Descent into Hades - Part 2

by Hervey Allen

Hervey Allen

He on His Father's breast awoke
In paradise, about the hour
Of the third watch about the tomb,
When Caius shivered in his cloak,
And half the other souls on earth
Were waiting death in sleep, swift as
An angel flitting star by star
Christ came across the interspace
Between us and the world without,
And through the roots of mountains passed,
And stood near Jesus in the tomb.
Over the long swathed form that Glory
Leaned, floating in the middle air
Unseen, yet powerful with life.
Then like a plunging star it fell.
Burst forth intolerable light
Like levin burning stones, and
Glowed with furnace-white the tomb
Through liquid fissures of the rocks,
As if the day were in its womb.
What had gone forth came back again,
And Jesus Christ arose. The stone
Pressed outward by the light fell down.
The sentry screamed, and groveling there,
Beheld forever, till he died,
An angel bathing in the sun.
Blinded, that soldier died of light,
That rolled beyond the world; light
He could see when blind. This tale
Much int'rested blind Caiaphas —
Troubled his priestly soul next day
When he examined Caius and
His men still dazzled by the light.
What happened? No one surely knew.
And yet the high priest felt they did
Not lie. He sat and mused awhile.
" You will be laughed at if you talk, "
He said, and stroked his beard and smiled
In his blind way, in his blind way.

But in his body incorruptible
The Son of Man down caverns walked
Through arched vistas in the earth,
Huge as the nest of oceans dried
By ancient fires long purged away,
Ribbed, vaulted, buttressed miles-high,
And domed with darkness that uprose
On columns of pure darkness, darker yet,
The murky cloisters of old Night
Where he has fled from stars
And stays unseen, where Silence sits
Thinking her wordless thoughts, where
No dawns are, no beat of wings,
No winds, nor anything but Night
Waiting until the dayspring dies,
In midmost antres of this star.
Here hide the souls who are afraid
Of God and of themselves, not He
But they have flung them there.
Down from the tombs they droop, afraid
Of life, and hope, and memory, of
Themselves, of one another, and
Of God. They come to hide away,
Negations with duration. Here
They stay in windowless cathedrals
Without prayer, forgotten and forgot,
Forgetting not. Mem'ry the Lion
Waits silently for each, and each
For him, and no one ever moves.
So in the depths of space are old,
Blind stars that check themselves across
Titanic voids of utter night,
Each others' perfect counterpoise —
Something must move them from without,
Or else ... Now came His light to souls
Where evil balanced evil that
It wrought, creating nothing, death.
Dead lay the dead when kindly dawned
This Sun of Life upon their plight,
And drew them with him as he moved
Across their dark. Robed in the bright
And sheerest essences of light,
He walked in flame immaculate,
Intolerant of any hue
Less perfect than clear glory is.
Save that the wounds upon his hands
And feet shone duller white,
And seemed to throw enormous shade
Of lesser sheen in darkness, when
He raised His arms to bless, and smote
A cross of living light along
The pit. Near him, and like a moon
Less bright with a reflected glow,
Yet glorious, there moved the cup
As though envaned on silver wings.
Thus down enormous gulfs they glide
Moving as one by unseen influence,
Miraculous as sun and earth,
While all before them and behind arose
A cry like winds in deserts, voices
Lone and far in darkness as the tones
Of one who drowns and hears beneath
The waves his own last cry, far off,
Beyond the ears of men and hope,
Shouting to God to save him.
And the light beat down upon a sea
Of faces long forgotten, dreams beyond
The memory of their dreamer — upon hands
That whitened like the crests of waves
Upon a midnight ocean and
Dissolved into the dark again.
Such were they, and so had they been
Remembered only by themselves
And that which made them what they were,
But now recalled them from the dark —
For even Judas now could see
The light — and followed, though far off.
Up from the scoriac floor he rose
Where from the tree his soul had been
Flung down as from a catapult
Amid deep ashes. Already
Eternity had passed for him,
Tho' only twice the day had dawned
Without — and now again the light!
So he arose from where he hid
Himself from it, with bitten lips
That now might ask forgiveness for
The kiss that hurled him into night.

Huge as the span from which the moon
Was torn like Eve from Adam's side,
Within the Earth there is a hall
Where all the souls who lost themselves
Since man began, rushed in
Like rivers to the sea. And there
Through pointed arches high in dark,
And roofed from stars by vaults
And lanterns grim carved out by fire
To make a cloister-house for space
And church for night — now down that nave
And great cathedral windowless
Beat the long golden rays
And laved about the bulge of columns
Large, and the pillars of the world
That bear up mountains and the seas.
No sound was uttered in that pit,
Lest it should seem too small to live;
The air was dry and still, but on a mount
Terraced by unremembered fires,
And altar-like, the Christ now stood
With outstretched wounded hands to bless,
A living cross of light, the hope
Of hopeless souls lapped in by Earth,
Their priest, their candle, and their god.
Above Him shone the holy cup,
Hung like an altar lamp that gleams
Above the golden radiance of the mass
Only reflecting glory, small,
Yet capable in darkness, made
To light the church when all are gone,
Save some lost one who waits to pray
And takes the light home in his heart.
Towards this the hope of those lost souls
Now turned, and raising up his hands
Toward heaven, and his face with bright
Appeal, offered the cup on high.

Smote down upon it suddenly
A flowing stream of light that sprang
To meet the radiance from uplifted
Hands, both lights were one, and in
This mist of steadfast lightning hung
The cup itself, deep ruby, seething
Rose, fire-bloody, beating like a star —
Or like the heart of him who gave
Its color from his wounds. Split
The thick Earth its eastern rind,
And through this window of traced rocks
The dawn was seen beyond the night
Flushing the glass of space with rose,
And the great rose that lights the sky
Looked in upon them suddenly,
The servant-eye of God, and drew
Those souls toward Him, till it seemed
That deep, round window seethed with forms,
Transfigured, blending into light.
Thus hell escaped itself at last
By might of His twin glory who
Had cleft His way through death, and
Now, once more, He drew near to the
Tomb and sat in morning light
That flickered long and needle-like
To glints and glows of hope,
That grew and flushed the new-cut granite —
Whitened, blazed — yet still a foil
For His transcendent countenance
Which shone from brighter fire within,
As if a lamp from paradise
Were set before the face of day
To show a light more bright than man
Can look upon with usual eyes,
Unless he see that face at last;
Unless he find the very Grail.

Both have been found and kept for us;
Both found, and lost, and found again.
Did not the woman find Him there
That glittering morning by the tomb,
A simple gardener on a stone? —
Until His eyes looked full on them
Whose happiness is wisdom, too;
And His firm lips brought joy again
In every tone replete with hope —
" Mary, " he said. And Him she knew.

And in that selfsame hour the Cup of Life
Came to the humble Arimathea's house.
While in the morning hour he more than slept,
Tired with his mortal grief, the cherubim
Who long had faced each other by the Ark,
Guarding the ancient law with triple wings,
Brooding above the glory dwelling there —
They left the temple, and they rent the veil,
Now that the law lived in the flesh at last,
And with them went the light from Zion's house
Forever; went to dwell about the Cup,
That star that burned in Hades for the damned.
It now they seized upon with bidden hands
To bring it back to men again, and now
On wings that do not lean on earthly air,
Past Calvary, to Joseph's house they glide
And like a smoke in moonlight fill the room
With long extended horizontal plumes,
And draperies insensuous flowing up
From nothing, like a flame without a wick,
Tinted like hanging clouds near an eclipse.
They lingered there as if within the mind
Of Arimathea an effulgent dream
Was flowing on and outward into space,
Fed from a fountain that could fill the world,
Which he, its humble conduit, felt, and saw: —
First red dawn on the dark walls of his mind,
Then rose upon the white walls of his room —
Both to his inner and his outer eye,
At once a vision and reality,
The cup, held by the cherubs in a mist,
Bright as the sun's rim from its elements.
All dripping like the beard of a new star
That catches in the mist about the moon
In a conjunction mystic, thus it hung.
Then those cherubic heralds with voices sweet
As those which talk in spring near waterfalls,
Spoke in a strange, unearthly, liquid tongue,
A tongue familiar tho' remembered not,
How he who took the Body to his tomb,
Now in his home should keep the living host;
They laid the trust upon him with its joy.
But now the cherubim depart; grow dim,
Laying long fingers on the carven smile,
Across the arcs of their bright lips,
Sweet molds of accents for all-perfect praise,
That when it sounds not, still the mold remains
Like the arch memory of the dolphin's leap
The soul remembers when the creature's gone.

Last updated September 05, 2017