George MacDonald.

England's antiphon online

. (page 9 of 19)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldEngland's antiphon → online text (page 9 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Because my God he did not smell.
None such I relished, said my taste,
And therefore me he never passed.
My feeling told me that none such
There entered, for he none did touch.
Resolved by them how should I be,
Since none of all these are in thee,

In thee, my God ? Thou hast no hue
That man's frail optic sense can view ;
No sound the ear hears ; odour none
The smell attracts ; all taste is gone
At thy appearance ; where doth fail
A body, how can touch prevail ?
What even the brute beasts comprehend —
To think thee such, I should offend.

Yet when I seek my God, I enquire
For light than sun and moon much higher,
More clear and splendrous, 'bove all light
Which the eye receives not, 'tis so bright.


I seek a voice beyond degree

Of all melodious harmony :

The ear conceives it not ; a smell

Which doth all other scents excel :

No flower so sweet, no myrrh, no nard.

Or aloes, with it compared ;

Of which the brain not sensible is.

I seek a sweetness — such a bliss

As hath all other sweets surpassed,

And never palate yet could taste.

I seek that to contain and hold

No touch can feel, no embrace enfold.

So far this light the rays extends,

As that no place it comprehends.

So deep this sound, that though it speak

It cannot by a sense so weak

Be entertained. A redolent grace

The air blows not from place to place.

A pleasant taste, of that delight

It doth confound all appetite.

A strict embrace, not felt, yet leaves

That virtue, where it takes it cleaves.

This light, this sound, this savouring grace,

This tasteful sweet, this strict embrace,

No place contains, no eye can see,

My God is, and there's none but he.

Very remarkable verses from a dramatist ! They
indicate substratum enough for any art if only the art
be there. Even those who cannot enter into the phi-
losophy of them, which ranks him among the mystics
of whom I have yet to speak, will understand a good
deal of it symbolically : for how could he be expected
to keep his poetry and his philosophy distinct when
of themselves they were so ready to run into one ; or
in verse to define carefully betwixt degree and kind,
when kinds themselves may rise by degrees } To



distinguish without separating ; to be able to see that
what in their effects upon us are quite different, may-
yet be a grand flight of ascending steps, " to stop — no
record hath told where," belongs to the philosopher
who is not born mutilated, but is a poet as well.

John Fletcher, likewise a dramatist, the author of
the following poem, was two years younger than Ben
Jonson. It is, so far as I am aware, the sole non-
dramatic voice he has left behind him. Its opening
is an indignant apostrophe to certain men of pre-
tended science, who in his time were much consulted
— the Astrologers.


You that can look through heaven, and tell the stars ;

Observe their kind conjunctions, and their wars ;

Find out new lights, and give them where you please —

To those men honours, pleasures, to those ease ;

You that are God's surveyors, and can show

How far, and when, and why the wind doth blow;

Know all the charges of the dreadful thunder,

And when it will shoot over, or fall under ;

Tell me — by all your art I conjure ye —

Yes, and by truth — what shall become of me.

Find out my star, if each one, as you say,

Have his peculiar angel, and his way ;

Observe my fate ; next fall into your dreams ;

Sweep clean your houses, and new-line your schemes ; *

Then say your worst. Or have I none at all ?

Or is it burnt out lately ? or did fall ?

Or am I poor ? not able ? no full flame ?

Mystar, like me, unworthy of a name?

1 He plays upon the astrological terms, houses and schemes. The
astrologers divided the heavens into twelve houses; and the diagrams by
which they represented the relative positions of the heavenly bodies,
they called schemes.


Is it your art can only work on those
That deal with dangers, dignities, and clothes,
With love, or new opinions ? You all lie :
A fishwife hath a fate, and so have I —
But far above your fiiding. He that gives,
Out of his providence, to all that lives —
And no man knows his treasure, no, not you ; —
* * * « *

He that made all the stars you daily read,
And from them filch a knowledge how to feed,
Hath hid this from you. Your conjectures all
Are drunken things, not how, but when they fall :
Man is his own star, and the soul that can
Render an honest, and a perfect man,
Commands all light, all influence, all fate ;
Nothing to him falls early, or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill.
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still ;
And when the stars are labouring, we believe
It is not that they govern, but they grieve
For stubborn ignorance. All things that are
Made for our general uses, are at war —
Even we among ourselves ; and from the strife
Your first unlike opinions got a life.
Oh man ! thou image of thy Maker's good,
What canst thou fear, when breathed into thy blood
His spirit is that built thee? What dull sense
Makes thee suspect, in need, that Providence ?
Who made the morning, and who placed the light
Guide to thy labours? Who called up the night,
And bid her fall upon thee like sweet showers
In hollow murmurs, to lock up thy powers ?
Who gave thee knowledge ? Who so trusted thee,
To let thee grow so near himself, the Tree ?^
Must he then be distrusted ? Shall his frame
Discourse with him why thus and thus I am ?
He made the angels thine, thy fellows all ;
Nay, even thy servants, when devotions call.
Oh ! canst thou be so stupid then, so dim.
To seek a saving influence, and lose him ?

The tree of knowledge.


Can stars protect thee ? Or can poverty,

Which is the light to heaven, put out his eye ?

He is my star ; in him all truth I find.

All influence, all fate ; and w^hen my mind

Is furnished with his fulness, my poor story

Shall outlive all their age, and all their glory.

The hand of danger cannot fall amiss

When I know what, and in whose power it is ;

Nor want, the cause ^ of man, shall make me groan :

A holy hermit is a mind alone. ^

Doth not experience teach us, all we can.

To work ourselves into a glorious man ?
« * * *

My mistress then be knowledge and fair truth ;
So I enjoy all beauty and all youth !
« * « *

^filiction, when I know it, is but this—

A deep alloy, whereby man tougher is

To bear the hammer ; and the deeper still,

We still arise more image of his will ;

Sickness, an humorous cloud 'twixt us and light ;'

And death, at longest, but another night.

Man is his own star, and that soul that can

Be honest, is the only perfect man.

There is a tone of contempt in the verses which is
not religious ; but they express a true philosophy
and a triumph of faith in God. The word honest is
here equivalent to true.

I am not certain whether I may not now be calling
up a singer whose song will appear hardly to justify
his presence in the choir. But its teaching is of
high import, namely, of content and cheerfulness
and courage, and being both worthy and melodious,

* Dyce, following Seward, substitutes curse.

s A glimmer of that Platonism of which, happily, we have so much
more in the seventeenth century.


it gravitates heavenward. The singer is yet another
dramatist : I presume him to be Thomas Dekker. I
cannot be certain, because others were concerned with
him in the writing of the drama from which I take it.
He it is who, in an often-quoted passage, styles our
Lord " The first true gentleman that ever breathed ; "
just as Chaucer, in a poem I have given, calls him
" The first stock-father of gentleness."
We may call the little lyric


Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers ?

Oh, sweet content !

Art thou rich, yet is thy mind perplexed ?

Oh, punishment !
Dost thou laugh to see how fools are vexed
To add to golden numbers, golden numbers ?
Oh, sweet content !
Chorus. — Work apace, apace, apace, apace ;
Honest labour bears a lovely face.

Canst drink the waters of the crisped spring ?
Oh, sweet content !
Swimm'st thou in wealth, yet sink'st in thine own tears ?

Oh, punishment !
Then he that patiently want's burden bears,
No burden bears, but is a king, a king !
Oh, sweet content !
Chorus. — Work apace, apace, apace, apace;
Honest labour bears a lovely face.

It is a song of the poor in spirit, whose is the
kingdom of heaven. But if my co-listeners prefer,
we will call it the voice, not of one who sings in the
choir, but of one who " tunes his instrument at the



Sir John Beaumont, born in 1582, elder brother
to the dramatist who wrote along with Fletcher, has
left amongst his poems a few fine religious ones.
From them I choose the following :


Fair eastern star, that art ordained to run

Before the sages, to the rising sun,

Here cease thy course, and wonder that the cloud

Of this poor stable can thy Maker shroud :

Ye, heavenly bodies, glory to be bright,

And are esteemed as ye are rich in light ;

But here on earth is taught a different way,

Since under this low roof the highest lay.

Jerusalem erects her stately towers,

Displays her windows, and adorns her bowers ;

Yet there thou must not cast a trembling spark :

Let Herod's palace still continue dark ;

Each school and synagogue thy force repels.

There Pride, enthroned in misty errors, dwells ;

The temple, where the priests maintain their choir,

Shall taste no beam of thy celestial fire.

While this weak cottage all thy splendour takes :

A joyful gate of every chink it makes.


Here shines no golden roof, no ivory stair,

No king exalted in a stately chair,

Girt with attendants, or by heralds styled,

But straw and hay enwrap a speechless child ;

Yet Saboe's lords before this babe unfold

Their treasures, offering incense, myrrh, and gold.

The crib becomes an altar : therefore dies

No ox nor sheep ; for in their fodder lies

The Prince of Peace, who, thankful for his bed,

Destroys those rites in which their blood was shed :

The quintessence of earth he takes and^ fees,

And precious gimis distilled from weeping trees ;

Rich metals and sweet odours now declare

The glorious blessings which his laws prepare,

To clear us from the base and loathsome flood

Of sense, and make us fit for angels' food.

Who lift to God for us the holy smoke

Of fervent prayers with which we him invoke,

And try our actions in that searching fire,

By which the seraphims our lips inspire :

No muddy dross pure minerals shall infect,

We shall exhale our vapours up direct :

No storms shall cross, nor glittering lights deface

Perpetual sighs which seek a happy place.

The creatures, no longer offered on his altar, stand-
ing around the Prince of Life, to whom they have
given a bed, is a lovely idea. The end is hardly
worthy of the rest, though there is fine thought in-
volved in it.

The following contains an utterance of personal
experience, the truth of which will be recognized by
all to whom heavenly aspiration and needful disap-
pointment are not unknown.

1 Should this be "/« fees;" that is, in acknowledgment of his feudal
sovereignty ?



thou who sweetly bend'st my stubborn will,
Who send'st thy stripes to teach and not to kill !
Thy cheerfal face from me no longer hide ;
"Withdraw these clouds, the scourges of my pride ;

1 sink to hell, if I be lower thrown :
I see what man is, being left alone.

My substance, which from nothing did begin,

Is worse than nothing by the weight of sin :

I see myself in such a wretched state

As neither thoughts conceive, nor words relate.

How great a distance parts us ! for in thee

Is endless good, and boundless ill in me.

All creatures prove me abject, but how low

Thou only know'st, and teachest me to know.

To paint this baseness, nature is too base ;

This darkness yields not but to beams of grace.

Where shall I tl^en this piercing splendour find?

Or found, how shall it guide me, being blind ?

Grace is a taste of bliss, a glorious gift,

Which can the soul to heavenly comforts lift :

It will not shine to me, whose mind is dro^vned

In sorrows, and with worldly troubles bound ;

It will not deign within that house to dwell,

Where dryness reigns, and proul distractions swell.

Perhaps it sought me in those lightsome days

Of my first fervour, when few winds did raise

The waves, and ere they could full strength obtain,

Some whispering gale straight charmed them down again ;

When all seemed calm, and yet the Virgin's child

On my devotions in his manger smiled ;

While then I simply walked, nor heed could take

Of complacence, that sly, deceitful snake ;

When yet I had not dangerously refused

So many calls to virtue, nor abused

The spring of life, which I so oft enjoyed,

Nor made so many good intentions void,

Deserving thus that grace should quite depart,

And dreadful hardness should possess my heart :


Yet in that state this only good I found,

That fewer spots did then my conscience wound ;

Though who can censure whether, in those times, judg

The want of feeling seemed the want of crimes ?

If solid virtues dwell not but in pain,

I will not wish that golden age again

Because it flowed with sensible delights

Of heavenly things : God hath created nights

As well as days, to deck the varied globe;

Grace comes as oft clad in the dusky robe

Of desolation, as in white attire,

Which better fits the bright celestial choir.

Some in foul seasons perish through despair.

But more through boldness when the days are fair.

This then must be the medicine for my woes —

To yield to what my Saviour shall dispose ;

To glory in my baseness ; to rejoice

In mine afflictions ; to obey his voice.

As well when threatenings my defects reprove,

As when I cherished am with words of love ;

To say to him, in every time and place,

" Withdraw thy comforts, so thou leave thy grace,"

Surely this is as genuine an utterance, whatever its
merits as a poem— and those I judge not small — as
ever flowed from Christian heart !

Chiefly for the sake of its beauty, I give the last
passage of a poem written upon occasion of the
feasts of the Annunciation and the Resurrection
falling on the same day.

Let faithful souls this double feast attend
In two processions. I>et the first descend
The temple's stairs, and with a downcast eye
Upon the lowest pavement prostrate lie :
In creeping violets, white lilies, shine
Their humble thoughts and every pure design.
The other troop shall climb, with sacred heat,
The rich degrees of Solomon's bright seat : strp^

s.L. iv; 13


In glowing roses fervent zeal they bear,
And in the azure flower-de-lis appear
Celestial contemplations, which aspire
Above the sky, up to the immortal choir.

William Drummond of Hawthornden, a Scotch-
man, born in 1585, may almost be looked upon as
the harbinger of a fresh outburst of word-music. No
doubt all the great poets have now and then broken
forth in lyrical jubilation. Ponderous Ben Jonson
himself, when he takes to song, will sing in the joy of
the very sound ; but great men have always so much
graver work to do, that they comparatively seldom
indulge in this kind of melody. Drummond excels
in madrigals, or canzonets — baby-odes or songs —
which have more of wing and less of thought than
sonnets. Through the greater part of his verse we
hear a certain muffled tone of the sweetest, like the
music that ever threatens to break out clear from
the brook, from the pines, from the rain-shower, —
never does break out clear, but remains a suggested,
etherially vanishing tone. His is a voix voiUe, or
veiled voice of song. It is true that in the time we
are now approaching far more attention was paid not
merely to the smoothness but to the melody of verse
than any except the great masters had paid before ;
but some are at the door, who, not being great
masters, yet do their inferior part nearly as well as
they their higher, uttering a music of marvellous and
individual sweetness, which no mere musical care could
secure, but which springs essentially from music in the
thought gathering to itself musical words in melodious


division, and thus fashioning for itself a fitting body.
The melody of their verse is all their own — as original
as the greatest art-forms of the masters. Of Drum-
mond, then, here are two sonnets on the Nativity ;
the first spoken by the angels, the second by the

The Angels.

Run, shepherds, run where Bethlehem blest appears.

We bring the best of news ; be not dismayed :
A Saviour there is born more old than years,

Amidst heaven's rolling height this earth who stayed.

In a poor cottage inned, a virgin maid
A weakling did him bear, who all upbeare ;

There is he poorly swaddled, in manger laid.
To whom too narrow swaddlings are our spheres :
Run, shepherds, run, and solemnize his birth.

This is that night — no, day, grown great with bliss,

In which the power of Satan broken is :
In heaven be glory, peace unto the earth !

Thus singing, through the air the angels swam,

And cope of stars re-echoed the same.

The Shepherds.

than the fairest day, thrice fairer night !
Night to best days, in which a sun doth rise
Of which that golden eye which clears the skies

Is but a sparkling ray, a shadow-light f

And blessed ye, in silly pastors' sight, simple.

Mild creatures, in whose warm^ crib now lies
That heaven-sent youngling, holy-maid-born wight.

Midst, end, beginning of our prophecies !
Blest cottage that hath flowers in winter spread !

Though withered — blessed grass, that hath the grace

To deck and be a carpet to that place !
Thus sang, unto the sounds of oaten reed.

Before the babe, the shepherds bowed on knees ;

And springs ran nectar, honey dropped from trees.

1 Warm is here elongated, almost treated as a dissyllable.

L 2


No doubt there is a touch of the conventional in
these. Especially in the close of the last there is
an attempt to glorify the true by the homage of
the false. But verses which make us feel the marvel
afresh — the marvel visible and credible by the depth
of its heart of glory — make us at the same time
easily forget the discord in themselves.

The following, not a sonnet, although it looks like
one, measuring the lawful fourteen lines, is the closing
paragraph of a poem he calls ^ Hymft to the Fairest Fair.

king, whose greatness none can comprehend,
Whose boundless goodness doth to all extend !
Light of all beauty ! ocean without ground,
That standing flowest, giving dost abound !
Rich palace, and indweller ever blest,

Never not working, ever yet in rest !

What wit cannot conceive, words say of thee,

Here, where, as in a mirror, we but see

Shadows of shadows, atoms of thy might.

Still owly-eyed while staring on thy light,

Grant that, released from this earthly jail.

And freed of clouds which here our knowledge veil.

In heaven's high temples, where thy praises ring,

1 may in sweeter notes hear angels sing.

That is, " May I in heaven hear angels sing what wit
cannot conceive here."

Drummond excels in nobility of speech, and espe-
cially in the fine line and phrase, so justly but dispro-
portionately prized in the present day. I give an
instance of each :

Here do seraphim
Bum with immortal love ; there cherubim
With other noble people of the light.
As eaglets in the sun, delight their sight.


Like to a lightning through the welkin hurled,
That scores xviik Jlatnes the way, and every eye
With terror dazzles as it swimmeth by.

Here are six fine verses, in the heroic couplet, from
An Hynm of the Resurrection.

So a small seed that in the earth lies hid
And dies — reviving bursts her cloddy side ;
Adorned with yellow locks, of new is bom,
And doth become a mother great with corn ;
Of grains bring hundreds with it, which when old
Enrich the furrows with a sea of gold.

But I must content myself now with a little ma-
drigal, the only one fit for my purpose. Those which
would best support what I have said of his music are
not of the kind we want. Unfortunately, the end of
this one is not equal to the beginning.


New doth the sun appear ;

The mountains' snows decay ;
Crowned with frail flowers comes forth the baby year.

My soul, time posts away;

And thou yet in that frost,

Which flower and fruit hath lost,
As if all here immortal were, dost stay !

For shame ! thy powers awake ;
Look to that heaven which never night makes black ;
And there, at that immortal sun's bright rays,
Deck thee with flowers which fear not rage of days.



I NOW come to make mention of two gifted bro-
thers, Giles and Phineas Fletcher, both clergymen,
the sons of a clergyman and nephews to the Bishop
of Bristol, therefore the cousins of Fletcher the
dramatist, a poem by whom I have already given
Giles, th'^ eldest, is supposed to have been born in
1588, From his poem Christ s Victory and Triumph,
I select three passages.

To understand the first, it is necessary to explain
that v/hile Christ is on earth a dispute between Justice
and Mercy, such as is often represented by the theo-
logians, takes place in heaven. We must allow the
unsuitable fiction attributing distraction to the divine
Unity, for the sake of the words 'in which Mercy
overthrows the arguments of Justice. For the poet
unintentionally nullifies the symbolism of the theo-
logian, representing Justice as defeated. He forgets
that the grandest exercise of justice is mercy. The
confusion comes from the fancy that justice means
vengeance upon sin, and not the doing of what is right.
Justice can be at no strife with mercy, for not to do
what is just would be most unmerciful.


Mercy first sums up the arguments Justice has
been employing against her, in the following stanza :

He was but dust ; why feared he not to fall?

And being fallen how can he hope to live?
Cannot the hand destroy him that made all?

Could he not take away as well as give?

Should man deprave, and should not God deprive?
Was it not all the world's deceiving spirit
(That, bladdered up with pride of his own merit,
Fell in his rise) that hint of heaven did disinherit?

To these she then proceeds to make reply :

He was but dust: how could he stand before him?

And being fallen, why should he fear to die?
Cannot the hand that made him first, restore him?

Depraved of sin, should he deprived lie

Of grace? Can he not find infirmity
That gave him strength ? — Unworthy the forsaking
He is, whoever weighs (without mistaking)
Or maker of the man or manner of his making.*

Who shall thy temple incense any more,

Or to thy altar crown the sacrifice.
Or strew with idle flowers the hallowed floor ?

Or what should prayer deck with herbs and spice, w^iy.

Her vials breathing orisons of price,
Tf all must pay that which all cannot pay ?
O first begin with me, and Mercy slay,
And thy thrice honoured Son, that now beneath doth stray.

But if or he or I may live and speak.

And heaven can joy to see a sinner weep,

Oh ! let not Justice' iron sceptre break

A heart already broke, that low doth creep,

And with prone humbless her feet's dust doth sweep.

Must all go by desert? Is nothing free?

Ah ! if but those that only worthy be,
None should thee ever see ! none should thee ever see !

1 " He ought not to be forsaken : whoever weighs the matter rightly,
will come to this conclusion."


What hath man done that man shall not undo

Since God to him is grown so near akin ?
Did his foe slay him ? He shall slay his foe.

Hath he lost all ? He all again shall win.

Is sin his master ? He shall master sin.
Too hardy soul, with sin the field to try !
The only way to conquer was to fly ;
But thus long death hath lived, and now death's self shall die.

He is a path, if any be misled ;

He is a robe, if any naked be ;
If any chance to hunger, he is bread ;

If any be a bondman, he is free ;

If any be but weak, how strong is he !
To dead men life he is, to sick men health,
To blind men sight, and to the needy wealth ;

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldEngland's antiphon → online text (page 9 of 19)