
I gave the hours. In vain the eager wing
Of swift or swallow swirled beside my ear.
In vain the trout made circles in the mere
Or cautious vole glanced once and swam the stream.
Then slowly spread a tremor through the gleam,
As in the tropic noon when palm and cane
In Caribbean islands thirst for rain
Along the stony dales, and giant flowers
That languish scentless through the languorous
hours

^ tre gire
Di tre colori e d'una continenza.

Dante, Par., xxxiii. 116.
5



THOMAS OF KEMPEN

Seem to tired eyes to waver in the heat.
Then brake a voice clear, passionless, and meet
For chiding : " Vain it is for thee, O man,
To seek with finite intellect to scan
The mystery of things. Enough for thee
To know the being of the things that be
Without the how and why. To argument
Save humbleness the veil is never rent,
The bounds of knowledge are defined by fate.
And thou must stoop to enter at the gate."



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



ISTA EST SUMMA SAPIENTIA PER CONTEMPTUM MUNDI
TENDERE AD REGNA CCELESTIA, i. 1, 3.

What boots it at the hour of death
To found a fame upon the page
Long laboured in a strenuous age

Whereat the world still wondereth ?

The King of terrors must unfurl
His banner ere the day be spent,
And slowly from the eyes is rent

The veil that hides the gates of pearl.

No poet's foot on earth hath trod
The pathway unto true delight,
Humility was out of sight,

The first with men are last with God.

Ah me, could men but learn the lore
That disciplined by art of books
Grows purer with the years and looks

Aspiring unto something more !



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Nam sequentes suam sensuautatem maculant

CONSCIENTIAM, i. 1, 5.

As -when in vintage hours the gathered fruit
Mule-borne in oozing panniers to the press
Distils green pulp and purple and the dress
Of Douro hinds is splashed from neck to boot ;

So in my ripest thought all resolute

With self-support at times I bear the stress
Of self-contempt, while sin right merciless
Feeds vintage meet with its envenomed root.

The vintagers must cleanse them in the fount,
I need and find a nobler spring than they
To purify the fouler heart within.

For He who died for me upon the mount
Of Calvary on that tremendous day
With stain of blood conceals the stain of sin.



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Ama NESCIRI, i. 2, 3.

Aha nesciri. Like a hammer's beat

The loud earth- struggle smites upon the ear.
Eager to drown those voices pure and clear
That led us upward once to thoughts more meet.

Ama nesciri. Void and incomplete

Is glory loved of man, and prince and peer
Find branches of the tree of gold wax sere
When Death steals nigh with his remorseless
feet.

Ama nesciri. From my humble place

Let me look on and mark the mighty fall
Disconsolate and vanquished in the race.

Ama nesciri. Of a truth the small

Are greater than the great before the face
Of that just Judge who dealeth right to all.



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Taedet me sakpe multa legere et audire, i. 3, 2.

We read and hear, we hear and read,

What profit find we there ?
Will learning in the hour of need

Do more than speak us fair ?

Will Aristotle show the path

That leadeth to the light,
Or all the charm that Plato hath

Direct the soul aright ?

The Wisdom that on high is set
Will teach not words but things,

And in that teaching to forget
Man's false imaginings.

Celestial Wisdom, open wide

The golden gates of truth,
Dissolve for evermore the pride

Absorbed from books in youth.



10



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Omnis speculatio nostra quadam caligine non

CARET, i. 3, 4.

A3 a strong eagle in the silent blue

Hangs poised a moment ere he dares to soar
To regions brighter than he knew before,
To heights whence half the world seems broad in
view ;

So have we stood and now we stand anew

High in the heaven of truth, but ah ! with more
Than eagle will and less than eagle store
Of strength to find us what is found by few.

We reach the very battlements of heaven,
So seems it to our sense, then far within
A thousand miles away rise snow-peaks white.

Yea, were it granted to our prayer to even

Scale those long hills 'twere but with tears to win

The knowledge of a hopeless infinite.



11



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



QUAM CITO TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI ! i. 3, 6.

In that God's acre silent, vast,

The dead lie row on row,
The relics of a hidden past

That none but they can know.

The stately cedars cast their shade

Alike on great and small,
And honour and precedence fade.

The grave is one for all.

None laugh that pass the graveyard door,
The thoughtless hold their breath.

And slanderous tongues are still before
The majesty of death.



12



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Bona vita facit hominem sapientem secundum Deum
et expertum in multis^ i. 4, 2.

I, Wisdom, sit at God's right hand,
I am the mirror of His power,i
My voice is carried hour by hour

To them who will not understand.

I saw before the life of things
The founding of the firmament,
And by God's own command was sent

To lead the world in golden strings.

But men despised me, and I found
The palm of conquest not for me,
And impotent was I to free

The soul by humbler interests bound.

I, Wisdom, have eternal youth,
Such few as love me are repaid,
Their incoherent visions fade

Before the everlasting truth.

1 Wisdom vii. 26.



13



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



NON QUAERAS QUIS HOC DIXERIT SED QUID DICATUR
ATTENDE, i, 5, 1.

No matter who has said it,

If but the words be true,
Maybe the brain that sped it

Thought under Syrian blue :

Or pondered by the centre

Of some vast Indian plain,
By pollards of Deventer,

By sun-dried dust of Spain.

The truth is one, but error

Is ever manifold,
The truth implants the terror

Of being overbold.

If one by prayer and fasting
Have trained him in his youth,

To him the Everlasting
Unveils the soul of truth.



14



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



SuPERBUS ET AVARUS NUNQUAM QUIESCUNT, i. 6, 1.

At once when surged the crowd of courtiers dense
In Shushan, Vashti in her royal pride
Contemned her lord nor throned her by his side.
Refusing indecorous reverence ;

As once promoted by the queen's offence
The maiden Esther came, a fearful bride.
But from her shamefast eyes there never died
The very soul of love and innocence ;

So all the pride I held for lord the day

When I was all and Christ was less than nought
Bears but a diadem of withered palm.

Past monarchs of the soul are put away.

With them go tempests of unrestful thought.
For on the sea of pride there is no calm.



15



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Aliter sunt judicia Dei quam hominum, i. ?, 3.

God girded Justice with a flaming sword,

She sits enthroned with Mercy at her side,
God speaketh in her voice, and at her word
The hearts of men are tried.

Man's memory is short but hers is long,

With vengeance for a half-forgotten crime
She strikes some head set high above the throng,
Triumphant over time.

Divinest thing is she of all the state,

Aloof she sits and judges through the years,
Sometimes her stern eyes wax compassionate,
And Mercy smiles through tears.



16



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Imaginatio locorum et mutatio multos fefellit,

i. 9, 1.

Who hath not dreamed of some far different strand
Long ere his voyage thither, with its seas
Surpassing narrow friths of home, its trees
Of broader shade than in his native land ?

There longer billows break on sunnier sand.

Through sweeter flowers roam more industrious

bees.
On richer heather falls a softer breeze,
By statelier bridges deeper streams are spanned.

So dreams he till he reckons at the last
With real things and finds the glory past,
And what false thoughts his fancy had devised.

Scarce is a scene that looks as fair as when
'Twas painted by the art of brush or pen,
So loves he more the home that he despised.



17



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



NoS NIMIUM PROPRIIS OCCUPAMUR PASSIOMBUS^ i. 1 1 , 2.

To think no thoughts save abject thoughts and
lowly,
To labour not unless for daily bread,
To look on self as something high and holy,
Better dead.

To pay no reverence to things above us,
To fear eternity with hopeless dread,
To mark the years increase with none to love us,
Better dead.



18



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



NON EST ALIQUIS ORDO TAM SANCTUS NEC LOCUS TAM
SECRETUS UBI NON SINT TENTATIONES VEL ADVERSI-
TATES, i. 13, 3.

Hide thyself away

Cowering in thy basement,

Bid the light of day

Enter not thy casement ;

Join an order strict,

Vowed to scantiest rations.

Still wilt thou be pricked
Ever by temptations.

Evil powers will shape

Thoughts of things unholy.

Thou canst not escape.
Lowliest of the lowly.



19



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



QuiDAM A MAGNIS TENTATIOMBUS CUSTODIUNTUR ET IN
PARVIS QUOTIDIANIS SAEPE VINCUNTUR, i. 13, 8.

We say a Yes, we mean a No,
We rise so high, we sink so low.
And in our ignorance subHme
Neglect what makes or mars the time.
We win great things to lose the small,
Thence comes the error and the fall,
So Alexander, half divine,
Was mortal at the breath of wine.
Behind us lies the mountain sheer,
'Tis then the peril is most near.
Unscathed we suffer toilsome hours
To perish in a land of Howers.



SO



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



MULTUM FACIT QUI MULTUM DILIGIT, i. 15, 2.

All for love's sake ;
Landj sea, and heaven are come to greet their lord,
For love hath summoned cowslips from the sward
To tM-ine withal his heart-compelling cord.

And the land spake ;
And lo ! like lightning sprang to life her flowers,
Bees poised themselves in deep acacia bowers,
Where love dreamed dream by dream through
fragrant hours.

And the sea spake ;
The curling thunder of the landward wave
Brake into shafts of sheen from cave to cave.
White shafts whereof the sky was architrave.

And the heaven spake ;
The sun's swift car drave westward from the east.
Eternal music rose and fell and ceased,
Divine and human kept their bridal feast.



21



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Ad serviendum venisti non ad regendum, i. 17, 3.

Hark, hark, the silver trumpet, hark the tread
Of chargers' hoofs, and hark the hoarse com-
mand !
Ah God, what do I ? I that here must stand
The servant of the Lord till I am dead.

They come ! 1 see the knightly pennons spread ;
White horses ! certes, 'tis Dirk Sijver's band —
Forgive me. Lord, but on the quays of Gand —
And where my sword struck home the earth was
red.

That day in June when all the city came
To see the joust 'twixt me and Chevenix,
And from the lists alive one only went !

That other day — avaunt, base thoughts, in shame.
Until I lose before the crucifix
Vile memories of pomp and tournament !



••JO



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Homo proponit sed Deus disponit, i. 19, 2.

Behind them wound the passes of the Alps,

Before them lay the plain of Lombardy,

And they, a cohort of an alien race,

With tawny beards and siinbrowned cheeks and

eyes
Blue as the water of the Baltic friths
Wherefrom they marched, came suddenly to halt
All marvelling. In faith 'twas marvellous
The fertile fields waxed fainter in the south
Until the earth was mingled with the heaven
Where rose a red church tower. And as they

watched
Behold the sun that sank behind the tower
Transfigured it to gold. Then Hjalmar spake,
The son of Egil of the Skanian land,
" Such light on the etei*nal city broods,
The city of our quest." Then turning him
He was aware of one at his right hand.
Stricken in years and weary of the road ;
Withal the delicate lithe limbs were his
Of dwellers in the south, the courtesy.
The deference. His feet were white with dust,
His garments stained with sun and rain and storm.
And in his eyes the look of one who dreams
Such dreams as fate hath made impossible.
Then Hjalmar in imperfect Latin speech

23



THOMAS OF KEMPEN

Spake to the stranger^ sloping back his axe

Of iron of the dale lest fear should seize

An old man gazing on its war-notched edge ;

" Which way doth the eternal city lie,

Or east or west or south ? The wayfarer

Answered with hopeless words, " These thirty years

I seek and find not what thou seekest now,

For I have never found it nor will ye.

Long have I borne the toil of many roads,

The storms of many seas, the rivers bridged

By many bridges, but 1 never saAv

The lights of the eternal city shine

Save in the stars. Eternal there is nought.

Believe me, but the New Jerusalem,

And none may pass its gates before he die."



24



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



In secreto tutius exercentur privata, i. 19^ 5.

Beside the sea-rim on the bird-flecked sands.
Where silence in the marshes reigns complete.
Save for a curlew's wings that beat and beat,
Alone I raised to God my praying hands.

Much need have I to do so when the bands
Of unforgiven sin impede my feet,
And seeds I thought mature for autumn

wheat
Have proved but summer tares that fire
demands.

Ah me, the dream of glory turned to shame !
Alone I dreamed it, and alone I fell
The deeper fall that 'twas a fall from fame.

What prayer I offered then I may not tell.
But when I ended from the sea-rim came
A light of hope to lift my soul from hell.



25



THOMAS OF KEMPEN

Oportet eum cum Jesu a turba declinare, i. 20, 2.

All the world is full of labour,

Brows of men are damp with sweat,

Each is wiser than his neighbour,
Wealth the standard each hath set,

Probity is little worth.

Gold is monarch of the earth.

Weary of the dust of cities,

Get I me in silent mood
Where I hear the songbirds' ditties

Thrilling over wold and wood.
Making music sweet and clear,
Such as cities never hear.

Solitary souls despising

Sordid matters for a time.
Hear, when vesper stars are rising,

Echoes of a heavenly clime,
Till the deep of heaven is shown
Open to the great white throne.

Faint and dreamwise in the gloiy
Glows the beauty of the King,

Such the widow's son of story
Hailed at his awakening.

When the mourners mourned in vain,

Halting at the gates of Nain.



26



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Claude super te ostium tuum, i. 20, 8.

Idle stand through the night and still
Moss-grown sails of the polder mill,
Leaves and poplars withered and dun
Wait for death with the rising sun ;
Almost come to the vigilant sight
Gentle eyes of the eremite
In the deep of the dawn when grey
Rolls the mist from the Zuvder Zee.



27



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Sine peccato esse non possumus, i. 22, 5.

Sin hath its gift of anodyne.

It lulls the conscience into sleep,
It bids the eyes no longer weep

With tears of charity divine.

Unhelpful is the gift of tears

When sin with noisome lips hath kissed
Responsive lips and breathed a mist

Athwart the mirror of the years.

It bases all the deeds of men

On dull inevitable law,

And holds for childishness the awe
That guided once the prophet's pen.

It hath its narrow firmament,
Mistrustful where it cannot see,
By self-created formulae

Disproving thoughts that God hath sent.

Lord, open Thou mine eyes that I
May raise them for a space afar
Beyond the boundaries that bar

The gates of heaven to souls that die.



28



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Si bonam conscientiam haberes, non multum mortem

TIMERES, i. 23, 1.

Full blessing have the dead who dying give

No bitter memories for them who live.

Whose death is reason for the genuine tear

And for the strangled sob, "Would he were here ! "

Earth holds few such, but after many days

Their heads bear still the wreath of seemly bays.



29



THOMAS OF KEMPEN

MULTA BONA POTES OPERARI DUM SANUS ES, SED
INFIRMATUS NESCIO QUID POTERIS, i. 23, 4.

The ears of rye surge westward wave on wave

Before the summer wind, and at the edge
Of that green foam the dense pine forests crave
An equal privilege.

They, like the rye, bend downward graceful boughs,

Their myriad leaves discuss the melody
Of nature music such as warrior prows
Strike from the swaying sea.

Here would I pause and mark young sunshine shrill

Tremulous through the ranks of terebinth
To nooks brocaded once with daffodil
And rich witli hyacinth ;

And live again in thought the hours of youth

When all the world was like these flowers long
dead,
Before experience taught for trust in truth
Suspicion in its stead.

Suns rise and set and rise, and all is nought.
The coast of boyhood farther still recedes,
Age can but marvel why no dreams were brought
By manhood into deeds.



30



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Stude nunc tauter vivere ut in hora mortis
VALEAS potius gaudere quam timere, i. 23, t).

To live as convicts claimed by death.
To live and know that life is vain,
That we shall never see again

The mirror dimmed with failing breath ;

To live in faith and dare to die,
To live and know that life is not
A little hour and all forgot

But training for eternity.

Which theory will suit thee best ?
Unhappy if thou choose the first
And mark one day the tempest burst

Without a haven for thy rest.



31



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Omnium finis mors, i. 23, 7.

A SHRIVELLED leaf that red upon the ground

In autumn perisheth,
Could I explain its fall I so might sound

The mystery of Death.
Why haste thee, Death ? Why come with feet so

fast ?
Spare me a space, I must be thine at last.



32



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



QUIS MEMORABITUR TUI POST MORTEM ? i. 23, 8.

Thrones and sceptres turn to dustj
Spears and bucklers gather rust,
Fame is like a meteor's flight
Seen athwart an August night,
Even names that now endure
Cannot make these names secure.
Scant the band that finds a lot
Better than to be forgot.
Ruthless are the scythes of fate.
Sparing neither small nor great,
Loftiest prose and verse they reap
Into granaries of sleep,
Grace of painting or of sound
Sleeps a sleep no less profound,
Happy he who not at all
Cares that reputations fall.
What is glory to the heart
Trained to dwell with Christ apart ?
Death to him is not the end,
Death to him is but a friend.



33



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



In omnibus rebus respice finem, i. 24, 1.

The muffled thunder of the city street

Waxed fainter at the nearing of the dawn,

And one might hear again the melody

Of high hung chimes, the striking of the hour,

The echo rolling on from spire to spire,

From tower to tower. Then silence like the peace

Before a tempest. In the silence I

Inwrapped myself and mused, and reasoning

I failed of reason, for it was to me

As though my reason and my faith fell out,

Eager for battle where the battle-joy

Would be more sad than sorrow. It was mine

To charge myself as an accursed thing.

To find no remedy in heaven or earth ;

And with the voiceless communing of thought

Despair grew ever closer round the soul —

Despair at knowing right and choosing Avrong,

Despair at sin that lied itself to good.

Despair at evil spirits masked as gods.

Then slowly mantled on the face of heaven

A gradual blush of dayspring, star by star

The lamps of night were quenched. Meseemed

the sun
Brought music with his rising, and I heard
The ripple of a perfect voice that sang
Beali qtiorum tecta sunt pcccata.

34



THOMAS OF KEMPEN

Such music on the morrow of St John
Some solitary herdsmen of the hills
Hears leaning on his staff in wonderment,
And listens to the surging oaks and knows
That once a year there comes a miracle
To fill the woods with tremor of the sea.



35



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Quod justum est judicabit, i. S-i, 1. (a.)

We wandered seeking in the night
For justice and the rule of law,
But not the wisest of us saw

God's hand upon the helm of right.



Quod justum est judicabit, i. 24, 1. (6.)

All things are greater than we know.
And if to us God seems unjust

The reason is we look too low
And unconvinced can only trust.



S6



THOMAS OF KEMPEN



Tunc plus valebunt sancta opera quam multa

PULCRA VERBA, i. 24, 6.

King Sancho walked as a peasant wight ;
He will not pass for a King to-night.



Through wine and garlic beladen air
He came at last to Zocodover.



He kneeled on his knee as the host went by
And the shrill bell tinkled for one to die.

Then spake the priest, " Wilt thou go with me
A soul that is parting requireth thee.

And thou must assist at a sacrament

Where the life of the dying is wellnigh spent."

King Sancho followed, for then in the land
A monarch obeyed a priest's command.

Besmirched with his blood Bartolome
Struck down by a brand of Toledo lay.

A silver lamp threw a ghostly glow,
The oil of the silver lamp was low.

37



THOMAS OF KEMPEN

Bartolome gazed at the King as one
Whose eyes are dim at the noontide sun.

For once he had plotted an evil thing,
Castile to be free by death of the King.

Then gat he pardon, but plotted still
And hid himself from the alguacil.

Well Sancho knew of the murder plan,
But his face turned not from the sinful man.

" Once more I pardon, for who am I

To dwell on vengeance when death is nigh ? "

The Latin froze on the lips of the priest.


1 3 4

Online LibraryJames WilliamsThomas of Kempen → online text (page 1 of 4)