George MacDonald

(10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905 / Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland)

November, 1851 - Poem by George MacDonald

What dost thou here, O soul,
Beyond thy own control,
Under the strange wild sky?
0 stars, reach down your hands,
And clasp me in your silver bands,
I tremble with this mystery!-
Flung hither by a chance
Of restless circumstance,
Thou art but here, and wast not sent;
Yet once more mayest thou draw
By thy own mystic law
To the centre of thy wonderment.

Why wilt thou stop and start?
Draw nearer, oh my heart,
And I will question thee most wistfully;
Gather thy last clear resolution
To look upon thy dissolution.

The great God's life throbs far and free,
And thou art but a spark
Known only in thy dark,
Or a foam-fleck upon the awful ocean,
Thyself thy slender dignity,
Thy own thy vexing mystery,
In the vast change that is not change but motion.

'Tis not so hard as it would seem;
Thy life is but a dream-
And yet thou hast some thoughts about the past;
Let go, let go thy memories,
They are not things but wandering cries-
Wave them each one a long farewell at last:
I hear thee say-'Take them, O tide,
And I will turn aside,
Gazing with heedlessness, nay, even with laughter!
Bind me, ye winds and storms,
Among the things that once had forms,
And carry me clean out of sight thereafter!'

Thou hast lived long enough
To know thy own weak stuff,
Laughing thy fondest joys to utter scorn;
Give up the idle strife-
It is but mockery of life;
The fates had need of thee and thou wast born!
They are, in sooth, but thou shalt die.
O wandering spark! O homeless cry!
O empty will, still lacking self-intent!
Look up among the autumn trees:
The ripened fruits fall through the breeze,
And they will shake thee even like these
Into the lap of an Accomplishment!

Thou hadst a faith, and voices said:-
'Doubt not
that
truth, but bend thy head
Unto the God who drew thee from the night:'
Thou liftedst up thy eyes-and, lo!
A host of voices answered-'No;
A thousand things as good have seen the light!'
Look how the swarms arise
From every clod before thy eyes!
Are thine the only hopes that fade and fall
When to the centre of its action
One purpose draws each separate fraction,
And nothing but effects are left at all?
Aha, thy faith! what is thy faith?
The sleep that waits on coming death-
A blind delirious swoon that follows pain.
'True to thy nature!'-well! right well!
But what that nature is thou canst not tell-
It has a thousand voices in thy brain.
Danced all the leaflets to and fro?
-Thy feet have trod them long ago!
Sprung the glad music up the blue?
-The hawk hath cut the song in two.
All the mountains crumble,
All the forests fall,
All thy brethren stumble,
And rise no more at all!
In the dim woods there is a sound
When the winds begin to moan;
It is not of joy or yet of mirth,
But the mournful cry of our mother Earth,
As she calleth back her own.
Through the rosy air to-night
The living creatures play
Up and down through the rich faint light-
None so happy as they!
But the blast is here, and noises fall
Like the sound of steps in a ruined hall,
An icy touch is upon them all,
And they sicken and fade away.

The child awoke with an eye of gladness,
With a light on his head and a matchless grace,
And laughed at the passing shades of sadness
That chased the smiles on his mother's face;
And life with its lightsome load of youth
Swam like a boat on a shining lake-
Freighted with hopes enough, in sooth,
But he lived to trample on joy and truth,
And change his crown for a murder-stake!

Oh, a ruddy light went through the room,
Till the dark ran out to his mother Night!
And that little chamber showed through the gloom
Like a Noah's ark with its nest of light!
Right glad was the maiden there, I wis,
With the youth that held her hand in his!
Oh, sweet were the words that went and came
Through the light and shade of the leaping flame
That glowed on the cheerful faces!
So human the speech, so sunny and kind,
That the darkness danced on the wall behind,
And even the wail of the winter wind
Sang sweet through the window-cases!

But a mournful wail crept round and round,
And a voice cried:-'Come!' with a dreary sound,
And the circle wider grew;
The light flame sank, and sorrow fell
On the faces of those that loved so well;
Darker and wilder grew the tone;
Fainter and fainter the faces shone;
The wild night clasped them, and they were gone-
And thou art passing too!

Lo, the morning slowly springs
Like a meek white babe from the womb of night!
One golden planet sits and stings
The shifting gloom with his point of light!
Lo, the sun on its throne of flame!
-Wouldst thou climb and win a crown?
Oh, many a heart that pants for the same
Falls to the earth ere he goes down!
Thy heart is a flower with an open cup-
Sit and watch, if it pleaseth thee,
Till the melting twilight fill it up
With a crystal of tender sympathy;
So, gently will it tremble
The silent midnight through,
And flocks of stars assemble
By turns in its depths of dew;-
But look! oh, look again!
After the driving wind and rain!
When the day is up and the sun is strong,
And the voices of men are loud and long,
When the flower hath slunk to its rest again,
And love is lost in the strife of men!

Let the morning break with thoughts of love,
And the evening fall with dreams of bliss-
So vainly panteth the prisoned dove
For the depths of her sweet wilderness;
So stoops the eagle in his pride
From his rocky nest ere the bow is bent;
So sleeps the deer on the mountain-side
Ere the howling pack hath caught the scent!

The fire climbs high till its work is done;
The stalk falls down when the flower is gone;
And the stars of heaven when their course is run
Melt silently away!
There was a footfall on the snow,
A line of light on the ocean-flow,
And a billow's dash on the rocks below
That stand by the wintry bay:-
The snow was gone on the coming night;
Another wave arose in his might,
Uplifted his foaming breast of white,
And died like the rest for aye!

Oh, the stars were bright! and thyself in thee
Yearned for an immortality!
And the thoughts that drew from thy busy brain
Clasped the worlds like an endless chain-
When a moon arose, and her moving chime
Smote on thy soul, like a word in time,
Or a breathless wish, or a thought in rime,
And the truth that looked so gloomy and high
Leapt to thy arms with a joyful cry!
But what wert thou when a soulless Cause
Opened the book of its barren laws,
And thy spirit that was so glad and free
Was caught in the gin of necessity,
And a howl arose from the strife of things
Vexing each other with scorpion stings?
What wert thou but an orphan child
Thrust from the door when the night was wild?
Or a sailor on the toiling main
Looking blindly up through the wind and rain
As the hull of the vessel fell in twain!

Seals are on the book of fate,
Hands may not unbind it;
Eyes may search for truth till late,
But will never find it-!
Rising on the brow of night
Like a portent of dismay,
As the worlds in wild affright
Track it on its direful way;
Resting like a rainbow bar
Where the curve and level meet,
As the children chase it far
O'er the sands with blistered feet;
Sadly through the mist of ages
Gazing on this life of fear,
Doubtful shining on its pages,
Only seen to disappear!
Sit thee by the sounding shore
-Winds and waves of human breath!-
Learn a lesson from their roar,
Swelling, bursting evermore:
Live thy life and die thy death!
Die not like the writhing worm,
Rise and win thy highest stake;
Better perish in the storm
Than sit rotting on the lake!
Triumph in thy present youth,
Pulse of fire and heart of glee;
Leap at once into the truth,
If there is a truth for thee.

Shapeless thoughts and dull opinions,
Slow distinctions and degrees,-
Vex not thou thy weary pinions
With such leaden weights as these-
Through this mystic jurisdiction
Reaching out a hand by chance,
Resting on a dull conviction
Whetted but by ignorance;
Living ever to behold
Mournful eyes that watch and weep;
Spirit suns that flashed in gold
Failing from the vasty deep;
Starry lights that glowed like Truth
Gazing with unnumbered eyes,
Melting from the skies of youth,
Swallowed up of mysteries;
Cords of love that sweetly bound thee;
Faded writing on thy brow;
Presences that came around thee;
Hands of faith that fail thee now!

Groping hands will ever find thee
In the night with loads of chains!
Lift thy fetters and unbind thee,
Cast thee on the midnight plains:
Shapes of vision all-providing-
Famished cheeks and hungry cries!
Sound of crystal waters sliding-
Thirsty lips and bloodshot eyes!
Empty forms that send no gleaming
Through the mystery of this strife!-
Oh, in such a life of seeming,
Death were worth an endless life!

Hark the trumpet of the ocean
Where glad lands were wont to be!
Many voices of commotion
Break in tumult over thee!
Lo, they climb the frowning ages,
Marching o'er their level lands!
Far behind the strife that rages
Silence sits with clasped hands;
Undivided Purpose, freeing
His own steps from hindrances,
Sending out great floods of being,
Bathes thy steps in silentness.
Sit thee down in mirth and laughter-
One there is that waits for thee;
If there is a true hereafter
He will lend thee eyes to see.

Like a snowflake gently falling
On a quiet fountain,
Or a weary echo calling
From a distant mountain,
Drop thy hands in peace,-
Fail-falter-cease.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 9, 2010



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