Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

A Vision Of The Desert - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

Methought I saw the morning bloom
A solemn wilderness illume,
Desert sand and empty air:
Yet in a moment I was aware
Of One who grew from forth the East,
Mounted pon a vasty Beast.
It swung with silent, equal stride,
With a mighty shadow by the side:
The tawny, tufted hair was frayed;
The long, protruding snout was laid
Level before it; looking calm away
From that imperial rising of the Day.
Methought a very awful One
Towered speechless thereupon:
All the figure like a cloud
An ample mantle did enshroud,
Folding heavily dark and white,
Concealing all the face from sight,
Save where through stormlike rifts there came
A terrible gleam of eyes like flame.

Then I beheld how on his arm
A child was lying without alarm.
With innocent rest it lay asleep;
Awakening soon to laugh and leap;
Yet well I knew, whatever passed,
The arm that held would hold it fast.
Nor ever then it sought to know
Whose tender strength encircled so,
Living incuriously wise
Under the terrible flame of eyes.
In those sweet early morning hours
It played with dewy, wreathing flowers,
Drinking oft from a little flask
Under the mantle: I heard it ask:
Yea, and at other times the cooling cup
Gentle and merciful He tilted up.

But when the sun began to burn,
I saw the child more restless turn,
Seeking to view he silent One:
Then, growing graver thereupon,
It whispered, 'Father!' but I never heard
If any lips in answer stirred.
Yet if no answer reached the child,
I know not why he lay and smiled,
Raising his little arms on high
In a solemn rapture quietly!

The shadow moved, and growing less,
A blue blaze ruled the wilderness.
The child, alert with life and fire,
Gazed all around with infinite desire.
Erect he sat, contented now no more
To nestle, and feed upon the homely store:
He searched the lessening distance whence they came;
He peered into the clear caerulean flame;
His hand would mingle with the shaggy hair
Of that enormous Living Thing which bare,
Whose feet were planted in the powdery ground
With ne'er a pause, with ne'er a sound.
Yon fascinating, wondrous Infinite
His clear young eyes explored with keen delight:
He gazed into the muffled Countenance,
Undazzled with the rifted radiance:
Then, giving names to all that he espied,
He murmured with a bright triumphant pride,
'I hold their secret; lo! I am satisfied.'
Oh! it was rare to see the lovely child,
As with a gaze ecstatical he smiled,
Following with eager, splendour-beaming eyes
A bird magnificent, who sailed the skies
On vast expanded plumes of sanguine white,
Enamoured of transcendant azure light,
Higher and higher soaring to the sun;
Claiming a share in his dominion;
Elate with ardour, like unwearying youth,
Imperially at home in awful realms of Truth!

But ah! the sun beat fierce and merciless
Upon the boundless, barren wilderness.
Then soon, responsive to a slakeless thirst,
Behold upon his ravished sight there burst
A vision of a far-off lake most fair,
Where many a palm was dallying with air,
And soft mimosa: how alluringly
Smiled the sweet water in a blinding sky!
Can he not hear a gentle turtle coo
Among light leaves, yea, very wavelets blue
Lapping among green reeds upon the shore,
Calling him to abide for evermore?
Ah! how doth he impetuous entreat,
And chide the silent, never-lingering feet!
Yet was it strange - for as the feet advanced,
The lake receded, and the waters danced
An eerie dance with all the belts of trees,
And mingled with them, till the sand with these
On the horizon made a marge that wavered,
And all blew sidelong, thin white flame that quavered -
Then one low whispered, ''Tis the Devil's water!'
While in his ear there pealed cruel, unearthly laughter.
On this the child fell ill with fever,
Made many a vain yet wild endeavour
To fling himself from forth the grasp
That held with ne'er-relaxing clasp,
Murmuring, 'None holds me fast;
I am a plaything of the blast.'
But the Rider from the girdled store
Ministered to him as before.

And while the shadow veered by stealth,
A measure of his primal health
The boy resumed: an air that fanned
Blew veritably o'er the sand;
And little birds before them flew,
Vested in a sober hue,
A paly brown, to suit the home
Where 'tis their destiny to roam.
Yet I am sure that ne'er a bird
Fluting more soft and sweet was heard
Among the lawns of Paradise,
Than these in such a humble guise,
Who, without any rest or haste,
Travel warbling o'er the waste.
Moreover in the sterile soil
Some spots of verdure, while the travellers toil,
Arise; yea, even the sweet oases,
That vanished with the feigning, undulating graces,
Were fair and real delight, however fleeing,
With law distinct of transitory being;
Only illusion for deluding eyes,
That yearn for what nor waste nor world supplies,
Some dim ideal of the soul,
That ever loves, and grows toward the illimitable whole.

But ever, as they two solitary range,
And as the immeasurable horizons change,
Upon the child more burdensome doth lie
Sense of impenetrable mystery.
Erst he imagined that he chose to go;
But now he feels, whether he will or no
One carries him: he joyed to be in life
For possibilities of boundless strife,
Wresting resplendent secrets bold from all:
Now the unmasked immensities appal,
Weighing incumbent on the sense and thought,
As on a dwindling grain of dust, as on a thing of nought!
A moment looking toward the shrouded Face,
Now is he fain his timid eyes to abase:
'Father, unveil!' he tremulously cries,
Fearing he asks impossibilities.

Yet hearken! voices musical
Like dew upon the desert fall,
Rising and falling,
Calling, calling!
Very plaintive, sweet, and low,
As the lonely pilgrims go:
Are they spirits of the wild,
Calling, answering low and mild?
Is it a voice of one departed,
Plaining gentle, unquiet-hearted,
Vainly hungering to enfold
His beloved as of old?
Severed from our living kind,
In a feeble, wandering wind
Wandering ever? none can tell
Whence the mystic murmurs well:
But oft an Arab, roaming far
Over sands of Saharâ,
Hears the sweet mysterious measure
With a solemn-hearted pleasure,
Saying, 'No wind among the stones
Breathes the rare unearthly tones!'
And howsoe'er it be, they tell
The soul of things ineffable,
Of a life beyond our death or birth,
Of a universe beyond the earth!

Monotonously weary seemed the way,
While light declining faded slowly away.
Some haze obscured a gradual westering sun,
And all the oppressive firmament was wan.
In it voluminous appears to form
From the horizon a continent of storm,
A ponderous bulk of gathering indigo,
Tinged in its formidable overflow
With hues of livid purple poison-flowers.
In ghastlier whiteness for the night that lowers,
Strewing forlorn the desolate desert pale,
Some grinning skeletons of men assail
My vision; while a monstrous bird of prey
From a putrescent corpse rends fierce away
The clinging flesh with horrid sound of tearing,
Its beak abruptly plunging, pulling, baring;
Bald-headed, hideous neck low crouched betwixt
The pressure of strong talons curved, infixed:
Now the proud brain, like fearful Madness, mangling,
Like Sin now with the reeking bosom wrangling;
Like ignorance, disease, war, tyranny, starvation,
Eating the vitals of a noble fallen nation!
This creature, as they pass, a moment glaring
Voracious-eyed, with vasty vans that cover -
A little further on obscene doth hover
A grey hyena, and he laughs a peal
Of beastly laughter, scraping up a meal
Loathsome from forth the sand; there is a howl
Dolefully borne from where the lean wolves prowl!
Then silence falls upon the deepening gloom,
And sultry air forebodes the smothering Simoom.
Looking toward the child with deep dismay,
I noted his fair ringlets grown to grey,
And sparse like withered bents upon his head:
His pale, worn countenance was drawn with dread:
Yet in his eyes there burned a grand resolve,
No sights of terror lightly might dissolve.
And now I heard him murmur, 'Mighty Father!
I trust thee: yea, to thee I cling the rather,
Albeit I may not see thine awful face!'
Then I was sure he felt the strong embrace
Tighten around him, though a Skeleton
Came stalking from the night to lead them on:
A far-off murmur swelled into a wildering roar;
A hurricane of flame and sand whirled like a conqueror!
And when the o'erwhelming terrible death-tempest on them broke,
The shrinking child crept nestling close under the Father's cloak.

Then darkness swallowed the portentous plain.
When faint it dawned upon mine eyes again,
Lo! there was moonlight in a sky serene:
All lay at peace beneath the melancholy sheen.
No voice was heard, no living thing was seen.
Yet ere I was aware, that awful Apparition
Once more emerged upon my mortal vision -
The shrouded, dim, unutterable Form,
With eyes that flame as through the rifts of storm,
Mounted on that colossal Living Thing,
Bearing the child now, softly slumbering -
While all confused immeasurable shadow fling.
Peacefully lay the boy's pale, silent head:
And, looking long, I knew that he was dead.
Then all my wildered anguish forced a way
Through my wild lips: 'Reveal, O Lord, I pray,
Whither thou carriest him!' I cried aloud:
No sound responded from the shadowy shroud;
Only methought that something like a hand
Was raised to point athwart the shadowy land;
And while afar the dwindling twain were borne,
I, gazing all around with eyes forlorn,
Divined the bloom of some unearthly morn!

Where was he carried? to an isle of calm,
Lulled with sweet water and the pensile palm?
Vanishing havens on the pilgrimage
Surely some more abiding home presage!
Or must the Sire attain always alone
The happy land, with never a living son?
O! awful, silent, everlasting One!
If thou must roam those islands of the west,
Ever with some dead child upon thy breast,
Who would have hailed the glory, being blest,
Eternity were one long moan for rest!
For do we not behold thee morn by morn,
Issuing from the East with one newborn,
Carrying him silently, none knoweth whither,
Knowing only all we travel swiftly thither?


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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