John Bede Polding - Poem by Henry Kendall
With reverent eyes and bowed, uncovered head,
A son of sorrow kneels by fanes you knew;
But cannot say the words that should be said
To crowned and winged divinities like you.
The perfect speech of superhuman spheres
Man has not heard since He of Nazareth,
Slain for the sins of twice two thousand years,
Saw Godship gleaming through the gates of Death.
And therefore he who in these latter days
Has lost a Father — falling by the shrine,
Can only use the world’s ephemeral phrase,
Not, Lord, the faultless language that is Thine.
But he, Thy son upon whose shoulders shone
So long Elisha’s gleaming garments, may
Be pleased to hear a pleading human tone
To sift the spirit of the words I say.
O, Master, since the gentle Stenhouse died
And left the void that none can ever fill,
One harp at least has sorrow thrown aside,
Its strings all broken, and its notes all still.
Some lofty lord of music yet may find
Its pulse of passion. I can never touch
The chords again — my life has been too blind;
I’ve sinned too long and suffered far too much.
But you will listen to the voice, although
The harp is silent — you who glorified
Your great, sad gift of life, because you know
How souls are tempted and how hearts are tried.
O marvellous follower in the steps of Christ,
How pure your spirit must have been to see
That light beyond our best expression priced
The effluence of benignant Deity.
You saw it, Father? Let me think you did
Because I, groping in the mists of Doubt,
Am sometimes fearful that God’s face is hid
From all — that none can read His riddle out!
A hope from lives like yours must everywhere
Become like faith — that blessing undefiled,
The refuge of the grey philosopher —
The consolation of the simple child.
Here in a land of many sects, where God
As shaped by man in countless forms appears,
Few comprehend how carefully you trod
Without a slip for two and forty years.
How wonderful the self-repression must
Have been, that made you to the lovely close
The Christian crowned with universal trust,
The foe-less Father in a land of foes.
How patiently — with how divine a strength
Of tolerance you must have watched the frays
Of fighting churches — warring through the length
Of your bright, beautiful, unruffled days!
Because men strove you did not love them less;
You felt for each — for everyone and all —
With that same apostolic tenderness
Which Samuel felt when yearning over Saul.
A crowned hierophant — a high Chief-Priest
On flame with robes of light, you used to be;
But yet you were as humble as the least
Of those who followed Him of Galilee.
‘Mid splendid forms of faith which flower and fill
God’s oldest Church with gleams ineffable
You stand, Our Lord’s serene disciple still,
In all the blaze which on your pallium fell.
The pomp of altars, chasubles, and fires
Of incense, moved you not; nor yet the dome
Of haughty beauty — follower of the Sires —
Who made a holiness of elder Rome.
A lord of scholarship whose knowledge ran
Through every groove of human history, you
Were this and more — a Christian gentleman;
A fount of learning with a heart like dew.
O Father! I who at your feet have knelt,
On wings of singing fall, and fail to sing,
Remembering the immense compassion felt
By you for every form of suffering.
As dies a gentle April in a sky
Of faultless beauty — after many days
Of loveliness and grand tranquillity —
So passed your presence from our human gaze.
But though your stately face is as the dust
That windy hills to wintering hollows give,
Your memory like a deity august
Is with us still, to teach us how to live.
Ah! may it teach us — may the lives that are
Take colour from the life that was; and may
Those souls be helped that in the dark so far
Have strayed, and have forgotten how to pray!
Let one of these at least retain the hope
That fine examples, like a blessed dew
Of summer falling in a fruitful scope,
Give birth to issues beautiful and true.
Such hope, O Master, is a light indeed
To him that knows how hard it is to save
The spirit resting on no certain creed
Who kneels to plant this blossom on your grave.
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