Canticle Of The Babe

A poem by Josephine Preston Peabody

I

Over the broken world, the dark gone by,
Horror of outcast darkness torn with wars;
And timeless agony
Of the white fire, heaped high by blinded Stars,
Unfaltering, unaghast;--
Out of the midmost Fire
At last,--at last,--
Cry! ...
O darkness' one desire,--
O darkness, have you heard?--
Black Chaos, blindly striving towards the Word?
--The Cry!

Behold thy conqueror, Death!
Behold, behold from whom
It flutters forth, that triumph of First-Breath,
Victorious one that can but breathe and cling,--
This pulsing flower,--this weaker than a wing,
Halcyon thing!--
Cradled above unfathomable doom.


II

Under my feet, O Death,
Under my trembling feet!
Back, through the gates of hell, now give me way.
I come.--I bring new Breath!
Over the trampled shards of mine own clay,
That smoulder still, and burn,
Lo, I return!
Hail, singing Light that floats
Pulsing with chorused motes:--
Hail to thee, Sun, that lookest on all lands!
And take thou from my weak undying hands,
A precious thing, unblemished, undefiled:--
Here, on my heart uplift,
Behold the Gift,--
Thy glory and my glory, and my child!


III

(And our eyes were opened; eyes that had been holden.
And I saw the world, and the fruits thereof.
And I saw their glories, scarlet-stained and golden,
All a crumbled dust beneath the feet of Love.
And I saw their dreams, all of nothing worth;
But a path for Love, for Him to walk above,
And I saw new heaven, and new earth.)


IV

The grass is full of murmurs;
The sky is full of wings;
The earth is full of breath.
With voices, choir on choir
With tongues of fire,
They sing how Life out-sings--
Out-numbers Death.


V

Who are these that fly;
As doves, and as doves to the windows?
Doves, like hovering dreams round Love that slumbereth;
Silvering clouds blown by,
Doves and doves to the windows,--
Warm through the radiant sky their wings beat breath.
They are the world's new-born:
Doves, doves to the windows!
Lighting, as flakes of snow;
Lighting, as flakes of flame;
Some to the fair sown furrows;
Some to the huts and burrows
Choked of the mire and thorn,--
Deep in the city's shame.
Wind-scattered wreaths they go,
Doves, and doves, to the windows;
Some for worshipping arms, to shelter and fold, and shrine;
Some to be torn and trodden,
Withered and waste, and sodden;
Pitiful, sacred leaves from Life's dishonored vine.


VI

O Vine of Life, that in these reaching fingers,
Urges a sunward way!
Hold here and climb, and halt not, that there lingers
So far outstripped, my halting, wistful clay.
Make here thy foothold of my rapturous heart,--
Yea, though the tendrils start
To hold and twine!
I am the heart that nursed
Thy sunward thirst.--
A little while, a little while, O Vine,
My own and never mine,
Feed thy sweet roots with me
Abundantly.
O wonder-wildness of the pushing Bud
With hunger at the flood,
Climb on, and seek, and spurn.
Let my dull spirit learn
To follow with its longing, as it may,
While thou seek higher day.--
But thou, the reach of my own heart's desire,
Be free as fire!
Still climb and cling; and so
Outstrip,--outgrow.

O Vine of Life, my own and not my own,
So far am I outgrown!
High as I may, I lift thee, Soul's Desire.
--Lift thou me higher.



And thou, Wayfaring Woman, whom I meet
On all the highways,--every brimming street,
Lady Demeter, is it thou, grown gaunt
With work and want?
At last, and with what shamed and stricken eyes,
I see through thy disguise
Of drudge and Exile,--even the holy boon
That silvers yonder in the Harvest-moon;--
That dimly under glows
The furrows of thy worn immortal face,
With mother-grace.

O Queen and Burden-bearer, what of those
To whom thou gavest the lily and the rose
Of thy far youth?... For whom,
Out of the wondrous loom
Of thine enduring body, thou didst make
Garments of beauty, cunningly adorned,
But only for Death's sake!
Largess of life, but to lie waste and scorned.--
Could not such cost of pain,
Nor daily utmost of thy toil prevail?--
But they must fade, and pale,
And wither from thy desolated throne?--
And still no Summer give thee back again
Thine own?

Lady of Sorrows,--Mother,--Drudge august.
Behold me in the dust.

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