Thomas Aird

(1802-1876 / Scotland)

The Churchyard: Night The Second


A brooding silence fills the twilight churchyard;
Not even the bat stirs from her cloistered rift,
Nor from her tree the downy-muffled owl,
To break the swooning and bewildered trance.
A crowding stir begins; the uneasy Night
Seems big with gleams of something, restless, yearning,
As if to cast some birth of shape from out
Her hutching loins upon the waiting earth.
The smothered throes are o'er, the birth is out
In glistering ghosts. Thinned and relieved, the air
Lends modulation to their spiritual meanings:—

FIRST GHOST

Disembodied, we on high
Dwell in still serenity.
Name not faculty nor sense,
Where the soul's one confluence
Of light divine, and love, and praise,
From the Lord's unsealèd ways.
Yet we the waiting dust would don,
With our dear bodies clothed upon;
Loving (for He wears the same)
Jesus through our earthly frame:
Then should we sit at Jesus' feet,
Then our Heaven should be complete.
Therefore, for the body's sake,
Oft its thin semblance do we take,
Quick-fashioned from our Paradise,
Thus to revisit where it lies.
And flitting through the night we're fain
To see our mother earth again.

SECOND GHOST

O'er the shadowy vales we go,
O'er the eternal hills of snow,
O'er the city, and its cries
Heard from Belial's nightly sties,
And deserts where no dwellers be,
O'er the land and o'er the sea;
Round the dark, and all away,
Touching on the hem of day.

THIRD GHOST

I had a wife, what earnest-trembling pen
Shall tell her love for me? what words of men?
Spouse of my heart and life! how harsh the pain
To go from thee, and from our children twain!
Unborn unto his sorrowful entail,
The unconscious third could not his loss bewail;
Yet nature reached him when his father died:
Fed on blind pangs within thy widowed side,
And dry convulsive sorrow, bitter food,
He took a deeper stamp of orphanhood,
Than if, life-conscious, he had seen me die,
And wept with many waters of the eye.
This very eve I heard my wife, where she
In saintly calm dwells with our children three;
Their low sweet voices of my name were telling:
Oh how I yearned around their little dwelling!

I could not enter in, I could not make
My presence known, one kiss I could not take!
Yet I rejoice, the Heavenly Watch are keeping
Their nightly vigil o'er the dear ones sleeping.

FOURTH GHOST

Guard the young lambs, ye Angels; Jesus bids,
Who laid His hand on little children's heads!
From Sin defend them, Thou, O Spirit Good!—
None other can—from Sin still unsubdued,
Plague still permitted! Here wide-glorying Crime
Slays half the kingdoms of man's mortal time;
There Pleasure's form belies the ancient pest,
For whom in sackcloth must the worlds be dressed:
She drugs the earth; then by fierce gleams of haste
The false allurements of her eye displaced,
By scorn, by cruel joy her prey to win,
The hoary shape of disenchanted Sin,
Above the nations bowed beneath her spell,
Seals the pale covenant of Death and Hell.

FIFTH GHOST

From the dungeon, from the cave,
From the battle, from the wave,
From the scaffold and its shame,
From the rack, and from the flame,
From the lava's molten stone,
Like a river coming on,
From the Samiel hot and swift,
From the earthquake's closing rift,
From the snow-waste's faithless flaws,
From the monster's rending jaws,
From the famished town, possest
By the blue and spotted pest,
From the lazar-house of pain,
From the mad-house and its chain,—
Day and night, day and night
(Could we hear its gathered might),
What a cry, what a cry,
Prayer, and shriek, and groan, and sigh
(Even the dumb have burst to speech,
In strong yearnings to beseech),
Has gone up to Heaven from earth,
Since that curse of Sin had birth!

SEVENTH GHOST

The glistening infant dies in its first laugh,
Like flower whose fragrance is its epitaph.

SECOND GHOST

Let the sweet fable tell
Of Aphroditè in her rose-lipped shell,
Fresh from the white foam of the morning sea
Into the birth of beauty; ne'er was she
A lovelier emanation to the sight,
Than earth's young virgin in her dewy light.
But see her now!—a faded drooping thing
(When gleam through sleet the violets of the Spring),
Shuddering and shrinking o'er Death's misty jaws,
They suck her down, the shade of what she was!

THIRD GHOST

Yon strenuous youth—a soul of thoughtful duty,
Clothed with heroic beauty—
Look how he scales, so high and clear aloof,
The tops of purpose to the sons of proof.
Death strikes the towering mark,
And slings his name for ever down the dark.

FIRST GHOST

Would the body's death were all
Might the sons of men befall!
But where the spent assault of light
In crystal tremblings dies away
Into the spongy waste of night,
Beyond it I had power to stray:
Far beyond the voice of Thunder,
Through the silent Lands of Wonder,
As they wait the birth of Being,
I was given the power of seeing;
And I saw that baleful place,
For the outcasts of our race.
On the scathed shore, as of a flood
Of fire, a naked creature stood,
Forlorn; and stooping, with his hand
He wrote along the barren sand
Things of remembered earth: His frame
Shook, as he wrote his mother's name.
A noise like coming waves! and lo!
Gleams of a fiery-crested flow!
The molten flood with crowding sway,
Near, nearer, licked those lines away;
Then rising with a sudden roar
(The levelled mist streamed on before),
With horns of flame pushed out, it chased
That being o'er the sandy waste;
Till turning round, with blasphemies
Glaring from out his hollow eyes,
He dared the wrath which, ill defied,
Went o'er him with its whelming tide.
And sights and sounds I cannot name,
Were in that sore possessing flame.

And, ever down from worlds unseen,
(Wrath, wrath beyond what yet hath been!)
Thunderings, and hissings as of rain
Wading through fire, were heard amain.
O place of anguish! place of dread!
Veil the eyes, and bow the head!

SECOND GHOST

A change comes o'er the night; how gracious soft
This light of upper earth to that sad dwelling!
The firmament is full of white meek clouds,
And in them is the moon; slowly she sails,
Edging each one with amber, as she slides
Behind it, and comes out again in glory.
Darkness falls like a breath, and silent brightness
Touches the earth, alternately: how sweet!

THIRD GHOST

But who is this her vigil keeping
O'er a grave?

FOURTH GHOST

The maid is sleeping.
With her old widowed father she
Dwells in her virgin purity,
Young staff of reverence 'neath his weighed years,
Eyes to his dimness, safety to his fears.
And oft when he retires to rest,
She, with her holy thoughts possest,
Comes hither at the shut of day,
To muse beside her mother's clay.
Here once more to muse and weep,
Wearied she hath fallen asleep.

FIFTH GHOST

Filial piety, how sweet!
Kiss her head, and kiss her feet!

SIXTH GHOST

May these kisses, dove, infuse
Power to bear the nightly dews!

FOURTH GHOST

She would fold her arms, and go
To the dark of death below;
Might but a space her mother be
Let up the gladsome day to see.

SIXTH GHOST

But with eternal sanctity
In that mother's soul and eye,
What to her were all the mirth,
Pomp, and glory of the earth?

SEVENTH GHOST

Glistening, solemn, sealed from sin,
She to her spouse at eve comes in.
O that meeting! Does she live?
Milk and honey he would give.
A holy joy, but no excess,
Through her pure body passionless
Thrillingly goes, to hear that voice
Which made her wedded days rejoice.
In silence gazing still on him,
Till tears her spiritual eyes bedim,
Sweet murmurs bless him; round she flings
A glance on old remembered things;
Another gaze on him; and then
She's vanished from the world of men.

FIRST GHOST

Lo! on the maiden's knee the Book of Life!
Kiss every leaf—kiss every wondrous leaf!
The charter of the Paradise we've won,
And Heaven we hope for—kiss each blessed leaf!

SECOND GHOST

Had we, some eighteen hundred years ago,
Been passing through a certain Eastern village,
We might have seen a fair-haired little boy
Stand at his mother's door, in no rude play
Joining His fellows; grave, but holy sweet
Of countenance. Who's that little boy? The God
Who made the worlds—the very God of Heaven!

THIRD GHOST

Love to man, and great salvation!
Wondrous, wondrous Incarnation!

FOURTH GHOST

Ever going to His bed,
At His little feet and head
Looks His mother, laden she
With her burdened mystery;
Still with tears of wonder weeping
O'er the mystic infant sleeping:
He's her son, but He's her Lord!
O the blessed, blessed Word!

FIFTH GHOST

This Book's His Word, and He Himself's the Word!
This Book is the white horses of Salvation,
The chariot this, and this the Conqueror!
Go forth thou Lion-Lamb, far forward bending!
Strike through dark lands with Thy all-piercing eyes!
See, see the shadows break—tumultuous stir,
Masses, abysses! But among them stand,
Pillars of steadfastness, majestic shapes,
Grisly, the Principalities and Powers
Of outer night, wearing upon their brows
Defiance, and the swarthy bloom of Hell.
Go in among them, Thou, go down upon them,
Queller of all dark things, great Head of Flame!
Them with Thy lightnings and compelling thunders
Smite, bow them backward, sweep them to their place!
Burn with Thy wheels! Trample the darkness down
To melting light, and make it Thy clear kingdom!

SIXTH GHOST

Worthy is the Lion-Lamb!
Glory to the great I AM!

SEVENTH GHOST

Sin-spotted youth, world-wearied; difficult age,
Cramped down with stiff-bowed torments; homeless outcasts,
Lying in destitute benumbed caves;
And wanderers reasonless, fantastical,
Gibbering abroad, what time the Moon is hunting
In thin white silence in the shadowy woods;
And stricken creatures in the lazar-house,
Who know no kin, in whom care more than pain
Drinks up the eyes and blood in the night watches,
Or the half draught of suicidal poison
(Remorse and shuddering nature spilt the rest)
Holds its pale quarrel at the heart's red gates;
And they whose hearts are locked up by Despair,
And the key flung into the pit of Hell,—
Even these, all wasted and imperfect natures,
Shall be renewed and finished, and shall walk
Like angels in the white Millennial day,
Day of dead war and of consummate peace:
And that up-going pillared cry of sadness
Shall rise an equal power of praise and gladness.

FIRST GHOST

This little Book the instrument shall be,
Filled with the Spirit; kiss it reverently!

SECOND GHOST

And this virgin bless again,
Free from sin and free from pain!

THIRD GHOST

Her no fabled cestus, wrought
In the magic looms of thought,
Of Gorgon hairs, and coldest gleams
From Dian o'er the morning streams,
And plumes which staid Minerva gave
At midnight from her bird so grave,
Tissued in mystic warp with rays
Plucked from Apollo's head ablaze,
And stings of Wit, whose arrow-tips
In poignant wrath he keenly dips—
A woven dream—encircles round.
A better girdle she has found
In her filial piety,
And that good Book for ever nigh,
In angels, and the Comforter
Whom her dear Lord has sent to her.
Be she where the tempests blow
O'er the North the hail and snow,
Be she where in Southern lands
Hot winds lift the winnowed sands,
Peace with her shall still abide,
The peace that comes from Jesus' side.

FOURTH GHOST

Child of duty, child of honour,
Thus we breathe our wish upon her:
Bless her to Death's earnest gates,
Leading to the separate states;
Bless her to the Judgment-seat,
Bless her to the Heavens complete!

FIFTH GHOST

But ha! I smell the breath of day;
Come away, come away.

And they vanish to the Blest
In the Land of Waiting Rest.

Submitted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

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