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The Mass Of Christ

I
DOWN in the woodlands, where the streamlet runs,
Close to the breezy river, by the dells
Of ferns and flowers that shun the summer suns
But gather round the lizard-haunted wells,
And listen to the birds' sweet syllables —
Down in the woodlands, lying in the shade,
Among the rushes green that shook and gleamed,
I, I whose songs were of my heart's blood made,
Found weary rest from wretchedness, it seemed,
And fell asleep, and as I slept, I dreamed.
II
I dreamed I stood beside a pillar vast
Close to a little open door behind,
Whence the small light there was stole in aghast,
And for a space this troubled all my mind,
To lose the sunlight and the sky and the wind.
For I could know, I felt, how all before,
Though high and wonderful and to be praised,
In heart and soul and mind oppressed me sore.
Nevertheless, I turned, and my face raised,
And on that pageant and its glory gazed.
The pillars, vast as this whereby I stood,
Hedged all the place about and towered up high,
Up, and were lost within a billowy cloud
Of slow blue-wreathing smoke that fragrantly
Rose from below. And a great chaunt and cry
Of multitudinous voices, with sweet notes,
Mingled of music solemn, glad, serene,
Swayed all the air and gave its echoes throats.
And priests and singers various, with proud mien,
Filled all the choir — a strange and wondrous scene.
And men and women and children, in all hues
Of colour and fresh raiment, filled the nave;
And yet it seemed, this vast place did refuse
Room for the mighty army that did crave,
And only to the vanguard harbourage gave.
And, as I gazed and watched them while they knelt
(Their prayers I watched with the incense disappear),
And could not know my thoughts of it, I felt
A touch upon mine arm, and in mine ear
Some words, and turned my face to see and hear.
There was a man beside me. In that light,
Tho' dim, remote, and shadowy, I could see
His face swarthy yet pale, and eyes like night,
With a strange, far sadness, looking at me.
It seemed as if the buffets of some sea
Had beaten on him as he faced it long.
The salty foam, the spittle of its wrath
Had blurred the bruises of its fingers strong,
Striking him pitilessly from out its path,
Yet had he braved it as the willow hath.
He turned his look from me and where we stood,
His far strange look of sadness, and it seemed
This temple vast, this prayerful multitude,
These priests and singers celebrant who streamed
In gorgeous ranks towards the fane that gleamed,
Were to him as some vision is, untrue,
Tho' true we take it, undeceived the while,
But, since it was unknown to him all through,
And hid some meaning (it might be of guile),
He turned once more, and spake in gentle style.
'Nay, this,' he said, 'is not the Temple, nor
The children of Israel these, whom less sufficed
Of chaunt and ritual. They whom we abhor,
The Phoenicians, to their gods have sacrificed!'
I said, 'Nay, sir, this is the Mass of Christ.'
'The Mass of Christ?' he murmured. And I said
'This is the day on which He came below,
And this is Rome, and far up overhead
Soars the great dome that bids the wide world know
St. Peter still rules o'er his Church below!'
'The Christ?' he said, 'and Peter, who are they?'
I answered, 'Jesus was he in the days long past,
And Peter was his chief disciple.' 'Nay,'
He answered, 'for of these the lot was cast
On poverty.' I said, 'That is all past!'
Then as I might, as for some stranger great
(Who saw all things under an unknown sun),
I told him of these things both soon and late,
Then, when I paused and turned, lo! he was gone,
Had left me, and I saw him passing on.
On, up the aisle, he passed, his long black hair
Upon his brown and common coat; his head
Raised, and his mien such aspect fixed did wear
As one may have whose spirit long is sped
(Though he still lives) among the mighty dead.
He paused not, neither swerved not, till he came
Unto the fane and steps. Nor there he learned
Awe, but went on, till rose a shrill acclaim,
And the High Priest from the great altar turned,
And raised the golden sign that blazed and burned.
And a slow horror grew upon us all —
On priests and people, and on us who gazed —
As that Great King, alive beneath the pall,
Heard his own death-service that moaned and praised
So all we were fearful, expectant, dazed.
Then unknown murmurs round the High Priest rose
Of men in doubt; and all the multitude
Swayed, as one seized in a keen travail's throes,
Where, on the last steps of the altar stood,
The Man — the altar steps all red like blood.
The singing ceased; the air grew clear and dead,
Save for the organ tones that sobbed and sighed.
In a hushed voice the High Priest gazing, said,
'Who are you?' and the Man straightway replied,
'I, I am Jesus whom they crucified!'
His voice was low yet every ear there heard,
And every eye was fixed upon him fast;
And, when he spake, the people all shuddered,
As a great corn-field at the south wind's blast,
And the Man paused, but spake again at last:
'I am the Galilean. I was born
Of Joseph and of Mary in Nazareth.
But God, our Father, left me not forlorn,
But breathèd in my soul his sacred breath,
That I should be his prophet, and fear not death.
'I taught the Kingdom of Heaven; the poor, the oppressed
I loved. The rich, the priests, did hear my cry
Of hate and retribution that lashed their rest.
Wherefore they caught and took and scourged me. I
Was crucified with the thieves on Calvary!'
At that it seemed the very stones did quake,
And a great rumour grew and filled the place;
The pillars, the roof, the dome above did shake,
And a fierce cry and arms surged up apace,
Like to a storm-cloud round that dark pale face.
And yet once more he spake, and we did hear:
'Who are you? What is this you do?' he said.
'I was the Christ. Who is this here
You worship?' From that silence of the dead,
'Tear him in pieces,' cried a voice and fled.
Howls, yells, and execrations, blazing eyes,
And threatening arms — it was unloosened hell!
And in the midst, seized, dragged along with cries
Of hate exultant, still I saw him well,
His strange sad face; then sickened, swooned, and fell!
* The Emperor Charles V., mightiest of mediaeval kings, had the weird
fancy to assist at a representation of his own death service.
III
Slowly from out that trance did I arouse;
Slowly, with pain, and all was weary and still,
Even as a dreamer dreams some sweet carouse,
And faints at touch of breath and lips that thrill,
And yet awakes and yet is dreaming still.
So I. And when my tired eyes look, mine ears,
Echoing those late noises, listen, and
I seek to know what 'fore me now appears,
For long I cannot know nor understand,
But lie as some wrecked sailor on the strand.
Then bit by bit I knew it — how I lay
On the hard stones, crouched by a pillar tall:
The wind blew bleak and raw; the skies were grey;
Up broad stone steps folk passed into the wall,
Both men and women: there was no sun at all.
I moved, I rose, I came close to, and saw;
And then I knew the place wherein I was;
Here in the city high, the ravening maw
Of all men's toil and kindly Nature's laws,
I stood, and felt the dreary winter's flaws.
And by me rose that lampless edifice
Of England's soul shrunk to a skeleton,
Whose dingy cross the grimy air doth pierce —
London, that hell of wastefulness and stone,
The piled bones of the sufferers dead and gone!
And, when I knew all this, and thought of it,
And thought of all the hateful hours and dread
That smirched my youth here, struck, and stabbed, and lit
The plundered shrine of trust and love that fled,
And left my soul stripped, bleeding worse than dead,
Wrath grew in me. For all around I knew
The accursèd city worked on all the same,
For all the toiling sufferers. The idle few,
The vermin foul that from this dung-heap came,
Made of our agony their feast and game.
And when, with hands clenched tight, with eyes of fire,
Sombre and desperate, I moved on apace,
Within my soul brooded a dark desire;
I reached the stream of those who sought this place,
And turned with them and saw a sudden face.
I knew it, as it was there, meeting mine —
I knew it with its strange sad gaze, the eyes
Night-like. Yet on it now no more did shine,
As 'twere that inner light of victories,
Won from the fiend that lives by the god that dies.
But very weary, as my waking was,
But stunned, it seemed, and as if cowed at last,
Were look and bearing of him: I felt the cause
Even as I looked. My wrath and thought were passed
I came and took his arm and held it fast.
And, as some fever-struck delirious man,
In some still pausing of his anguish-throes,
Forgetful of it all, how it began,
Rises from off his bed and dons his clothes,
And seeks (his footsteps seek) some place he knows;
And there he wanders voiceless, like a ghost,
His weariness confusing him, until
Worn-out, he helplessly perceives he's lost:
So was he here, this man, stricken and still —
Day, place, folk, all incomprehensible!
My hold aroused him. We looked face in face,
And in a little I could watch the wonder,
'Where he had seen me,' in his great eyes, chase
The torpor and oblivion asunder.
Close by there was a porch, I drew him under.
There, after pause, I asked, 'What do you here?'
He said: 'I came, I think, to seek and see
Something which I much long for and yet fear.
I have passed over many a land and sea
I never knew: my Father guided me.
'I think,' he said, 'that I am come to find
Here, in this cold dark place, what in that blue
And sunny south but wounded all my mind.
But I am weary and cannot see things true,
There is a cloud around me. And with you?'
'Come, then,' I said, 'come then, if you must know
What that great saint hath done for us, who is
The second builder of your Church below.
Paul, that was Saul, the Prince of Charities!
He saw you once. Now see him once — in this!'
We went out side by side into the stream
Of folk that passed on upwards thro' the wall
(There was a gateway there), and in the beam
Of the dull light we stood and pillars tall,
And I said 'Look,' and he looked at it all.
Somewhat it was as he had seen before,
Yet darker, gloomier, though some hues were gay.
For all these people had, it seemed, full store
Of quiet ease, and loved the leisured day;
They sang of joy, but little joy had they.
It was the function of the rich, of those
To whom contentment springs from booty's fill,
Gorged to a dull, religious, rank repose.
He raised his voice. He spake the words, 'I will!'
There came a sound from some about, 'Be still!'
Heedless, as one begrimed with blood and smoke,
The leader of a charge shattered in rout,
Strips off his tatters and bids the ranks re-yoke,
And leads them back to carry the redoubt,
So was he, strong once more, and resolute.
But, as he moved into the aisle, there rose
Men round him, grim and quiet, and a hand
Firmly upon each arm and wrist did close,
And held him like an engine at command.
He cried: 'Loose me! You do not understand!'
'Loose me,' he cried, 'I, Jesus, come to tell——'
No answer made they, but without a word
Moved him away. Their office they knew well
With the impious outcasts who the good disturb
In their worship of their Queen and of their Lord.
'Twas finished ere we heard him. At the door
They thrust him out, and I, who followed him,
Knowing that he could enter it no more,
Led him away, his faltering steps, his slim
Frail form within mine arm; his eyes were dim.
Out and away from this I gently guided
Through wretched streets I knew. (Is not my blood
Upon their stones?). A few poor sots derided,
But we passed on unheeding, as we could,
Till by a little door we paused and stood.
We entered. 'Twas a chamber bare and small,
With chairs and benches and a table. There
Some six or seven men sat: I knew them all.
I said, 'Food, food and drink!' Some did repair
At once, without a word, to bring their fare.
He sat down by the table listless. But
When bread was brought him, water, and red wine,
Slowly his white waste hand he stretched, and put
On to the bread and brake it; a divine
Smile touched his lips, and on his brow did shine.
They gathered round him with strange quiet glances,
These soldiers of the army Night hath tried,
One spake the question of their countenances —
'Who are you?' Then he whisperingly replied,
'I, I am Jesus, whom they crucified!'
At that a murmur rang among them all.
There was one man so white he seemed as dead,
Save for his eyes, and when he heard them call:
'Christ, it is Christ,' he bent to him his head,
And the thin bitter lips hissed as they said:
'The name of Christ has been the sovereign curse,
The opium drug that kept us slaves to wrong.
Fooled with a dream, we bowed to worse and worse;
‘In heaven,’ we said, ‘He will confound the strong.’
O hateful treason that has tricked too long!
'Had we poor down-trod millions never dreamed
Your dream of that hereafter for our woe,
Had the great powers that rule, no Father seemed,
But Law relentless, long and long ago
We had risen and said, ‘We will not suffer so.’
'O Christ, O you who found the drug of heaven,
To keep consoled an earth that grew to hell,
That else to cleanse and cure its sores had striven,
We curse that name!' A fierce hard silence fell,
And Jesus whispered, 'Oh, and I as well!'
He raised his face! See, on the Calvary hill,
Submissive with such pride, betrayed and taken,
Transfixed and crucified, the prey of ill,
Of a cup less bitter had he there partaken,
He then by God, as now by Man, forsaken!
'Vain, was it vain, all vain?' had mocked him then;
Now the triumphant gibe of hell had said,
'Not vain! a curse, a speechless curse to men!'
His great eyes gazed on it. He bowed his head,
Without a word, and shuddered. He was dead!
And when I saw this, with a low hoarse cry
I caught him to mine arms and to my breast,
And put my lips to his that breathed one sigh,
And kissed his eyes, and by his name addressed
My Friend, my Master, him whom I loved best.
'Jesus,' I whispered, 'Jesus, Jesus, speak!'
For it did seem that speech from him must break;
But suddenly I knew he would not speak,
Never, never again! My heart did shake:
My stricken brain burst; I shrieked and leaped awake.
IV
Down in the woodlands, where the streamlet runs,
Close to the breezy river, by the dells,
Of ferns and flowers that shun the summer suns
But gather round the lizard-haunted wells,
And listen to the birds' sweet syllables —
Down in the woodlands, lying in the shade,
Among the rushes green that shook and gleamed,
I woke and lay, and of my dream dreams made,
Wondering if indeed I had but dreamed,
Or dreamed but now, so real that dream had seemed.
Then up above I saw the turquoise sky,
And, past the blowy tree-tops swung aloft,
Two pigeons dared the breeze ecstatically,
And happy frogs, couched in the verdure soft,
Piped to each other dreamily and oft.
And, as I looked across the flowery woods,
Across the grasses, sun and shade bedight,
Under the leaves' melodious interludes,
Flowing one way, the blessèd birds' delight,
I saw her come, my love, clothed on with light!
Flowers she had, and in her hair and hands,
Singing and stooping, gathering them with words,
Whose music is past all speech understands,
But God is glad thereof, as of his birds;
I watched her, listening, till I heard the words
Leap from her lips of a bold battle-song,
The clarion clear that silences the strife.
She marched exultantly to it along,
No more a joyous girl, a sacred wife,
But a soldier of the Cause that's more than life!
O well I knew the song that she was singing,
But now she gave her music to my rhyme,
Her rapturous music thro' the wild woods ringing,
Asserting Truth and Trust, arraigning Crime,
And bidding Justice 'bring the better time!'
O Love, sing on, sing on, O girt with light,
Shatter the silence of the hopeless hours;
O mock with song triumphant all the night,
O girl, O wife, O crowned with fruits and flowers,
Till day and dawn and victory are ours!

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