Isaac Rosenberg

(25 November 1890 – 1 April 1918 / Bristol / England)

A Ballad Of Whitechapel


God's mercy shines ;
And our full hearts must make record of this,
For grief that burst from out its dark confines
Into strange sunlit bliss.

I stood where glowed
The merry glare of golden whirring lights
Above the monstrous mass that seethed and flowed
Through one of London's nights.

1 watched the gleams
Of jagged warm lights on shrunk faces pale :
I heard mad laughter as one hears in dreams
Or Hell's harsh lurid tale.

The traffic rolled,
A gliding chaos populous of din,
A steaming wail at doom the Lord had scrawled
For perilous loads of sin.

And my soul thought :
'What fearful land have my steps wandered to ?
God's love is everywhere, but here is naught
Save love His anger slew.'

And as I stood
Lost in promiscuous bewilderment,
Which to my 'mazed soul was wonder-food,
A girl in garments rent

Peered 'neath lids shamed
And spoke to me and murmured to my blood.
My soul stopped dead, and all my horror
Named At her forgot of God.

Her hungered eyes,
Craving and yet so sadly spiritual,
Shone like the unsmirched corner of a jewel
Where else foul blemish lies.

I walked with her
Because my heart thought, 'Here the soul is clean,
The fragrance of the frankincense and myrrh
Is lost in odours mean.'

She told me how
The shadow of black death had newly come
And touched her father, mother, even now
Grim-hovering in her home,

Where fevered lay
Her wasting brother in a cold, bleak room,
Which theirs would be no longer than a day,
And then-the streets and doom.

Lord ! Lord ! Dear Lord
I knew that life was bitter, but my soul
Recoiled, as anguish-smitten by sharp sword,
Grieving such body's dole.

Then grief gave place
To a strange pulsing rapture as she spoke ;
For I could catch the glimpses of God's grace,
And a desire awoke

To take this trust
And warm and gladden it with love's new fires,
Burning the past to ashes and to dust
Through purified desires.

We walked our way,
One way hewn for us from the birth of Time ;
For we had wandered into Love's strange clime
Through ways sin waits to slay.

Love's euphony,
In Love's own temple that is our glad hearts,
Makes now long music wild deliciously;
Now Grief bath used his darts.

Love infinite,
Chastened by sorrow, hallowed by pure Name-
Not all the singing world can compass it.
Love-Love-0 tremulous name !

God's mercy shines ;
And my full heart bath made record of this,
Of grief that burst from out its dark confines
Into strange sunlit bliss.

Submitted: Saturday, April 28, 2012
Edited: Saturday, April 28, 2012

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