It was a village built in a green rent,
Between two cliffs that skirt the dangerous bay.
A reef of level rock runs out to sea,
And you may lie on it and look sheer down,
Just where the 'Grace of Sunderland' was lost,
And see the elastic banners of the dulse
Rock softly, and the orange star-fish creep
Across the laver, and the mackerel shoot
Over and under it, like silver boats
Turning at will and plying under water.
There on that reef we lay upon our breasts,
My brother and I, and half the village lads,
For an old fisherman had called to us
With 'Sirs, the syle be come.' 'And what are they?'
My brother said. 'Good lack!' the old man cried,
And shook his head; 'to think you gentlefolk
Should ask what syle be! Look you; I can't say
What syle be called in your fine dictionaries,
Nor what name God Almighty calls them by
When their food's ready and He sends them south;
But our folk call them syle, and nought but syle,
And when they're grown, why then we call them
I tell you, Sir, the water is as full
Of them as pastures be of blades of grass;
You'll draw a score out in a landing net,
And none of them be longer than a pin.
'Syle! ay, indeed, we should be badly off,
I reckon, and so would God Almighty's gulls,'
He grumbled on in his quaint piety,
'And all his other birds, if He should say
I will not drive my syle into the south;
The fisher folk may do without my syle,
And do without the shoals of fish it draws
To follow and feed on it.'
This said, we made
Our peace with him by means of two small coins,
And down we ran and lay upon the reef,
And saw the swimming infants, emerald green,
In separate shoals, the scarcely turning ebb
Bringing them in; while sleek, and not intent
On chase, but taking that which came to hand,
The full-fed mackerel and the gurnet swam
Between; and settling on the polished sea,
A thousand snow-white gulls sat lovingly
In social rings, and twittered while they fed.
The village dogs and ours, elate and brave,
Lay looking over, barking at the fish;
Fast, fast the silver creatures took the bait,
And when they heaved and floundered on the rock,
In beauteous misery, a sudden pat
Some shaggy pup would deal, then back away,
At distance eye them with sagacious doubt,
And shrink half frighted from the slippery things.
And so we lay from ebb-tide, till the flow
Rose high enough to drive us from the reef;
The fisher lads went home across the sand;
We climbed the cliff, and sat an hour or more,
Talking and looking down. It was not talk
Of much significance, except for this—
That we had more in common than of old,
For both were tired, I with overwork,
He with inaction; I was glad at heart
To rest, and he was glad to have an ear
That he could grumble to, and half in jest
Rail at entails, deplore the fate of heirs,
And the misfortune of a good estate—
Misfortune that was sure to pull him down,
Make him a dreamy, selfish, useless man:
Indeed he felt himself deteriorate
Already. Thereupon he sent down showers
Of clattering stones, to emphasise his words,
And leap the cliffs and tumble noisily
Into the seething wave. And as for me
I railed at him and at ingratitude,
While rifling of the basket he had slung
Across his shoulders; then with right good will
We fell to work, and feasted like the gods,
Like labourers, or like eager workhouse folk
At Yuletide dinner; or, to say the whole
At once, like tired, hungry, healthy youth,
Until the meal being o'er, the tilted flask
Drained of its latest drop, the meat and bread
And ruddy cherries eaten, and the dogs
Mumbling the bones, this elder brother of mine—
This man, that never felt an ache or pain
In his broad, well-knit frame, and never knew
The trouble of an unforgiven grudge,
The sting of a regretted meanness, nor
The desperate struggle of the unendowed
For place and for possession—he began
To sing a rhyme that he himself had wrought;
Sending it out with cogitative pause,
As if the scene where he had shaped it first
Had rolled it back on him, and meeting it
Thus unaware, he was of doubtful mind
Whether his dignity it well beseemed
To sing of pretty maiden:
Goldilocks eat on the grass,
Tying up of posies rare;
Hardly could a sunbeam pass
Through the cloud that was her hair.
Purple orchis lasteth long,
Primrose flowers are pale and clear;
O the maiden sang a song
It would do you good to hear!
Sad before her leaned the boy,
'Goldilocks that I love well,
Happy creature fair and coy,
Think o' me, Sweet Amabel.'
Goldilocks she shook apart,
Looked with doubtful, doubtful eyes;
Like a blossom in her heart
Opened out her first surprise.
As a gloriole sign o' grace,
Goldilocks, ah fall and flow,
On the blooming, childlike face,
Dimple, dimple, come and go.
Give her time; on grass and sky
Let her gaze if she be fain:
As they looked ere he drew nigh,
They will never look again.
Ah! the playtime she has known,
While her goldilocks grew long,
Is it like a nestling flown,
Childhood over like a song?
Yes, the boy may clear his brow,
Though she thinks to say him nay,
When she sighs, 'I cannot now—
Come again some other day.'
'Hold! there,' he cried, half angry with himself;
'That ending goes amiss:' then turned again
To the old argument that we had held
'Now look you!' said my brother, 'you may talk
Till, weary of the talk, I answer 'Ay,
There's reason in your words;' and you may talk
Till I go on to say, 'This should be so;'
And you may talk till I shall further own
'It is so; yes, I am a lucky dog!'
Yet not the less shall I next morning wake,
And with a natural and fervent sigh,
Such as you never heaved, I shall exclaim
'What an unlucky dog I am!' ' And here
He broke into a laugh. 'But as for you—
You! on all hands you have the best of me;
Men have not robbed YOU of your birthright—work,
Nor ravaged in old days a peaceful field,
Nor wedded heiresses against their will,
Nor sinned, nor slaved, nor stooped, nor overreached
That you might drone a useless life away
'Mid half a score of bleak and barren farms
And half a dozen bogs.'
'O rare!' I cried;
'His wrongs go nigh to make him eloquent:
Now we behold how far bad actions reach!
Because five hundred years ago a Knight
Drove geese and beeves out from a Franklin's yard.
Because three hundred years ago a squire—
Against her will, and for her fair estate—
Married a very ugly, red-haired maid,
The blest inheritor of all their pelf,
While in the full enjoyment of the same,
Sighs on his own confession every day.
He cracks no egg without a moral sigh,
Nor eats of beef but thinking on that wrong;
Then, yet the more to be revenged on them,
And shame their ancient pride, if they should know
Works hard as any horse for his degree,
And takes to writing verses.'
'Ay,' he said,
Half laughing at himself. 'Yet you and I,
But for those tresses which enrich us yet
With somewhat of the hue that partial fame
Calls auburn when it shines on heads of heirs,
But when it flames round brows of younger sons,
Just red—mere red; why, but for this, I say,
And but for selfish getting of the land,
And beggarly entailing it, we two,
To-day well fed, well grown, well dressed, well read
We might have been two horny-handed boors—
Lean, clumsy, ignorant, and ragged boors—
Planning for moonlight nights a poaching scheme,
Or soiling our dull souls and consciences
With plans for pilfering a cottage roost.
'What, chorus! are you dumb? you should have cried,
'So good comes out of evil;' ' and with that,
As if all pauses it was natural
To seize for songs, his voice broke out again:
Coo, dove, to thy married mate—
She has two warm eggs in her nest:
Tell her the hours are few to wait
Ere life shall dawn on their rest;
And thy young shall peck at the shells, elate
With a dream of her brooding breast.
Coo, dove, for she counts the hours,
Her fair wings ache for flight:
By day the apple. has grown in the flowers,
And the moon has grown by night,
And the white drift settled from hawthorn bowers,
Yet they will not seek the light.
Coo, dove; but what of the sky?
And what it the storm-wind swell,
And the reeling branch come down from on high
To the grass where daisies dwell,
And the brood beloved should with them lie
Or ever they break the shell?
Coo, dove; and yet black clouds lower,
Like fate, on the far-off sea:
Thunder and wind they bear to thy bower,
As on wings of destiny.
Ah, what if they break in an evil hour,
As they broke over mine and me?
What next?—we started like to girls, for lo!
The creaking voice, more harsh than rusty crane,
Of one who stooped behind us, cried aloud,
'Good lack! how sweet the gentleman does sing—
So loud and sweet, 't is like to split his throat.
Why, Mike's a child to him, a two-years child—
A Chrisom child.'
'Who's Mike?' my brother growled
A little roughly. Quoth the fisherman—
'Mike, Sir? he's just a fisher lad, no more;
But he can sing, when he takes on to sing,
So loud there's not a sparrow in the spire
But needs must hear. Sir, if I might make bold,
I 'd ask what song that was you sung. My mate,
As we were shoving off the mackerel boats,
Said he, 'I'll wager that 's the sort o' song
They kept their hearts up with in the Crimea.' '
'There, fisherman,' quoth I, 'be showed his wit,
Your mate; he marked the sound of savage war—
Gunpowder, groans, hot-shot, and bursting shells,
And 'murderous messages' delivered by
Spent balls that break the heads of dreaming men.
'Ay, ay, Sir!' quoth the fisherman. 'Have done!'
My brother. And I—'The gift belongs to few
Of sending farther than the words can reach
Their spirit and expression;' still—'Have done!'
He cried; and then, 'I rolled the rubbish out
More loudly than the meaning warranted,
To air my lungs—I thought not on the words.'
Then said the fisherman, who missed the point,
'So Mike rolls out the psalm; you'll hear him, Sir,
Please God you live till Sunday.'
And you, too, fisherman; for here, they say,
You all are church-goers.'
'Surely, Sir,' quoth he,
Took off his hat, and stroked his old white head
And wrinkled face; then sitting by us said,
As one that utters with a quiet mind
Unchallenged truth—' 'T is lucky for the boats.'
The boats! 't is lucky for the boats! Our eyes
Were drawn to him as either fain would say,
What! do they send the psalm up in the spire
And pray because 't is lucky for the boats?
But he, the brown old man, the wrinkled man,
That all his life had been a church-goer,
Familiar with celestial cadences,
Informed of all he could receive, and sure
Of all he understood—he sat content,
And we kept silence. In his reverend face
There was a simpleness we could not sound;
Much truth had passed him overhead; some error
He had trod under foot;—God comfort him!
He could not learn of us, for we were young
And he was old, and so we gave it up;
And the sun went into the west, and down
Upon the water stooped an orange cloud,
And the pale milky reaches flushed, as glad
To wear its colours; and the sultry air
Went out to sea, and puffed the sails of ships
With thymy wafts, the breath of trodden grass:
It took moreover music, for across
The heather belt and over pasture land
Came the sweet monotone of one slow bell,
And parted time into divisions rare,
Whereof each morsel brought its own delight.
'They ring for service,' quoth the fisherman;
'Our parson preaches in the church to-night.'
'And do the people go?' my brother asked.
'Ay, Sir; they count it mean to stay away,
He takes it so to heart. He's a rare man,
Our parson; half a head above us all.'
'That 's a great gift, and notable,' said I.
'Ay, Sir; and when he was a younger man
He went out in the lifeboat very oft,
Before the 'Grace of Sunderland' was wrecked.
He's never been his own man since that hour;
For there were thirty men aboard of her,
Anigh as close as you are now to me,
And ne'er a one was saved.
They're lying now,
With two small children, in a row: the church
And yard are full of seamen's graves, and few
Have any names.
She bumped upon the reef;
Our parson, my young son, and several more
Were lashed together with a two-inch rope,
And crept along to her; their mates ashore
Ready to haul them in. The gale was high,
The sea was all a boiling seething froth,
And God Almighty's guns were going off,
And the land trembled.
When she took the ground,
She went to pieces like a lock of hay
Tossed from a pitchfork. Ere it came to that,
The captain reeled on deck with two small things,
One in each arm—his little lad and lass,
Their hair was long, and blew before his face,
Or else we thought he had been saved; he fell,
But held them fast. The crew, poor luckless souls.
The breakers licked them off; and some were crushed,
Some swallowed in the yeast, some flung up dead,
The dear breath beaten out of them: not one
Jumped from the wreck upon the reef to catch
The hands that strained to reach, but tumbled back
With eyes wide open. But the captain lay
And clung—the only man alive. They prayed
'For God's sake, captain, throw the children here!'
'Throw them!' our parson cried; and then she struck:
And he threw one, a pretty two-years child;
But the gale dashed him on the slippery verge,
And down he went. They say they heard him cry.
'Then he rose up and took the other one,
And all our men reached out their hungry arms,
And cried out, 'Throw her, throw her!' and he did;
He threw her right against, the parson's breast,
And all at once a sea broke over them,
And they that saw it from the shore have said
It struck the wreck and piecemeal scattered it,
Just as a woman might the lump of salt
That 'twixt her hands into the kneading-pan
She breaks and crumbles on her rising bread.
'We hauled our men in: two of them were dead—
The sea had beaten them, their heads hung down;
Our parson's arms were empty, for the wave
Had torn away the pretty, pretty lamb;
We often see him stand beside her grave:
But 't was no fault of his, no fault of his.
'I ask your pardon, Sirs; I prate and prate,
And never have I said what brought me here.
Sirs, if you want a boat to-morrow morn,
I'm bold to say there's ne'er a boat like mine.'
'Ay, that was what we wanted,' we replied;
'A boat, his boat;' and off he went, well pleased.
We, too, rose up (the crimson in the shy
Flushing our faces), and went sauntering on,
And thought to reach our lodging, by the cliff.
And up and down among the heather beds,
And up and down between the sheaves, we sped,
Doubling and winding; for a long ravine
Ran up into the land and cut us off,
Pushing out slippery ledges for the birds.
And rent with many a crevice, where the wind
Had laid up drifts of empty eggshells, swept
From the bare berths of gulls and guillemots.
So as it chanced we lighted on a path
That led into a nutwood; and our talk
Was louder than beseemed, if we had known,
With argument and laughter; for the path,
As we sped onward, took a sudden turn
Abrupt, and we came out on churchyard grass,
And close upon a porch, and face to face
With those within, and with the thirty graves.
We heard the voice of one who preached within,
And stopped. 'Come on,' my brother whispered me,
'It were more decent that we enter now;
Come on! we'll hear this rare old demigod:
I like strong men and large; I like grey heads,
And grand gruff voices, hoarse though this may be
With shouting in the storm.'
It was not hoarse,
The voice that preached to those few fishermen
And women, nursing mothers with the babes
Hushed on their breasts; and yet it held them not:
Their drowsy eyes were drawn to look at us,
Till, having leaned our rods against the wall,
And left the dogs at watch, we entered, sat,
And were apprised that, though he saw us not,
The parson knew that he had lost the eyes
And ears of those before him, for he made
A pause—a long dead pause—and dropped his arms,
And stood awaiting, till I felt the red
Mount to my brow.
And a soft fluttering stir
Passed over all, and every mother hushed
The babe beneath her shawl, and he turned round
And met our eyes, unused to diffidence,
But diffident of his; then with a sigh
Fronted the folk, lifted his grand grey head,
And said, as one that pondered now the words
He had been preaching on with new surprise,
And found fresh marvel in their sound, 'Behold!
Behold!' saith He, 'I stand at the door and knock.'
Then said the parson: 'What! and shall He wait,
And must He wait, not only till we say,
'Good Lord, the house is clean, the hearth is swept,
The children sleep, the mackerel-boats are in,
And all the nets are mended; therefore I
Will slowly to the door and open it:'
But must He also wait where still, behold!
He stands and knocks, while we do say, 'Good Lord,
The gentlefolk are come to worship here,
And I will up and open to Thee soon;
But first I pray a little longer wait,
For I am taken up with them; my eyes
Must needs regard the fashion of their clothes,
And count the gains I think to make by them;
Forsooth, they are of much account, good Lord!
Therefore have patience with me—wait, dear Lord!
Or come again?'
What! must He wait for THIS—
For this? Ay, He doth wait for this, and still,
Waiting for this, He, patient, raileth not;
Waiting for this, e'en this He saith, 'Behold!
I stand at the door and knock.'
'O patient hand!
Knocking and waiting—knocking in the night
When work is done! I charge you, by the sea
Whereby you fill your children's mouths, and by
The might of Him that made it—fishermen!
I charge you, mothers! by the mother's milk
He drew, and by His Father, God over all,
Blessèd for ever, that ye answer Him!
Open the door with shame, if ye have sinned;
If ye be sorry, open it with sighs.
Albeit the place be bare for poverty,
And comfortless for lack of plenishing,
Be not abashed for that, but open it,
And take Him in that comes to sup with thee;
'Behold!' He saith, 'I stand at the door and knock.'
'Now, hear me: there be troubles in this world
That no man can escape, and there is one
That lieth hard and heavy on my soul,
Concerning that which is to come:—
As a man that knows what earthly trouble means,
I will not bear this ONE—I cannot bear
This ONE—I cannot bear the weight of you—
You—every one of you, body and soul;
You, with the care you suffer, and the loss
That you sustain; you, with the growing up
To peril, maybe with the growing old
To want, unless before I stand with you
At the great white throne, I may be free of all,
And utter to the full what shall discharge
Mine obligation: nay, I will not wait
A day, for every time the black clouds rise,
And the gale freshens, still I search my soul
To find if there be aught that can persuade
To good, or aught forsooth that can beguile
From evil, that I (miserable man!
If that be so) have left unsaid, undone.
'So that when any risen from sunken wrecks,
Or rolled in by the billows to the edge
Of the everlasting strand, what time the sea
Gives up her dead, shall meet me, they may say
Never, 'Old man, you told us not of this;
You left us fisher-lads that had to toil
Ever in danger of the secret stab
Of rocks, far deadlier than the dagger; winds
Of breath more murderous than the cannon's; waves
Mighty to rock us to our death; and gulfs
Ready beneath to suck and swallow us in:
This crime be on your bead; and as for us—
What shall we do?' but rather—nay, not so,
I will not think it; I will leave the dead,
Appealing but to life: I am afraid
Of you, but not so much if you have sinned
As for the doubt if sin shall be forgiven.
The day was, I have been afraid of pride—
Hard man's hard pride; but now I am afraid
Of man's humility. I counsel you,
By the great God's great humbleness, and by
His pity, be not humble over-much.
See! I will show at whose unopened doors
He stands and knocks, that you may never say,
'I am too mean, too ignorant, too lost;
He knocks at other doors, but not at mine.'
'See here! it is the night! it is the night!
And snow lies thickly, white untrodden snow,
And the wan moon upon a casement shines—
A casement crusted o'er with frosty leaves,
That make her ray less bright along the floor.
A woman sits, with hands upon her knees,
Poor tired soul! and she has nought to do,
For there is neither fire nor candle light:
The driftwood ash lies cold upon her hearth;
The rushlight flickered down an hour ago;
Her children wail a little in their sleep
For cold and hunger, and, as if that sound
Was not enough, another comes to her,
Over God's undefilèd snow—a song—
Nay, never hang your heads—I say, a song.
'And doth she curse the alehouse, and the sots
That drink the night out and their earnings there,
And drink their manly strength and courage down,
And drink away the little children's bread,
And starve her, starving by the self-same act
Her tender suckling, that with piteous eyes
Looks in her face, till scarcely she has heart
To work, and earn the scanty bit and drop
That feed the others?
Does she curse the song?
I think not, fishermen; I have not heard
Such women curse. God's curse is curse enough.
To-morrow she will say a bitter thing,
Pulling her sleeve down lest the bruises show—
A bitter thing, but meant for an excuse—
My master is not worse than many men:'
But now, ay, now she sitteth dumb and still;
No food, no comfort, cold and poverty
Bearing her down.
My heart is sore for her;
How long, how long? When troubles come of God,
When men are frozen out of work, when wives
Are sick, when working fathers fail and die,
When boats go down at sea—then nought behoves
Like patience; but for troubles wrought of men
Patience is hard—I tell you it is hard.
'O thou poor soul! it is the night—the night;
Against thy door drifts up the silent snow,
Blocking thy threshold: 'Fall,' thou sayest, 'fall, fall,
Cold snow, and lie and be trod underfoot,
Am not I fallen? wake up, and pipe, O wind,
Dull wind, and beat and bluster at my door:
Merciful wind, sing me a hoarse rough song,
For there is other music made to-night
That I would fain not hear. Wake, thou still sea,
Heavily plunge. Shoot on, white waterfall.
O, I could long like thy cold icicles
Freeze, freeze, and hang upon the frosty clift
And not complain, so I might melt at last
In the warm summer sun, as thou wilt do!
' 'But woe is me! I think there is no sun;
My sun is sunken, and the night grows dark:
None care for me. The children cry for bread,
And I have none, and nought can comfort me;
Even if the heavens were free to such as I,
It were not much, for death is long to wait,
And heaven is far to go! '
'And speak'st then thus,
Despairing of the sun that sets to thee,
And of the earthly love that wanes to thee,
And of the heaven that lieth far from thee?
Peace, peace, fond fool! One draweth near thy door
Whose footsteps leave no print across the snow;
Thy sun has risen with comfort in his face,
The smile of heaven, to warm thy frozen heart
And bless with saintly hand. What! is it long
To wait and far to go? Thou shalt not go;
Behold, across the snow to thee He comes,
Thy heaven descends, and is it long to wait?
Thou shalt not wait: 'This night, this night,' He saith,
'I stand at the door and knock.'
It is enough—can such an one be here—
Yea, here? O God forgive you, fishermen!
One! is there only one? But do thou know,
O woman pale for want, if thou art here,
That on thy lot much thought is spent in heaven;
And, coveting the heart a hard man broke,
One standeth patient, watching in the night,
And waiting in the day-time.
What shall be
If thou wilt answer? He will smile on thee;
One smile of His shall be enough to heal
The wound of man's neglect; and He will sigh,
Pitying the trouble which that sigh shall cure;
And He will speak—speak in the desolate night,
In the dark night: 'For me a thorny crown
Men wove, and nails were driven in my hands
And feet: there was an earthquake, and I died;
I died, and am alive for evermore.
' 'I died for thee; for thee I am alive,
And my humanity doth mourn for thee,
For thou art mine; and all thy little ones,
They, too, are mine, are mine. Behold, the house
Is dark, but there is brightness where the sons
Of God are singing, and, behold, the heart
Is troubled: yet the nations walk in white;
They have forgotten how to weep; and thou
Shalt also come, and I will foster thee
And satisfy thy soul; and thou shalt warm
Thy trembling life beneath the smile of God.
A little while—it is a little while—
A little while, and I will comfort thee;
I go away, but I will come again.'
'But hear me yet. There was a poor old man
Who sat and listened to the raging sea,
And heard it thunder, lunging at the cliffs
As like to tear them down. He lay at night;
And 'Lord have mercy on the lads,' said he,
'That sailed at noon, though they be none of mine!
For when the gale gets up, and when the wind
Flings at the window, when it beats the roof,
And lulls, and stops, and rouses up again,
And cuts the crest clean off the plunging wave,
And scatters it like feathers up the field,
Why, then I think of my two lads: my lads
That would have worked and never let me want.
And never let me take the parish pay.
No, none of mine; my lads were drowned at sea—
My two—before the most of these were born.
I know how sharp that cuts, since my poor wife
Walked up and down, and still walked up and down,
And I walked after, and one could not hear
A word the other said, for wind and sea
That raged and beat and thundered in the night—
The awfullest, the longest, lightest night
That ever parents had to spend—a moon
That shone like daylight on the breaking wave.
Ah me! and other men have lost their lads,
And other women wiped their poor dead mouths,
And got them home and dried them in the house,
And seen the driftwood lie along the coast,
That was a tidy boat but one day back,
And seen next tide the neighbours gather it
To lay it on their fires.
Ay, I was strong
And able-bodied—loved my work;—but now
I am a useless hull: 't is time I sunk;
I am in all men's way; I trouble them;
I am a trouble to myself: but yet
I feel for mariners of stormy nights,
And feel for wives that watch ashore. Ay, ay!
If I had learning I would pray the Lord
To bring them in: but I 'm no scholar, no;
Book-learning is a world too hard for me:
But I make bold to say, 'O Lord, good Lord,
I am a broken-down poor man, a fool
To speak to Thee: but in the Book 't is writ,
As I hear say from others that can read,
How, when Thou camest, Thou didst love the sea,
And live with fisherfolk, whereby 't is sure
Thou knowest all the peril they go through,
And all their trouble.
As for me, good Lord,
I have no boat; I am too old, too old—
My lads are drowned; I buried my poor wife;
My little lasses died so long ago
That mostly I forget what they were like.
Thou knowest, Lord; they were such little ones
I know they went to Thee, but I forget
Their faces, though I missed them sore.
I was a strong man; I have drawn good food
And made good money out of Thy great sea:
But yet I cried for them at nights; and now,
Although I be so old, I miss my lads,
And there be many folk this stormy night
Heavy with fear for theirs. Merciful Lord,
Comfort them; save their honest boys, their pride,
And let them hear next ebb the blessedest,
Best sound—the boat keels grating on the sand.
' 'I cannot pray with finer words: I know
Nothing; I have no learning, cannot learn—
Too old, too old. They say I want for nought
I have the parish pay; but I am dull
Of hearing, and the fire scarce warms me through,
God save me—I have been a sinful man—
And save the lives of them that still can work,
For they are good to me; ay, good to me.
But, Lord, I am a trouble! and I sit,
And I am lonesome, and the nights are few
That any think to come and draw a chair,
And sit in my poor place and talk awhile.
Why should they come, forsooth? Only the wind
Knocks at my door, O long and loud it knocks,
The only thing God made that has a mind
To enter in.'
'Yea, thus the old man spake
These were the last words of his aged mouth—
BUT ONE DID KNOCK. One came to sup with him,
That humble, weak old man; knocked at his door
In the rough pauses of the labouring wind.
I tell you that One knocked while it was dark,
Save where their foaming passion had made white
Those livid seething billows. What He said
In that poor place where He did talk awhile,
I cannot tell: but this I am assured,
That when the neighbours came the morrow morn,
What time the wind had bated, and the sun
Shone on the old man's floor, they saw the smile
He passed away in, and they said, 'He looks
As he had woke and seen the face of Christ,
And with that rapturous smile held out his arms
To come to Him!'
'Can such an one be here,
So old, so weak, so ignorant, so frail?
The Lord be good to thee, thou poor old man;
It would be hard with thee if heaven were shut
To such as have not learning! Nay, nay, nay,
He condescends to them of low estate;
To such as are despised He cometh down,
Stands at the door and knocks.
'Yet bear with me.
I have a message; I have more to say.
Shall sorrow win His pity, and not sin—
That burden ten times heavier to be borne?
What think you? Shall the virtuous have His care
Alone? O virtuous women, think not scorn,
For you may lift your faces everywhere;
And now that it grows dusk, and I can see
None though they front me straight, I fain would tell
A certain thing to you. I say to you;
And if it doth concern you, as methinks
It doth, then surely it concerneth all.
I say that there was once—I say not here—
I say that there was once a castaway,
And she was weeping, weeping bitterly;
Kneeling, and crying with a heart-sick cry
That choked itself in sobs—'O my good name!
O my good name!' And none did hear her cry!
Nay; and it lightened, and the storm-bolts fell,
And the rain splashed upon the roof, and still
She, storm-tost as the storming elements
She cried with an exceeding bitter cry,
'O my good name!' And then the thunder-cloud
Stooped low and burst in darkness overhead,
And rolled, and rocked her on her knees, and shook
The frail foundations of her dwelling-place.
But she—if any neighbour had come in
(None did): if any neighbours had come in,
They might have seen her crying on her knees,
And sobbing 'Lost, lost, lost!' beating her breast—
Her breast for ever pricked with cruel thorns,
The wounds whereof could neither balm assuage
Nor any patience heal—beating her brow,
Which ached, it had been bent so long to hide
From level eyes, whose meaning was contempt.
'O ye good women, it is hard to leave
The paths of virtue, and return again.
What if this sinner wept, and none of you
Comforted her? And what if she did strive
To mend, and none of you believed her strife,
Nor looked upon her? Mark, I do not say,
Though it was hard, you therefore were to blame
That she had aught against you, though your feet
Never drew near her door. But I beseech
Your patience. Once in old Jerusalem
A woman kneeled at consecrated feet,
Kissed them, and washed them with her tears.
I think that yet our Lord is pitiful:
I think I see the castaway e'en now!
And she is not alone: the heavy rain
Splashes without, and sullen thunder rolls,
But she is lying at the sacred feet
Of One transfigured.
'And her tears flow down,
Down to her lips—her lips that kiss the print
Of nails; and love is like to break her heart!
Love and repentance—for it still doth work
Sore in her soul to think, to think that she,
Even she, did pierce the sacred, sacred feet,
And bruise the thorn-crowned head.
'O Lord, our Lord,
How great is Thy compassion! Come, good Lord,
For we will open. Come this night, good Lord;
Stand at the door and knock.
'And is this all?—
Trouble, old age and simpleness, and sin—
This all? It might be all some other night;
But this night, if a voice said 'Give account
Whom hast thou with thee?' then must I reply,
'Young manhood have I, beautiful youth and strength,
Rich with all treasure drawn up from the crypt
Where lies the learning of the ancient world—
Brave with all thoughts that poets fling upon
The strand of life, as driftweed after storms:
Doubtless familiar with Thy mountain heads,
And the dread purity of Alpine snows,
Doubtless familiar with Thy works concealed
For ages from mankind—outlying worlds,
And many mooned spheres—and Thy great store
Of stars, more thick than mealy dust which here
Powders the pale leaves of Auriculas.
This do I know, but, Lord, I know not more.
Not more concerning them—concerning Thee,
I know Thy bounty; where Then givest much
Standing without, if any call Thee in
Thou givest more.' Speak, then, O rich and strong;
Open, O happy young, ere yet the hand
Of Him that knocks, wearied at last, forbear;
The patient foot its thankless quest refrain,
The wounded heart for evermore withdraw.'
I have heard many speak, but this one man—
So anxious not to go to heaven alone—
This one man I remember, and his look,
Till twilight overshadowed him. He ceased,
And out in darkness with the fisher folk
We passed and stumbled over mounds of moss,
And heard, but did not see, the passing beck.
Ah, graceless heart, would that it could regain
From the dim storehouse of sensations past
The impress full of tender awe, that night,
Which fell on me! It was as if the Christ
Had been drawn down from heaven to track us home,
And any of the footsteps following us
Might have been His.