The Baptistry

by Ada Cambridge

Ada Cambridge

One winter eve, at twilight, when the sound
Of sorrowful winds scarce troubled Nature's rest,
As she lay sleeping, with her hair unbound,
Holding her grey robe to her shivering breast,
I enter'd through a low-arch'd oaken door,
Circled with curious sculpture; and I crept
With slow, hush'd footsteps, o'er the shadow'd floor,
Where organ notes in sudden silence slept;
Far down the aisle, where darkness seem'd to brood
With such wide-spreading wings, and where the sigh
Of murmur'd prayer scarce came,-until I stood
In the deep stillness of the Baptistry.
There, in the dim side-chapel, no bright glow
From jewelled windows on the wall was shed;
No sunbeams rested on the font below,
Or kiss'd those mighty arches overhead.
Soft lines and curves went upward, and were lost
In solemn shadow and in dreamy space;
Only the level floor was faintly crost
With glimmering brightness from the holy place.
And, as I listen'd, I heard music sweet
Trembling and swelling through the soundless air,
Threading dark aisles, as if an angel's feet
Were bidden bring God's message to me there.
Ah! and the echo of those anthem notes
Wanders and whispers in my heart for aye:
In all my life the mystic language floats,
Fitful and faint, as in my ears that day.
One whom we knew had enter'd into rest-
Calm on the pillow lay his hoary head;
And through that music spoke, in accents blest,
Our holy Mother's voice, hallowing the dead,
Telling of perfect peace, of labours done,
Of long years' sorrow turned to joy at last-
The quiet sleep, when battles all are won-
The hush of evening when the day is past.
I look'd upon the font, and mused of all
Its wondrous meaning, till my thoughts grew dim
And vast and shadowy as those columns tall;-
Morning of life for me-death's night for him!
How fancy tried to span that awful space
Between the two-between the here and there!
To bridge the nave-up to that blessed Place
Where light and song stream'd on the chancel-stair!
Dim recollections drifted through my brain-
Echoing footfalls of past childish years,
When the baptismal robe had less of stain,
E'en though unwash'd by penitential tears.
I saw the gloomy shadows o'er my head,
And sigh'd to think how I had suffer'd loss;
I saw the soft light, and was comforted,-
I knew it shone straight from the chancel-cross.
A few more steps, and then I stood below
The towering minster coronet again;
Down on my face that pure and gentle glow
Fell, like a pitying kiss in time of pain.
Down to my feet it stream'd; a passage dim,
With hosts of phantom-shapes on either side,
It drifted through;-as songs of seraphim
Drift through our mourning hearts at Easter-tide.
Looking up then, I seem'd to see my life,-
A long, dim vista, where the rays descend-
Where light and darkness wage continual strife;
But only light-the full light-at the end.

Last updated January 14, 2019