Charles Harpur

Monodies

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I.
I stand in thought beside my father’s grave:
The grave of one who, in his old age, died
Too late perhaps, since he endured so much
Of corporal anguish, sweating bloody sweat;
But not an hour too soon—no, not an hour!
Even if through all his many years, he ne’er
Had known another ailment than decay,
Or felt one bodily pang. For his bruised heart
And wounded goodwill, wounded through its once
Samsonian vigour and too credulous trust
In that great Delilah, the harlot world,
Had done with fortune;—nay, his very tastes,
Even the lowliest, had by blast on blast
Of sorrow and mischance, been blown like leaves
Deciduous, when the year is withering out,
From every living hold on what we here
Call nature; he but followed in their wake.
Nor was there in the lives of those he loved,
Even had he been susceptible of cheer,
Enough of fortune to warm into peace
A little longer ere he passed away
The remnant of his chilled humanity.
Wet are mine eyes, and my heart aches, to think
How much of evil ridged his course of time
And earthly pilgrimage. Alas! Enough
(However bravely struggled with throughout,
Or passively accepted) to have slain
In almost any other human heart,
All comforting reliance on the sure
Though still reserved supremecy of good!
For few are they, who, on this stormy ball,
Can live a long life full of loss and pain,
And yet through doubts, dull clouds, uplooking, see
In that wide dome which roofs the apparent whole
Without or seam or flaw, a visible type
Of heaven’s intact infinitude of love.
Yet died he a believer in the truth
And fatherhood of the Holy One—a God
Help-mighty, nor unmindful of mankind;
Yea, in the heavenward reaching light of faith
His soul went forth, as in a sunbeam’s track
Some close-caged bird, from a long bondage freed,
Goes winging up—up through the open sky,
Rejoicing in the widening glow that paths
The final victory of its native wings!
And whether all was triumph as it went
Piercing eternity, or whether clouds
Of penal terror gathered in the way,
Not less must death the great inductor be
To much that far transcends time’s highest lore,
Must be at worst a grimly grateful thing,
If only through deliverance from doubt,
The clinging curse of mortals. In the flesh
What own we but the present, with its scant
Assurance of a secular permanence
Even in the fact of being? While all that lies
Beyond it, lies or in the casual drifts
Of embryon needs that, lurking dark, project
To-morrow’s world,—or worse, at the wild will
Of a demoniac fortune! But the dead
Have this immunity at least—a lot
Final and fixed, as evermore within
The gates of the Eternal! For the past
Is wholly God s, and therefore, like himself,
Knows no reverse, no change,—but lies for eye
Stretched in the sabbath of its vast repose.


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II.
My dear, dear Charley! Can it be that thou
Art gone from us for ever! Whilst I sit
Amid these forest shadows that now fall
In sombre masses mixed with sunny gleams
Upon thy early grave, and think of all
The household love that was our mutual lot
So late, and during all thy little life—
Thy thirteen years of sonhood,—it is hard
(So dreamlike wild it seems) to realize
The shuddering certainty, that thou art now
In the eternal world, and reft away
In one dread moment from thy father’s heart!
Thy young intelligence from his lonely side
So reft for ever, leaving him, alas!
Thus sitting here forlorn—here by thy grave
New-made and bare, as upon life’s bleak brink,
To stare out deathward through his blinding tears.
And they, thy brothers and thy sisters, Charley,
They miss their vanished playmate so beloved,
And so endeared by years of happy help,
And many a pleasant old-faced memory!
I see them often when thy name is breathed
Look away askingly out into space,
As if they thought thy spirit might be there,
Still yearning towards them with a saddened love
Like that in their own hearts. And an! To him
Who at thy side, when death came swift upon thee,
Sent out through the wild forest such a shriek
As never until then might break the peace
That nestles in its lairs—ah! When to him
Shall the drear haggard memory of that day
Be other than a horror—such as, clothed
In terrible mystery, for ever keeps
Stalking beside us in some ghastly dream.
But most I pity her who bore thee, Charley,
Whose mother-bosom was at once the next
And fountain of thy infant life, and who,
Through all thy after years, was ever wont
To shield thee with her love, and doat the while
(Though with some fear) upon those spirited ways
And nascent self-reliance, that seemed
The promise of a manhood strong and brave;
Loving thee more perhaps than ever I—
If that be possible; and to whom ’tis plain
All things are changed now through the loss of thee!
All home consuetudes, and household wonts,
And motherly providences, which before
Did fill the passing hour so pleasantly,
Changed now and irksome, as if life itself
With all its motives suddenly had grown
Delusive as a dream. Then will she come,
And gaze out hitherward, and up to heaven,
With eyes so asking that they seem to say,
Where is my darling, and why was he torn
Away so rudely from a love like mine?
In vain! In vain! Art thou so vacant then,
O thou wide heaven! That no pitying star
May seem to breathe down through the forest trees,
With mystical assurance that the past
Is living and not dead? That no refrain
Of lingering spirit-sympathy may for once
Intone the melancholy wind, as thus
Its waves surge overhead, with what might seem
Some imtimation from beyond the grave
That love can never cease?

We ask in vain!
Voiceless is that dread gulf twixt life and death!
And is it wholly well it should be so?
That even love (though in the morning glow
Of human faith once visioned to have moved
The inexorable profound of hell itself)
May stare tear-blinded from its hither shore
And shriek to it in vain? That from beyond
No quieting whisper may across it breathe
Of peace from the immortals? Not a glimpse
Of that Elysian beauty which enrobes,
As with the garment of the Deity,
Its heavenward coast, e’er reach us? While we here
Sit groaning—full of wild misgivings—full
Of mournful memories and embittered wonts,
And so engloomed, so overcast by dark
Disquieting doubts, that we are often fain
To leap from them at once, though out of life,
Madly desirous to have done with time?

Ah! Whither has emotion, wild with loss,
Carried me doubtward? Broken as I am,
Let me strive rather to believe that God
Has ordered nothing otherwise than well;
And thereby strengthened, let me teach my heart
That he who now in this bleak world to us
Is lost for ever—the bright boy we loved—
The Charley of our memory, whose death
Came down amongst us in a guise so fierce,
Was taken yet in mercy, and is now
At home with Him.



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III.
Since thou art dead—since thou art dead,
Though to look up is still to see
The blue heaven bending o’er my head
So big with good, showered bounteously;
Though scenes of love he round me spread,
And o’er the hills, as once with thee,
My brother, still with venturous tread
I wander where broad rivers fret
And lighten onward to the sea,
As erst unchanged, unchanging; yet
How different is the world to me.
The light, a with a living robe,
Doth clothe all nature as of yore;
The sun with his great golden globe
Doth crown yon hill when night is o’er;
The moon and stars o’erwatch the earth
As I have seen them from my birth;
But O! Thou light, and sun, and moon,
And O! Ye stars so bright and boon,
Though I as fervently may feel
All the great glories you reveal
As ever I have felt before—
Your genial warmth, your mystic sheen—
Yet all to me that you have been
You never can be more.

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Charles Harpur