Ada Cambridge (21 November 1844 – 19 July 1926 / St Gemans, Norfolk)
Through jewelled windows in the walls
The tender daylight smiles;
Majestic music swells and falls
Adown the stately aisles;
Shadows of carven roof and rood,
Of stony saints and angels, brood
Above the altar-glow;
They cannot dim the shining face
Of one conspicuous in his place
Amid the forms below.
He that was once my little boy,
With merry voice and look,
My babe, that quarrelled with his toy
And tore his hated book;
But yesterday a laughing lad,
In his dear worldly garments clad,
Talking of college wins,
Wickets, and bumping boats, and goals,
And not of shepherd and lost souls -
His sermons and their sins.
The same, he kneels there, pale and awed,
In cloud of prayer and hymn,
And we are to behold our Lord
Made manifest in him;
To sit, his pupils, and be taught,
Who knows not what the years have brought
To mothers and to men;
To take him for our heaven-sent guide
On seas he never voyaged - wide
And wild beyond his ken.
With all the lore of schools, and none
Of stern and suffering life,
A child with wooden sword and gun,
Unarmed for vital strife;
His mind a bud of spring, unblown,
Its flowering shape as yet unknown,
Its fruit awaiting birth -
A seedling of a thousand strains,
A parasite of dead men's brains,
Though sprung from living earth.
There, in his proud belief, he stands,
This simple boy of mine,
Transformed by necromantic hands
To something half divine -
All in a moment, in a breath,
An oracle of life and death,
A judge above us all!
What spell is this that has him fast,
When age of miracle is past,
And past beyond recall?
O knight of dreams, in fairy mail!
If for his sake I pray,
It is that fairy arms may fail
And tough steel win the day -
Aye, though his dear heart take the thrust,
And he be trampled in the dust.
But mother fears forbode
(May God have mercy and forefend!)
A tamer journey and an end
Upon an easier road.
A long fulfilling of the vow
Within the vow he spake -
To close the gates of knowledge now,
And no more dare to take
The broad highways of marching thought
By his unfettered brothers sought,
Who follow every clue
On every line, where'er it leads,
Heedless of heresies or creeds,
To find the Right and True.
The mother-love, so apt for woe,
Visions the joyless track
Where the belovèd feet may go
And nevermore come back;
The boy become a thinking man,
That has outgrown the changeless plan
Once fitted to his shape;
The traveller, confident, serene,
Caught in an ambush unforeseen,
Whence there is no escape.
Struggling a little - overborne -
Perplexed - persuaded - spent
With dim self-pity and self-scorn
Supine in discontent.
No - no escape, by any arts,
Save through a score of bleeding hearts -
A stair too steep to climb;
Wherefore be wise and hide the chains,
Drug conscience, with its pangs and pains.
Give peace, Lord, in our time!
O waste of precious force and fire!
The sacred passion pales.
The soaring pinions droop and tire.
Our standard-bearer fails
To keep his battle-flag aloft;
The strong young arm is slack and soft;
The eager feet are slow;
The shining mail is dulled with rust
Of contact with mediaeval dust,
And will not bear a blow.
And under harness so decayed,
What ravage unrevealed?
What moral textures soiled and frayed
And moral sores unhealed?
He must not know that dares not tell.
Hush! It is nothing. All is well.
Peace in our time, O Lord!
And leave the fighting for the heirs.
The blood of sacrifice be theirs
Who cannot shirk the sword.
O boy of mine, that played the game,
And never learned to cheat,
Nor knew such word or thought as shame
In victory or defeat!
Will he be found, when he grows old,
Passing off spurious coin for gold,
Selling dry husks for grain -
The pottage of the Esau's bowl
That bought the birthright of a soul
His all-sufficient gain?
The image and the robes of what
He seems to serve and seek
But veils - although he knows it not -
On Mammon's brazen cheek;
His bishop's smile, his patron's nod,
The homage of his flock, his god;
His sensuous worship drest
In forms and colours rich and rare -
The spirit's sanctuary bare -
Heart emptily at rest . . . . . .
Let organ music swell and peal,
And priests and people pray;
Let those who can at altar kneel -
I have no heart to stay.
I cannot bear to see it done -
The hands whose work has scarce begun
Locked in these gyves of lead -
The living spirit gagged and bound,
And tethered to one plot of ground -
A prisoner of the dead.
Comments about this poem (The Watchman by Ada Cambridge )
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