George MacDonald.

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

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Thy voice in far-off time I hear,
With sweet defending, say:
"The poor ye always have with you,
Me ye have not alway!"

Thou wouldst have said: "Go feed my poor,
The deed thou shalt not rue;
Wherever ye do my father's will
I always am with you."_


_Queen Mary one day Jesus sent
To fetch some water, legends tell;
The little boy, obedient,
Drew a full pitcher from the well;

But as he raised it to his head,
The water lipping with the rim,
The handle broke, and all was shed
Upon the stones about the brim.

His cloak upon the ground he laid
And in it gathered up the pool; [Proverbs xxx. 4.]
Obedient there the water staid,
And home he bore it plentiful._

Eligius said, "Tis fabled ill:
The hands that all the world control,
Had here been room for miracle,
Had made his mother's pitcher whole!

"Still, some few drops for thirsty need
A poor invention even, when told
In love of thee the Truth indeed,
Like broken pitcher yet may hold:

"Thy truth, alas, Lord, once I spilt:
I thought to bear the pitcher high;
Upon the shining stones of guilt
I slipped, and there the potsherds lie!

_"Master,_ I cried, _no man will drink,
No human thirst will e'er be stilled
Through me, who sit upon the brink,
My pitcher broke, thy water spilled!

"What will they do I waiting left?
They looked to me to bring thy law!
The well is deep, and, sin-bereft,
I nothing have wherewith to draw!"_

"But as I sat in evil plight,
With dry parched heart and sickened brain,
Uprose in me the water bright,
Thou gavest me thyself again!"


A little bird sat on the edge of her nest;
Her yellow-beaks slept as sound as tops;
Day-long she had worked almost without rest,
And had filled every one of their gibbous crops;
Her own she had filled just over-full,
And she felt like a dead bird stuffed with wool.

"Oh dear!" she sighed, as she sat with her head
Sunk in her chest, and no neck at all,
Looking like an apple on a feather-bed
Poked and rounded and fluffed to a ball,
"What's to be done if things don't reform?
I cannot tell where there is one more worm!

"I've had fifteen to-day, and the children five each,
Besides a few flies, and some very fat spiders:
Who will dare say I don't do as I preach?
I set an example to all providers!
But what's the use? We want a storm:
I don't know where there's a single worm!"

"There's five in my crop," chirped a wee, wee bird
Who woke at the voice of his mother's pain;
"I know where there's five!" And with the word
He tucked in his head and went off again.
"The folly of childhood," sighed his mother,
"Has always been my especial bother!"

Careless the yellow-beaks slept on,
They never had heard of the bogy, Tomorrow;
The mother sat outside making her moan -
"I shall soon have to beg, or steal, or borrow!
I have always to say, the night before,
Where shall I find one red worm more!"

Her case was this, she had gobbled too many,
And sleepless, had an attack she called foresight:
A barn of crumbs, if she knew but of any!
Could she but get of the great worm-store sight!
The eastern sky was growing red
Ere she laid her wise beak in its feather-bed.

Just then, the fellow who knew of five,
Nor troubled his sleep with anxious tricks,
Woke, and stirred, and felt alive:
"To-day," he said, "I am up to six!
But my mother feels in her lot the crook -
What if I tried my own little hook!"

When his mother awoke, she winked her eyes
As if she had dreamed that she was a mole:
Could she believe them? "What a huge prize
That child is dragging out of its hole!"
The fledgeling indeed had just caught his third!
_And here is a fable to catch the bird!_


"Good morrow, my lord!" in the sky alone
Sang the lark as the sun ascended his throne.
"Shine on me, my lord: I only am come,
Of all your servants, to welcome you home!
I have shot straight up, a whole hour, I swear,
To catch the first gleam of your golden hair."

"Must I thank you then," said the king, "sir Lark,
For flying so high and hating the dark?
You ask a full cup for half a thirst:
Half was love of me, half love to be first.
Some of my subjects serve better my taste:
Their watching and waiting means more than your haste."

King Sun wrapt his head in a turban of cloud;
Sir Lark stopped singing, quite vexed and cowed;
But higher he flew, for he thought, "Anon
The wrath of the king will be over and gone;
And, scattering his head-gear manifold,
He will change my brown feathers to a glory of gold!"

He flew, with the strength of a lark he flew,
But as he rose the cloud rose too;
And not one gleam of the flashing hair
Brought signal of favour across the air;
And his wings felt withered and worn and old,
For their feathers had had no chrism of gold.

Outwearied at length, and throbbing sore,
The strong sun-seeker could do no more;
He faltered and sank, then dropped like a stone
Beside his nest, where, patient, alone,
Sat his little wife on her little eggs,
Keeping them warm with wings and legs.

Did I say alone? Ah, no such thing!
There was the cloudless, the ray-crowned king!
"Welcome, sir Lark! - You look tired!" said he;
"_Up_ is not always the best way to me:
While you have been racing my turban gray,
I have been shining where you would not stay!"

He had set a coronet round the nest;
Its radiance foamed on the wife's little breast;
And so glorious was she in russet gold
That sir Lark for wonder and awe grew cold;
He popped his head under her wing, and lay
As still as a stone till king Sun went away.


_Bing, Bim, Bang, Bome!_
Sang the Bell to himself in his house at home,
High in the church-tower, lone and unseen,
In a twilight of ivy, cool and green;
With his _Bing, Bing, Bim, Bing, Bang, Bome!_
Singing bass to himself in his house at home.

Said the Owl, on a shadowy ledge below,
Like a glimmering ball of forgotten snow,
"Pest on that fellow sitting up there,
Always calling the people to prayer!
He shatters my nerves with his _Bing, Bang, Bome!_ - -
Far too big in his house at home!

"I think I will move. - But it suits me well,
And one may get used to it, who can tell!"
So he slept again with all his might,
Then woke and snooved out in the hush of night
When the Bell was asleep in his house at home,
Dreaming over his _Bing, Bang, Bome!_

For the Owl was born so poor and genteel
What could he do but pick and steal?
He scorned to work for honest bread -
"Better have never been hatched!" he said.
So his day was the night, for he dared not roam
Till sleep had silenced the _Bing, Bang, Bome!_

When five greedy Owlets chipped the egg
He wanted two beaks and another leg,
And they ate the more that they did not sleep well:
"It's their gizzards," said Owless; said Owl, "It's that Bell!"
For they quivered like leaves of a wind-blown tome
When the Bell bellowed out his _Bing, Bang, Bome!_

But the Bell began to throb with the fear
Of bringing his house about his one ear;
And his people came round it, quite a throng,
To buttress the walls and make them strong:
A full month he sat, and felt like a mome
Not daring to shout his _Bing, Bang, Bome!_

Said the Owl to himself, and hissed as he said,
"I trust in my heart the old fool is dead!
No more will he scare church-mice with his bounce,
And make them so thin they're scarce worth a pounce!
Once I will see him ere he's laid in the loam,
And shout in his ear _Bing, Bim, Bang, Bome!_"

"Hoo! hoo!" he cried, as he entered the steeple,
"They've hanged him at last, the righteous people!
His swollen tongue lolls out of his head!
Hoo! hoo! at last the old brute is dead!
There let him hang, the shapeless gnome,
Choked with a throatful of _Bing, Bang, Bome!_"

He fluttered about him, singing _Too-whoo!_
He flapped the poor Bell, and said, "Is that you?
You that never would matters mince,
Banging poor owls and making them wince?
A fig for you now, in your great hall-dome!
_Too-whit_ is better than _Bing, Bang, Bome!_"

Still braver he grew, the downy, the dapper;
He flew in and perched on the knob of the clapper,
And shouted _Too-whoo!_ An echo awoke
Like a far-off ghostly _Bing-Bang_ stroke:
"Just so!" he cried; "I am quite at home!
I will take his place with my _Bing, Bang, Bome!_"

He hissed with the scorn of his grand self-wonder,
And thought the Bell's tremble his own great thunder:
He sat the Jove of creation's fowl. -
_Bang!_ went the Bell - through the rope-hole the owl,
A fluffy avalanche, light as foam,
Loosed by the boom of the _Bing, Bang, Bome!_

He sat where he fell, as if he had meant it,
Ready for any remark anent it.
Said the eldest Owlet, "Pa, you were wrong;
He's at it again with his vulgar song!"
"Child," said the Owl, "of the mark you are wide:
I brought him to life by perching inside."

"Why did you, my dear?" said his startled wife;
"He has always been the plague of your life!"
"I have given him a lesson of good for evil:
Perhaps the old ruffian will now be civil!"
The Owl sat righteous, he raised his comb.
The Bell bawled on, _Bing, Bim, Bang, Bome!_


The croak of a raven hoar!
A dog's howl, kennel-tied!
Loud shuts the carriage-door:
The two are away on their ghastly ride
To Death's salt shore!

Where are the love and the grace?
The bridegroom is thirsty and cold!
The bride's skull sharpens her face!
But the coachman is driving, jubilant, bold,
The devil's pace.

The horses shivered and shook
Waiting gaunt and haggard
With sorry and evil look;
But swift as a drunken wind they staggered
'Longst Lethe brook.

Long since, they ran no more;
Heavily pulling they died
On the sand of the hopeless shore
Where never swelled or sank a tide,
And the salt burns sore.

Flat their skeletons lie,
White shadows on shining sand;
The crusted reins go high
To the crumbling coachman's bony hand
On his knees awry.

Side by side, jarring no more,
Day and night side by side,
Each by a doorless door,
Motionless sit the bridegroom and bride
On the Dead-Sea-shore.


A brown bird sang on a blossomy tree,
Sang in the moonshine, merrily,
Three little songs, one, two, and three,
A song for his wife, for himself, and me.

He sang for his wife, sang low, sang high,
Filling the moonlight that filled the sky;
"Thee, thee, I love thee, heart alive!
Thee, thee, thee, and thy round eggs five!"

He sang to himself, "What shall I do
With this life that thrills me through and through!
Glad is so glad that it turns to ache!
Out with it, song, or my heart will break!"

He sang to me, "Man, do not fear
Though the moon goes down and the dark is near;
Listen my song and rest thine eyes;
Let the moon go down that the sun may rise!"

I folded me up in the heart of his tune,
And fell asleep with the sinking moon;
I woke with the day's first golden gleam,
And, lo, I had dreamed a precious dream!


Love, the baby,
Crept abroad to pluck a flower:
One said, Yes, sir; one said, Maybe;
One said, Wait the hour.

Love, the boy,
Joined the youngsters at their play:
But they gave him little joy,
And he went away.

Love, the youth,
Roamed the country, quiver-laden;
From him fled away in sooth
Many a man and maiden!

Love, the man,
Sought a service all about;
But they called him feeble, one
They could do without.

Love, the aged,
Walking, bowed, the shadeless miles,
Read a volume many-paged,
Full of tears and smiles.

Love, the weary,
Tottered down the shelving road:
At its foot, lo, Night, the starry,
Meeting him from God!

"Love, the holy,"
Sang a music in her dome,
Sang it softly, sang it slowly,
"Love is coming home!"


In the air why such a ringing?
On the earth why such a droning?

In the air the lark is singing;
On the earth the wind is moaning.

"I am blest, in sunlight swinging!"
"Sad am I: the world lies groaning!"

In the sky the lark kept singing;
On the earth the wind kept moaning.


When the clock hath ceased to tick
Soul-like in the gloomy hall;
When the latch no more doth click
Tongue-like in the red peach-wall;
When no more come sounds of play,
Mice nor children romping roam,
Then looks down the eye of day
On a dead house, not a home!

But when, like an old sun's ghost,
Haunts her vault the spectral moon;
When earth's margins all are lost,
Melting shapes nigh merged in swoon,
Then a sound - hark! there again! -
No, 'tis not a nibbling mouse!
'Tis a ghost, unseen of men,
Walking through the bare-floored house!

And with lightning on the stair
To that silent upper room,
With the thunder-shaken air
Sudden gleaming into gloom,
With a frost-wind whistling round,
From the raging northern coasts,
Then, mid sieging light and sound,
All the house is live with ghosts!

Brother, is thy soul a cell
Empty save of glittering motes,
Where no live loves live and dwell,
Only notions, things, and thoughts?
Then thou wilt, when comes a Breath
Tempest-shaking ridge and post,
Find thyself alone with Death
In a house where walks no ghost.


It's all very well,
Said the Bell,
To be the big Organ below!
But the folk come and go,
Said the Bell,
And you never can tell
What sort of person the Organ will blow!
And, besides, it is much at the mercy of the weather
For 'tis all made in pieces and glued together!

But up in my cell
Next door to the sky,
Said the Bell,
I dwell
Very high;
And with glorious go
I swing to and fro;
I swing swift or slow,
I swing as I please,
With summons or knell;
I swing at my ease,
Said the Bell:
Not the tallest of men
Can reach up to touch me,
To smirch me or smutch me,
Or make me do what
I would not be at!
And, then,
The weather can't cause me to shrink or increase:
I chose to be made in one perfect piece!


"WHO is this little one lying,"
Said Time, "at my garden-gate,
Moaning and sobbing and crying,
Out in the cold so late?"

"They lurked until we came near,
Master and I," the child said,
"Then caught me, with 'Welcome, New-year!
Happy Year! Golden-head!'

"See Christmas-day, my Master,
On the meadow a mile away!
Father Time, make me run faster!
I'm the Shadow of Christmas-day!"

"Run, my child; still he's in sight!
Only look well to his track;
Little Shadow, run like the light,
He misses you at his back!"

Old Time sat down in the sun
On a grave-stone - his legs were numb:
"When the boy to his master has run,"
He said, "Heaven's New Year is come!"


A clock aeonian, steady and tall,
With its back to creation's flaming wall,
Stands at the foot of a dim, wide stair.
Swing, swang, its pendulum goes,
Swing - swang - here - there!
Its tick and its tack like the sledge-hammer blows
Of Tubal Cain, the mighty man!
But they strike on the anvil of never an ear,
On the heart of man and woman they fall,
With an echo of blessing, an echo of ban;
For each tick is a hope, each tack is a fear,
Each tick is a _Where_, each tack a _Not here_,
Each tick is a kiss, each tack is a blow,
Each tick says _Why_, each tack _I don't know_.
Swing, swang, the pendulum!
Tick and tack, and _go_ and _come_,
With a haunting, far-off, dreamy hum,
With a tick, tack, loud and dumb,
Swings the pendulum.

Two hands, together joined in prayer,
With a roll and a volley of spheric thunder;
Two hands, in hope spread half asunder,
An empty gulf of longing embrace;
Two hands, wide apart as they can fare
In a fear still coasting not touching Despair,
But turning again, ever round to prayer:
Two hands, human hands, pass with awful motion
From isle to isle of the sapphire ocean.

The silent, surfaceless ocean-face
Is filled with a brooding, hearkening grace;
The stars dream in, and sink fainting out,
And the sun and the moon go walking about,
Walking about in it, solemn and slow,
Solemn and slow, at a thinking pace,
Walking about in it to and fro,
Walking, walking about.

With open beak and half-open wing
Ever with eagerness quivering,
On the peak of the clock
Stands a cock:
Tip-toe stands the cock to crow -
Golden cock with silver call
Clear as trumpet tearing the sky!
No one yet has heard him cry,
Nor ever will till the hour supreme
When Self on itself shall turn with a scream,
What time the hands are joined on high
In a hoping, despairing, speechless sigh,
The perfect groan-prayer of the universe
When the darkness clings and will not disperse
Though the time is come, told ages ago,
For the great white rose of the world to blow:
- Tick, tack, to the waiting cock,
Tick, tack, goes the aeon-clock!

A polar bear, golden and gray,
Crawls and crawls around the top.
Black and black as an Ethiop
The great sea-serpent lies coiled beneath,
Living, living, but does not breathe.
For the crawling bear is so far away
That he cannot hear, by night or day,
The bourdon big of his deep bear-bass
Roaring atop of the silent face,
Else would he move, and none knows then
What would befall the sons of men!

Eat up old Time, O raging Bear;
Take Bald-head, and the children spare!
Lie still, O Serpent, nor let one breath
Stir thy pool and stay Time's death!
Steady, Hands! for the noon is nigh:
See the silvery ghost of the Dawning shy
Low on the floor of the level sky!
Warn for the strike, O blessed Clock;
Gather thy clarion breath, gold Cock;
Push on the month-figures, pale, weary-faced Moon;
Tick, awful Pendulum, tick amain;
And soon, oh, soon,
Lord of life, and Father of boon,
Give us our own in our arms again!

Then the great old clock to pieces will fall
Sans groaning of axle or whirring of wheel.
And away like a mist of the morning steal,
To stand no more in creation's hall;
Its mighty weights will fall down plumb
Into the regions where all is dumb;
No more will its hands, in horror or prayer,
Be lifted or spread at the foot of the stair
That springs aloft to the Father's room;
Its tick and its tack, _When? - Not now_,
Will cease, and its muffled groan below;
Its sapphire face will dissolve away
In the dawn of the perfect, love-potent day;
The serpent and bear will be seen no more,
Growling atop, or prone on the floor;
And up the stair will run as they please
The children to clasp the Father's knees.

O God, our father, Allhearts' All,
Open the doors of thy clockless hall!


Within my heart a worm had long been hid.
I knew it not when I went down and chid
Because some servants of my inner house
Had not, I found, of late been doing well,
But then I spied the horror hideous
Dwelling defiant in the inmost cell -
No, not the inmost, for there God did dwell!
But the small monster, softly burrowing,
Near by God's chamber had made itself a den,
And lay in it and grew, the noisome thing!
Aghast I prayed - 'twas time I did pray then!
But as I prayed it seemed the loathsome shape
Grew livelier, and did so gnaw and scrape
That I grew faint. Whereon to me he said -
Some one, that is, who held my swimming head,
"Lo, I am with thee: let him do his worst;
The creature is, but not his work, accurst;
Thou hating him, he is as a thing dead."
Then I lay still, nor thought, only endured.
At last I said, "Lo, now I am inured
A burgess of Pain's town!" The pain grew worse.
Then I cried out as if my heart would break.
But he, whom, in the fretting, sickening ache,
I had forgotten, spoke: "The law of the universe
Is this," he said: "Weakness shall be the nurse
Of strength. The help I had will serve thee too."
So I took courage and did bear anew.
At last, through bones and flesh and shrinking skin,
Lo, the thing ate his way, and light came in,
And the thing died. I knew then what it meant,
And, turning, saw the Lord on whom I leant.


A name of the Year. Some say the word means _a march of wolves_,
which wolves, running in single file, are the Months of the Year.
Others say the word means _the path of the light_.

O ye months of the year,
Are ye a march of wolves?
Lycabas! Lycabas! twelve to growl and slay?
Men hearken at night, and lie in fear,
Some men hearken all day!

Lycabas, verily thou art a gallop of wolves,
Gaunt gray wolves, gray months of the year, hunting in twelves,
Running and howling, head to tail,
In a single file, over the snow,
A long low gliding of silent horror and fear!
On and on, ghastly and drear,
Not a head turning, not a foot swerving, ye go,
Twelve making only a one-wolf track!
Onward ye howl, and behind we wail;
Wail behind your narrow and slack
Wallowing line, and moan and weep,
As ye draw it on, straight and deep,
Thorough the night so swart!
Behind you a desert, and eyes a-weary,
A long, bare highway, stony and dreary,
A hungry soul, and a wolf-cub wrapt,
A live wolf-cub, sharp-toothed, steel-chapt,
In the garment next the heart!

One of them hurt me sore!
Two of them hurt and tore!
Three of them made me bleed!
The fourth did a terrible deed,
Rent me the worst of the four!
Rent me, and shook me, and tore,
And ran away with a growl!
Lycabas, if I feared you a jot,
You, and your devils running in twelves,
Black-mouthed, hell-throated, straight-going wolves,
I would run like a wolf, I too, and howl!
I live, and I fear you not.

But shall I not hate you, low-galloping wolves
Hunting in ceaseless twelves?
Ye have hunted away my lambs!
Ye ran at them open-mouthed,
And your mouths were gleamy-toothed,
And their whiteness with red foam frothed,
And your throats were a purple-black gulf:
My lambs they fled, and they came not back!
Lovely white lambs they were, alack!
They fled afar and they left a track
Which at night, when the lone sky clears,
Glistens with Nature's tears!
Many a shepherd scarce thinks of a lamb
But he hears behind it the growl of a wolf,
And behind that the wail of its dam!

They ran, nor cried, but fled
From day's sweet pasture, from night's soft bed:
Ah me, the look in their eyes!
For behind them rushed the swallowing gulf,
The maw of the growl-throated wolf,
And they fled as the thing that speeds or dies:
They looked not behind,
But fled as over the grass the wind.

Oh my lambs, I would drop away
Into a night that never saw day
That so in your dear hearts you might say,
"_All is well for ever and aye!_"
Yet it was well to hurry away,
To hurry from me, your shepherd gray:
I had no sword to bite and slay,
And the wolfy Months were on your track!
It was well to start from work and play,
It was well to hurry from me away -
But why not once look back?

The wolves came panting down the lea -
What was left you but somewhere flee!
Ye saw the Shepherd that never grows old,
Ye saw the great Shepherd, and him ye knew,
And the wolves never once came near to you;
For he saw you coming, threw down his crook,
Ran, and his arms about you threw;
He gathered you into his garment's fold,
He kneeled, he gathered, he lifted you,
And his bosom and arms were full of you.
He has taken you home to his stronghold:
Out of the castle of Love ye look;
The castle of Love is now your home,
From the garden of Love you will never roam,
And the wolves no more shall flutter you.

Lycabas! Lycabas!
For all your hunting and howling and cries,
Your yelling of _woe_! and _alas_!
For all your thin tongues and your fiery eyes,
Your questing thorough the windy grass,
Your gurgling gnar, and your horrent hair,
And your white teeth that will not spare -
Wolves, I fear you never a jot,
Though you come at me with your mouths red-hot,
Eyes of fury, and teeth that foam:
Ye can do nothing but drive me home!
Wolves, wolves, you will lie one day -
Ye are lying even now, this very day,
Wolves in twelves, gaunt and gray,
At the feet of the Shepherd that leads the dams,
At the feet of the Shepherd that carries the lambs!

And now that I see you with my mind's eye,
What are you indeed? my mind revolves.
Are you, are you verily wolves?
I saw you only through twilight dark,
Through rain and wind, and ill could mark!
Now I come near - are you verily wolves?
Ye have torn, but I never saw you slay!
Me ye have torn, but I live to-day,
Live, and hope to live ever and aye!
Closer still let me look at you! -
Black are your mouths, but your eyes are true! -
Now, now I know you! - the Shepherd's sheep-dogs!
Friends of us sheep on the moors and bogs,
Lost so often in swamps and fogs!
Dear creatures, forgive me; I did you wrong;

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