SONGS OF THE NIGHT WATCHES,
WITH AN INTRODUCTORY SONG OF EVENING, AND A
CONCLUDING SONG OF THE EARLY DAY.
(Old English Manner.)
'COME out and
hear the waters shoot, the owlet hoot, the owlet hoot;
Yon crescent moon, a golden boat, hangs dim behind the tree,
The dropping thorn makes white the grass, O sweetest lass, and
Come out and smell the ricks of hay adown the croft with me,
'My granny nods before her wheel, and drops her reel, and drops her
My father with his crony talks as gay as gay can be, O!
But all the milk is yet to skim, ere light wax dim, ere light wax
How can I step adown the croft, my 'prentice lad, with thee,
'And must ye bide, yet waiting's long, and love is strong, and love
And O! had I but served the time, that takes so long to flee,
And thou, my lass, by morning's light waste all in white, waste all
And parson stood within the rails, a-marrying me and thee,
THE FIRST WATCH.
WOULD tell you more, but I am tired;
For I have longed, and I have had my will;
I pleaded in my spirit, I desired:
'Ah! let me only see him, and be still
All my days after.'
Rock, and rock, and rock,
Over the falling, rising watery world,
Sail, beautiful ship, along the leaping main;
The chirping land-birds follow flock on flock
To light on a warmer plain.
White as weaned lambs the little wavelets curled,
Fall over in harmless play,
As these do far away;
Sail, bird of doom, along the shimmering sea,
All under thy broad wings that overshadow thee.
I am so tired,
If I would comfort me, I know not how,
For I have seen thee, lad, as I
And I have nothing left to long for now.
Nothing at all. And did I wait for thee,
Often and often, while the light grew
And through the lilac branches I could see,
Under a saffron sky, the purple rim
O' the heaving moorland? Ay. And then would
Up from behind as it were a golden boat,
Freighted with fancies, all o' the wonder of life,
Love—such a slender moon, going up and up,
Waxing so fast from night to night,
And swelling like an orange flower-bud, bright,
Fated, methought, to round as to a golden cup,
And hold to my two lips life's best of wine.
Most beautiful crescent moon,
Ship of the sky!
Across the unfurrowed reaches sailing high.
Methought that it would come my way
Laden with blessings that were all, all mine—
A golden ship, with balm and spiceries rife,
That ere its day was done should hear thee call me
All over! the celestial sign hath failed
The orange flower-bud shuts; the ship hath sailed,
And sunk behind the long low-lying hills.
The love that fed on daily kisses dieth;
The love kept warm by nearness lieth,
Wounded and wan;
The love hope nourished bitter tears distils,
And faints with nought to feed upon.
Only there stirreth very deep below
The hidden beating slow,
And the blind yearning, and the long-drawn breath
Of the love that conquers death.
Had we not loved full long, and lost all fear,
My ever, my only dear?
Yes; and I saw thee start upon thy way,
So sure that we should meet
Upon our trysting-day.
And even absence then to me was
brought me time to brood
dearness in the solitude.
But ah! to stay, and stay,
And let that moon of April wane
And let the lovely May
Make ready all her buds for June;
And let the glossy finch forego her
That she brought with her in the
And never more, I think, to me can
And then to lead thee home another
In the sultry summertime,
And all forget me save for shame full
That made thee pray me, absent, 'See my face no more.'
O, hard, most hard! But while my fretted heart
shut down, and full of pain,
Sobbed to itself apart,
Ached to itself in vain,
One came who loveth me
As I love thee. . . .
And let my God remember him for this,
As I do hope He will forget thy kiss,
Nor visit on thy stately head
Aught that thy mouth hath sworn, or thy two eyes
have said. .
He came, and it was dark. He came, and sighed
Because he knew the sorrow,—whispering low,
And fast, and thick, as one that speaks by rote:
'The vessel lieth in the river reach,
A mile above the beach,
And she will sail at the turning o'
He said, 'I have a boat,
And were it good to go,
And unbeholden in the vessel's wake
Look on the man thou lovedst, and
As he embarks, a shamefaced fugitive.
Come, then, with me.'
O, how he sighed! The
little stars did wink,
And it was very dark. I gave my
He led me out across the pasture
And through the narrow croft,
Down to the river's brink.
When thou wast full in spring, thou little sleepy thing,
The yellow flags that broidered thee would stand
Up to their chins in water, and full oft
WE pulled them and the other shining
That all are gone to-day:
WE two, that had so many things to say,
So many hopes to render clear
And they are all gone after thee, my
those sweet hours,
light, that balmy rain;
Gone 'as a
wind that passeth away,
And cometh not again.'
I only saw the stars,—I could not see
The river,—and they seemed to lie
As far below as the other stars were high.
I trembled like a thing about to die:
It was so awful 'neath the majesty
Of that great crystal height, that overhung
The blackness at our feet,
Unseen to fleet and fleet
The flocking stars among,
And only hear
the dipping of the oar,
And the small wave's caressing of the darksome shore.
Less real it was than any dream.
Ah me! to hear the bending willows
As we shot quickly from the silent
And felt the swaying and the flow
That bore us down the deeper, wider
Whereto its nameless waters go:
O! I shall always, when I shut mine
See that weird sight again;
The lights from anchor'd vessels hung;
The phantom moon, that sprung
Suddenly up in dim and angry wise,
From the rim o' the moaning main,
And touched with elfin light
The two long oars whereby we made our
Along the reaches of the night;
Then furrowed up a lowering cloud,
Went in, and left us darker than
To feel our way as the midnight watches wore,
And lie in HER lee, with mournful faces bowed,
That should receive and bear with her away
The brightest portion of my sunniest day—
The laughter of the land, the sweetness of the shore.
And I beheld thee: saw the lantern flash
Down on thy face, when thou didst climb the side,
And thou wert pale, pale as the patient bride
followed: both a little sad,
Leaving of home and kin. Thy courage glad,
That once did
bear thee on,
That brow of thine had lost; the fervour rash
Of unforeboding youth thou hadst foregone.
O, what a little moment, what a crumb
Of comfort for a heart to feed upon!
And that was all its sum:
A glimpse, and not a meeting―
A drawing near by night,
To sigh to thee an unacknowledged greeting,
And all between the flashing of a light
And its retreating.
Then after, ere she spread her wafting wings,
The ship—and weighed her anchor to depart,
We stole from her dark lee, like guilty things
And there was
silence in my heart,
And silence in the upper and the nether deep.
O sleep! O sleep!
Do not forget me. Sometimes come and sweep,
Now I have nothing left, thy healing hand
Over the lids that crave thy visits bland,
Thou kind, thou comforting one:
For I have seen his face, as I desired,
And all my story is done.
O, I am tired!
THE MIDDLE WATCH.
I WOKE in the
night, and the darkness was heavy and deep;
I had known it was dark in my sleep,
And I rose and looked out,
And the fathomless vault was all sparkling, set thick round about
With the ancient inhabiters silent, and wheeling too far
For man's heart, like a voyaging frigate, to sail, where remote
In the sheen of their glory they float,
Or man's soul, like a bird, to fly near, of their beams to partake,
And dazed in their wake,
Drink day that is born of a star.
I murmured, 'Remoteness and greatness, how deep you are set,
How afar in the rim of the whole;
You know nothing of me, or of man, nor of earth, O, not yet
Of our light-bearer—drawing the marvellous moons as they
Of our regent, the sun.
I look on you trembling, and think, in the dark with my Soul,
'How small is our place 'mid the kingdoms and nations of God:
greater than we, every one.'
And there falls a great fear, and a dread cometh over, that cries,
'O my hope!
Is there any mistake?
Did He speak? Did I hear? Did I listen
aright, if He spake?
Did I answer Him duly? For surely I now am awake,
If never I
woke until now.'
And a light, baffling wind, that leads nowhither, plays on my brow.
As a sleep, I must think on my day, of my path as untrod,
Or trodden in dreams, in a dreamland whose coasts are a doubt;
Whose countries recede from my thoughts, as they grope round about,
And vanish, and tell me not how.
Be kind to our darkness, O Fashioner, dwelling in light,
And feeding the lamps of the sky;
Look down upon this one, and let it be sweet in Thy sight,
I pray Thee, to-night.
O watch whom Thou madest to dwell on its soil, Thou
For this is a world full of sorrow (there may be but one);
Keep watch o'er its dust, else Thy children for aye are undone,
For this is a world where we die.
With that, a still voice in my spirit that moved and that yearned,
(There fell a great calm while it spake,)
I had heard it erewhile, but the noises of life are so loud,
That sometimes it dies in the cry of the street and the crowd:
To the simple it cometh,—the child, or asleep, or awake,
And they know not from whence; of its nature the wise never learned
By his wisdom; its secret the worker ne'er earned
By his toil; and the rich among men never bought with his gold;
Nor the times
of its visiting monarchs controlled,
Nor the jester put down with his jeers
(For it moves
where it will), nor its season the aged discerned
By thought, in the ripeness of years.
O elder than reason, and stronger than will!
A voice, when the dark world is
Whence cometh it? Father Immortal, thou knowest and we—
We are sure of that witness, that sense which is sent us of Thee;
For it moves, and it yearns in its fellowship mighty and dread,
And let down to our hearts it is touched by the tears that we shed;
It is more than all meanings, and over all strife;
On its tongue
are the laws of our life,
And it counts
up the times of the dead.
I will fear
you, O stars, never more.
I have felt it! Go on, while the world is asleep,
Golden islands, fast moored in God's infinite deep.
Hark, hark to the words of sweet fashion, the harpings of yore!
How they sang to Him, seer and saint, in the far-away lands:
are the work of Thy hands;
perish, but Thou shalt endure;
Yea, they all shall wax old—
But Thy throne is established, O God, and Thy years are made sure;
perish, but Thou shalt endure—
pass like a tale that is told.'
answer, the Ancient of Days?
Will He speak
in the tongue and the fashion of men?
(Hist! hist! while the heaven-hung multitudes shine in His praise,
His language of old). Nay, He spoke with them first; it
They lifted their eyes to His throne:
'They shall call on Me, "Thou art our Father, our God, Thou alone!"
For I made them, I led them in deserts and desolate ways;
I have found them a Ransom Divine;
I have loved them with love everlasting, the children of men:
I swear by Myself, they are Mine.'
THE MORNING WATCH.
THE COMING IN OF THE 'MERMAIDEN.'
THE moon is
bleached as white as wool,
And just dropping under;
Every star is gone but three,
And they hang far asunder—
There's a sea-ghost all in grey,
A tall shape of wonder!
I am not satisfied with sleep,—
The night is not ended.
But look how the sea-ghost comes,
With wan skirts extended,
Stealing up in this weird hour,
When light and dark are blended.
A vessel! To the old pier end
Her happy course she's keeping;
I heard them name her yesterday:
Some were pale with weeping;
Some with their heart-hunger sighed,
She's in—and they are sleeping.
O! now with fancied greetings blest,
They comfort their long aching:
The sea of sleep hath borne to them
What would not come with waking,
And the dreams shall most be true
In their blissful breaking.
The stars are gone, the rose-bloom comes—
No blush of maid is sweeter;
The red sun, half-way out of bed,
Shall be the first to greet her.
None tell the news, yet sleepers wake,
And rise, and run to meet her.
Their lost they have, they hold; from pain
A keener bliss they borrow.
How natural is joy, my heart!
How easy after sorrow!
For once, the best is come that hope
Promised them 'to-morrow.'
CONCLUDING SONG OF DAWN.
(Old English Manner.)
A MORN OF MAY.
ALL the clouds
about the sun lay up in golden creases,
(Merry rings the maiden's voice that sings at dawn of day);
Lambkins woke and skipped around to dry their dewy fleeces,
So sweetly as she carolled, all on a morn of May.
Quoth the Sergeant, 'Here I'll halt; here's wine of joy for
To my heart she sets her hand, and in the strings doth play;
All among the daffodils, and fairer to my thinking,
And fresh as milk and roses, she sits this morn of May.'
Quoth the Sergeant, 'Work is work, but any ye might make me,
If I worked for you, dear lass, I 'd count my holiday.
I'm your slave for good and all, an' if ye will but take me,
So sweetly as ye carol upon this morn of May.'
'Medals count for worth,' quoth she, 'and scars are worn for
But a slave an' if ye be, kind wooer, go your way.'
All the nodding daffodils woke up and laughed upon her.
O! sweetly did she carol, all on that morn of May.
Gladsome leaves upon the bough, they fluttered fast and faster,
Fretting brook, till he would speak, did chide the dull delay:
'Beauty! when I said a slave, I think I meant a master;
So sweetly as ye carol all on this morn of May.
'Lass, I love you! Love is strong, and some men's hearts
Far she sought o'er wood and wold, but found not aught to say;
Mounting lark nor mantling cloud would any counsel render,
Though sweetly she had carolled upon that morn of May.
Shy, she sought the wooer's face, and deemed the wooing
Proper man he was, good sooth, and one would have his way
So the lass was made a wife, and so the song was ended.
O! sweetly she did carol all on that morn of May.
The minutes are whereof our life is made.
They build it up as in the deep's blue shade
It grows, it comes to light, and then, and thus
For both there is an end. The populous
Sea-blossoms close, our minutes that have paid
Life's debt of work are spent; the work is laid
Before their feet that shall come after us.
We may not stay to watch if it will speed,
The bard if on some luter's string his song
Live sweetly yet; the hero if his star
Doth shine. Work is its own best earthly meed,
Else have we none more than the sea-born throng
Who wrought those marvellous isles that bloom afar.
HAPLY some Rajah
first in the ages gone
Amid his languid ladies fingered thee,
While a black nightingale, sun-swart as he,
Sang his one wife, love's passionate oraison;
Haply thou may'st have pleased Old Prester John
Among his pastures, when full royally
He sat in tent, grave shepherds at his knee,
While lamps of balsam winked and glimmered on.
What doest thou here? Thy masters are all dead;
My heart is full of ruth and yearning pain
At sight of thee; O king that hast a crown
Outlasting theirs, and tell'st of greatness fled
Through cloud-hung nights of unabated rain
And murmurs of the dark majestic town.
CAN I make white
enough my thought for thee,
Or wash my words in light? Thou haste no mate
To sit aloft in the silence silently
And twin those matchless heights undesecrate.
Reverend as Lear, when, lorn of shelter, he
Stood, with his old white head, surprised at fate;
Alone as Galileo, when, set free,
Before the stars he mused disconsolate.
Ay, and remote, as the dead lords of song,
Great masters who have made us what we are,
For thou and they have taught us how to long
And feel a sacred want of the fair and far:
Reign, and keep life in this our deep desire—
Our only greatness is that we aspire.
(A woman speaks.)
O SLEEP, we are
beholden to thee, sleep,
Thou bearest angels to us in the night,
Saints out of heaven with palms. Seen by thy
Sorrow is some old tale that goeth not deep;
Love is a pouting child. Once I did sweep
Through space with thee, and lo, a dazzling sight—
Stars! They came on, I felt their drawing and
And some had dark companions. Once (I weep
When I remember that) we sailed the tide,
And found fair isles, where no isles used to bide,
And met there my lost love, who said to me,
That 'twas a long mistake: he had not died.
Sleep, in the world to come how strange 'twill be
Never to want, never to wish for thee!
WHO veileth love
should first have vanquished fate.
She folded up the dream in her deep heart,
Her fair full lips were silent on that smart,
Thick-fringèd eyes did on the grasses wait.
What good? one eloquent blush, but one, and straight
The meaning of a life was known; for art
Is often foiled in playing nature's part,
And time holds nothing long inviolate.
Earth's buried seed springs up—slowly, or fast;
The ring came home, that one in ages past
Flung to the keeping of unfathomed seas:
And golden apples on the mystic trees
Were sought and found, and borne away at last,
Though watched of the divine Hesperides.
(A man speaks.)
ONCE, a new
world, the sun-swart mariner,
Columbus, promised, and was sore withstood,
Ungraced, unhelped, unheard for many a year;
But let at last to make his promise good.
Promised and promising I go, most dear,
To better my dull heart with love's sweet feud,
My life with its most reverent hope and fear,
And my religion, with fair gratitude.
O we must part; the stars for me contend,
And all the winds that blow on all the seas.
Through wonderful waste places I must wend,
And with a promise my sad soul appease.
Promise then, promise much of far-off bliss;
But—ah, for present joy, give me one kiss.
SHE thought by
heaven's high wall that she did stray
Till she beheld the everlasting gate:
And she climbed up to it to long, and wait,
Feel with her hands (for it was night), and lay
Her lips to it with kisses; thus to pray
That it might open to her desolate.
And lo! it trembled, lo! her passionate
Crying prevailed. A little little way
It opened: there fell out a thread of light,
And she saw wingèd wonders
Also she heard sweet talking as they meant
To comfort her. They said, 'Who comes to-night
Shall one day certainly an entrance win;'
Then the gate closed and she awoke content.
THOUGH all great
deeds were proved but fables fine,
Though earth's old story could be told anew,
Though the sweet fashions loved of them that sue
Were empty as the ruined Delphian shrine—
Though God did never man, in words benign,
With sense of His great Fatherhood endue,
Though life immortal were a dream untrue,
And He that promised it were not divine—
Though soul, though spirit were not, and all hope
Reaching beyond the bourne, melted away;
Though virtue had no goal and good no scope,
But both were doomed to end with this our clay—
Though all these were not,—to the ungraced heir
Would this remain,—to live, as though they were.
WHEN I reflect
how little I have done,
And add to that how little I have seen,
Then furthermore how little I have won
Of joy, or good, how little known, or been:
I long for other life more full, more keen,
And yearn to change with such as well have run—
Yet reason mocks me—nay, the soul, I weep,
Granted her choice would dare to change with none;
No,—not to feel, as Blondel when his lay
Pierced the strong tower, and Richard answered it—
No,—not to do, as Eustace on the day
He left fair Calais to her weeping fit—
No,—not to be Columbus, waked from sleep
When his new world rose from the charmèd
STRANGE was the
doom of Heracles, whose shade
Had dwelling in dim Hades the unblest,
While yet his form and presence sat a guest
With the old immortals when the feast was made.
Thine like, thus differs; form and presence laid
In this dim chamber of enforcèd
It is the unseen 'shade' which, risen, hath pressed
Above all heights where feet Olympian strayed.
My soul admires to hear thee speak; thy thought
Falls from a high place like an August star,
Or some great eagle from his air-hung rings—
When swooping past a snow-cold mountain scar—
Down the steep slope of a long sunbeam brought,
He stirs the wheat with the steerage of his wings.
ONE launched a
ship, but she was wrecked at sea;
He built a bridge, but floods have borne it down;
He meant much good, none came: strange destiny,
His corn lies sunk, his bridge bears none to town,
Yet good he had not meant became his crown;
For once at work, when even as nature free,
From thought of good he was, or of renown,
God took the work for good and let good be.
So wakened with a trembling after sleep,
Dread Mona Roa yields her fateful store;
All gleaming hot the scarlet rivers creep,
And fanned of great-leaved palms slip to the shore,
Then stolen to unplumbed wastes of that far deep,
Lay the foundations for one island more.
O FANCY, if thou
flyest, come back anon,
Thy fluttering wings are soft as love's first word,
And fragrant as the feathers of that bird,
Which feeds upon the budded cinnamon.
I ask thee not to work, or sigh—play on,
From nought that was not, was, or is, deterred;
The flax that Old Fate spun thy flights have stirred,
And waved memorial grass of Marathon.
Play, but be gentle, not as on that day
I saw thee running down the rims of doom
With stars thou hadst been stealing—while they lay
Smothered in light and blue—clasped to thy breast;
Bring rather to me in the firelit room
A netted halcyon bird to sing of rest.
following three sonnets appear in other
editions of Jean Ingelow's Poetical Works.
sorrow, I have heard your moans,
And the moving of your pines; but we sit high
On your green shoulders, nearer stoops the sky,
And pure airs visit us from all the zones.
Sweet world beneath, too happy far to sigh,
Dost thou look thus beheld from heavenly thrones?
No; not for all the love that counts thy stones,
While sleepy with great light the valleys lie.
Strange, rapturous peace! its sunshine doth enfold
My heart; I have escaped to the days divine,
It seemeth as bygone ages back had rolled,
And all the eldest past was now, was mine;
Nay, even as if Melchizedec of old
Might here come forth to us with bread and wine.
BORDERS OF CANNOCK CHASE.
A COTTAGER leaned whispering by her hives,
Telling the bees some news, as they lit down,
And entered one by one their waxen town.
Larks passioning hung o'er their brooding wives,
And all the sunny hills where heather thrives
Lay satisfied with peace. A stately crown
Of trees enringed the upper headland brown,
And reedy pools, wherein the moor-hen dives,
Glittered and gleamed.
A resting-place for light,
They that were bred here love it; but they say,
"We shall not have it long; in three years' time
A hundred pits will cast out fires by night,
Down yon still glen their smoke shall trail its way,
And the white ash lie thick in lieu of rime."
We are much bound to them that do succeed;
But, in a more pathetic sense, are bound
To such as fail. They all our loss expound;
They comfort us for work that will not speed,
And life--itself a failure.
Ay, his deed,
Sweetest in story, who the dusk profound
Of Hades flooded with entrancing sound,
Music's own tears, was failure. Doth it read
Therefore the worse? Ah, no! so much, to dare,
He fronts the regnant Darkness on its throne.―
So much to do; impetuous even there,
He pours out love's disconsolate sweet moan―
He wins; but few for that his deed recall:
Its power is in the look which costs him all.
A STORY OF DOOM.
NILOIYA said to
Noah, 'What aileth thee,
My master, unto whom is my desire,
The father of my sons?' He answered her,
'Mother of many children, I have heard
The Voice again.' 'Ah, me!' she saith, 'ah, me!
What spake it?' and with that Niloiya sighed.
This when the Master-builder heard, his heart
Was sad in him, the while he sat at home
And rested after toil. The steady rap
O' the shipwright's hammer sounding up the vale
Did seem to mock him; but her distaff down
Niloiya laid, and to the doorplace went,
Parted the purple covering seemly hung
Before it, and let in the crimson light
Of the descending sun. Then looked he forth,—
Looked, and beheld the hollow where the ark
Was a-preparing; where the dew distilled
All night from leaves of old lign aloe trees,
Upon the gliding river; where the palm,
The almug, and the gophir shot their heads
Into the crimson brede that dyed the world:
And lo! he marked—unwieldy, dark, and huge—
The ship, his glory and his grief,—too vast
For that still river's floating,—building far
From mightier streams, amid the pastoral dells
Of shepherd kings.
Niloiya spake again:
'What said the Voice, thou well-belovèd
He, labouring with his thought that troubled him,
Spoke on behalf of God: 'Behold,' said he,
'A little handful of unlovely dust
He fashioned to a lordly grace, and when
He laughed upon its beauty, it waxed warm,
And with His breath awoke a living soul.
'Shall not the Fashioner command His work?
And who am I, that, if He whisper, 'Rise,
Go forth upon Mine errand,' should reply,
"Lord, God, I love the woman and her sons,—
I love not scorning: I beseech Thee, God,
Have me excused." '
She answered him, 'Tell on.'
And he continuing, reasoned with his soul:
'What though I—like some goodly lama sunk
In meadow grass, eating her way at ease,
Unseen of them that pass, and asking not
A wider prospect than of yellow-flowers
That nod above her head—should lay me down,
And willingly forget this high behest,
There should be yet no tarrying. Furthermore,
Though I went forth to cry against the doom,
Earth crieth louder, and she draws it down:
It hangeth balanced over us; she crieth,
And it shall fall. O! as for me, my life
Is bitter, looking onward, for I know
That in the fulness of the time shall dawn
That day: my preaching shall not bring forth fruit,
Though for its sake I leave thee. I shall float
Upon the abhorrèd sea, that mankind
With thee and thine.'
She answered: 'God forbid!
For, sir, though men be evil, yet the deep
They dread, and at the last will surely turn
To Him, and He long-suffering will forgive,
And chide the waters back to their abyss,
To cover the pits where doleful creatures feed.
Sir, I am much afraid: I would not hear
Of riding on the waters: look you, sir,
Better it were to die with you by hand
Of them that hate as, than to live, ah me!
Rolling among the furrows of the unquiet,
Unconsecrate, unfriendly, dreadful sea.'
He saith again: 'I pray thee, woman, peace,
For thou wilt enter, when that day appears,
The fateful ship.'
'My lord,' quoth she, 'I will.
But O, good sir, be sure of this, be sure
The Master calleth; for the time is long
That thou hast warned the world: thou art but here
Three days; the song of welcoming but now
Is ended. I behold thee, I am glad;
And wilt thou go again? Husband, I say,
Be sure who 'tis that calleth; O, be sure,
Be sure. My mother's ghost came up last night,
Whilst I thy beard, held in my hands did kiss,
Leaning anear thee, wakeful through my love,
And watchful of thee till the moon went down.
'She never loved me since I went with thee
To sacrifice among the hills: she smelt
The holy smoke, and could no more divine
Till the new moon. I saw her ghost come up;
It had a snake with a red comb of fire
Twisted about its waist—the doggish head
Lolled on its shoulder, and so leered at me.
"This woman might be wiser," quoth the ghost;
"Shall there be husbands for her found below,
When she comes down to us? O, fool! O, fool!
She must not let her man go forth, to leave
Her desolate, and reap the whole world's scorn,
A harvest for himself." With that they passed.'
He said, 'My crystal drop of perfectness,
I pity thee; it was an evil ghost:
Thou wilt not heed the counsel?' 'I will not,'
Quoth she; 'I am loyal to the Highest. Him
I hold by even as thou, and deem Him best.
Sir, am I fairer than when last we met?'
'God add,' said he, 'unto thy much yet more,
As I do think thou art.' 'And think you, sir,'
Niloiya saith, 'that I have reached the prime?'
He answering, 'Nay, not yet.' 'I would 'twere so,'
She plaineth, 'for the daughters mock at me:
Her locks forbear to grow, they say, so sore
She pineth for the master. Look you, sir,
They reach but to the knee. But thou art come,
And all goes merrier. Eat, my lord, of all
My supper that I set, and afterward
Tell me, I pray thee, somewhat of thy way;
Else shall I be despised as Adam was,
Who compassed not the learning of his sons,
But, grave and silent, oft would lower his head
And ponder, following of great Isha's feet,
When she would walk with her fair brow upraised,
Scorning the children that she bare to him.'
'Ay,' quoth the Master; 'but they did amiss
When they despised their father: knowest thou
'Sure he was foolisher,' Niloiya saith,
'Than any that came after. Furthermore,
He had not heart nor courage for to rule:
He let the mastery fall from his slack hand.
Had not our glorious mother still borne up
His weakness, chid with him, and sat apart,
And listened, when the fit came over him
To talk on his lost garden, he had sunk
Into the slave of slaves.'
'Nay, thou must think
How he had dwelt long, God's loved husbandman,
And looked in hope among the tribes for one
To be his fellow, ere great Isha, once
Waking, he found at his left side, and knew
The deep delight of speech.' So Noah, and thus
Added, 'And therefore was his loss the more;
For though the creatures he had singled out
His favourites, dared for him the fiery sword
And followed after him,—shall bleat of lamb
Console one for the foregone talk of God?
Or in the afternoon, his faithful dog,
Fawning upon him, make his heart forget
At such a time, and such a time, to have heard
What he shall hear no more?
O, as for him,
It was for this that he full oft would stop,
And, lost in thought, stand and revolve that deed,
Sad muttering, "Woman! we reproach thee not;
Though thou didst eat mine immortality;
Earth, be not sorry; I was free to choose."
Wonder not, therefore, if he walked forlorn.
Was not the helpmeet given to raise him up
From his contentment with the lower things?
Was she not somewhat that he could not rule
Beyond the action, that he could not have
By the mere holding, and that still aspired
And drew him after her? So, when deceived
She fell by great desire to rise, he fell
By loss of upward drawing, when she took
An evil tongue to be her counsellor:
"Death is not as the death of lower things,
Rather a glorious change, begrudged of Heaven,
A change to being as gods"—he from her hand,
Upon reflection, took of death that hour,
And ate it (not the death that she had dared);
He ate it knowing. Then divisions came.
She, like a spirit strayed who lost the way,
Too venturesome, among the further stars,
And hardly cares, because it hardly hopes
To find the path to heaven; in bitter wise
Did bear to him degenerate seed, and he,
Once having felt her upward drawing, longed,
And yet aspired, and yearned to be restored,
Albeit she drew no more.'
'Sir, ye speak
Niloiya saith, 'but yet the mother sits
Higher than Adam. He did understand
Discourse of birds and all four-footed things,
But she had knowledge of the many tribes
Of angels and their tongues; their playful ways
And greetings when they met. Was she not wise?
They say she knew much that she never told,
And had a voice that called to her as thou.'
'Nay,' quoth the Master-shipwright, 'who am I
That I should answer? As for me, poor man,
Here is my trouble: "if there be a Voice,"
At first I cried, "let me behold the mouth
That uttereth it." Thereon it held its peace.
But afterward, I, journeying up the hills,
Did hear it hollower than an echo fallen
Across some clear abyss; and I did stop,
And ask of all my company, "What cheer?
If there be spirits abroad that call to us,
Sirs; hold your peace and hear." So they gave
And one man said, "It is the small ground-doves
That peck upon the stony hillocks;" one,
"It is the mammoth in yon cedar swamp
That cheweth in his dream;" and one, "My lord,
It is the ghost of him that yesternight
We slew, because he grudged to yield his wife
To thy great father, when he peaceably
Did send to take her." Then I answered, "Pass,"
And they went on; and I did lay mine ear
Close to the earth; but there came up therefrom
No sound, nor any speech; I waited long,
And in the saying, "I will mount my beast
And on," I was as one that in a trance
Beholdeth what is coming, and I saw
Great waters and a ship; and somewhat spake,
"Lo, this shall be; let him that heareth it,
And seeth it, go forth to warn his kind,
For I will drown the world." '
'Sir, was that all that ye went forth upon?'
The master, he replieth, 'Ay,' at first,
'That same was all; but many days went by,
While I did reason with my heart and hope
Far more, and struggle to remain, and think,
"Let me be certain;" and so think again,
"The counsel is but dark; would I had more!
When I have more to guide me, I will go."
And afterward, when reasoned on too much,
It seemed remoter, then I only said,
"O, would I had the same again;" and still
I had it not.
Then at the last I cried,
"If the unseen be silent, I will speak
And certify my meaning to myself.
Say that He spoke, then He will make that good
Which He hath spoken. Therefore it were best
To go, and do His bidding. All the earth
Shall hear the judgment so, and none may cry
When the doom falls, 'Thou God art hard on us;
We knew not Thou wert angry. O! we are lost,
Only for lack of being warned.'
That He spoke not, and merely it befell
That I being weary had a dream. Why, so
He could not suffer damage; when the time
Was past, and that I threatened had not come,
Men would cry out on me, haply me kill,
For troubling their content. They would not
'God, that did send this man, is proved untrue,'
But rather, 'Let him die; he lied to us;
God never sent him.' Only Thou, great King,
Knowest if Thou didst speak or no. I leave
The matter here. If Thou wilt speak again,
I go in gladness; if Thou wilt not speak,
Nay, if Thou never didst, I not the less
Shall go, because I have believed, what time
I seemed to hear Thee, and the going stands
With memory of believing." Then I washed,
And did array me in the sacred gown,
And take a lamb.'
'Ay, sir,' Niloiya sighed,
'I following, and I knew not anything
Till, the young lamb asleep in thy two arms,
We, moving up among the silent hills,
Paused in a grove to rest; and many slaves
Came near to make obeisance, and to bring
Wood for the sacrifice, and turf and fire.
Then in their hearing then didst say to me,
"Behold, I know thy good fidelity,
And theirs that are about as; they would guard
The mountain passes, if it were my will
Awhile to leave thee;" and the pigmies laughed
For joy, that thou wouldst trust inferior things;
And put their heads down, as their manner is,
To touch our feet. They laughed, but sore I wept;
Sir, I could weep now; ye did ill to go
If that was all your bidding; I had thought
God drave thee, and thou couldst not choose
Then said the son of Lamech, 'Afterward,
When I had left thee, He whom I had served
Met with me in the visions of the night,
To comfort me for that I had withdrawn
From thy dear company. He sware to me
That no man should molest thee, no, nor touch
The bordering of mine outmost field. I say,
When I obeyed, He made His matters plain.
With whom could I have left thee, but with them;
Born in thy mother's house, and bound thy slaves?'
She said, 'I love not pigmies; they are naught.'
And he, 'Who made them pigmies?' Then she
Her veiling hair back from her round, soft eyes,
And answered, wondering, 'Sir, my mothers did;
Ye know it.' And he drew her near to sit
Beside him on the settle, answering, 'Ay.'
And they went on to talk as writ below,
If anyone shall read:
'Thy mother did,
And they that went before her. Thinkest thou
That they did well?'
'They had been overcome;
And when the angered conquerors drave them out,
Behoved them find some other way to rule,
They did but use their wits. Hath not man aye
Been cunning in dominion, among beasts
To breed for size or swiftness, or for sake
Of the white wool he loveth, at his choice?
What harm if coveting a race of men
That could but serve, they sought among their
Such as were low of stature, men and maids;
Ay, and of feeble will and quiet mind?
Did they not spend much gear to gather out
Such as I tell of, and for matching them
One with another for a thousand years?
What harm, then, if there came of it a race,
Inferior in their wits, and in their size,
And well content to serve?'
' "What harm?" thou sayest
My wife doth ask, "What harm?" '
I do remember that there came one day,
Two of the grave old angels that God made,
When first He invented life (right old they were,
And plain, and venerable); and they said,
Rebuking of my mother as with hers
She sat, "Ye do not well, you wives of men,
To match your wit against the Maker's will,
And for your benefit to lower the stamp
Of His fair image, which He set at first
Upon man's goodly frame; ye do not well
To treat His likeness even as ye treat
The bird and beast that perish."'
To appease the ancients, or to speak them fair?'
'How know I? 'twas a slave that told it me.
My mother was full old when I was born,
And that was in her youth. What think you, sir?
Did not the giants likewise ill?'
I have no answer ready. If a man,
When each one is against his fellow, rule,
Or unmolested-dwell, or unreproved,
Because, for size and strength, he standeth first,
He will thereof be glad; and if he say,
"I will to wife choose me a stately maid,
And leave a goodly offspring;" 'sooth, I think,
He sinneth not; for good to him and his
He would be strong and great. Thy people's fault
Was, that for ill to others, they did plot
To make them weak and small.'
Or take in war the strongest maids, and such
As are of highest stature; ay, and oft
They fight among themselves for that same cause.
And they are proud against the King of heaven:
They hope in course of ages they shall come
To be as strong as He.'
The Master said,
'I will not hear thee talk thereof; my heart
Is sick for all this wicked world. Fair wife,
I am right weary. Call thy slaves to thee,
And bid that they prepare the sleeping place.
O would that I might rest! I fain would rest,
And no more, wandering, tell a thankless world
My never-heeded tale!'
With that she called.
The moon was up, and some few stars were out
While heavy at the heart he walked abroad
To meditate before his sleep. And yet
Niloiya pondered, 'Shall my master go?
And will my master go? What 'vaileth it,
That he doth spend himself, over the waste
A-wandering, till he reach outlandish folk,
That mock his warning? O, what 'vaileth it,
That he doth lavish wealth to build yon ark,
Whereat the daughters, when they eat with me,
Laugh? O my heart! I would the Voice were
Is not he happy? Who, of all the earth,
Obeyeth like to me? Have not I learned
From his dear mouth to utter seemly words,
And lay the powers my mother gave me by?
Have I made offerings to the dragon? Nay.
And I am faithful, when he leaveth me
Lonely betwixt the peakèd mountain
In this long valley, where no stranger foot
Can come without my will. He shall not go.
Not yet, not yet! But three days—only three—
Beside me, and a-muttering on the third,
"I have heard the Voice again." Be dull, O dull,
Mind and remembrance! Mother, ye did ill;
'tis hard unlawful knowledge not to use.
Why, O dark mother! opened ye the way?'
Yet when he entered, and did lay aside
His costly robe of sacrifice, the robe
Wherein he had been offering, ere the sun
Went down; forgetful of her mother's craft,
She lovely and submiss did mourn to him:
'Thou wilt not go—I pray thee, do not go,
Till thou hast seen thy children.' And he said,
'I will not. I have cried, and have prevailed:
To-morrow it is given me by the Voice
Upon a four days' journey to proceed,
And follow down the river, till its waves
Are swallowed in the sand, where no flesh dwells.
' "There," quoth the Unrevealèd,
"we shall meet,
And I will counsel thee; and thou shalt turn
And rest thee with the mother, and with them
She bare." Now, therefore, when the morn
Thou fairest among women, call thy slaves,
And bid them yoke the steers, and spread thy car
With robes, the choicest work of cunning hands;
Array thee in thy rich apparel, deck
Thy locks with gold; and while the hollow vale
I thread beside yon river, go thou forth
Atween the mountains to my father's house,
And let thy slaves make all obeisance due,
And take and lay an offering at his feet.
Then light, and cry to him, "Great king, the son
Of old Methuselah, thy son hath sent
To fetch the growing maids, his children, home." '
'Sir,' quoth the woman, 'twill do this thing,
So thou keep faith with me, and yet return.
But will the Voice, think you, forbear to chide,
Nor that Unseen, who calleth, buffet thee,
And drive thee on?'
He saith, 'It will keep faith.
Fear not. I have prevailed, for I besought,
And lovingly it answered. I shall rest,
And dwell with thee till after my three sons
Come from the chase.' She said, 'I let them forth
In fear, for they are young. Their slaves are few.
The giant elephants be cunning folk;
They lie in ambush, and will draw men on
To follow—then will turn and tread them down.'
'Thy father's house unwisely planned,' said he,
'To drive them down upon the growing corn
Of them that were their foes; for now, behold,
They suffer while the unwieldy beasts delay
Retirement to their lands, and, meanwhile, pound
The damp, deep meadows, to a pulpy mash;
Or wallowing in the waters foul them; nay,
Tread down the banks, and let them forth to flood
Their cities; or, assailed and falling, shake
The walls, and taint the wind, ere thirty men,
Over the hairy terror piling stones
Or earth, prevail to cover it.'
'Husband, I have been sorry, thinking oft
I would my sons were home; but now so well
Methinks it is with me, that I am fain
To wish they might delay, for thou wilt dwell
With me till after they return, and thou
Hast set thine eyes upon them. Then—ah, me!
I must sit joyless in my place; bereft,
As trees that suddenly have dropped their leaves,
And dark as nights that have no moon.'
The hope o' the world did hearken, but reply
Made none. He left his hand on her fair locks
As she lay sobbing; and the quietness
Of night began to comfort her, the fall
Of far-off waters, and the wingèd
That went among the trees. The patient hand,
Moreover, that was steady, wrought with her,
Until she said, 'What wilt then? Nay, I know.
I therefore answer what then utterest not.
Thou lovest me well, and not for thine own will
Consentest to depart. What more? Ay, this:
I do avow that He which calleth thee,
Hath right to call; and I do swear, the Voice
Shall have no let of me, to do Its will.'
Now ere the sunrise, while the morning star
Hung yet behind the pine bough, woke and prayed
The world's great shipwright, and his soul was glad
Because the Voice was favourable. Now
Began the tap o' the hammer, now ran forth
The slaves preparing food. They therefore ate
In peace together; then Niloiya forth
Behind the milk-white steers went on her way;
And the great Master-builder, down the course
Of the long river, on his errand sped,
And as he went, he thought:
[They do not
Who, walking up a trodden path, all smooth
With footsteps of their fellows, and made straight
From town to town, will scorn at them that wonn
Under the covert of God's eldest trees
(Such as He planted with His hand, and fed
With dew before rain fell, till they stood close
And awful; drank the light up as it dropt,
And kept the dusk of ages at their roots);
They do not well who mock at such, and cry,
'We peaceably, without or fault or fear,
Proceed, and miss not of our end; but these
Are slow and fearful: with uncertain pace,
And ever reasoning of the way, they oft,
After all reasoning, choose the worser course,
And plunged in swamp, or in the matted growth
Nigh smothered struggle, all to reach a goal
Not worth their pains.' Nor do they well whose
Is still to feed and shelter them and theirs,
Get gain, and gathered store it, to think scorn
Of those who work for a world (no wages paid
By a Master hid in light), and sent alone
To face a laughing multitude, whose eyes
Are full of damaging pity, that forbears
To tell the harmless labourer, 'Thou art mad.']
And as he went, he thought: 'They counsel me,
Ay, with a kind of reason in their talk,
"Consider; call thy soberer thought to aid;
Why to but one man should a message come?
And why, if but to one, to thee? Art then
Above us, greater, wiser? Had He sent,
He had willed that we should heed. Then since
That such as thou, a wise man cannot heed,
He did not send." My answer, "Great and wise,
If He had sent with thunder, and a voice
Leaping from heaven, ye must have heard; but so
Ye had been robbed of choice, and, like the beasts,
Yoked to obedience. God makes no men slaves."
They tell me, "God is great above thy thought:
He meddles not; and this small world is ours,
These many hundred years we govern it;
Old Adam, after Eden, saw Him not."
Then I, "It may be He is gone to knead
More clay. But look, my masters; one of you
Going to warfare, layeth up his gown,
His sickle, or his gold, and thinks no more
Upon it, till young trees have waxen great;
At last, when he returneth he will seek
His own. And God, shall He not do the like?
And having set new worlds a-rolling, come
And say, 'I will betake Me to the earth
That I did make:' and having found it vile,
Be sorry? Why should man be free, you wise,
And not the Master?" Then they answer,
"Fool! A man shall cast a stone into the air
For pastime, or for lack of heed,—but He!
Will He come fingering of His ended work,
Fright it with His approaching face, or snatch
One day the rolling wonder from its ring,
And hold it quivering, as a wanton child
Might take a nestling from its downy bed,
And having satisfied a careless wish,
Go thrust it back into its place again?"
To such I answer, and, that doubt once mine,
I am assured that I do speak aright:
"Sirs, the significance of this your doubt
Lies in the reason of it; ye do grudge
That these your lands should have another Lord;
Ye are not loyal, therefore ye would fain
Your King would bide afar. But if ye looked
For countenance and favour when He came,
Knowing yourselves right worthy, would ye care,
With cautious reasoning, deep and hard, to prove
That He would never come, and would your wrath
Be hot against a prophet? Nay, I wot
That as a flatterer you would look on him,—
'Full of sweet words thy mouth is: if He come—
We think not that He will—but if He come,
Would it might be to-morrow, or to-night,
Because we look for praise.' " '
Now, as he
The noontide heats came on, and he grew faint;
But while he sat below an almug tree,
A slave approached with greeting. 'Master, hail'
He answered, 'Hail! what wilt thou?' Then she
'The palace of thy fathers standeth nigh.'
'I know it,' quoth he; and she said again,
'The Elder, learning thow wouldst pass, hath sent
To fetch thee;' then he rose and followed her.
So first they walked beneath a lofty roof
Of living bough and tendril, woven on high
To let no drop of sunshine through, and hung
With gold and purple fruitage, and the white
Thick cups of scented blossom. Underneath,
Soft grew the sward and delicate, and flocks
Of egrets, aye, and many cranes, stood up,
Fanning their wings, to agitate and cool
The noonday air, as men with heed and pains
Had taught them, marshalling and taming them
To bear the wind in, on their moving wings.
So long time as a nimble slave would spend
In milking of her cow, they walked at ease;
Then reached the palace, all of forest trunks,
Brought whole, and set together, made. Therein
Had dwelt old Adam, when his mighty sons
Had finished it, and up to Eden gate
Had journeyed for to fetch him. 'Here,' they said,
'Mother and father, ye may dwell, and here
Forget the garden wholly.'
So he came
Under the doorplace, and the women sat,
Each with her finger on her lips; but he,
Having been called, went on, until he reached
The jewelled settle, wrought with cunning work
Of gold and ivory, whereon they wont
To set the Elder. All with sleekest skins,
That striped and spotted creatures of the wood
Had worn, the seat was covered, but thereon
The Elder was not; by the steps thereof,
Upon the floor, whereto his silver beard
Did reach, he sat, and he was in his trance.
Upon the settle many doves were perched,
That set the air a-going with their wings:
These opposite, the world's great shipwright stood
To wait the burden; and the Elder spake:
'Will He forget me? Would He might forget!
Old, old! The hope of old Methuselah
Is all in His forgetfulness.' With that,
A slave-girl took a cup of wine, and crept
Anear him, saying, 'Taste;' and when his lips
Had touched it, lo, he trembled, and he cried,
'Behold, I prophesy.'
Then straight they fled
That were about him, and did stand apart
And stop their ears. For he, from time to time,
Was plagued with that same fate to prophesy,
And spake against himself; against his day
And time, in words that all men did abhor.
Therefore, he warning them what time the fit
Came on him, saved them, that they heard it not.
So while they fled, he cried: 'I saw the God
Reach out of heaven His wonderful right hand.
Lo, lo! He dipped it in the unquiet sea,
And in its curved palm behold the ark,
As in a vast calm lake, came floating on.
Ay, then, His other hand—the cursing hand—
He took and spread between us and the sun,
And all was black; the day was blotted out,
And horrible staggering took the frighted earth.
I heard the water hiss, and then methinks
The crack as of her splitting. Did she take
Their palaces that are my brothers dear,
And huddle them with all their ancientry
Under into her breast? If it was black,
How could this old man see? There was a noise
I' the dark, and He drew back His hand again.
I looked—It was a dream,—let no man say
It was aught else. There, so—the fit goes by.
Sir, and my daughters, is it eventide?—
Sooner than that, saith old Methuselah,
Let the vulture lay his beak to my green limbs.
What! art Thou envious?—are the sons of men
Too wise to please Thee, and to do Thy will?
Methuselah, he sitteth on the ground,
Clad in his gown of age, the pale white gown,
And goeth not forth to war; his wrinkled hands
He claspeth round his knees: old, very old.
Would he could steal from Thee one secret more—
The secret of Thy youth! O, envious God!
We die. The words of old Methuselah
And his prophecy are ended.'
Beholding how he trembled, and the maids
And children, came anear, saying, 'Who art thou
That standest gazing on the Elder? Lo,
Thou dost not well: withdraw; for it was thou
Whose stranger presence troubled him, and
The fit of prophecy.' And he did turn
To look upon them, and their majesty
And glorious beauty took away his words;
And being pure among the vile, he cast
In his thought a veil of snow-white purity
Over the beauteous throng. 'Thou dost not well,'
They said. He answered: 'Blossoms o' the world,
Fruitful as fair, never in watered glade,
Where in the youngest grass blue cups push forth,
And the white lily reareth up her head,
And purples cluster, and the saffron flower
Clear as a flame of sacrifice breaks out,
And every cedar bough, made delicate
With climbing roses, drops in white and red,—
Saw I (good angels keep you in their care)
So beautiful a crowd.'
With that, they stamped,
Gnashed their white teeth, and turning; fled and
Upon the floor. The Elder spake to him,
Yet shaking with the burden, 'Who art thou?'
He answered, 'I, the man whom thou didst send
To fetch through this thy woodland, do forbear
To tell my name; thou lovest it not, great sire,—
No, nor mine errand. To thy house I spake,
Touching their beauty.' 'Wherefore didst thou
Quoth he, 'the daughters?' and it seemed he lost
Count of that prophecy, for very age,
And from his thin lips dropt a trembling laugh.
'Wicked old man,' quoth he, 'this wise old man
I see as 'twere not I. Thou bad old man,
What shall be done to thee? for thou didst burn
Their babes, and strew the ashes all about,
To rid the world of His white soldiers. Ay,
Scenting of human sacrifice, they fled.
Cowards! I heard them winnow their great wings:
They went to tell Him; but they came no more.
The women hate to hear of them, so sore
They grudged their little ones; and yet no way
There was but that. I took it; I did well.'
With that he fell to weeping. 'Son,' said he,
'Long have I hid mine eyes from stalwart men,
For it is hard to lose the majesty
And pride and power of manhood: but to-day,
Stand forth into the light, that I may look
Upon thy strength, and think, Even thus did I,
In the glory of my youth, more like to God
Than like His soldiers, face the vassal world.'
Then Noah stood forward in his majesty,
Shouldering the golden billhook, wherewithal
He wont to cut his way, when tangled in
The matted hayes. And down the opened roof
Fell slanting beams upon his stately head,
And streamed along his gown, and made to shine
The jewelled sandals on his feet.
The Elder cried aloud: 'I prophesy.
Behold, my son is as a fruitful field
When all the lands are waste. The archers drew—
They drew the bow against him; they were fain
To slay: but he shall live—my son shall live,
And I shall live by him in the other days.
Behold the prophet of the Most High God:
Hear him. Behold the hope o' the world, what time
She lieth under. Hear him; he shall save
A seed alive, and sow the earth with man.
O, earth! earth! earth! a floating shell of wood
Shall hold the remnant of thy mighty lords.
Will this old man be in it? Sir, and you
My daughters, hear him! Lo, this white old man
He sitteth on the ground. (Let be, let be:
Why dost Thou trouble us to make our tongue
Ring with abhorrèd words?) The
Of the Elder, and the vision that he saw,
They both are ended.'
Then said Noah: 'The life
Of this my lord is low for very age:
Why then, with bitter words upon thy tongue,
Father of Lamech, dost thou anger Him?
Then canst not strive against Him now.' He said:
'Thy feet are toward the valley, where lie bones
Bleaching upon the desert. Did I love
The lithe strong lizards that I yoked and set
To draw my car? and were they not possessed?
Yea, all of them were liars. I loved them well.
What did the Enemy, but on a day
When I behind my talking team went forth,
They sweetly lying, so that all men praised
Their flattering tongues and mild persuasive eyes—
What did the Enemy but send His slaves,
Angels, to cast down stones upon their heads
And break them? Nay, I could not stir abroad
But havoc came; they never crept or flow
Beyond the shelter that I builded here,
But straight the crowns I had set upon their heads
Were marks for myrmidons that in the clouds
Kept watch to crush them. Can a man forgive
That hath been warred on thus? I will not. Nay,
I swear it—I, the man Methuselah.'
The Master-shipwright, he replied, ' 'tis true,
Great loss was that; but they that stood thy friends,
The wicked spirits, spoke upon their tongues,
And cursed the God of heaven. What marvel, sir,
If He was angered?' But the Elder cried,
'They all are dead—the toward beasts I loved;
My goodly team, my joy, they all are dead;
Their bones lie bleaching in the wilderness:
And I will keep my wrath far evermore
Against the Enemy that slew them. Go,
Thou coward servant of a tyrant King,
Go down the desert of the bones, and ask,
"My King, what bones are these? Methuselah,
The white old man that sitteth on the ground,
Sendeth a message, 'Bid them that they live,
And let my lizards run up every path
They wont to take when out of silver pipes,
The pipes that Tubal wrought into my roof,
I blew a sweeter cry than song-bird's throat
Hath ever formed; and while they laid their heads
Submiss upon my threshold, poured away
Music that welled by heartsful out, and made
The throats of men that heard to swell, their
To heave with the joy of grief; yea, caused the lips
To laugh of men asleep.
Return to me
The great wise lizards; aye, and them that flew
My pursuivants before me. Let me yoke
Again that multitude; and here I swear
That they shall draw my car and me thereon
Straight to the ship of doom. So men shall know
My loyalty, that I submit, and Thou
Shalt yet have honour, O mine Enemy,
By me. The speech of old Methuselah.' " '
Then Noah made answer, 'By the living God,
That is no enemy to men, great sire,
I will not take thy message; hear thou Him.
"Behold (He saith that suffereth thee), behold,
The earth that I made green cries out to Me,
Red with the costly blood of beauteous man.
I am robbed, I am robbed (He saith); they sacrifice
To evil demons of My blameless flocks,
That I did fashion with My hand. Behold,
How goodly was the world! I gave it thee
Fresh from its finishing. What hast thou done?
I will cry out to the waters, Cover it,
And hide it from its Father. Lo, Mine eyes
Turn from it shamed." '
With that the old man laughed
Full softly. 'Ay,' quoth he, 'a goodly world,
And we have done with it as we did list.
Why did He give it us? Nay, look you, son:
Five score they were that died in yonder waste;
And if He crieth, "Repent, be reconciled,"
I answer, "Nay, my lizards;" and again,
If He will trouble me in this mine age,
"Why hast Thou slain my lizards?" Now my
Is cut away from all my other words,
Standing alone. The Elder sweareth it,
The man of many days, Methuselah.'
Then answered Noah, 'My Master, hear it not;
But yet have patience;' and he turned himself,
And down betwixt the ordered trees went forth,
And in the light of evening made his way
Into the waste to meet the Voice of God.