OLD minster, when my years were few,
by Sir Lewis Morris
And life seemed endless to the boy ;
Clear yet and vivid is the joy
With which I gazed and thought on you.
Thin shaft and flower-wrought capital,
High-springing arch, and blazoned pane,
Quaint gurgoyles stretching heads profane,
And stately throne and carven stall.
The long nave lost in vaporous gray,
The mailed recumbent forms which wait,
In mockery of earthly state,
The coming of the dreadful day.
The haunted aisles, the gathering gloom,
By some stray shaft of eve made fair :
The stillness of the mouldering air,
The faded legends of the tomb.
I loved them all. What care had I,
I, the young heir of all the Past,
That neither youth nor life might last,
That all things living came to die!
The Past was spent, the Past was done,
The Present was my own to hold ;
Far off within a haze of gold
Stretched the fair Future, scarce begun.
For me did pious builders rear
Those reverend walls ; for me the song
Of supplication, ages long,
Had gone up daily, year by year.
And thus I loved you ; but to-day
The long Past near and nearer shows ;
Less bright, more clear, the Future grows,
And all the world is turning gray.
But you scarce bear a deeper trace
Of time upon your solemn brow ;
No sadder, stiller, grayer now,
Than when I loved your reverend face.
And you shall be when I am not ;
And you shall be a thing of joy
To many a frank and careless boy
When I and mine are long forgot.
Grave priests shall here with holy rage,
Whose grandsires are as yet unborn,
Lash, with fierce stripes of saintly scorn,
The heats of youth, the greed of age.
Proud prelates sit on that high throne,
Whose young forefathers drive the plough
While Norman lineage nods below,
In way-worn tramp or withered crone.
And white-haired traders feign to pray,
Sunk deep in thoughts of gain and gold;
And sweet flower-faces growing old,
Give place to fresher blooms than they. ,
With such new shape of creed and rite
As none now living may foretell ;
A faith of love which needs not hell,
A stainless worship, pure and white.
Or, may be, some reverting change
To the old faith of vanished days :
The incensed air, the mystic praise,
The barbarous ritual, quaint and strange.
Who knows ? But they are wrong who say
Man's work is brief and quickly past ;
If you through all these centuries last,
While they who built you pass away.
The wind, the rain, the sand, are slow ;
Man fades before his work ; scant trace
Time's ringer findeth to efface
Of him whom seventy years lay low.
The grass grows green awhile, and then
Is as before ; the work he made
Casts on his grave a reverend shade
Through long successive lives of men.
But he ! where is he ? Lo, his name
Has vanished from his wonted place,
Unknown his tongue, his creed, his race;
Unknown his soaring hopes of fame.
Only the creatures of the brain,
Just laws, wise precepts, deathless verse ;
These weave a chaplet for the hearse,
And through all change unchanged remain.
These will I love as age creeps on ;'
Gray minster, these are ever young ;
These shall be read and loved and sung
When every stone of you is gone.
No hands have built the monument
Which to all ages shall endure ;
High thoughts, and fancies sweet and pure
Lives in the quest of goodness spent.
These, though no visible forms confine
Their spiritual essence fair ;
Are deathless as the soul they bear,
And, as its Maker is, divine.