ALAS, my tent! see through it a whirlwind sweep!
Moaning, poor Fancy’s doves are swept away.
I sit alone, a sorrow half asleep,
My consciousness the blackness all astir.
No pilgrim I, a homeless wanderer—
For how canst Thou be in the darkness deep,
Who dwellest only in the living day?
It must be, somewhere in my fluttering tent,
Strange creatures, half tamed only yet, are pent—
Dragons, lop-winged birds, and large-eyed snakes!
Hark! through the storm the saddest howling breaks!
Or are they loose, roaming about the bent,
The darkness dire deepening with moan and scream?—
My Morning, rise, and all shall be a dream.
Not thine, my Lord, the darkness all is mine—
Save that, as mine, my darkness too is thine:
All things are thine to save or to destroy—
Destroy my darkness, rise my perfect joy;
Love primal, the live coal of every night,
Flame out, scare the ill things with radiant fright,
And fill my tent with laughing morn’s delight.
Master, thou workest with such common things—
Low souls, weak hearts, I mean—and hast to use,
Therefore, such common means and rescuings,
That hard we find it, as we sit and muse,
To think thou workest in us verily:
Bad sea-boats we, and manned with wretched crews—
That doubt the captain, watch the storm-spray flee.
Thou art hampered in thy natural working then
When beings designed on freedom’s holy plan
Will not be free: with thy poor, foolish men,
Thou therefore hast to work just like a man.
But when, tangling thyself in their sore need,
Thou hast to freedom fashioned them indeed,
Then wilt thou grandly move, and Godlike speed.
Will this not then show grandest fact of all—
In thy creation victory most renowned—
That thou hast wrought thy will by slow and small,
And made men like thee, though thy making bound
By that which they were not, and could not be
Until thou mad’st them make along with thee?—
Master, the tardiness is but in me.
Hence come thy checks—because I still would run
My head into the sand, nor flutter aloft
Towards thy home, with thy wind under me.
‘Tis because I am mean, thy ways so oft
Look mean to me; my rise is low begun;
But scarce thy will doth grasp me, ere I see,
For my arrest and rise, its stern necessity.
Like clogs upon the pinions of thy plan
We hang—like captives on thy chariot-wheels,
Who should climb up and ride with Death’s conqueror;
Therefore thy train along the world’s highway steals
So slow to the peace of heart-reluctant man.
What shall we do to spread the wing and soar,
Nor straiten thy deliverance any more?
The sole way to put flight into the wing,
To preen its feathers, and to make them grow,
Is to heed humbly every smallest thing
With which the Christ in us has aught to do.
So will the Christ from child to manhood go,
Obedient to the father Christ, and so
Sweet holy change will turn all our old things to new.
Creation thou dost work by faint degrees,
By shade and shadow from unseen beginning;
Far, far apart, in unthought mysteries
Of thy own dark, unfathomable seas,
Thou will’st thy will; and thence, upon the earth—
Slow travelling, his way through centuries winning—
A child at length arrives at never ending birth.
Well mayst thou then work on indocile hearts
By small successes, disappointments small;
By nature, weather, failure, or sore fall;
By shame, anxiety, bitterness, and smarts;
By loneliness, by weary loss of zest:—
The rags, the husks, the swine, the hunger-quest,
Drive home the wanderer to the father’s breast.
How suddenly some rapid turn of thought
May throw the life-machine all out of gear,
Clouding the windows with the steam of doubt,
Filling the eyes with dust, with noise the ear!
Who knows not then where dwells the engineer,
Rushes aghast into the pathless night,
And wanders in a land of dreary fright.
Amazed at sightless whirring of their wheels,
Confounded with the recklessness and strife,
Distract with fears of what may next ensue,
Some break rude exit from the house of life,
And plunge into a silence out of view—
Whence not a cry, no wafture once reveals
What door they have broke open with the knife.
Help me, my Father, in whatever dismay,
Whatever terror in whatever shape,
To hold the faster by thy garment’s hem;
When my heart sinks, oh, lift it up, I pray;
Thy child should never fear though hell should gape,
Not blench though all the ills that men affray
Stood round him like the Roman round Jerusalem.
Too eager I must not be to understand.
How should the work the master goes about
Fit the vague sketch my compasses have planned?
I am his house—for him to go in and out.
He builds me now—and if I cannot see
At any time what he is doing with me,
‘Tis that he makes the house for me too grand.
The house is not for me—it is for him.
His royal thoughts require many a stair,
Many a tower, many an outlook fair,
Of which I have no thought, and need no care.
Where I am most perplexed, it may be there
Thou mak’st a secret chamber, holy-dim,
Where thou wilt come to help my deepest prayer.
I cannot tell why this day I am ill;
But I am well because it is thy will—
Which is to make me pure and right like thee.
Not yet I need escape—’tis bearable
Because thou knowest. And when harder things
Shall rise and gather, and overshadow me,
I shall have comfort in thy strengthenings.
How do I live when thou art far away?—
When I am sunk, and lost, and dead in sleep,
Or in some dream with no sense in its play?
When weary-dull, or drowned in study deep?—
O Lord, I live so utterly on thee,
I live when I forget thee utterly—
Not that thou thinkest of, but thinkest me.
Thou far!—that word the holy truth doth blur.
Doth the great ocean from the small fish run
When it sleeps fast in its low weedy bower?
Is the sun far from any smallest flower,
That lives by his dear presence every hour?
Are they not one in oneness without stir—
The flower the flower because the sun the sun?
“Dear presence every hour”!—what of the night,
When crumpled daisies shut gold sadness in;
And some do hang the head for lack of light,
Sick almost unto death with absence-blight?—
Thy memory then, warm-lingering in the ground,
Mourned dewy in the air, keeps their hearts sound,
Till fresh with day their lapsed life begin.
All things are shadows of the shining true:
Sun, sea, and air—close, potent, hurtless fire—
Flowers from their mother’s prison—dove, and dew—
Every thing holds a slender guiding clue
Back to the mighty oneness:—hearts of faith
Know thee than light, than heat, endlessly nigher,
Our life’s life, carpenter of Nazareth.
Sometimes, perhaps, the spiritual blood runs slow,
And soft along the veins of will doth flow,
Seeking God’s arteries from which it came.
Or does the etherial, creative flame
Turn back upon itself, and latent grow?—
It matters not what figure or what name,
If thou art in me, and I am not to blame.
In such God-silence, the soul’s nest, so long
As all is still, no flutter and no song,
Is safe. But if my soul begin to act
Without some waking to the eternal fact
That my dear life is hid with Christ in God—
I think and move a creature of earth’s clod,
Stand on the finite, act upon the wrong.
My soul this sermon hence for itself prepares:—
“Then is there nothing vile thou mayst not do,
Buffeted in a tumult of low cares,
And treacheries of the old man ‘gainst the new.”—
Lord, in my spirit let thy spirit move,
Warning, that it may not have to reprove:—
In my dead moments, master, stir the prayers.
Lord, let my soul o’erburdened then feel thee
Thrilling through all its brain’s stupidity.
If I must slumber, heedless of ill harms,
Let it not be but in my Father’s arms;
Outside the shelter of his garment’s fold,
All is a waste, a terror-haunted wold.—
Lord, keep me. ‘Tis thy child that cries. Behold.
Some say that thou their endless love host won
By deeds for them which I may not believe
Thou ever didst, or ever willedst done:
What matter, so they love thee? They receive
Eternal more than the poor loom and wheel
Of their invention ever wove and spun.—
I love thee for I must, thine all from head to heel.
The love of thee will set all notions right.
Right save by love no thought can be or may;
Only love’s knowledge is the primal light.
Questions keep camp along love’s shining coast—
Challenge my love and would my entrance stay:
Across the buzzing, doubting, challenging host,
I rush to thee, and cling, and cry—Thou know’st.
Oh, let me live in thy realities,
Nor substitute my notions for thy facts,
Notion with notion making leagues and pacts;
They are to truth but as dream-deeds to acts,
And questioned, make me doubt of everything.—
“O Lord, my God,” my heart gets up and cries,
“Come thy own self, and with thee my faith bring.”
O master, my desires to work, to know,
To be aware that I do live and grow—
All restless wish for anything not thee,
I yield, and on thy altar offer me.
Let me no more from out thy presence go,
But keep me waiting watchful for thy will—
Even while I do it, waiting watchful still.
Thou art the Lord of life, the secret thing.
Thou wilt give endless more than I could find,
Even if without thee I could go and seek;
For thou art one, Christ, with my deepest mind,
Duty alive, self-willed, in me dost speak,
And to a deeper purer being sting:
I come to thee, my life, my causing kind.
Nothing is alien in thy world immense—
No look of sky or earth or man or beast;
“In the great hand of God I stand, and thence”
Look out on life, his endless, holy feast.
To try to feel is but to court despair,
To dig for a sun within a garden-fence:
Who does thy will, O God, he lives upon thy air.
© George MacDonald