Thomas Aird

The Churchyard: Night The Third

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What though no eager yearnings ever pass
With curdled tremblings through the Sea of Glass
Serene, where dwell the spirits of the just;
Yet oft their wishful ghosts revisit here their dust.
Blood-spotted shadows; scarce from darkness won,
The untimely babe that never saw the sun,
Buried at midnight, yearning with dumb strife
For the enlarged capacities of life;
The suicide with stake-impalèd breast,
That in his damnèd crossway cannot rest;
And things of guilt unknown, a thousand ghosts,
A thousand wandering creatures from the coasts
Of outer night, beyond the reach of grace,
With restless flittings fill this burial-place.
Ye sons of living men, first lay aside
Full bread and purple clothing, lust and pride;
And let the clear sense, that ye too must die,
Pierce the fat ear, and purge the filmy eye;
Then hither come, and see these Shapes, and hear,
Sifted from out the dust, their voice of truth severe:—

FIRST GHOST (rising from a grave)

Mercy! ah! give me mercy! Give me back
My hours of living days—give me but one!
One crystal minute, then! Oh how I'd fill it
With penitential groans, grappling with God,
Bowed by His covenants to hear and pardon!
'Tis past! And the sore pressure lies on me
Of alienation and expected Judgment.
Plaguing my spiritual vision, dooming me
Still more, the image of One crucified,
Ever before me, hanging in the gloom,
So looks at me, piercing me through and through
With His undying patience—O that look!
Come down, thou Meek-face; 'twas not I that did it!
You cannot say 'twas I! Go to the doers
Of the dread literal act; and let them cry
(As cry they must, when the last heat comes on)
For one drop of the water and the blood
From Thy side-wound, to lie one little moment
Upon their fire-curled, cinder-crusted tongues.—
But ha! from out the Judgment-waiting land,
Here comes a Child of Wrath beyond myself.
Hither, thou guiltier Ghost! Knowest thou me?
Thou lord and master of my youthful crimes,
Behold thy scholar! What! thou shivering thing,
Do thy pale skirts of spongy porous mist
Drink up the glimmerings of the lights of night,
Even like mine own? I should have thought thee kneaded
Of leprous crusts of sin, and blistered marle
Baked with the blood of souls, and scurfy dross
From the purged furnaces of Hell, made clear
To the last spirituality of heat
For master sinners. Look upon me, fiend,
Look on thy handiwork, fashioned by thee
Into a thing for Tophet! Was it good
To make me this? My curse go down with thee
Beyond the soundings of extravagant thought!

SECOND GHOST (advancing)

The old apology for native vice!
Weak thing! as if thy blindly breathing soul
Within thy mother's womb was not engrained
With all thy colours of eternal years!
Our place is wide enough, let's shun each other.
[The Second Ghost glimmers away.]


FIRST GHOST

He thinks to flee: vain thought! Down he must go!
I too must down! Pitfall, nor den forlorn,
Nor the lone crags of the high-hornèd mountains
Where eagles yelp, jungles, nor sandy lands
Of idle desolation, nor all places
Where the last modesties of nature dwell,
Can hide me from the Power that lets me forth
A little space, to aggravate my doom
By the contrasted sweetness of the earth,
Then draws me back again.—Here are the graves
Of our old house. Would I could gather up
My dust, and take it hence! How shall I bear
The looks of virtuous kindred on that Day,
When summoned I must rise and stand with them,
Even face to face, with all my guilt revealed?
But ha! a new-made grave? Is it my sister's?
Ah! yes, the length and place of it are hers.
My father's and my mother's, long ago
Sunk to the natural level of the earth,
Are hard, and green, and undistinguishable.
But where the spirits of the three? In Bliss,
Let me believe; for I've not known them in
My land of heavy patience. I'm alone
Of all my father's house shut out from Bliss.
Can they be happy when I'm thus shut out?
Oh for the Patriarch's Ladder to come down,
Resting its glory on my mother's dust,
That I might climb the battlements of light,
And be with them for ever!

Help me, my mother, plead for me with Christ!
Stretch down thy dear, dear arms, and take me up;
For I was fashioned in thy holy body;
My father, and my sister, plead for me,
Hang on His wounded side, and plead for me! The Phantom of his Mother passes by.
Salvation! 'Tis my mother! But she's gone!
Would she but come again, I'd burst my bounds,
And follow her unto the shining doors,
And catch her hand, and she would draw me in!
But ah! she did not speak to me, nor look
Back with regret: 'Twas not my mother, then;
But some false head which the Avenging Power
Built up of crystal air and sunny light,
To mock and plague me.
[The Phantom again passes by.]

She again? 'Tis she!
I'll follow—oh! oh! oh! Perdition has me!
'Tis but the grinning Fiend! See, how he leers
Back through the blasted night! I know thee, Demon,
Practical Liar in impersonations,
As in thy cozening terms and instigations;
Meanest of all created things! But power
Is given him o'er me, and I must go down.
[The First Ghost vanishes. The Second Ghost reappears.]

SECOND GHOST

There's no escape! Souls, not yet clothed upon
With semblance, stretching toward the light of life
On the vague shores of Possibility,
Sorrow shall bring you to the birth of blood,
If come you must! Would I had ne'er been born!

[The Second Ghost vanishes. A strange but short-lived Tempest fills the Churchyard. THIRD, FOURTH, FIFTH, AND SIXTH GHOSTS.]

THIRD GHOST

What Evil Thing so beats about the night,
With dragon wings of tumult and affright?

FOURTH GHOST

By yon trail of sulphurous blue,
Demons here have had to do.
In the livid issue, lo!
Pale and dreadful faces go.

FIFTH GHOST

Wo to the outcasts! Them, nor cunning strings
Melodious, nor soft-stopping pipes, nor all
The sylvan company of sweet-throated birds,
No, nor the very music of the spheres,
Could tune to peace!
A Seventh Ghost comes shuddering near.

SEVENTH GHOST

I am that outcast thing!
Ye Powers of Mercy, will ye not yet take
Penance from me on earth? Cut ye it out
From the vast quarries of prodigious sorrow,
Shaping it to my soul, and I will do it.
Be it but on the earth, I care not how
Or where I do it; whether groping through
The barren darkness of the Polar hills,
Or glaring shadowless where the inflamed
Dog of the Firmament, fire-fanged, breating fire,
Bays down with his unmitigated jaws
The panting nations: I will do it there!
Far have I wandered, beating round the bars
Of night, to burst into the boundless day,
Unnoticed; ah! it cannot be, the Power
Of Punishment's too strong and subtle for me,
Curbing me back with his invisible hand.
Wo! wo! my hour is come, and I must down!
[The Seventh Ghost melts away down into a grave.]

FIFTH GHOST
Look! look! oh look! They're gone! Saw ye them not?
Round yon flat table of memorial stone
They seemed to sit, a ghostly company
Of hopeless Ones (judging from their sad faces,
Solemnly sad), there with symbolic handling
Of shadowy elements, trying to renew
The Supper of the Lord, as if they might
Call back the day of mercy and of grace,
And still be Christ's. But full upon them came
A blast from the Evil One, to whom was given
Power o'er their lawless and uncertain rite,
A levelled blast, and whirled them clean away,
Like dry dead leaves, sweeping the naked table
Bare of commemoration. O ye sons
Of living men, lay hold of the blue day
Which yet is yours, hold fast the fleeting night
With struggling prayers—hold them, nor let them go
Till you have made your peace with the Almighty!

SIXTH GHOST

Yon solitary Shade, see how he stands
Aloof—I knew him in the days of earth—
Aloof, alone, and introverted all!
Back, and far back in Memory's inner rooms,
Hung round with haunted glooms, Life's Tragic Sorrows
Act themselves o'er anew, under the eye
Of dread, sole-sitting Conscience.—O that groan!
See how he starts, breaking off all at once
The unfinished trilogies of evolving Guilt,
Shuddering away, self-chased, down into night!

THIRD GHOST

Let us be humbly thankful, we are safe;
Rejoicing humbly, as the little bird
Flies low and coweringly, and with a half
Chirrup of gladness from the fowler's hand.

FOURTH GHOST

Praise to our Elder Brother! But for Him,
No earth had been to us, no life, no Heaven!

FIFTH GHOST

But for His covenanted blood, the Curse
Had killed man's blighted world. The orbs of ether
Spin on the axis of His love. The Bow,
Fashioned of air, and light, and the tears of rain,
Is but the glad reflection of His face,
Graciously pleased. The linnet in the leaves
Christ-chartered sits, while warblings well and bubble
Out from its white-ruffed throat; the dappled fawn
Leaps through the sunny glades, and through the thickets
Bursts, richly powdered with the coloured dust
Of sylvan pith exuberant, and smelling
Of honey-dews, balsams, and dropping gums.
Sleep comes from Him, and peace; the husbandman
Bearing his harvest sheaves, and the blithe shepherd
Piping upon his unmolested hill;
Honey, and wine, and oil; marriage and children;
And all the milky veins of love that run
Branching through nature—all that's fair and good.

SIXTH GHOST

And for the sake of Jesus, God's own Heavens
Are softly set upon a thousand hinges
Of mercy, ever flexible, ever bowing
Flexible downward to the contrite ones.

THIRD GHOST

Afflictions come from Him. The awful Finer
Sits by His furnace pot. The heart of man
Is in the pot—the foul, the stony heart.
Lurid from far, but ever coming nearer,
Fiercer and redder, with its threatened flame,
The heat of Hell burns on the furnace pot.
But all-pervading Love goes quicklier through it,
Melting it down dissolved: The dross is purged
Away, below; and in the liquid metal,
Perfect and pure through suffering, the Finer,
Looking therein, sees His own image clear
Reflected: And the holy workmanship
Of every feature, by His art divine,
He fixes there, never to be effaced.

FIFTH GHOST

Forth stalks the King of Terrors, on his head
The fretted crown of pain; his bony hands
Grasping his sheer cold scythe, down through the field
Of Time he goes, a mower lean and strong,
Mowing his swaths of life. But see, the Babe
Of Bethlehem strikes the crown from off his head,
And breaks his scythe, and casts him into Hell.

SIXTH GHOST

O for the Spirit's day, when Sin and Death
No more shall hurt the people of the Lord!

THIRD GHOST

Hasten Thy day of power, refining Spirit,
Making earth's dwellers like the Saints whose feet
Walk on the terrible crystal.

FOURTH GHOST

Judgment then
Comes unto the sons of men.

FIFTH GHOST

It should be noon; but where's the sun?
The air is stagnant, silent, dun.
Is it eclipse? Is earthquake near?
Nature listens dumb and drear.
That Trump of Doom!
It rends the gloom.
The eagle falls a ruffled heap,
His pinions drowned in endless sleep:
The affrighted horse, half rearing, sinks;
The dull ox, as he stoops and drinks:
The lion in the wilderness
Has crooked his knees to that stern stress.
The quick are changed: the dead arise.
Lo! the Judge is in the skies.
Rejoice, ye Saints! The Saints rejoice
To hear His bliss-awarding voice:
He blesses them, and they are blest
To go into his Heavenly rest.
Wrath for the Wicked! Doomed and driven,
They sink beneath the Eye of Heaven:
Like hurrying draught of bitter cup,
The Eternal Gulf has drunk them up.

SIXTH GHOST

Happy, happy we who dwell
In His love unspeakable,
Fearing not that coming Day,
When heaven and earth shall pass away;
For, from the days of everlasting years,
Ere we were fashioned in the Vale of Tears,
The Lamb—the Judge himself—was pledged to be our stay!

THIRD GHOST

Widening up the eastern skies,
See the pale rim of day arise,
Another day to mortal men,
Toil, and fear, and care again!
Spirit ('tis Thy sacred trust),
Help them, help them, they are dust;
Make them wise, and make them just!
And in great consummation, Dove,
Bring them to our morn above,
Morn of the perpetual day!—
7Sister shadows, come away.
The Ghosts vanish.

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Thomas Aird