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Poem by Francis Turner Palgrave


London Bridge


July 6: 1535

The midnight moaning stream
Draws down its glassy surface through the bridge
That o'er the current casts a tower'd ridge,
Dark sky-line forms fantastic as a dream;
And cresset watch-lights on the bridge-gate gleam,
Where 'neath the star-lit dome gaunt masts upbuoy
No flag of festive joy,
But blanching spectral heads;--their heads, who died
Victims to tyrant-pride,
Martyrs of Faith and Freedom in the day
Of shame and flame and brutal selfish sway.

And one in black array
Veiling her Rizpah-misery, to the gate
Comes, and with gold and moving speech sedate
Buys down the thing aloft, and bears away
Snatch'd from the withering wind and ravens' prey:
And as a mother's eyes, joy-soften'd, shed
Tears o'er her young child's head,
Golden and sweet, from evil saved; so she
O'er this, sad-smilingly,
Mangled and gray, unwarm'd by human breath,
Clasping death's relic with love passing death.

So clasping now! and so
When death clasps her in turn! e'en in the grave
Nursing the precious head she could not save,
Tho' through each drop her life-blood yearn'd to flow
If but for him she might to scaffold go:--
And O! as from that Hall, with innocent gore
Sacred from roof to floor,
To that grim other place of blood he went--
What cry of agony rent
The twilight,--cry as of an Angel's pain,--
_My father, O my father_! . . . and in vain!

Then, as on those who lie
Cast out from bliss, the days of joy come back,
And all the soul with wormwood sweetness rack,
So in that trance of dreadful ecstasy
The vision of her girlhood glinted by:--
And how the father through their garden stray'd,
And, child with children, play'd,
And teased the rabbit-hutch, and fed the dove
Before him from above
Alighting,--in his visitation sweet,
Led on by little hands, and eager feet.

Hence among those he stands,
Elect ones, ever in whose ears the word
_He that offends these little ones_ . . . is heard,
With love and kisses smiling-out commands,
And all the tender hearts within his hands;
Seeing, in every child that goes, a flower
From Eden's nursery bower,
A little stray from Heaven, for reverence here
Sent down, and comfort dear:
All care well paid-for by one pure caress,
And life made happy in their happiness.

He too, in deeper lore
Than woman's in those early days, or yet,--
Train'd step by step his youthful Margaret;
The wonders of that amaranthine store
Which Hellas and Hesperia evermore
Lavish, to strengthen and refine the race:--
For, in his large embrace,
The light of faith with that new light combined
To purify the mind:--
A crystal soul, a heart without disguise,
All wisdom's lover, and through love, all-wise.

--O face she ne'er will see,--
Gray eyes, and careless hair, and mobile lips
From which the shaft of kindly satire slips
Healing its wound with human sympathy;
The heart-deep smile; the tear-concealing glee!
O well-known furrows of the reverend brow!
Familiar voice, that now
She will not hear nor answer any more,--
Till on the better shore
Where love completes the love in life begun,
And smooths and knits our ravell'd skein in one!

Blest soul, who through life's course
Didst keep the young child's heart unstain'd and whole,
To find again the cradle at the goal,
Like some fair stream returning to its source;--
Ill fall'n on days of falsehood, greed, and force!
Base days, that win the plaudits of the base,
Writ to their own disgrace,
With casuist sneer o'erglossing works of blood,
Miscalling evil, good;
Before some despot-hero falsely named
Grovelling in shameful worship unashamed.

--But they of the great race
Look equably, not caring much, on foe
And fame and misesteem of man below;
And with forgiving radiance on their face,
And eyes that aim beyond the bourn of space,
Seeing the invisible, glory-clad, go up
And drink the absinthine cup,
Fill'd nectar-deep by the dear love of Him
Slain at Jerusalem
To free them from a tyrant worse than this,
Changing brief anguish for the heart of bliss.

Envoy

--O moaning stream of Time,
Heavy with hate and sin and wrong and woe
As ocean-ward dost go,
Thou also hast thy treasures!--Life, sublime
In its own sweet simplicity:--life for love:
Heroic martyr-death:--
Man sees them not: but they are seen above.



Francis Turner Palgrave


Francis Turner Palgrave's other poems:
  1. A Home in the Palace
  2. In the Valley of the Grande Chartreuse
  3. Elizabeth at Tilbury
  4. Mount Vernon
  5. Edith of England


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