Two angels, as I grew up glad and gay
by Alexander Anderson
From golden infancy,
Were with me, walking all along the way
On either side of me.
The one at my right hand was sweet and fair,
His brow spoke noble things,
As if God's breath had lain a moment there
In blessings. His white wings
All radiantly rose above his head,
Their shadow fell on me
Like sweet dews falling when the night is dead,
The stars half out to see.
I walk'd within their shadow, fearing none,
Nor had one dread of blame;
This angel and my spirit were as one,
And all our thoughts the same.
My heart had golden music, which to hear
Beating and singing on,
He sometimes stopp'd and downward leant his ear,
Smiling to hear its tone.
All through my childhood with such dew besprent
I walk'd, and watch'd his beck;
He still grew brighter, and as on we went,
His arm lay round my neck.
I felt its pressure soft and sweet to feel,
That ever closer grew
When, at his feet in twilight, I would kneel
And lisp my prayers through.
What beauty and what splendour crown'd him then,
What light within his eyes!
As if a flush of glory came again
Fresh from his own sweet skies.
Thus on we went, and all along our way
Rose up, and made a bountiful display
Of all their forms and wings.
Yet all this while the angel at my left
Kept pace with us, but he
Bent down his brow, which was of light bereft,
And dread and black to see.
He, too, had splendour seraph-like and bright
Wrapt as in some thin shroud,
And lurid as the sultry summer light
Girding a thunder-cloud.
He strode a pace behind, and all the while
A triumph ill conceal'd
Lay on his brow, and mingling with his smile
A strange, dread fear did yield.
And ever as we went, behind there came
Strange whispers from his wings,
That stirr'd me, touching like a secret flame
That leaps and keenly stings.
And as I felt this probeless change within
I turn'd in mute distress
To my right guide, but something did begin
To make his beauty less.
His brow grew clouded; paler light began
To stretch along his robe;
A duller light lay on his wings' wide span,
And thereat I did sob,
Weeping, not knowing what to think, for all
His glory still grew dim,
Paling, like leaves that in the winter fall,
And pass'd away to him,
The angel at my left, who, with a smile
Of hate and secret pride
Came, as if bent on working some great guile,
With one leap to my side.
He took my hand, which, at the touch of his,
Shook as in deep annoy,
Still whispering in strange unusual bliss—
'Life is before: enjoy.'
I turn'd from that strange whisper to the right,
And he who watch'd me there
Took for a moment all his former light,
And, smiling wondrous fair,
His clasp grew firmer round my neck, as still
In deep, sweet tones, he said—
'Heed not the angel on thy left, for ill
He follows up thy tread.
He proffers thee the richest wines to cool
Thy lusting lips, and sends
Thy passions, like wild things grown out of rule
To all ignoble ends.
Each fruit, rich melting in thy mouth, shall fill
Thy eager breathing soul
With dreams of other pathways for thy will,
And purposes shall roll
Within thee, many-sided, that shall make
Still pointing to fair paths which thou shalt take
With panting zeal and might.
But in the end, when all these things have pass'd,
He will fling up his trust
And leave thee, death's thin arms around thee cast,
Thy heart chokefull of dust.
But heed thou well my counsel, for I come
To guide thy feeble feet,
Leading thee upward to that far-off home
Where rest is long and sweet.'
So spake my guiding angel; little truth
For my expanding breast
Had his sweet words; for I was touch'd with youth,
And felt a wild unrest
Creeping through all my being, as the wind
Creeps through the evening grass;
And new-found feelings were within my mind
That would not act or pass
Into fruition, but were there alive,
And sweetly would they speak
In happiest tones, that made sweet fancies strive,
Till flush'd were brow and cheek.
Then through my heart delicious madness ran,
Making it beat full strong;
And headlong into all the miraged plan
I wildly rush'd along.
I steep'd myself in bubbling wells of sense,
Nor felt my passion tire,
But widen'd out in the omnipotence
Of young-fledged, sweet desire.
And I grew earthier, heeding not the guide
Who still walk'd on the right;
But turn'd to him upon the left with pride
That had a touch of spite.
For, blinded with my own all headlong aims,
I held, in spite of him
My better angel, ways to countless shames
That mist-like came to dim
My better being. I felt sudden pow'r
Grow up within the breast
To act those thoughts that cropp'd up hour by hour,
At the left angel's hest.
He, too, had now one seeming radiant arm
Around me as in love;
Its touch had something of a wizard's charm,
'Gainst which I never strove:
But led by it I went like one stone-blind,
Guided by touch and will;
I had no sympathy with beast or kind,
But my own pleasure still.
Then as I saw the angel on the right,
Lo! with dejected pace
He walk'd, but now his form had lost its light
And splendour; all his face
Was muffled up and hidden by the fold
Of a dark veil, through which
No light came, or a feature to behold,
Or even voice to teach.
A ghostliness was round him as he stepp'd,
Chilling my inmost heart;
A momentary tearful sorrow crept
Throughout me as a part
Of his good influence, not yet wholly dead,
Though sunk and buried o'er
By dust from the left angel's evil tread,
Now sounding more and more.
Then as if claiming mastery, he rose,
And in wild whirls of might,
Strove to push back—as one might push his foes—
The angel from the right.
But still he kept his place, all ghostly calm,
And once he cried to me—
'Help thou thyself, and I will give thee balm
To heal thy soul in thee.'
I heard, and heeded not, but went my way
Through landscapes of rich view;
While round the right-hand angel, day by day,
The deep folds closer grew.
And now he guided not, but ever stood
At my right hand, all dumb,
Like some dread ghost that hath a midnight mood
For walking. He would come
At times, when I was half awake in dreams,
Fair as my childhood saw,
And brighter than the full broad summer beams,
And I would gaze in awe:
Till all the memory of that early look,
My kneeling by his knee,
The gentle warning and the soft rebuke,
Would waken up in me
A bitterness, and dim prophetic dread
That through my heart would creep,
And, ceasing not, was with me though I hid
Myself in senseless sleep.
Betimes when I would waken up, I felt
Tears lying soft and sweet
Upon my cheek, as if in sleep I knelt
By that good angel's feet,
Lisping, as in pure childhood, that sweet pray'r
My heart had now forgot,
For other things that found a harbour there,
And fed the downward thought.
Then I became a prey to questionings;
Each mute thing had a voice,
Asking, 'Dost thou, too, stand amid brave things,
Yet makest such a choice?'
This question struck me, as a dart will strike,
And turning round to see
The angel at my left, a deep dislike
Rose up at once in me.
For, looking in his eyes, I saw dim flame
Burning by fits within;
And on his brow there was a mark of shame—
Background to lust and sin.
The lurid glory which before had pow'r
To draw me on and on,
Lessen'd its light, and weaken'd hour by hour,
Till he was left alone.
And lo! the garment hiding limb and chest
Fell from him, and I saw
A serpent coil'd around his waist and breast,
As if in act to draw
The red heart from its hiding-place. I shriek'd
At that dread sight, and fell
Prone on my face, while utter madness wreak'd
Within me a dread spell,
That lay upon me like a sudden weight,
Pressing me deeper down,
Until I cried for help from this dread state,
Like one about to drown.
Then suddenly a clasp was on my arm,
I felt myself upraised;
While in my ear a whisper, 'Fear no harm,'
Was spoken. Half abased
I look'd up, and my better angel stood
Beside me—a great light
Came through the thick folds of his veil, subdued
Like moon's in summer night.
'Come thou with me, and I will gently guide,'
This he spoke soft and low;
'Will ever stead thee, standing by thy side,
Through earthly things below.'
So taking heart I took his hand and went,
Fear still upon my mind;
And still my face at times was backward bent
On him who walk'd behind.
But as we went he still fell further back;
His features ever grew
Deeper and darker, till they changed to black
Of most intensest hue.
And lo! the serpent which was coil'd around
His breast seem'd to have stung
His heart with venom through, until the wound
A tainted odour flung
Upon the air, and onward swift and strong
It came. I paled and shrunk
At its dread breath, until I fell among
My fears again and sunk
Downward, my heart within me drinking fears,
Like water from a cup,
Till the good angel whisper'd, 'Dry thy tears,
And raise thy vision up.'
I turn'd, and looking upward, all his face
Was radiant with a look
Of wide supernal joy, and I could trace
The light I could not brook
For its keen splendour, to a cross above
Whereon a Godlike One
Was stretch'd. His face was one great smile of love
That could for all atone.
I saw, and knelt, and kneeling down with me
The angel round my neck
Placed his soft arm, and whisper'd soothingly—
'Make thyself free from speck:
For now all things will work for good, and now
Thy heart shall be more pure;
There shall be pow'r within thee, and a glow
Making each footstep sure.'
'Look thou behind.' I look'd, and far away
My evil angel stood,
And in his heart in knotted coilings lay
The serpent's writhing brood.
'Look thou before.' I look'd, and ere I wist
He whom the cross had borne
In our own semblance, the most perfect Christ,
Heeding nor hate nor scorn,
Walk'd, clearing pathways for my feet. He pass'd
Through shadows dim and dark,
But still behind a glorious light He cast,
To let me see my mark.
And so I follow, having little dread,
Knowing when death is nigh
That right-hand angel will uplift my head,
And kiss me ere I die.