BETA

AMMERGAU : AN IDYLL.*

I.

Where is he gone ? O men and maidens, where1
Is gone the fairest amid all the fair ?2
Mine eyes desire him, and with dawning day3
My heart goes forth to find him on the way.”4
Ah, how that music lingers, and again5
Returns the dying sweetness of the strain !6
How clearly on my inner sense is borne7
The fair fresh beauty of the mountain morn,8
And cries of flocks afar, and mixed with these9
The green delightful tumult of the trees,—10
The birds that o’er us from the upper day11
Threw flitting shade, and went their airy way,—12
The bright-robed chorus and the silent throng,13
And that first burst and sanctity of song !14
In such a place with eager faces fair15
Sat men of old in bright Athenian air,16
Heard in such wise the folk of Theseus sing17
Their welcome to the world-forsaken king,—18
Awaited thus between the murmuring trees19
The whisper of appeased Eumenides,20
Till breath came thick and eyes no more could see21
For sweet prevision of the end to be.22
But ah, how hard a task to set again23
The living Christ among the homes of men !24
Have we not grown too faithless or too wise25
For this old tale of many mysteries ?26
Will not this passion of the peasants seem27
Like children’s tears for terror of a dream ?—28
Hosanna ! whoso in the Highest Name,29
Hosanna ! cometh as Elias came,30
Him Israel hails and honours, Israel showers31
Before him all her hopes and all her flowers.”—32
O Son of God ! O blessed vision, stay !33
O be my whole life centred in to-day !34
Ah, let me dream that this indeed is He,35
Mine eyes desired Him, and at last they see !36
Then as some loving wife, whose lord has come37
Wounded but safe from a far battle home,38
Yet must before the day’s declining go39
* Celebration of the Passion-Play at Ober-Ammergau, in Bavaria, June 25, 1870.
On a like quest against another foe,—40
With throbbing breast his kingly voice she hears,41
Her eager gaze is dazzled with her tears,42
Nor clearly can she place his tales apart43
For the overwhelming passion of her heart,44
For joy and love, for pity and for pain,45
For thinking “ He is come, he goes again ! ’46
In such confusion of the soul I saw47
Their mighty pictures of the vanished Law,48
Which, as they held, that Law to Gospel bound49
With mystic meaning and design profound :—50
Joseph by Dothan and the shepherd’s well,51
Tobias in the hand of Raphael,—52
The crowding people who with joy descry53
The food of angels fluttering from the sky ;—54
Ah, sweet that still upon this earth should be55
So many simple souls in holy glee,56
Such maids and men, unknowing shame or guile,57
Whose whole bright nature beams into a smile !58
Thro’ all these scenes the fateful story ran,59
And the grave presence of the Son of Man :60
There was the evening feast, remembered long,61
The mystic act and sacramental song ;62
There was the dreadful garden, rock and tree,63
Waker and sleepers in Gethsemane ;—64
The selfsame forms that I so oft had seen65
Shrined the portcullis and the rose between,66
When heaven’s cold light in cheerless afternoon67
Changed while we knelt from sun to ghostly moon68
And one there was who on his deeds could draw69
A gaze that half was horror, half was awe,70
Who when the supper of the Lord was spread71
Drank of the cup and ate the broken bread,72
And then, with night without him and within,73
Went forth and sinned the unutterable sin.74
Better if never on his ways had shone75
The Light which is men’s life to look upon ;76
If he had worn a torpid age away77
In the poor gains and pleasures of the day,78
From toil to toil had been content to go,79
Nor ever aim so high or fall so low !80
But, when he saw the Christ, he thought to fly81
His own base self and selfish misery ;82
He trusted that before those heavenly eyes83
All shameful thoughts were as a dream that dies,84
And new life opened on him, great and free,85
And love on earth and paradise to be.86
But ah ! thro’ all men some base impulse runs,87
(The brute the father and the men the sons,)88
Which if one harshly sets him to subdue,89
With fiercer insolence it boils anew :90
He ends the worst who with best hope began :91
How hard is this ! how like the lot of man !92
When this man’s best desire and highest aim93
Had ended in the deed of traitorous shame,94
When to his bloodshot eyes grew wild and dim95
The stony faces of the Sanhedrim,—96
When in his rage he could no longer bear97
Men’s voices nor the sunlight nor the air,98
Nor sleep, nor waking, nor his own quick breath,99
Nor God in heaven, nor anything but death,—100
I bowed my head, and through my fingers ran101
Tears for the end of that Iscariot man,102
Lost in the hopeless struggle of the soul103
To make the done undone, the broken whole.104
O brother ! howsoever, wheresoe’er105
Thou hidest now the hell of thy despair,106
Hear that one heart can pity, one can know107
With thee thy hopeless solitary woe.108
But when the treacherous deed was planned and done,109
The soldiers gathered, and the shame begun,110
Thereat the indignant heavens in fierce disdain111
Blew down a rushing and uproarious rain ;112
The tall trees wailed ; ill-heard and scarcely seen113
Were Jew and Roman those rough gusts between,114
Only unmoved one still and towering form115
Made, as of old, a silence in the storm.116
Then was the cross uplifted ; strange to see117
That final sign of sad humanity ;118
For men in childhood for their worship chose119
The primal force by which as men they rose ;120
Then round their homes they bade with boyish grace121
The hanging Bacchus swing his comely face ;122
And now, grown old, they can no more disdain123
To look full-front upon the eyes of Pain,124
But must all corners of the champaign fill125
With bleeding images of this last ill,126
Must on yon mountain’s pinnacle enshrine127
A crucifix, the dead for the divine.128
Yet never picture, wonderfully well129
By hands of Diirer drawn or Rafaelle,130
Nor wood by shepherds that one art who know131
Carved in long nights behind the drifted snow,132
Could with such holy sorrows flood and fill133
The eyes made glimmering and the heart made still,134
As that pale form whose outstretched limbs so long135
Made kingship of the infamy of wrong,136
O’er whose thorn-twined majestic brows ran down137
Blood for anointing from the bitter crown.138
Then from the lips of David’s Son there brake139
Such phrase as David in the Spirit spake,—140
Ay, and four words with such a meaning fraught141
As seemed an answer to my inmost thought ;—142
O dreadful cry, and by no seer foreshewn,143
My God, my God, I die and am alone ! ”144
Where is he gone ? O men and maidens, where145
Is gone the fairest amid all the fair ?146
Mine eyes desire him, and with dawning day147
My heart goes forth to find him on the way.148

II.

I, having seen, for certain days apart149
Fared with a silent memory at my heart,150
And in me great compassion grew for them151
Who looked upon that feigned Jerusalem,152
For I and all those thousands seemed to be153
Like other thousands once in Galilee,154
Save that no miracle’s divine surprise155
Met in the desert our expectant eyes,156
No answer calmed our eager hearts enticed157
By the mere name and very look of Christ.158
So fondly in all ages man will cling159
To the least shadow of a Friend and King,160
To the faint hope of one to share, to know161
The aspiration and the inner woe,—162
Forgetting that the several souls of men163
Are not like parted drops which meet again164
When the tree shakes and to each other run165
The kindred crystals glittering into one,—166
But like those twin revolving stars which bear167
A double solitude thro’ the utmost air ;168
For these albeit their lit immingled rays169
Be living beryl, living chrysoprase,170
Tho’ burning orb on orb shall whirl and throw171
Her amethystine and her golden glow,172
Yet must they still their separate pathways keep173
And sad procession thro’ the eternal deep,174
Apart, together, must forever roll175
Round a void centre to an unknown goal.176
And thus I mused, and as men’s musings will177
Come round at last to their own sorrows still,178
So mine, who in such words as these began179
To mourn the solitary fate of man.180
Thou, Virgil, too, wouldst gladly have been laid181
In forest-arches of Thessalian shade,182
Or on Laconisn lawns have watched all day183
The fleet and fair Laconian maidens play,184
Till from the rustling of the leaves was shed185
Deep sleep upon thy limbs and kingly head,186
And Mother Earth diffesed with calm control187
Peace on her sweetest and her saddest soul.188
There ’mid the peasants thou hadst dwelt with joy189
The goatherd or the reaper or the boy,190
Hadst changed thy fate for theirs, if change could be,191
And given for love thy sad supremacy.192
Wert thou not wise, my Master ? better far193
To live with them and be as these men are ;194
Better ’mid Phyllis and Lycoris set,—195
Their soft eyes darker than the violet,—196
With them to smile and sing, for them to bear197
The lover’s anguish and the fond despair,198
Than thus to feel, forever and forlorn,199
The passions set new-risen and die new-born.200
For some men linger in their loves, but I201
So soon have finished and so fast go by ;202
Nay, nor in answering gaze of friends can find203
The one soul looking through the double mind :204
I love them, but beneath their tenderest tone205
This lonely heart is not the less alone ;206
I love them, but betwixt their souls and me207
Are shadowy mountains and a sounding sea.208
Oh heart that oftentimes wouldet gladly win209
The whole world’s love thy narrow walls within,210
Wouldst answer speech with silence, sighs with sighs,211
Tears with the effluence of enchanted eyes,—212
Then oftentimes in bitterness art fain213
To cast that love to the four winds again,214
For indignation at the gulfs that bar215
For ever soul from soul as star from star !216
Sweet are the looks and words, the sigh and kiss,217
But can the live soul live by these or this ?—218
From her sad temple she beholds in vain219
The close caresses and the yearning strain ;—220
Who reaches, who attains her? who has known221
Her queenly presence and her tender tone ?222
What brush has painted, or what song has sung223
Her unbetrothed beauty ever-young ?224
Only when strange musicians softly play225
The ears are glad, and she an hour as they ;—226
To them the noise is heaven, and to her227
A shadowy sweetness and a dying stir.228
Ay and sometimes, to such as seek her well,229
She in a momentary look can tell230
Somewhat of lonely longings, and confess231
A fragment of her passion’s tenderness.232
Ah, best to rest ere love with worship dies,233
Pause at the first encounter of the eyes,234
Pass on and dream while yet both souls are free,235
That soul I could have loved, if love could be.’”236
Thus I lamented, and upon me fell237
A sense of solitude more sad than hell,238
As one forgot, forsaken, and exiled239
Of God and man, from woman and from child :—240
Hush, hush, my soul, nor let thy speech draw near241
That last and incommunicable fear ;242
All else shall poets sing, but this alone243
The man who tells it never can have known.244
Thank God ! this dizzying and extreme despair245
Not one short hour the human heart can bear,246
For with that woe the o’erburdened spirit soon247
Faints in the dark and fails into a swoon,248
The body sickens with the slackening breath,249
And the man dies, for this indeed is death.250
Lo to each separate soul the Eternal King251
Hath separate ways for peace and comforting ;252
Then pardon if with such intent I tell253
The bliss which in my low estate befell :—254
For June midnight became the May mid-morn,255
In that enchanting home where I was born,256
When first the child-heart woke, the child-eyes knew257
The bud blush-roses and the sparkling dew.258
There gleamed the lake where lone St. Herbert saw259
The solemn mornings and the soundless awe,—260
There were the ferns that shake, the becks that foam,261
The Derwent river and the Cumbrian home,—262
And there, as once, upon my infant head263
His blameless hands the Priest of Nature spread,264
Spake fitting words, and gave in great old age265
The patriarch’s blessing and the bard’s presage.266
Ah, with what sweet rebuke that vision came !267
With how pure hope I called on Wordsworth’s name !268
O if on earth’s green bosom one could lay,269
Like him, tired limbs and trustful head, and say,270
To thee, to thee, my mother, I resign271
All of my life that still is only mine ;272
I want no separate pleasures, make me one273
With springing seasons in the rain and sun :274
To thy great heart our hearts for ever yearn ;275
Thy children wander, let thy child return !”276
To such a man, by self-surrender wise,277
With the one soul of all things in his eyes,278
To such a life, embosomed and enfurled279
In the old unspoken beauty of the world,280
Might Nature with a sweet relenting show281
More of herself than men by knowledge know ;282
Till, if he caught the soundless sighing breath283
Wherewith the whole creation travaileth,—284
If once to human ears revealed could be285
The immemorial secret of the sea,—286
By such great lessons might that man attain287
A life which is not pleasure, is not pain,—288
A life collected, elemental, strong,289
A sacrosanct tranquillity of song,290
Fed by the word unheard, the sight unseen,291
The breath that passes man and God between,292
When ere the end comes is the end begun,293
And the One Soul has flown into the One.294
Hereat my soul, which cannot spread for long295
Her tethered pinions in the heaven of song,296
To her poor home descending with a sigh297
Looked through her windows on the earth and sky :298
Where she had left the limbs she found them still,299
In the same blackness, on the silent hill,300
Yet for a while was her return sublime301
With dying echoes of the cosmic chime,302
And through the parted gloom there fell with her303
Some ray from Sire or Son or Comforter ;304
For in mine ears the silence made a tune,305
And to mine eyes the dark was plenilune,306
And mountain airs and streams and stones and sod307
Bare witness to the Fatherhood of God.308