A Book Of Dreams.

A poem by George MacDonald

PART I.


I.

I lay and dreamed. The Master came,
In seamless garment drest;
I stood in bonds 'twixt love and shame,
Not ready to be blest.

He stretched his arms, and gently sought
To clasp me to his heart;
I shrank, for I, unthinking, thought
He knew me but in part.

I did not love him as I would!
Embraces were not meet!
I dared not ev'n stand where he stood--
I fell and kissed his feet.

Years, years have passed away since then;
Oft hast thou come to me;
The question scarce will rise again
Whether I care for thee.

In thee lies hid my unknown heart,
In thee my perfect mind;
In all my joys, my Lord, thou art
The deeper joy behind.

But when fresh light and visions bold
My heart and hope expand,
Up comes the vanity of old
That now I understand:

Away, away from thee I drift,
Forgetting, not forgot;
Till sudden yawns a downward rift--
I start--and see thee not.

Ah, then come sad, unhopeful hours!
All in the dark I stray,
Until my spirit fainting cowers
On the threshold of the day.

Hence not even yet I child-like dare
Nestle unto thy breast,
Though well I know that only there
Lies hid the secret rest.

But now I shrink not from thy will,
Nor, guilty, judge my guilt;
Thy good shall meet and slay my ill--
Do with me as thou wilt.

If I should dream that dream once more,
Me in my dreaming meet;
Embrace me, Master, I implore,
And let me kiss thy feet.


II.

I stood before my childhood's home,
Outside its belt of trees;
All round my glances flit and roam
O'er well-known hills and leas;

When sudden rushed across the plain
A host of hurrying waves,
Loosed by some witchery of the brain
From far, dream-hidden caves.

And up the hill they clomb and came,
A wild, fast-flowing sea:
Careless I looked as on a game;
No terror woke in me.

For, just the belting trees within,
I saw my father wait;
And should the waves the summit win,
There was the open gate!

With him beside, all doubt was dumb;
There let the waters foam!
No mightiest flood would dare to come
And drown his holy home!

Two days passed by. With restless toss,
The red flood brake its doors;
Prostrate I lay, and looked across
To the eternal shores.

The world was fair, and hope was high;
My friends had all been true;
Life burned in me, and Death and I
Would have a hard ado.

Sudden came back the dream so good,
My trouble to abate:
At his own door my Father stood--
I just without the gate!

"Thou know'st what is, and what appears,"
I said; "mine eyes to thine
Are windows; thou hear'st with thine ears,
But also hear'st with mine:"

"Thou knowest my weak soul's dismay,
How trembles my life's node;
Thou art the potter, I am the clay--
'Tis thine to bear the load."


III.

A piece of gold had left my purse,
Which I had guarded ill;
I feared a lack, but feared yet worse
Regret returning still.

I lifted up my feeble prayer
To him who maketh strong,
That thence no haunting thoughts of care
Might do my spirit wrong.

And even before my body slept,
Such visions fair I had,
That seldom soul with chamber swept
Was more serenely glad.

No white-robed angel floated by
On slow, reposing wings;
I only saw, with inward eye,
Some very common things.

First rose the scarlet pimpernel
With burning purple heart;
I saw within it, and could spell
The lesson of its art.

Then came the primrose, child-like flower,
And looked me in the face;
It bore a message full of power,
And confidence, and grace.

And breezes rose on pastures trim
And bathed me all about;
Wool-muffled sheep-bells babbled dim,
Or only half spoke out.

Sudden it closed, some door of heaven,
But what came out remained:
The poorest man my loss had given
For that which I had gained!

Thou gav'st me, Lord, a brimming cup
Where I bemoaned a sip;
How easily thou didst make up
For that my fault let slip!

What said the flowers? what message new
Embalmed my soul with rest?
I scarce can tell--only they grew
Right out of God's own breast.

They said, to every flower he made
God's thought was root and stem--
Perhaps said what the lilies said
When Jesus looked at them.


IV.

Sometimes, in daylight hours, awake,
Our souls with visions teem
Which to the slumbering brain would take
The form of wondrous dream.

Once, with my thought-sight, I descried
A plain with hills around;
A lordly company on each side
Leaves bare the middle ground.

Great terrace-steps at one end rise
To something like a throne,
And thither all the radiant eyes,
As to a centre, shone.

A snow-white glory, dim-defined,
Those seeking eyes beseech--
Him who was not in fire or wind,
But in the gentle speech.

They see his eyes far-fixed wait:
Adown the widening vale
They, turning, look; their breath they bate,
With dread-filled wonder pale.

In raiment worn and blood-bedewed,
With faltering step and numb,
Toward the shining multitude
A weary man did come.

His face was white, and still-composed,
As of a man nigh dead;
The eyes, through eyelids half unclosed,
A faint, wan splendour shed.

Drops on his hair disordered hung
Like rubies dull of hue;
His hands were pitifully wrung,
And stricken through and through.

Silent they stood with tender awe:
Between their ranks he came;
Their tearful eyes looked down, and saw
What made his feet so lame.

He reached the steps below the throne,
There sank upon his knees;
Clasped his torn hands with stifled groan,
And spake in words like these:--

"Father, I am come back. Thy will
Is sometimes hard to do."
From all that multitude so still
A sound of weeping grew.

Then mournful-glad came down the One;
He kneeled and clasped his child;
Lay on his breast the outworn man,
And wept until he smiled.

The people, who, in bitter woe
And love, had sobbed and cried,
Raised aweful eyes at length--and, Lo,
The two sat side by side!


V.

Dreaming I slept. Three crosses stood
High in the gloomy air;
One bore a thief, and one the Good;
The other waited bare.

A soldier came up to the place,
And took me for the third;
My eyes they sought the Master's face,
My will the Master's word.

He bent his head; I took the sign,
And gave the error way;
Gesture nor look nor word of mine
The secret should betray.

The soldier from the cross's foot
Turned. I stood waiting there:
That grim, expectant tree, for fruit
My dying form must bear.

Up rose the steaming mists of doubt
And chilled both heart and brain;
They shut the world of vision out,
And fear saw only pain.

"Ah me, my hands! the hammer's blow!
The nails that rend and pierce!
The shock may stun, but, slow and slow,
The torture will grow fierce."

"Alas, the awful fight with death!
The hours to hang and die!
The thirsting gasp for common breath!
The weakness that would cry!"

My soul returned: "A faintness soon
Will shroud thee in its fold;
The hours will bring the fearful noon;
'Twill pass--and thou art cold."

"'Tis his to care that thou endure,
To curb or loose the pain;
With bleeding hands hang on thy cure--
It shall not be in vain."

But, ah, the will, which thus could quail,
Might yield--oh, horror drear!
Then, more than love, the fear to fail
Kept down the other fear.

I stood, nor moved. But inward strife
The bonds of slumber broke:
Oh! had I fled, and lost the life
Of which the Master spoke?

VI.

Methinks I hear, as o'er this life's dim dial
The last shades darken, friends say, "He was good;"
I struggling fail to speak my faint denial--
They whisper, "His humility withstood."

I, knowing better, part with love unspoken;
And find the unknown world not all unknown:
The bonds that held me from my centre broken,
I seek my home, the Saviour's homely throne.

How he will greet me, walking on, I wonder;
I think I know what I will say to him;
I fear no sapphire floor of cloudless thunder,
I fear no passing vision great and dim.

But he knows all my weary sinful story:
How will he judge me, pure, and strong, and fair?
I come to him in all his conquered glory,
Won from the life that I went dreaming there!

I come; I fall before him, faintly saying:
"Ah, Lord, shall I thy loving pardon win?
Earth tempted me; my walk was but a straying;
I have no honour--but may I come in?"

I hear him say: "Strong prayer did keep me stable;
To me the earth was very lovely too:
Thou shouldst have prayed; I would have made thee able
To love it greatly!--but thou hast got through."



PART II.



I.

A gloomy and a windy day!
No sunny spot is bare;
Dull vapours, in uncomely play,
Go weltering through the air:
If through the windows of my mind
I let them come and go,
My thoughts will also in the wind
Sweep restless to and fro.

I drop my curtains for a dream.--
What comes? A mighty swan,
With plumage like a sunny gleam,
And folded airy van!
She comes, from sea-plains dreaming, sent
By sea-maids to my shore,
With stately head proud-humbly bent,
And slackening swarthy oar.

Lone in a vaulted rock I lie,
A water-hollowed cell,
Where echoes of old storms go by,
Like murmurs in a shell.
The waters half the gloomy way
Beneath its arches come;
Throbbing to outside billowy play,
The green gulfs waver dumb.

Undawning twilights through the cave
In moony glimmers go,
Half from the swan above the wave,
Half from the swan below,

As to my feet she gently drifts
Through dim, wet-shiny things,
And, with neck low-curved backward, lifts
The shoulders of her wings.

Old earth is rich with many a nest
Of softness ever new,
Deep, delicate, and full of rest--
But loveliest there are two:
I may not tell them save to minds
That are as white as they;
But none will hear, of other kinds--
They all are turned away.

On foamy mounds between the wings
Of a white sailing swan,
A flaky bed of shelterings,
There you will find the one.
The other--well, it will not out,
Nor need I tell it you;
I've told you one, and can you doubt,
When there are only two?

Fill full my dream, O splendid bird!
Me o'er the waters bear:
Never was tranquil ocean stirred
By ship so shapely fair!
Nor ever whiteness found a dress
In which on earth to go,
So true, profound, and rich, unless
It was the falling snow!

Her wings, with flutter half-aloft,
Impatient fan her crown;
I cannot choose but nestle soft
Into the depth of down.

With oary-pulsing webs unseen,
Out the white frigate sweeps;
In middle space we hang, between
The air- and ocean-deeps.

Up the wave's mounting, flowing side,
With stroke on stroke we rack;
As down the sinking slope we slide,
She cleaves a talking track--
Like heather-bells on lonely steep,
Like soft rain on the glass,
Like children murmuring in their sleep,
Like winds in reedy grass.

Her white breast heaving like a wave,
She beats the solemn time;
With slow strong sweep, intent and grave,
Hearkens the ripples rime.
All round, from flat gloom upward drawn,
I catch the gleam, vague, wide,
With which the waves, from dark to dawn,
Heave up the polished side.

The night is blue; the stars aglow
Crowd the still, vaulted steep,
Sad o'er the hopeless, restless flow
Of the self-murmurous deep--
A thicker night, with gathered moan!
A dull dethroned sky!
The shadows of its stars alone
Left in to know it by!

What faints across yon lifted loop
Where the west gleams its last?
With sea-veiled limbs, a sleeping group
Of Nereids dreaming past.

Row on, fair swan;--who knows but I,
Ere night hath sought her cave,
May see in splendour pale float by
The Venus of the wave!


II.

A rainbow-wave o'erflowed her,
A glory that deepened and grew,
A song of colour and odour
That thrilled her through and through:
'Twas a dream of too much gladness
Ever to see the light;
They are only dreams of sadness
That weary out the night.

Slow darkness began to rifle
The nest of the sunset fair;
Dank vapour began to stifle
The scents that enriched the air;
The flowers paled fast and faster,
They crumbled, leaf and crown,
Till they looked like the stained plaster
Of a cornice fallen down.

And the change crept nigh and nigher,
Inward and closer stole,
Till the flameless, blasting fire
Entered and withered her soul.--
But the fiends had only flouted
Her vision of the night;
Up came the morn and routed
The darksome things with light.

Wide awake I have often been in it--
The dream that all is none;
It will come in the gladdest minute
And wither the very sun.

Two moments of sad commotion,
One more of doubt's palsied rule--
And the great wave-pulsing ocean
Is only a gathered pool;

A flower is a spot of painting,
A lifeless, loveless hue;
Though your heart be sick to fainting
It says not a word to you;
A bird knows nothing of gladness,
Is only a song-machine;
A man is a reasoning madness,
A woman a pictured queen!

Then fiercely we dig the fountain:
Oh! whence do the waters rise?
Then panting we climb the mountain:
Oh! are there indeed blue skies?
We dig till the soul is weary,
Nor find the water-nest out;
We climb to the stone-crest dreary,
And still the sky is a doubt!

Let alone the roots of the fountain;
Drink of the water bright;
Leave the sky at rest on the mountain,
Walk in its torrent of light;
Although thou seest no beauty,
Though widowed thy heart yet cries,
With thy hands go and do thy duty,
And thy work will clear thine eyes.


III.

A great church in an empty square,
A haunt of echoing tones!
Feet pass not oft enough to wear
The grass between the stones.

The jarring hinges of its gates
A stifled thunder boom;
The boding heart slow-listening waits,
As for a coming doom.

The door stands wide. With hideous grin,
Like dumb laugh, evil, frore,
A gulf of death, all dark within,
Hath swallowed half the floor.

Its uncouth sides of earth and clay
O'erhang the void below;
Ah, some one force my feet away,
Or down I needs must go!

See, see the horrid, crumbling slope!
It breathes up damp and fust!
What man would for his lost loves grope
Amid the charnel dust!

Down, down! The coffined mould glooms high!
Methinks, with anguish dull,
I enter by the empty eye
Into a monstrous skull!

Stumbling on what I dare not guess,
Blind-wading through the gloom,
Still down, still on, I sink, I press,
To meet some awful doom.

My searching hands have caught a door
With iron clenched and barred:
Here, the gaunt spider's castle-core,
Grim Death keeps watch and ward!

Its two leaves shake, its bars are bowed,
As if a ghastly wind,
That never bore a leaf or cloud,
Were pressing hard behind.

They shake, they groan, they outward strain:
What thing of dire dismay
Will freeze its form upon my brain,
And fright my soul away?

They groan, they shake, they bend, they crack;
The bars, the doors divide;
A flood of glory at their back
Hath burst the portals wide!

In flows a summer afternoon;
I know the very breeze!
It used to blow the silvery moon
About the summer trees.

The gulf is filled with flashing tides;
Blue sky through boughs looks in;
Mosses and ferns o'er floor and sides
A mazy arras spin.

The empty church, the yawning cleft,
The earthy, dead despair
Are gone, and I alive am left
In sunshine and in air!


IV.

Some dreams, in slumber's twilight, sly
Through the ivory wicket creep;
Then suddenly the inward eye
Sees them outside the sleep.

Once, wandering in the border gray,
I spied one past me swim;
I caught it on its truant way
To nowhere in the dim.

All o'er a steep of grassy ground,
Lay ruined statues old,
Such forms as never more are found
Save deep in ancient mould,

A host of marble Anakim
Shattered in deadly fight!
Oh, what a wealth one broken limb
Had been to waking sight!

But sudden, the weak mind to mock
That could not keep its own,
Without a shiver or a shock,
Behold, the dream was gone!

For each dim form of marble rare
Stood broken rush or reed;
So bends on autumn field, long bare,
Some tall rain-battered weed.

The shapeless night hung empty, drear,
O'er my scarce slumbering head;
There is no good in staying here,
My spirit moaned, and fled.


V.

The simplest joys that daily pass
Grow ecstasies in sleep;
A wind on heights of waving grass
In a dream has made me weep.

No wonder then my heart one night
Was joy-full to the brim:
I was with one whose love and might
Had drawn me close to him!

But from a church into the street
Came pouring, crowding on,
A troubled throng with hurrying feet,
And Lo, my friend was gone!

Alone upon a miry road
I walked a wretched plain;
Onward without a goal I strode
Through mist and drizzling rain.

Low mounds of ruin, ugly pits,
And brick-fields scarred the globe;
Those wastes where desolation sits
Without her ancient robe.

The dreariness, the nothingness
Grew worse almost than fear;
If ever hope was needful bliss,
Hope sure was needful here!

Did potent wish work joyous change
Like wizard's glamour-spell?
Wishes not always fruitless range,
And sometimes it is well!

I know not. Sudden sank the way,
Burst in the ocean-waves;
Behold a bright, blue-billowed bay,
Red rocks and sounding caves!

Dreaming, I wept. Awake, I ask--
Shall earthly dreams, forsooth,
Set the old Heavens too hard a task
To match them with the truth?


VI.

Once more I build a dream, awake,
Which sleeping I would dream;
Once more an unborn fancy take
And try to make it seem!
Some strange delight shall fill my breast,
Enticed from sleep's abyss,
With sense of motion, yet of rest,
Of sleep, yet waking bliss!

It comes!--I lie on something warm
That lifts me from below;
It rounds me like a mighty arm
Though soft as drifted snow.
A dream, indeed!--Oh, happy me
Whom Titan woman bears
Afloat upon a gentle sea
Of wandering midnight airs!

A breeze, just cool enough to lave
With sense each conscious limb,
Glides round and under, like a wave
Of twilight growing dim!
She bears me over sleeping towns,
O'er murmuring ears of corn;
O'er tops of trees, o'er billowy downs,
O'er moorland wastes forlorn.

The harebells in the mountain-pass
Flutter their blue about;
The myriad blades of meadow grass
Float scarce-heard music out.
Over the lake!--ah! nearer float,
Nearer the water's breast;
Let me look deeper--let me doat
Upon that lily-nest.

Old homes we brush--in wood, on road;
Their windows do not shine;
Their dwellers must be all abroad
In lovely dreams like mine!
Hark--drifting syllables that break
Like foam-bells on fleet ships!
The little airs are all awake
With softly kissing lips.

Light laughter ripples down the wind,
Sweet sighs float everywhere;
But when I look I nothing find,
For every star is there.
O lady lovely, lady strong,
Ungiven thy best gift lies!
Thou bear'st me in thine arms along,
Dost not reveal thine eyes!

Pale doubt lifts up a snaky crest,
In darts a pang of loss:
My outstretched hand, for hills of rest,
Finds only mounds of moss!
Faint and far off the stars appear;
The wind begins to weep;
'Tis night indeed, chilly and drear,
And all but me asleep!

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