A Strong City

A poem by George Parsons Lathrop

For them that hope in Thee.... Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy face, from the disturbance of men.

Thou shalt protect them in Thy tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues.

Blessed be the Lord, for He hath shewn His wonderful mercy to me in a fortified city. - Psalm xxx.


Beauty and splendor were on every hand:
Yet strangely crawled dark shadows down the lanes,
Twisting across the fields, like dragon-shapes
That smote the air with blackness, and devoured
The life of light, and choked the smiling world
Till it grew livid with a sudden age -
The death of hope.

O squandered happiness;
Vain dust of misery powdering life's fresh flower!
The sky was holy, but the earth was not.

Men ruled, but ruled in vain; since wretchedness
Of soul and body, for the mass of men,
Made them like dead leaves in an idle drift
Around the plough of progress as it drove
Sharp through the glebe of modern days, to plant
A civilized world. Ay; civilized - but not Christian!

Civilization is a clarion voice
Crying in the wilderness; a prophet-word
Still unfulfilled. And lo, along the ways
Crowded with nations, there arose a strife;
Disturbance of men; tongues contradicting tongues;
Madness of noise, that scattered multitudes;
A trample of blind feet, beneath whose tread
Truth's bloom shrank withered; while incessant mouths
Howled "Progress! Change!" - as though all moods of change
Were fiats of truth eternal.

'Mid the din
Two pilgrims, faring forward, saw the light
In a strong city, fortified, and moved
Patiently thither. "All your steps are vain,"
Cried scoffers. "There is mercy in the world;
But chiefly mercy of man to man. For we
Are good. We help our fellows, when we can.
Our charity is enormous. Look at these
Long rolls of rich subscriptions. We are good.
'T is true, God's mercy plays a part in things;
But most is left to us; and we judge well.
Stay with us in the field of endless war!
Here only is health. Yon city fortified
You dream of - why, its ramparts are as dust.
It gives no safety. One assaulting sweep
Of our huge cohorts would annul its power -
Crush it in atoms; make it meaningless."

The pilgrims listened; but onward still they moved.
They passed the gates; they stood upon a hill
Enclosed, but in that strong enclosure free!
Though earth opposed, they held the key to heaven.
On came the turbulent multitude in war,
Dashing against the city's walls; and swept
Through all the streets, and robbed and burned and killed.
The walls were strong; the gates were always open.
And so the invader rioted, and was proud.
But sudden, in seeming triumph, the enemy host
Was stricken with death; and still the city stayed.
Skyward the souls of its defenders rose,
Returning soon in mist intangible
That flashed with radiance of half-hidden swords;
And those who still assaulted - though they crept
Into the inmost vantage-points, with craft -
Fell, blasted namelessly by this veiled flash,
Even as they shouted out, "The place is ours!"

So those two pilgrims dwelt there, fortified
In that strong city men had thought so frail.
They died, and lived again. Fiercest attack
Was as a perfumed breeze to them, which drew
Their souls still closer unto God. And there
Beauty and splendor bloomed untouched. The stars
Spoke to them, bidding them be of good cheer,
Though hostile hordes rushed over them in blood.
And still the prayers of all that people rose
As incense mingled with music of their hearts.
For Christ was with them: angels were their aid.
What though the enemy used their open gates?
The children of the citadel conquered all
Their conquerors, smiting them with the pure light
That shone in that strong city fortified.

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