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Poem by Philip James Bailey


Festus - 23.2


Student. Hear her!
Helen. What said ye, sing again? Your kindness well
Merits the raptures you are doomed to enjoy.
The rose is weeping for her love,
The nightingale;
And he is flying fast above,
To her he will not fail.
Already golden eve appears;
He wings his way along;
Ah! look, he comes to kiss her tears,
And soothe her with his song.
The moon in pearly light may steep
The still blue air;
The rose hath ceased to droop and weep,
For lo! her love is there.
He sings to her, and o'er the trees
She hears his sweet notes swim;
The world may weary; she but sees
Her love, and hears but him.
Festus. So to the flower of perfect life the world,
Sings the eternal spirit; drinks its divine
Perfume, and comforts it with fluttering wings.
Student. That roses weep is a botanic fact;
A zoologic truth that birds woo flowers.
Helen. 'Tween truth and fact, a world--wide difference lies;
Earth is a fact, but heaven, oh heaven, is truth:
That word reminds me I have news for thee,
Sir Student. Thou art invited to partake
With us truth's mysteries.
Festus. The friend thou knowest,
Whom thou hast met with me aforetime, now,
Knowing thine ardent longing for the light
Of wisdom, and my sovereign beauty's, here
Hath tendered to procure us without pain
Probational, for proofs are only due
From spirits less far advanced, the privilege
Of ancient mysteries, practised heretofore,
Which likely linked together divers faiths.
Helen. Wilt share with us this glory?
Student. Gladly, I.
The more so as concerned with rites, thou knowst,
Less diverse in their origin, than the end
We have laboured to extend 'mong men, and mean
By earth enlightening inwardly to achieve.
Art thou initiate?
Helen. Art thou perfect?
Student. Scarce
An answer, that, fair lady of the light.
Festus. Nay, then. To one wise, chosen, say, soul restored,
What rite, or rule, prerequisite can be?
Soul that hath once received, as some receive,
With fatal knowledge of futurity,
Faith full assured, that from time's crowned womb
Whatever comes is kingly, feels henceforth
All secondary knowledge pall. To me
Rule, rite sign, symbol, all have ceased to fruit.
Who knows the eternal secrets of the stars
Hath touched the quick of all faiths; knoweth all
Worth knowing; though true faith all known transcends.
And whoso lives not as the Master lived,
The great initiate here of life divine,
In the dry wilderness of self--denial
Beset, it may be, by wild passions, sins
Brute--like; by demons in the form of fame,
Power, beauty tempted, worship, wealth; in sooth
By aught that might the truth--fraught soul deflect,
In its serene procession towards God's throne,
To aims base, selfish; and who, trampling these,
Feels not God's sanction, nor the conscious worth
Of one long ministered to by angel hopes,
Winged with the spirit of comfort from high heaven,
Filling the craving mind with food celestial;
Greater or less than saint and spirit elect,
Hath most or nought of perfect manhood, tried
In God's all--cleansing fires. If nought, and he
Fails, falls he into fatal dark, the pit
Lit only by the light of serpents' eyes;
There, wandering desolately and self--condemned,
Till renovative times bid hope return.
But who so satisfied conquereth self, how blessed!
All that he once subdued who now enjoys.
Proud of his aid, but humble in himself,
Lion of God, he all attacks o'ercomes
Of fascinative fraud, or fiercest force;
A proffered throne to steal aside his soul
Into by paths of treachery, and bewray
The secret truth, supremely sweet, he spurns,
Whose crown is God, the perfector of soul.
All souls are born of God and of the faith--
Their mother faith wherein they are bred and nursed.
The king hath many a hundred handmaidens,
All sharers in his worship, of his love.
Others may thirst to know more. I all know
I wish to know. Who, pray, can teach me truths
More sure, choice, comforting than those are mine
Of graduated divinity; being's grand
Development upwards; and the world's humane
And everlasting judgment of itself,
As worthier God than nought; though earth--fouled, man,
Like some degraded god, debarred the mount
For a time by oath of Stygian waters, oath
Void since by wave and god both gone, he, sole
Survivor, exile of eternity, met
With heaven's all--pardoning welcome, met, at last.
Helen. Chill not our souls with negatives.
Student. Say, I come.
'Tis to be hoped, like man--gods, we'll survive.
Festus. The spirit speaks of God in heaven's own tongue,
No mystery to those who love, but learned,
As is our mother--tongue from him, the parent,
By whom first fashioned, flesh and spirit, all forms
Of truth, and feelings of all kinds of beauty,--
Moral and natural, in our heart--clay stamped,
Burn with celestial pattern. It is in love,--
Earth midway sphered 'tween love and war, war's part
In poesie played, our bard hath most his work
Love's heart--book made, and made well nigh all grief;
For the heart its truest likeness leaves in love's
O'erwhelming sorrow, which burns up and buries,
Like to the eloquent impress left, nor lost,
In ashes, of Pompeian maiden's bosom:
With love divine such blent. Though thin, though fleet
Our thoughts of God as ghosts, our thoughts of men
As men, bold, yet the ideals personate,
The shadowy creatures youth dreams live in the world
Embodied, but invisible, save in mind's,
The mightier, lack not; names believed, beloved,
Of beauteous souls all saved, which stand, perchance,
Who knows? for the heart's desires made pure in heaven.
Student. How is't the world so falls below our hopes?
Helen. The world! 'tis a forged thing, and hath not got
God's die upon it; 'twill not pass in heaven.
Student. I might believe thee and remain still proof
Against all soothsayers.
Festus. Pray now, cease. Ye twain
Jar ever; even, as with two bickering swords,
Concurrence makes not harmony.
Student. Nay, I yield.
Helen. Oh I could stand and rend myself with rage
To think I am so weak, that all are so.
Mere minims in the music made from us,
While I would be a hand, to sweep from end
To end, from infinite even to infinite,
The world's great chord. The beautiful of old
Had but to show some god had been with them,
And their worst fault to their best deed was hallowed.
That was to live. Could we uproot the passed,
Which grows and throws o'er us its chilling shade,
Lengthening each hour, and darkening; or could we
Plant where we would the future, and make flourish,
'Twere to live, too. Enough, it seems, the present,
All weighed, to endure. The city of the passed
Is in ruins laid; its echo echoing walls
At a whisper, fall: the coming's not yet built,
Nor laid even its foundations; rather seems it,
Like the air--city, goodly and well--watered,
The dry wind dreams of on the sand, and dies
Wandering round it, and maundering; we, our homes
Imaginary, cool courted, with alcoves
And fountains dropping in the noonlight, there
Waiting us, madly eye, and rave, and perish;
Not seeing the desert present is our end.
Festus. End darkest have the brightest natures oft.
Student. Let us not speak so ominously; but while
We live, work out our natures. We can do
No wrong in them; they are divine, eterne.
I follow mine attraction, and obey
Nature as earth does, circling round her source
Of life and light, and keeping true in heaven
Her path, if perfect not in round. What is?
Festus. True; no prognostics, or we close our night
Too sadly, and go sleep, and dream of deaths.
Student. Dreams are mind--clouds, thought--forms, unshapen and high,
Or but God--shaped, like mountains, which contain
Much and rich matter, ofttimes not for us
But others' conscience, dreams being rudiments
Of the great state to come.
Helen. But what's a dream
Of death? Is that all? Well, I too have had,
What all methinks have once at least, in life--
A vision of the region of the dead;
It was the land of shadows: yea, the land
Itself was but a shadow; and the race
Which seemed therein were voices, thoughts of forms,
And echoes of themselves. And there was nought
Of substance seemed, save one thing in the midst,
A great red sepulchre--a granite grave;
And at the bottom lay a skeleton,
From whose decaying jaws the shades were born;
Making its only sign of life, its dying
Continually. Some were bright, some dark.
Those that were bright went upwards, heavenly.
They which were dark grew darker, and remained.
A land of change, yet did the half things nothing
That I could see; but passèd stilly on,
Taking no note of other, mate or child;
For all had lost their love when they put off
The beauty of the body. And as I
Looked, I began to dream it was a dream;
The grave before me presently backed away,
And I rushed after it: when the earth quaked twice;
Opened and shut, like the eye of one, convulsed,
Then shut to with a shout. The grave was gone.
And in the stead there stood a gleed--like throne,
The ghostlings shook to see, and swooned; for there,
Strange shapes were standing, loaded with long chains,
The links whereof were fire, waiting the word
To bind and cast the shadows into hell;
For Death the second sat upon that throne,
Which set on fire the air not to be breathed.
And as he lifted up his arm to speak,
Fear preyed upon all souls, like fire on paper;
And mine among the rest, and I awoke.
Student. By Hades 'twas most awful. But I too
Have dreamed strange things beyond the mind's clear grasp,
Beyond life's limits and the term of time,
And star--lamped palace of eternal night.
I dreamed time's system ended, like a day
Of celebrant victory rounded with a roar
Of jubilant thunder, which subsides at last
Into emphatic silence; and the soul
Which had outlived the great creative week,--
Those seven fair days the Pleiades of time,
Whereof if one be lost, 'tis lost in heaven,--
Was rising from the ashes of the sun,
Assured of its divineness, to enjoy
Birth upon birth of glory and delight;
When lo!--a skiff upon a sea of fire,
Wearily ploughing, crossed my vision's disk;
And straight it changed for ever and was nought.
And as I gazed upon the lucid void,
All things reframed themselves before mine eyes;
And looking up aloft I heard in heaven
Young fluent Time discoursing of the worlds,
With starry diagrams on night's black board,
Most learnedly to many a lovely Hour,
Who fain would have delayed to hear him out;
While wise Eternity sat by and smiled,
Waving them all away.
Festus. And Time though now
Old, withered, bald, still prates of them as I
Have heard him, his young Hours, his lilied loves;
And still his mighty mother, in serene
Maturity of beauty, sits and smiles;
The infant dotard's inexperienced age
Sublimely pitying; for well she knows,
Though time and life are both of dual kind,
And men and things now sacred and profane,
Yet in the coming all shall holy be;
And the calm world reflect the One divine.
Peace is the end of all things, tearless Peace;
Who by the immoveable basis of God's throne,
Takes her perpetual stand; and, of herself
Prophetic, lengthens age by age her sceptre.
The world, like a lion disembruted, rid
With rose--wreathed reins, by a childling in some isle
Enchanted, shall be subject yet to love,
Earth's lord transforming all, he, unsuspect.
Student. I shall be swift to read.
Festus. Yes read and learn
A hearty thanksgiving for blessings here;
The proud prediction proved of life, to come;
Love, holiness, future bliss unlimited; learn
To view in nature deity all diffused.
Her study; and with earth's purest elements
Mingle thy being; sworn suitor for the smile
She pays all love with; nor, until thine eye,
Hallowed by sympathy with her in all shapes
Fleeting or fixed, and every changeful mood,
Conceive her spiritually, believe thou aught
Knowest, or canst; this conscious of, with heart
Loyal and reverent to the inmost soul,
And onemost cause of things, live blessed. For this,
The world hath said its say, for and against;
And after praise and blame cometh the truth.
Student. And of all truth, the most we prize we learn
From poesie, faculty inborn, except
From God derived not.
Festus. This condition add:
That as lauds attract the largesses of heaven,
As gifts God's bounties, purity his saints;
So genius inspiration; who most fame
To toil owes, his twin--brother. Even as when
In planning some steel--rutted road, long years
Dreamed of,--where now the fire--horse ramps, steam--breath'd,
Sweating red coal--drops on his panting path,--
The deep--eyed engineer his level lays
Inscrutable, and anon, the hills with men,
Brood of his brain swarm; black, unbottomed moss,
And willowy dale with mattock gleam and axe;
Or rock--hills, cleft as with a giant's club,
Groan loud; but stealthily, and reach on reach,
The mighty work, elongating itself,
Glides dragon--like, nor,--save in litheliest curves,
Flexed, gracile, as the lines meridian heaven
Hath clustered polewards,--swerves; till o'er the sea,
Victor by hill and chasm, broad stream and plain,
Cloud--plumed its iron--brow towers high, at last
With head works of all nations ranked; so here,
His primal plan for others' weal, our bard,
Made wise by grief's infallible instinct, knew
Must grow in gradual grandeur, till by toil
Inevitable of art complete, man's calm
Approof it conquer; and by conquering serve.
'Tis the soul's love--service manwards, and toward God,
Which hath alone his inbreath, and is rendered
To him from those he worthy makes to worship;
Who kneel at once to him, and at no shrine,
Save in the world's wide ear, do they confess them
Of faults all truths, through which, as the world follows,
He heareth and absolveth; for the bard
Speaks but what all feel variously within
The heart's heart; and the sin confessed, absolved,
Is done with, and for ever. Bards, to God,
The almighty poet of the world, confess;
And they to whom it is given with holy things
To deal thus and such privilege high partake,
Life individual with life's lord enjoy,
Uplifted o'er the vast and markless mass;
Yet not into a sphere of selfish thought,
But of innate and infinite commune
With all creation; for, as distance rules,
Behold the stars are suns, the sun a star;
So they who near God, boundless hold his love;
Who far off lie, misdoubt it almost nought.
And I who hold the clear and flawless faith,
Ancient and universal in the spheres,
Know earth was ta'en out of heaven's starry side,
And both blessed. Therefore am I joyful, here,
In the far to be our heirdom glitters.
Student. Say,
Thy friend, was he much seen of the world?
Festus. No, truly.
Too oft men look on all who live askance.
Were he a cold grey ghost, he might have honour.
Nor thought he of himself save as a ghost,
Who sees in night his day. For the true bard,
And genius those most haunts who loneliest are,
In life and in desire, crowds never; knows,
Nay, makes himself inevitably, ghostlike;
He lives from men apart; he wakes and walks
By nights, he puts himself into the world
Above him; and he is what but few see.
No peace, choice, chance is his of happier being,
Till his secret told, the occult hoard he show.
Yet seeks he none, save of his own dear blood;
Lets generations pass, till his like turns up;
Nor him, unless with reverence brave bespoke,
Thinks fit to infeoff, his heir: for knows he not
He only, to that old hid treasure, truth?
And the world wonders shortly how some one
Hath come so rich in soul. It little dreams
Of the poor ghost that made him. Each this spirit
Receives, transmits. But while inventive soul
The bearings and the workings of all things
Around, knows more than other; knows all ends
Of nature meet and fit; wit, wisdom, worth,
Goodness and greatness; to sublimity
Beauty approachful; and his purpose seems
But hesitantly to reach, he to himself
Lives in thought, secularly; as a planet world
Labouring slowly seemingly up the void,
But with infinite pace to immortal eyes, and knowing
Who means the bard's great functions, must not sole
Be as nature perfect, but in art perfect;
And himself measuring 'gainst pure mind, and high
Extolled above himself, will seek some theme
Where spiritual element most majestic shows,
All covering, not all constituting; thought
Enkindling, as in some conflagrant wood,
By lightning fired, or swept by hurricane's feet,
With whirlwinds winged, bough chafe bough, till all burn,
Like heaven's star--written prophesies: thus, conceive;--
Time, shattered shadow of eternity, cast
On the troubled world as the sun shows brokenly
Upon wavelets, time, but a second to the dead,
Had seen elapse unconscious many an age;
And the reek o' the world's great burning, o'er the skies
Trailed, was fast wearing into air away;
When a saint stood before the throne, and cried,
Blessèd be thou, Lord God of worlds that are,
Have been, and are to be! for infinite like
With thy creation, their destruction, wise,
Just, thou, in both,--Give me a world. God gives;
And the world was. How this new orb was made,
Show: where it shone; who ruled, abode therein,
Worshipped, and loved; their natures, duties, hopes;
Let it be pure, wise, holy, beautiful.
If elsewise not, so made by stress of heaven,
Kindly forced good; we have had enough of sin
And folly here to embrace even change of chains.
Show God as fatherlike, going thither mildly;
All blessing, cursing none; no need for those,
That he shall come in glory new to himself,
With light whereto the lightning's shall be shadow,
And the sun's, sadness; borne on a car self--teamed,
High wheeled, of burning worlds, within whose rims
Whole hells glow; and beneath whose course dry up
Like drops of dew, the starlets faint, of space.
Student. It is a theme I want. What theme remains?
Festus. One that shall start and struggle within thy breast
Like to a spirit, in its tomb at rising,
Rending the stones, and crying `Resurrection!'
What theme remains! Thyself, thy race, thy love,
All sanctified, the faithless, and the full
Of faith in God; thy race's destiny. Know
Every believer is God's miracle.
Blend all in one great holy work, which first,
A handful of eternal truth, shall men
A heartful, after, make; bid bury with them:
Fair hands shall turn, idolatrous, and bright eyes
Sprinkle their sparkles o'er it with their tears.
The young, gay, brave shall seek't with joy; the old
Still hearty in decline, whose happy life
Hath blossomed downwards like the purple bell--flower,
Closing the book shall utter lowly; death,
How little! 'tis life in God that's infinite.
Believe thou art inspired, and thou art.
Behold the bard. He is wont to make, unite,
Believe; the world to doubt and part and narrow.
That he believes he utters. What the world
Utters, it trusts not. Pray we, time may come,
When all who would raise men's minds may be God inspired
To utter truth, and feel like love for men.
Student. One thing I'd know, thy friend's faith.
Festus. Ah! I see.
Though cognizant of his temper, culture, taste,
We know not what a man is, till we know
What he believes; that known, all's well--nigh known.
Well, this is what his faith was, faith in God.
It was right enough to ask. Thou art as one
Who roaming haply lands remote, arrived
At some strange gated city, whose domes and spires
While yet far off have piqued his spirit to learn
Its fabulous passed, its legendary renown,
Its present life, its people's exploits, tasks, toils.
Their haunts of pleasure, halls of science, art,
By pencil fine or chisel glorified,
The abodes of learning, catacombs of wit
And seminaries of thought he paces; scans
Their courts of sacred justice; tribune, throne,
Senate; treads, pleased, the proud embattled keep
Of princely governance; and yet longs,--all these
Seen, seen!--to view God's children at their best;
And mark how high their flood of thought devout
Hath borne them up in their chief shrine of old,
By them prededicate to Divinity; mind
Made holy, needs, seeks deity most; so there,
Ingliding stilly, with the vespering sun,
Through curtained porch, the sanctuary within,
Welcomed by looks none but devout or kind,
He kneels; thanks heaven for hourly mercies; pleads
For a blessing upon those he loves, afar
Or near; and thus with brethren worshipping
One Father, feels, whate'er their social claims
Art--wise, or civil, on man's just sympathies
Fraternal, spiritual, men each other know
Through fellowship best in God. But what his creed
I scarce dare say, so simple and brief it seemed;
But as heaven high, as earth broad, it embraced
All souls of men.
Student. Poets, I think, henceforth
Are the world's best teachers; mountainous minds, their heads
Are sunned, long ere the rest of earth. I would
Be one such.
Festus. It is well. Burn to be great.
Each mountain stands inspired as touching heaven.
But pay not praise to loftiest things alone.
The plains are everlasting as the hills.
Revere God's order everywhere. And now,
Thou hast heard thus much from one not wont to give
Nor seek advice, remember whatsoe'er
Thou art as man, suffer the world; 'twas thus
God made; entreat it kindly, and forgive.
They who forgive most shall be most forgiven.
Dear Helen, I will tell thee what I love
Next to thee;--poesie.
Helen. What! can there be
Aught even second to me in thy love?
Doth it not distance all things?
Festus. Sooth to say,
I once loved many things; ere I met with thee,
My one blue break of beauty in the clouds,
Bending thyself to me as heaven to earth.
Even now 'tis variable, this love. To--night,
It is, as thou seest: to--morrow--
Helen. Well?
Festus. Oh, nothing.
Helen. Mine, too, moonlike may seem to lessen or grow,
Because not visible all at once. But felt
Trulier by me in inmost consciousness,
It knows no night, nor morrow, like the sun.
Unchangeable even as space, it still shall be
When yon bright suns, in time's great hour--glass, what
But sands? are run out.
Festus. Without woman, man's
But half man; and as idolators their gods
Heavenless, we deify first what we adore.
Student. It is not idolatry life looks most for now.
There's work at hand, which, not achieved, I'd look
Simply on life as keeping me from God,
Stars, heaven, and angels' bosoms. I lay ill:
And the dark hot blood pulsed, plunging through and through me.
They bled me and I swooned; and as I seemed
To die, a soft sweet sadness seized my soul,
That made me feel all happy. But my heart
Would live, and rose and wrestled with the soul,
Twining around it as a snake an eagle,
Which stretched its wings and strained its strength in vain.
Mine eyes unclosed anon, and I looked up,
And saw the sweet blue twilight and one star,
One only star in heaven, I felt I had been
Quite near to, hoveringly; and then I wished
I had died and kept to it; but, my pulse revived,
Was glad I lived to love life once again.
And so our souls turn round upon themselves
Like orbs upon their axles; what was night
Is day; what day, night; God will guide us on;
Body and soul, through life and death.
Helen. Our life
Is comely as a whole; nay, something more;
Like rich brown ringlets, with odd hairs all gold.
We women, have four seasons, like the year.
Our spring is in our lightsome girlish days,
When the heart within us laughs for simplest joy;
Ere yet we know what love is, or the ill
To be loved by those we love not. Summer is,
When loving and beloved, we double our life,
And seems short; from its very splendour seems
To pass the quickliest; crowned with flowers it flies.
Autumn, when some young thing with tiny hands,
Cheeks rosy and bright, and flossy tendrilled locks,
Is wantoning about us day and night.
And winter is, when these so loved, have perished,
If we ourselves depart not ere that time,
For the heart ices then. And the next spring
Is in another world, if such world be.
Some miss one season, some another. This
Shall have them early, and that late; and yet
The year wear round with all as best it may.
There is no rule for it; but in the main
It is as I have said.
Festus. My life with thee
Is like a song; and the sweet music thou
Which doth accompany it.
Student. Tell me, did thy friend
Write aught beside the work thou tellest of?
Festus. Nothing.
Thereafter, like the burning peak he fell
Into himself, and was missing evermore.
Student. If not a secret, pray, who was he?
Festus. Who?
I say not, I.
Helen. Guess!
Student. Nay, it is passed all guess.


Festus - 23.1



Philip James Bailey


Philip James Bailey's other poems:
  1. Festus - 35
  2. Festus - Proem
  3. Festus - 17
  4. Festus - 24
  5. Festus - 42


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