Festus - Proem
This time is equal to all time that's gone Of like extent, nor heeds to hide its face Before the future: each is missioned here To ends like worthy of its sender, God. Him therefore let us bless too, and take heart; All ages are his offspring, and all worlds Form from his breath, like dewdrops out of air; He life in all infusing. Nor is earth's orb Outlawed or excommunicate. This our God Is still as kind, his gifts like wondrous fair, Unlimited, even as when the wind first blew. Still shines his sun on the grey rotting rock Keen, pure, as o'er the primal matter once; Ere floods, marmoreal now, had smoothed their couch Of perdurable snow, or granite wrought Its skyward impulse from earth's hearth of fire Up to insanest heights; or thunder oped His cloudy lips, and spake. Immutable he, All things to himwards, spiritual, natural, show Unvaryingly of change. God, nature, man, Life's universal Trinity, man perceives Aye to each other that they have been; all souls God makes, we feel, he blesses and inspires With special gifts, duties and joys, that each Teaching themselves and others him may learn. To those come gifts to enjoy the world, to gain, To cultivate, amuse, adorn; to these, Who live alone with God and nature; smile With the sun for mirth, or with the waning moon Sadden, the elements their kin as men, Boons, too, unasked, unmeasured as the light, Which lights at countless points the formless whole. Such now, heaven's seers, in things eternal taught, Skilled soulwise to lay bare the heart of the world, Know that while elemental change, locked round In self--succedent course, may nature serve As God, in spirit; progress alone of soul Is to him dear as its existence; know The moral realm in us expansible, ever Greatening with speed accumulative, the rays Of heaven's authentic sphere pierce more and more The obstructive dark of ignorance; know, in fine, This age, ours, happier, amiabler than all Passed, in that God who witness lacks not ever His ways to vindicate, now breathes 'mong men More of his own humanity; and earth Mellowed by westering suns, her teachers teach A broader kindlier message; show how need, Sown in our nature for divine commune, Trust in a holy future largelier planned Than doubtful pride deems safe to trust; though all Schemes fruit of noblest strain, and social life Made saintly, art supreme fine earth to gas, Or desiccate the sea to a vapoury film; A future filled by faith,--supplanter not Of reason but supplementer, tends to adjust And perfect Being; and while with simplest fare Content themselves,--for wisdom's board aye lacks Mere dainties, nor to any sets she forth More than her homely bread, sweet olives, wine, Right hospitable, and sacred salt, a meal Such, with God's blessing, they their best meed find To spread her stintless welcome, and invite All blameless spirits to share the feast of God. Each race hath had its revelation here Through saint or bard, or lawgiver moved of God, And will have better. Man, in spirit one, Shall in the spirit receive the only true. Who now the world's wide scripture, God writ, best Interpret, the interlinear version use Of spiritual light, given in ourselves, inspired; Poesie being a thing divine, of God, Who made his prophets poets; and the more We feel of poesie, we become like God In love and power creative; under--makers. And song being of the supernatural Natural utterance, solely can the world's Unbounded beauty speak; immortal soul's Perfective fall; terrestrial tests; re--rise; And the premortal concords of pure mind, Made, and creative, show, at last resumed. True fiction hath a higher end, and scope Wider, than fact: it is nature's possible, Contrasted with life's actual mean, and gives To the conceptive soul, an inner world, A loftier, ampler heaven than that wherein The nations sun themselves. In that bright sphere, Behold the mental creatures of the men Whose names are writ highest on the rounded crown Of fame's triumphal arch; the shining shapes Which star the skies of that invisible land, Where earthly immortality dwells, with sage, Hero and seer, her sceptred lieges, bard, And all souls vowed to truth. Among such, let ours, Whom fabulous wars, nor wars too true, nor rise Of realms, or fall, nor thrones o'erthrown allure, One spirit, as with the elements of mind's orb, Stern quatrain of the moral world, good, ill, Choice and necessity, battling, sing; the field, And what we are deepliest mixed with, God and man, Boots most to know,--where God the all good, the world's Evil, and man, in whom are both,--all said Of Deity's said in reverence, and in love,-- Deploy their forces. These, thought's ultimate forms, In mutual bearings traced, all teach us, good Immortal, as of God; for God to know In nature, nature know in God, unites Both reason and faith; teach, evil here active, there Passive, but test of spirits; and choice and need, Like light's electric force, twin poled in us And all life; teach, that we our being have, We of this mortal mixture, in the same law As heaven's intelligences, of all ill pure, And the dread Hadean shades; law given of God Himself to prove by arbitrary grace Above necessity in his action; teach, Virtue, because of origin in him, Deathless, divine; and while to struggling man, For voluntary offence punition just Be due, renewal righteous of pure will, And self--amendment, his approof secures; Souls virtuous are the souls elect of God;-- And virtue and reason, attributes divine, Not finite, but his qualities, though in us By causal distance dwindled, proof proclaim Of common Being in all divinity. Now, that infinite wisdom when he freed Soul, should soul's choice foresee needs all must judge; While such preview infallible, act nor thought Of ours irremediable implies. Who views Reverently God's nature in itself, will own He only hath free--will whose will is fate; Know too that in humanity, Godwards viewed, Free--will is but necessity in play; The clattering of the golden reins which guide The thunder--footed coursers of the sun. But that soul create, seen self--wise, in all deeds, In all our words, our wills, through this brief life, This petty segment of eternity, though Seized but of limited freedom, yet, in truth, Even as the ship, with fire informed, that seeks The sea, obeying but its own iron force, Reckless of adverse tide, breeze dead, or weak As infant's parting breath too faint to stir The feather held to it; and howbeit at last, Appointed thrall as much of the elements As the white--bosomed barque which woos the wind To her welcoming breast, is rightly for its course Prejudged responsible; course and end alike Chosen by us, and planned, and well, if laden Not inconsistently. But who, because Men know not, nor can see act's end, until We see with God, shall deem, that man, set he His heart, contrarious as he may, 'gainst God, Can aught do but work out his ultimate will, Though at an infinite angle, he thenceforth Acting unanswerably,--and thus confounds The law of being with doing, deepliest errs. Laws there are twain man serves: the law of law, Race, custom, creed, time, conscience, circumstance, Chance; superficial this; who breathe the light Of spiritual virtue know God's will towards good The law of laws; all central, vital. These To imblend by holy art, to cultured man All excellence, and all blessing means. Who join With love sincere of truth, good deeds, good will, Just life and innocent conscience; 'scaping so, The world's self--sentenced thraldom to desires Inequitable, and selfish pride to outvie, And not by bettering, serve, men; reunite, In free perfection, with divinity here. Such are heaven's secret heirs, the adopt of God, Unknown, unnamed, unblazoned. These be they Whose souls though chastened aye yet chose from first, Born of the eternal seed of heavenly life, Light's golden generation, into time Breathed Godwise, God translates to bliss divine, The primal, final, total state of heaven, And normal perfectness in him. But while God's boundless and predestinating love Shown in the soul world--chosen, his power displays, His sovereignty, his freedom, God's great end, Touching all moral being, its progress just In virtue and judgment by the pure plain law Of right and truth, like needful seems to prove Heaven's equity, and to separate good from ill. Evil and good are God's right hand and left. There is but one great right and good; ill, wrong, Dense, vast, howbeit to finite mind, to him Omniscient, shadows show, not substances. Nothing can be antagonist to God. Let contest be 'twixt equals. He is all. Not less, to us, of limited potencies By ministry of evil,--whose reason sole Of being, is that it prove, conscious or not, Promoter of God's ends, in testing souls Finite, but free, for good,--good stands forth clear. God ever makes for bliss twofold, his own, And theirs he hath made, all life: no meaner end Worthy of him can be, or just towards them. Who read not in the blessed belief that souls All may be saved, read to no end. We were Created, to be saved. We are of God. Swayed by these truths, and compassed, as by stars, Earth in her course, our story, mingling life, Not cursorily, with things on high, but scenes Showing of heaven and earth, as body and soul In our humanity, mixed, we thankful, learn How God by ever creating, and his own One Being diffusing through the sentient whole; How, too, by ruin of evil, and good's great field By finite force for God won, for that cause Tried, tested, and when failing, made in the end Just, pure; he doth eternize bliss, and make Good infinite by making all in him. Our thoughts are bounded but by the infinite. What comes before and after the great world, Deep in light's secretest abyss, and life's Immensity most reserved, is ours to muse, Not to declare; where finite reason ends Faith leaps, and finds firm ground in the divine. God, thus, our Saviour, still with spirit humane Communes; with some in life--long sacrament, Faithwise; which, rounding all activities Of soul, a higher faculty than reason Shows, though of brightest revelative power, As the snow--headed mountain riseth o'er The lightning, and applies itself to heaven; A faculty which meaning gives to time; Sanctity to man's kingly blood; and like, And equal, interest in God's bounteous ends. Wherefore the world, of mean believings sick And sophistries, waits, wearying for the truth, Now, like an angel, on the wing from heaven. For as when, storms gone, each cloud--ghost, vapoury, vast, Each shape, sky--menacing, the uneternal brood Of misconceptive fear, by ministering wind Routed, and hurled to absolute void;--we, strewn Luxurious, on the crag's crown, nought thence seen Save ocean's quivering outline, sharp as death, Cutting the horizon of the after world, And all heaven's luminous and exhilarant blue, Eternity made visible, which o'erhangs Changeless, this changeful sphere,--complacent, eye Those unimagined heights, aërial, calm, Of tempests hidden, not touched; so, once earth's creeds Foul, foolish, or of mountainous falsity, Fled from the face of never mutable truth, One, indivisible, sole, we feel in this Like verity, God's infinite fatherhood, A faith, if formless, boundless, and the soul All satisfying with permanent peace. The world Is God's great will in act, heaven in repose. Earth is heaven's floor; and as, of time's vast shows Or small, our God,--the omnipotent operative, World sire, the all parent, first and last of Being, Whose eye--blink kindles suns, whose breath in sad Reproof congeals, imbreasts, doubt not, of all The eternal image; and, as in temporal wise, The sun, sole habitant of the tented sky, Lightener of all the planets, world adored, Who yet with minute beauty all life's fields Impearls, and things most momentary sublimes, Still dwelling in each fairy orb of dew, Ere to his breast he assumes; so, too, the bard, Who heavenly objects owns with earth's, while light And beauty scattering over all he loves And feels with, trusts but to himself all hopes, Artwise, of lasting record in man's mind. Art is man's nature; nature is God's art. All nature in the poet's heart is limned In little; as now in landscape--stones we see The swell of ground, green groves, and running streams Fresh from the wolds of Chaos; hints of life, Foreworldly, pencilled by pre--solar light, Or Paradisal sun; so, in his mind Ingrained, in primal purity, the main Conditions of existence, be and bear, Wisdom he seeks not only for himself, But sacred rites participates in, which give, To souls like willed, the privilege he hath earned, And all prepared makes partners of his light. 'Twixt priestly powers and laic stands the bard, A living link; now chanting odes divine, Now, holy and austere, with sacred spell Inviting angels; with fine magic, fiends Evoking; whiles, in festive guise, his brow With golden fillet bounden, earnest alone, The throng to charm that seeks, or celebrates, The games, here, there, the mysteries of life, With truths ornate, and pleasure's choicest plea. Man's minion thus, and monitor, though all else Be mute, he, armed with the instinct both of rule And right, in privilege only potent speaks His spirit in self--rewarding song. So, ours, Who from his youth up, save in adorning this, His life's chief business, mission, end, with all Fair addings; and who all time brought, so brooked As to his soul's intent subservient, knew Elsewise, scant joy; but this achieved, enough: Even as the ormer, pearly ear o' the sea, Whose aim nor tide nor tempest shakes, but shapes; Who, taught by orient suns and vesper skies, Where steers the crescent star her silvery ark O'er azure deeps, gold rippled,--many a year Splendidly toiling, his mysterious shell, Born of himself, a life--long miracle, gifts, Daily, with goodlier dyes and tenderer hues; In bulk, in beauty vastening aye; he, now, The quivering rose--blush kindles, now, the blue Haunts as with memory of some flame--plumed wave Horsing the seas by night, adventurously, Lone, errant; or of ruddiest lightning snatched While diving; now with prismy pencil fires Finelier, the green of travelled seas, surcharged With tropic sunsets; now the iceberg's spell Which binds the enchanted rainbow in its breast Steals holily; but, chastened every gleam, Each soft ubiquitous flash fused flickering; whilst Vanishing, fixed; till at last one master tint, Thinned to a thought, all hues commuting, shot, Quick, through the whole, his lonely life--work he Indifferently perfects; and moon by moon, Known but to silence and the all--aidant God, Lives self--imparadised. So tasked, his time, Our bard, like minded nature's ends and heaven's To accomplish, passed; for man and nature, each, Give signals of perfections not in them Inherent; part prophetic, part reflex; Blind rudiments, hap, of qualities divine Originally; our poor mean force, of power Boundless; our cunning and coarse art, of skill Heaven's plenary inbreath fills and fines; our ends Finite, of the universal cause; in him We, as in nature, not through Being, alone, But operation, like exampled. Think! God worketh slowly; yea, a thousand years He takes to lift his hand off that he hath made, When seemingly most finished. Layer on layer, Laid as by fingers skilled in lengths extreme, And thrilled progressive through all elements, He formed earth; fashioned, balled, and hardened it, Into the great, bright, useful thing it is; Water he heired with marl, flame stilled by stone; Its seas life--crowded, and soul--hallowed lands, He, with the sun's broad girdle that sets aglow, Like love's embrace close clinging as for life, Earth's orbèd breast, girt; fanned with tempests; veiled With nebulous ocean clouds, now bright, now dark; With virgin gold veined, dusted thick with gems; Lined it with fire; and round its heart--fire bowed Rock--ribs unbreakable; until, whole at last, Earth took her shining station, as a star, In heaven's dark hall, high up the throng of worlds. All this did God, and thus. Nor, meanly, blame Man, mediator 'twixt the whole and God, Who causes like in essence, if diverse In value would collate; nor this conceive Extern to that most in us, the divine And universal reason of things; but own, That even as when in summer's sultriest heats, At night, o'er heaven, the harmless flash looms wide, With faint, far fulminings, and we learn, all day We have breathed invisible lightnings, and our breasts Arched on unvolumed thunder; so, once taught Clearly in spirit, to realise our own Uncredited divinity, we first feel True consciousness of life, as filled, sphered, skied, With Deity. Be it aye so. For aught else, Most rests with those who read. A work, a thought, Is that each makes it to himself, of great Dark meanings capable, rushing like the sea, In life shoals measurelessly; may be, as air By the wild doves' wing beclouded, while they sweep, Miles broad, o'er western woods, with, here and there, Vast glimpses of heaven's central light; or, nothing; Bodiless, spiritless. Be but ours conceived With adequate force, and lo! we add a star To the serene of heaven. And for man's soul, As shown in actual, and in ultimate times Foreshadowed, note the elements of such sphere, Feasible, in thought; grace destinative, the strife Of good and ill, man's judgment of himself, And his heart's natural religion, God Contrasting with humanity, the spirit Uniting aye; the test of virtue tried; Temptation, and its workings in the heart; Ambition; thirst of secret lore; joy; love, Riverlike, sometimes doubling on itself; Adventure, travel, earthly and heavenly; Friendship and pleasure, passion, poesie, Viewed ever in their spiritual end, and power; Celestial happiness, and earth's foretaste Millennial; ill, of God annihilable; The angels lost, restored,--of him all made;-- Life pre--existent; and like marvels, much Unnamed; one visible remnant of pure faith, The soul incoronating, when most eclipsed; Most nigh gone; these, the mainland of our orb, Might form; its isles, its seas. But if less vast Our soul--grasp, be content: the whole a fane Intelligible, conceive, the spirit which holds To whom, and his by whom, it is consecrate; From whose porch, now through passed, is something seen, As in saintly shrine by Seine's blue wave, the shell Colossal, from seas southern shipped, since filled With waters purificative, immirroring, shows The main dome's pillared vast beyond,--of what At large succeeds; the all--intempling law Of moral being, progressive good; the course And scope of faith in the individual soul, With time's distractions, with the world's deceits Contestant, ere yet gained celestial life.
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