George MacDonald.

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

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Over a sleeping beauty - babbling rime
About her lips, but no winged word to catch!
And here I lay, the child of changeful Time
Shut in the weary, changeless Evermore,
A dull, eternal, fadeless, fruitless clime!
Was this the dungeon of my sinning sore -
A gentle hell of loneliness, foredoomed
For such as I, whose love was yet the core
Of all my being? The brown shadow gloomed
Persistent, faded, warm. No ripple ran
Across the air, no roaming insect boomed.
"Alas," I cried, "I am no living man!
Better were darkness and the leave to grope
Than light that builds its own drear prison! Can
This be the folding of the wings of Hope?"


That instant - through the branches overhead
No sound of going went - a shadow fell
Isled in the unrippled pool of sunlight fed
From some far fountain hid in heavenly dell.
I looked, and in the low roofs broken place
A single snowdrop stood - a radiant bell
Of silvery shine, softly subdued by grace
Of delicate green that made the white appear
Yet whiter. Blind it bowed its head a space,
Half-timid - then, as in despite of fear,
Unfolded its three rays. If it had swung
Its pendent bell, and music golden clear -
Division just entrancing sounds among -
Had flickered down as tender as flakes of snow,
It had not shed more influence as it rung
Than from its look alone did rain and flow.
I knew the flower; perceived its human ways;
Dim saw the secret that had made it grow:
My heart supplied the music's golden phrase.
Light from the dark and snowdrops from the earth,
Life's resurrection out of gross decays,
The endless round of beauty's yearly birth,
And nations' rise and fall - were in the flower,
And read themselves in silence. Heavenly mirth
Awoke in my sad heart. For one whole hour
I praised the God of snowdrops. But at height
The bliss gave way. Next, faith began to cower;
And then the snowdrop vanished from my sight.


Last, I began in unbelief to say:
"No angel this! a snowdrop - nothing more!
A trifle which God's hands drew forth in play
From the tangled pond of chaos, dank and frore,
Threw on the bank, and left blindly to breed!
A wilful fancy would have gathered store
Of evanescence from the pretty weed,
White, shapely - then divine! Conclusion lame
O'erdriven into the shelter of a creed!
Not out of God, but nothingness it came:
Colourless, feeble, flying from life's heat,
It has no honour, hardly shunning shame!"
When, see, another shadow at my feet!
Hopeless I lifted now my weary head:
Why mock me with another heavenly cheat? -
A primrose fair, from its rough-blanketed bed
Laughed, lo, my unbelief to heavenly scorn!
A sun-child, just awake, no prayer yet said,
Half rising from the couch where it was born,
And smiling to the world! I breathed again;
Out of the midnight once more dawned the morn,
And fled the phantom Doubt with all his train.


I was a child once more, nor pondered life,
Thought not of what or how much. All my soul
With sudden births of lovely things grew rife.
In peeps a daisy: on the instant roll
Rich lawny fields, with red tips crowding the green,
Across the hollows, over ridge and knoll,
To where the rosy sun goes down serene.
From out of heaven in looks a pimpernel:
I walk in morning scents of thyme and bean;
Dewdrops on every stalk and bud and bell
Flash, like a jewel-orchard, many roods;
Glow ruby suns, which emerald suns would quell;
Topaz saint-glories, sapphire beatitudes
Blaze in the slanting sunshine all around;
Above, the high-priest-lark, o'er fields and woods -
Rich-hearted with his five eggs on the ground -
The sacrifice bore through the veil of light,
Odour and colour offering up in sound. -
Filled heart-full thus with forms of lowly might
And shapeful silences of lovely lore,
I sat a child, happy with only sight,
And for a time I needed nothing more.


Supine to the revelation I did lie,
Passive as prophet to his dreaming deep,
Or harp Aeolian to the breathing sky,
And blest as any child whom twilight sleep
Holds half, and half lets go. But the new day
Of higher need up-dawned with sudden leap:
"Ah, flowers," I said, "ye are divinely gay,
But your fair music is too far and fine!
Ye are full cups, yet reach not to allay
The drought of those for human love who pine
As the hart for water-brooks!" At once a face
Was looking in my face; its eyes through mine
Were feeding me with tenderness and grace,
And by their love I knew my mother's eyes.
Gazing in them, there grew in me apace
A longing grief, and love did swell and rise
Till weeping I brake out and did bemoan
My blameful share in bygone tears and cries:
"O mother, wilt thou plead for me?" I groan;
"I say not, plead with Christ, but plead with those
Who, gathered now in peace about his throne,
Were near me when my heart was full of throes,
And longings vain alter a flying bliss,
Which oft the fountain by the threshold froze:
They must forgive me, mother! Tell them this:
No more shall swell the love-dividing sigh;
Down at their feet I lay my selfishness."
The face grew passionate at this my cry;
The gathering tears up to its eyebrims rose;
It grew a trembling mist, that did not fly
But slow dissolved. I wept as one of those
Who wake outside the garden of their dream,
And, lo, the droop-winged hours laborious close
Its opal gates with stone and stake and beam.


But glory went that glory more might come.
Behold a countless multitude - no less!
A host of faces, me besieging, dumb
In the lone castle of my mournfulness!
Had then my mother given the word I sent,
Gathering my dear ones from the shining press?
And had these others their love-aidance lent
For full assurance of the pardon prayed?
Would they concentre love, with sweet intent,
On my self-love, to blast the evil shade?
Ah, perfect vision! pledge of endless hope!
Oh army of the holy spirit, arrayed
In comfort's panoply! For words I grope -
For clouds to catch your radiant dawn, my own,
And tell your coming! From the highest cope
Of blue, down to my roof-breach came a cone
Of faces and their eyes on love's will borne,
Bright heads down-bending like the forward blown,
Heavy with ripeness, golden ears of corn,
By gentle wind on crowded harvest-field,
All gazing toward my prison-hut forlorn
As if with power of eyes they would have healed
My troubled heart, making it like their own
In which the bitter fountain had been sealed,
And the life-giving water flowed alone!


With what I thus beheld, glorified then,
"God, let me love my fill and pass!" I sighed,
And dead, for love had almost died again.
"O fathers, brothers, I am yours!" I cried;
"O mothers, sisters. I am nothing now
Save as I am yours, and in you sanctified!
O men, O women, of the peaceful brow,
And infinite abysses in the eyes
Whence God's ineffable gazes on me, how
Care ye for me, impassioned and unwise?
Oh ever draw my heart out after you!
Ever, O grandeur, thus before me rise
And I need nothing, not even for love will sue!
I am no more, and love is all in all!
Henceforth there is, there can be nothing new -
All things are always new!" Then, like the fall
Of a steep avalanche, my joy fell steep:
Up in my spirit rose as it were the call
Of an old sorrow from an ancient deep;
For, with my eyes fixed on the eyes of him
Whom I had loved before I learned to creep -
God's vicar in his twilight nursery dim
To gather us to the higher father's knee -
I saw a something fill their azure rim
That caught him worlds and years away from me;
And like a javelin once more through me passed
The pang that pierced me walking on the sea:
"O saints," I cried, "must loss be still the last?"


When I said this, the cloud of witnesses
Turned their heads sideways, and the cloud grew dim
I saw their faces half, but now their bliss
Gleamed low, like the old moon in the new moon's rim.
Then as I gazed, a better kind of light
On every outline 'gan to glimmer and swim,
Faint as the young moon threadlike on the night,
Just born of sunbeams trembling on her edge:
'Twas a great cluster of profiles in sharp white.
Had some far dawn begun to drive a wedge
Into the night, and cleave the clinging dark?
I saw no moon or star, token or pledge
Of light, save that manifold silvery mark,
The shining title of each spirit-book.
Whence came that light? Sudden, as if a spark
Of vital touch had found some hidden nook
Where germs of potent harmonies lay prest,
And their outbursting life old Aether shook,
Rose, as in prayer to lingering promised guest,
From that great cone of faces such a song,
Instinct with hope's harmonical unrest,
That with sore weeping, and the cry "How long?"
I bore my part because I could not sing.
And as they sang, the light more clear and strong
Bordered their faces, till the glory-sting
I could almost no more encounter and bear;
Light from their eyes, like water from a spring,
Flowed; on their foreheads reigned their flashing hair;
I saw the light from eyes I could not see.
"He comes! he comes!" they sang, "comes to our prayer!"
"Oh my poor heart, if only it were _He!_"
I cried. Thereat the faces moved! those eyes
Were turning on me! In rushed ecstasy,
And woke me to the light of lower skies.


"What matter," said I, "whether clank of chain
Or over-bliss wakes up to bitterness!"
Stung with its loss, I called the vision vain.
Yet feeling life grown larger, suffering less,
Sleep's ashes from my eyelids I did brush.
The room was veiled, that morning should not press
Upon the slumber which had stayed the rush
Of ebbing life; I looked into the gloom:
Upon her brow the dawn's first grayest flush,
And on her cheek pale hope's reviving bloom,
Sat, patient watcher, darkling and alone,
She who had lifted me from many a tomb!
One then was left me of Love's radiant cone!
Its light on her dear face, though faint and wan,
Was shining yet - a dawn upon it thrown
From the far coming of the Son of Man!


In every forehead now I see a sky
Catching the dawn; I hear the wintriest breeze
About me blow the news the Lord is nigh.
Long is the night, dark are the polar seas,
Yet slanting suns ascend the northern hill.
Round Spring's own steps the oozy waters freeze
But hold them not. Dreamers are sleeping still,
But labourers, light-stung, from their slumber start:
Faith sees the ripening ears with harvest fill
When but green blades the clinging earth-clods part.


Lord, I have spoken a poor parable,
In which I would have said thy name alone
Is the one secret lying in Truth's well,
Thy voice the hidden charm in every tone,
Thy face the heart of every flower on earth,
Its vision the one hope; for every moan
Thy love the cure! O sharer of the birth
Of little children seated on thy knee!
O human God! I laugh with sacred mirth
To think how all the laden shall go free;
For, though the vision tarry, in healing ruth
One morn the eyes that shone in Galilee
Will dawn upon them, full of grace and truth,
And thy own love - the vivifying core
Of every love in heart of age or youth,
Of every hope that sank 'neath burden sore!


A Part Of The Story Omitted In The Old Romances.


_How sir Galahad despaired of finding the Grail._

Through the wood the sunny day
Glimmered sweetly glad;
Through the wood his weary way
Rode sir Galahad.

All about stood open porch,
Long-drawn cloister dim;
'Twas a wavering wandering church
Every side of him.

On through columns arching high,
Foliage-vaulted, he
Rode in thirst that made him sigh,
Longing miserably.

Came the moon, and through the trees
Glimmered faintly sad;
Withered, worn, and ill at ease
Down lay Galahad;

Closed his eyes and took no heed
What might come or pass;
Heard his hunger-busy steed
Cropping dewy grass.

Cool and juicy was the blade,
Good to him as wine:
For his labour he was paid,
Galahad must pine!

Late had he at Arthur's board,
Arthur strong and wise,
Pledged the cup with friendly lord,
Looked in ladies' eyes;

Now, alas! he wandered wide,
Resting never more,
Over lake and mountain-side,
Over sea and shore!

Swift in vision rose and fled
All he might have had;
Weary tossed his restless head,
And his heart grew sad.

With the lowliest in the land
He a maiden fair
Might have led with virgin hand
From the altar-stair:

Youth away with strength would glide,
Age bring frost and woe;
Through the world so dreary wide
Mateless he must go!

Lost was life and all its good,
Gone without avail!
All his labour never would
Find the Holy Grail!


_How sir Galahad found and lost the Grail._

Galahad was in the night,
And the wood was drear;
But to men in darksome plight
Radiant things appear:

Wings he heard not floating by,
Heard no heavenly hail;
But he started with a cry,
For he saw the Grail.

Hid from bright beholding sun,
Hid from moonlight wan,
Lo, from age-long darkness won,
It was seen of man!

Three feet off, on cushioned moss,
As if cast away,
Homely wood with carven cross,
Rough and rude it lay!

To his knees the knight rose up,
Loosed his gauntlet-band;
Fearing, daring, toward the cup
Went his naked hand;

When, as if it fled from harm,
Sank the holy thing,
And his eager following arm
Plunged into a spring.

Oh the thirst, the water sweet!
Down he lay and quaffed,
Quaffed and rose up on his feet,
Rose and gayly laughed;

Fell upon his knees to thank,
Loved and lauded there;
Stretched him on the mossy bank,
Fell asleep in prayer;

Dreamed, and dreaming murmured low
Ave, pater, creed;
When the fir-tops gan to glow
Waked and called his steed;

Bitted him and drew his girth,
Watered from his helm:
Happier knight or better worth
Was not in the realm!

Belted on him then his sword,
Braced his slackened mail;
Doubting said: "I dreamed the Lord
Offered me the Grail."


_How sir Galahad gave up the Quest for the Grail._

Ere the sun had cast his light
On the water's face,
Firm in saddle rode the knight
From the holy place,

Merry songs began to sing,
Let his matins bide;
Rode a good hour pondering,
And was turned aside,

Saying, "I will henceforth then
Yield this hopeless quest;
Tis a dream of holy men
This ideal Best!"

"Every good for miracle
Heart devout may hold;
Grail indeed was that fair well
Full of water cold!

"Not my thirst alone it stilled
But my soul it stayed;
And my heart, with gladness filled,
Wept and laughed and prayed!

"Spectral church with cryptic niche
I will seek no more;
That the holiest Grail is, which
Helps the need most sore!"

And he spake with speech more true
Than his thought indeed,
For not yet the good knight knew
His own sorest need.


_How sir Galahad sought yet again for the Grail._

On he rode, to succour bound,
But his faith grew dim;
Wells for thirst he many found,
Water none for him.

Never more from drinking deep
Rose he up and laughed;
Never more did prayerful sleep
Follow on the draught.

Good the water which they bore,
Plenteously it flowed,
Quenched his thirst, but, ah, no more
Eased his bosom's load!

For the _Best_ no more he sighed;
Rode as in a trance;
Life grew poor, undignified,
And he spake of chance.

Then he dreamed through Jesus' hand
That he drove a nail -
Woke and cried, "Through every land,
Lord, I seek thy Grail!"


_That sir Galahad found the Grail._

Up the quest again he took,
Rode through wood and wave;
Sought in many a mossy nook,
Many a hermit-cave;

Sought until the evening red
Sunk in shadow deep;
Sought until the moonlight fled;
Slept, and sought in sleep.

Where he wandered, seeking, sad,
Story doth not say,
But at length sir Galahad
Found it on a day;

Took the Grail with holy hand,
Had the cup of joy;
Carried it about the land,
Gleesome as a boy;

Laid his sword where he had found
Boot for every bale,
Stuck his spear into the ground,
Kept alone the Grail.


_How sir Galahad carried about the Grail._

Horse and crested helmet gone,
Greaves and shield and mail,
Caroling loud the knight walked on,
For he had the Grail;

Caroling loud walked south and north,
East and west, for years;
Where he went, the smiles came forth,
Where he left, the tears.

Glave nor dagger mourned he,
Axe nor iron flail:
Evil might not brook to see
Once the Holy Grail.

Wilds he wandered with his staff,
Woods no longer sad;
Earth and sky and sea did laugh
Round sir Galahad.

Bitter mere nor trodden pool
Did in service fail,
Water all grew sweet and cool
In the Holy Grail.

Without where to lay his head,
Chanting loud he went;
Found each cave a palace-bed,
Every rock a tent.

Age that had begun to quail
In the gathering gloom,
Counselled he to seek the Grail
And forget the tomb.

Youth with hope or passion pale,
Youth with eager eyes,
Taught he that the Holy Grail
Was the only prize.

Maiden worn with hidden ail,
Restless and unsure,
Taught he that the Holy Grail
Was the only cure.

Children rosy in the sun
Ran to hear his tale
How twelve little ones had won
Each of them the Grail.


_How sir Galahad hid the Grail._

Very still was earth and sky
When he passing lay;
Oft he said he should not die,
Would but go away.

When he passed, they reverent sought,
Where his hand lay prest,
For the cup he bare, they thought,
Hidden in his breast.

Hope and haste and eager thrill
Turned to sorrowing wail:
Hid he held it deeper still,
Took with him the Grail.


Where went the feet that hitherto have come?
Here yawns no gulf to quench the flowing past!
With lengthening pauses broke, the path grows dumb;
The grass floats in; the gazer stands aghast.

Tremble not, maiden, though the footprints die;
By no air-path ascend the lark's clear notes;
The mighty-throated when he mounts the sky
Over some lowly landmark sings and floats.

Be of good cheer. Paths vanish from the wave;
There all the ships tear each its track of gray;
Undaunted they the wandering desert brave:
In each a magic finger points the way.

No finger finely touched, no eye of lark
Hast thou to guide thy steps where footprints fail?
Ah, then, 'twere well to turn before the dark,
Nor dream to find thy dreams in yonder vale!

The backward way one hour is plain to thee,
Hard hap were hers who saw no trace behind!
Back to confession at thy mother's knee,
Back to the question and the childlike mind!

Then start afresh, but toward unending end,
The goal o'er which hangs thy own star all night;
So shalt thou need no footprints to befriend,
Child-heart and shining star will guide thee right.


"Traveller, what lies over the hill?
Traveller, tell to me:
Tip-toe-high on the window-sill
Over I cannot see."

"My child, a valley green lies there,
Lovely with trees, and shy;
And a tiny brook that says, 'Take care,
Or I'll drown you by and by!'"

"And what comes next?" - "A little town,
And a towering hill again;
More hills and valleys up and down,
And a river now and then."

"And what comes next?" - "A lonely moor
Without one beaten way,
And slow clouds drifting dull before
A wind that will not stay."

"And then?" - "Dark rocks and yellow sand,
Blue sea and a moaning tide."
"And then?" - "More sea, and then more land,
With rivers deep and wide."

"And then?" - "Oh, rock and mountain and vale,
Ocean and shores and men,
Over and over, a weary tale,
And round to your home again!"

"And is that all? From day to day,
Like one with a long chain bound,
Should I walk and walk and not get away,
But go always round and round?"

"No, no; I have not told you the best,
I have not told you the end:
If you want to escape, away in the west
You will see a stair ascend,

"Built of all colours of lovely stones,
A stair up into the sky
Where no one is weary, and no one moans,
Or wishes to be laid by."

"Is it far away?" - "I do not know:
You must fix your eyes thereon,
And travel, travel through thunder and snow,
Till the weary way is gone.

"All day, though you never see it shine,
You must travel nor turn aside,
All night you must keep as straight a line
Through moonbeams or darkness wide."

"When I am older!" - "Nay, not so!"
"I have hardly opened my eyes!"
"He who to the old sunset would go,
Starts best with the young sunrise."

"Is the stair right up? is it very steep?"
"Too steep for you to climb;
You must lie at the foot of the glorious heap
And patient wait your time."

"How long?" - "Nay, that I cannot tell."
"In wind, and rain, and frost?"
"It may be so; and it is well
That you should count the cost.

"Pilgrims from near and from distant lands
Will step on you lying there;
But a wayfaring man with wounded hands
Will carry you up the stair."


Brother artist, help me; come!
Artists are a maimed band:
I have words but not a hand;
Thou hast hands though thou art dumb.

Had I thine, when words did fail -
Vassal-words their hasting chief,
On the white awaiting leaf
Shapes of power should tell the tale.

Had I hers of music-might,
I would shake the air with storm
Till the red clouds trailed enorm
Boreal dances through the night.

Had I his whose foresight rare
Piles the stones with lordliest art,
From the quarry of my heart
Love should climb a heavenly stair!

Had I his whose wooing slow
Wins the marble's hidden child,
Out in passion undefiled
Stood my Psyche, white as snow!

Maimed, a little help I pray;
Words suffice not for my end;
Let thy hand obey thy friend,
Say for me what I would say.

Draw me, on an arid plain
With hoar-headed mountains nigh,
Under a clear morning sky
Telling of a night of rain,

Huge and half-shaped, like a block
Chosen for sarcophagus
By a Pharaoh glorious,
One rude solitary rock.

Cleave it down along the ridge
With a fissure yawning deep
To the heart of the hard heap,
Like the rent of riving wedge.

Through the cleft let hands appear,
Upward pointed with pressed palms
As if raised in silent psalms
For salvation come anear.

Turn thee now - 'tis almost done! -
To the near horizon's verge:
Make the smallest arc emerge
Of the forehead of the sun.

One thing more - I ask too much! -
From a brow which hope makes brave
Sweep the shadow of the grave
With a single golden touch.

Thanks, dear painter; that is all.
If thy picture one day should
Need some words to make it good,
I am ready to thy call.


The monk was praying in his cell,
With bowed head praying sore;
He had been praying on his knees
For two long hours and more.

As of themselves, all suddenly,
His eyelids opened wide;
Before him on the ground he saw
A man's feet close beside;

And almost to the feet came down
A garment wove throughout;
Such garment he had never seen
In countries round about!

His eyes he lifted tremblingly
Until a hand they spied:
A chisel-scar on it he saw,
And a deep, torn scar beside.

His eyes they leaped up to the face,
His heart gave one wild bound,
Then stood as if its work were done -
The Master he had found!

With sudden clang the convent bell
Told him the poor did wait
His hand to give the daily bread
Doled at the convent-gate.

Then Love rose in him passionate,
And with Duty wrestled strong;
And the bell kept calling all the time
With merciless iron tongue.

The Master stood and looked at him
He rose up with a sigh:
"He will be gone when I come back
I go to him by and by!"

He chid his heart, he fed the poor
All at the convent-gate;
Then with slow-dragging feet went back
To his cell so desolate:

His heart bereaved by duty done,
He had sore need of prayer!
Oh, sad he lifted the latch! - and, lo,
The Master standing there!

He said, "My poor had not to stand
Wearily at thy gate:
For him who feeds the shepherd's sheep
The shepherd will stand and wait."

_Yet, Lord - for thou would'st have us judge,
And I will humbly dare -
If he had staid, I do not think
Thou wouldst have left him there.

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe poetical works of George MacDonald in two volumes — Volume 2 → online text (page 4 of 20)