Emily Pfeiffer

(1827-1890 / England)

The Pillar Of Praise - Poem by Emily Pfeiffer

A thankful heart as heart of man could be
Had William, Earl of Roslyn, Lord St. Claire,
When having long been tossed by land and sea
And proved of wandering days the foul and fair,
He, breathing deep his Scotland's homely air,
Oft gave it back again in praise and prayer:
Praise for that cup of life he held fulfilled,—
Prayer, seeing that so full, it could be spilled.
No princelier pair held sway beneath the throne
Than this same Earl of Roslyn and his mate
The daily largess doled from royal Scone
Was poor to that which flowed from Roslyn gate.
As man and earl this lord was threefold great,—
Great heart he had, great stature, and estate;
And Roslyn's lady, though of beauty rare,
Was called of men ‘the good’ and not ‘the fair.’

And sweetly in the mellow eventide
From lordly cares and lordly state unbent,
These lovers on the terrace side by side
Were wont to hold discourse of their content;
Or else, their married hearts more wholly blent,
Would pause from talk with smiling faces leant
Above the babe who took his fearless rest
In comfort of his mother's heaving breast.
And so it fell that once, the day being done,
Resting in freedom of the summer air,
They of the golden setting of the sun
And silvery voice of Esk, were hardly 'ware;
Nor heeded, if they heard from their repair,
The quintaine strokes delivered to the share
Of youthful pages, laughed at by the grooms,
Or babble of the ladies at their looms.
The sky was clear as any chrysolite,
And near the moon's keen edge looked down and smiled
The evening star, that knows no goodlier sight
Than such a man and woman, and their child.
Let blaring heralds tell how he was styled,—
As day wore on to night through evening mild,
He was her William, she his Margery,
With Oliver, their infant, on her knee.
And on this eve that was so soft and fair
He spoke, as if to ease his joy's excess,
And said: ‘This life is sweet beyond compare,
With Christ, His law in place of Heathenesse,
With true heart's love for wandering loneliness,
With friends to cherish, and the poor to bless;
The day is fair and full, too short the night
For sleep that falleth soft on loves' delight.
‘My heart that for such wealth is all too straight
Must overflow; and truly as a mere
Makes fat its borders, doth our high estate
Give fruit of our great joy to all a-near;
But so joy changeth, passeth, as the year,
Till of the heaven it showed us nought appear;
I would that blessing it might flow for ever
Renewed and still abiding, as a river!
‘And this because I hold that joy which springs
From true life lived, and love thus truly loved,
Hath might that not belongs to mortal things
To lift the heart to God; which hath been proved
Of languid souls that deeds of grace have moved,
And some reclaimed of love who once had roved.
So in this faith I fain would build, dear wife,
A monument to joy of love and life;
‘That when our mortal house so frail and fair
With windows of the sense which open wide
And let in various light and spices rare—
All sweets which are of mother earth the pride—
Hath fallen back to dust, and side by side
Our bones are laid, that men can say 'they died,'
The thoughts which moved us may appear alive
As now in fourteen hundred forty-five.’
So spoke the Earl outpouring of his heart
The overplus, the which his gentle dame
Cherished as it had been the dearest part
Of hers; as oft she pondered on the same,
Their blended thought, of life took form and frame,
And, as it saw the day, they gave it name,
And said: ‘The joy too great for us alone,
Shall blossom to all after time in stone;
‘We twain will build a house to God, and shrine
For Mother Mary; first to God our King,
Who is our life, and then for her, in sign
That she for us hath travailed sorrowing,
And felt the burthen of that 'holy thing'
That for our sore can sole salvation bring:
The love that feeds on sacrifice, and dies
That we, partaking too, may also rise.’

And hereupon these lovers who before
Had cheer so great between them, straightway drew
A draught of joy so deep, their lips ran o'er
In happy song, since nothing less would do;
The ladies at their looms rose up, and threw
Their shuttles by, and sung rejoicing too,
While squire and page, with one sad wounded knight.
Shouted incontinent for hearts' delight.
Then wheresoe'er this Earl had seen a thing,
In countries far or near, whose goodliness
Had wrought on fancy so that it would bring
It back to him unasked, he did address
Princes or burghers of that place, express
To send him craftsmen, skilful more or less
But fashioned all in habitudes of truth
Whereto such sights had lessoned them in youth
So came the Esk to sing its wayward song
To ears whose cradle-tune had been the beat
Of ocean waves, or river voices,—strong
To bind the world with music as they greet
Strange lands with mother-tongue,—or else the sweet
Lisp of the blue mid-sea; but though men meet
Here first from north and south to ply their art,
One only mind informs each several part.
It is Earl William's love that warms the stone,
His joy that sings in it, his praise that seems
To mount the shafts like sap, and break full blown
From out their crowns; his generous heart that teems
With life which flowing forth in sunny streams
Wakes all who know to feel from sickly dreams
Or thoughts fantastical, to understand,
Love, use the good that springs beneath the hand.
For this each fellow-creature of the field,
Pleasaunce, or garden, thistle, kale, or vine,
Each humblest life-companion, had to yield
Service of homely beauty, and combine
As best it might, to make complete the sign
Whereto this house was builded, and this shrine,—
To wit: that in these happy morning days
Man's daily life seemed good enough for praise.
Before the leaves were sere the house was planned,
Before they fell to earth the grave was made
Wherein the lord and lady of the land
Beheld the stones deep-rooted and inlaid,
As seed whose bed we hollow by the spade
Or ere the bower can comfort us with shade;
Then waited, longing for their sacred grove
To rise and stand forth vocal with their love.
That day was one to live in thought alone
Whereon the lord and lady standing by
The Master-builder, saw him break the stone
First into leaf. A downward look and shy
That Builder had,—some said an ‘evil eye,’
But answering to his call, for ever nigh,
Bound by that crooked gaze, a Highland boy
Wrought, singing as the robin sings, for joy.
The soul of things is strong as is well shown:
The hyssop finds firm foot-hold in the wall
A seedling's heaving heart hath moved a stone,
Bare rock maintains the stately pines and tall
All life is other than the crumbs that fall
To feed it; so this 'Prentice lad withal
Lived, laboured, flourished in the Builder's sight
As blithe as honey-bees in summer light.
The Countess Margaret early left her bed
One mid-September morn, and from her bower
Noting the gaze unwinking, and the head
Uplifted to the sun, of that proud flower
Which bears his name, she in that dewy hour
Called forth her train from turret and from tower,
And took her children and the sunflower too,
And forth the gate they went in order due.
The Earl was on a journey, and his dame
Must holy keep for both the holy day;
And, for their house of God bore Matthew's name,
They went on Matthew's festival to pay
Him thanks with psalmody and garlands gay,
With songs of happy heart, and bright array;
And when the wreaths were laid and service done,
They sparkled out again into the sun,
And made a goodly crescent as they stood
And gazed upon the roof now rising high,
And saw and said that all was fair and good,
Yet spoke in reverent undertones and shy,
For sight was none beneath that morning sky
Serenely fair as Countess Margery
When the white signal of her jewelled hand
Summoned the Master-builder to command.
Her gown was all of baudekyn, the weft
Of golden and the woof of silken thread,
And sewn it was with pearls wherever cleft,
And diapered with roses white and red;
The golden sun played with her hair outspread,
A golden chaplet bound her golden head,
And if in heraldry this triple use
Be counted false, here beauty made excuse.
The air was soft as summer's breath might be;
As for St. Agnes'-day the finches sung;
The lady wore alone her coat-hardie,
Whereto her little three-years maiden clung;
While high above the crispèd head and young
Of Oliver the whilome baby, hung
The drooping sun-flower withering in the blaze
It might no longer meet with fearless gaze.
The Builder bent before that lady bright
His dark Italian face and crooked eyes,
As they were overborne of too much light,
Or to such height of splendour dared not rise,
And gathering up her words in humble wise
Seemed in the dust to lay his low replies:
‘This flower I bring to grace St. Matthew's day;
Let it be carved in stone for him I pray’
Quoth Countess Margaret: ‘Set it then on high
In midmost of the midmost buttress there,
Where it will burn for ever in the eye
Of day, and its undying love declare.’
On which the Master-builder turned to where
His workmen stood, and eagerly, or ere
His lips had stirred, a youth sprung forth alone,
Within his hands a chisel and a stone.
And kneeling down before them in that place
This lusty stripling laid about him so
That scarce you might discern his hands or face
For dust and splinters that at every blow
Went whirling round about him high and low,
Whereof one chip as if to work him woe
Flew up and struck the Master standing by,—
And struck him in the sinister dark eye.
No blood was drawn, and little scathe was done;
The 'Prentice all unwitting in his cloud
Of fiery motes that figured in the sun
Rung out his hammer music low or loud.
But when his work was finished, and the crowd
Of gentle faces all above it bowed
Looked up at him, that evil eye askance
Had seemed to pierce him like a poisoned lance.
One sudden gasp as he had met his death
The 'Prentice gave, and for a little space
The light was quenched for him, and stopped his breath;
But light and breath came back to him apace,
And, life and health new flushing in his face,
He saw his fault and prayed the Master's grace,
Then laid his carving at the lady's feet,
But at her bidding spared to make retreat.
As mountain streams that flow through peaty sod
That Highland laddie's eyes were clear and brown,
And bright as chestnuts fresh from out the pod
His hair that stood on end like thistle-down
Or dandelion in its starry crown;
And well set up, well clad and eke well grown
And full of life he was as birds that preen
Their new-come feathers on the April green.
The Countess was of what was done full fain,
And from the neck of happy Oliver
She with her white hand loosed the silver chain
And gave it with the silver Christofre
To him whose cunning had so pleasured her;
Then asked his name, and hearing ‘Christopher’
She smiled withal, then turned in high content,
And so to Roslyn Castle home they went.
And never from this time that noble dame
Or any of her ladies came him near
But they would say ‘Good den’ to him by name,
And ask him of his work or of his cheer;
But sometimes though their words were sweet and clear,
Like hourly chimes they fell beside his ear
Unnoted; so his heart was hotly set
Upon the stone it was his work to fret.
And often as Earl William would bestow
A look upon those pinnacles on high
Crowning the buttress shafts, five of a row,
That 'Prentice Christopher he would descry,
Perched up aloft against the windy sky,
As small, and eke as fearless as a fly;
Then laughing he would swear: ‘By sword and fire
That 'Prentice lad had made a doughty squire!’
Old years brought in the new, and with each round
The bounteous earth Earl William found so fair,
And vowed to leave still fairer than he found,
Showed some new token of the love he bare,—
Some gift to sight which poorer men might share;
For this, O Earth, lie light on Lord St. Clair!
And when his work was ended out of door,
Quoth he: ‘Within we'll better do, and more.’
And richer than the rich he said must be
The Lady Chapel, as the heart of all;
So bade the Master-builder, Nicoli,
To trace him out each feature great and small,
Each architrave, each niche within the wall,
Each cantilever, moulding, tooth, or ball,
And pausing oft to make his judgment good,
He had the doubtful detail carved in wood.
And each tall arch which spanned that Chapel fair
Had buds upon it like a branch in spring,
And all about, beside it, everywhere,
The breaking waves of life kept gathering,
Till flowering fancies seemed to climb and cling
And stone to blossom like a growing thing;
While all sweet benedictions from the dome
Dropped thick as virgin honey from the comb.
When of three mighty pillars that upbore
These blooming arches, twain in crowned pride
Were so complete that hand could do no more,
Earl William called the Master to his side;
He praised his craft, and what it signified:
‘This basket-work, so interlaced and tied,
Means toil ingenious,—all this fine pierie,
The riches of the land and of the sea.
‘And truly I of such would freely give;—
But on this shaft that stands uncarven here,
The tribute must be other; as I live
I hold that life is of all things most dear;
A humble weed—the outcast of the year—
Is more than purest gem to God a-near;
So carve me still the signs of some new birth
Fresh from the deep, rejoicing heart of earth.’

The 'Prentice Christopher who wrought on high
In earshot of the Earl, now held his hand
And gathered in those words at ear and eye;
So, leaning forward from his giddy stand
They seem to call on him with high command:
To fire his blood as with a burning brand;
And this albeit they flowed in gentle stream
Bearing as if the fragments of a dream:
‘'Twas somewhere in the land of Italy
That once meseems I saw a thing most fair,
Which now in twilight dim of memory
I try to steady where it floats in air:
A column wreathed about with garlands rare,
Which feigned to be in parts compact with care,
And held in thongs of ivy or of vine
Which made them more effectively combine.
‘Each several rib was planted in its place
As all we know of life has root in soil
Of humble earth, and carven round its base
Dark creeping things were made to writhe and coil,—
Foul dragons for the nobler will to foil;
While sweetly, as the crown of knightly toil,
The capital broke forth in floral mirth
And laughed as at the triumph of the earth.
‘And here where stands this formless block of stone,
I would that such a history were told;
The story of a life, —not mine alone, —
A tale of human progress manifold;
Of chosen bonds that keep our powers controlled,
Fast bonds which break in blessing where they hold;
Go, seek that pillar, work this work of grace,
And I will make my Bethel of this place.’
So said the Earl; and now that Nicoli
Is gone upon his bidding; high and low
He searches all the land of Italy,
And paces all its cities to and fro,
Praying its people and its monks to show
Their shrines, or tell of others they may know;
And still he peers about with gaze oblique
And nothing finds of what he came to seek.
But otherwise it fared with Christopher;
For him Earl William's words were sparks of fire
Which lit up fragments whence he could infer
A perfect whole. That night o'er brake and briar
He chased the vision, coming ever nigher;
He hunted it with passionate desire
To have it 'neath his shaping hand, his own,
And goodlier than in dream it had been shown.
And from this time that 'Prentice lad could find
No mirth in laughter, and no woman fair;
Nor bending bonnetless against the wind
Knew that the tooth of March made keen the air;
But of the waking time of night grew 'ware,
And early song of birds upon the bare
Boughs of the thorn, all calling on his name
And telling of achievement crowned with fame.
And through the day, whatever work his hand
Was set to, still that pillar waxed more clear
To inward vision as he saw it stand
In stony patience waiting ever near,—
In perfect beauty moving white and sheer
Upon his path, a thing of joy and fear;
So, overborne of it, when day grew dim
He tried to put the vision forth of him.
He drew it if to peace he might attain,—
Transfixed it to the wall; all night he wrought,
The moon attending him; nor wrought in vain;
The 'Prentice-hand which thus in twilight fought
Compelled the flashes of his feverish thought
To guide its motions, wavering and half-taught,
Till, paling with the moon, he knew that still
He held it fast, subservient to his will.
And so he ‘laid’ the spectral thought, and slept
Dreamless, to wake at morn and find it there;
But from his mind, the work of some adept
Unknown, the same pale column grown more fair
Arose and stood beside it, everywhere
His eye might turn; and voices filled the air:
‘Make fast in clay the thing you would possess
More wholly, and more utterly express’
Then who that wooed a princess in the dark
So secret was as Christopher, or blest.
Who, joyous and aspiring as a lark,
And silent as an owl on midnight quest,
Waked with the stars while meaner things had rest,
And in the fervour of young love caressed
The fair idea that trembling to the birth
Thrilled to his touch from out th' encumbent earth.
The castle stood forsaken of the great;
The better chance for Edinboro' town
Whereto the princely rout had gone in state,
Which eighty torches—flaming pennons blown
Upon the winds of March—had fitly shown;
And ever Nicoli went up and down
Italian plains and cities, still pursuing
What Christopher had won with faithful wooing.
What, having won, he worshipped as he stood
Before it in the dawn, at noon, at night,
With praises that to him it had been good,
With thanks for what it yielded of delight;
And seeing it so fair, unmeetly dight
In humble clay, he vowed he would requite
The favours that his lowly love had known,
And robe it for the Virgin's shrine in stone.
And, for his heart was eager and unspent,
He, waking, gave up all his nights to love,
And rising with the rising moon, he went
As silently by silent copse and grove,
And came unto the silent church, and hove
His slender body with his hands, and clove
A passage for it through the timbers closed
To guard the windows while the works reposed.
And as he woke the echoes of the place
And saw his pillar sheeted all in white,
A bat, moon-blinded, struck him in the face,
And faintly shrieking, wheeled into the night.
Then he with sanction of the fair moon light
Was left alone to keep his heart's troth-plight;
And, seeing that the wounds of love are sore,—
That striking deeper, love still woundeth more,—

He knelt as to a maid, with fluttering breath,
And felt an awful presence stir the air,—
The soul of love that is at one with death;—
Till, urged by passion that will greatly dare,
He laid his 'Prentice-hand upon the fair
Unstoried smoothness of the column there,
And fell to breaking it in leaf and flower,—
Fair forms the stone is bearing to this hour.
Then warily, at peep of day, he stole
Forth from the church, and, watchful eye and ear,
Met the lank fox returning to his hole,
And from the shivering grasses of the mere
Heard the night-wandering moor-hen's cry of fear,
And lurking in the mantling ivy near
His lowly door, escaped the noisy raid
Of out or home bound milkers, man and maid.
And mounting straightway to his loft, he crept
Noiseless to bed, where, far into the day,
Oblivious of his nightly toil, he slept.
But ere moist April melted into May,
When silent in the sun the village lay,
Its busy hands in far-off fields away,—
He—bold with custom—took his rest by night,
And wrought rejoicing in the full day-light.
Rejoicing, as the strong man in his strength;
Rejoicing, as the happier birds that skim
The clouds, or as the hare that lays his length
Low to the ground his haunches spurn from him;
Rejoicing as the lissome fish that swim
Or leap from out the stream in wilder whim;
For of all things that knew the prick and stir
Of life, the most alive was Christopher.
So much alive at whiles, that he would deem
His glowing touches had the gift to bring
Forth motion answering to a call supreme,
When in his veins the passion of the spring
Poured out unmeasured on the stony thing
He seemed to feel it malleable, and cling,
Lend, yield itself to him as in a kiss,
Of utter love, and all-transfusing bliss.
Betwixt them, then, a miracle was done:
A simple truth, conceived in sheer delight,
Had shaped itself anew beneath the sun,
And he who shaped it knew that never quite
Henceforth his name would perish in the night
Of time, but live, a witness in the sight
Of men that once a man had felt the touch
Of beauty for his soul's peace overmuch.
And wandering by the Esk at eventide
Its flattering voice grew voluble, and told
Of joys upon the way to him, untried,
Mysterious as the stars, and manifold;
Of youthful hope, new-blown and over-bold.
And coming fame,—no cold complaisance doled
From grudging lips, but a quick kindly spark
To show him to his brethren in the dark.
And when the flower was forming in the wheat,
When birds had ceased to chaunt their tender pain,
The drowsy days so silent and replete
Still summoned Christopher to rest in vain;
He touched his finished work and touched again,
For very love his hand could not refrain,
While ever in his heart some great or small
Love-gift he found to dower it withal.
Till on a day—O fair the summer sun
That lit the leafy crown and bands of vine—
He looked on it and knew the goal was won;
Full-plenished as the season, every line
Distinct and perfect in the broad sun-shine,
He saw the loveliness he must resign,
Fulfilled, o'erflowing with his ardent youth,
And clasping it he wept for joy and ruth.
A cordial touch, a hand upon his hand,
And Christopher looks up to see the eyes
Of him who is the lord of all the land
Fast fixed upon his work in such a wise
As one who in a desert finds a prize
May look in dumb amaze, and feel it rise
In estimation till his joy breaks forth
In sudden proclamation of its worth.
So to the ear of Christopher there came,
Fresh as the opening anthem of the spring,
The sweet up-heaving of the breath of fame,
Which seemed to sweep the universe, and bring
A sound as from forgotten worlds, to ring
A moment ere it past, on some tense string
Of wakened memory, then go before
To wreck its music on some unknown shore.
But ere it past, it swept aside the veil
Which winds all human hearts as in a shroud,
And from these twain broke forth the rare ‘All hail!’
Of human brotherhood, the unavowed
Desire of every soul of man, how proud
Soever, cold, or heedless of the crowd,
‘For,’ said the Earl, ‘your heart my heart bespeaketh,
Telleth the good it knows, and that it seeketh;
‘Showeth how light from soul to soul is caught,
My soul the torch to that fair lamp of thine,
Which flourishing upon my flickering thought,
And finding of its hint the countersign,
We know not what of this is yours, what mine,
But know some vital part of both will shine
Together through the years, and save from scorn
Of life perchance less affluent souls unborn.
‘For we who glory in our life to-day
Are haply children of a world still young;
Not long our native thought hath found a way
Of rhythmic utterance in our native tongue;
The life we live is that our Chaucer sung;
To moodier music may all harps be strung,
Hereafter, when the old earth's sinking fire
Moves fainter hearts of men to faint desire;
‘Then may two souls that thus can love and praise,
As jewels with the stored-up light replete
Of younger suns, flash back on elder days
From out this 'pillar of a stone,' and greet
Some who may languish still, with hearts that beat
Too swift a measure for an age effete,
And help to keener vision, stronger hold
On life, those younglings of a world too old.
‘I see that of such words of life as trees,
And humbler herbs of garden, hill, or heath,
Our dearest as our dayliest you seize
For signs of the unspeakable beneath;
I find my yew-bough blown as by the breath
Of morning from our Pentlands, in this wreath,—
My yew whose long-enduring soul will last
To bind the coming seasons with the past.
‘So have you taken of our common speech
And made it rare again; your keener light
Of poet-vision hath sufficed to reach
Its hidden heart, whose scriptures you indite
Anew for denser hearing, feebler sight,
Both dulled by custom; may my heart requite
Your heart for that it hath so nobly done:
The work wherein our souls must live as one.’
Then 'Prentice Christopher is left alone,
Alone with present joy and joy to be,
Bidden to wait his lord who now is gone
To bring the Countess and her train to see
His wonder-work, he wondering if a fee
More sweet than new-found immortality
May fall to him from fair eyes skilled to read
In power of high achievement, deeper need;
If haply to the hollow of his heart,
Aching in silence of the toil foregone,
A presence more prevailing than of art
Should enter in and mount the vacant throne,
Thrilling the void with tumult all its own
Till grief should swoon for sweetness of its moan,
Fate weave a garment for his proud despair
Too knightly for a villain hope to wear.
If haply from the far-off milky way
Of noble maidens tending on his queen
One brightest star should shoot on him a ray,
Crown him as man and maker in her sheen,—
He so uplift of art's high toil and teen,
That no sweet condescendence could demean
The gentle soul which shining in its place
Should find, reach, touch him once in scorn of space—
A moving shadow creeping black and fell,
And lo! the Master-builder at his side;
Pale cheek and lip with the white hate of hell,—
One shrunken eye fixed, feigning to deride
The work whose mastery his own defied,
The other on the youth whose wealth supplied
His want, who had achieved this living whole,
While up and down in thievish search he stole.
Dear God! that shadow quenchèd so the light,
The 'Prentice looked upon his work dismayed;
On leaf and flower had come a sickening blight,
He saw each fault accused, each beauty fade,
He saw his thought, his fair idea betrayed
To common shame. ‘Can love so far degrade
The well-beloved?’ He said no more aloud,
But trembling at the pillar's foot he bowed
One soul-sick moment; then within the stone
There seemed to vibrate sweetly, tenderly,
An answering voice: ‘The love,—not thine alone,—
But that which dwelleth in all things which be,
Suffereth no shame young Christopher of thee,
Thus adding to the signs whereby men see
For ever, that no force within, above,
Below, can call to life, but only Love.’
A swift keen stroke, a messenger of peace,
To still the beating heart and throbbing head;
Blind envy serves the order of release
Ere yet a leaf of life's young rose is shed.
His first work finished, and his last word said,
Healed of all sickness, Christopher falls dead,
Pierced through the back by that yet deedless hand
That now for ever with his blood is banned.
Dead in the summer time, dead ere the noon,
Dead with the cup of life full at his lip,
Dead, as the weeping ladies moaned, too soon,—
Dead ere the critic's scorn had time to nip
His venturous off-shoots,—while he felt the grip
Warm on his hand of true heart-fellowship,—
Dead early, late to live in tender ruth—
A fair fame shadowless, embalmed in youth.
Base hand whose cunning but avails to deal
Forth death; hard hand that hath the skill to break
But not to build; that hast the art to steal
Yet never may possess what it may take;
Hand that can mar what only God can make,
Deadly, but dropping life-blood on your wake,—
Go, leave your work half done, its final term
And triumph can be reached but by the worm.
Still as the noon-day, as the noon-day fair,
Pale as the stone whereto his soul was wed,
The living light at play within his hair,
His eyes wide open, to its glories dead;
With carven face uplifted from a bed
Of costlier dye than Tyrean,—the red
Stream of his ebbing blood,—thus Christopher
Waited the coming train, the joyous stir
Of life, —the advent at the open door
Of that gay throng betwixt whose lips the sweet
Warm breath of praise was gathering, to pour
Forth thriftless in a storm of cries, and beat
Vainly each empty cave and vacant seat
Of sense which from its haunts had made retreat—
Leaving all dumb to question as some lone
Shore to the waves' unanswerable moan.
Rain, rain on him those quick tempestuous tears,
Proud damozel, kneel, crown him with a kiss;
Death at a stroke wins that which life-long years
Had craved in vain; he would have died for this.
O heart of man! Is it not well to miss
The waking time that waits all dreams of bliss,
Nor—seen the harsh conditions of the strife—
Play to the end the losing game of life?
Were it not well if April souls could fling
A husk away for growth too obdurate,
For joy too dull, and in eternal spring
Unfold new life for ever state on state,
Mounting in swift ascent to morning's gate
Unknowing of that curse of time: ‘Too late?’
If any grace like this be held in fee,
Such grace is owned, young Christopher, of thee!
No eye had seen the Builder come or go;
His secret lay betwixt him and the sun,
Where never seed of life for him would grow
For shadow of it; all his work begun
Rotted and fell to dust again undone,
Whilst among men he crept as he were none;
Most strange and most aloof from those most near,
But hated with the adder-hate of fear.
So came Earl William's work of praise to cease;
Its cost had been too great in blood and tears;
And though the seasons brought their fair increase,
Though married love struck deeper root with years,
And stronger for that doom of love which seres
His blossoms ere his seeded fruit appears,—
He drew his life within in later days
As outworn singers chaunt their virelays.
That house of God which was to music built
Of hearts in full accord,—so, dedicate
To love,—was shaken by that deed of guilt—
Torn by the blast of that discordant hate;
But music still prevailed, when in the late
Evening of life, the Founder and his mate
Were here inearthed, and Oliver their son
Finished for love what love had left undone.

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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