Edward Henry Bickersteth
Yesterday, To-day, and For Ever: Book V. - The Fall of Angels and of Men
'When throned on that aerial firmament
Messiah singled out great Lucifer
As His vicegerent over all the earth,
Haply not one of the celestial hosts
But felt in that archangel's rule mankind
Had surest safeguard against harm. Such power,
Such glory, such supremacy of will
Was his. Even now his eclipsed majesty,
Though fall'n, o'ershadows potentates of heaven.
But I have seen him, when sublime he came
Forth from the presence of the Increate,
His eye glistening with joy for some design
Of lofty enterprise to his puissant arm;
Some new apocalypse of truth vouchsafed
To him, as prophet, to reveal to us.
Things which to other angels seem'd obscure,
Were crystal in his eyes: born to command;
In stature as in strength above his peers;
With whom and him comparison was not,
Except with Michael, next in princely rank,
And Gabriel the beloved; three hierarchs -
But Lucifer the chief. Nor odds appear'd
In outward state and circumstance of power
Betwixt him and Messiah, when the Word
Shrouding the awful blaze of Deity
Beneath angelic garb, as He as wont,
Mingled and communed with us face to face.
All gifts of form, all attributes of mind,
All high predominance of dignity
Among his fellows, bound that lordly spirit
To Him who made him such. Oh wherefore not
Was it that knowledge with its dazzling light
Grew yet more rapidly with him than love?
God knows, God only, how and when his will,
Ranging through boundless latitudes of thought,
First tamper'd with tyrannic pride. Unfallen
He stood, though not unwavering, when the Son
Placed in his hand the sceptre of a world.
That crowning gift determined his resolve.
Then wherefore placed He' it? Brother, He foreknew
That arch-imperial will, crown'd or uncrown'd,
Would yield spontaneous and spontaneous fall
Untempted, unpersuaded, unseduced
Save by itself, chafing because controll'd,
And finite amid God's infinitudes:
Nor his alone, but myriad spirits of light,
Wavering like him, like him would fall. And, this
Foreknowing, nothing to Omnipotence
Remain'd but so to circumscribe the ruin,
That evil might succumb to good at last,
And darkness yield to everlasting light.
For this must Sin be known, her face unmask'd,
Her carcass stripp'd, her secret shame exposed,
And thus her loathsome harlotry abhorr'd:
Mask'd haply she had tainted all alike.
Hence to the prince of angels was mankind
Intrusted, and to man the fatal tree
Straitly forbidden, though accessible.
'Unfall'n had Lucifer received his charge;
Unfall'n, not long. For when, Messiah rose,
His new creation perfected, to heaven,
He left as next associate in command
Gabriel my chieftain: and with him I sate
One even conversing, on our watch intent
(Earth had not kept her circling birthday yet),
Upon that hill o'erlooking Paradise,
Where Adam was created, when we heard
Our leader's footstep, and together rose
To greet him. Salutation with salute
Freely he answer'd, but as one amused
With his own thoughts quickly address'd us saying,
''Brothers, I praise you and your faithfulness
No meagre proof of true humility
For thee, archangel Gabriel, thee of all
Heaven's principalities among the first,
Here set to guard this latest work of God,
This freak, this marvel of Omnipotence.
Yes, we are to believe this worm o' the earth,
A spark may be of immortality
Enshrined within a mortal coil of flesh,
Made of the clay we stamp beneath our feet,
Equal to us the first-born sons of light;
Nay more than equal, that through him at last
Beatitude shall flow to us, and man
Exalted to the everlasting throne,
The Bride, so spake Messiah, of Himself,
Shall see the peerless potentates of heaven
Standing far off in circles infinite,
Or prostrate at her Bridegroom's footstool. Sure,
If lowliness, as we have often heard,
Be measured by the depth that we descend,
This crowns that coy and virgin grace with praise.'
'And Gabriel in sarcastic war unversed
(The sword of sarcasm was not drawn till now)
Replied without suspicion 'Lucifer,
The smile upon thy mouth betrays thy mind.
Thou dost but try our fealty, and test
What answer we should make, if that unknown
Tempter predicted should assail our faith.
But wherefore should I weary thee, who knowest
The easy answer to such sophistries?
Our charge is not on man's behalf alone,
Or chiefly, though our power is likest God's
Whenever strength sustains infirmity;
But rather for His sake who made us both:
His work is wages, and His smile is heaven.
What then if we are call'd to stoop to man,
Our Maker, ours and his, stoop'd lower still
In making and preserving us when made;
Both in His glorious likeness wrought. Nor will
Our common Father raise these later born
To our disparagement, but higher bliss,
Through man more nearly' united with Himself.
And, when the fight foretold is fought and won,
We, mutable by birth, shall stand henceforth
For ever in our God immutable,
By His love and our own experience fenced.
Such arrows, Lucifer, thyself art judge,
Recoil soon blunted from the shield of faith.'
'To whom thus Lucifer, 'So let it be.
And, if my language seem too bold, reflect
It is the tempter, and not I, who speak.
But were I he, and wert thou, O my friend,
As thou art not, obnoxious to assault,
I would attempt thee thus. Two paths are ours:
That which for ages thou and I have trod,
The pathway of obedience. Why
Should one be always best? God calls for praise:
Praising I please Him; praising not, displease.
Why should I alway please Him? Say, I choose
To be my own eternal lord? What then?
Oh, by those burning thoughts, those hopes that rise
Within me subject to no will but mine,
I ask, why are we made thus circumscribed?
Are there not possibilities of being
Higher and nobler far than those we see?
Why are these myriads of the hosts of heaven
So limited in power, that thou or I
Can scarcely find our mate? Why less than we?
Look at these vast innumerable worlds
Rolling around us; why not all the homes
Of sentient things? Man, male and female made,
Is in himself a fountain-spring of life;
And why not angels? Was the gift too great,
Too perilous for us? Remember, friends,
The things that might be always underlie
The things that are: things possible, things real.
Say, thou art wise and happy, - it is well.
But why not wiser, happier? answer me.'
''Let Oriel answer,' Gabriel interposed.
''So hath it pleased Eternal Love,' I said,
'Perfect, Supreme, Unfathomable Love.
To ask why we have finite faculties
And diverse each from the' other, is to ask
Why all yon planets are not suns, and suns
All gorgeous as the heaven of heavens. Enough,
The universe is music as it is.
Ye both are greater far than I; yet I
Would not be other than I am, whose cup
Already mantles to the brim with joy.
And why yon globes are yet untenanted,
Though not unuseful as the lamps of God,
I know no more than why my Maker fix'd,
As pleased Him, in the mighty Past my birth:
Nor care I further to inquire, but deem
His hour is not yet come of whose increase
Eternity itself shall see no end.
His time, His counsel must be best. Be this
Our wisdom with Omniscience to converse,
Our joy the beaming of Eternal Light,
Our strength to lean upon Almighty Power.'
'And Lucifer, as strangely moved, replied,
'I know He is Almighty: but I see
Another image of Omnipotence,
The awful Power of self-determined choice.
Suppose I choose to worship at that shrine,
What hinders? Will God drag me to His feet?
Forced adoration, what were this, and where
His own irrevocable gift, free-will?
Will He destroy me? Nay, Himself has said
We are endow'd with immortality.
That fatal dowry makes destruction null.
What then? He will beseech me to repent;
And, if obdurate, punish me? But how?
He spake of death: but what is death to us?
Beasts die and birds; man, made of flesh, may die;
But we are spirits, imperishable spirits.
He spake of hell: but where or what is hell?
Gabriel, thy lightsome wing from star to star
Has spann'd creation's height, depth, length, and breadth;
Say, brother, hast thou ever seen this hell?
What is't? a place of chains? of punishment?
Can fetters bind ethereal essences?
Or would God make a creature who should live
For ever in perpetual torment? say,
Gabriel, is this like God, - God, who is love?
Nay, rather when mankind has broken loose
From his poor pledge, as tempted he will break,
We shall be left sole arbiters of earth,
And all angelic natures, one by one,
Or flocking to our side in multitudes,
Will join us. If I fall, why should they stand?
They poorer, I have more to lose than they,
And yet risk all for freedom; so will they.
Ages may pass, but they will fall at last:
Finite their power, temptation infinite.
And God will exile me and them from heaven,
And out of boundless space create new worlds,
New habitants, but henceforth will beware
How He endows with free-will like His own
Spirits mutable like ours. All such methinks
Sooner or later will forsake His throne.
Nor will our realms be limited, for wide
As stretches this star-spangled firmament,
The deep that lies beneath is wider still.
And there at least we shall be free, unwatch'd,
Lords of ourselves. His own essential form,
Though in the outer darkness, will make light
For each one to direct his steps at will.
Nor will my legions wholly be debarr'd
From fairer fields. This firmamental throne
Was given me as my proper seat, this earth
My destined empire, which I mean to hold
Against all foes secure. Nay, shudder not:
Not without God shall I with God contend.
Himself hath arm'd me for the awful strife.
He made me free, immortal, innocent:
He made abiding in His love the pledge
Of service; which whoever breaks becomes
His adversary. This mankind will do,
And straightway will be my allies, my bride,
Who, if prolific as foretold, shall fill
My kingdom with an offspring like their sire.
Say, Gabriel, wilt thou cast thy lot with me,
Equal associate? or return to joys,
Which only seem delightsome, till the higher
Delights of perfect liberty are known?
Wilt thou be chain'd or chainless? bond or free?'
'Impetuous words hung on my lips: but me
Gabriel prevented: doubt obscured his look,
Never obscure till now, as thus he spake,
'Son of the morning, Lucifer, if thou,
Though for our safer guardianship, assumest
The tempter, let me answer thee as such.
False voice! that image of Omnipotence
That so allures thee, self-determined will,
Is but an image, at whose dreadful shrine
Whoever worships is the slave of self,
And must expect the portion of a slave,
Fetters and stripes. Thou say'st there is no hell:
Hast thou explored the secrets of that deep
Thou claimest as thy heritage and realm?
Or if no hell exists as yet, why not
Exist, as in a moment, if thou sin?
Thou canst not die, thou say'st: but what if death
Be immortality in mortal pain;
Not endless nothingness, but endless woe?
Thou pleadest God is love: but what if love,
Love to the universe, ay, love to thee,
Lest worse rebellion worse restraint demand,
Compel the flashing forth of those pure flames
Which - now there is no sin, no enemy -
Innocuous play around His awful throne?
All thou foreseest will yield like thee. False seer!
Hast thou forgotten that the hosts of God,
Premonish'd of the coming strife, besought
His prevalent aid? And what if some refused,
Weak in the fancied might of innocence,
The Same who warn'd us enemies should rise
Foretold their final overthrow. And thou,
Dost thou forecast the future, and in thought,
Piercing eternity, assay to clutch
Earth as thy empire and mankind thy bride?
False oracle! Shall His word be reversed
Who here ordain'd Messiah Heir of all?
Or wilt thou, wrestling with Omnipotence,
Wrest from His hands the sceptre, or usurp
The smallest foothold of His universe,
Who by Himself hath sworn that every knee
Of things in heaven and earth and under earth
Shall bow beneath His sceptre or His rod?
This, if thou wert the tempter, as my heart
Of thee abhors to think, were my response,
Now and for ever to reject thy thrall,
And in the liberty of truth abide.'
'The Arch-hypocrite replied, 'Gabriel, I said
Thy heart was proof against seductive wiles.
I did but try thee: untried faith is nought.
Pride has no charms for thee. Impregnable
Thou standest. Only thus maintain the strife,
And in the kingdom of eternal peace
No brighter coronal than thine shall blaze
Among the innumerable hosts of light.
Both have our task assign'd us. Mine is now
To test the faith of others as thine own,
Detecting whose fidelity is stanch,
Or who are open to the coming foe.'
'So saying, he left us on that hill. In muse
Sate Gabriel for long while contemplating
The moonlight sleeping on the woods and lakes
Of Eden: but his thoughts were otherwhere,
And at the last, heaving a heavy sigh,
He said, 'Oriel, the conflict thickens. Days
Of peril are upon us. Be it so.
Farewell, a long farewell, ye hours of peace!
Thou unsuspecting confidence, farewell!
And welcome, so the Master's will be done,
The strain of battle, and the patient watch
For hostile stratagem far worse than strength.
Now, brother, let us quit ourselves like those
Whom God has call'd to fight, and pledge our troth
As fellow-soldiers in the brooding war,
And fellow-heirs of everlasting peace.'
'I have him silently my hand, and there
Upon that mountain's brow we knelt and pray'd
For timely succor in our hour of need.
And, as we rose, the blessed Suriel came
Like lightning from the footstool of the throne,
And swift of wing spake to us winged words:
''Gabriel, thy prayer is heard. Messiah calls
Thee to a council of angelic thrones,
Held in His presence. Oriel, it is thine
To watch mankind's first parents with a band
Of holy ones now camping round their bower,
And guard them from all ghostly violence:
Other temptations, warn'd, themselves must shun.
Brothers, my path is devious. Fare ye well.'
'We parted, Gabriel to the heaven of heavens,
I to heaven's miniature, sweet Eden's vale.
There in a leafy arbor, side by side,
Half waking, half asleep, for early dews
Still drench'd the landscape, Eve on Adam's breast
Pillow'd her head. Her loose dishevell'd hair
Part hid the scarlet of her cheek, and part
Curl'd like a wreathen chain about his neck;
While underneath her slender waist his neck;
Embracing pass'd, until the listless hand
Rested upon her heaving bosom. Round
A company of angels lean'd entranced.
Nor marvel: thou hast known in pilgrim days
Earth's princess, weary of their royal state,
Hang o'er the cradle of a sleeping babe,
Spell-bound. And so in their most innocent loves
Was that which moved us more than all the blaze
Of seraphim, or song of heavenly choirs:
The very tenderness of flesh and blood;
The very weakness of humanity;
The unutterable sweetness of that bond
Which link'd them, bone of bone and flesh of flesh;
The promise of fertility to Eve;
The fresh bloom of that first and loveliest bride
Unfolding, like rose petals, to the joy
Of Adam, first and goodliest spouse; the rites,
Of their pure nuptial couch, a couch of flowers,
Known but unwitness'd (there are mysteries
Which holy angels guard, but gaze not on);
And the last awful issues, life or death,
With their fidelity or frailty link'd.
'But now the rosy-finger'd morn aside
The curtains of the sun's pavilion drew,
And he arose refresh'd. So from their sleep
That innocent pair invigorated rose,
And from their abhor naked pass'd to pay,
As they were wont, their early orisons
Beside the fountain shaded by the trees
Of knowledge and of life. Both loved the spot.
There oftenest God would walk at eventide,
Or dewy morn, or send some spirit elect
To gladden more their gladsome solitude:
A spot more sacred than the stony bed
Where Jacob slept, and visited more oft
With heavenly visitations.
'So that morn
Joyful they came. But even as they knelt
And look'd adoring upward, Adam saw
Amid the foliage of that sapient tree
Two glowing eyes, and soon a serpent knew,
Amazed; for heretofore nor beast would graze
Beneath it, nor bird light upon its boughs -
Such awe circled it round - but more amazed
To hear that sinuous snake utter a voice
Like God's voice, saying, 'Thou only follow me.'
And Adam, by preventing prayer unarm'd,
Obey'd and went, whispering to startled Eve,
'What this means it is mine alone to search:
Wait here my quick return.' And through the walks,
Of Eden, gliding with contorted rings,
Now twisted in voluminous folds, and now
Shot forward like a bird upon the wing,
The serpent led the way, until his voice
Seductive, ever beckoning 'Follow me,'
Through many a labyrinth of fruits and flowers,
Roses with orange groves, myrtles with vines
Entwining, brought the ancestor of men
To the far distant gates of Paradise.
And then again the serpent spake and said,
'Here tarry, while I bring a mystic key,
Which shall unlock these envious gates, and yield
Thee access to the boundless world beyond
Of undefined delights. Fear nothing. God
Will guide thee forth, and angels guard thy way,
Eve thy companion.'
'So the serpent leased,
And back with smooth and undulating course
Slid unimpeded by the tangled woods
To that salubrious fountain spring, where Eve
Waited impatiently. Before her feet
He bow'd submiss, and to her gaze, which ask'd
Why Adam linger'd, with ambiguous words
Replied, 'He waits thy coming at the gates
Of Eden, whence ere long thy steps and his
Issuing shall tread the unexplored expanse
That lies beyond our narrow vale of bliss.
But this beware, those gates instinct with life
Will only on their golden hinges turn
To one who in his hand a cluster bears
Of this divinest fruit; this fruit which first
Open'd my eyes to see, my tongue to speak.
Take, fairest Eve, and eat.'
''Enough,' she said,
'Our gracious Maker interdicts this tree.'
'Whereat the serpent subtle' of heart replied,
'What, hath God placed you in this fruitful vale,
Fruitful but narrow, and not given you range
At least of every tree herein to eat?
It cannot be. Thou hast misdeem'd His voice.'
'And Eve responded, 'Yea, of all the trees
Innumerable which her flower and bloom,
And with delicious fruitage tempt our taste,
We may eat freely. But this tree alone,
Planted as in a temple here by God,
He, knowing those who eat thereof will die,
In love denies us.'
'And the serpent said,
'Ye die? Die ye? Ye shall not surely die
I ate and died not. I, a serpent, ate;
And lo, so far from dying, instantly
I lived a life to which my former state
Now bare existence seems. Then first I saw,
Then spake I, heretofore incapable
Of mental vision or articulate speech.
This was my only death. And what for thee
And Adam? Surely ye will be as gods,
Knowing all mysteries of good and ill,
Divine intelligence, and, no more
Within this garden's strait precincts confined,
Shall range at will your boundless heritage.
And this your Maker knows. Why otherwise
Placed He this tree within your easy reach?
Why, but to test if those sublimer thoughts
Within your bosom planted by Himself,
Thoughts ever stretching towards the Infinite,
By one bold venture daring death itself
(That is, a translation to a higher life -
There is no other death in yon fair fruit),
Were worthy of Himself? Take, Eve, and eat.
For what were all these trees, and what their fruits
Delightsome in one heap before thee piled,
Compared with this? They feed the body' alone:
This nurtures, elevates, expands the soul.
They with their ruddy bloom rejoice the eye,
And with their odorous scent the smell; but this,
At once in beauty and perfume supreme,
Clothes all terrestrial things with heavenly light,
And quickens by its spiritual essences
The heaven-implanted spirit. Of this, fair Eve,
This noblest boon of God to Paradise,
Freely and without fear partake with me.'
'Into her ear, into her heart the words
Of that first tempter stole. Now glow'd the fruit
Deliciously beneath the morning sun,
Sweet to the eye, and sweeter to the mouth,
Sweetest of all as promising unknown
Unending banquets to the craving spirit.
And so, with fatal disastrous ease
Lifting her hand into the clustering boughs,
She touch'd, she took, she tasted. One small taste
Sufficed. Her eyes were open'd; and she seem'd,
The moorings cut which bound her to the shore,
Launch'd on an ocean of delights. Alas,
Perfidious sea, on which the fairest bark
E'er floated suffer'd foulest wrong and wreck!
'Awhile as in a dream she stood, but soon
Her scatter'd thoughts recall'd, and from the boughs
Selecting one loaden with luscious fruit
She pluck'd it bower'd in leaves, and took her way
To seek her absent lord. Him soon she met
Returning with no laggard steps; for when
The serpent slid with such strange haste away
The loitering minutes hours appear'd, and then
A strange solicitude unknown before
Began to creep around his boding heart,
And he retraced his path. But when he saw
Eve with flush'd cheek and agitated mien
Advancing, in her hand that fatal branch,
His heart sank, and his lip quiver'd. And when
She told her tale, the serpent's honey'd words,
Her brief refusal, his repeated suit,
Her answer, his reply, her touch, her taste,
Then first upon the virgin soil of earth
Fell human tears, presage of myriad showers.
But when again with pleading eye and hand,
Silent but most persuasive eloquence,
She pray'd him share with her the fruit she bore,
Then Adam wail'd aloud:
''O Eve, my wife,
Heaven's last, Heaven's dearest gift, what hast thou done?
Me miserable! Thou hast undone thyself,
Thyself and me; for if thou diest I die,
Bone of my bone, flesh of my very flesh, -
Eve, in whose veins my heart's best juices flow.
What can I do, what suffer for thee? Say
I rigorously refuse this fatal fruit,
What, shall I see thy warm and gentle limbs
Stiffen in death, and live myself? How live?
Alone? Or peradventure God will take
Another rib, and form another Eve?
Nay, we are one. My heart, myself am thine.
Our Maker made us one. Shall I unmake
His union? and transfer from heart to heart
My very life? Far higher I deem of love,
No transferable perishable thing,
But flowing from its secret fountain, God,
Like God immortal and immutable.
But oh, what follows? Adam, be thou sure
Of thy inflexible resolve - death, death:
Both cannot live, and therefore both must die.'
'So saying, from her hand he took and ate,
Not circumvented by the serpent's fraud,
But blindly overcome by human love,
Love's semblance, which belied its name, denying
The Great Creator for the creature's sake.
'All this, and more than I can tell thee now,
Ourselves invisible we saw: and, when
Eve laid her hand on that forbidden fruit,
Not one but felt God's interdict alone
Restrain'd from dashing it aside. This knew
The wily serpent lay not in our charge,
Enjoin'd to ward off violence, not fraud.
But little guess'd we what malignant foe
Lurk'd in that snake. Nor marvel: who, though warn'd
Dark mysteries of evil were abroad,
Who ever surmised that God-like Lucifer,
The noblest of the first-born sons of light,
Would so debase his archangelic form
As into that sly reptile to descend,
And mingle his ethereal spirit one hour
With bestial instinct? Little then we guess'd
To what abominations pride will stoop.
Nor only we, but heaven's sublimest thrones
Were here at fault.
'Three weary days and nights
We watch'd that miserable human pair,
Weeping their utter ruin. Death had stolen
Into their bosom's sanctuary: and lo,
For love despite, for confidence mistrust,
And for the ringing merriment of joy
Mourning and heaviness; but not the death
For which in desperate expectancy
The waited. And when this came not, they strove
(And who that saw them could refrain his tears?)
To hide their shame with fig-leaves loosely strung,
Lamenting their rent robe of innocence,
Rent by themselves. But now the third day's sun
Was setting, and the wind of evening blew
Its cool refreshment over wood and wave,
When to our inexpressible delight,
But their quick fear, Messiah's voice was heard
Walking in Eden. In His eye was grief,
And on His holy brow displeasure, mix'd
With deep compassion, sate. With gentle voice
He summon'd those, who in their dread had sought
The shelter of a leafy labyrinth.
Trembling and pale they came, expecting death
From Him their righteous Judge; but He, with all
A father's pity towards an erring child,
Father and Judge in one, inquired their shame.
Alas, their very words betray'd them, while
Adam on Eve, Eve on the serpent, threw
The load of guilt. But first upon the last
The crushing sentence fell, the curse of God.
No longer emulous of birds in speed,
Darting like light from tree to tree, henceforth
The serpent's belly to the dust should cleave,
Dust be its nauseous meat, until at length
The woman's Seed beneath His bruised heel
Should bruise its head for ever. Mystic words,
Which, even as utter'd, fill'd our hearts with awe!
Then, turning to the serpent's victims, God
Assign'd to each their lot retributive:
To Eve were sorrows of the womb and breasts
Foretold, and multiplied from age to age,
With strict subjection to her husband's law -
A lot unsoften'd till the Son of man
Was of a woman born: to Adam, toil
And bread wrung hardly from his native earth,
Fruitful of thorns and water'd with his sweat,
Till dust should to its kindred dust return.
'And then mankind's first Priest and Minister
Before them slew some firstlings of the flock,
And pour'd their blood upon the thirsty soil,
And having flay'd the carcasses consumed
The flesh upon a sudden hearth of coals:
First altar, and first holocausts, which taught
The sinner that through sacrifice alone,
The guiltless for the guilty slain, was now
For man access to God. This having done,
He took those skins and fleeces, nor disdain'd
To fashion garments for their trembling limbs,
Type of His spotless robe of righteousness,
And clothed them. Nor till then the Son of God,
Before He re-assumed His Father's throne,
In pity lest in some rash hour they dare,
Fall'n as they were, to touch the tree of life,
And thus (disastrous victory) achieve
An immortality in mortal sin,
Drave them before Him, weeping as they went,
Forth from that happy garden, through its walks
Of fruit-trees, by its crystal rivulets,
And past its countless bowers of blossoming shade,
To Eden's distant gates. These opening wide
Disclosed what seem'd a tangled world beyond, -
Dark forests with their sparse and scanty plots
Of pasture. But no choice remain'd them now.
Loath went they forth. And at the portal blazed
The flaming circling sword which warn'd their steps
From nearer access to the tree of life,
And cherubim of glory shadowing
The mercy-seat, the footstool of God's throne.
'The sun was set. The mists hung heavily
Around the mountain-tops: Adam and Eve,
Without the gates but near them as they might,
Were sleeping for sheer sorrow; when my prince,
Gabriel, who with Messiah came from heaven,
Call'd me. Together silently we roam'd
The lonely walks of Paradise, through trees
Which to our pensive musing seem'd to droop
Their foliage as we pass'd; until we came
To Eve's now solitary nuptial bower.
No happy hearts beat there; no angel guards
Kept vigil: not a sound ruffled the air -
Till Gabriel pointing to the desolate couch
Said, 'See what Sin hath wrought. The die is cast,
The vast conspiracy is now abroad,
The conflict is begun. Of all the thrones
Summon'd to meet in council before God,
Not one was there but Lucifer had tried
Their faith as ours - whether in truth or not,
None knew - such subtle ambiguity
Had clothed his words. Nor only potentates,
But all the legionary hosts of light,
Since his vicegerency began, have known
Struggle with doubts of outer darkness born.
Myriads have fall'n: myriads twice told are firm.
Thus far the Word reveal'd. But when we ask'd
Who was the tempter? Who had fall'n? Who stood?
How first the war arose, and how would end?
He answer'd that the strife would shortly prove
His friends and foes, assaying every spirit;
And warn'd us that rebellion, now awork
Among the hosts of heaven, would forthwith cast
Its shadow upon earth: that man would fall:
That days of foul ingratitude would seem
To blot His love: that angels would be devils,
Traducing God and all that breathed of God:
That devils would become from age to age
More devilish; and mankind likewise: that Sin,
Deadlier eruption than when hidden fires
Bursting from earth's entrails have wrapt in night
Former creations, over all would cast
The mantling pall of death, dreadful eclipse:
That He, foreseeing all this ruin, had form'd,
Deep in the unfathomable depth that lies
Beneath the ocean veiling things unseen,
Two vast receptacles sunder'd though near;
One luminous, one dark: the first He named
After this lovely Eden, Paradise,
Henceforth the outer court of heaven itself;
The other, precinct to the fiery lake
Of dread Gehenna, Hell: and, ever as death
Touch'd with his icy spear the sons of men,
Thither their spirits dismantled should descend,
And there await His judgement-bar, when they
And rebel angels should receive their doom.
''Thus while Messiah spake, who should approach
His throne, as wearied with unwonted speed,
But Lucifer? his brow contract, his eye
Flashing with indignation, which at one
Burst from his lips - 'Mankind, Thy chosen race,
Ingrate, and only by a reptile urged,
Have eaten of the fruit proscribed. Wilt Thou
I smite them, so that in the threaten'd day
Of their transgression they may perish, Lord?'
'Myself will judge them,' in calm majesty
The Son replied - 'Myself will judge them soon.
Meanwhile their sin will be its chastisement.
Sheathe thou thy sword, and to thy charge return.'
''And forthwith Lucifer obey'd; and then
The everlasting Son, as if, methought,
Reposing on our loyalty and love,
Turn'd to us saying, 'My children, be not ye
Stagger'd or troubled overmuch. Or ever
The cloud arose, I warn'd you of the storm.
And fiercely will the tempest rage ere long,
And the proud billows toss themselves on high,
And seem to mingle heaven's serene expanse
With nether darkness. Fear not ye. For I
Am throned above the angry waterfloods,
Compassionate because Omnipotent,
Patient because Eternal. Sons of God,
Be ye, too, patient. Not by power alone
Must this great fight be foughten, or My foes
Beneath the glory of My countenance
Would melt like yonder incense clouds away.
Howbeit not by power, but love with hate
Conflicting, and humility with matchless pride,
Matchless humility with matchless pride,
My Spirit shall wrestle with the spirit of evil
In what may seem long while an equal war,
But shall not prove so in the event. Hereby
Shall the allegiance of My saints be known.
There will be adverse powers, yet high in rank,
The thrones and principalities of hell,
Who shall bear rule through their appointed times,
And challenge, as My representatives,
Observance. Evil shall have scope enough,
And range through heavenly places unconfined,
The sons of darkness robed as sons of light,
Until their hideous nature be declared
And branded with the brand of wickedness,
(Nor sooner their commission I revoke,)
Gods of an evil eminence. Till then
Their eminence observe, their evil abhor.
Avenge not ye My cause. Vengeance is Mine.
And when My time is come I will arise
And with the blasting of My breath of wrath
Scatter My foes, and all My Father's smile
Reflecting on My saints, angels and men,
Fill heaven and earth with everlasting joy.'
''So spake Messiah. And such pure delight
In blessing and responsive blessedness,
Such calm assurance, such triumphant love
Breathed in His aspect, none who saw but clave
To Him with new intensity of zeal;
And, arduous as the strife foretold might prove,
All felt beneath the banner of His love
Labor was bliss, and battle victory.
And soon the council was dissolved. The rest
Thou know'st: man's summons to his Maker's feet;
His and Eve's sentence, and expulsion hence:
But tell me how the guileful serpent led
Those guiltless to transgress; for much I deem
Angels from men as men from angels learn.'
'Then I to Gabriel told what now to thee
Of Eden's wreck. Nor then alone, but oft
That great archangel summon'd me to rove
With him among those solitary walks,
And talk of happier days. But time would fail
Here to retrace the ages, age by age
Darker and more defiled, until the earth
Was fill'd with lust and rapine. Not at once,
In men or angels, the abhorrent plague
Appear'd in all its loathsomeness. But as
In some fair virgin's bosom a small spot,
As if a thorn had bunny'd the delicate skin,
Rises and spreads an ever-fretting sore,
Creeping from limb to limb, corrosive, foul,
Until the miserable leper lives
A dying life, and dies a living death:
So there. What though the cherubim diffused
Their glory at the gates of Paradise,
Earth's altar-hearth of worship: what though men
Peer'd through those golden bars on heavenly fields:
What though they knew the tree of life within
Shed month by month its beatific fruit,
Unpluck'd but unremoved, a silent pledge
Of immortality not wholly lost:
What though thy eldest ancestors, themselves
The firstfruits of redeeming pity' and love,
Their children and their children's children told
(A few millennial lives link'd all to each)
Of man's primeval state: all was in vain.
The babe whom Eve, drying her woful tears,
Clasp'd as the promised Seed, while angels stood
Around unwitness'd sponsors to his name,
Arrived at years, too soon betray'd himself
Begotten of the Serpent's venomous brood,
His brother's murderer: I was one who bore
That protomartyr to his saintly rest:
Dark omen of dark days to come. Arts grew
Apace, but chiefly minister'd to arms;
Till Earth grew sick with deeds of violence,
Sick at the heart. And when a holy seer,
Who walk'd with God amid a godless world,
Stood forth, and by the Prescient Spirit foretold
Jehovah's Advent with His myriad saints
To judgement, soon the madden'd multitude
Had torn that prophet limb from limb, except
The Master whom he served had stoop'd, and borne
His servant in His whirlwind chariot home.
'And then the darkness deepen'd. Men with men
Wrought wickedness. Nor less the spirits malign,
The which when first they fell, as I have known,
Compassionated even the wreck they made,
Grew in malignity, till crime and craft
Became to them what virtue once had been,
Their joy, their nature, their essential life:
Lovers of darkness, foul, obscene, impure;
Some darker, fouler than the rest. Of whom
Were Uziel and Samchasai his mate,
By birthright sons of God, now sons of wrath,
Who, prompted by the boast of Lucifer,
Mankind should be his bride, and stung with lust,
Mix'd with the daughters of unhappy Eve,
Heirs of her beauty, not her penitence,
In wedlock. Fatal league! whence soon arose
The monstrous brood of giants, ruthless race,
Offspring of human and angelic kind.
Who now confusion more confused, and stain'd
The fairest homes with violence and blood.
Rapine ran riot on the earth. Alas,
Was this the earth, whose birth we blithely sang?
Hell gloated o'er the ruin: till the Arch-spirit,
Who ever at heaven's circling festivals,
Cloaking his malice under show of zeal,
His bitter accusations plied, at last
Affirm'd all godliness extinct, and pray'd
For vengeance on the wretched sons of men
To vindicate the majesty of heaven.
False spirit, in after ages
The lying father of all lies! But then
He seem'd to triumph when the Word replied,
One saintly patriarch alone was left;
And, if mankind refused his warning voice,
Then after respite due the wrath should fall.
'Fresh respite only fresh rebellion bred.
Earth fainted at her children's deeds. And God,
With whose unalterable attributes
Grief jars not, grieved within His heart, that man
Was made for disobedience to unmake.
Judgement awoke, and watch'd with tearful eye
The cup of crime fast rising to the brim,
And trembling on the very edge. Meanwhile
At His command the ponderous ark was built,
That jest of scoffers, on the wooded plains
Of Asshur. Little reck'd the sons of men;
The shipwrights lightly jested as they wrought,
And ask'd if that huge vessel were to mount
The hills or navigate the sandy wastes?
They sate, they drank, they wooed them wives and won,
They builded palaces, they planted trees,
Rich with far distant promise. Drop by drop
The measure of ungodliness was fill'd.
It overflow'd. And forthwith Lucifer,
Whether his eye, burning like coals of fire,
With indignation gleam'd, or proud despite,
Some doubted, claim'd the overhanging wrath
Should fall as threaten'd on his guilty realm.
'His triumphing was short. For now the Son
Came by a legion of His armed saints
Attended (I was there), and sent us forth
To seize amid their foul indulgences
(So Phinehas the lustful Zimri smote)
First victim, Uziel and his cursed crew
Surprised, and bring them fetter'd hand and foot
Before Him. As He spake, so was it done.
And these Messiah, in the sight of all
Fall'n and unfall'n alike, adjudged to lie
In chains of darkness in the lowest hell,
Reserved unto the dreadful day of doom.
Immediately we led them forth. No hand
Was raised for rescue, and no pleading voice
For mercy. Terror shook the adverse ranks
To see some of their mightiest thus arraign'd,
And cast to punishment condign: nor less
Forebodings of like vengeance on themselves
Disturb'd their guilty thoughts.
'While startled heaven
Thus first beheld empyreal thrones dethroned,
Earth trembled underneath her Maker's frown.
The ark received her freightage, Noah last:
Then God shut to the door: and massive clouds
From treasure-houses inexhaustible
Mantled the firmament in black, and burst
In torrent floods on the soon sated plains.
The rivers spurn'd their custom'd banks. The sea
Roar'd, and enormous waves, crested with foam,
Broke with incessant flow o'er sands and cliffs, -
Vain barriers! Whether now the ocean beds,
By subterranean fires upheaved and raised,
Disgorged the secrets of their pathless depths;
Or whether, as the moon's calm influence draws
The refluent tides in daily ebb and flow,
So now she or some planetary orb
Displaced, or in malign conjunction set,
Drew more than half submerge thy native globe,
Charging the heaven with clouds, and wrapping earth
From pole to pole in one unbroken flood,
A dreary waste of ocean without shore,
And only by the solitary ark
Relieved, the second cradle of mankind.
'So saw I it, returning with my peers
From our sad quest to Hades. Not that those
Alone within the patriarch's vessel hid
Found mercy. They alone were saved from death.
But others, when the flood of waters rose
From shores to plains, from plains to upland slopes,
From slopes to craggy rocks, from rocks to hills
Still fugitive, at last betook themselves
To agonizing prayer, their sin and guilt
With bitter anguish not unmix'd with faith
Bewailing, ere the lamp of life was quench'd;
Too late for rescue from the whelming waves,
But not for that Almighty love they sought
To snatch them from a lower depth beneath.
And these, a remnant of that ruin'd world,
Surnamed the disembodied spirits in ward,
Were convoy'd to a lonely vale distinct
With its own walks and gates in Paradise:
Nor mingled with the other Blessed Dead,
Till He, who grasp'd the keys of death and hell,
Himself unbarr'd those portals, and proclaim'd
The everlasting triumph of the cross.
'Justice had had its way; and Mercy's voice
Was now heard pleading in the ear of God
Well pleased. Heaven closed its windows, and the deep
Restrain'd its fountains, while the arid winds
Swept o'er the floods, until the floating ark
Grounded on Ararat, whose haughty peaks
Soon from the tide emerged, islands of rock
'Mid those subsiding waters. Day by day
The thirsty sun drank seas. And when the dove,
A second time returning to her roost,
Brought in her mouth a tender olive-leaf,
Emblem of peace, then Noah and his sons,
With living tribes innumerous, beasts and birds,
Forth from the ark came flocking. And ere long
The smoke of sacrifice arose, and God
Smell'd a sweet savor of obedient faith,
And set His opal rainbow in the clouds,
A token when His judgements are abroad
Of His perpetual covenant of peace.
'Thus have I at thy suit in brief retraced
The early annals of Creation's birth,
Its cloudless sunrise, cloudless soon no more,
Obscured and dark, but in its darkness spann'd
By the pure arch of promise. Time remains
(Thine eye forbids me think I weary thee)
To tell thee of another better ark,
Like Noah's, cast upon the stormy floods,
But sheltering One who gave His life for man,
A nobler Victim on a holier mount,
The fragrance of which perfect Sacrifice
Breathes infinite beatitude, and spans
The clouds of judgement with eternal light.'
Thus Oriel spake, and after grateful pause,
Sweet silence, and yet sweeter interlude
Of music on melodious strings, resumed
The story of the great To-day of Time.
Edward Henry Bickersteth's Other Poems
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