Sydney Thompson Dobell

(1824-1874 / England)

When The Rain Is On The Roof - Poem by Sydney Thompson Dobell

Lord, I am poor, and know not how to speak,
But since Thou art so great,
Thou needest not that I should speak to Thee well.
All angels speak unto Thee well.


Lord, Thou hast all things: what Thou wilt is Thine.
More gold and silver than the sun and moon;
All flocks and herds, all fish in every sea;
Mountains and valleys, cities and all farms;
Cots and all men, harvests and years of fruit.
Is any king arrayed like Thee, who wearest
A new robe every morning? Who is crowned
As Thou, who settest heaven upon thy head?
But as for me-
For me, if he be dead, I have but Thee!
Therefore, because Thou art my sole possession,
I will not fear to speak to Thee who art mine,
For who doth dread his own?


Lord, I am very sorrowful. I know
That Thou delightest to do well; to wipe
Tears from all eyes; to bind the broken-hearted;
To comfort them that mourn; to give to them
Beauty for ashes, and to garb with joy
The naked soul of grief. And what so good
But Thou that wilt canst do it? Which of all
Thy works is less in wonder and in praise
Than this poor heart's desire? Give me, oh Lord,
My heart's desire! Wilt Thou refuse my prayer
Who givest when no man asketh? How great things,
How unbesought, how difficult, how strange,
Thou dost in daily pleasure! Who is like Thee,
Oh Lord of Life and Death? The year is dead;
It smouldered in its smoke to the white ash
Of winter: but Thou breathest and the fire
Is kindled, and Thy summer bounty burns.
This is a marvel to me. Day is buried;
And where they laid him in the west I see
The mounded mountains. Yet shall he come back;
Not like a ghost that rises from his grave.
But in the east the palace gates will ope,
And he comes forth out of the feast, and I
Behold him and the glory after him,
Like to a messaged angel with wide arms
Of rapture, all the honour in his eyes,
And blushing with the King. In the dark hours
Thou hast been busy with him: for he went
Down westward, and he cometh from the east,
Not as toil-stained from travel, tho' his course
And journey in the secrets of the night
Be far as earth and heaven. This is a sum
Too hard for me, oh Lord; I cannot do it.
But Thou hast set it, and I know with Thee
There is an answer. Man also, oh Lord,
Is clear and whole before Thee. Well I know
That the strong skein and tangle of our life
Thou holdest by the end. The mother dieth-
The mother dieth ere her time, and like
A jewel in the cinders of a fire,
The child endures. Also, the son is slain,
And she who bore him shrieks not while the steel
Doth hack her sometime vitals, and transfix
The heart she throbbed with. How shall these things be?
Likewise, oh Lord, man that is born of woman,
Who built him of her tenderness, and gave
Her sighs to breathe him, and for all his bones-
Poor trembler!-hath no wherewithal more stern
Than bowels of her pity, cometh forth
Like a young lion from his den. Ere yet
His teeth be fangled he hath greed of blood,
And gambols for the slaughter: and being grown,
Sudden, with terrible mane and mouthing thunder,
Like a thing native to the wilderness
He stretches toward the desert; while his dam,
As a poor dog that nursed the king of beasts,
Strains at her sordid chain, and, with set ear,
Hath yet a little longer, in the roar
And backward echo of his windy flight,
Him, seen no more. This also is too hard-
Too hard for me, oh Lord! I cannot judge it.
Also the armies of him are as dust.
A little while the storm and the great rain
Beat him, and he abideth in his place,
But the suns scorch on him, and all his sap
And strength, whereby he held against the ground,
Is spent; as in the unwatched pot on the fire,
When that which should have been the children's blood
Scarce paints the hollow iron. Then Thou callest
Thy wind. He passeth like the stowre and dust
Of roads in summer. A brief while it casts
A shadow, and beneath the passing cloud
Things not to pass do follow to the hedge,
Swift heaviness runs under with a show,
And draws a train, and what was white is dark;
But at the hedge it falleth on the fields-
It falleth on the greenness of the grass;
The grass between its verdure takes it in,
And no man heedeth. Surely, oh Lord God,
If he has gone down from me, if my child
Nowhere in any lands that see the sun
Maketh the sunshine pleasant, if the earth
Hath smoothed o'er him as waters o'er a stone,
Yet is he further from Thee than the day
After its setting? Shalt Thou not, oh Lord,
Be busy with him in the under dark,
And give him journey thro' the secret night,
As far as earth and heaven? Aye, tho' Thou slay me
Yet will I trust in Thee, and in his flesh
Shall he see God! But, Lord, tho' I am sure
That Thou canst raise the dead, oh what has he
To do with death? Our days of pilgrimage
Are three-score years and ten; why should he die?
Lord, this is grievous, that the heathen rage,
And because they imagined a vain thing,
That Thou shouldst send the just man that feared Thee,
To smite it from their hands. Lord, who are they,
That this my suckling lamb is their burnt-offering?
That with my staff, oh Lord, their fire is kindled,
My ploughshare Thou dost beat into Thy sword,
The blood Thou givest them to drink is mine?
Let it be far from Thee to do to mine
What if I did it to mine own, Thy curse
Avengeth. Do I take the children's bread
And give it to the dogs? Do I rebuke
So widely that the aimless lash comes down
On innocent and guilty? Do I lift
The hand of goodness by the elbowed arm
And break it on the evil? Not so. Not so.
Lord what advantageth it to be God
If Thou do less than I?


Have mercy on me!
Deal not with me according to mine anger!
Thou knowest if I lift my voice against Thee,
'Tis but as he who in his fierce despair
Dasheth his head against the dungeon-stone,
Sure that but one can suffer. Yet, oh Lord,
If Thou hast heard-if my loud passion reached
Thine awful ear-and yet, I think, oh Father,
I did not rage, but my most little anger
Borne in the strong arms of my mighty love
Seemed of the other's stature-oh, good Lord,
Bear witness now against me. Let me see
And taste that Thou art good. Thou who art slow
To wrath, oh pause upon my quick offence,
And show me mortal! Thou whose strength is made
Perfect in weakness, ah, be strong in me,
For I am weak indeed! How weak, oh Lord,
Thou knowest who hast seen the unlifted sin
Lie on the guilty tongue that strove in vain
To speak it. Call my madness from the tombs!
Let the dumb fiend confess Thee! If I sinned
In silence, if I looked the fool i' the face
And answered to his heart, 'There is no God,'
Now in mine hour stretch forth Thy hand, oh Lord,
And let me be ashamed. As when in sleep
I dream, and in the horror of my dream
Fall to the empty place below the world
Where no man is: no light, no life, no help,
No hope! And all the marrow in my bones
Leaps in me, and I rend the night with fear!
And he who lieth near me thro' the dark
Stretcheth an unseen hand, and all is well.
Tho' Thou shouldst give me all my heart's desire,
What is it in Thine eyes? Give me, oh God,
My heart's desire! my heart's desire, oh God!
As a young bird doth bend before its mother,
Bendeth and crieth to its feeding mother,
So bend I for that good thing before Thee.
It trembleth on the rock with many cries,
It bendeth with its breast upon the rock,
And worships in the hunger of its heart.
I tremble on the rock with many cries,
I bend my beating breast against the rock,
And worship in the hunger of my heart.
Give me that good thing ere I die, my God!
Give me that very good thing! Thou standest, Lord,
By all things, as one standeth after harvest
By the threshed corn, and, when the crowding fowl
Beseech him, being a man and seeing as men,
Hath pity on their cry, respecting not
The great and little barley, but at will
Dipping one hand into the golden store
Straweth alike; nevertheless to them
Whose eyes are near their meat and do esteem
By conscience of their bellies, grain and grain
Is stint or riches. Let it, oh my God,
Be far from Thee to measure out Thy gifts
Smaller and larger, or to say to me
Who am so poor and lean with the long fast
Of such a dreary dearth-to me whose joy
Is not as Thine-whose human heart is nearer
To its own good than Thou who art in heaven-
'Not this but this:' to me who if I took
All that these arms could compass, all pressed down
And running over that this heart could hold,
All that in dreams I covet when the soul
Sees not the further bound of what it craves,
Might filch my mortal infinite from Thine
And leave Thee nothing less. Give me, oh Lord,
My heart's desire! It profiteth Thee nought
Being withheld; being given, where is that aught
It doth not profit me? Wilt Thou deny
That which to Thee is nothing, but to me
All things? Not so. Not so. If I were God
And Thou--Have mercy on me! oh Lord! Lord!


Lord, I am weeping. As Thou wilt, oh Lord,
Do with him as Thou wilt; but oh, my God,
Let him come back to die! Let not the fowls
O' the air defile the body of my child,
My own fair child that when he was a babe
I lift up in my arms and gave to Thee!
Let not his garment, Lord, be vilely parted,
Nor the fine linen which these hands have spun
Fall to the stranger's lot! Shall the wild bird
-That would have pilfered of the ox-this year
Disdain the pens and stalls? Shall her blind young,
That on the fleck and moult of brutish beasts
Had been too happy, sleep in cloth of gold
Whereof each thread is to this beating heart
As a peculiar darling? Lo, the flies
Hum o'er him! Lo, a feather from the crow
Falls in his parted lips! Lo, his dead eyes
See not the raven! Lo, the worm, the worm
Creeps from his festering horse! My God! my God!


Oh Lord, Thou doest well. I am content.
If Thou have need of him he shall not stay.
But as one calleth to a servant, saying
'At such a time be with me,' so, oh Lord,
Call him to Thee! Oh bid him not in haste
Straight whence he standeth. Let him lay aside
The soilèd tools of labour. Let him wash
His hands of blood. Let him array himself
Meet for his Lord, pure from the sweat and fume
Of corporal travail! Lord, if he must die,
Let him die here. Oh take him where Thou gavest!


And even as once I held him in my womb
Till all things were fulfilled, and he came forth,
So, oh Lord, let me hold him in my grave
Till the time come, and Thou, who settest when
The hinds shall calve, ordain a better birth;
And as I looked and saw my son, and wept
For joy, I look again and see my son,
And weep again for joy of him and Thee!


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Poem Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010



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