The Mystery.

“ Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all
Prov. xviii. 1.
O the haunted house on the moorland, how lone and desolate,1
In its antique fashions grand, it seems to frown upon its fate !2
Looking over the bleak moorland, looking over to the sea,3
Defiant in the haughtiness of some great memory.4
Few trees are there and stunted, for the salt-wind blows across,5
And swathes their twigs in lichens grey, and flakes of ragged moss ;6
And the cotton-grass nods in the fish7
And the newt creeps thro’ their sodden roots where they grow rank and lush.8
But moor and marsh and stunted tree, with mosses overrun,9
And the Druid stone where the raven10
All are bleaker from its neighbourhood, and grouped around it lie,11
As round a desolate thought that fills a subtle painter’s eye.12
Straggling over half an acre, with a rough-hewn masonry,13
There are portals heavy-arched, and gables crested with the fleur-de-lis,14
Mounting turrets, curious windows, and armorial bearings quaint,15
Full of rare fantastic meanings as the dreams of some old saint,16
And the grim old tower looms darkly with its shadow over all ;17
Beast unclean and bird unholy brood or burrow in its wall ;18
Moans the wind thro’ long blind lobbies—distant doors are heard to slap,19
And the paint falls from the panels, and the mouldering tapestries flap.20
Falls the paint from scripture stories, all blurred with mildew damp,21
Fade the ancient knights and ladies from the tapestries quaint and cramp ;22
And of all the rare carved mantels only here and there are seen23
A bunch of of flowers and vine leaves, with a satyr’s face between.24
Through chinks the sun is breaking, the rain breaks through the roof ;25
There are sullen pools in the corners, and sullen drops aloof ;26
And flitting as in woodlands, strange lights are in the rooms,27
And to and fro they glimmer, alternating with glooms.28
And him that shelters there a-night from the wild storm or rain,29
Will death or madness set upon, and leaguer him amain30
With eldrich shapes, and eerie sounds of sorrow and of sin,31
And cries of utter wailing that make the blood grow thin,32
O the haunted house on the moorland, how lone and desolate,33
In its antique fashions grand, it seems to frown upon its fate !34
But sit not thou in its tapestried rooms about the midnight drear,35
When the chains clank on the staircase, and the groaning step draws near.36
The chains clank on the staircase, and the step is coming slow,37
And the doors creak on their hinges, and the lamp is burning low,38
And thou listenest too intently, and thy heart is throbbing fast ;—39
Be thou coward now or bold, ’twere better face the stormy blast.40
Better face the storm without, you think ? Alas ! I cannot tell :41
Perhaps we lose the power, perhaps we lose the wish as well ;42
For I have watched and pondered many a weary night and day,43
Ever listening thus intently in our mystic house of clay ;44
Ever listening to its strangeness, to its sorrow and its sin,45
With a boldness and a terror, and a throbbing heart within;46
Bold to know the very thing which I feared indeed to see,47
Would the lamp but only hold till I searched the mystery.48
For is not this our human life even such a wreck of greatness,49
Where the trace of an ancient grandeur marks an equal desolateness ?50
Since that which hath been is not, or only serves to wake51
A thirst for truth and beauty, which, alas ! it cannot slake.52
And the ruin of its greatness casts all round an air of gloom ;53
Earth’s loveliness is darkened by the shadow of our doom ;54
And the richness of our nature only adds a bitter point55
Of irony to the thought that all is plainly out of joint,56
And fitfully, as through a chink, the higher world of God57
Breaks in to make more visible our waste and drear abode ;58
And syllables and whispers, all discordant to rehearse,59
Hint unutterable harmonies in the great Universe.60
And there are pictured tapestries in chambers of the brain,61
The memories of a higher state which still with us remain,62
But faded all and mildewed they but deepen our regret,63
Like twilight glories telling of a glory that is set.64
And mingling with the traces of a wondrous beauty still,65
There are lustful satyr faces turning all the good to ill ;66
And like birds unholy nestling and defiling every part,67
O the broods of evil passions in the corners of the heart.68
And if thou watch there thoughtful, in silence of the night,69
With a longing and a listening too intent to know the right ;70
Have a care, for there are phantoms—be thou cowardly or bold,—71
That syllable and whisper what shall make the blood run cold.72
O to rid me of that longing ! to stand aloof and free73
From the dread, or from the power of the dread Infinity !74
O to grasp, or to be careless of, the subtle thoughts that fly75
And shun the sense, like flower-smells, the closer we come nigh !76
Just to dwell among the little things of life, and be content77
With its ordinary being and its ordinary bent ;78
Still to wade in the clear shallows and the old accustomed fords,79
’Mong the thin and easy truths and the babbling of old words !80
To think and feel, and comprehend all I might think and feel,81
With a heart that never sickened, and a brain that did not reel82
Under the sense of mystery and mighty shadows, cast83
Upon the soul from life and death—the future and the past.84
So thow’rt crushed beneath a shadow !— Ah ! I would that I could smile85
With your satisfied philosophy ; but on my heart the while86
The shadow of the Infinite is laid oppressively,87
And though I know that it is light, alas ! it darkens me.88
In the lonesomeness and thoughtfulness of the still midnight hour,89
Hast thou never felt the mystery of being, and its power ?—90
The great light from the Godhead, and the cross-light from man,91
From that which is and ought to be—the portion and the plan ?92
How they are twined and parted, yet firmly linkèd still93
By necessity of being in the dread Almighty will !94
Hast thou never yearned to see the sun break thro’ this gathered haze,95
Though he quenched thy little hearth-fire by the glory of his blaze ?96
Never felt the eager longing in the inner heart of men,97
Like a tiger pacing restless to and fro his narrow den,98
For his mighty limbs grow irksome with the lack of room to play,99
And he pineth for a leap—a bound into the night or day ?100
Ah, me ! to be a botanist or bookworm ! just to task101
A herbal or a history to answer all I’d ask ;102
And be content to live, and work, and die, and rot—nor ever103
Writhe with a mighty longing and a sense of high endeavour.104
Why are all things yet a question ? What is nature? What is man ?105
What is truth ? and what is duty ? Why, answer as we can,106
Has the soul a deeper question still to put, when all is done,107
Which goes echoing into darkness, and answer there is none ?108
O, I’ve heard that echo often die in mockery away109
In the distance of conception, like the waters of a bay110
Surging far into a lone sea cave—you cannot tell how far111
And there is neither light of torch, nor light of moon or star.112
Can I will, and can I be, and do, all I have thought and felt ?113
Can I mould mine opportunity, and shake off sin and guilt ?114
Is life so thin-transparent, as men have thought and said ?115
And God a mere onlooker to see the game well played ?116
’Twixt the willing and the being—twixt the darkness and the light,117
Is there no interval for Him to exercise His might ?118
Then perish all my hesitance, and all your power and pelf ;—119
I will be loyal to the truth, and royal to myself.120
I will call out from the depths a boundless truth—a certain key121
To unlock the ancient secrets of our hoar perplexity ;122
For the glow of one vast certainty would banish chaos-night,123
And canopy my soul as with a dome of rainbow light.124
O the sounding waves should speak to me, and be well understood ;125
The violet should tell the secret of its pensive mood ;126
And the dew-drops why their tears are formed on the eyelash of the light,127
And that lorn wind in the woodland why it sobs the livelong night.128
For the whole creation groaneth with a sorrow not its own,129
And to all its many voices grief is still the undertone,130
And on all its sunny aspects lies a shadow I would fain131
Lift, and know with what a birth it is travailing in pain.132
I would speak with the wild Arab deep-throat guttural truth, and sound133
The heart-depths of ascetic squatting loathsome on the ground :134
Taste all truths of past or present, and all truths of clime and race,135
Where’er a true Divinity was deemed to have a place,136
I would know all creeds and gospels, and how they played their part,137
Each with its place appointed for this changeful human heart :138
Each with a dawn of progress, and a share of good and ill,139
Each with its work appointed by the Eternal will.140
But tossing on the ocean of a changeable belief,141
To deem there is no certainty and hope for no relief,142
With no faith in the old causeways and the lamplights, it is dreary143
To be wandering as I wander now, so aimless, dark, and weary.144
Woe’s me ! but life is rigid—is not plastic to my will ;145
Thoughts they come and go, like spirits with the mist about them still ;146
And the strife is ineffectual towards lighting up the soul,147
Like the faint and glimmering twilights that creep around the pole.148
To myself I am all mystery : I fain would act my part ;149
But the problem of existence aches unsolved within my heart.150
How can this life be possible ?— What matter now to ask ?151
’Tis already a necessity—an urgent, hourly task.152
Ah ! there the clouds break up ; and lo ! a clear bright star uprearing,153
Its face deep, deep in heaven, beside the crystal throne appearing :154
Though life be dreary, and truth be dark ; yet duty is not so :155
Lay thy hand then to its labour, and thy heart into the blow.156
Like the light of a dark lantern is the guiding light for thee,157
A circle on the earth just where thy foot should planted be :158
But turn it to the mountains that encompass life and doom,159
And it flickers like a shadow, and only shows the gloom.160
O the haunted house on the moorland, all lone and desolate,161
Let it stand in its antique fashions frowning grimly on its fate ;162
But brood not thou with thought intense about the dark midnight,163
But turn thee to thy task, and do thy work with all thy might.164
The day is short and changeful, the night is drawing on,165
And maybe there is light beyond, and maybe there is none166
But the grief and pain and struggle, and the hoar perplexity,167
Will not yield their secrets up to any questioning of thee.168