Death And Birth

A poem by George MacDonald

'Tis the midnight hour; I heard
The Abbey-bell give out the word.
Seldom is the lamp-ray shed
On some dwarfed foot-farer's head
In the deep and narrow street
Lying ditch-like at my feet
Where I stand at lattice high
Downward gazing listlessly
From my house upon the rock,
Peak of earth's foundation-block.

There her windows, every story,
Shine with far-off nebulous glory!
Round her in that luminous cloud
Stars obedient press and crowd,
She the centre of all gazing,
She the sun her planets dazing!
In her eyes' victorious lightning
Some are paling, some are brightening:
Those on which they gracious turn,
Stars combust, all tenfold burn;
Those from which they look away
Listless roam in twilight gray!
When on her my looks I bent
Wonder shook me like a tent,
And my eyes grew dim with sheen,
Wasting light upon its queen!
But though she my eyes might chain,
Rule my ebbing flowing brain,
Truth alone, without, within,
Can the soul's high homage win!

He, I do not doubt, is there
Who unveiled my idol fair!
And I thank him, grateful much,
Though his end was none of such.
He from shapely lips of wit
Let the fire-flakes lightly flit,
Scorching as the snow that fell
On the damned in Dante's hell;
With keen, gentle opposition,
Playful, merciless precision,
Mocked the sweet romance of youth
Balancing on spheric truth;
He on sense's firm set plane
Rolled the unstable ball amain:
With a smile she looked at me,
Stung my soul, and set me free.

Welcome, friend! Bring in your bricks.
Mortar there? No need to mix?
That is well. And picks and hammers?
Verily these are no shammers!--
There, my friend, build up that niche,
That one with the painting rich!

Yes, you're right; it is a show
Picture seldom can bestow;
City palaces and towers,
Terraced gardens, twilight bowers,
Vistas deep through swaying masts,
Pennons flaunting in the blasts:
Build; my room it does not fit;
Brick-glaze is the thing for it!

Yes, a window you may call it;
Not the less up you must wall it:
In that niche the dead world lies;
Bury death, and free mine eyes.

There were youths who held by me,
Said I taught, yet left them free:
Will they do as I said then?
God forbid! As ye are men,
Find the secret--follow and find!
All forget that lies behind;
Me, the schools, yourselves, forsake;
In your souls a silence make;
Hearken till a whisper come,
Listen, follow, and be dumb.

There! 'tis over; I am dead!
Of my life the broken thread
Here I cast out of my hand!--
O my soul, the merry land!
On my heart the sinking vault
Of my ruining past makes halt;
Ages I could sit and moan
For the shining world that's gone!

Haste and pierce the other wall;
Break an opening to the All!
Where? No matter; done is best.
Kind of window? Let that rest:
Who at morning ever lies
Pondering how to ope his eyes!

I bethink me: we must fall
On the thinnest of the wall!
There it must be, in that niche!--
No, the deepest--that in which
Stands the Crucifix.

You start?--
Ah, your half-believing heart
Shrinks from that as sacrilege,
Or, at least, upon its edge!
Worse than sacrilege, I say,
Is it to withhold the day
From the brother whom thou knowest
For the God thou never sawest!

Reverently, O marble cold,
Thee in living arms I fold!
Thou who art thyself the way
From the darkness to the day,
Window, thou, to every land,
Wouldst not one dread moment stand
Shutting out the air and sky
And the dayspring from on high!
Brother with the rugged crown,
Gently thus I lift thee down!

Give me pick and hammer; you
Stand aside; the deed I'll do.
Yes, in truth, I have small skill,
But the best thing is the will.

Stroke on stroke! The frescoed plaster
Clashes downward, fast and faster.
Hark, I hear an outer stone
Down the rough rock rumbling thrown!
There's a cranny! there's a crack!
The great sun is at its back!
Lo, a mass is outward flung!
In the universe hath sprung!

See the gold upon the blue!
See the sun come blinding through!
See the far-off mountain shine
In the dazzling light divine!
Prisoned world, thy captive's gone!
Welcome wind, and sky, and sun!

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Death And Birth' by George MacDonald

comments powered by Disqus

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