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Poem by George Meredith
A Faith On Trial
On the morning of May, Ere the children had entered my gate With their wreaths and mechanical lay, A metal ding-dong of the date! I mounted our hill, bearing heart That had little of life save its weight: The crowned Shadow poising dart Hung over her: she, my own, My good companion, mate, Pulse of me: she who had shown Fortitude quiet as Earth's At the shedding of leaves. And around The sky was in garlands of cloud, Winning scents from unnumbered new births, Pointed buds, where the woods were browned By a mouldered beechen shroud; Or over our meads of the vale, Such an answer to sun as he, Brave in his gold; to a sound, None sweeter, of woods flapping sail, With the first full flood of our year, For their voyage on lustreful sea: Unto what curtained haven in chief, Will be writ in the book of the sere. But surely the crew are we, Eager or stamped or bowed; Counted thinner at fall of the leaf. Grief heard them, and passed like a bier. Due Summerward, lo, they were set, In volumes of foliage proud, On the heave of their favouring tides, And their song broadened out to the cheer When a neck of the ramping surf Rattles thunder a boat overrides. All smiles ran the highways wet; The worm drew its links from the turf; The bird of felicity loud Spun high, and a South wind blew. Weak out of sheath downy leaves Of the beech quivered lucid as dew, Their radiance asking, who grieves; For nought of a sorrow they knew: No space to the dread wrestle vowed, No chamber in shadow of night. At times as the steadier breeze Flutter-huddled their twigs to a crowd, The beam of them wafted my sight To league-long sun upon seas: The golden path we had crossed Many years, till her birthland swung Recovered to vision from lost, A light in her filial glance. And sweet was her voice with the tongue, The speechful tongue of her France, Soon at ripple about us, like rills Ever busy with little: away Through her Normandy, down where the mills Dot at lengths a rivercourse, grey As its bordering poplars bent To gusts off the plains above. Old stone chateau and farms, Home of her birth and her love! On the thread of the pasture you trace, By the river, their milk, for miles, Spotted once with the English tent, In days of the tocsin's alarms, To tower of the tallest of piles, The country's surveyor breast-high. Home of her birth and her love! Home of a diligent race; Thrifty, deft-handed to ply Shuttle or needle, and woo Sun to the roots of the pear Frogging each mud-walled cot. The elders had known her in arms. There plucked we the bluet, her hue Of the deeper forget-me-not; Well wedding her ripe-wheat hair. I saw, unsighting: her heart I saw, and the home of her love There printed, mournfully rent: Her ebbing adieu, her adieu, And the stride of the Shadow athwart. For one of our Autumns there! . . . Straight as the flight of a dove We went, swift winging we went. We trod solid ground, we breathed air, The heavens were unbroken. Break they, The word of the world is adieu: Her word: and the torrents are round, The jawed wolf-waters of prey. We stand upon isles, who stand: A Shadow before us, and back, A phantom the habited land. We may cry to the Sunderer, spare That dearest! he loosens his pack. Arrows we breathe, not air. The memories tenderly bound To us are a drifting crew, Amid grey-gapped waters for ground. Alone do we stand, each one, Till rootless as they we strew Those deeps of the corse-like stare At a foreign and stony sun. Eyes had I but for the scene Of my circle, what neighbourly grew. If haply no finger lay out To the figures of days that had been, I gathered my herb, and endured; My old cloak wrapped me about. Unfooted was ground-ivy blue, Whose rustic shrewd odour allured In Spring's fresh of morning: unseen Her favourite wood-sorrel bell As yet, though the leaves' green floor Awaited their flower, that would tell Of a red-veined moist yestreen, With its droop and the hues it wore, When we two stood overnight One, in the dark van-glow On our hill-top, seeing beneath Our household's twinkle of light Through spruce-boughs, gem of a wreath. Budding, the service-tree, white Almost as whitebeam, threw, From the under of leaf upright, Flecks like a showering snow On the flame-shaped junipers green, On the sombre mounds of the yew. Like silvery tapers bright By a solemn cathedral screen, They glistened to closer view. Turf for a rooks' revel striped Pleased those devourers astute. Chorister blackbird and thrush Together or alternate piped; A free-hearted harmony large, With meaning for man, for brute, When the primitive forces are brimmed. Like featherings hither and yon Of aery tree-twigs over marge, To the comb of the winds, untrimmed, Their measure is found in the vast. Grief heard them, and stepped her way on. She has but a narrow embrace. Distrustful of hearing she passed. They piped her young Earth's Bacchic rout; The race, and the prize of the race; Earth's lustihead pressing to sprout. But sight holds a soberer space. Colourless dogwood low Curled up a twisted root, Nigh yellow-green mosses, to flush Redder than sun upon rocks, When the creeper clematis-shoot Shall climb, cap his branches, and show, Beside veteran green of the box, At close of the year's maple blush, A bleeding greybeard is he, Now hale in the leafage lush. Our parasites paint us. Hard by, A wet yew-trunk flashed the peel Of our naked forefathers in fight; With stains of the fray sweating free; And him came no parasite nigh: Firm on the hard knotted knee, He stood in the crown of his dun; Earth's toughest to stay her wheel: Under whom the full day is night; Whom the century-tempests call son, Having striven to rend him in vain. I walked to observe, not to feel, Not to fancy, if simple of eye One may be among images reaped For a shift of the glance, as grain: Profitless froth you espy Ashore after billows have leaped. I fled nothing, nothing pursued: The changeful visible face Of our Mother I sought for my food; Crumbs by the way to sustain. Her sentence I knew past grace. Myself I had lost of us twain, Once bound in mirroring thought. She had flung me to dust in her wake; And I, as your convict drags His chain, by the scourge untaught, Bore life for a goad, without aim. I champed the sensations that make Of a ruffled philosophy rags. For them was no meaning too blunt, Nor aspect too cutting of steel. This Earth of the beautiful breasts, Shining up in all colours aflame, To them had visage of hags: A Mother of aches and jests: Soulless, heading a hunt Aimless except for the meal. Hope, with the star on her front; Fear, with an eye in the heel; Our links to a Mother of grace; They were dead on the nerve, and dead For the nature divided in three; Gone out of heart, out of brain, Out of soul: I had in their place The calm of an empty room. We were joined but by that thin thread, My disciplined habit to see. And those conjure images, those, The puppets of loss or gain; Not he who is bare to his doom; For whom never semblance plays To bewitch, overcloud, illume. The dusty mote-images rose; Sheer film of the surface awag: They sank as they rose; their pain Declaring them mine of old days. Now gazed I where, sole upon gloom, As flower-bush in sun-specked crag, Up the spine of the double combe With yew-boughs heavily cloaked, A young apparition shone: Known, yet wonderful, white Surpassingly; doubtfully known, For it struck as the birth of Light: Even Day from the dark unyoked. It waved like a pilgrim flag O'er processional penitents flown When of old they broke rounding yon spine: O the pure wild-cherry in bloom! For their Eastward march to the shrine Of the footsore far-eyed Faith, Was banner so brave, so fair, So quick with celestial sign Of victorious rays over death? For a conquest of coward despair; - Division of soul from wits, And these made rulers;--full sure, More starlike never did shine To illumine the sinister field Where our life's old night-bird flits. I knew it: with her, my own, Had hailed it pure of the pure; Our beacon yearly: but strange When it strikes to within is the known; Richer than newness revealed. There was needed darkness like mine. Its beauty to vividness blown Drew the life in me forward, chased, From aloft on a pinnacle's range, That hindward spidery line, The length of the ways I had paced, A footfarer out of the dawn, To Youth's wild forest, where sprang, For the morning of May long gone, The forest's white virgin; she Seen yonder; and sheltered me, sang; She in me, I in her; what songs The fawn-eared wood-hollows revive To pour forth their tune-footed throngs; Inspire to the dreaming of good Illimitable to come: She, the white wild cherry, a tree, Earth-rooted, tangibly wood, Yet a presence throbbing alive; Nor she in our language dumb: A spirit born of a tree; Because earth-rooted alive: Huntress of things worth pursuit Of souls; in our naming, dreams. And each unto other was lute, By fits quick as breezy gleams. My quiver of aims and desires Had colour that she would have owned; And if by humaner fires Hued later, these held her enthroned: My crescent of Earth; my blood At the silvery early stir; Hour of the thrill of the bud About to burst, and by her Directed, attuned, englobed: My Goddess, the chaste, not chill; Choir over choir white-robed; White-bosomed fold within fold: For so could I dream, breast-bare, In my time of blooming; dream still Through the maze, the mesh, and the wreck, Despite, since manhood was bold, The yoke of the flesh on my neck. She beckoned, I gazed, unaware How a shaft of the blossoming tree Was shot from the yew-wood's core. I stood to the touch of a key Turned in a fast-shut door. They rounded my garden, content, The small fry, clutching their fee, Their fruit of the wreath and the pole; And, chatter, hop, skip, they were sent, In a buzz of young company glee, Their natural music, swift shoal To the next easy shedders of pence. Why not? for they had me in tune With the hungers of my kind. Do readings of earth draw thence, Then a concord deeper than cries Of the Whither whose echo is Whence, To jar unanswered, shall rise As a fountain-jet in the mind Bowed dark o'er the falling and strewn. * * * Unwitting where it might lead, How it came, for the anguish to cease, And the Questions that sow not nor spin, This wisdom, rough-written, and black, As of veins that from venom bleed, I had with the peace within; Or patience, mortal of peace, Compressing the surgent strife In a heart laid open, not mailed, To the last blank hour of the rack, When struck the dividing knife: When the hand that never had failed In its pressure to mine hung slack. But this in myself did I know, Not needing a studious brow, Or trust in a governing star, While my ears held the jangled shout The children were lifting afar: That natures at interflow With all of their past and the now, Are chords to the Nature without, Orbs to the greater whole: First then, nor utterly then Till our lord of sensations at war, The rebel, the heart, yields place To brain, each prompting the soul. Thus our dear Earth we embrace For the milk, her strength to men. And crave we her medical herb, We have but to see and hear, Though pierced by the cruel acerb, The troops of the memories armed Hostile to strike at the nest That nourished and flew them warmed. Not she gives the tear for the tear. Weep, bleed, rave, writhe, be distraught, She is moveless. Not of her breast Are the symbols we conjure when Fear Takes leaven of Hope. I caught, With Death in me shrinking from Death, As cold from cold, for a sign Of the life beyond ashes: I cast, Believing the vision divine, Wings of that dream of my Youth To the spirit beloved: 'twas unglassed On her breast, in her depths austere: A flash through the mist, mere breath, Breath on a buckler of steel. For the flesh in revolt at her laws, Neither song nor smile in ruth, Nor promise of things to reveal, Has she, nor a word she saith: We are asking her wheels to pause. Well knows she the cry of unfaith. If we strain to the farther shore, We are catching at comfort near. Assurances, symbols, saws, Revelations in legends, light To eyes rolling darkness, these Desired of the flesh in affright, For the which it will swear to adore, She yields not for prayers at her knees; The woolly beast bleating will shear. These are our sensual dreams; Of the yearning to touch, to feel The dark Impalpable sure, And have the Unveiled appear; Whereon ever black she beams, Doth of her terrible deal, She who dotes over ripeness at play, Rosiness fondles and feeds, Guides it with shepherding crook, To her sports and her pastures alway. Not she gives the tear for the tear: Harsh wisdom gives Earth, no more; In one the spur and the curb: An answer to thoughts or deeds; To the Legends an alien look; To the Questions a figure of clay. Yet we have but to see and hear, Crave we her medical herb. For the road to her soul is the Real: The root of the growth of man: And the senses must traverse it fresh With a love that no scourge shall abate, To reach the lone heights where we scan In the mind's rarer vision this flesh; In the charge of the Mother our fate; Her law as the one common weal. We, whom the view benumbs, We, quivering upward, each hour Know battle in air and in ground For the breath that goes as it comes, For the choice between sweet and sour, For the smallest grain of our worth: And he who the reckoning sums Finds nought in his hand save Earth. Of Earth are we stripped or crowned. The fleeting Present we crave, Barter our best to wed, In hope of a cushioned bower, What is it but Future and Past Like wind and tide at a wave! Idea of the senses, bred For the senses to snap and devour: Thin as the shell of a sound In delivery, withered in light. Cry we for permanence fast, Permanence hangs by the grave; Sits on the grave green-grassed, On the roll of the heaved grave-mound. By Death, as by Life, are we fed: The two are one spring; our bond With the numbers; with whom to unite Here feathers wings for beyond: Only they can waft us in flight. For they are Reality's flower. Of them, and the contact with them, Issues Earth's dearest daughter, the firm In footing, the stately of stem; Unshaken though elements lour; A warrior heart unquelled; Mirror of Earth, and guide To the Holies from sense withheld: Reason, man's germinant fruit. She wrestles with our old worm Self in the narrow and wide: Relentless quencher of lies, With laughter she pierces the brute; And hear we her laughter peal, 'Tis Light in us dancing to scour The loathed recess of his dens; Scatter his monstrous bed, And hound him to harrow and plough. She is the world's one prize; Our champion, rightfully head; The vessel whose piloted prow, Though Folly froth round, hiss and hoot, Leaves legible print at the keel. Nor least is the service she does, That service to her may cleanse The well of the Sorrows in us; For a common delight will drain The rank individual fens Of a wound refusing to heal While the old worm slavers its root. I bowed as a leaf in rain; As a tree when the leaf is shed To winds in the season at wane: And when from my soul I said, May the worm be trampled: smite, Sacred Reality! power Filled me to front it aright. I had come of my faith's ordeal. It is not to stand on a tower And see the flat universe reel; Our mortal sublimities drop Like raiment by glisterlings worn, At a sweep of the scythe for the crop. Wisdom is won of its fight, The combat incessant; and dries To mummywrap perching a height. It chews the contemplative cud In peril of isolate scorn, Unfed of the onward flood. Nor view we a different morn If we gaze with the deeper sight, With the deeper thought forewise: The world is the same, seen through; The features of men are the same. But let their historian new In the language of nakedness write, Rejoice we to know not shame, Not a dread, not a doubt: to have done With the tortures of thought in the throes, Our animal tangle, and grasp Very sap of the vital in this: That from flesh unto spirit man grows Even here on the sod under sun: That she of the wanton's kiss, Broken through with the bite of an asp, Is Mother of simple truth, Relentless quencher of lies; Eternal in thought; discerned In thought mid-ferry between The Life and the Death, which are one, As our breath in and out, joy or teen. She gives the rich vision to youth, If we will, of her prompting wise; Or men by the lash made lean, Who in harness the mind subserve, Their title to read her have earned; Having mastered sensation--insane At a stroke of the terrified nerve; And out of the sensual hive Grown to the flower of brain; To know her a thing alive, Whose aspects mutably swerve, Whose laws immutably reign. Our sentencer, clother in mist, Her morn bends breast to her noon, Noon to the hour dark-dyed, If we will, of her promptings wise: Her light is our own if we list. The legends that sweep her aside, Crying loud for an opiate boon, To comfort the human want, From the bosom of magical skies, She smiles on, marking their source: They read her with infant eyes. Good ships of morality they, For our crude developing force; Granite the thought to stay, That she is a thing alive To the living, the falling and strewn. But the Questions, the broods that haunt Sensation insurgent, may drive, The way of the channelling mole, Head in a ground-vault gaunt As your telescope's skeleton moon. Barren comfort to these will she dole; Dead is her face to their cries. Intelligence pushing to taste A lesson from beasts might heed. They scatter a voice in the waste, Where any dry swish of a reed By grey-glassy water replies. 'They see not above or below; Farthest are they from my soul,' Earth whispers: 'they scarce have the thirst, Except to unriddle a rune; And I spin none; only show, Would humanity soar from its worst, Winged above darkness and dole, How flesh unto spirit must grow. Spirit raves not for a goal. Shapes in man's likeness hewn Desires not; neither desires The sleep or the glory: it trusts; Uses my gifts, yet aspires; Dreams of a higher than it. The dream is an atmosphere; A scale still ascending to knit The clear to the loftier Clear. 'Tis Reason herself, tiptoe At the ultimate bound of her wit, On the verges of Night and Day. But is it a dream of the lusts, To my dustiest 'tis decreed; And them that so shuffle astray I touch with no key of gold For the wealth of the secret nook; Though I dote over ripeness at play, Rosiness fondle and feed, Guide it with shepherding crook To my sports and my pastures alway. The key will shriek in the lock, The door will rustily hinge, Will open on features of mould, To vanish corrupt at a glimpse, And mock as the wild echoes mock, Soulless in mimic, doth Greed Or the passion for fruitage tinge That dream, for your parricide imps To wing through the body of Time, Yourselves in slaying him slay. Much are you shots of your prime, You men of the act and the dream: And please you to fatten a weed That perishes, pledged to decay, 'Tis dearth in your season of need, Down the slopes of the shoreward way; - Nigh on the misty stream, Where Ferryman under his hood, With a call to be ready to pay The small coin, whitens red blood. But the young ethereal seed Shall bring you the bread no buyer Can have for his craving supreme; To my quenchless quick shall speed The soul at her wrestle rude With devil, with angel more dire; With the flesh, with the Fates, enringed. The dream of the blossom of Good Is your banner of battle unrolled In its waver and current and curve (Choir over choir white-winged, White-bosomed fold within fold): Hopeful of victory most When hard is the task to sustain Assaults of the fearful sense At a mind in desolate mood With the Whither, whose echo is Whence; And humanity's clamour, lost, lost; And its clasp of the staves that snap; And evil abroad, as a main Uproarious, bursting its dyke. For back do you look, and lo, Forward the harvest of grain! - Numbers in council, awake To love more than things of my lap, Love me; and to let the types break, Men be grass, rocks rivers, all flow; All save the dream sink alike To the source of my vital in sap: Their battle, their loss, their ache, For my pledge of vitality know. The dream is the thought in the ghost; The thought sent flying for food; Eyeless, but sprung of an aim Supernal of Reason, to find The great Over-Reason we name Beneficence: mind seeking Mind. Dream of the blossom of Good, In its waver and current and curve, With the hopes of my offspring enscrolled! Soon to be seen of a host The flag of the Master I serve! And life in them doubled on Life, As flame upon flame, to behold, High over Time-tumbled sea, The bliss of his headship of strife, Him through handmaiden me.'
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