Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

Missionary And Savage - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

My long life moves before me like a dream.
Behold! our mission-house at Kolobeng:
These labour-roughen'd hands have builded it.
Nor for myself alone, but for the dark
Children of whom I am the father here,
I labour with strong hand, and heart, and soul.
I smelt rude ores; and, fervid as large eyes
Of wrathful tigers, ringing iron yields
Upon mine anvil, hammer'd heartily;
While a bow'd native plies the goatskin bellows.
Lusty and hale, in manhood's vigorous prime,
I startle the lone woods with stalwart blows;
While cream-white splinters fly from stubborn trunks,
Whose leafy pride falls headlong shattering;
My wife with finger nimble, dexterous,
Moulding the while a hundred things at home.

There is a power enthralling human souls
In equal dealings, in a lofty life,
And lowly Love's unwearying ministry.
One who inherits wisdom's treasure-house,
And lives endow'd with more than wonted grace
Of human faculty, may forge the gold
Thereof to ignominious chains for men;
Of twine the spiritual wealth, for their
Deliverance, to cords of fair persuasion,
Wooing their own endeavours after God.
I wielding for the common use, not mine,
A wider knowledge and a riper skill,
Bestow'd free counsel or sincere reproof;
Tended my children when their bodies ail'd;
Lent a large heart to small perplexities,
And simple tales of hourly human woe. . . .

Sun of the living! Hesper of the gloom!
Surely Thy dusky children call for Thee,
Unknowing whom they call - the wail resounds
Yet in mine ears of some funereal dirge
For one beloved and vanish'd; when the moon
Wavers, as if in water, among leaves
Of air-moved umbrage; and a bark-built village
Lies in pale elf-light, with embowering palm
And silvern plantain; lonely forest shades
Of over-frowning mountain-presences
With stealthily mysterious forms aware.
A bitter, long, monotonous human wail!
More poignant than the cries of animal lives
In unreverberate torture; 'tis a wail
Of one that's cloven to the depths of being,
Maim'd in the vitals of an immortal soul.
To me it seems alive with the wild prayer,
This poor blind people hath so oft preferr'd,
Crying with dumb yet infinite eloquence,
'O wise white man! we pray thee give us sleep!'
So moans a hollow voice reverberate
In long-drawn aisles of some sepulchral vault;
So moans the mystic growth Mandragora,
Feeding on human ravage in a ruin
Under a gibbet, when one pulls the root.
How long have these then cower'd here in night,
Mouthpieces of creation's misery,
Wailing the world's wail in closed ears of God?
Whom now lament they? some beloved friend,
Chief, mother, bride, or child, who turn'd so cold
And strange and silent; who may not abide
Any more here in sweet sunlight with them,
Or pleasant interchange of word and smile;
Gone forth for ever from them to the chill
And cheerless realm of dreams impalpable.

Nevermore!
wails the burden of the strain,
Burdening, as it seems, the very sleep
Of a serene, fair incense-breathing earth!
Ever it wails, low, dreary, and desolate,
Oppress'd and muffled in a solemn sorrow;
A dirge world-weary, an old-world requiem,
Trailing a slow wan length along the dust,
Faint from the fount of immemorial tears;
A shadow, whose maim'd wings are plumed with awe;
Sunken so deep from ghostly woes and fears,
And broken hearts of all ancestral lives;
Phantoms aroused by a fresh living pain
To haunt the labyrinths of a living soul,
And all the dark slow movement of the dirge!

One cabin stands a little way apart
From all the rest upon a higher ground.
Hence flows the wail! A man laments his son.
It is an aged warrior of the tribe,
Who cowers, and sways himself upon the floor,
Before an ember glow, that he beholds
Only in dreaming; while a warm, red gleam
Falls on the brown of rude encircling wall,
Leaving a smoke-beclouded roof in gloom;
Falls on barb'd javelins, and bows and arrows,
And many hunting spoils of him who lies
Near to his father, silent, stark, and cold;
Ruddies the dark bare limbs of life and death.
Rich furs are under and over the young form;
Furs golden, furs of lynx, and ocelot:
A small uncomely dog, with pointed ears,
Presses his faithful body to the corpse.
He was a comely boy, a mighty hunter,
A bold young warrior, hope of all the tribe,
And his infirm old father's only stay.
When humid morning, chill, and pale, and wan,
Stares at those intervals between the boughs
Of wattled wall, yon ashes will be grey,
And still the old man be cowering by the dead!
Then the fond faltering sire must wander forth
Alone; away from this unpitying herd
Of yet unwounded men into the wild;
There to fade slowly; with a feeble hand
Plucking the berries, pulling up the roots;
A living skeleton, grim woe and want
In dim, scared eyes; until the wolf and raven
Find him low laid, their unresisting prey!

The father's wail, like mournful waves unseen,
Dies on the ear, and moans alternately;
But later, figures gather in the open,
Lamenting by a fire new-made the dead. . . .
What wizard, with his incantation curst,
Blasted the living; changing to a foe,
And chilling fear, what was so amiable?
Over the shoulder timorously glance
They, at the very rustling of a leaf,
To where the dead lie yonder in the forest,
Strewn with some humble offerings they need:
Food, bowls, or ivory, arms, and hunting gear.
Now beat loud tamtams; rattle hollow drums!
So scare away the dim unhomely ghost
With yells, and shouts, and drunken revelry. . . .
'Ah! shadow-muffled panther, with fierce eyes,
Prowling and mumbling yonder, art thou he?
Ah! whispering leaves of darkling forest trees!
Ye are ill whispers of infernal fiends!
But we will drown the bitterness of woe,
Frowning, foreboding, and bewildering fear!'


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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