A city of young life astir for fame,
With generations each of three years' date,--
The waters fleeting, yet the fount the same--
Where old age hardly enters thro' the gate.
Forty years since! Thoughts now long over-blown
Had just begun to quicken in the germ.
We sat discussing subjects dimly known
One pleasant evening of the Summer Term.
So question came of all things new and old,
And how the Movement sped and where should lead?
Some peradventure, scorn'd, but more wax'd bold,
And bravely flaunted their triumphant creed.
Grave grew the talk, and golden grew the gloom;
The reason might be weak, the voice was strong.
Outside, by fits and starts, from room to room,
Boy call'd to boy, like birds, in bursts of song.
Of forms they talked that rose, as if in joy,
Like magic isles from an enchanted foam;
They prophesied (no prophet like a boy!)
Some fairer Oxford and some freer Rome,--
An Oxford of a more majestic growth--
A Rome that sheds no blood, and makes no slave--
The perfect flower and quintessence of both,
More reverent science, faith by far more brave.
Faith should have broader brow and bolder eye,
Science sing "Angelus" at close of day;
Faith have more liberal and lucent sky,
And science end by learning how to pray.
And "Hail the hour," they cried, "when each high morn
England, at one, shall stand at the church gate,
And vesper bells o'er all the land be borne,
And Newman mould the Church, and Gladstone stamp the State."
Now, when all left me, on my table lay
A volume of my Bacon, where was writ
By that great hand, in the evening of his day,
The fairest fable sunshine ever lit.
While in the dusk white chestnut blossoms paled
Above the black old wall, on the great tree,
The book and talk commingled, and I sail'd
Across a vast unnavigated sea.
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 call'd,
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.
Deep caverns had they in the mountains wrought,
High watch-towers for the clouds and starry tracts;
And many a spacious house where light was caught
From tumbling tides and thunderous cataracts.
Gardens they had where they perused the flowers,
And each had more than fairy tales to tell,
For with it bees that buzz'd in golden hours
Conspired to work a patient miracle.
Exquisite distillations, dainty work
Of excellent lustre, gems elsewhere unfound,
They lack'd not, nor the music that doth lurk
In tremulous string and half inaudible sound.
The chemistry of sunlight and of star
They knew; the long slow change of earth and man;
The bells and rings that sweet and dainty are--
The universal calm æonian;
The families of all children of the cloud;
The innumerable lives all waves that throng;
Each medicinal plant with pow'r endow'd;
The birds of every wing and every song.
Pictures they had, silent and old, and yet
Sweeter than music, richer-hued than rose,
And statues of their great men, stirless set,
Praxitelean shapes in passionless repose.
A place of leafiness, a land of rivers,
A clime where frosts in rain and sunshine pass,
And temperate nature, half-regretful, shivers
The rose in heaven, the diamond on the grass.
A land of distant forests purple-domed,
Of sunlit sails slow passing park-girt halls,
As sweet a land as traveller ever roam'd
Through scented limes, by passioning waterfalls.
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.
"Lo! through the trees, like bits intensely shining
Cramp'd in the painted window, first there came,
Cut into diamonds by the boughs entwining
The orange flashes of the sea aflame.
"And then through all the cloister'd aisles of beech,
The fluted stems from whence the builder learns,
There pass'd a softer breath than any speech--
A dying light stream'd inward 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 foot-fall of some spell-bound 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 the light of God,
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 pencilled spars no sail was moon-besnow'd.
"Sole there remain'd 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."
On the next eve, beside our glorious river,
Forth from the throng I walk'd among the trees,
The rustle of whose leaves keeps time for ever
To holy bells of ancient colleges.
"I will do justice to this place," I cried,
"Endow it with imaginative gleam,
And let its outward frame be glorified
With something of the glory of my dream."
Whereon my Oxford rose with airy motion,
Superbly touch'd by sunset's magic spell,
Most like the fabulous college girt with ocean
Far beyond Cambalene and Tyrambel.
And I could see and hear what fortuned there,
The forms and voices of a noble band,
In love and all sweet brotherhood walking fair,
The thinkers and the workers hand in hand.
Not only those who know all lights and shadows,
On waves of language as they rise and fall,
And live their life upon the Attic meadows
Beneath the plane in worlds Platonical;
Or those who the fine tissue of the lyre
Antique can follow through its difficult woof,
Or who can march with soul that doth not tire
Through the long process of the perfect proof.
Eyes, too, were there, deep orbs whereto was given
Another and a vaster world to win,
The passionless pathway of the stars of heav'n
Without, the subtler universe within--
Histories that seem to have no steadfast end,
By one majestic purpose bounden still,
As rushing cataracts hang at distance kenn'd
One great white wonder from the purple hill--
The quiet chronicles of rocks and flowers,
The mystery of life enwrapped in awe,
The interworking of dissimilar powers
Where all is harmony, for all is law,
Through light's long tide and ocean's silver roll,
From the pale primrose to the furthest star,
In all the harp of man's immortal soul
No strife to desecrate, no string to jar.
Each after each, some house of light upsprings,
A visible sign of knowledge larger grown,
Where cunning hands have heap'd up precious things,
And cut thy vision, Verulam, in stone.
Oh, lamps too long unlit, now bravely burning--
One true philosophy that lives and grows;
Oh, happy hand of reverential learning,
That brushes snails from Faith's unfolding rose!
Nor shall want strain of verse superbly wrought,
For aye sweet Poesy renews her youth,
Hangs songs like hawthorn from the sharpest thought,
And daisies o'er the ploughshare track of Truth.
And aye let Science disenchant at will,
And set her features free from passion's trace
A new enchantment waits upon her still,
New lights of passion fall upon her face.
And aye as Poesy is said to die,
Her resurrection comes. She doth create
New heaven, new earth, an ampler sea and sky,
A fairer Nature, and a nobler fate;
For stealth of Science, poverty of Fact,
Indemnifies herself in gold of song,
And claims her heritage in that blue tract
Of land which lies beyond the reach of wrong.
And being divine, believeth the Divine,
ANd beaing beautiful, creates the fair,
And always sees a further mountain line,
And stands delighted on a starrier stair.
Last, as the evening light wax'd richly dim,
Melodious voice of yearning unsufficed,
Uprose Magnificat, and holy hymn,
And wisdom's strong heart fell asleep in Christ.
Years--forty years--have pass'd away since then,
And boys who bent to manhood's earliest strife
Are in the silent land, or see as men
Few diamond spray-drops on the mill-wheel life.
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 angels 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 Calvarry 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.
Ah! up the chapel-aisles, in rows more thin,
The priests pass eastward, and the scholars come,
And half-sad faces wear Arouet's grin,
And half the old Magnificats are dumb.
Hush'd be such strains of bitterness or hate;
A hidden faith doth Oxford strongly keep.
If less of blue the wave irradiate,
A purer salt lies many a fathom deep.
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 four-fold 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 father's faith shall speed,
And the old utterance be sent abroad,
And eastward chanted rise the changeless creed--
O Light from Light, O very God from God!
But for the New Atlantis--for the Church
Where faith and knowledge heart-united dwell--
I think it lies far-off beyond our search,
Enfolded by the Hills Delectable.