Suggested by Matthew Arnold's Stanzas - Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse

A poem by James Thomson (BV)

I

That one long dirge-moan sad and deep,
Low, muffled by the solemn stress
Of such emotion as doth steep
The soul in brooding quietness,
Befits our anguished time too well,
Whose Life-march is a funeral knell.

Dirge for a mighty Creed outworn
Its spirit fading from the earth,
Its mouldering body left forlorn:
Weak idol! feeding scornful mirth
In shallow hearts; divine no more
Save to some ignorant pagan poor;

And some who know how by Its light
The past world well did walk and live,
And feel It even now more bright
Than any lamp mere men can give;
So cling to It with yearning faith,
Yet own It almost quenched in death:

While many who win wealth and power
And honours serving at Its shrine,
Rather than lose their worldly dower
Proclaim their dead thing 'Life divine';
And sacrifice to coward lust
Their own souls' truth, a people's trust.

And will none mourn the mighty Dead,
Pillar of heavenly fire and cloud,
Which through this life's wild desert led
For whole millenniums each grand crowd
Of sages, bards, saints, heroes, all
Whose names we glory to recall?

None mourn Him, dead, with deep-moved soul,
Whom, living, all our sires adored?
None feel the heavy darkness roll
Stifling about us, when the Lord
Leaves us to walk by our own light,
That one pale speck in boundless Night?

That earthly lamp when sun and star,
When all the heavenly lights are lost:
Does it shed radiance round afar?
Our pathway is by deep gulfs cross'd
It fathoms none. We lift it high:
It casts not one beam on the sky.

If He thus died as no more fit
To lead the modern march of thought,
Supreme, commanding, guiding it,
With noblest love and wisdom fraught;
He was at least Divine; and none
Of human souls can lead it on.

We pine in our dark living tomb,
Waiting the God-illumined One
Who, only, can disperse the gloom;
Completing what the Dead begun,
Or farther leading us some space
Toward our eternal resting-place.

But Israel wanders shepherdless,
Or gloom-involved unloving lies,
And in despair's stark sinfulness
Reviles the promised Paradise
It cannot reach Father divine!
Let us not long thus hopeless pine.

Still the deep dirge-notes long and low
Breathe forth strange anguish to recall
Could we forget our direst woe:
A proud strong Age fast losing all
Earth has of heaven; bereft of faith;
And living in Eternal Death.

And loudly boastful of such life:
Blinded by our material might,
Absorbed in frantic worldly strife,
Unconscious of the utter Night
Whose palpable and monstrous gloom
Is gathering for our spirits' tomb.

We feel as gods in our own hearts;
Seeming to conquer Time and Space;
Wealth gorging our imperial marts,
Earth pregnant, from the fierce embrace
Our matter-lusting spirits press,
With unexampled fruitfulness.

God, answering well our worldly prayer,
Our hearts' chief prayer through all the hours
Of selfish joy and sordid care,
Comes down to us in golden showers:
God turns to Mammon at our cry;
Our souls wealth-crushed, dross-stifled lie.

Those few, how rich! while this great mass,
Myriads with equal greed for gold,
Sink in such want and woe, alas!
As never can on earth be told:
These starve, and those yet wealthier rise
Meanwhile in both the spirit dies.

Hear now the thrilling dirge-notes peal
The anguished cry in thunder rolls:-
The few yet left who think and feel,
Who yearn with strenuous soaring souls
For more than earth or time can grant;
Where, where shall they appease their want?

Black disbelief, substantial doubt
Wreathe-blent into one louring cloud
Through which Heaven's light can scarce shine out
Round all the Faiths: all in such shroud
Fade ghostlike to th' entombing Past:
Our Heaven is wildly overcast.

Yet each Creed, senile, sick, half-dead,
With bitter spite and doting rage
Reviles all others, Whoso, led
By thirst of love to pilgrimage,
Seeks now old God-given Wells of Life,
Finds drought-dry centres of vain strife;

And turns away in blank despair,
To scoff or weep as fits his mood.
0 God in Heaven, hear our prayer!
We know Thou art, Allwise, Allgood,
Yet sink in godless misery:
Oh, teach us how to worship Thee!



II

The great Form lies there nerveless still:
But as we fix our longing gaze
It grows in grandest beauty, till
We worship in entranced amaze;
Such holy love and wisdom seem
To be there rapt in heavenly dream
.
Oh, if He may once more awake!
Oh, if it be not death, but sleep!
And He from that dread slumber break
Refreshed and strong, full-powered to sweep
The darkness from our path again;
Once more the Guiding Star of men!

Yet, though it be death, view It well.
The brow, how nobly high and broad
What love on those shut lips might well!
This Form sublimely templed God:
And, if not perfect, is a shrine
Approaching well the most divine.

Do not turn hastily away
From mighty death to petty life;
Gaze in deep reverence on the clay
With such a soul's expression rife:
Read here, read long, the features worn
By One incarnate Heavenly-born.

So may we hope to recognise
That Greater One who shall succeed
This death-bound Monarch, who now lies
In mute appealing for our need:
God cannot long desert His earth;
In the Old's death the New has birth.

What say we? we know well this truth,
There is no death for the Divine,
Which lives in ever-perfect youth:
The Form alone, its earthly shrine
Is subject to earth's mortal sway;
Sickens, and dies, and rots away.

Thus each Form in its turn expires,
No more with all revealed Truth rife,
Which even at that time inspires
Some new and nobler form with life,
Grander and vaster to express
More of Its infinite heavenliness.

Thus has it been since Time's first birth,
Thus must it be for evermore:
Still lie, moth-eaten, on the earth
Old garments which this Spirit wore;
Till, soiled and rent, they were off-thrown,
And wider-flowing robes put on.

They could not grow with His great growth,
Pauseless though slow throughout the years;
And vainly worshippers-so loath
To leave what lengthened use endears
May still the empty robes adore;
Their virtue was from Him who wore.

Let none say the Divine is dead,
Although this Form be soul-less quite:
The Heavenly Sun doth ever shed
His lifeful heat, His saving light;
Never our earth doth lose His ray,
Save when she turns herself away.

Let none say the Divine is dumb,
Although His voice no more we hear:
It is that we are deaf become.
For measured to each eye and ear
His glory shines, His voice outspeaks;
To each He gives the most it seeks.

Our spirits may for ever grow;
And He will fill them as before,
And still their measure overflow
With His unlessened infinite More:
He gives us all we can receive;
He teaches all we can believe.

The pure can see Him perfect, pure;
The strong feel Him, Omnipotence;
The wise, All-wise; He is obscure
But to the gross and earth-bound sense:
Alas for us with blinded sight
Who dare to cry, There is no light!



III

Nay, ask us not to rise and leave
Him from whom power and life seem gone;
Say not that it is weak to grieve;
Duty does not, now, urge us on:
In vain ye urge; too well we know
We cannot by our own strength go.

Vainly ye choose you Saviours now
Of men, however good and wise
Be those your mean faith would endow
With power to which no man can rise:
No best men living lure our faith
From the Divine though veiled in death.

Vainly ye wander every way
Throughout the earth in search of Heaven,
Changing your useless path each day
With each new transient impulse given
By human guides, who still agree
In naught but fallibility.

We should know better from the lore
Of worldly wisdom, keen mistrust
On which our minds so love to pore;
Nor leave for any child of dust
This One Divine: to Him adhere
Till the diviner One appear.

My brothers, let us own the truth,
Bitter and mournful though it be,
That we who spent our dreary youth
In foul and sensual slavery,
Are all too slavish, too unmanned,
For Conquerors of the Promised Land.

In unprogressive wanderings
We plod the desert to and fro;
And fiery serpents' mortal stings,
Earthquake and sword and weary woe
And pestilence deal fearful death
Amongst us for our want of faith.

Far-scattered o'er the Waste forlorn
Our bones shall whiten through the years,
And startle pilgrims yet unborn;
Our noblest captains, priests and seers,
Dark death shall one by one remove,
For lack of wisdom, faith, or love.

Yet be we patient, meek and pure,
Unselfishly resigned to God's
Mysterious judgements; and endure
Our sore scarce-intermitted loads
Of grief and weary pain, imbued
With sternly passive fortitude:

And pray that those who shall succeed
Prove worthy of a happier life
Than we dare ask for as our meed;
That they a constant noble strife
Victorious against Ill may wage,
And gain the glorious heritage.

Cease now to cry and storm, and move,
By such tumultuous toil opprcst
As, without guidance, vain must prove.
When God keeps still can ye not rest?
When He sends night so dark and deep,
Why shrink from renovating sleep?

Sleep, to His care resigned, a space;
That when He rises in His might
To lead our hosts from this dire place,
We may have strength and heart to fight
All evils that would bar our way,
And march unfaltering all the day.

Yes, let us stay in loving grief,
Which patient hope and trust yet cheer,
Silent beside our silent Chief,
Till His Successor shall appear;
Till death's veil fall from off His face,
Or One anointed take His place.

Nay, our adoring love should have
More faith than to believe that He,
Before Another comes to save,
Can leave us in blind misery
Without a Guide: God never can
So utterly depart from man.

We will move onward! Let us trust
That there is life and saving power
In this dear Form which seems but dust.
Arise, arise! though darkness lower,
Earnest, bold-hearted, cease to mourn;
It shall before our hosts be borne.

Triumphantly He ever led
Our faithful armies while alive;
What though His form be cold and dead,
His Spirit doth that death survive:
We conquer by that Soul this Form
Enshrined, not ill, while free and warm.

Thus men have honoured fellow men,
Who dying left a lofty fame;
And won most glorious victories then
By inspiration of a Name:
If in men's names such life abode,
Shall there not in His, Son of God?

A dawn-light creeps throughout the gloom,
Sullenly sinks the storm of wrath;
Life blossoms in our desert tomb;
Mysteriously we find a path
Which leadeth on to Paradise.
Thus to our love's faith He replies!

But, while the dirge still rolls away
In passionate thunders wildly blent
With mournful moanings, let us pray
Still on our Holy War intent
'O God, revive the seeming Dead;
Or send Another in His stead!

'The wintry midnight drear is past,
But still the dawn gleams grey and cold;
Dread phantoms haunt each restless blast,
Our stumblings still are manifold:
Oh, let Thy cloudless Sun rise soon,
And flood us with His summer noon!'

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