ABOVE the busy Norman town,
by Sir Lewis Morris
The high precipitous sea-cliffs rise,
And from their summit looking down
The twin-lights shine with lustrous eyes ;
Far out upon the fields of foam,
The first to greet the wanderer home.
Man here has known at last to tame
Nature's wild forces to his will ;
Those are the lightning's fires which flame,
From yon high towers with ray so still :
And knowledge, piercing through the night
Of time, has summoned forth the light.
And there, hard by the lighthouse door,
The earthly set by the divine ;
At a stone's cast, or scarcely more,
Rises a little pagan shrine,
Where the rough seamen come to pray,
And wives, for dear ones far away.
There, on a starry orb, there stands
A heavenly goddess, proud and fair ;
No infant holds she in her hands
Which must a queenly sceptre bear.
Nay ; wonder not, for this is she
Who rules the fury of the sea.
Star of the sea, they call her, yet
Liker to Here doth she show,
Than Aphrodite, rising wet
From the white waves, with limbs aglow.
Calmer she seems, more pure and sweet,
To the poor kneelers at her feet.
Before her still the vestal fires
Burn unextinguished day and night ;
And the sweet frankincense expires
And fair flowers blow, and gems are bright :
For a great power in heaven is she,
This star and goddess of the sea.
Around the temple, everywhere,
Rude tablets hung, attest her might ;
Here the fierce surge she smooths, and there
Darts downward on a bar of light ;
To quench the blazing ship, or save
The shipwrecked from the hungry wave.
And sea-gifts round the shrine are laid,
Poor offerings, costlier far than gold :
Such as the earlier heathen made,
To the twin Deities of old,
Toy ships, shells, coral, glittering spar,
Brought here by grateful hands from far.
A very present help indeed,
This goddess is to whom they bow ;
We seek Thy face with hearts that bleed,
And straining eyes, dread Lord ! but Thou
Hidest Thyself so far away,
Our thoughts scarce reach Thee as we pray.
But is this she, whom the still voice
Of angels greeted in the night ;
Bidding the poor maid's heart rejoice,
With visions hid from wiser sight :
This heathen nymph, this tinselled queen,
First of all mothers who have been ?
Gross hearts and purblind eyes, to make .
An idol of a soul so sweet !
Could you no meaner essence take,
No brazen image with clay feet ;
No saint from out the crowd of lies,
False signs and shameful prodigies ?
For this one bears too great a name,
Above all other women blest ;
The blessed mother, all her fame
Is His who nestled to her breast :
They do but dull her glory down,
These childless arms, this earthly crown.
Poor peasant mother ! scarce a word
Thou spak'st, the long-drawn years retain ;
Only thy womb once bare the Lord ;
Only thou knew'st the joy, the pain,
The high hope seeming quenched in blood
That marked thy awful motherhood.
No trace of all thy life remains,
From His first childhood to the cross ;
A life of little joys and pains,
Of humble gain and trivial loss :
Contented if the ewes should bear
Twin lambs, or wheat were full in ear.
Or if sometimes the memory
Of that dread message of the night
Troubled thy soul, there came to thee
New precious duties ; till the flight,
The desert sands, the kneeling kings,
Showed but as half-forgotten things.
Or sometimes, may be, pondering deep
On miracles of word and deed,
Vague doubts across thy soul would creep,
Still faithful to the older creed :
Could this thy son indeed be He,
This child who prattled at thy knee ?
And of thy after-life, thy age,
Thy death, no record ; not a line
On all the fair historic page
To mark the life these hold divine :
Only some vague tradition, faint
As the sick story of a saint.
But thou no longer art to-day .
The sweet maid-mother, fair and pure;
Vast time-worn reverend temples gray,
Throne thee in majesty obscure ;
And long aisles stretch in minsters high,
'Twixt thee, fair peasant, and the sky.
They seek to honour thee, who art
Beyond all else a mother indeed ;
With hateful vows that blight the heart,
With childless lives, and souls that bleed :
As if their dull hymns' barren strain
Could fill a mother with aught but pain !
To the gross earth they bind thee down
With coils of fable, chain on chain ;
From plague or war to save the town ;
To give, or hold ; the sun, or rain ;
To whirl through air a favourite shrine,
These are thy functions, and divine.
And see, in long procession rise
The fair Madonnas of all time ;
They gaze from sweet maternal eyes,
The dreams of every Christian clime :
Brown girls and icy queens, the breast
And childish lips proclaim them blest.
Till as the gradual legend grew,
Born without stain, and scorning death;
Heavenward thou soarest through the blue,
While saints and seers aspire beneath:
And fancy-nurtured cam'st to be
Queen over sky and earth and sea.
Oh, sin ! oh, shame ! oh, folly ! Rise;
Poor heathen, think to what you bow ;
Consider, beyond God's equal skies,
What pains that faithful soul must know,—
She a poor peasant on the throne
Raised for the Lord of Life, alone.
O sweet ! O heart of hearts ! O pure
Above all purest maids of earth !
O simple child, who didst endure
The burden of that awful birth :
Heart, that the keenest sword didst know,
Soul bowed by alien loads of woe !
Sweet soul ! have pity ; intercede,
Oh mother of mothers, pure and meek ;
They know no evil, rise and plead
For these poor wandering souls and weak ;
Tear off those pagan rags, and lead
Their worship where 'tis due indeed.
For wheresoever there is home,
And mothers yearn with sacred love,
There, since from Heaven itself they come,
Are symbols of the life above :
Again the sweet maid-mother mild,
Again the fair Eternal child.