George MacDonald.

England's antiphon online

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of thought, and his freedom of utterance, cause us
ever and anon to lament that he had not the humility
and faith of an artist as well as of a Christian.

'Almost all his symbols indicate a worship of power
and of outward show.

I give the best of the two good poems I have
mentioned, and very good it is.


** How meanly dwells the immortal mind !

How vile these bodies are !
Why was a clod of earth designed

To enclose a heavenly star ?

" Weak cottage where our souls reside !

This flesh a tottering wall !
With frightful breaches gaping wide,

The building bends to fall.

" All round it storms of trouble blow,

And waves of sorrow roll ;
Cold waves and winter storms beat through,

And pain the tenant-souL

" Alas, how frail our state ! " said I,

And thus went mourning on ;
Till sudden from the cleaving sky

A gleam of glory shone.

My soul all felt the glory come,
And breathed her native air ;
Then she remembered heaven her home,
And she a prisoner here.


Straight she began to change her key ;

And, joyful in her pains,
She sang the frailty of her clay

In pleasurable strains.

" How weak the prison is where I dwell !

Flesh but a tottering wall !
The breaches cheerfully foretell

The house must shortly fall.

" No more, my friends, shall I complain,

Though all my heart-strings ache ;
Welcome disease, and every pain

That makes the cottage shake !

" Now let the tempest blow all round,

Now swell the surges high,
And beat this house of bondage down

To let the stranger fly !

" I have a mansion built above

By the eternal hand ;
And should the earth's old basis move,

My heavenly house must stand.

" Yes, for 'tis there my Saviour reigns —

I long to see the God —
And his immortal strength sustains

The courts that cost him blood.

" Hark ! from on high my Saviour calls :

I come, my Lord, my Love !
Devotion breaks the prison-walls,

And speeds my last remove."

His psalms and hymns are immeasurably better
than his lyrics. Dreadful some of them are ; and
I doubt if there is one from which we would not
wish stanzas, lines, and words absent. But some are
very fine. The man who could write such verses as
these ought not to have written as he has written : —


Had I a glance of thee, my God,

Kingdoms and men would vanish soon ;

Vanish as though I saw them not,
As a dim candle dies at noon.

Then they might fight and rage and rave :
I should perceive the noise no more

Than we can hear a shaking leaf

While rattling thunders round us roar.

Some of his hymns will be sung, I fancy, so long
as men praise God together ; for most heartily do
I grant that of all hymns I know he has produced
the best for public use ; but these bear a very small
proportion indeed to the mass of his labour. We
cannot help wishing that he had written about the
twentieth part. We could not have too much of his
best, such as this :

Be earth with all her scenes withdrawn j

Let noise and vanity begone :

In secret silence of the mind

My heaven, and there my God, I find ;

but there is no occasion for the best to be so plentiful :
a little of it will go a great way. And as our best
moments are so few, how could any man write six
hundred religious poems, and produce quality in
proportion to quantity save in an inverse ratio .-*

Dr. Thomas Parnell, the well-known poet, a clergy-
man, born in Dublin in 1679, has written a few
religious verses. The following have a certain touch
of imagination and consequent grace, which distin-
guishes them above the swampy level of the time.



Tlie beam-repelling mists arise,
And evening spreads obscurer skies ;
The twilight will the night forerun,
And night itself be soon begun.
Upon thy knees devoutly bow,
And pray the Lord of glory now
To fill thy breast, or deadly sin
May cause a blinder night within.
And whether pleasing vapours rise,
Which gently dim the closing eyes,
"Which make the weary members blest
With sweet refreshment in their rest ;
Or whether spirits ^ in the brain
Dispel their soft embrace again,
And on my watchful bed I stay.
Forsook by sleep, and waiting day;
Be God for ever in my view,
And never he forsake me too ;
But still as day concludes in night,
To break again with new-bom light,
, His wondrous bounty let me find
With still a more enlightened mind.

* « * ♦

Thou that hast thy palace far
Above the moon and every star ;
Thou that sittest on a throne
To which the night was never known,
Regard my voice, and make me blest
By kindly granting its request.
If thoughts on thee my soul employ.
My darkness will afford me joy.
Till thou shalt call and I shall soar.
And part with- darkness evermore.

Many long and elaborate religious poems I have
not even mentioned, because I cannot favour extracts,

^ The animal spirits of the old physiologists.


especially in heroic couplets or blank verse. They
would only make my book heavy, and destroy the
song-idea. I must here pass by one of the best of
such poems, The Complaint, or Night Thoughts of
Dr. Young ; nor is there anything else of his I care
to quote.

I must give just one poem of Pope, born in 1688,
the year of the Revolution. The flamboyant style of
his Messiah is to me detestable : nothing can be more
unlike the simplicity of Christianity. All such, equally
with those by whatever hand that would be religious
by being miserable, I reject at once, along with all
that are merely commonplace religious exercises. But
this at least is very unlike the rest of Pope's composi-
tions : it is as simple in utterance as it is large in
scope and practical in bearing. The name Jove may
be unpleasant to some ears : it is to mine — not because
it is the name given to their deity by men who had
had little outward revelation, but because of the asso-
ciations which the wanton poets, not the good philo-
sophers, have gathered about it. Here let it stand, as
Pope meant it, for one of the names of the Unknown


Father of all ! in every age,

In every clime adored,
By saint, by savage, and by sage,

Jehovah, Jove, or Lord !

Thou great First Cause, least understood !

Who all my sense confined
To know but this, that thou art good,

And that myself am blind


Yet gave me, in this dark estate,

To see the good from ill ;
And, binding Nature fast in Fate,

Left free the human wUl :

What Conscience dictates to be done,

Or warns me not to do —
This, teach me more than hell to shun.

That, more than heaven pursue.

What blessings thy free bounty gives,

Let me not cast away ;
For God is paid when man receives :

To enjoy is to obey.

Yet not to earth's contracted span
Thy goodness let me bound,

Or think thee Lbrd alone of man,
When thousand worlds are round.

Let not this weak, unknowing hand
Presume thy bolts to throw,

And deal damnation round the land
On each I judge thy foe.

If I am right, thy grace impart

Still in the right to stay ;
If I am wrong, O teach my heart

To find that better way.

Save me alike from foolish pride

Or impious discontent.
At aught thy wisdom has denied.

Or aught thy goodness lent.

Teach me to feel another's woe.

To hide the fault I see :
Tliat mercy I to others show,

That mercy show to me.

Mean though I am— not wholly so.
Since quickened by thy breath : —

O lead me wheresoe'er T go,
Through this day's life or death.


This day, be bread and peace my lot :

All else beneath the sun
Thou know'st if best bestowed or not,

And let thy will be done.

To thee, whose temple is all space,

"Whose altar, earth, sea, skies,
One chorus let all being raise !

All Nature's incense rise !

And now we come upon a strange little well in the
desert. Few flowers indeed shine upon its brink, and
it flows with a somewhat unmusical ripple : it is a
well of the water of life notwithstanding, for its song
tells of the love and truth which are the grand power
of God.

John Byrom, born in ^Manchester in the year 1 691,
a man whose strength of thought and perception of
truth greatly surpassed his poetic gifts, yet delighted
so entirely in the poetic form that he wrote much and
chiefly in it. After leaving Cambridge, he gained his
livelihood for some time by teaching a shorthand of
his own invention, but was so distinguished as a man
of learning generally that he was chosen an F.R.S. in
1723. Coming under the influence, probably through
William Law, of the writings of Jacob Bohme, the
marv^ellous shoemaker of Gorlitz in Silesia, who lived
in the time of our Shakspere, and heartily adopting
many of his views, he has left us a number of
religious poems, which are seldom so sweet in music
as they are profound in the metaphysics of religion.
Here we have yet again a mystical thread running
radiant athwart both warp and woof of our poetic web :
the mystical thinker will ever be found the reviver of


religious poetry ; and although some of the seed had

come from afar both in time and space, Byrom's verse

is of indigenous growth. Much of the thought of the

present day will be found in his verses. Here is a

specimen of his metrical argumentation. It is taken

from a series of Meditations for every Day in Passion



Christ satisfieth the justice of God by fulfilling all righteousness.
Justice demandeth satisfaction — yes ;
And ought to have it where injustice is :
But there is none in God — it cannot mean
Demand of justice where it has full reign :
To dwell in man it rightfully demands,
Such as he came from his Creator's hands.

Man had departed from a righteous state,
Which he at first must have, if God create :
'Tis therefore called God's righteousness, and must
Be satisfied by man's becoming just ;
Must exercise good vengeance upon men,
Till it regain its rights in them again.

This was the justice for which Christ became

A man to satisfy its righteous claim ;

Became Redeemer of the human race,

That sin in them to justice might give place :

To satisfy a just and righteous will,

Is neither more nor less than to fulfil. •
« * « *

Here are two stanzas of one of more mystical
reflection :


What though no objects strike upon the sight !
Thy sacred presence is an inward light.
What though no sounds shall penetrate the ear !
To listening thought the voice of truth is clear.
Sincere devotion needs no outward shrine ;
The centre of an humble soul is thine.


There may I worship ! and there mayst thou place

Thy seat of mercy, and thy throne of grace !

Yea, fix, if Christ my advocate appear.

The dread tribunal of thy justice there !

Let ea^h vain thought, let each impure desire

Meet in thy wrath with a consuming fire.

And here are two of more lyrical favour.


Stones towards the earth descend ;

Rivers to the ocean roll ;
Every motion has some end :

What is thine, beloved soul ?

" Mine is, where my Saviour is;

There with him I hope to dwell :

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldEngland's antiphon → online text (page 17 of 19)