by Alfred Austin
I stand within the Abbey walls,
Where soft the slanting sunlight falls
In gleams of mellow grace:
The organ swells, the anthem soars,
And waves of prayerful music pours
Throughout the solemn space.
Slowly the chanted yearning dies:
Then spoken supplications rise,
Upfloating to the sky;
The organ peals anew, again
Is silent, and there linger then
Only my soul and I.
But what are these mute busts that gaze
On me from out the vanished days,
And bid me pause and scan
Tablet, inscription, title, date,
All that records the vain estate
Of transitory man?
Read I aright? And can it be,
Old Abbey, that dead bards in thee
A resting-place have found?
Is not this consecrated air?
This is the house, the home, of prayer,
This, this is sacred ground.
And who were they? Their fretful life
With heavenly precept was at strife;
No pious peace they knew:
Like thunderstorms, against the wind
They pressed, and from their lurid mind
Alarming lightnings flew.
Creeds were to them but chains to break;
No formulas their thirst could slake,
No faith their hunger feed;
Their prayers were breathed to unscaled crags,
They worshipped where the eagle flags,
And the snow-streams flash and speed.
Their temple was the earth, the air,
The stars that in night's silence share;
Unto the plunging brine
Listening, they heard a sacred hymn,
And deep within the woodlands dim
Found transept, aisle, and shrine.
All shapes of sensuous beauty stole
A pathway to the poet's soul;
An unresisting slave
To smiles that win, to tears that melt,
Whatever hearts can feel, he felt,
Whatever ask for, gave.
His heart to love as quick he lent,
As flower to wandering wind its scent,
Or lark to sun its song;
He spent himself in gusts of joy,
Chased the fair phantoms that decoy
And youth's brief reign prolong.
Yet it was wise as well as just
Not upon his rebellious dust
The Abbey gates to close,
But bid him hither wend, and find,
What life refused his eager mind,
Glory and yet repose.
For should there come that threatened day,
When creeds shall fade, when faith decay,
And worship shall have ceased,
Then, when all formal guides shall fail,
Mankind will in the Poet hail
A prophet and a priest.
He will instruct us still to strain
Towards something to redress our pain,
To elevate our joy;
Something responding to that sense
Of restlessness that calls us hence,
And makes existence cloy.
What though commandment, dogma, rite,
One after one, shall perish quite,
The Poet still will keep
The Sanctuary's lamp alight,
And, in the body's deepest night,
Forbid the soul to sleep.
Then, apprehended right, his lays
Shall seem a hymn of prayer and praise
To purify from stain;
Shall bridge with love the severed years,
Instil the sacredness of tears,
The piety of pain.
Devotion at his touch shall wake,
The fountains of emotion quake
With tenderness divine;
His melody our cravings lift
Upward, and have the saving gift
Of sacramental wine.
Let him then rest where now he lies,
So that if narrower ritual dies,
Devout feet still may come,
Confessing, what his strains impart,
The deep religion of the heart,
That never will be dumb.
Last updated January 14, 2019