The New Sinai

A poem by Arthur Hugh Clough

Lo, here is God, and there is God!
Believe it not, O Man;
In such vain sort to this and that
The ancient heathen ran:
Though old Religion shake her head,
And say in bitter grief,
The day behold, at first foretold,
Of atheist unbelief:
Take better part, with manly heart,
Thine adult spirit can;
Receive it not, believe it not,
Believe it not, O Man!

As men at dead of night awaked
With cries, ‘The king is here,’
Rush forth and greet whome’er they meet,
Whoe’er shall first appear;
And still repeat, to all the street,
‘’Tis he, the king is here;’
The long procession moveth on,
Each nobler form they see,
With changeful suit they still salute,
And cry, ’Tis he, ’tis he!’

So, even so, when men were young,
And earth and heaven were new,
And His immediate presence He
From human hearts withdrew,
The soul perplexed and daily vexed
With sensuous False and True,
Amazed, bereaved, no less believed,
And fain would see Him too:
‘He is!’ the prophet-tongues proclaimed;
In joy and hasty fear,
‘He is!’ aloud replied the crowd,
Is here, and here, and here.’

‘He is! They are!’ in distance seen
On yon Olympus high,
In those Avernian woods abide,
And walk this azure sky:
‘They are! They are!’ to every show
Its eyes the baby turned,
And blazes sacrificial, tall,
On thousand altars burned:
‘They are! They are!’ On Sinai’s top
Far seen the lightnings shone,
The thunder broke, a trumpet spoke,
And God said, ‘I am One.’

God spake it out, ‘I, God, am One;’
The unheeding ages ran,
And baby-thoughts again, again,
Have dogged the growing man:
And as of old from Sinai’s top
God said that God is One,
By Science strict so speaks He now
To tell us, There is None!
Earth goes by chemic forces; Heaven’s
A Mecanique Celeste!
And heart and mind of human kind
A watch-work as the rest!

Is this a Voice, as was the Voice,
Whose speaking told abroad,
When thunder pealed, and mountain reeled,
The ancient truth of God?
Ah, not. the Voice; ’tis but the cloud,
The outer darkness dense,
Where image none, nor e’er was seen
Similitude of sense.
’Tis but the cloudy darkness dense
That wrapt the Mount around;
While in amaze the people stays,
To hear the Coming Sound.

Is there no prophet-soul the while
To dare, sublimely meek,
Within the shroud of blackest cloud
The Deity to seek?
’Midst atheistic systems dark,
And darker hearts’ despair,
That soul has heard perchance His word,
And on the dusky air
His skirts, as passed He by, to see
Hath strained on their behalf,
Who on the plain, with dance amain,
Adore the Golden Calf.

’Tis but the cloudy darkness dense;
Though blank the tale it tells,
No God, no Truth! yet He, in sooth,
Is there, within it dwells;
Within the sceptic darkness deep
He dwells that none may see,
Till idol forms and idol thoughts
Have passed and ceased to be:
No God, no Truth! ah though, in sooth,
So stand the doctrine’s half:
On Egypt’s track return not back,
Nor own the Golden Calf.

Take better part, with manlier heart,
Thine adult spirit can;
No God, no Truth, receive it ne’er,
Believe it ne’er, O Man!
But turn not then to seek again
What first the ill began;
No God, it saith; ah, wait in faith
God’s self-completing plan;
Receive it not, but leave it not,
And wait it out, O Man!

‘The Man that went the cloud within
Is gone and vanished quite;
He cometh not,’ the people cries,
‘Nor bringeth God to sight:
Lo these thy gods, that safety give,
Adore and keep the feast!’
Deluding and deluded cries
The Prophet’s brother-Priest:
And Israel all bows down to fall
Before the gilded beast.

Devout, indeed! that priestly creed,
O Man, reject as sin;
The clouded hill attend thou still,
And him that went within.
He yet shall bring some worthy thing
For waiting souls to see:
Some sacred word that he hath heard
Their light and life shall be;
Some lofty part, than which the heart
Adopt no nobler can,
Thou shalt receive, thou shalt believe
And thou shalt do, O Man!

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The New Sinai' by Arthur Hugh Clough

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy