by James McAuley
An infant laughs beneath the cosmic tree,
Joyful to see it put forth leaf and flower
Under angelic husbandry.
He names the creatures in his father's bower,
Filled with the magic savour of the words.
Not time, it seems, nor wild beasts, can devour
The innocent delight that girds
His tender flesh. The leopard
Gambols, and the harmless bear
Licks honey from its paw; the drowsing shepherd
Lets his flock drift like clouds. Yet even here
Things turn and show an underside of fear;
Night-terrors come; the Eden colours fade;
The joy that seemed a supernatural power
Weakens and grows discouraged and afraid.
While time seems motionless the child must learn
The outer life of exile on the plain,
Where creaking carts, lurching beneath the grain,
Deepen the winding ruts as the slow wheels turn;
And chatter rises round the grinding quern;
And bees within their murmuring temples hive
Merit by which the race of Cain may thrive;
While Abel guards the herd in contemplation,
Or fends the yearling from the lion's claw.
Whether in dream or act, his heart acquires
An obscured guilt; he feels love's shattered law
Piercing his breast, and all creation
Grown tuneless and distraught, like his desires
Which drive him, marked with an inward flaw,
To wander in the earth without vocation.
Sad childhood world, long vanished in the flood!
Now in the sexual night the waters rave,
Drowned earth is mingled with a sky of mud,
And cresting the abyssal wave
Leviathan uprears a hundred heads
To bellow over the destructive tide.
Waters of judgment! Yet they might have been
Living waters, sanctified.
Pity the castaways of that vast storm,
Who, passing through the deathly element,
Survive unliving and are not reborn:
For them the frightful dreams do not relent;
They have no kin, and pass their days unknown,
And in the hour of their delight receive
A stranger to their bed, and wake alone.
Fled from his own disaster, he consults
The learned magi casting horoscopes
For the New Babylon. Plan by plan
They raise the scaffold of terrestrial hopes:
"For thus," they say, "when exiled man
Disowns Jerusalem which we destroy,
And learns to live, as the enlightened should,
The desecrated life, he will enjoy
The sweet fruition of all earthly good."
Yet, ill at ease, his steps are led apart
Where the despised and hated remnant clings
To the old way with undivided will:
Out of the bowed darkness a voice sings,
"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem …"
He listens; and his heart stands still.
Faintly at first then clearer each day brings
Like an Annunciation a deep sense
Of natural order in the way of things,
In star and seed and in the works of love,
Whose violation brings sure recompense.
This meaning old mysterious symbols bear:
The Ark, the Rainbow, the Returning Dove,
Requiting piety, rewarding care;
And secret patterns printed in our being,
The Wheel, the Pillar, and the abstract Rose,
Denying which we lose the power of seeing.
And soon with a submissive joy he knows
The benediction that an infant's birth
Can bring to those
Who share the old fidelities of earth.
Then in his sight the living Temple stands,
The sacred mother of terrestrial things;
Her head is crowned with stars, her feet are shod
With peace, and in her hands
She bears the Child, the Mystery of God,
Declared to angels and adored by kings.
Tributes of gold and frankincense and myrrh
Lie gleaming at her feet: her hands confer
Far other wealth than these; for in her courts
Music reflects angelic hierarchies,
And crafts that Wisdom has perfected shine;
There Holy Poverty with Joy resorts,
And Love that is most human grows divine.
Caught in her splendour other glories fade,
And earthly kingdoms turn to dust and shade.
The figure on Eternity's gold ground,
Behold Christ reigning on the cosmic tree,
His blood its sap, his breath its respiration,
In him are all things in perfection found.
He is the bond and stay of his creation,
Unmeasured measure of immensity;
The nails that pierce his hands and feet make fast
The axis of the world, his outstretched arms
Give falling nature its stability.
Now is the three hours' darkness of the soul,
The time of earthquake; now at last
The Word speaks, and the epileptic will
Convulsing vomits forth its demons. Then
Full-clothed, in his right mind, the man sits still,
Conversing with aeons in the speech of men.
You gentle souls who sit contemplative
In the walled garden where the fountain flows,
And faint with longing have desire to live
But the brief flowering of the single rose,
Knowing that all you give
Into the keeping of your tender Lord
Shall be enriched and thousandfold restored:
Before the herons return
Abide the sharp frosts and the time of pruning;
For he shall come at last for whom you yearn
And deep and silent shall be your communing;
And if his summer heat of love should burn
Its victim with a sacrificial fire,
Rejoice: who knows what wanderer may turn,
Responsive to that fragrant hidden pyre!
Last updated January 14, 2019