To A Missal Of The Thirteenth Century.

A poem by Henry Austin Dobson

Missal of the Gothic age,
Missal with the blazoned page,
Whence, O Missal, hither come,
From what dim scriptorium?

Whose the name that wrought thee thus,
Ambrose or Theophilus,
Bending, through the waning light,
O'er thy vellum scraped and white;

Weaving 'twixt thy rubric lines
Sprays and leaves and quaint designs;
Setting round thy border scrolled
Buds of purple and of gold?

Ah!--a wondering brotherhood,
Doubtless, by that artist stood,
Raising o'er his careful ways
Little choruses of praise;

Glad when his deft hand would paint
Strife of Sathanas and Saint,
Or in secret coign entwist
Jest of cloister humourist.

Well the worker earned his wage,
Bending o'er the blazoned page!
Tired the hand and tired the wit
Ere the final Explicit!

Not as ours the books of old--
Things that steam can stamp and fold;
Not as ours the books of yore--
Rows of type, and nothing more.

Then a book was still a Book,
Where a wistful man might look,
Finding something through the whole,
Beating--like a human soul.

In that growth of day by day,
When to labour was to pray,
Surely something vital passed
To the patient page at last;
Something that one still perceives
Vaguely present in the leaves;
Something from the worker lent;
Something mute--but eloquent!

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