Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

The Temple Of Sorrow - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

The Minster glory lies engulfed in gloom,
With mournful music throbbing deep and low,
And all the jewelled joy within Her eyes
Slumbers suffused; the saint, the warrior,
On tomb recumbent, kneeling panoplied,
Blend far-away mysterious presences
With a wide-seething multitude, alive
Through all the pillared grandeur of the nave,
A human sea; the gorgeous full pomp
Of civil, militant, imperial pride,
And sacerdotal splendour, cloth of gold,
Chalice bejewelled, silks imbued with morn,
Flows in blue twilight of a perfumed air,
Flows, flashing into momentary gleam
By altar and shrine, for lustre of the lamps,
Silver and gold suspended, or mild shine
Of tall white wax around a central Night
In the mid-transept; there the Catafalque,
The Shadow dominates, reigns paramount
O'er all the temple; 'tis the hollow heart,
Dispensing Darkness through the frame supine
Of that colossal Cross, which is the Fane.
The huge vault under yawneth, a deep wound,
Filled full with Horror; Death abideth there:
Ay, with our lost Ideals, our lost Loves,
Baffled Aim, palsied Faith, Hope atrophied!
All the circumfluent glory-glow of Life
Mere tributary to the awful throne
Of this dread Power; all cast their crowns before It.
Yea, as blithe waters from the abysmal womb
Of caverned Earth dance buoyant into Day,
So here from fountains of primeval Night
In very deed Life seemeth effluent.

And some there be most honoured in the crowd,
From whom illustrious prince, with emperor
And noble stand obeisantly aside.
Who are they? for they wear no bravery,
Nor badge of high estate within the realm,
Whose garb uncourtly sombre shows and mean.
No confident bearing, claiming deference,
As of right full-conceded, suns itself
Proudly on these; we judge them of the herd
Of rugged toilers, whom the stroke of Fate
Despoils of floral honours and green leaves,
Fells for rough use, not leaves for leisured grace,
Or putting forth the loveliest that is theirs.
Lowly their port, whose dull and earthward eyes,
Heavy with weeping, droop beneath rude brows,
Whose light is with their heart, quenched in the abyss
That holds their best beloved, torn from them
In fierce embraces of devouring fire;
Whose souls were so inextricably involved
With these that perished, in the ghastly fall
They too were wrenched low from the living light
Of placid, self-possessed familiar day
Down to a desolate disconsolate wild,
Haunt of grim Madness, hollow Doubt, Despair:
Only the dead, more happy, seem to glide
Lower to nether caverns of cool sleep.
Grief is their patent of nobility;
Sorrow the charter of their right to honour.
Smitten to earth, behold them cowering,
Mocked, buffeted, spurned, spat upon, effaced
Under the blood-red executioner,
Whom some name Nature, and some God, the Lord.
These do but threaten feebly with a mouth
Or hand, more feeble than a delicate beast,
Lashed for hell-torment by a learned man,
Lashed for hell-torment in the torture-trough;
The unregarded Sudras of the world,
Bleeding to slow death from an inward wound,
Deep and immedicable evermore.

To these the proud and prosperous of earth
Pay reverent homage! it is marvellous!
And yet no marvel! such fate-stricken men
Are armed, and robed imperially with awe!
Who flame sublime to momentary wrath,
Peal with mad mirth, then grovel impotent;
Who affirm not their own selves, who falter lost,
Like foam blown inland on the whirlwind's wing
From ocean, there dissolving tremulous
Where kindred foam evanished only now,
So they in the lapsed being of their dead.
They are one with these they cherished and adored,
Not separate, individual any more:
Lieges are they of Sorrow, pale crowned Queen
Over man's miserable mad universe.

What might have been fair Body grows to Soul;
From false-appearing palace halls of sense
They are delivered, into mournful worlds
Of Peradventures all unfathomable,
Forebodings infinite, wild hope, surmise,
Faith, love, sweet longing; yea, they are disturbed
From dull content with earth's inanities
By revelation of what hollow hearts,
And loathly shapes they hide; afire with thirst,
Now will they sound the eternal deeps within
For living water, clouded and disused,
Cumbered with ruin; their dull eyes are roused
From low rank plains to interrogate the height
Of perilous attainment or endeavour,
Where snows hold high communion with stars,
Where from aerial eyrie sails the eagle,
Calm in clean air, familiar with Heaven.
They are made free of God's eternal spirit,
Ever abounding, inexhaustible;
Consumed, that they themselves may truly be.

Behold! the Minster cruciform and grand,
Grows human, more than human, as I muse,
The Holy House of Life, the Crucified!
What seems the World, the Body of the Lord!
Expanded arms, and frame pulsate with blood,
Close-thronging individual lives; His Heart,
Death, haloed with pale anguish and desire.
Even so the Sun eclipsed, a sable sphere,
Is ringed around with his corona flame,
Wherein appear weird members of red fire.
But as the Sun behind this ominous orb,
That is the spectral shadow of our moon,
Smiles evermore beneficent, so Love
Veils Him in gloom sepulchral for awhile,
That we who sound the abysses of Despair
May weave pure pearls, Her awful bosom hides,
Into a coronal for our pale brows,
And He Himself, descending to the deep,
Bearing our burden, may win lovelier grace
Of Love's own tears, which are the gems of God.

Ever the plangent ocean of low sound
Fills all with midnight, overwhelms my heart.
Lit tapers faint around the Catafalque,
And fair-wrought lamp in sanctuary and shrine.
The wan expanse seems labouring confused
With what feels like some glutinous chill mist,
Close cobweb-woof; the great Cathedral quakes,
As from sick earthquake throes; the pillars tall
Heave, like huge forest-peers, that agonise
In tides of roaring tempest: will the pile
Vanish anon to assume an alien form?
For all the pillars hurtle aloft to flame
Flamboyant, cloven, pallid, while the roof
Reels riven; yet there is not any sound.
Lo! every Christ on every crucifix
Glares with the swordblade glare of antichrist!
While on the immense-hewn flanking masonry,
Scrawled, as by finger supernatural,
As in Belshazzar's banquet-hall of old,
Behold the '
Mene! mene!
' but the realm
Divided is the royal realm, the soul!
The guilty soul, ingorged by the dim fiend
Of loathsome, limbless bulk, Insanity!
In dusk recesses how the shadows wax
Palpable, till they palpitate obscene,
Clinging, half-severed; our sick souls are ware
Of some live Leprosy, that heaves and breathes
Audibly in the impenetrable gloom.

Hear ye the moans of muffled agony
By yonder altars of the infernal aisle?
Marmoreal pavements slippery with blood!
While all the ghastly-lit ensanguined space
Quickening teems with foul abnormal births;
Corpse faces scowling, wound about with shrouds,
Sniffing thick orgy fumes of cruelty,
Steal out, or slink behind in the shamed air.
Vast arteries of the dilating pile
Pulsate with ever denser atom-lives
Unhappy; do mine eyes indeed behold
Those holy innocents, whom she of yore,
The Voice in Ramah, wept so bitterly,
Rachel, sweet spirit-mother of their race?
They are holy innocents of many a clime,
And many a time, some murdered yesterday,
And some still languishing in present pain:
Dumb women, with marred faces eloquent,
Hold their wan hands; while all around, behold
Among their feet, what seems a harried crowd
Of gentle beings, who are man's meek friends!
They in the reeking shadow yonder fawn
Upon dyed knees of things in human shape,
All hell's heat smouldering in lurid eyes,
And Cain's ensanguined brand upon their brow,
Who on those altars, prostitute to sin,
Offer the innocents to fiends whose names,
Obsequious to the inconstant moods of man,
Vary elusive, and deluding; now
They are called Moloch, Baal, Ashtaroth,
Hatred, Revenge, War, Lust, Greed, Might-is-Right,
Now Church, the Truth, the Virgin, or the Christ,
But in a later time Expediency,
Weal of Man, Nature, Lust of Curious Lore.
The accurst oblation of fair alien lives,
None of their own, they pour to satiate
The hydra-headed, demon brood obscene.
These are devoured with ever subtler pangs
Cunningly heightened, fuelled, nursed, prolonged
By cold, harsh hearts, one adamant to woe,
Or cruel, infamous appetite for pain.
Ay, and of horrors loathlier than these
The verse dares name not, thrust on beautiful
Maidens and babes defenceless, of such feasts
The God-deserted souls are gluttonous.

White victims, immolated for the world!
Ye tyrants, ye alone are miserable!
For whom Hate hath left loving, though a beast,
Is nearer God than you, removed from Him
By all the hierarchies of all worlds!
But these have fallen to abysms of pain,
And you to sloughs of inmost infamy,
That all the spheres may learn for evermore
The treachery of sweet ways that are not Love.
Yet if some God be lingering in you,
Your own eternal selves consenting not,
(Which are by lapse, and by recovery)
Touching the lowest deep ye shall recoil?
When in the furnace heated sevenfold
More than the wont, fierce furnace of God's wrath,
Blasted, ye shrivel, your inhuman pride
Stern, stubborn metal swooning to weak air
In the white heat of Love's intolerable,
Ah! then will not the innocence ye wronged,
Leaving her own bliss for you, fly from heaven
To heal you by forgiveness? May it be!

Yea, there are fleeting gleams from the All-fair,
Playing of children, larks, and lovers gay,
Beautiful image, grand heroic deed,
Cheery content; but ah! the grim World-woe
Absorbs all vision, overwhelms the heart!
A few, with seraph pity in clear eyes,
And flashing swords retributive unsheathed,
Sore-pressed and wounded, wrestle with the foe,
Defeated, slain, delivering; while aloft
We seize anon some glimpses of august,
Benignant countenances, with white wings,
As of Heaven's host invisible drawn up
For battle; but I know not who prevail.
A few pale stars in chasms of wild storm!
Aliens, alas! no potentates of ours.
We are in the power of Darkness and Dismay,
Anguishing God-forsaken on the cross!
Yea, sons of Belial with jaunty jeer
Ask where thou hidest, Lord! the Avenger! God!
Devils a priestly scare to them, who know not
Devils allure them blind into the pit.
Could they but hear low ghastly mirth convulse
Shadowy flanks of these live Plagues in air!
Mine eyeballs seared with horror, and my heart
One writhing flame, I prayed that I might die,
And lay me down to sleep with
for ever!
A sevenfold darkness weighs upon my soul:
I hear no groans, no music; all is still,
Even as the grave: one whispers of the Dawn:
Once I surmised the morning grey, not now:
Nor in the chancel, whose wide wakeful orb,
Solemnly waiting, ever fronts the East,
Nor in the cold clerestories of the nave.
One whispers of the lark; I hear no bird.
And yet I know the seraph eyes of Dawn
Find in her last, lone hollow the veiled Night.

Hearken! a long, low toll appals the gloom!
Like a slow welling blood from a death-wound
In the world's heart, that never will be stanched,
Crimsoning the void with waste expense of pain!
Another, and another, vibrating!
A phantom bell tolls in the abysmal dark
The funeral of all living things that be.
I, turning toward the Catafalque, desire,
Plunging within the gulf, to be no more. . . .

When, lo! some touch as of a healing hand.
For while I knew the mourners only saw
Flowers on fair corses and closed coffin-lid,
I grew aware of souls regenerate
Afar, sweet spirits raimented in white,
Who leaned above the Terror with calm eyes;
And for a moment their purged vision cleared
Earth-humours from mine own, till I beheld
No deadly Dark - a lake of living Light,
A mystic sphere, the Apocalyptic main!
Heaving with happiness that breathes, a home
For all dear spirits of the faded flowers
Outrageous men have pulled and thrown away;
Clouds in blue air reflected in a mere,
Or roseflush in rose-opal, a shy dawn
In lakes at morning, so the souls appeared.

My little children, do I find you here?
All here! Among you smiles our very own.
Each little one hath, nestled in his bosom,
A delicate bird, or elfin animal.
White-clustered lilies, beautiful as morn,
In wayward luxury of love's own light
Eddying, abandoned to love-liberty!
Joy-pulses of young hearts unsulliable
Weave warbling music, a low lullaby.
I fancy they have syllabled a song:

We are fain, are fain
Of mortal pain,
We are fain of heavenly sorrow;
As a gentle rain
She will sustain,
Wait only till to-morrow!

Among death-pearls
Of dewy curls,
O little ones in anguish!
The Lord hath kissed,
I would you wist
For all the world ye languish!

The loveless world
Lies love-impearled
From innocency weeping;
Wan wings be furled,
And you lie curled
In Love's warm haven sleeping.

For when ye know
What glories flow
For all from childly sorrow,
A flower will blow
From your wan woe
Within the wounded furrow.

We are fain, are fain
Of mortal pain,
We are fain of heavenly sorrow;
As a gentle rain
She will sustain,
Wait only till to-morrow!

So pure, pellucid fays enjoy the calm
Of summer seas, and woven waterlights
In faëry cavern, where the emerald heart
Lies heavy, or blue sheen on a warm wave.
And ye are fair-surrounded with lost Love,
Celestial Vision, vanished Hope, Desire,
Lovelier recovered, gloriously fulfilled
With a Divine fulfilment, more than ours.

There, in the midst, the likeness of a Lamb,
That had been slain, whose passion heals our hurt,
Wearing a thorn crown, breathing into bloom!
Lo! if ye listen intently by the light,
Ye hear a winnowing of angel wings,
Nearing, or waning: while from far away,
I'the Heart of all, what revelation falls? . . .
A sound, oh marvel! like a sound of tears!

Pain ever deepens with the deepening life,
Though fair Love modulate the whole to joy.
A myriad darkling points of dolorous gloom
Startle to live light; subtle infinite veins
Of world-wide Anguish glow, a noonlit leaf.

All vanish; there is dawn within the fane;
Born slowly from the wan reluctant gloom
Conquering emerges a grand Cross of Gold,
And all the nations range around serene.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010

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