Charles Harpur

The Cloud

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One summer morn, out of the sea-waves wild,
A speck-like Cloud, the season’s fated child,
Came softly floating up the boundless sky,
And o’er the sun-parched hills all brown and dry.
Onward she glided through the azure air,
Borne by its motion without toil or care,
When looking down in her ethereal joy,
She marked earth’s moilers at their hard employ;

“And oh!” she said, “that by some act of grace
’Twere mine to succour yon fierce-toiling race,
To give the hungry meat, the thirsty drink—
The thought of good is very sweet to think.”

The day advanced, and the cloud greater grew,
And greater; likewise her desire to do
Some charity to men had more and more,
As the long sultry summer day on wore,
Greatened and warmed within her fleecy breast,
Like a dove fledging in its downy nest.

The heat waxed fiercer, until all the land
Clared in the sun as ’twere a monstrous brand
And the shrunk rivers, few and far between,
Like molten metal lightened in the scene.
Ill could Earth’s sons endure their toilsome state,
Though still they laboured, for their need was great,
And many a long beseeching look they sped
Towards that fair cloud, with many a sigh that said:
“We famish for thy bounty! For our sake
O break thou! in a showery blessing, break!”

“I feel, and fain would help you, ” said the cloud,
And towards the earth her bounteous being bowed;
But then remem’bring a tradition she
Had in her youth learned from her native sea,
That when a cloud adventures from the skies
Too near the altar of the hills, it dies!
Awhile she wavered and was blown about
Hither and thither by the winds of doubt;
But in the midst of heaven at length all still
She stood; then suddenly, with a keen thrill
Of light, she said within herself, “I will!
Yea, in the glad strength of devotion, I Will help
you, though in helping you I die.”

Filled with this thought’s divinity, the cloud
Grew worldlike vast, as earthward more she bowed!
Oh, never erewhile had she dreamed her state
So great might be, beneficently great!
O’er the parched fields in her angelic love
She spread her wide wings like a brooding dove
Till as her purpose deepened, drawing near,
Divinely awful did her front appear,
And men and beasts all trembled at the view,
And the woods bowed, though well all creatures knew
That near in her, to every kind the same,
A great predestined benefactress came.

And then wide-flashed throughout her full-grown form
The glory of her will! the pain and storm
Of life’s dire dread of death, whose mortal threat
From Christ himself drew agonizing sweat,
Flashed seething out of rents amid her heaps
Of lowering gloom, and thence with arrowy leaps
Hissed jagging downward, till a sheety glare
Illumined all the illimitable air;
The thunder followed, a tremendous sound,
Loud doubling and reverberating round;
Strong was her will, but stronger yet the power
Of love, that now dissolved her in a shower,
Dropping in blessings to enrich the earth
With health and plenty at one blooming birth.

Far as the rain extended o’er the land,
A splendid bow the freshened landscape spanned
Like a celestial arc, hung in the air
By angel artists, to illumine there
The parting triumph of that spirit fair.
The rainbow vanished, but the blessing craved
Rested upon the land the cloud had saved.

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Charles Harpur