Francis Thompson Poems >>
Heard On The Mountain

From Hugo's 'Feuilles d'Automne'.


Have you sometimes, calm, silent, let your tread aspirant rise
Up to the mountain's summit, in the presence of the skies?
Was't on the borders of the South? or on the Bretagne coast?
And at the basis of the mount had you the Ocean tossed?
And there, leaned o'er the wave and o'er the immeasurableness,
Calm, silent, have you harkened what it says?  Lo, what it says!
One day at least, whereon my thought, enlicens-ed to muse,
Had drooped its wing above the beach-ed margent of the ooze,
And, plunging from the mountain height into the immensity,
Beheld upon one side the land, on the other side the sea.
I harkened, comprehended,--never, as from those abysses,
No, never issued from a mouth, nor moved an ear, such voice as this is!

A sound it was, at outset, vast, immeasurable, confused,
Vaguer than is the wind among the tufted trees effused,
Full of magnificent accords, suave murmurs, sweet as is
The evensong, and mighty as the shock of panoplies
When the hoarse melee in its arms the closing squadrons grips,
And pants, in furious breathings, from the clarions' brazen lips.
Unutterable the harmony, unsearchable its deep,
Whose fluid undulations round the world a girdle keep,
And through the vasty heavens, which by its surges are washed young,
Its infinite volutions roll, enlarging as they throng,
Even to the profound arcane, whose ultimate chasms sombre
Its shattered flood englut with time, with space and form and number.
Like to another atmosphere with thin o'erflowing robe,
The hymn eternal covers all the inundated globe:
And the world, swathed about with this investuring symphony,
Even as it trepidates in the air, so trepidates in the harmony.

And pensive, I attended the ethereal lutany,
Lost within this containing voice as if within the sea.

Soon I distinguished, yet as tone which veils confuse and smother,
Amid this voice two voices, one commingled with the other,
Which did from off the land and seas even to the heavens aspire;
Chanting the universal chant in simultaneous quire.
And I distinguished them amid that deep and rumorous sound,
As who beholds two currents thwart amid the fluctuous profound.

The one was of the waters; a be-radiant hymnal speech!
That was the voice o' the surges, as they parleyed each with each.
The other, which arose from our abode terranean,
Was sorrowful; and that, alack! the murmur was of man;
And in this mighty quire, whose chantings day and night resound,
Every wave had its utterance, and every man his sound.

Now, the magnificent Ocean, as I said, unbannering
A voice of joy, a voice of peace, did never stint to sing,
Most like in Sion's temples to a psaltery psaltering,
And to creation's beauty reared the great lauds of his song.
Upon the gale, upon the squall, his clamour borne along
Unpausingly arose to God in more triumphal swell;
And every one among his waves, that God alone can quell,
When the other of its song made end, into the singing pressed.
Like that majestic lion whereof Daniel was the guest,
At intervals the Ocean his tremendous murmur awed;
And I, t'ward where the sunset fires fell shaggily and broad,
Under his golden mane, methought, that I saw pass the hand of God.

Meanwhile, and side by side with that august fan-faronnade,
The other voice, like the sudden scream of a destrier affrayed,
Like an infernal door that grates ajar its rusty throat,
Like to a bow of iron that gnarls upon an iron rote,
Grinded; and tears, and shriekings, the anathema, the lewd taunt,
Refusal of viaticum, refusal of the font,
And clamour, and malediction, and dread blasphemy, among
That hurtling crowd of rumour from the diverse human tongue,
Went by as who beholdeth, when the valleys thick t'ward night,
The long drifts of the birds of dusk pass, blackening flight on flight.
What was this sound whose thousand echoes vibrated unsleeping?
Alas! the sound was earth's and man's, for earth and man were weeping.

Brothers! of these two voices, strange most unimaginably,
Unceasingly regenerated, dying unceasingly,
Harken-ed of the Eternal throughout His Eternity,
The one voice uttereth:  NATURE! and the other voice:  HUMANITY!

Then I alit in reverie; for my ministering sprite
Alack! had never yet deployed a pinion of an ampler flight,
Nor ever had my shadow endured so large a day to burn:
And long I rested dreaming, contemplating turn by turn
Now that abyss obscure which lurked beneath the water's roll,
And now that other untemptable abyss which opened in my soul.
And I made question of me, to what issues are we here,
Whither should tend the thwarting threads of all this ravelled gear;
What doth the soul; to be or live if better worth it is;
And why the Lord, Who, only, reads within that book of His,
In fatal hymeneals hath eternally entwined
The vintage-chant of nature with the dirging cry of humankind?