Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

De Profundis - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

I. - NAY.
How may we trust Thee, Majesty Supreme!
We whose dim life fleets by, an idle dream,
Amid the ruining welter, and the wash
Of shattered Faiths, and holiest Hopes that flash
To annihilation in a moment, or slow wane,
Till what lay desert desert lies again,
Fooled for an hour with visions of ripe grain,
Withered ere harvest! Oh, the weary round
Of life and death halting within a bound
Of adamant, and fluctuating, ever
Goaded to dissonant, impotent endeavour!
Warring, we swarm to scale a phantom height,
We whose feet fail in some drear infinite!
Piteous human bones upon the waste
Jeer, as we wander, our infatuate haste.
Where now the goal and beacon of strong youth?
Where those far havens of Eternal Truth?
Fabled Atlantis islands of the blest,
In shadowy sunset kingdoms of the West,
If we may reach you, we may find you naught,
Mere human visions, hollow and glamour-fraught!
Where now the morning-land of Love we saw?
Vanished, a pure white snow-wreath in a thaw!
Where youth's high hope to order the wild world?
A once-bright banner, mouldering and furled!
The stern resolve to mould a world within?
Dead in deep jungles of inveterate sin!

Or may the race prove conqueror, tho' we fall?
Through long-vexed infancy the tribes grow tall,
Then slow declining, falter to the grave;
Nor wiser, happier, they who bloom and wave
In their rank ruin: whatsoe'er the gain,
Some earlier glory of the flower will wane!
No sweet sound food, the fruit of wrong and pain.
Ah! dear young children, cankered in the bud,
Surely the harvest battening on your blood
Must be transcendent, ere we may embrace
Meekly the holocaust of all your grace!
Nay! for no triumph splendid as the sun
Were an atonement for the loss of one.
Poor hearts expiring rend with wail sublime
God's vast world-palace, founded upon crime,
Whose ponderous, hell-poised blocks for their cement
Have meek red blood of all the innocent!
Nay, some faint protest of a humblest heart
Should shame and shatter such infernal art!
If He be lord who builds it, we will not
Worship, in how fierce fires soe'er our lot
He appoint for our rebellion! but I deem
'Tis only fever that so makes it seem!

Interminable armies ever wend
O'er maimed and martyred comrades to their end
Of blind, unused extinction, tho' the hope
Of infinite Love and Justice while they grope
Be kindled in their bosoms for a lure,
Fooling their hearts the torture to endure
Of false life longer, ere immersed in night
They feed some monstrous Blossom on the height
Of this infernal column of a world:
For it their souls one refuse-heap were hurled,
Bleeding and writhing, to annihilation,
For some sleek mortal god to inhale oblation
Of waste breaths, wrung from sentient agony,
A vampire draining life of these who die!
So that fierce carnage, cast in foeman's bronze,
Mounts serpentine to swell Napoleon's
Inhuman triumph, whose proud solitude
Stands pillared, purpled with the people's blood!

The hecatomb of myriad-fold dumb lives
Invokes a clinging curse on Him who thrives
From their long torture; inarticulate calls
Man's beast progenitor! lo! from hopeless falls
Under the precipice of grand endeavour,
Beautiful youths and maidens, mute for ever,
Piteously silent utter loud reproof
On Him who holds Himself unseen, aloof,
And makes Him sport, engendering their vain
Faith, effort, prayer, the longer to sustain
This miserable mockery of life
Wherewith He endows them, grim and cold, and rife
With cruel humour, with insane, fierce relish
For wine of anguish wrung from tortures hellish
Of souls and bodies! lo! we all pass by,
Saluting Caesar, men who are to die!
Or is it but inevitable, blind
Dull monster Force, that doth terrific grind
Forth idle aspiration, and fond fears,
Illusive bliss, and terror, and wild tears
From one dim, boundless chaos of a womb,
Till, white with horror of the waking doom,
All cower for refuge in their natal tomb?

Hath God, like mortals, a divided will,
Drunkenly reeling from weak good to ill?
Yea, there be throned gods, fallen dignities!
But high beyond we lift our longing eyes!
Ye may not fold your thoghts at such a goal,
Impelled to seek the spiritual Pole,
Ideal lodestar of the pilgrim soul!

What meaneth, then, this horrible array?
Abortions seizing hard breath for a day
When they have mangled, mad with famine-rages,
Foul mates through dark interminable ages,
Loathsome with low lust, anguish, desolation!
Until awakes Man's mournful generation
From the colossal ruin of lost life;
And lo! his infinite, opening eyes are rife
With hunger for eternal days, and good,
Piteously craved as necessary food!
Reveal from whence the holy hunger comes!
For all the mute onlookers turn their thumbs
Doomward around the immense arena spaces,
As Man, the victim, peers in their dread faces,
Implacable, though all the beaty-flower
Of the young gladiator plead with power!
Say, whence this thirst for truth and righteousness,
If there be no eternal Spring to bless,
No Arm to quell the tyrant, or redress
Mad earth's injustice? Myriad-fold we grovel,
A human swine on palace floor, and hovel,
Bound by a Circe, albeit half aware
We are fallen gods in some sublime despair!

O monstrous Nature! human-headed Beast,
Thou cannibal at some unnatural feast
On thine own offspring! who hast whelped the fiend,
And man, whose offal-feeding frenzy gleaned
The hell-field of foul horrors, left unreaped
By devils; his black coward heart full-steeped
In outrage, lies, and murderous lust for pain,
Whom all the unbounded tortures bigots feign
May purge not from the abominable stain!

O monstrous world, where innocent children jostle
Fiends from the pit! where snakes constrict the throstle,
Singing of Paradise! infuse the fire,
And gloat upon her pangs till she expire
Her music foundering in confusion dire!

Surely there be twin fountains of the world,
And Love brought forth what Hate to ruin hurled!
Love looses lucid waters, and they sing;
But ever one squats to pollute the spring!
Ah, Lord! who willest well! Thy lame hands falter,
While Death and Sin defile Thy Bride before the altar!
Poor Love! and couldst not Thou preserve Thy daughter
From infamy and ravishment and slaughter?
I know not! only know that we are blind. . . .
Thou wilt divide this kingdom of the mind,
Thou threatenest if I dare behold Thy face,
Nor cower obsequious in my native place?
I see Thy doom-engraving fiery finger!
I hear Thy loud anathema &mdash and linger!
Tho' jealous, Thou arraignest for high treason
Our Babylonian banquets of the reason.

We, scowling outcasts, branded sons of Cain,
Hear with a vast, ineffable disdain
Sleek minions of prosperity prate peace!
While wrung upon the rack we claim release,
Or with gnawn entrails clench firm teeth, nor cry;
Let one call to us from the abyss of agony!
Speak Jesus! - lo! we listen ere we die.

II. - YEA.

And what if all the death, and all the dolor
Do but imbue with life of lustrous colour
Alien natures? if the blood we bled
Grow substance of another heart full-fed?
Thrice aureoled the sacrificial Lamb,
Rolled in a fair victorious oriflamme
Of His own slaughter! fiery pangs of glory,
Wherein a life dissolves to blend one story
With God's world-triumph, so alone fulfilling
True personal being, through the ordeal killing
Mere individual semblance of an hour;
While in the end all martyrs find a power
To joy in each redeeming martyrdom,
When Love's own royal reign hath wholly come.

Thrice happy he who keeps the mournful tryst
By some wan wave of weeping with the Christ,
Wearing all sombre emblems of the Passion,
In deep dim valleys of humiliation,
Whose weeds glow with Divine Humanity,
Discovering what we are, were, and shall be!
For he is driven from all earthly shows
To find the Spirit's own divine repose;
The Spirit, whom no aeons brought to birth,
Nor ever-rolling ages doom to dearth!
He lightly fondles every lovely thing,
As well aware he may not closely cling,
For joy alit here hath a wandering wing,
Fair evanescent gleaming of the true,
Abiding ever tranquil out of view.
Yea, these shall feel Love's own rare vintage prest
From sin, and sorrow, and the world's unrest;
Calvary's midnight, with the cross of shame,
The very heart of Love's immortal flame!
While agony weighs common mortals down,
Our heroes lift, and wear it for a crown:
A bow that none save hallowed hearts may bend,
A sword that will the weakling wielder rend,
Spell for a mighty Mage to conjure with,
Confounding fools who are not of their kith!
But woe for him who is contented here!
Tho' lordly gold adorn his lonely bier,
Dead, self-involved, and stark, a thing of fear!

One justifies the sweet nest-building birds,
And blind prevision of the honied herds:
Shall Nature only disappoint, and flout
Her fairest Son, who floundering in doubt
Yet lifts child-eyes in dim pathetic trust,
With, 'Mother, wilt thou leave me in the dust?'
Ye, scarred with moral ulcers from the womb,
Who can but fester for a moral tomb,
Whom penal strokes, and groping cures immerse
More deeply in the virus of your curse!
Mine own dear children, of hope unfulfilled!
Ye myriad maimed souls, who seem but spilled
Vainly in void abysses! you, ye germs,
Who perish in dark cherishing earth! poor worms
A careless delver wounds; all lowly creatures
Or man or nature rends! your very features
We may discern not: only through a veil
We feel some form: and our wan cheeks are pale,
Deeming the selves inviolable may fail,
With their own shows of being! On a moment
Of your eternal lives we pass vain comment,
Judging by sense, in place of Love's deep reason
Whence our wild insult and reproach; high treason
Against that Mother-heart of all the world,
Who hath all souls beneath her warm wings curled
Invulnerable! however they may tremble,
And though her love one bitter hour dissemble
For their maturing; with a pitying smile
She views our wilful wandering awhile.
All are in all they were, and yet shall be,
Dawning to conscious self-identity.
For all is spirit, and the world is wrought
In one live loom of myriad-minded thought.
But what if all sink in the abyss of wrong,
And so by dark experience grow strong?
Embryo souls, who tortuously mount,
Like fallen water, to their natal fount!
Fair glories of a future flower feed
On degradation of her buried seed.
Tho' spheral music in dull hearts may sleep,
Sound but their own note, they will laugh and leap,
Even as dumb chords, or flames quiver and sing,
If their peculiar tone be vibrating.
The sun-god lies not dead within the shroud,
Tho' shorn of beams he dwindle in a cloud.

Yea, all the vaster souls in whom we fell
By right divine will rouse them from their hell,
To claim the royal heritage of sons.
And whatsoever beast, or elfin runs
Through alien regions of the realm of being,
Where every pilgrim haply halts in fleeing
From God to God, accomplishing the round
Allotted, when he hath won the vantage-ground
And heights of destiny, unrolled sublime
Beneath he will behold the vales of time,
And every station where he made sad pause,
'Mid ranks unseen, breathing unheard applause,
Who helped, with touch impalpable of soul
On soul, the spirit journeying to her goal;
Nor in sad sooth unhindered by the host
Of royal rebels, whom we count for lost,
Yet who, like men, are only gold and clay;
Nor by some loathly haunters of the grey
Breath from low-lying pestilential mud,
Earth's hideous lusts leave in their filthy flood.

But some are so enamoured of dark Death,
They only long to be relieved of breath.
Yet, saving folk whom the fell Fury's goad,
Or stern Despair drives from our hard abode,
Who but a coward self-involved may crave
Unending sluggard sleep in the dull grave?
His own poor comfort so repleteth him,
One drop of earth's pale vintage can so brim
A human want we counted infinite,
Or one defeat so daunt the whim to fight,
That how God's armies fare concerns him not,
If he may lie at ease, and idly rot!

Shall one, whose mind co-operates to found
The vision of a world with ne'er a bound,
Merge into some mere image, or a feeling
From forth an alien spirit swiftly stealing?
Material appearance can be naught,
Save in a human, or a foreign thought.
All this imperial fabric of the sense
Is but our own dull rendering of intense
Supernal realms of righteousness and love,
Fair shadow of a fairer realm above.

The spirit grows the form for self-expression,
And for a hall where she may hold high session
With sister souls, who, allied with her, create
Her fair companion, her espoused mate.
Ever the hidden Person will remould
For all our lives fresh organs manifold,
Gross for the earthly, for the heavenly fine,
Ethereal woof, wherein their graces shine.
And there be secret avenues, with doors
Yielding access to inmost chamber floors
Of the soul's privacy; all varying frames,
Responsive to the several spirit-flames.
The vital form our lost now animate
Is one with what in their low mortal state
They made their own; the corse mere ashes, waste,
For all grand uses of the world replaced.
A larva needs no more the unliving husk,
When soaring winged he rends the dwelling dusk.

A rabble rout of Sense light-headed pours
Into the holy Spirit-temple doors,
Where many a grave and stately minister
His place and function doth on each confer.
These Forms inhabiting the sacred gloom,
Whose name is legion, Present, Past, To Come,
One, Many, Same, or Different, evolve
Sweet concord from confusion; they resolve
The Babel dissonance to a choral song,
Till in divine societies a throng
Sets with one will toward the inmost shrine,
To feed there upon mystic Bread and Wine.
The Bacchanals are sobered, and grow grave,
In solemn silence treading the dim nave:
On their light hearts bloom-pinioned angels lay
Calm, hushful hands of married night and day.

It is a changing scene within the pile:
New shows arrive, and tarry for a while:
But if one living Spirit-fane could fall,
His ruin were the knell of doom for all.
Their being blended each with every one,
If any failed, the universe were gone.
These conscious forms inhabit every mind;
All selves in one organic self they bind;
The bloomy beams, and all the shadowy blooms
Are pure white Light eternal that illumes
A universal conscious Spirit-whole,
Fair modulated in each several soul
To many-functioned organs of one Will,
Whose sovran Being who prevails to kill?
We may expand our being to embrace,
And mirror all therein of every race;
Each is himself by universal grace.
Dying is self-fulfilment; and we cherish
His life, who, wanting ours, would wholly perish.
The Father may not be without the Son;
No love, will, knowledge, were for Him alone.
And change is naught
Save at the bar of a sole personal thought,
Enthroned for judgment, summoning past time
With present, hearing now concordant rhyme,
Now variance among voices vanishing,
That so win semblance of substantial thing.
But how conceive that there may ever be
Change in the nerve of change, our known identity?

If we, poor worms, involved in our own cloud,
Deem the wide world lies darkling in a shroud,
Raving the earth holds no felicity,
One child's clear laughter may rebuke the lie,
A lark's light rapture soaring in the blue,
Or rainbow radiant from a drop of dew!

Nor let a low-born Sense usurp the rule,
Who is but handmaid in a loftier school,
Where Love and Conscience a lore not of earth
Impart to Wisdom, child of heavenly birth.
O Thou unknown, inscrutable Divine!
I deem that I am Thine, and Thou art mine!
And though I may not gaze into Thy face,
I feel that all are clasped in Thine embrace,
The Christ is with us, and He points to Thee:
When we have grown into Him we shall see;
Behold the Father in the perfect Son,
And feel, with Him, Thy holy will be done!

Love may not compass her full harmony,
Wanting the deep dread note of those who die.
And as with master-hand He sweeps the grand awakening chords,
Our wailing sighs leap winged, live talismanic words,
Dull woes and errors tempered to seraphic swords;
Love's colour-chorus flames with glorious morning-red,
His alchemy transmuting the poured heart's blood of our dead,
And lurid bale from murderous eyes of souls who inly bled!

Whose mortal mind may sail around the ocean of Thy might,
Billowing away in awful gloom to issues infinite?
Bind Thee with his poor girdle? Surveying all thy shore!
His daring sinks confounded, foundering evermore,
In his dazed ear reverberating a tempestuous roar!
. . . Who sounds the abyss of Thine immense design?
We rest,
Aware that Thou art better than our best.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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