Celestial Heights - Poem by Alfred Austin
Hail! steep ascents and winding ways,
Glimmering through melting morning haze,
Hail! mountain herd-bells chiming clear!
Hail! meads and cherry-orchards green,
And hail, thrice hail! thou golden mean,
The châlet's simple cheer!
I leave the highwayed world behind,
And amid pathless pinewoods wind,
I drink their aromatic air;
Leap with kin feet the leaping stream,
And wake, as from an evil dream,
To dawn and speechless prayer.
Louder I hear the cattle-bells,
Wider the prospect spreads and swells,
Lakes, mountains, snow-peaks, round me throng;
I veil mine eyes, with awe oppressed,
Then gaze, and with a carolling breast
Burst into native song.
The moist cool dews are round my feet;
Forests of wild-flowers, simple, sweet,
With honey load each vacant breeze,
Which healing bears upon its wing,
Breathes with an air of more than Spring,
And banishes disease.
My limbs their youthful stride regain,
From off me fall fatigue and pain,
I mount more borne on wings than feet;
My blood in faster current flows,
Yet, like stream fed by mountain snows,
Is coolest when most fleet.
And not this common frame alone
Reclaims its youth, remounts its throne;
I feel, as air and sky expand,
That here the spirit, as the flesh,
Grows fragrant, dewy, healthful, fresh,
And like the landscape, grand.
Is it then so? And must the soul,
That unseen wing towards unseen goal,
Disdain the crowded vale's delights,
Its heat unfruitful, vapid noise,
And soaring, solitary, poise
Among celestial heights?
Even so. And, poised aloft, my soul
Far above human fret and dole
In empyrean calm abides.
No mortal voice the silence mars;
I hear the singing of the stars,
And the eternal tides.
The greedy aims, the lean regrets,
The disenchantment Hope begets
On ravished hearts,-beheld from here,
Like unto hamlet, pasture, stream,
Confused in one indifferent dream,
Mean and minute appear.
Man's feeble fury, trivial hate,
The pains that upon pleasure wait,
The exhaustion of tumultuous love,
The hopes that dwindle, fears that grow,
All that upheaves the plain below,
Tranquil, I breathe above.
Yet 'mid these sun-confronting peaks,
The undesisting spirit seeks
To mount to loftier, rarer height.
Are what we see but toys of sense,
And we who see them but a lens
Refracting heavenly light?-
-Imperfect mirror, faulty glass,
Who let the pure white rays to pass
But twist the coloured beams awry,
Belittle all the good we see,
And ill, since of our own degree,
Absorb, to magnify?
Who knoweth, or shall answer find?
I hear the rising of the wind,
More near and full the torrent's plash;
The swaying pine-woods murmur deep,
The lightnings laugh, and, roused from sleep,
The storm-winds meet and crash!
From underneath their lurid cowls,
Rossberg 'gainst Rigi frowns and scowls,
Across Arth's vale that cowers for dread;
And, mustering for their awful goal,
The phalanxed thunders, rumbling, roll
Around Pilatus' head.
Zug's gentle bosom heaves with fear,
And Küssnachts' waves, late soft and clear
As maiden's gaze or childhood's kiss,
Wax black as murkiest pool of hell,
When the infernal tempests swell,
And demons jeer and hiss.
'Mid such a ferment what is Man?
He sits beneath the rainbow's span,
And contemplates his little state:
He hears the darkness call, and deems
The skies speak to him in his dreams,
And recognise him great.
Yet not for him the Heavens engage
In their reverberating rage,
For him the ambushed levins fight.
Him?-but a fainter lightning-flash,
Him?-but a feebler thunder-crash,
Ending in deeper night!
Lo! unto other lands of air
The elemental furies bear
The roar of unexhausted strife;
And, freed from the sepulchral gloom,
Earth once again, as from the tomb,
Rises to light and life.
Pilatus frees his rugged head,
Zug's crouching lake, released from dread,
Looks up and smiles with face serene;
And, gazed on by the dying sun,
The phantom snow-crests, one by one,
Glow with transfigured mien.
Dead! And the tender twilight sighs.
Wan wane her cheeks, moist grow her eyes,
She draws her robes of mourning round:
Slowly she lights her widowed lamp,
And listens, through the night-dews damp,
To catch some cheering sound.
Yet in her loneliness how fair!
There is a sadness in the air
Sweeter than all the chords of joy;
A fragrance, as of spices borne
Unto the tomb of one we mourn,
And can no more annoy.
Cham's spire, I scarce in heaven descry,
Inverted, in that other sky,
The lake's lit breast, still plain doth glow:
So Soul, that darkly points above,
Shows sure and clear, when glassed by love
In answering heart below.
No more the grazing herds I see,
But still their bells chime silvery
The tuneful, if unmeasured peal,
And, as when heard in dewy morn,
From lonely mind and heart forlorn
Their desolation steal.
The legions of the starry host,
Each to their high and solemn post
In silent discipline repair,
And, from the unbattlemented sky,
With an intrepid calm defy
The demons of the air.
And, lo! athwart their ordered lines,
That strange auxiliary shines,
Who wears the bright long-flowing crest;
Weird warrior from another world,
Whose banner shortly will be furled,
Or waved in realms unguessed.
Erratic pilgrim! go not yet!
And, each fair planet, do not set!
For once, if only once, O Time!
Stay thine interminable march
Round and still round that hollow arch,
Where aeons vainly chime.
For when the tide, which unto Heaven
Brings night, 'gainst earth is backward driven
In waves of rising day, ah! then
Me helpless will it bear once more
Unto that thronged but barren shore,
Ploughed by the cares of men.
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