Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834 / Devon / England)
Religious Musings : A Desultory Poem Written On The Christmas Eve Of 1794
What tho' first,
In years unseason'd, I attuned the lay
To idle passion and unreal woe?
Yet serious truth her empire o'er my song
Hath now asserted : falsehood's evil brood
Vice and deceitful pleasure, she at once
Excluded, and my fancy's careless toil
Drew to the better cause! ~Akenside
Introduction. Person of Christ. His prayer on the cross. The process of his doctrines on the mind of the individual. Character of the elect. Superstition. Digression to the present war. Origin and uses of government and property. The present state of society. French revolution. Millennium. Universal redemption. Conclusion.
This is the time, when most divine to hear
The voice of Adoration rouses me,
As with a Cherub's trump: and high upborne,
Yea, mingling with the Choir, I seem to view
The vision of the heavenly multitude,
Who hymned the song of Peace o'er Bethlehem's fields!
Yet thou more bright than all the Angel-blaze,
That harbingered thy birth, Thou Man of Woes!
Despiséd Galilaean ! For the Great
Invisible (by symbols only seen)
With a peculiar and surpassing light
Shines from the visage of the oppressed good man,
When heedless of himself the scourgéd saint
Mourns for the oppressor. Fair the vernal mead,
Fair the high grove, the sea, the sun, the stars ;
True impress each of their creating Sire !
Yet nor high grove, nor many-colour'd mead,
Nor the green ocean with his thousand isles,
Nor the starred azure, nor the sovran sun,
E'er with such majesty of portraiture
Imaged the supreme beauty uncreate,
As thou, meek Saviour ! at the fearful hour
When thy insulted anguish winged the prayer
Harped by Archangels, when they sing of mercy !
Which when the Almighty heard from forth his throne
Diviner light filled Heaven with ecstasy !
Heaven's hymnings paused : and Hell her yawning mouth
Closed a brief moment.
Lovely was the death
Of Him whose life was Love ! Holy with power
He on the thought-benighted Sceptic beamed
Manifest Godhead, melting into day
What floating mists of dark idolatry
Broke and misshaped the omnipresent Sire :
And first by Fear uncharmed the drowséd Soul
Till of its nobler nature it 'gan feel
Dim recollections; and thence soared to Hope.
Strong to believe whate'er of mystic good
The Eternal dooms for His immortal sons.
From Hope and firmer Faith to perfect Love
Attracted and absorbed : and centered there
God only to behold, and know, and feel,
Till by exclusive consciousness of God
All self-annihilated it shall make
God its Identity : God all in all !
We and our Father one !
And blest are they,
Who in this fleshly World, the elect of Heaven,
Their strong eye darting through the deeds of me
Adore with steadfast unpresuming gaze
Him Nature's essence, mind, and energy !
And gazing, trembling, patiently ascend
Treading beneath their feet all visible things
As steps, that upward to their Father's throne
Lead gradual--else nor glorified nor loved.
They nor contempt embosom nor revenge :
For they dare know of what may seem deform
The Supreme Fair sole operant : in whose sight
All things are pure, his strong controlling love
Alike from all educing perfect good.
Their's too celestial courage, inly armed--
Dwarfing Earth's giant brood, what time they muse
On their great Father, great beyond compare !
And marching onwards view high o'er their heads
His waving banners of Omnipotence.
Who the Creator love, created Might
Dread not : within their tents no Terrors walk.
For they are holy things before the Lord
Aye unprofaned, though Earth should league with Hell;
God's altar grasping with an eager hand
Fear, the wild-visag'd, pale, eye-starting wretch,
Sure-refug'd hears his hot pursuing fiends
Yell at vain distance. Soon refresh'd from Heaven
He calms the throb and tempest of his heart
His countenance settles; a soft solemn bliss
Swims in his eye--his swimming eye uprais'd
And Faith's whole armour glitters on his limbs !
And thus transfigured with a dreadless awe,
A solemn hush of soul, meek he beholds
All things of terrible seeming : yea, unmoved
Views e'en the immitigable ministers
That shower down vengeance on these latter days.
For kindling with intenser Deity
From the celestial Mercy-seat they come,
And at the renovating wells of Love
Have fill'd their vials with salutary wrath,
To sickly Nature more medicinal
Than what soft balm the weeping good man pours
Into the lone despoiléd traveller's wounds !
Thus from the Elect, regenerate through faith
Pass the dark Passions and what thirsty cares
Drink up the spirit, and the dim regards
Self-centre. Lo they vanish ! or acquire
New names, new features--by supernal grace
Enrobed with Light, and naturalised in Heaven.
As when a shepherd on a vernal morn
Through some thick fog creeps timorous with slow foot
Darkling he fixes on the immediate road
His downward eye : all else of fairest kind
Hid or deformed. But lo ! the bursting Sun !
Touched by the enchantment of that sudden beam
Straight the black vapour melteth, and in globes
Of dewy glitter gems each plant and tree;
On every leaf, on every blade it hangs !
Dance glad the new-born intermingling rays,
And wide around the landscape streams with glory !
There is one Mind, one omnipresent Mind,
Omnific. His most holy name is LOVE.
Truth of subliming import ! with the which
Who feeds and saturates his constant soul,
He from his small particular orbit flies
With blest outstarting ! From himself he flies,
Stands in the sun, and with no partial gaze
Views all creation; and he loves it all,
And blesses it, and calls it very good !
This is indeed to dwell with the Most High !
Cherubs and rapture-trembling Seraphim
Can press no nearer to the Almighty's throne.
But that we roam unconscious, or with hearts
Unfeeling of our universal Sire,
And that in His vast family no Cain
Injures uninjured (in her best-aimed blow
Victorious Murder a blind Suicide)
Haply for this some younger Angel now
Looks down on Human Nature : and, behold !
A sea of blood bestrewed with wrecks, where mad
Embattling Interests on each other rush
With unhelmed rage !
Tis the sublime of man,
Our noontide Majesty, to know ourselves
Parts and proportions of one wondrous whole !
This fraternises man, this constitutes
Our charities and bearings. But 'tis God
Diffused through all, that cloth make all one whole;
This the worst superstition, him except
Aught to desire, Supreme Reality !
The plenitude and permanence of bliss !
O Fiends of Superstition ! not that oft
The erring Priest hath stained with brother's blood
Your grisly idols, not for this may wrath
Thunder against you from the Holy One !
But o'er some plain that steameth to the sun,
Peopled with Death; or where more hideous Trade
Loud-laughing packs his bales of human anguish ;
I will raise up a mourning, O ye Fiends !
And curse your spells, that film the eye of Faith,
Hiding the present God; whose presence lost,
The moral world's cohesion, we become
An Anarchy of Spirits ! Toy-bewitched,
Made blind by lusts, disherited of soul,
No common centre Man, no common sire
Knoweth ! A sordid solitary thing,
Mid countless brethren with a lonely heart
Through courts and cities the smooth savage roams
Feeling himself, his own low self the whole;
When he by sacred sympathy might make
The whole one Self ! Self, that no alien knows !
Self, far diffused as Fancy's wing can travel !
Self, spreading still ! Oblivious of its own,
Yet all of all possessing ! This is Faith !
This the Messiah's destined victory !
But first offences needs must come ! Even now
(Black Hell laughs horrible--to hear the scoff !)
Thee to defend, meek Galilaean ! Thee
And thy mild laws of Love unutterable,
Mistrust and Enmity have burst the bands
Of social peace : and listening Treachery lurks
With pious fraud to snare a brother's life;
And childless widows o'er the groaning land
Wail numberless ; and orphans weep for bread !
Thee to defend, dear Saviour of Mankind !
Thee, Lamb of God ! Thee, blameless Prince of Peace !
From all sides rush the thirsty brood of War !--
Austria, and that foul Woman of the North,
The lustful murderess of her wedded lord !
And he, connatural Mind ! whom (in their songs
So bards of elder time had haply feigned)
Some Fury fondled in her hate to man,
Bidding her serpent hair in mazy surge
Lick his young face, and at his mouth imbreathe
Horrible sympathy ! And leagued with these
Each petty German princeling, nursed in gore
Soul-hardened barterers of human blood !
Death's prime slave-merchants ! Scorpion- whips of Fate !
Nor least in savagery of holy zeal,
Apt for the yoke, the race degenerate,
Whom Britain erst had blushed to call her sons !
Thee to defend the Moloch Priest prefers
The prayer of hate, and bellows to the herd,
That Deity, Accomplice Deity
In the fierce jealousy of wakened wrath
Will go forth with our armies and our fleets
To scatter the red ruin on their foes !
O blasphemy ! to mingle fiendish deeds
With blessedness !
Lord of unsleeping Love,
From everlasting Thou ! We shall not die.
These, even these, in mercy didst thou form,
Teachers of Good through Evil, by brief wrong
Making Truth lovely, and her future might
Magnetic o'er the fixed untrembling heart.
In the primeval age a dateless while
The vacant Shepherd wander'd with his flock,
Pitching his tent where'er the green grass waved.
But soon Imagination conjured up
An host of new desires : with busy aim,
Each for himself, Earth's eager children toiled.
So Property began, twy-streaming fount,
Whence Vice and Virtue flow, honey and gall.
Hence the soft couch, and many-coloured robe,
The timbrel, and arched dome and costly feast,
With all the inventive arts, that nursed the soul
To forms of beauty, and by sensual wants
Unsensualised the mind, which in the means
Learnt to forget the grossness of the end,
Best pleasured with its own activity.
And hence Disease that withers manhood's arm,
The daggered Envy, spirit-quenching Want,
Warriors, and Lords, and Priests--all the sore ills
That vex and desolate our mortal life.
Wide-wasting ills ! yet each the immediate source
Of mightier good. Their keen necessities
To ceaseless action goading human thought
Have made Earth's reasoning animal her Lord;
And the pale-featured Sage's trembling hand
Strong as an host of arméd Deities,
Such as the blind Ionian fabled erst.
From Avarice thus, from Luxury and War
Sprang heavenly Science; and from Science Freedom.
O'er waken'd realms Philosophers and Bards
Spread in concentric circles : they whose souls,
Conscious of their high dignities from God,
Brook not Wealth's rivalry ! and they, who long
Enamoured with the charms of order, hate
The unseemly disproportion : and whoe'er
Turn with mild sorrow from the Victor's car
And the low puppetry of thrones, to muse
On that blest triumph, when the Patriot Sage
Called the red lightnings from the o'er-rushing cloud
And dashed the beauteous terrors on the earth
Smiling majestic. Such a phalanx ne'er
Measured firm paces to the calming sound
Of Spartan flute ! These on the fated day,
When, stung to rage by Pity, eloquent men
Have roused with pealing voice the unnumbered tribes
That toil and groan and bleed, hungry and blind--
These, hush'd awhile with patient eye serene,
Shall watch the mad careering of the storm ;
Then o'er the wild and wavy chaos rush
And tame the outrageous mass, with plastic might
Moulding Confusion to such perfect forms,
As erst were wont,--bright visions of the day !--
To float before them, when, the summer noon,
Beneath some arched romantic rock reclined
They felt the sea-breeze lift their youthful locks ;
Or in the month of blossoms, at mild eve,
Wandering with desultory feet inhaled
The wafted perfumes, and the flocks and woods
And many-tinted streams and setting sun
With all his gorgeous company of clouds
Ecstatic gazed ! then homeward as they strayed
Cast the sad eye to earth, and inly mused
Why there was misery in a world so fair.
Ah ! far removed from all that glads the sense,
From all that softens or ennobles Man
The wretched Many ! Bent beneath their loads
They gape at pageant Power, nor recognise
Their cots' transmuted plunder ! From the tree
Of Knowledge, ere the vernal sap had risen
Rudely disbranched ! Blessed Society !
Fitliest depictured by some sun-scorched waste,
Where oft majestic through the tainted noon
The Simoom sails, before whose purple pomp
Who falls not prostrate dies ! And where by night,
Fast by each precious fountain on green herbs
The lion couches : or hyaena dips
Deep in the lucid stream his bloody jaws;
Or serpent plants his vast moon-glittering bulk,
Caught in whose monstrous twine Behemoth yells,
His bones loud-crashing !
O ye numberless,
Whom foul Oppression's ruffian gluttony
Drives from Life's plenteous feast ! O thou poor Wretch
Who nursed in darkness and made wild by want,
Roamest for prey, yea thy unnatural hand
Dost lift to deeds of blood ! O pale-eyed form,
The victim of seduction, doomed to know
Polluted nights and days of blasphemy;
Who in loathed orgies with lewd wassailers
Must gaily laugh, while thy remembered Home
Gnaws like a viper at thy secret heart !
O agéd Women ! ye who weekly catch
The morsel tossed by law-forced charity,
And die so slowly, that none call it murder !
O loathly suppliants !ye, that unreceived
Totter heart-broken from the closing gates
Of the full Lazar-house; or, gazing, stand,
Sick with despair ! O ye to Glory's field
Forced or ensnared, who, as ye gasp in death,
Bleed with new wounds beneath the vulture's beak !
O thou poor widow, who in dreams dost view
Thy husband's mangled corse, and from short doze
Start'st with a shriek; or in thy half-thatched cot
Waked by the wintry night-storm, wet and cold
Cow'rst o'er thy screaming baby ! Rest awhile
Children of Wretchedness ! More groans must rise,
More blood must stream, or ere your wrongs be full.
Yet is the day of Retribution nigh :
The Lamb of God hath opened the fifth seal :
And upward rush on swiftest wing of fire
The innumerable multitude of wrongs
By man on man inflicted ! Rest awhile,
Children of Wretchedness ! The hour is nigh
And lo ! the Great, the Rich, the Mighty Men,
The Kings and the Chief Captains of the World,
With all that fixed on high like stars of Heaven
Shot baleful influence, shall be cast to earth,
Vile and down-trodden, as the untimely fruit
Shook from the fig-tree by a sudden storm.
Even now the storm begins : each gentle name.
Faith and meek Piety, with fearful joy
Tremble far-off--for lo ! the Giant Frenzy
Uprooting empires with his whirlwind arm
Mocketh high Heaven; burst hideous from the cell
Where the old Hag, unconquerable, huge,
Creation's eyeless drudge, black Ruin, sits
Nursing the impatient earthquake.
O return !
Pure Faith ! meek Piety ! The abhorréd Form
Whose scarlet robe was stiff with earthly pomp,
Who drank iniquity in cups of gold,
Whose names were many and all blasphemous,
Hath met the horrible judgment ! Whence that cry ?
The mighty army of foul Spirits shrieked
Disherited of earth ! For she hath fallen
On whose black front was written Mystery;
She that reeled heavily, whose wine was blood;
She that worked whoredom with the Daemon Power,
And from the dark embrace all evil things
Brought forth and nurtured : mitred Atheism !
And patient Folly who on bended knee
Gives back the steel that stabbed him; and pale Fear
Haunted by ghastlier shapings than surround
Moon-blasted Madness when he yells at midnight !
Return pure Faith ! return meek Piety !
The kingdoms the world are your's : each heart
Self-governed, the vast family of Love
Raised from the common earth by common toil
Enjoy the equal produce. Such delights
As float to earth, permitted visitants !
When in some hour of solemn jubilee
The massy gates of Paradise are thrown
Wide open, and forth come in fragments wild
Sweet echoes of unearthly melodies,
And odours snatched from beds of Amaranth,
And they, that from the crystal river of life
Spring up on freshened wing, ambrosial gales !
The favoured good man in his lonely walk
Perceives them, and his silent spirit drinks
Strange bliss which he shall recognise in heaven.
And such delights, such strange beatitudes
Seize on my young anticipating heart
When that blest future rushes on my view !
For in his own and in his Father's might
The Saviour comes ! While as the Thousand Years
Lead up their mystic dance, the Desert shouts !
Old Ocean claps his hands ! The mighty Dead
Rise to new life, whoe'er from earliest time
With conscious zeal had urged Love's wondrous plan
Coadjutors of God. To Milton's trump
The high groves of the renovated Earth
Unbosom their glad echoes : inly hushed,
Adoring Newton his serener eye
Raises to heaven : and he of mortal kind
Wisest, he first who marked the ideal tribes
Up the fine fibres through the sentient brain.
Lo ! Priestley there, patriot, and saint, and sage,
Him, full of years, from his loved native land
Statesmen blood-stained and priests idolatrous
By dark lies maddening the blind multitude
Drove with vain hate. Calm, pitying he retired,
And mused expectant on these promised years.
O Years ! the blest pre-eminence of Saints !
Ye sweep athwart my gaze, so heavenly bright,
The wings that veil the adoring Seraphs' eyes,
What time they bend before the Jasper Throne
Reflect no lovelier hues ! Yet ye depart,
And all beyond is darkness ! Heights most strange,
Whence Fancy falls, fluttering her idle wing.
For who of woman born may paint the hour,
When seized in his mid course, the Sun shall wane
Making noon ghastly ! Who of woman born
May image in the workings of his thought,
How the black-visaged, red-eyed Fiend outstretched
Beneath the unsteady feet of Nature groans,
In feverous slumbers--destined then to wake,
When fiery whirlwinds thunder his dread name
And Angels shout, Destruction ! How his arm
The last great Spirit lifting high in air
Shall swear by Him, the ever-living One,
Time is no more !
Believe thou, O my soul,
Life is a vision shadowy of Truth ;
And vice, and anguish, and the wormy grave
Shapes of a dream ! The veiling clouds retire
And lo ! the Throne of the redeeming God
Forth flashing unimaginable day
Wraps in one blaze earth, heaven, and deepest hell.
Contemplant Spirits ! ye that hover o'er
With untired gaze the immeasurable fount
Ebullient with creative Deity !
And ye of plastic power, that interfused
Roll through the grosser and material mass
In organizing surge ! Holies of God !
(And what if Monads of the infinite mind?)
I haply journeying my immortal course
Shall sometime join your mystic choir ! Till then
I discipline my young and novice thought
In ministeries of heart-stirring song,
And aye on Meditation's heaven-ward wing
Soaring aloft I breathe the empyreal air
Of Love, omnific, omnipresent Love,
Whose day-spring rises glorious in my soul
As the great Sun, when he his influence
Sheds on the frost-bound waters--The glad stream
Flows to the ray and warbles as it flows.
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