Jean Ingelow

(17 March 1820 - 20 July 1897 / Boston, Lincolnshire)

A Parson's Letter To A Young Poet - Poem by Jean Ingelow

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They said 'Too late, too late, the work is done;
Great Homer sang of glory and strong men
And that fair Greek whose fault all these long
years
Wins no forgetfulness nor ever can;
For yet cold eyes upon her frailty bend,
For yet the world waits in the victor's tent
Daily, and sees an old man honourable,
His white head bowed, surprise to passionate tears
Awestruck Achilles; sighing, 'I have endured,
The like whereof no soul hath yet endured,
To kiss the hand of him that slew my son.''

They said: 'We, rich by him, are rich by more;
One Aeschylus found watchfires on a hill
That lit Old Night's three daughters to their work;
When the forlorn Fate leaned to their red light
And sat a-spinning, to her feet he came
And marked her till she span off all her thread.

'O, it is late, good sooth, to cry for more:
The work once done, well done,' they said, 'forbear!
A Tuscan afterward discovered steps
Over the line of life in its mid-way;
He climbed the wall of Heaven, beheld his love
Safe at her singing, and he left his foes
In a vale of shadow weltering, unassoiled
Immortal sufferers henceforth in both worlds.

'Who may inherit next or who shall match
The Swan of Avon and go float with him
Down the long river of life aneath a sun
Not veiled, and high at noon?—the river of life
That as it ran reflected all its lapse
And rippling on the plumage of his breast?

'Thou hast them, heed them, for thy poets now,
Albeit of tongue full sweet and majesty
Like even to theirs, are fallen on evil days,
Are wronged by thee of life, wronged of the world.
Look back they must and show thee thy fair past,
Or, choosing thy to-day, they may but chant
As they behold.

'The mother-glowworm broods
Upon her young, fast-folded in the egg
And long before they come to life they shine—
The mother-age broods on her shining thought
That liveth, but whose life is hid. He comes
Her poet son, and lo you, he can see
The shining, and he takes it to his breast
And fashions for it wings that it may fly
And show its sweet light in the dusky world.

'Mother, O Mother of our dusk to-day,
What hast thou lived for bards to sing of thee?
Lapsed water cannot flow above its source;
'The kid must browse,'' they said, ''where she is tied.''

Son of to-day, rise up, and answer them.
What! wilt thou let thy mother sit ashamed
And crownless?—Set the crown on her fair head:
She waited for thy birth, she cries to thee
'Thou art the man.' He that hath ears to hear,
To him the mother cries 'Thou art the man.'

She murmurs, for thy mother's voice is low—
'Methought the men of war were even as gods
The old men of the ages. Now mine eyes
Retrieve the truth from ruined city walls
That buried it; from carved and curious homes
Full of rich garments and all goodly spoil,
Where having burned, battered, and wasted them,
They flung it. Give us, give us better gods
Than these that drink with blood upon their hands,
For I repent me that I worshipped them.
O that there might be yet a going up!
O to forget—and to begin again!'

Is not thy mother's rede at one with theirs
Who cry 'The work is done'? What though to thee,
Thee only, should the utterance shape itself
'O to forget, and to begin again,'
Only of thee be heard as that keen cry
Rending its way from some distracted heart
That yields it and so breaks? Yet list the cry
Begin for her again, and learn to sing;
But first, in all thy learning learn to be.
Is life a field? then plough it up—re-sow
With worthier seed—Is life a ship? O heed
The southing of thy stars—Is life a breath?
Breathe deeper, draw life up from hour to hour,
Aye, from the deepest deep in thy deep soul.

It may be God's first work is but to breathe
And fill the abysm with drifts of shining air
That slowly, slowly curdle into worlds.
A little space is measured out to us
Of His long leisure; breathe and grow therein,
For life, alas! is short, and 'When we die
It is not for a little while.'

They said,
'The work is done,' and is it therefore done?
Speak rather to thy mother thus: 'All-fair,
Lady of ages, beautiful To-day
And sorrowful To-day, thy children set
The crown of sorrow on their heads, their loss
Is like to be the loss of all: we hear
Lamenting, as of some that mourn in vain
Loss of high leadership, but where is he
That shall be great enough to lead thee now?
Where is thy Poet? thou hast wanted him.
Where? Thou hast wakened as a child in the night
And found thyself alone. The stars have set,
There is great darkness, and the dark is void
Of music. Who shall set thy life afresh
And sing thee thy new songs? Whom wilt thou love
And lean on to break silence worthily—
Discern the beauty in thy goings—feel
The glory of thy yearning,—thy self-scorn
Matter to dim oblivion with a smile—
Own thy great want, that knew not its great name?
O who shall make to thee mighty amends
For thy lost childhood, joining two in one,
Thyself and Him? Behold Him, He is near:
God is thy Poet now.

'A King sang once
Long years ago 'My soul is athirst for God,
Yea for the living God'—thy thirst and his
Are one. It is thy Poet whom thy hands
Grope for, not knowing. Life is not enough,
Nor love, nor learning,—Death is not enough
Even to them, happy, who forecast new life;
But give us now and satisfy us now,
Give us now, now, to live in the life of God,
Give us now, now, to be at one with Him.'

Would I had words—I have not words for her,
Only for thee; and thus I tell them out:
For every man the world is made afresh;
To God both it and he are young. There are
Who call upon Him night, and morn, and night
'Where is the kingdom? Give it us to-day.
We would be here with God, not there with God.
Make Thine abode with us, great Wayfarer,
And let our souls sink deeper into Thee'—
There are who send but yearnings forth, in quest
They know not why, of good they know not what.

The unknown life, and strange its stirring is.
The babe knows nought of life, yet clothed in it
And yearning only for its mother's breast
Feeds thus the unheeded thing—and as for thee,
That life thou hast is hidden from thine eyes,
And when it yearns, thou, knowing not for what,
Wouldst fain appease it with one grand, deep joy,
One draught of passionate peace—but wilt thou know
The other name of joy, the better name
Of peace? It is thy Father's name. Thy life
Yearns to its Source. The spirit thirsts for God,
Even the living God.

But 'No,' thou sayest,
'My heart is all in ruins with pain, my feet
Tread a dry desert where there is no way
Nor water. I look back, and deep through time
The old words come but faintly up the track
Trod by the sons of men. The man He sent,
The Prince of life, methinks I could have loved
If I had looked once in His deep man's eyes.
But long ago He died, and long ago
Is gone.'

He is not dead, He cannot go.
Men's faith at first was like a mastering stream,
Like Jordan 'the descender' leaping down
Pure from his snow; and warmed of tropic heat
Hiding himself in verdure: then at last
In a Dead Sea absorbed, as faith of doubt.
But yet the snow lies thick on Hermon's breast
And daily at his source the stream is born.
Go up—go mark the whiteness of the snow—Thy
faith is not thy Saviour, not thy God,
Though faith waste fruitless down a desert old.
The living God is new, and He is near.

What need to look behind thee and to sigh?
When God left speaking He went on before
To draw men after, following up and on;
And thy heart fails because thy feet are slow;
Thou think'st of Him as one that will not wait,
A Father and not wait!—He waited long
For us, and yet perchance He thinks not long
And will not count the time. There are no dates
In His fine leisure.

Speak then as a son:
'Father, I come to satisfy Thy love
With mine, for I had held Thee as remote,
The background of the stars—Time's yesterday—
Illimitable Absence. Now my heart
Communes, methinks, with somewhat teaching me
Thou art the Great To-day. God, is it so?
Then for all love that WAS, I thank Thee, God,
It is and yet shall hide. And I have part
In all, for in Thine image I was made,
To Thee my spirit yearns, as Thou to mine.
If aught be stamped of Thy Divine on me,
And man be God-like, God is like to man.

'Dear and dread Lord, I have not found it hard
To fear Thee, though Thy love in visible form
Bled 'neath a thorny crown—but since indeed,
For kindred's sake and likeness, Thou dost thirst
To draw men nigh, and make them one with Thee,
My soul shall answer 'Thou art what I want:
I am athirst for God, the living God.''

Then straightway flashes up athwart the words:
'And if I be a son I am very far
From my great Father's house; I am not clean.
I have not always willed it should be so,
And the gold of life is rusted with my tears.'

It is enough. He never said to men,
'Seek ye My face in vain.' And have they sought—
Beautiful children, well-beloved sons,
Opening wide eyes to ache among the moons
All night, and sighing because star multitudes
Fainted away as to a glittering haze,
And sparkled here and there like silver wings,
Confounding them with nameless, numberless,
Unbearable, fine flocks? It is not well
For them, for thee. Hast thou gone forth so far
To the unimaginable steeps on high
Trembling and seeking God? Yet now come home,
Cry, cry to Him: 'I cannot search Thee out,
But Thou and I must meet. O come, come down,
Come.' And that cry shall have the mastery.
Ay, He shall come in truth to visit thee,
And thou shalt mourn to Him, 'Unclean, unclean,'
But never more 'I will to have it so.'
From henceforth thou shalt learn that there is love
To long for, pureness to desire, a mount
Of consecration it were good to scale.

Look you, it is to-day as at the first.
When Adam first was 'ware his new-made eyes
And opened them, behold the light! And breath
Of God was misting yet about his mouth,
Whereof they had made his soul. Then he looked forth
And was a part of light; also he saw
Beautiful life, and it could move. But Eve—Eve
was the child of midnight and of sleep.
Lo, in the dark God led her to his side;
It may be in the dark she heard him breathe
Before God woke him. And she knew not light,
Nor life but as a voice that left his lips,
A warmth that clasped her; but the stars were out,
And she with wide child-eyes gazed up at them.

Haply she thought that always it was night;
Haply he, whispering to her in that reach
Of beauteous darkness, gave her unworn heart
A rumour of the dawn, and wakened it
To a trembling, and a wonder, and a want
Kin to his own; and as he longed to gaze
On his new fate, the gracious mystery
His wife, she may have longed, and felt not why,
After the light that never she had known.

So doth each age walk in the light beheld,
Nor think on light, if it be light or no;
Then comes the night to it, and in the night
Eve.

The God-given, the most beautiful
Eve. And she is not seen for darkness' sake;
Yet, when she makes her gracious presence felt,
The age perceives how dark it is, and fain,
Fain would have daylight, fain would see her well,
A beauty half revealed, a helpmeet sent
To draw the soul away from valley clods;
Made from itself, yet now a better self—
Soul in the soulless, arrow tipped with fire
Let down into a careless breast; a pang
Sweeter than healing that cries out with it
For light all light, and is beheld at length—
The morning dawns.

Were not we born to light?
Ay, and we saw the men and women as saints
Walk in a garden. All our thoughts were fair;
Our simple hearts, as dovecotes full of doves,
Made home and nest for them. They fluttered forth.
And flocks of them flew white about the world.
And dreams were like to ships that floated us
Far out on silent floods, apart from earth,
From life—so far that we could see their lights
In heaven—and hear the everlasting tide,
All dappled with that fair reflected gold,
Wash up against the city wall, and sob
At the dark bows of vessels that drew on
Heavily freighted with departed souls
To whom did spirits sing; but on that song
Might none, albeit the meaning was right plain,
Impose the harsh captivity of words.

Afterward waking, sweet was early air,
Full excellent was morning: whether deep
The snow lay keenly white, and shrouds of hail
Blurred the grey breaker on a long foreshore,
And swarming plover ran, and wild white mews
And sea-pies printed with a thousand feet
The fallen whiteness, making shrill the storm;
Or whether, soothed of sunshine, throbbed and hummed
The mill atween its bowering maple trees,
And churned the leaping beck that reared, and urged
A diamond-dripping wheel.

The happy find
Equality of beauty everywhere
To feed on. All of shade and sheen is theirs,
All the strange fashions and the fair wise ways
Of lives beneath man's own. He breathes delight
Whose soul is fresh, whose feet are wet with dew
And the melted mist of morning, when at watch
Sunk deep in fern he marks the stealthy roe,
Silent as sleep or shadow, cross the glade,
Or dart athwart his view as August stars
Shoot and are out—while gracefully pace on
The wild-eyed harts to their traditional tree
To clear the velvet from their budded horns.
There is no want, both God and life are kind;
It is enough to hear, it is enough
To see; the pale wide barley-field they love,
And its weird beauty, and the pale wide moon
That lowering seems to lurk between the sheaves.
So in the rustic hamlet at high noon
The white owl sailing drowsed and deaf with sleep
To hide her head in turrets browned of moss
That is the rust of time. Ay so the pinks
And mountain grass marked on a sharp sea-cliff
While far below the northern diver feeds;
She having ended settling while she sits,
As vessels water-logged that sink at sea
And quietly into the deep go down.

It is enough to wake, it is enough
To sleep:—With God and time he leaves the rest.
But on a day death on the doorstep sits
Waiting, or like a veil褠woman walks
Dogging his footsteps, or athwart his path
The splendid passion-flower love unfolds
Buds full of sorrow, not ordained to know
Appeasement through the answer of a sigh,
The kiss of pity with denial given,
The crown and blossom of accomplishment.
Or haply comes the snake with subtlety,
And tempts him with an apple to know all.

So,—Shut the gate; the story tells itself
Over and over; Eden must be lost
If after it be won. He stands at fault,
Not knowing at all how this should be—he feels
The great bare barrenness o' the outside world.
He thinks on Time and what it has to say;
He thinks on God, but God has changed His hand,
Sitting afar. And as the moon draws on
To cover the day-king in his eclipse,
And thin the last fine sickle of light, till all
Be gone, so fares it with his darkened soul.

The dark, but not Orion sparkling there
With his best stars; the dark, but not yet Eve.
And now the wellsprings of sweet natural joy
Lie, as the Genie sealed of Solomon,
Fast prisoned in his heart; he hath not learned
The spell whereby to loose and set them forth,
And all the glad delights that boyhood loved
Smell at Oblivion's poppy, and lie still.

Ah! they must sleep—'The mill can grind no more
With water that hath passed.' Let it run on.
For he hath caught a whisper in the night;
This old inheritance in darkness given,
The world, is widened, warmed, it is alive,
Comes to his beating heart and bids it wake,
Opens the door to youth, and bids it forth,
Exultant for expansion and release,
And bent to satisfy the mighty wish,
Comfort and satisfy the mighty wish,
Life of his life, the soul's immortal child
That is to him as Eve.

He cannot win,
Nor earn, nor see, nor hear, nor comprehend,
With all the watch, tender, impetuous,
That wastes him, this, whereof no less he feels
Infinite things; but yet the night is full
Of air-beats and of heart-beats for her sake.
Eve the aspirer, give her what she wants,
Or wherefore was he born?

O he was born
To wish—then turn away:—to wish again
And half forget his wish for earthlier joy;
He draws the net to land that brings red gold;
His dreams among the meshes tangled lie,
And learning hath him at her feet;—and love,
The sea-born creature fresh from her sea foam,
Touches the ruddiest veins in his young heart,
Makes it to sob in him and sigh in him,
Restless, repelled, dying, alive and keen,
Fainting away for the remorseless ALL
Gone by, gone up, or sweetly gone before,
But never in his arms. Then pity comes,
Knocks at his breast, it may be, and comes in,
Makes a wide wound that haply will not heal,
But bleeds for poverty, and crime, and pain,
Till for the dear kin's sake he grandly dares
Or wastes him, with a wise improvidence;
But who can stir the weighty world; or who
Can drink a sea of tears?

O love, and life,
O world, and can it be that this is all?
Leave him to tread expectance underfoot;
Let him alone to tame down his great hope
Before it breaks his heart: 'Give me my share
That I foresaw, my place, my draught of life.
This that I bear, what is it?—me no less
It binds, I cannot disenslave my soul.'

There is but halting for the wearied foot.
The better way is hidden; faith hath failed—
One stronger far than reason mastered her.
It is not reason makes faith hard, but life.
The husks of his dead creed, downtrod and dry,
Are powerless now as some dishonoured spell,
Some aged Pythia in her priestly clothes,
Some widow'd witch divining by the dead.
Or if he keep one shrine undesecrate
And go to it from time to time with tears,
What lies there? A dead Christ enswathed and cold,
A Christ that did not rise. The linen cloth
Is wrapped about His head, He lies embalmed
With myrrh and spices in His sepulchre,
The love of God that daily dies;—to them
That trust it the One Life, the all that lives.

O mother Eve, who wert beguiled of old,
Thy blood is in thy children, thou art yet
Their fate and copy; with thy milk they drew
The immortal want of morning; but thy day
Dawned and was over, and thy children know
Contentment never, nor continuance long.
For even thus it is with them: the day
Waxeth, to wane anon, and a long night
Leaves the dark heart unsatisfied with stars.

A soul in want and restless and bereft
To whom all life hath lied, shall it too lie?
Saying, 'I yield Thee thanks, most mighty God,
Thou hast been pleased to make me thus and thus.
I do submit me to Thy sovereign will
That I full oft should hunger and not have,
And vainly yearn after the perfect good,
Gladness and peace'?

No, rather dare think thus:
'Ere chaos first had being, earth, or time,
My Likeness was apparent in high heaven,
Divine and manlike, and his dwelling place
Was the bosom of the Father. By His hands
Were the worlds made and filled with diverse growths
And ordered lives. Then afterward they said,
Taking strange counsel, as if he who worked
Hitherto should not henceforth work alone,
'Let us make man;' and God did look upon
That Divine Word which was the form of God,
And it became a thought before the event.
There they foresaw my face, foreheard my speech,
God-like, God-loved, God-loving, God-derived.

'And I was in a garden, and I fell
Through envy of God's evil son, but Love
Would not be robbed of me for ever—Love
For my sake passed into humanity,
And there for my first Father won me home.
How should I rest then? I have NOT gone home;
I feed on husks, and they given grudgingly,
While my great Father—Father—O my God,
What shall I do?'

Ay, I will dare think thus:
'I cannot rest because He doth not rest
In whom I have my being. THIS is GOD—
My soul is conscious of His wondrous wish,
And my heart's hunger doth but answer His
Whose thought has met with mine.

'I have not all;
He moves me thus to take of Him what lacks.
My want is God's desire to give,—He yearns
To add Himself to life and so for aye
Make it enough.'
A thought by night, a wish
After the morning, and behold it dawns
Pathetic in a still solemnity,
And mighty words are said for him once more,
'Let there be light.' Great heaven and earth have heard,
And God comes down to him, and Christ doth rise.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 14, 2012



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