George MacDonald.

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

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Low light, from the broad horizon's brim,
Lies wet on the flowing tide,
And mottles with shadows dun and dim
The mountain's rugged side.

Steadily, hasteless, o'er valley and hill.
O'er the moor, along the beach,
We ride, nor slacken our pace until
Some city of men we reach;
There, in the market, my horse stands still,
And I lift my voice and preach.

Wealth and poverty, age and youth
Around me gather and throng;
I tell them of justice, of wisdom, of truth,
Of mercy, and law, and wrong;
My words are moulded by right and ruth
To a solemn-chanted song.

They bring me questions which would be scanned,
That strife may be forgot;
Swerves my balance to neither hand,
The poor I favour no jot;
If a man withstand, out sweeps my brand.
I slay him upon the spot.

But what if my eye have in it a beam
And therefore spy his mote?
Righteousness only, wisdom supreme
Can tell the sheep from the goat!
Not thus I dream a wise man's dream,
Not thus take Wrong by the throat!

Lead Twilight home. I dare not kill;
The sword myself would scare. -
When the sun looks over the eastern hill,
Bring out my snow-white mare:
One labour is left which no one will
Deny me the right to share!

Take heed, my men, from crest to heel
Snow-white have no speck;
No curb, no bit her mouth must feel,
No tightening rein her neck;
No saddle-girth drawn with buckle of steel
Shall her mighty breathing check!

Lay on her a cloth of silver sheen,
Bring me a robe of white;
Wherever we go we must be seen
By the shining of our light -
A glistening splendour in forest green,
A star on the mountain-height.

With jar and shudder the gates unclose;
Out in the sun she leaps!
A unit of light and power she goes
Levelling vales and steeps:
The wind around her eddies and blows,
Before and behind her sleeps.

Oh joy, oh joy to ride the world
And glad, good tidings bear!
A flag of peace on the winds unfurled
Is the mane of my shining mare:
To the sound of her hoofs, lo, the dead stars hurled
Quivering adown the air!

Oh, the sun and the wind! Oh, the life and the love!
Where the serpent swung all day
The loud dove coos to the silent dove;
Where the web-winged dragon lay
In its hole beneath, on the rock above
Merry-tongued children play.

With eyes of light the maidens look up
As they sit in the summer heat
Twining green blade with golden cup -
They see, and they rise to their feet;
I call aloud, for I must not stop,
"Good tidings, my sisters sweet!"

For mine is a message of holy mirth
To city and land of corn;
Of praise for heaviness, plenty for dearth,
For darkness a shining morn:
Clap hands, ye billows; be glad, O earth,
For a child, a child is born!

Lo, even the just shall live by faith!
None argue of mine and thine!
Old Self shall die an ecstatic death
And be born a thing divine,
For God's own being and God's own breath
Shall be its bread and wine.

Ambition shall vanish, and Love be king,
And Pride to his darkness hie;
Yea, for very love of a living thing
A man would forget and die,
If very love were not the spring
Whence life springs endlessly!

The myrtle shall grow where grew the thorn;
Earth shall be young as heaven;
The heart with remorse or anger torn
Shall weep like a summer even;
For to us a child, a child is born,
Unto us a son is given!

Lord, with thy message I dare not ride!
I am a fool, a beast!
The little ones only from thy side
Go forth to publish thy feast!
And I, where but sons and daughters abide,
Would have walked about, a priest!

Take Snow-white back to her glimmering stall;
There let her stand and feed! -
I am overweening, ambitious, small,
A creature of pride and greed!
Let me wash the hoofs, let me be the thrall,
Jesus, of thy white steed!


From off the earth the vapours curled,
Went up to meet their joy;
The boy awoke, and all the world
Was waiting for the boy!

The sky, the water, the wide earth
Was full of windy play -
Shining and fair, alive with mirth,
All for his holiday!

The hill said "Climb me;" and the wood
"Come to my bosom, child;
Mine is a merry gamboling brood,
Come, and with them go wild."

The shadows with the sunlight played,
The birds were singing loud;
The hill stood up with pines arrayed -
He ran to join the crowd.

But long ere noon, dark grew the skies,
Pale grew the shrinking sun:
"How soon," he said, "for clouds to rise
When day was but begun!"

The wind grew rough; a wilful power
It swept o'er tree and town;
The boy exulted for an hour,
Then weary sat him down.

And as he sat the rain began,
And rained till all was still:
He looked, and saw a rainbow span
The vale from hill to hill.

He dried his tears. "Ah, now," he said,
"The storm was good, I see!
Yon pine-dressed hill, upon its head
I'll find the golden key!"

He thrid the copse, he climbed the fence,
At last the top did scale;
But, lo, the rainbow, vanished thence,
Was shining in the vale!

"Still, here it stood! yes, here," he said,
"Its very foot was set!
I saw this fir-tree through the red,
This through the violet!"

He searched and searched, while down the skies
Went slow the slanting sun.
At length he lifted hopeless eyes,
And day was nearly done!

Beyond the vale, above the heath,
High flamed the crimson west;
His mother's cottage lay beneath
The sky-bird's rosy breast.

"Oh, joy," he cried, "not _all_ the way
Farther from home we go!
The rain will come another day
And bring another bow!"

Long ere he reached his mother's cot,
Still tiring more and more,
The red was all one cold gray blot,
And night lay round the door.

But when his mother stroked his head
The night was grim in vain;
And when she kissed him in his bed
The rainbow rose again.

Soon, things that are and things that seem
Did mingle merrily;
He dreamed, nor was it all a dream,
His mother had the key.


A Microcosm In Terza Rima.


Quiet I lay at last, and knew no more
Whether I breathed or not, so worn I lay
With the death-struggle. What was yet before
Neither I met, nor turned from it away;
My only conscious being was the rest
Of pain gone dead - dead with the bygone day,
And long I could have lingered all but blest
In that half-slumber. But there came a sound
As of a door that opened - in the west
Somewhere I thought it. As the hare the hound,
The noise did start my eyelids and they rose.
I turned my eyes and looked. Then straight I found
It was my chamber-door that did unclose,
For a tall form up to my bedside drew.
Grand was it, silent, its very walk repose;
And when I saw the countenance, I knew
That I was lying in my chamber dead;
For this my brother - brothers such are few -
That now to greet me bowed his kingly head,
Had, many years agone, like holy dove
Returning, from his friends and kindred sped,
And, leaving memories of mournful love,
Passed vanishing behind the unseen veil;
And though I loved him, all high words above.
Not for his loss then did I weep or wail,
Knowing that here we live but in a tent,
And, seeking home, shall find it without fail.
Feeble but eager, toward him my hands went -
I too was dead, so might the dead embrace!
Taking me by the shoulders down he bent,
And lifted me. I was in sickly case,
But, growing stronger, stood up on the floor,
There turned, and once regarded my dead face
With curious eyes: its brow contentment wore,
But I had done with it, and turned away.
I saw my brother by the open door,
And followed him out into the night blue-gray.
The houses stood up hard in limpid air,
The moon hung in the heavens in half decay,
And all the world to my bare feet lay bare.


Now I had suffered in my life, as they
Must suffer, and by slow years younger grow,
From whom the false fool-self must drop away,
Compact of greed and fear, which, gathered slow,
Darkens the angel-self that, evermore,
Where no vain phantom in or out shall go,
Moveless beholds the Father - stands before
The throne of revelation, waiting there,
With wings low-drooping on the sapphire-floor,
Until it find the Father's ideal fair,
And be itself at last: not one small thorn
Shall needless any pilgrim's garments tear;
And but to say I had suffered I would scorn
Save for the marvellous thing that next befell:
Sudden I grew aware I was new-born;
All pain had vanished in the absorbent swell
Of some exalting peace that was my own;
As the moon dwelt in heaven did calmness dwell
At home in me, essential. The earth's moan
Lay all behind. Had I then lost my part
In human griefs, dear part with them that groan?
"'Tis weariness!" I said; but with a start
That set it trembling and yet brake it not,
I found the peace was love. Oh, my rich heart!
For, every time I spied a glimmering spot
Of window pane, "There, in that silent room,"
Thought I, "mayhap sleeps human heart whose lot
Is therefore dear to mine!" I cared for whom
I saw not, had not seen, and might not see!
After the love crept prone its shadow-gloom,
But instant a mightier love arose in me,
As in an ocean a single wave will swell,
And heaved the shadow to the centre: we
Had called it prayer, before on sleep I fell.
It sank, and left my sea in holy calm:
I gave each man to God, and all was well.
And in my heart stirred soft a sleeping psalm.


No gentlest murmur through the city crept;
Not one lone word my brother to me had spoken;
But when beyond the city-gate we stept
I knew the hovering silence would be broken.
A low night wind came whispering: through and through
It did baptize me with the pledge and token
Of that soft spirit-wind which blows and blew
And fans the human world since evermore.
The very grass, cool to my feet, I knew
To be love also, and with the love I bore
To hold far sympathy, silent and sweet,
As having known the secret from of yore
In the eternal heart where all things meet,
Feelings and thinkings, and where still they are bred.
Sudden he stood, and with arrested feet
I also. Like a half-sunned orb, his head
Slow turned the bright side: lo, the brother-smile
That ancient human glory on me shed
Clothed in which Jesus came forth to wile
Unto his bosom every labouring soul,
And all dividing passions to beguile
To winsome death, and then on them to roll
The blessed stone of the holy sepulchre!
"Thank God," he said, "thou also now art whole
And sound and well! For the keen pain, and stir
Uneasy, and sore grief that came to us all,
In that we knew not how the wine and myrrh
Could ever from the vinegar and gall
Be parted, are deep sunk, yea drowned in God;
And yet the past not folded in a pall,
But breathed upon, like Aaron's withered rod,
By a sweet light that brings the blossoms through,
Showing in dreariest paths that men have trod
Another's foot-prints, spotted of crimson hue,
Still on before wherever theirs did wend;
Yea, through the desert leading, of thyme and rue,
The desert souls in which young lions rend
And roar - the passionate who, to be blest,
Ravin as bears, and do not gain their end,
Because that, save in God, there is no rest."


Something my brother said to me like this,
But how unlike it also, think, I pray:
His eyes were music, and his smile a kiss;
Himself the word, his speech was but a ray
In the clear nimbus that with verity
Of absolute utterance made a home-born day
Of truth about him, lamping solemnly;
And when he paused, there came a swift repose,
Too high, too still to be called ecstasy -
A purple silence, lanced through in the close
By such keen thought that, with a sudden smiling,
It grew sheen silver, hearted with burning rose.
He was a glory full of reconciling,
Of faithfulness, of love with no self-stain,
Of tenderness, and care, and brother-wiling
Back to the bosom of a speechless gain.


I cannot tell how long we joyous talked,
For from my sense old time had vanished quite,
Space dim-remaining - for onward still we walked.
No sun arose to blot the pale, still night -
Still as the night of some great spongy stone
That turns but once an age betwixt the light
And the huge shadow from its own bulk thrown,
And long as that to me before whose face
Visions so many slid, and veils were blown
Aside from the vague vast of Isis' grace.
Innumerous thoughts yet throng that infinite hour,
And hopes which greater hopes unceasing chase,
For I was all responsive to his power.
I saw my friends weep, wept, and let them weep;
I saw the growth of each grief-nurtured flower;
I saw the gardener watching - in their sleep
Wiping their tears with the napkin he had laid
Wrapped by itself when he climbed Hades' steep;
What wonder then I saw nor was dismayed!
I saw the dull, degraded monsters nursed
In money-marshes, greedy men that preyed
Upon the helpless, ground the feeblest worst;
Yea all the human chaos, wild and waste,
Where he who will not leave what God hath cursed
Now fruitless wallows, now is stung and chased
By visions lovely and by longings dire.
"But who believeth, he shall not make haste,
Even passing through the water and the fire,
Or sad with memories of a better lot!
He, saved by hope, for all men will desire,
Knowing that God into a mustard-jot
May shut an aeon; give a world that lay
Wombed in its sun, a molten unorbed clot,
One moment from the red rim to spin away
Librating - ages to roll on weary wheel
Ere it turn homeward, almost spent its day!
Who knows love all, time nothing, he shall feel
No anxious heart, shall lift no trembling hand;
Tender as air, but clothed in triple steel,
He for his kind, in every age and land,
Hoping will live; and, to his labour bent,
The Father's will shall, doing, understand."
So spake my brother as we onward went:
His words my heart received, as corn the lea,
And answered with a harvest of content.
We came at last upon a lonesome sea.


And onward still he went, I following
Out on the water. But the water, lo,
Like a thin sheet of glass, lay vanishing!
The starry host in glorious twofold show
Looked up, looked down. The moment I saw this,
A quivering fear thorough my heart did go:
Unstayed I walked across a twin abyss,
A hollow sphere of blue; nor floor was found
Of questing eye, only the foot met the kiss
Of the cool water lightly crisping round
The edges of the footsteps! Terror froze
My fallen eyelids. But again the sound
Of my guide's voice on the still air arose:
"Hast thou forgotten that we walk by faith?
For keenest sight but multiplies the shows.
Lift up thine eyelids; take a valiant breath;
Terrified, dare the terror in God's name;
Step wider; trust the invisible. Can Death
Avail no more to hearten up thy flame?"
I trembled, but I opened wide mine eyes,
And strode on the invisible sea. The same
High moment vanished all my cowardice,
And God was with me. The well-pleased stars
Threw quivering smiles across the gulfy skies,
The white aurora flashed great scimitars
From north to zenith; and again my guide
Full turned on me his face. No prison-bars
Latticed across a soul I there descried,
No weather-stains of grief; quiet age-long
Brooded upon his forehead clear and wide;
Yet from that face a pang shot, vivid and strong,
Into my heart. For, though I saw him stand
Close to me in the void as one in a throng,
Yet on the border of some nameless land
He stood afar; a still-eyed mystery
Caught him whole worlds away. Though in my hand
His hand I held, and, gazing earnestly,
Searched in his countenance, as in a mine,
For jewels of contentment, satisfy
My heart I could not. Seeming to divine
My hidden trouble, gently he stooped and kissed
My forehead, and his arms did round me twine,
And held me to his bosom. Still I missed
That ancient earthly nearness, when we shared
One bed, like birds that of no morrow wist;
Roamed our one father's farm; or, later, fared
Along the dusty highways of the old clime.
Backward he drew, and, as if he had bared
My soul, stood reading there a little time,
While in his eyes tears gathered slow, like dew
That dims the grass at evening or at prime,
But makes the stars clear-goldener in the blue:
And on his lips a faint ethereal smile
Hovered, as hangs the mist of its own hue
Trembling about a purple flower, the while
Evening grows brown. "Brother! brother!" I cried;
But straight outbursting tears my words beguile,
And in my bosom all the utterance died.


A moment more he stood, then softly sighed.
"I know thy pain; but this sorrow is far
Beyond my help," his voice at length replied
To my beseeching tears. "Look at yon star
Up from the low east half-way, all ablaze:
Think'st thou, because no cloud between doth mar
The liquid glory that from its visage rays,
Thou therefore knowest that same world on high,
Its people and its orders and its ways?"
"What meanest thou?" I said. "Thou know'st that
Would hold, not thy dear form, but the self-thee!
Thou art not near me! For thyself I cry!"
"Not the less near that nearer I shall be.
I have a world within thou dost not know -
Would I could make thee know it! but all of me
Is thine, though thou not yet canst enter so
Into possession that betwixt us twain
The frolic homeliness of love should flow
As o'er the brim of childhood's cup again:
Away the deeper childhood first must wipe
That clouded consciousness which was our pain.
When in thy breast the godlike hath grown ripe,
And thou, Christ's little one, art ten times more
A child than when we played with drum and pipe
About our earthly father's happy door,
Then - " He ceased not; his holy utterance still
Flowing went on, like spring from hidden store
Of wasteless waters; but I wept my fill,
Nor heeded much the comfort of his speech.
At length he said: "When first I clomb the hill -
With earthly words I heavenly things would reach -
Where dwelleth now the man we used to call
Father, whose voice, oh memory dear! did teach
Us in our beds, when straight, as once a stall
Became a temple, holy grew the room,
Prone on the ground before him I did fall,
So grand he towered above me like a doom;
But now I look into the well-known face
Fearless, yea, basking blessed in the bloom
Of his eternal youthfulness and grace."
"But something separates us," yet I cried;
"Let light at least begin the dark to chase,
The dark begin to waver and divide,
And clear the path of vision. In the old time,
When clouds one heart did from the other hide,
A wind would blow between! If I would climb,
This foot must rise ere that can go up higher:
Some big A teach me of the eternal prime."
He answered me: "Hearts that to love aspire
Must learn its mighty harmony ere they can
Give out one perfect note in its great quire;
And thereto am I sent - oh, sent of one
Who makes the dumb for joy break out and sing:
He opens every door 'twixt man and man;
He to all inner chambers all will bring."


It was enough; Hope waked from dreary swound,
And Hope had ever been enough for me,
To kennel driving grim Tomorrow's hound;
From chains of school and mode she set me free,
And urged my life to living. - On we went
Across the stars that underlay the sea,
And came to a blown shore of sand and bent.
Beyond the sand a marshy moor we crossed
Silent - I, for I pondered what he meant,
And he, that sacred speech might not be lost -
And came at length upon an evil place:
Trees lay about like a half-buried host,
Each in its desolate pool; some fearful race
Of creatures was not far, for howls and cries
And gurgling hisses rose. With even pace
Walking, "Fear not," he said, "for this way lies
Our journey." On we went; and soon the ground
Slow from the waste began a gentle rise;
And tender grass in patches, then all round,
Came clouding up, with its fresh homely tinge
Of softest green cold-flushing every mound;
At length, of lowly shrubs a scattered fringe;
And last, a gloomy forest, almost blind,
For on its roof no sun-ray did impinge,
So that its very leaves did share the mind
Of a brown shadowless day. Not, all the year,
Once part its branches to let through a wind,
But all day long the unmoving trees appear
To ponder on the past, as men may do
That for the future wait without a fear,
And in the past the coming present view.


I know not if for days many or few
Pathless we thrid the wood; for never sun,
Its sylvan-traceried windows peeping through,
Mottled with brighter green the mosses dun,
Or meted with moving shadows Time the shade.
No life was there - not even a spider spun.
At length we came into a sky-roofed glade,
An open level, in a circle shut
By solemn trees that stood aside and made
Large room and lonely for a little hut
By grassy sweeps wide-margined from the wood.
'Twas built of saplings old, that had been cut
When those great trees no larger by them stood;
Thick with an ancient moss, it seemed to have grown
Thus from the old brown earth, a covert rude,
Half-house, half-grave; half-lifted up, half-prone.
To its low door my brother led me. "There
Is thy first school," he said; "there be thou shown
Thy pictured alphabet. Wake a mind of prayer,
And praying enter." "But wilt thou not come,
Brother?" I said. "No," said he. And I, "Where
Then shall I find thee? Thou wilt not leave me dumb,
And a whole world of thoughts unuttered?"
With half-sad smile and dewy eyes, and some
Conflicting motions of his kingly head,
He pointed to the open-standing door.
I entered: inward, lo, my shadow led!
I turned: his countenance shone like lightning hoar!
Then slow he turned from me, and parted slow,
Like one unwilling, whom I should see no more;
With voice nor hand said, _Farewell, I must go!_
But drew the clinging door hard to the post.
No dry leaves rustled 'neath his going; no
Footfalls came back from the departing ghost.
He was no more. I laid me down and wept;
I dared not follow him, restrained the most
By fear I should not see him if I leapt
Out after him with cries of pleading love.
Close to the wall, in hopeless loss, I crept;
There cool sleep came, God's shadow, from above.


I woke, with calmness cleansed and sanctified -
The peace that filled my heart of old, when I
Woke in my mother's lap; for since I died
The past lay bare, even to the dreaming shy
That shadowed my yet gathering unborn brain.
And, marvelling, on the floor I saw, close by
My elbow-pillowed head, as if it had lain
Beside me all the time I dreamless lay,
A little pool of sunlight, which did stain
The earthen brown with gold; marvelling, I say,
Because, across the sea and through the wood,
No sun had shone upon me all the way.
I rose, and through a chink the glade I viewed,
But all was dull as it had always been,
And sunless every tree-top round it stood,
With hardly light enough to show it green;
Yet through the broken roof, serenely glad,
By a rough hole entered that heavenly sheen.
Then I remembered in old years I had
Seen such a light - where, with dropt eyelids gloomed,
Sitting on such a floor, dark women sad
In a low barn-like house where lay entombed
Their sires and children; only there the door
Was open to the sun, which entering plumed
With shadowy palms the stones that on the floor
Stood up like lidless chests - again to find
That the soul needs no brain, but keeps her store
In hidden chambers of the eternal mind.
Thence backward ran my roused Memory
Down the ever-opening vista - back to blind
Anticipations while my soul did lie
Closed in my mother's; forward thence through bright
Spring morns of childhood, gay with hopes that fly
Bird-like across their doming blue and white,
To passionate summer noons, to saddened eves
Of autumn rain, so on to wintred night;
Thence up once more to the dewy dawn that weaves
Saffron and gold - weaves hope with still content,
And wakes the worship that even wrong bereaves
Of half its pain. And round her as she went
Hovered a sense as of an odour dear
Whose flower was far - as of a letter sent
Not yet arrived - a footstep coming near,
But, oh, how long delayed the lifting latch! -
As of a waiting sun, ready to peer
Yet peering not - as of a breathless watch

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe poetical works of George MacDonald in two volumes — Volume 2 → online text (page 3 of 20)