George MacDonald.

The poetical works of George MacDonald in two volumes — Volume 2 online

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I might have clasped in wisdom then
A wing to beat this awful hour!
The dullest things would take my marks -
_They_ took my marks like drifted snow -
God! how the footsteps rise in sparks,
Rise like myself and onward go!
Have pity, O ye driving things
That once like me had human form!
For I am driven for lack of wings
A shreddy cloud before the storm!"

How its words went through me then,
Like a long forgotten pang,
Till the storm's embrace again
Swept it far with sudden clang! -
Ah, methinks I see it still!
Let us follow it, my brother,
Keeping close to one another,
Blessing God for might of will!
Closer, closer, side by side!
Ours are wings that deftly glide
Upwards, downwards, and crosswise
Flashing past our ears and eyes,
Splitting up the comet-tracks
With a whirlwind at our backs!

How the sky is blackening!
Yet the race is never slackening;
Swift, continual, and strong,
Streams the torrent slope along,
Like a tidal surge of faces
Molten into one despair;
Each the other now displaces,
A continual whirl of spaces;
Ah, my fainting eyesight reels
As I strive in vain to stare
On a thousand turning wheels
Dimly in the gloom descending,
Faces with each other blending! -
Let us beat the vapours back,
We are yet upon his track.

Didst thou see a spirit halt
Upright on a cloudy peak,
As the lightning's horrid fault
Smote a gash into the cheek
Of the grinning thunder-cloud
Which doth still besiege and crowd
Upward from the nether pits
Where the monster Chaos sits,
Building o'er the fleeing rack
Roofs of thunder long and black?
Yes, I see it! I will shout
Till I stop the horrid rout.
Ho, ho! spirit-phantom, tell
Is thy path to heaven or hell?
We would hear thee yet again,
What thy standing amongst men,
What thy former history,
And thy hope of things to be!
Wisdom still we gain from hearing:
We would know, we would know
Whither thou art steering -
Unto weal or woe!

Ah, I cannot hear it speaking!
Yet it seems as it were seeking
Through our eyes our souls to reach
With a quaint mysterious speech,
As with stretched and crossing palms
One were tracing diagrams
On the ebbing of the beach,
Till with wild unmeasured dance
All the tiptoe waves advance,
Seize him by the shoulder, cover,
Turn him up and toss him over:
He is vanished from our sight,
Nothing mars the quiet night
Save a speck of gloom afar
Like the ruin of a star!

Brother, streams it ever so,
Such a torrent tide of woe?
Ah, I know not; let us haste
Upwards from this dreary waste,
Up to where like music flowing
Gentler feet are ever going,
Streams of life encircling run
Round about the spirit-sun!
Up beyond the storm and rush
With our lesson let us rise!
Lo, the morning's golden flush
Meets us midway in the skies!
Perished all the dream and strife!
Death is swallowed up of Life!


The stars are all watching;
God's angel is catching
At thy skirts in the darkness deep!
Gold hinges grating,
The mighty dead waiting,
Why dost thou sleep?

Years without number,
Ages of slumber,
Stiff in the track of the infinite One!
Dead, can I think it?
Dropt like a trinket,
A thing whose uses are done!

White wings are crossing,
Glad waves are tossing,
The earth flames out in crimson and green
Spring is appearing,
Summer is nearing -
Where hast thou been?

Down in some cavern,
Death's sleepy tavern,
Housing, carousing with spectres of night?
There is my right hand!
Grasp it full tight and
Spring to the light.

Wonder, oh, wonder!
How the life-thunder
Bursts on his ear in horror and dread!
Happy shapes meet him;
Heaven and earth greet him:
Life from the dead!


Seek not my name - it doth no virtue bear;
Seek, seek thine own primeval name to find -
The name God called when thy ideal fair
Arose in deeps of the eternal mind.

When that thou findest, thou art straight a lord
Of time and space - art heir of all things grown;
And not my name, poor, earthly label-word,
But I myself thenceforward am thine own.

Thou hearest not? Or hearest as a man
Who hears the muttering of a foolish spell?
My very shadow would feel strange and wan
In thy abode: - I say _No_, and _Farewell_.

Thou understandest? Then it is enough;
No shadow-deputy shall mock my friend;
We walk the same path, over smooth and rough,
To meet ere long at the unending end.



Dear friend, you love the poet's song,
And here is one for your regard.
You know the "melancholy bard,"
Whose grief is wise as well as strong;

Already something understand
For whom he mourns and what he sings,
And how he wakes with golden strings
The echoes of "the silent land;"

How, restless, faint, and worn with grief,
Yet loving all and hoping all,
He gazes where the shadows fall,
And finds in darkness some relief;

And how he sends his cries across,
His cries for him that comes no more,
Till one might think that silent shore
Full of the burden of his loss;

And how there comes sublimer cheer -
Not darkness solacing sad eyes,
Not the wild joy of mournful cries,
But light that makes his spirit clear;

How, while he gazes, something high,
Something of Heaven has fallen on him,
His distance and his future dim
Broken into a dawning sky!

Something of this, dear friend, you know;
And will you take the book from me
That holds this mournful melody,
And softens grief to sadness so?

Perhaps it scarcely suits the day
Of joyful hopes and memories clear,
When love should have no thought of fear,
And only smiles be round your way;

Yet from the mystery and the gloom,
From tempted faith and conquering trust,
From spirit stronger than the dust,
And love that looks beyond the tomb,

What can there be but good to win,
But hope for life, but love for all,
But strength whatever may befall? -
So for the year that you begin,

For all the years that follow this
While a long happy life endures,
This hope, this love, this strength be yours,
And afterwards a larger bliss!

May nothing in this mournful song
Too much take off your thoughts from time,
For joy should fill your vernal prime,
And peace your summer mild and long.

And may his love who can restore
All losses, give all new good things,
Like loving eyes and sheltering wings
Be round us all for evermore!


They are blind, and they are dead:
We will wake them as we go;
There are words have not been said,
There are sounds they do not know:
We will pipe and we will sing -
With the Music and the Spring
Set their hearts a wondering!

They are tired of what is old,
We will give it voices new;
For the half hath not been told
Of the Beautiful and True.
Drowsy eyelids shut and sleeping!
Heavy eyes oppressed with weeping!
Flashes through the lashes leaping!

Ye that have a pleasant voice,
Hither come without delay;
Ye will never have a choice
Like to that ye have to-day:
Round the wide world we will go,
Singing through the frost and snow
Till the daisies are in blow.

Ye that cannot pipe or sing,
Ye must also come with speed;
Ye must come, and with you bring
Weighty word and weightier deed -
Helping hands and loving eyes!
These will make them truly wise -
Then will be our Paradise.

_March 27, 1852._


When the storm was proudest,
And the wind was loudest,
I heard the hollow caverns drinking down below;
When the stars were bright,
And the ground was white,
I heard the grasses springing underneath the snow.

Many voices spake -
The river to the lake,
And the iron-ribbed sky was talking to the sea;
And every starry spark
Made music with the dark,
And said how bright and beautiful everything must be.

When the sun was setting,
All the clouds were getting
Beautiful and silvery in the rising moon;
Beneath the leafless trees
Wrangling in the breeze,
I could hardly see them for the leaves of June.

When the day had ended,
And the night descended,
I heard the sound of streams that I heard not through the day,
And every peak afar
Was ready for a star,
And they climbed and rolled around until the morning gray.

Then slumber soft and holy
Came down upon me slowly,
And I went I know not whither, and I lived I know not how;
My glory had been banished,
For when I woke it vanished;
But I waited on its coming, and I am waiting now.



"Which of you, knight or squire, will dare
Plunge into yonder gulf?
A golden beaker I fling in it - there!
The black mouth swallows it like a wolf!
Who brings me the cup again, whoever,
It is his own - he may keep it for ever!"

'Tis the king who speaks. He flings from the brow
Of the cliff, that, rugged and steep,
Hangs out o'er the endless sea below,
The cup in the whirlpool's howling heap: -
"Again I ask, what hero will follow,
What hero plunge into yon dark hollow?"

The knights and the squires the king about
Hear, and dumbly stare
Into the wild sea's tumbling rout;
To win the beaker they hardly care!
The king, for the third time, round him glaring -
"Not one soul of you has the daring?"

Speechless all, as before, they stand.
Then a squire, young, gentle, gay,
Steps from his comrades' shrinking band,
Flinging his girdle and cloak away;
And all the women and men that surrounded
Gazed on the noble youth, astounded.

And when he stepped to the rock's rough brow
And looked down on the gulf so black,
The waters which it had swallowed, now
Charybdis bellowing rendered back;
And, with a roar as of distant thunder,
Foaming they burst from the dark lap under.

It wallows, seethes, hisses in raging rout,
As when water wrestles with fire,
Till to heaven the yeasty tongues they spout;
And flood upon flood keeps mounting higher:
It will never its endless coil unravel,
As the sea with another sea were in travail!

But, at last, slow sinks the writhing spasm,
And, black through the foaming white,
Downward gapes a yawning chasm -
Bottomless, cloven to hell's wide night;
And, sucked up, see the billows roaring
Down through the whirling funnel pouring!

Then in haste, ere the out-rage return again,
The youth to his God doth pray,
And - ascends a cry of horror and pain! -
Already the vortex hath swept him away,
And o'er the bold swimmer, in darkness eternal,
Close the great jaws of the gulf infernal!

Then the water above grows smooth as glass,
While, below, dull roarings ply;
And trembling they hear the murmur pass -
"High-hearted youth, farewell, good-bye!"
And hollower still comes the howl affraying,
Till their hearts are sick with the frightful delaying.

If the crown itself thou in should fling,
And say, "Who back with it hies
Himself shall wear it, and shall be king,"
I would not covet the precious prize!
What Ocean hides in that howling hell of it
Live soul will never come back to tell of it!

Ships many, caught in that whirling surge,
Shot sheer to their dismal doom:
Keel and mast only did ever emerge,
Shattered, from out the all-gulping tomb! -
Like the bluster of tempest, clearer and clearer,
Comes its roaring nearer and ever nearer!

It wallows, seethes, hisses, in raging rout,
As when water wrestles with fire,
Till to heaven the yeasty tongues they spout,
Wave upon wave's back mounting higher;
And as with the grumble of distant thunder,
Bellowing it bursts from the dark lap under.

And, see, from its bosom, flowing dark,
Something heave up, swan-white!
An arm and a shining neck they mark,
And it rows with never relaxing might!
It is he! and high his golden capture
His left hand waves in success's rapture!

With long deep breaths his path he ploughed,
And he hailed the heavenly day;
Jubilant shouted the gazing crowd,
"He lives! he is there! he broke away!
Out of the grave, the whirlpool uproarious,
The hero hath rescued his life victorious!"

He comes; they surround him with shouts of glee;
At the king's feet he sinks on the sod,
And hands him the beaker upon his knee;
To his lovely daughter the king gives a nod:
She fills it brim-full of wine sparkling and playing,
And then to the king the youth turned him saying:

"Long live the king! - Well doth he fare
Who breathes in this rosy light,
But, ah, it is horrible down there!
And man must not tempt the heavenly Might,
Or ever seek, with prying unwholesome,
What he graciously covers with darkness dolesome!

"It tore me down with a headlong swing;
Then a shaft in a rock outpours,
Wild-rushing against me, a torrent spring;
It seized me, the double stream's raging force,
And like a top, with giddy twisting,
It spun me round - there was no resisting!

"Then God did show me, sore beseeching
In deepest, frightfullest need,
Up from the bottom a rock-ledge reaching -
At it I caught, and from death was freed!
And, behold, on spiked corals the beaker suspended,
Which had else to the very abyss descended!

"For below me it lay yet mountain-deep
The purply darksome maw;
And though to the ear it was dead asleep,
The ghasted eye, down staring, saw
How with dragons, lizards, salamanders crawling,
The hell-jaws horrible were sprawling.

"Black swarming in medley miscreate,
In masses lumped hideously,
Wallowed the conger, the thorny skate,
The lobster's grisly deformity;
And bared its teeth with cruel sheen a
Terrible shark, the sea's hyena.

"And there I hung, and shuddering knew
That human help was none;
One thinking soul mid the horrid crew,
In the ghastly solitude I was alone -
Deeper than man's speech ever sounded,
By the waste sea's dismal monsters surrounded.

"I thought and shivered. Then something crept near,
Moved at once a hundred joints!
Now it will have me! - Frantic with fear
I lost my grasp of the coral points!
Away the whirl in its raging tore me,
But it was my salvation, and upward bore me!"

The king at the tale is filled with amaze: -
"The beaker, well won, is thine;
And this ring I will give thee too," he says,
"Precious with gems that are more than fine,
If thou dive yet once, and bring me the story -
What thou sawst in the sea's lowest repertory."

His daughter she hears with a tender dismay,
And her words sweet-suasive plead:
"Father, enough of this cruel play!
For you he has done an unheard-of deed!
And can you not master your soul's desire,
'Tis the knights' turn now to disgrace the squire!"

The king he snatches and hurls the cup
Into the swirling pool: -
"If thou bring me once more that beaker up,
My best knight I hold thee, most worshipful;
And this very day to thy home thou shall lead her
Who there for thee stands such a pitying pleader."

A heavenly passion his being invades,
His eyes dart a lightning ray;
He sees on her beauty the flushing shades,
He sees her grow pallid and sink away!
Determination thorough him flashes,
And downward for life or for death he dashes!

They hear the dull roar! - it is turning again,
Its herald the thunderous brawl!
Downward they bend with loving strain:
They come! they are coming, the waters all! -
They rush up! - they rush down! - up, down, for ever!
The youth again bring they never.


Through the unchanging heaven, as ye have sped,
Speed onward still, a strange wild company,
Fleet children of the waters! Glorious ye,
Whether the sun lift up his shining head,
High throned at noontide and established
Among the shifting pillars, or we see
The sable ghosts of air sleep mournfully
Against the sunlight, passionless and dead!
Take thus a glory, oh thou higher Sun,
From all the cloudy labour of man's hand -
Whether the quickening nations rise and run,
Or in the market-place we idly stand
Casting huge shadows over these thy plains -
Even thence, O God, draw thy rich gifts of rains.


Rich is the fancy which can double back
All seeming forms, and from cold icicles
Build up high glittering palaces where dwells
Summer perfection, moulding all this wrack
To spirit symmetry, and doth not lack
The power to hear amidst the funeral bells
The eternal heart's wind-melody which swells
In whirlwind flashes all along its track!
So hath the sun made all the winter mine
With gardens springing round me fresh and fair;
On hidden leaves uncounted jewels shine;
I live with forms of beauty everywhere,
Peopling the crumbling waste and icy pool
With sights and sounds of life most beautiful.


Tumultuous rushing o'er the outstretched plains;
A wildered maze of comets and of suns;
The blood of changeless God that ever runs
With quick diastole up the immortal veins;
A phantom host that moves and works in chains;
A monstrous fiction, which, collapsing, stuns
The mind to stupor and amaze at once;
A tragedy which that man best explains
Who rushes blindly on his wild career
With trampling hoofs and sound of mailed war,
Who will not nurse a life to win a tear,
But is extinguished like a falling star; -
Such will at times this life appear to me
Until I learn to read more perfectly.

_HOM. IL. v. 403._

If thou art tempted by a thought of ill,
Crave not too soon for victory, nor deem
Thou art a coward if thy safety seem
To spring too little from a righteous will;
For there is nightmare on thee, nor until
Thy soul hath caught the morning's early gleam
Seek thou to analyze the monstrous dream
By painful introversion; rather fill
Thine eye with forms thou knowest to be truth;
But see thou cherish higher hope than this, -
hope hereafter that thou shall be fit
Calm-eyed to face distortion, and to sit
Transparent among other forms of youth
Who own no impulse save to God and bliss.


And must I ever wake, gray dawn, to know
Thee standing sadly by me like a ghost?
I am perplexed with thee that thou shouldst cost
This earth another turning! All aglow
Thou shouldst have reached me, with a purple show
Along far mountain-tops! and I would post
Over the breadth of seas, though I were lost
In the hot phantom-chase for life, if so
Thou earnest ever with this numbing sense
Of chilly distance and unlovely light,
Waking this gnawing soul anew to fight
With its perpetual load: I drive thee hence!
I have another mountain-range from whence
Bursteth a sun unutterably bright!


"And yet it moves!" Ah, Truth, where wert thou then
When all for thee they racked each piteous limb?
Wert thou in heaven, and busy with thy hymn
When those poor hands convulsed that held thy pen?
Art thou a phantom that deceives! men
To their undoing? or dost thou watch him
Pale, cold, and silent in his dungeon dim?
And wilt thou ever speak to him again?
"It moves, it moves! Alas, my flesh was weak!
That was a hideous dream! I'll cry aloud
How the green bulk wheels sunward day by day!
Ah me! ah me! perchance my heart was proud
That I alone should know that word to speak!
And now, sweet Truth, shine upon these, I pray."


If thou wouldst live the Truth in very deed,
Thou hast thy joy, but thou hast more of pain.
Others will live in peace, and thou be fain
To bargain with despair, and in thy need
To make thy meal upon the scantiest weed.
These palaces, for thee they stand in vain;
Thine is a ruinous hut, and oft the rain
Shall drench thee in the midnight; yea, the speed
Of earth outstrip thee, pilgrim, while thy feet
Move slowly up the heights. Yet will there come
Through the time-rents about thy moving cell,
_Shot from the Truth's own bow, and flaming sweet,_
An arrow for despair, and oft the hum
Of far-off populous realms where spirits dwell.


Speak, Prophet of the Lord! We may not start
To find thee with us in thine ancient dress,
Haggard and pale from some bleak wilderness,
Empty of all save God and thy loud heart,
Nor with like rugged message quick to dart
Into the hideous fiction mean and base;
But yet, O prophet man, we need not less
But more of earnest, though it is thy part
To deal in other words, if thou wouldst smite
The living Mammon, seated, not as then
In bestial quiescence grimly dight,
But _robed as priest, and honoured of good men
Yet_ thrice as much an idol-god as when
He stared at his own feet from morn to night.


From out a windy cleft there comes a gaze
Of eyes unearthly, which go to and fro
Upon the people's tumult, for below
The nations smite each other: no amaze
Troubles their liquid rolling, or affrays
Their deep-set contemplation; steadily glow
Those ever holier eyeballs, for they grow
Liker unto the eyes of one that prays.
And if those clasped hands tremble, comes a power
As of the might of worlds, and they are holden
Blessing above us in the sunrise golden;
And they will be uplifted till that hour
Of terrible rolling which shall rise and shake
This conscious nightmare from us, and we wake.



One do I see and twelve; but second there
Methinks I know thee, thou beloved one;
Not from thy nobler port, for there are none
More quiet-featured: some there are who bear
Their message on their brows, while others wear
A look of large commission, nor will shun
The fiery trial, so their work is done;
But thou hast parted with thine eyes in prayer -
Unearthly are they both; and so thy lips
Seem like the porches of the spirit land;
For thou hast laid a mighty treasure by
Unlocked by Him in Nature, and thine eye
Burns with a vision and apocalypse
Thy own sweet soul can hardly understand.


A Boanerges too! Upon my heart
It lay a heavy hour: features like thine
Should glow with other message than the shine
Of the earth-burrowing levin, and the start
That cleaveth horrid gulfs! Awful and swart
A moment stoodest thou, but less divine -
Brawny and clad in ruin - till with mine
Thy heart made answering signals, and apart
Beamed forth thy two rapt eyeballs doubly clear
And twice as strong because thou didst thy duty,
And, though affianced to immortal Beauty,
Hiddest not weakly underneath her veil
The pest of Sin and Death which maketh pale:
Henceforward be thy spirit doubly dear!


There is not any weed but hath its shower,
There is not any pool but hath its star;
And black and muddy though the waters are
We may not miss the glory of a flower,
And winter moons will give them magic power
To spin in cylinders of diamond spar;
And everything hath beauty near and far,
And keepeth close and waiteth on its hour!
And I, when I encounter on my road
A human soul that looketh black and grim,
Shall I more ceremonious be than God?
Shall I refuse to watch one hour with him
Who once beside our deepest woe did bud
A patient watching flower about the brim?


'Tis not the violent hands alone that bring
The curse, the ravage, and the downward doom,
Although to these full oft the yawning tomb
Owes deadly surfeit; but a keener sting,
A more immortal agony will cling
To the half fashioned sin which would assume
Fair Virtue's garb; the eye that sows the gloom
With quiet seeds of Death henceforth to spring
What time the sun of passion burning fierce
Breaks through the kindly cloud of circumstance;
The bitter word, and the unkindly glance,
The crust and canker coming with the years,
Are liker Death than arrows and the lance
Which through the living heart at once doth pierce.


I pray you, all ye men who put your trust
In moulds and systems and well-tackled gear,
Holding that Nature lives from year to year
In one continual round because she must -
Set me not down, I pray you, in the dust
Of all these centuries, like a pot of beer -
A pewter-pot disconsolately clear,
Which holds a potful, as is right and just!
I will grow clamorous - by the rood, I will,
If thus ye use me like a pewter pot!
Good friend, thou art a toper and a sot -
will not be the lead to hold thy swill,
Nor any lead: I will arise and spill
Thy silly beverage - spill it piping hot!


Nature, to him no message dost thou bear
Who in thy beauty findeth not the power
To gird himself more strongly for the hour
Of night and darkness. Oh, what colours rare
The woods, the valleys, and the mountains wear
To him who knows thy secret, and, in shower,
And fog, and ice-cloud, hath a secret bower
Where he may rest until the heavens are fair!
Not with the rest of slumber, but the trance
Of onward movement steady and serene,

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe poetical works of George MacDonald in two volumes — Volume 2 → online text (page 14 of 20)