Philip James Bailey

(1816-1902 / England)

Festus - Vi - Poem by Philip James Bailey

Our next
Adventure seems to promise fair, for be there
One scene, in life whence evil may be ruled
Absent, 'tis sure pure early love. But not
Love sole, with the world untried before one's eye,
Eager to search all being, though of gross cares
Freed, and in easefullest obscurity lapped,
Can make soul happy. Doubts of things divine,--
Generate spontaneously, or thought inborne
By rumour of the world, as pestful seeds
Mist--sown, or of spirit in self--forced fellowship
Colleagued, from far conveyed; as dominant soul
Remote Seer's tranced intelligence shakes,--distract.
But see love's star now rise, which, ere it set,
Shall, many a mischance bettered, perfect life,
And lead to heavenward; hear of holy ends,
Goaded into man's heart; and worth of faith.

Alcove--Lawn and Garden.
Festus and Clara.
Festus. Days are to me of light when I rejoice
In earth, man, all things round me, and strong faith
Rules, as a prevalent wind the world, my mind;
The stars instil their virtues in the schemes
I muse, so much doth generous reason joy
In rich forecasts of full--orbed happiness;
And the all--fatherly Deity smiles. Anon,
Come surging from afar, dark doubts like wrecks
Of fore--spent storms we deemed we had done with. Wave
On wave of darkness, like the shadowy tides
Of that tenebrous sea which billowing breaks
Soundless, on lunar shores, o'erfloods my soul;
And nothing satisfies. All ends seem mixed
With means that make for evil, and if I see
God's hand, it is everywhere distinct from things;
Moulding them not, nor guiding.

Clara. How! Life's goods,
Heaven's gifts, health, beauty; earth's, wealth, culture, love,
Are means, not ends. A mind absorbed in means
Means but a mind that's mean, which, endless, errs.

Festus. It may be, nay, 'tis probable. Say it's true.

Clara. Let us do more than this. Have noblest ends:
Ends which will bear the eye of God, nor flinch.

Festus. But this means strife. Why should I strive with men?
No ends have I to gain that man can give.

Clara. But thou, I thought, hadst highest intents, and these
It was that drew my soul to thine, resolved,
I deemed, to head the advance of men. And now,
Wouldst note at ease the bubble of fountains rise,
Or count the May--thorn's bloomlets as they fall,
Fragrant, in faëry showers? Shall I attune
Mine harp--strings strained into their subtense beam,
Luminous and hollow as is a golden flame,
To songs commemorative of perfect bliss
Earth now enjoys; of war, of woe extinct,
Sin, ignorance, penury? Or are all these
Ills, yet to be o'ermastered?

Festus. These be thoughts
Do scare the spirit that rouses them.

Clara. May be.
And sometimes self--love scared is self--love cured.

Festus. Turn for the hour to things that leave us not
Inconsolable i' the end; to know the day
Is filling up with feelings that will last
Memorially, all life.

Clara. All time, I hope.

Festus. Hope, and its lunes, its tides to their very heart,
Ebbed out, with me are at dead water. Come!
Let us consider deeplier, things that be.
What happy things, to wit, are youth, love, sunshine;
How sweet to feel the sun upon the heart;
To know it is lighting up the rosy blood;
And with all joyous feelings making shine
The dark breast, like a grot with prismy spar.

Clara. Yes, there are feelings so serene and sweet,
Plumed as with musical lightness, that they more
Than make amends for their passingness, and God's
Condition balance to surcease for aye;
As yon light fleecy cloudlet, floating along,
Like golden down from some high angel's wing,
So breaks and beautifies the blue, we lose
Just reckoning of its imminent end. And love
Hath some such very semblance, or I err
At large. I wonder if I could ever love
Another. How I should start to see on the sward
A shadow not thine own, arm--linked with mine.

Festus. Thou art happy, I doubt not. I, if nothing else,
I have renewed my youth.

Clara. When wert thou deemed
Aged?

Festus. Oh! thou knowest not then, how old I am.
Know in my brain I bear each several age
Whose spirit I have by study absorbed, and so
Assimilated, that morally we are one.
If not yet accurately defined my years,
I am of full age; I have come into mine own,
By grief--right. Take me, peer of want and woe;
Proud thrall of doubt, my liege.

Clara. Be not so sad.
See, here's a garland I have bound for thee.

Festus. Nay, crown thyself: it will suit thee better, love.
Place wreaths of everlasting flowers on tombs,
And deck with fading beauties forms that fade.
Put it away, I will no crown save this;
And could the line of dust which here I trace
Upon my brow, but warrant dust beneath,--
Nor more, for aye; or could this bubble frame
Informed with soul, lashed from the stream of life
By its own impetus, but burst at once
And vanish, part on high and part below,
I would be happy, nor would envy death:
Could I, like heaven's bolt, earthing, quench myself,
This moment would I burn me out a grave.

Clara. What canst thou mean?

Festus. Mean, is there not a future?
Passed, present, coming, be accursèd, each?

Clara. Oh say not so. The future sure is filled
With promises, are not even promises sweet
From one we love and trust, of bliss. And we,
Shall we not ever live and love, as now?

Festus. For love, I know not: live I fear we must.

Clara. And love, because we then are happiest, love;
We shall lack nothing having love; and we,
We must be happy everywhere, we twain.
Life spiritual, changeless even as is the sea
In essence, though of variablest aspect,--
Rolling the same through all earth's ages, now
O'er mountain tops where only snow abides,
And the sunbeam hurries coldly by, or, o'er
The vales, ship guesting now, of some old world,
Older than ancient man's,--is ever great,
Clear, self--continuative, reflecting heaven:
So then with us. Our natures raised, refined
From these poor forms, our days shall pass in peace
And love; no thought of human littleness
Shall cross our high calm souls, shining and pure
As the gold gates of heaven. Like some deep lake
Upon a mountain summit they shall rest
High above cloud and storm of life like this,
All peace and power and passionless purity.
Or, if a thought of other troublous times
Like a chance raindrop, ruffle but for a moment
Their heavenward face, it shall regardless pass,
Recordless, momentary.

Festus. Oh! who so wise
As thou in things incredible, things unknown?

Clara. I love to meditate upon bliss to come.
Not that I am unhappy here, but given
To hope more perfect bliss may rectify
The lower feeling we enjoy now. Earth,
This world, this life is not enough for us;
They are nothing to our amplitude of mind;
For place we must have space, for time must have
Eternity, and for a spirit godhood.

Festus. Mind means not happiness; power not good.

Clara. True bliss
In holy life seek, charity menwards, love
To God. Why should such duties cease, such powers
Decay, of nature spiritual, boundless scope,
And worthy of high uplifted life for ever?
Man, like the airborn eagle who remains
On earth only to feed and sleep and die;
But whose delight is on his lonely wing,
Wide--sweeping as a mind, to force the skies
High as the light--fall, ere, begirt with clouds
It dash this nether world, immortal man,
If measuring not with equal mind the All,
His aspirations yet by nought below
Divinity coped, up rushes, aye, towards heaven,
As his essential home. O faith! most pure
Of things; the world's sole honour!

Festus. Come, what's faith?
Let us make believe like children; faith? A tower
Reared of round boulders on fear's quakeful bog;
A belfry built of dominoes on the palm
A pulse's throb o'erthrows;--that's my faith. Thine?
Proceed; past doubt thy faith works miracles.
Work one in me now. Granted I have sinned,
Sin would I not for ever. I repent.
I would again be blameless. Hear, Lord. Speak
To me thy child in thine invisible likeness,
The wind, as once of yore. Let me be pure;
Let me be once more as an innocent child!
As ere the clear could trouble me; when life
Was sweet and calm as is a sister's kiss;
And not the wild and whirlwind touch of passion
Which though it scarcely 'light upon the lips,
With breathless swiftness sucks the soul out of sight,
So that we lose all thought of it. Speaks he? No!
Though meanest of all possible miracles,
The vast inviolate silence answers, No.

Clara. Dost thou dictate to God?

Festus. Now God forbid;
But faith and all its promises and forms,--
And save religion's forms what know men,--show
On heaven's part, most divine indifference.

Clara. True faith nor biddeth nor abideth form.
Knee bended, eye uplift, with heart prostrate;
Is all man need to render, all God asks.
What to the faith are forms? A passing speck,
A crow upon the sky. God's worship is
That only he inspires! and his bright words
Writ in the red--leaved volume of the heart,
Return to him in prayer, as dew to heaven.
We quit the right way wantonly, and life
Call error: truth we shun, court soulless wit;
And say it is ignorance to adore. Our peace,
Our proper good we rarely seek or make,
Mindless of soul's beneficent powers and end
Immortal, as the pearl is of its worth,
The rose its scent, the wave its purity.

Festus. My soul is like to die of unproved ends.

Clara. But helps not here thy friend the spirit to arm
With proofs irrefutable of God's good rule
Life deathless, conquered ill?

Festus. With proof of nothing.
He hath a dispensation, but of doubt,
Which umbers all my days. Spheres are, he avers,
And souls migrate in death to other stars--
Where contraries exist not; well's not well,
Nor ill ill; verity proveable not.

Clara. The false one.
Truth is the same in every world as here.

Festus. Quit we these saddening themes. My mind too long
Hath been begloomed by them. Sing then; for I love
Thy singing sacred as the sound of hymns,
On some bright sabbath morning, mid the moor,
Where all is still save praise, of rustic saints
Gathered beneath some wide--branched oak; high heaven
Sheds on the spirit its kindred calm; hard by,
The ripening grain its bright beard shakes i' the sun;
The wild bee hums more solemnly; the deep sky,
The fresh green grass, the sunny brook, the sun,
All look as if they knew the day, the hour,
And felt with man the need and joy of thanks.

Clara. I cannot sing love's lightsome lays; thou knowst
Who can; but none who love as I; for I
Thy soul love, and would save it, Festus. Listen:
Is heaven a place where pearly streams
Glide over silver sand?
Like childhood's rosy dazzling dreams
Of some far faëry land?
Is heaven a clime where diamond dews
Glitter on fadeless flowers?
And mirth and music ring aloud
From amaranthine bowers?
Ah no; not such, not such is heaven!
Surpassing far all these;
Such cannot be the guerdon given
Man's wearied soul to please.
For saint and sinner here below
Such vain to be have proved:
And the pure spirit will despise
Whate'er the sense hath loved.
There we shall dwell with Sire and Son,
And with the mother--maid,
And with the Holy Spirit, one!
In glory like arrayed:
And not to one created thing
Shall our embrace be given;
But all our joy shall be in God:
For only God is heaven.

Festus. I know that thou dost love me. I, in vain
Strive to love aught of earth or heaven but thee,
My first, last, only love: nor shall another
Tempt even my steadfast heart. Like far--off stars,
A thousand, sweet and bright and wondrous fair,
A thousand deathless miracles of beauty,
They shall e'er pass at all but eyeless distance,
And never mix with thy love, but be lost,
All meanly in its moonlike lustrousness.

Clara. How still the air: the tree--tops stir no leaf,
But stand and peer on heaven's bright face as though
It slept, and they were loving it: they would not
Have the skies see them move, for summers, would they?
See that sweet cloud. It is watching us I am certain.
What have we here to make thee stay one second?
Away! thy sisters wait thee in the west,
The blushing bridesmaids of the sun and sea.
Would I were like thee, little cloud, to live
Ever in heaven; or, seeking earth, let fall
My spirit down only in droplets bright of love;
Sleep on night's dewy lap; and the next dawn,
Back with the sun to heaven; and so for aye,
Sweet cloudlet! Senseless seeming things there are,
One must, almost, count happy. Oft have I watched
A gossamer line sighing itself along
The air, as it seemed, and so thin, thin and bright,
Like a stray threadlet woven in light's gay loom,
I have envied it, a moment, followed: oft
Eye--tracked the sea--bird's down, blown o'er the wave,
Now touching it, spirited again, aloft,
Now out of sight, now nigh, till in some bright fringe
Of streamy foam, as in a cage, at last,
A playful death it dies;--and mourned its death.

Festus. Surely thou camest straightwise from the stars,
And instantly from heaven: thy calm bright thought,
Pure as the roseate snow on polar plains,
In starlike flakelets falling, stamped with proof
Of its high geniture, suits and soothes my mind.
O well thou deemest of celestial things,
And high--born duties dedicate to earth.
To dignify the day with deeds of good,
And eve constellate with all holy thoughts,
This is to live, and let our lives narrate,
In a new version, solemn and sublime,
The grand old legend of humanity.
But think'st thou now the future is a state
Like positive with this, or e'er can be aught
Than another present, toilsome, full of cares,
Duties, perhaps; that soul will e'er be nigher
To God than now, save as may seem by mind's
Debility, as from weakness of the eye,
And the illusions matter forms, yon sun
Shows, hot and wearied, resting upon the hill?
It would be well I think to live as though
Nought more were to be looked for; to be good
Because it is best here; and leave hope and fear
For lives below ourselves. If earth persuades not
That I owe prayer and praise and love to God,
While all I have he gives, will heaven? will hell?
No, neither, never.

Clara. I think not all with thee.

Festus. And how, unless worst ills revive, how live?
Shall all defects of mind and fallacies
Of feeling be immortalised? All needs,
All joys, all sorrows, be again gone through?
Shall heaven but be old earth created new?
Or earth, tree--like, transplanted into heaven,
To flourish by the waters of life; we, still,
Within its shade cropping the fruit life--cored?

Clara. Not so! Man's nature bodily, soul--wise, both,
Shall be changed throughout, exalted, glorified;
And all shall be alike, like God; and all
Unlike each other, and themselves. The earth
Shall vanish from the thoughts of those she bore,
As have the idols of the olden time
From men's hearts of the present. All delight
And all desire shall be with heavenly things,
And the new nature God bestowed on man.

Festus. Then man shall be no more man; but an angel.

Clara. Have I not heard thee hint of spirit friends,
Other than him thou spakest of now?

Festus. Thou hast heard.

Clara. Where are they now?

Festus. Ah close, mayhap, at hand.
And since now other miracles lack, observe!
I have a might immortal, and can ken
With angels. Neither sky, nor night, nor earth,
Hinders me. Through the forms of things I see
Their essences; and thus, even now, behold--
But where I cannot show to thee--far round,
Nature herself--the whole effect of God.
Mind, matter, motion, heat, time, love, and life,
And death, and immortality--those chief
And first--born giants all are there--all parts,
All limbs of her their mother: she is all.

Clara. And what does she?

Festus. Produce: it is her life.
The three I named last, life, death, deathlessness,
Glide in elliptic path round all things made--
For none save God can fill the perfect whole;
And are but to eternity as is
The horizon to the world. At certain points
Each seems the other; now the three are one;
Now, all invisible; and now, as first,
Moving in measured round. To me there seems
A mocking, flickering likeness in their mien,
To some I know. Not seldom all I see,
Or mix with, seems a fleeting masque prepared
By some obsequious tyrant, bent on fraud;
Some despot servile to necessity; who,
For his own ends, plants before our inward eyes,
The eternal phantom of the universe,
And bids us call it real.

Clara. How look these beings?

Festus. Ah! Life looks gaily and gloomily in turns;
With a brow chequered like the sward, by leaves,
Between which the light glints; and she, careless wears
A wreath of flowers; part faded and part fresh.
And death is beautiful; and sad; and still.
She seems too happy; happier far than life--
In but one feeling, apathy: and on
Her chill white brow frosts bright a braid of snow.

Clara. And immortality?

Festus. She looks alone;
As though she would not know her sisterhood.
And on her brow a diadem of fire,
Matched by the conflagration of her eye,
Outflaming even that eye which in my sleep
Beams close upon me till it bursts from sheer
O'erstrainedness of sight, burns.

Clara. What do they?

Festus. Each strives to win me to herself.

Clara. How?

Festus. Death
Opens her sweet white arms and whispers, peace!
Come say thy sorrows in this bosom! This
Will never close against thee; and my heart,
Though cold, cannot be colder much than man's.
Come! All this soon must end; and soon the world
Shall perish leaf by leaf, and land by land;
Flower by flower; flood by flood; and hill
By hill away. Oh! come, come! Let us die.

Clara. Say that thou wilt not die!

Festus. Nay, I love death.
But Immortality, with finger spired,
Points to a distant, giant world--and says
There, there is my home. Live along with me!

Clara. Canst see that world?

Festus. Just--a huge shadowy shape;
It looks a disembodied orb; the ghost
Of some great sphere which God hath stricken dead.
Or like a world which God hath thought--not made.

Clara. Follow her, Festus! Does she speak again?

Festus. She never speaks but once: and now, in scorn,
Points to this dim, dwarfed, misbegotten sphere.

Clara. Why let her pass?

Festus. That is the great world--question.
Life would not part with me; and from her brow
Tearing her wreath of passion flowers, she flung it
Around my neck, and dared me struggle then.
I never could destroy a flower; and none
But fairest hands like thine grace even with me
The culling of a rose. And Life, sweet Life,
Vowed she would crop the world for me, and lay it
Herself before my feet even as a flower.
And when I felt that flower contained thyself,
One drop within its nectary kept for me,
I lost all count of those strange sisters three,
And where they be I know not. But I see
One who is more to me.

Clara. I know not how
Thou hast this power and knowledge; I but hope
It comes from good hands, be it not thine own
Force, simply of mind.

Festus. Consider man's employ
So many years, and his few minutes' thought
On heaven, and own 'tis less even, what we do,
Than what we think, that fits us for the future.

Clara. I would we had a little world to ourselves
With none but we two on it.

Festus. And if God
Gave us a star, what could we do with it
But what we can, without it? Wish it not.

Clara. I'll not wish then for stars; but I could love
Some peaceful spot where we might dwell unknown;
Where home--born joys might nestle round our hearts
As swallows 'neath our roofs, and rustic peace,
With blessings of the lowly, innocent aims,
And kindliest neighbour charities, blend their sweets,
As dewy tangled flowerets midst one bed,
In pure and unimpassioned life.

Festus. A cot
I know, rose--roofed, by myrtle masked, with porch
Twixt vine and honeysuckle embowered; near by,
A rill, heath--braided, crowned with flowering fern,
Repeats the silvery tattle of the hills
To rocks, less garrulous, maybe; pleasance, grove,
Silent, while song--birds sleep, with pensive gloom,
With florid gaiety, each in turn lure. There,
Summer's wild roselet scents the unthoughtful step
That stills its pleading fragrance; see, the head
Pardoning, peeps up, unharmed. The comforting hum
Of bees is always audible; allwhere seen
Fruit sweetly eagering, that not cloys. There, backed
By every sunset, ocean, in his heart,
Changeful, but charmful aye, heaven's glories now
Liberally redoubles; now conceals in's breast,
Rivallous and agitated. There, friendliest morn
Wakes you through latticed jasmin; eve, retiring,
Breathes of dew--beaded eglantine; and night
Her luminous forces, starwise, oft deploys,
To unveil, for sage,--so much as sage to unveil
May list, the fates premonitory of men.

Clara. That spot thou knowest?

Festus. Oh yes, my feet could find it,
Eyes had I none. Sometime, when leisure calls,
In virtue's vacancies, we will search it out.

Clara. Sometime may never come. But look! Day dies
Surely, of too much beauty, which becomes
In its intensity holy; and we fear.
See how yon cloudlet climbs the welkin, lone,
Like lambling strayed from some gold--fleeced flock
Low folded by the sun; now, dimmer grown
Upon the aëry mountain's side, and now,
High in the infinite heavens, it disappears,
Saint--like updrawn to God's invisible breast,
Wherein is rest for all things; thunder, there,
Nor the blue flashing levin, dread seraphim
And cherubim of storms, complain no more;
But hushed to silence, and their eyes, tearblind,
Crushed to his fatherly bosom who now bids forth
The elements, now recalls them, sleep in peace.
Peace, how divine; peace love I more than love.

Festus. The sweetest joy, the wildest woe is love.
Earth's taints, the odours of the skies are in't.
Would man were aught but that he seems, the mean
Of all extremes. Brute's death, the deathlessness
Of fiend or angel better shows than all
The doubtful prospects of our painted dust.
And all morality can teach is, bear;
And all religion can inspire is, hope.

Clara. It is enough. Fruition of the fruit
Of the great tree of life, is not for earth.
Stars are its fruit, its lightest leaf is life.
The heart hath many a sorrow beside love,
Yea, many as are the veins which visit it.
The love of aught on earth is not its chief,
Nor should be.

Festus. True; inclusive of them all
There is the one main sorrow, life: for what
Can spirit, dissevered from the great one, God,
Feel but a grievous longing to rejoin
Its infinite, its author, and its end?

Clara. And yet is life a thing to be beloved,
And honoured holily, and bravely borne.
A man's life may be all ease, and his death
By some dark chance unthought of agony;
Or, life may be all suffering, and decease
A flower--like sleep; or both be full of woe;
Or each comparatively painless. Heaven
Blame not for inequalities like these,
They may be justified; how canst thou know?
They may be only seeming; canst thou judge?
They may be done away with utterly
By loving, knowing, fearing God the truth.
Nor should love's self be grievous; but so blent
With the world's dues, life's future, nature's claims,
As it is, all woes their dolorous kinship prove
With it. Nor deem then aught ill remediless.
In all distress of spirit, grief of heart,
In bodily agony, or in mental woe,
Rebuffs and vain assumptions of the world,
Or the poor spite of weak and wicked souls,
Joy even in thine own anguish. Suffering
Assimilates thee to him, not less than good.
Think upon what thou shalt be. Think on God.
Then ask thyself what is the world? What time?
And all their mountainous inequalities? What?
Are not all equal as dust atomies strewn
On heaven's bright concave?

Festus. What is, thou hast not
Power to persuade me of?

Clara. I now go. Farewell!
For the night darkens fast, and the dews are falling.
Remember what thou saidst about the stars.

Festus. Oh, yes. I ofttimes think of them and thee
Together.

Clara. True?

Festus. Star of my life art thou.

Clara. Another night, and thou wilt tell me more
Of wonders thou canst see?

Festus. Ay, thou shalt view
Thyself celestial marvels.

Clara. Nay, I dread.
But hap me weal or woe, I am thine.

Festus. Farewell!

Clara. Grant me but heaven, that I this soul incline,
Though mine go void of joy, to thy good ends.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 15, 2010



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