The enchanted island rose before me, drawn
More beautiful than words of mine may reach;
It lay magnificent in a magic dawn,
And full of boscage to the foam-fringed beach.
How well the city of the sons of knowledge
Stood, giving pleasant prospect to the sea!
The fabulous and fancied island college
Unfabled and unfancied grew for me.
In secret conclave of a sea so vast-
Earth’s widest wilderness of waves ring’d round-
No mariner ever caught from any mast
A glimpse or inkling of that happy ground.
Yet now (such fair adventure did I win!)
That I could see and hear whate’er of state
Or thought, or work or worship, was within
That Muse-discovered island Fortunate!
I saw the House of Solomon strongly stand,
No fane so noble springs from any sod;
The oracle and lanthorn of the land,
Where Nature is the interpreter of God.
The College of the Six Days’ Work well called,
Whence traders issue-not for gain or might,
For gold or silk, for spice or emerald-
Only for God’s first creature, which is light.
I saw the masters of the speech and pen,
Those cunning in the secret cause of things;
Whose aspect was as if they pitied men-
A temperate race, a commonwealth of kings.
And, reverencing self, each soul was great,
And, reverencing God, to each was brought
With long calm striving strength inviolate,
With virgin purity victorious thought.
Being such they scorn the mob’s vain fierce desires
Whereof coherent reading may not be,
Like the wild message interrupted wires
Send in magnetic storms below the sea.
Yet deem’d I ‘Something wants where all is fair,’
I sigh’d, ‘Man doth not live alone by bread’-
‘What of the higher life, whose breath is prayer?
What of the touch of sacraments?’ I said.
Behold! a chime of bells rang toward the east,
To a cathedral moved a white-robed host,
And of the wisest each man was a priest,
And broadest brows were those that brighten’d most.
Within, i’ the midst, was a scroll clasp’d with gold,
And one stood forth of look more sweet than strong,
And (for the day was festival) he told
‘The Finding of the Book’ in measured song.
‘One eve like this, a thousand years ago,
Our merchantmen of light were weary grown;
Wise men are strong, but for the strong ’tis woe
To know the holiest of truth unknown.
‘And then through all the cloister’d aisles of beech,
The fluted stems from whence the builder learns,
There passed a softer breath than any speech-
A dying light stream’d in ward on the ferns.
‘Those trees stand waiting through the silent years,
Expecting some one who doth never come;
So sternly happy over human tears,
To human words so eloquently dumb.
‘They wait some song that winters never sing,
Some summer blue that eye hath never seen,
The far-off footfall of some spellbound spring,
That lingers unimaginably green.
‘But through them passed that eve a mystic breath,
A hint from God to all their leaves was given,
Some inarticulate news of life and death,
The anticipation of some gift from Heaven.
‘And when the sun had sunk, and the night was
Cloudy and calm, some mile into the sea
Upon our eastern coast it came to pass
A light unspeakable hover’d far a-lee.
‘There sail’d a pillar from some shore unknown,
Pillar with cross atop, and both of light;
And all the ocean hush’d its stormy tone,
And awe was on the azure infinite.
‘The throng upon the strand made not a stir,
But boats put forth to see the lights divine,
And the crews stood as in a theatre,
Beholding this, as if a heavenly sign.
‘And after prayer, the wisest of our wise
Toward the pillar rowed with muffled oar,
Half fear’d that at one sound beneath the skies
The delicate dream might fade for evermore.
‘When, as the boat drew near, its crew much awed,
The moon being partly hid by pearly bars,
Pillar and cross did cast themselves abroad
Into a firmament of many stars.
‘What ark was that? How chanced it on the tide?
No gallant ship upon the ocean rode,
No lights were lit the mariners to guide,
On pencill’d spars no sail was moon-besnow’d.
‘Sole there remained that tiny cedar ark,
Wherefrom there grew one small green branch of palm,
Which open’d, nothing but the Book they mark,
Wherein is written every holy Psalm;
‘And all the histories of the Hebrew years,
And all the treasury of soul-complaints,
And all the dim magnificence of seers,
And all the sighs and silences of saints,
‘And all the visions by the Patmian shore,
Cycle in cycle orbing manifold,
And all the hopes that make the sweet heav’n more
Than a mere mist of amethyst and gold.
‘And chief enshrined above earth’s waves of strife,
The unfathomable words that Jesus saith-
And all the loveliness of one white Life,
And all the pathos of one perfect Death.’
What high fulfilment hath thy vision found?
What fair adventure hath thy fancy brought?
With what rich wreaths is thy Utopia crown’d?
And what success hath fallen to thy thought?
The thinkers and the workers walk apart
Upon the banks of Isis and of Cam.
The worker from the thing miscall’d his heart
Casts forth like ice his morsell’d epigram.
The thinker owns of mere subjective worth
His thought, and piles his doubts like flakes of snow,
And o’er a darken’d universe drivels forth
His feeble and immeasurable ‘No.’
And that sweet story! Ah! the Book enfolden
Unstain’d and glorious by the branch of palm,
O’er it the shaft of light and cross more golden,
Round it the sea’s illimitable calm;
Came it so gently within cedar barr’d,
And floated it on waves so grandly lit,
And kept the angles such a watch and ward,
And arch’d such tender azure over it,
That the white page should be so darkly blotted
By the high treason of the sceptic’s ink,
And the one story of a life unspotted
Fall into four as certain critics think?
That the sweet breath of miracle should die,
Like the brief odour of the cedarn ark,
On earth’s one truest page be branded-Lie!
On its one chronicle of sunlight-Dark?
And He whom we adore with bended head,
What tints are these the mockers intermix?
The riddle of the years is poorly read,
A contradiction loads the crucifix.
They call Him King. They mourn o’er His eclipse,
And fill a cup of half-contemptuous wine,
Foam the froth’d rhetoric for the death-white lips,
And ring the changes on the word ‘divine.’
Divinely gentle-yet a sombre giant;
Divinely perfect-yet imperfect man;
Divinely calm-yet recklessly defiant;
Divinely true-yet half a charlatan.
They torture all the record of the Life,
Give-what from France and Germany they get,
To Calvary carry a dissecting-knife,
Parisian patchouli to Olivet.
They talk of critical battle-flags unfurl’d,
Of the wing’d sweep of science high and grand-
And sometimes publish to a yawning world
A book of patchwork learning second-hand.
Wing’d, did they say? but different wings uplift
The little living ecstasy sunward borne,
And the brown-feather’d thief, with one poor gift,
To stoop and twitter as it steals the corn.
Patience! God’s House of Light shall yet be built,
In years unthought of, to some unknown song,
And from the fanes of Science shall her guilt
Pass like a cloud. How long, O Lord, how long?-
When Faith shall grow a man, and Thought a child,
And that in us which thinks with that which feels
Shall everlastingly be reconciled,
And that which questioneth with that which kneels.
And that true Book-the lovely dream is o’er
Which saw it shelter’d well beneath the palm,
Sent by a saint from some mysterious shore,
Its tiny frigate floating o’er a calm.
No vessel bore it to a sacred isle,
No magic kept it from the salt sea-spray,
It had no perfect charm of Grecian style,
No shaft of glory heralded its way.
Yet, peradventure, shall diviner seem
The chronicle of a severer truth,
Than all the fabulous colouring of the dream
That tinted it so richly in our youth.
And yet, for all the puzzle of the lines,
All the discordant copies stain’d with age,
A more miraculous lore it intertwines,
A grander Christ looks radiant from its page.
For all the stammering of those simple men,
A fourfold unity of truth they reach:
Drops as of light fall from their trembling pen,
And Christ speaks through them with a tenderer speech.
And through all time our fathers’ faith shall speed,
And the old utterance be still found right,
And eastward chanted rise the changeless creed-
O very God from God, O Light from Light!
And from the human thought that freshly springs
From hearts that ever to the high heaven look,
From the brave student’s fearless questionings,
Shall come a fairer ‘Finding of the Book.’
(Archbishop William Alexander)
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Based on Keywords: epigram, patchwork, unstain, eloquently, conclave, peradventure, thinker, second-hand, broadest, colouring, miscall