Elizabeth Oakes Smith
The Sinless Child Part 3 - Poem by Elizabeth Oakes Smith
As years passed on, no wonder, each
An inward grace revealed;
For where the soul is peace and love,
It may not be concealed.
They stamp a beauty on the brow,
A softness on the face,
And give to every wavy line
A tenderness and grace.
Long golden hair in many curls
Waved o'er young Eva's brow;
Imparting depth to her soft eye,
And pressed her neck of snow:
Her cheek was pale with lofty thought,
And calm her maiden air;
And all who heard her birdlike voice,
Felt harmony was there.
For winning were her household ways,
Her step was prompt and light,
To save her mother's weary tread,
Till came the welcome night;
And though the toil might useless be,
The housewife's busy skill,
Enough for Eva that it bore
Inscribed a mother's will;
All humble things exalted grow
By sentiment impressed—
The love that bathes the way-worn feet,
Or leans upon the breast;
For love, whate'er the offering be,
Lives in a hallowed air,
And holy hearts before its shrine,
Alone may worship there.
Young Eva's cheek was lily pale,
Her look was scarce of earth,
And doubtingly the mother spoke,
Who gave to Eva birth.
'O Eva, leave thy thoughtful ways,
And dance and sing, my child;
Thy pallid cheek is tinged with blue,
Thy words are strange and wild.
Thy father died—a widow left,
An orphan birth was thine,
I longed to see thy infant eyes
Look upward into mine.
I hoped upon thy sweet young face,
Thy father's look to see;
But Eva, Eva, sadly strange
Are all thy ways to me.
While yet a child, thy look would hold
Communion with the sky;
Too tranquil is thy maiden air,
The glances of thine eye
Are such as make me turn away,
E'en with a shuddering dread,
As if my very soul might be
By thy pure spirit read.'
Slow swelled a tear from Eva's lid,
She kissed her mother's cheek,
She answered with an earnest look,
And accents low and meek:—
'Dear mother, why should mortals seek
Emotions to conceal?
As if to be revealed were worse
Than inwardly to feel.
The human eye I may not fear,
It is the light within,
That traces on the growing soul
All thought, and every sin.
That mystic book, the human soul,
Where every trace remains,
The record of all thoughts and deeds,
The record of all stains.
Dear mother! in ourselves is hid
The holy spirit-land,
Where thought, the flaming cherub, stands
With its relentless brand;
We feel the pang when that dread sword
Inscribes the hidden sin,
And turneth everywhere to guard
The paradise within.'
'Nay, Eva, leave these solemn words,
Fit for a churchman's tongue,
And let me see thee deck thy hair,
A maiden blithe and young.
When others win admiring eyes,
And looks that speak of love,
Why dost thou stand in thoughtful guise?
Why cold and silent move?
Thy beauty sure should win for thee
Full many a lover's sigh,
But on thy brow there is no pride,
Nor in thy placid eye.
Dear Eva! learn to look and love,
And claim a lover's prayer,
Thou art too cold for one so young,
So gentle and so fair.'
'Nay, mother! I must be alone,
With no companion here,
None, none to joy when I am glad,
With me to shed a tear:
For who will clasp a maiden's hand
In grot or sheltering grove,
If one unearthly gift debar
From sympathy and love!
Such gift is mine, the gift of thought,
Whence all will shrink away,
E'en thou from thy poor child dost turn,
With doubting and dismay.
And who shall love, and who shall trust,
Since she who gave me birth,
Knows not the child that prattled once
Beside her lonely hearth?
I would I were, for thy dear sake,
What thou wouldst have me be;
Thou dost not comprehend the bliss
That's given unto me;
That union of the thought and soul
With all that's good and bright,
The blessedness of earth and sky,
The growing truth and light.
That reading of all hidden things
The mystery of life,
Its many hopes, its many fears,
The sorrow and the strife.
A spirit to behold in all,
To guide, admonish, cheer,
For ever in all time and place,
To feel an angel near.'
'Dear Eva! lean upon my breast,
And let me press thy hand,
That I may hear thee talk awhile
Of thy own spirit-land.
And yet I would the pleasant sun
Were shining in the sky,
The blithe birds singing through the air,
And busy life, were by.
For when in converse, like to this,
Thy low, sweet voice I hear,
Strange shudderings o'er my senses creep,
Like touch of spirits near.
How fearful grow familiar things,
In silence and the night,
The cricket piping in the hearth,
Half fills me with affright!
I hear the old trees creak and sway,
And shiver in the blast;
I hear the wailing of the wind,
As if the dead swept past.
Dear Eva! 'tis a world of gloom,
The grave is dark and drear,
We scarce begin to taste of life
Ere death is standing near.'
Then Eva kissed her mother's cheek,
And looked with saddened smile,
Upon her terror-stricken face,
And talked with her the while;
And O! her face was pale and sweet,
Though deep, deep thought was there,
And sadly calm her low-toned voice
For one so young and fair.
'Nay, mother, everywhere is hid
A beauty and delight,
The shadow lies upon the heart,
The gloom upon the sight;
Send but the spirit on its way
Communion high to hold,
And bursting from the earth and sky,
A glory we behold!
And did we but our primal state
Of purity retain,
We might, as in our Eden days,
With angels walk again.
And memories strange of other times
Would break upon the mind,
The linkings, that the present join,
To what is left behind.
The little child at dawn of life
A holy impress bears,
The signet-mark by Heaven affixed
Upon his forehead wears;
And naught that impress can efface,
Save his own wilful sin,
Which first begins to draw the veil
That shuts the spirit in.
And one by one his lights decay,
His visions tend to earth,
Till all those holy forms have fled
That gathered round his birth;
Or dim and faintly may they come,
Like memories of a dream.
Or come to blanch his cheek with fear,
So shadow-like they seem.
And thus all doubtingly he lives
Amid his gloomy fears,
And feels within his inmost soul,
Earth is a vale of tears:
And scarce his darkened thoughts may trace
The mystery within;
For faintly gleams the spirit forth
When shadowed o'er by sin.
Unrobed, majestic, should the soul
Before its God appear,
Undimmed the image He affixed,
Unknown to doubt or fear;
And open converse should it hold,
With meek and trusting brow;
Such as man was in Paradise,
He may be even now.
But when the deathless soul is sunk
To depths of guilt and wo,
It then a dark communion holds
With spirits from below.'
And Eva shuddered as she told
How every heaven-born trace
Of goodness in the human soul
Might wickedness efface.
Alas! unknowing what he doth,
A judgment-seat man rears,
A stern tribunal throned within,
Before which he appears;
And conscience, minister of wrath,
Approves him or condemns;
He knoweth not the fearful risk,
Who inward light contemns.
'O veil thy face, pure child of God,'
With solemn tone she said,
'And judge not thou, but lowly weep,
That virtue should be dead!
Weep thou with prayer and holy fear,
That o'er thy brother's soul,
Effacing life, and light, and love,
Polluting waves should roll.
Weep for the fettered slave of sense,
For passion's minion weep!
For him who nurtureth the worm,
In death that may not sleep;
And tears of blood, if it may be,
For him, who plunged in guilt,
Perils his own and victim's soul,
When human blood is spilt.
For him no glory may abide
In earth or tranquil sky;
Fearful to him the human face,
The searching human eye.
A light beams on him everywhere;
Revealing in its ray,
An erring, terror-stricken soul,
Launched from its orb away.
Turn where he will, all day he meets
That cold and leaden stare;
His victim, pale, and bathed in blood,
Is with him everywhere;
He sees that shape upon the cloud,
It glares from out the brook,
The mist upon the mountain side,
Assumes that fearful look.
He sees, in every simple flower,
Those dying eyes gleam out;
And starts to hear a dying groan,
Amid some merry shout.
The phantom comes to chill the warmth,
Of every sunlight ray,
He feels it slowly glide along,
Where forest shadows play.
And when the solemn night comes down,
With silence dark and drear,
His curdling blood and rising hair
Attest the victim near.
With hideous dreams and terrors wild,
His brain from sleep is kept,
For on his pillow, side by side,
A gory form hath slept.'
'O Eva, Eva, say no more,
For I am filled with fear;
Dim shadows move along the wall;
Dost thou not see them here?—
Dost thou not mark the gleams of light,
The shadowy forms move by?'
'Yes, mother, beautiful to see!
And they are always nigh.
O, would the veil for thee were raised
That hides the spirit-land,
For we are spirits draped in flesh,
Communing with that band;
And it were weariness to me,
Were only human eyes
To meet my own with tenderness,
In earth or pleasant skies.'
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