James Madison Bell

The Youthful Villager and the Hermit

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Once on a clear autumnal day,
With weary heart and spirit bowed,
I sought a silent scene away
From all the turmoil of the crowd.

And where a rent primeval rock
Reared high its head o'er spire and dome,
Which seemed majestic and to mock
The structure of my plebeian home.

I bent in gaze my straining eye,
And yielding to a transient freak,
Resolved within my soul to try
And scale the towering cloud-capped peak.

What tiresome moments, more or less,
I toiled in gaining half its height,
When lo! a shadowy, deep recess
Allured and filled me with delight.

And turning from my onward march
I found it easy of access,
And passing 'neath a rural arch,
I gained a scene of loveliness.

It might have been a warrior's home,
The home of chiefs who dealt in scars,
Its walls were antique and its dome
Was flaming with a thousand stars.

I scanned its countless beauties o'er,
And turning from a scene too grand,
I passed again its arching door
And gazed upon my own loved land.

I saw beneath, amid the throng,
The poor man subject to the proud;
And while I thought of right and wrong,
I, all forgetting, thought aloud.

Till then, alas; I little knew
Of man's inhuman acts to man,
But from that panoramic view
I, half complaining, thus began:

"If there were less of selfishness,
If friends were less untrue;
How much of all earth's wretchedness
Would vanish from our view.

The rich man then would cease to grind
The fate of him that's poor;
And soon the wretch, and wandering hind
Would vanish from our door.

And if the stream of kindness ran
More freely through the heart,
Then, erring man would feel for man
And act a brother's part;

The golden rule he would obey,
And seek the poor man's cot;
And with his kindly aid assay
To change his hapless lot.

For there's enough for every one;
Enough, and some to spare.
Enough of comforts 'neath the sun
For all that breathe to share.

Were only half that's vainly spent
To make an empty show,
Amid the haunts of sorrow sent,
'Twould heal a world of woe.

And oh! how fragrant would become
Each balmy breath of morn,
If every hovel was a home,
And there were none forlorn.

As fair as Eden's blooming grove,
Would this sad world appear;
If man to man would only prove,
In all his acts, sincere.

But man! oh, selfish, sordid man!
How like a fiend at heart,
Deep skilled in every wily plan,
He plays a demon's part.

See him exulting in his might
Of pageantry and pride,
Passing unmoved amid the blight
Of hunger unsupplied.

The orphan's cry for charity;
The widow's lonely moan,
Awakes no chord of sympathy
Within his heart of stone.

Although his basket and his store
Have plenty in supply,
He doth unto the aged poor
A crust of bread deny.

O Thou! the source of every cause
In air, and earth, and sea!
Whose ceaseless and unerring laws
Move all in harmony;

Why do thy gifts to man on earth
Unequal still appear?
Why go some toiling from their birth,
E'en to their graves in fear?

While others, decked in fine array,
Drink deep at pleasure's court,
And pass this life as but a day,
In idle glee and sport!

Why do the thousands starve and thirst,
And others die of cold?
And last of all, and still the worst,
Why are the millions sold?

Perchance there lies some latent good
Beyond my feeble ken,
By angels seen and understood,
But not perceived by men.

Yet why should not the culprit know
Wherefore he stands arraigned?
Why should the expiating blow
Fall on him unexplained?

Fain would we hope in Adam's fall
To have seen the problem solved;
But find alas! his guilt for all
In life's great cup dissolved.

For of one blood all men were made,
To dwell in all the earth;
And Adam's sin was shared and laid
At each man's door at birth.

Condemned to toil were all the race;
But is it thus with all?
The gilded idler struts apace
Mid rank and pomp and ball.

Then, oh! from whence hath man the power,
The absolute control,
To play the mock-god for an hour
O'er human heart and soul?"

The sun had rolled his golden car
Adown behind the western hill;
And I, amid the rocks afar,
Stood wrapped in meditation still.

While o'er the landscape far and near
A greyish, sombre veil had spread,
Suggesting to the soul the drear
And awful silence of the dead.

Fair Cynthia with her smiling face,
And all her diamond-spangled train,
Were pouring from the fields of space
Their silver beams o'er hill and plain.

Just as I turned to leave the scene
And seek again my humble cot,
I spied a man with hoary mien,
The hermit of some lonely grot.

"Be not in haste," said he, "young man;
Thy task is incomplete.
In quest of truth thou oughtest scan
Beneath the surface sheet.

And that thine age may ne'er undo
The labors of thy youth,
Learn this, no superficial view
Hath e'er revealed a truth.

There is a source for every stream,
A cause for every woe,
But veiled in mist they often seem
To mortals here below.

Canst thou behold yon silvery moon
And all the stars above,
And still the omniscient God impugn
With motives less than love?

Those stars are worlds, for aught we know,
And peopled like our own;
And move and live within the glow
And presence of God's throne.

For earth is but a speck of sand
Compared to all the spheres
That ushered from Jehovah's hand
When time began his years.

And canst thou think! Ah, think again!
Canst thou believe that he
The God of all yon starry train,
Would work thy misery?

But thou wouldst know why wrongs abound,
And whence man hath the power
To crush his fellow to the ground,
And like a beast, devour.

Thou mayst find in Adam's fall
A key for every 'why,'
Of blood and want and woe, with all
The wrongs beneath the sky.

For man, the last and crowning sheaf,
The sixth day's work of Heaven,
Was made by God, and crowned a chief,
And wide dominion given.

Made like his God, God of his will,
With reason for his guide,
And power to choose the good or ill,
Or either cast aside.

Thus crowned was he when first he trod
Fair Eden's vale and wood,
And wore the image of his God,
And God pronounced him good.

Good was the earth and all its bowers,
Good every cool retreat;
And all the birds and beasts and flowers
With goodness were replete."

The elements were all at rest,
And tranquil as the rill,
No storm disturbed old Ocean's breast,
His waves lay hushed and still,

No rattling thunder rolled on high,
No forked lightning flew,
No blackening clouds obscured the sky,
Nor angry storm winds blew;

But when the impious hand of man
Plucked, the forbidden tree,
Rebellion, through creation ran,
Like electricity.

Old ocean's waves began to roll,
And beasts on beasts, began to prey;
Until, from pole to pole,
Spread discord and dismay,

Sweet peace and love, on that dread morn
Gave place to sad unrest,
And hate, became with pride and scorn,
The tennants of the breast.

Since then till now, mankind like elves
Have spurned all Heaven's decrees,
And preying on their sordid selves;
Wrought all earth's miseries.

Good and only good young friend,
Has God, thy Maker, given,
But man, because he could offend
And change to Hell, a Heaven --

Has seared his heart 'gainst every wail,
And wreathed his brow with scorn,
Till pity's prayer hath no avail,
And thousands die forlorn.

He bowed his head, he spake no more,
And ere I'd thanked him for his care,
He darted 'neath his arching door,
And left me lone, and lonely there.

Then cautiously, I clambered down,
Assisted by fair Luna's light,
And when I gained my cot, and town,
Lo, 'twas the silent noon of night.

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James Madison Bell