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Yesterday, To-Day, And For Ever: Book Ii. - The Paradise Of The Blessed Dead - Poem by Edward Henry Bickersteth

On, through that mountainous defile of clouds,
My guardian and his winged ministers
Bore me with smooth undeviating flight,
And speed unslacken'd: round about us play'd
Our retinue of angels, carolling
And harping as they flew: the while an hour
Pass'd peradventure of terrestrial time,
Measuring in space leagues almost measureless,
Though travellers along that blissful road
Wish'd it were longer. But at last aware
Of brighter radiance circumfused, I look'd
Far in the gleaming distance, and behold,
Barring our onward course were gates of pearl,
Translucent pearl, through which the glory's of heaven
Came softened in a thousand tender hues -
Distinguishable Iris, chrysolite,
Sapphire, and emerald, and sardius,
And peerless hyacinthine amethyst.
The deep foundations of those gates were sunk
Lower than thought may fathom, and their top
Appear'd to touch the empyrean's arch;
But at the echo of the harper's song
Back with melodious sound they softly flew,
As if themselves instinct with sympathies
Of welcome, and disclosed the scenes of bliss
That they beyond them bathed in amber light.

Here first upon the threshold of those gates
My heavenly escort paused. Here first I trod
A pavement of transparent gold, and gazed
Upon that luminous ravine, which brought
Us hither, in admiring marvel. Such
A cincture, to compare great things with small,
Of waters and of vaporous clouds composed
Some hold the golden ring which circulates
Round Saturn's orb; or such, as others tell,
The lucid atmosphere enveloping
The central sun, whose solid globe opaque
Is only visible through rents which show
As spots to the inhabitants of earth.
But what might be the mantle, which enwrapt
The unseen world of spirits, I ask'd not. Clouds
Were none before us. Through the gates of pearl
We pass'd, and on a terraced platform stood,
Which overlook'd the realms of Paradise,
And gazed awhile, like Moses from the rocks
Of Pisgah on the promised land. O, scene
Surpassing words! Beneath us lay outstretch'd
A garden far more large than if the earth,
From pole to pole, from sunrise to sunset,
Bloom'd with the countless roses of Cashmere;
And yet not larger to the dark abyss
That couch'd beneath it and beyond, than was
Blest Eden to the whole primeval world.
And this, like Adam's sinless nursery,
Was planted by the hand of God Himself,
And water'd with the rivulets of life,
And shaded with innumerable trees,
Fragrant and flowering and hung with fruit -
All here was good. Nor were there wanting hills
With valleys interspersed, and placid lakes,
And plains, and forests, as of cedars, fit
For holy intercourse of friend with friend,
And opening glades between. The distant seem'd
Near as we looked upon it: whether this
Were due to that crystalline atmosphere
Purged from all film, or rather that the eyes
Of spirits and angels in themselves excel
The virtues of those lenses wherewith men
Have arm'd their ineffective vision, as
A microscope and telescope in one.
For a brief space we gazed enamour'd. Then
Cleaving with ease the light elastic air,
By love's strong magnet drawn, we sloped our flight,
As slopes a meteor with its train of gold
Across the summer firmament, nor stay'd
Till in a wooded vale beside a stream
We lighted - we and our angelic choir.

We lighted; and my guardian with a smile
Of gladness, which no thought of self obscured,
Turn'd to me, saying, 'Brother, this is home:
Until the archangel's trumpet sound in heaven;
Here thou with Jesus art, Jesus with thee;
Go forth and meet thy Lord. Beneath this shade
Meantime we tarry for thee, while alone
Thou seest Him whom thou hast loved unseen:
That is an incommunicable joy
With which no other hearts, angels or men,
Can intermeddle. By you grassy bank
Follow where leads thee on thy way this stream
Of flowing crystal; such is His command:
And here will we await thy blest return.'

So they retired a little space aside,
Under the grateful shadow of those trees
Rich with ambrosial fruit: and ere my lips
Could utter thanks I found myself alone -
Alone, and on my way to meet my God.
The solitude was sweet. So many scenes
Of glory and unprecedented joy
Had crowded on my vision, that I long'd
To gather and compose my thoughts awhile
In meditation. Such an interval
Of brief but blissful solitude the bride,
Left lonely on her bridal evening, feels
To still the beating of a heart that beats
Too high with virgin bashfulness and hope,
Ere she receives her spouse. And, as I trod
Those banks enamell'd with the freshest flowers,
Soothed with the gliding music which that stream
Made ever, brokenly at intervals,
Communing with myself, I thought aloud.

'And am I, then, in heaven? Is this the land
To which my yearning heart so often turn'd
Desirous? This the Paradise of saints?
And is it I myself who speak? The same
Who wander'd in the desert far astray,
Till the Good Shepherd found me perishing,
And drew me to Himself with cords of love?
Has He now brought me to His heavenly fold,
Which sin can never touch nor sorrow cloud,
Me who have water'd with my frequent tears
The thorny wilderness, and struggled on
Footsore and weary - me, the wayward one?
And shall I never wander from Him more,
And never grieve His brooding Spirit again?
O, joy ineffable! But am I now
About to meet Him, see Him face to face
Who made me, and who knows me what I am,
Of all His saints unworthiest of His love?
Why beats this heart so tremulously? Why
Do thoughts within me rise? Is it not He
Who bought me with His blood? Hath He not led
Me on my journey hither step by step?
Came He not to me at the hour of death,
And whisper'd that my sins were all forgiven,
And now hath sent His angels to convoy
My spirit safely home, and welcome me
With songs of Hallelujah? What is love,
If this indissoluble bond that links
Me and my Lord for ever be not love?
His costly, precious, infinite, divine:
Mine human, limited, and mean, and poor,
And yet His inward Spirit whispers, true.
For what were all this gorgeous Paradise,
The music of these waters, and these bowers
Fragrant with fruitage, what were all to me,
And tenfold all, twice measured, without Him?
Without Him heaven were but a desert rude;
With Him, a desert heaven. And art Thou here,
Jesu, my Lord, my life, my light, my all?
When wilt Thou come to me, or bid me come
To Thee, that I may see Thee as Thou art,
And love Thee even as Thou lovest me?'

And as I spake I heard a gentle Voice
Calling me by my name. So Adam heard
And conscience-stricken Eve the voice of God
Walking abroad through Eden in the cool
Of sunset. But with other thoughts to theirs
I turn'd to see who called me; and lo, One
Wearing a form of human tenderness
Approach'd. Human He was, but love divine
Breathed in His blessed countenance, a love
Which drew my onwards irresistibly
Persuasive: whether now He veil'd His beams
More closely than the hour His brightness shone
Around the prophet by Ulai's banks,
And in the solitary Patmos smote
Prostrate to earth the Apocalyptic seer;
Or whether the Omnipotent Spirit of God
Strengthens enfranchised spirits to sustain
More of His glory. I drew near to Him,
And He to me. O beatific sight!
O vision with which nothing can compare!
The angel ministrant who brought me hither
Was exquisite in beauty, and my heart
Clave to his heart: the choristers of light,
Who sang around our pathway, none who saw
Could choose but love for very loveliness.
But this was diverse from all other sights:
Not living only, it infused new life;
Not beautiful alone, it beautified;
Nor only glorious, for it glorified.
For a brief space methought I look'd on Him,
And He on me. O blessed look! how brief
I know not, but eternity itself
Will never from my soul erase the lines
Of that serene transfiguring aspect.
For a brief space I stood, by Him upheld,
Gazing, and then in adoration fell
And clasp'd His sacred feet, while holy tears,
Such tears as disembodied spirits may weep,
Flow'd from my eyes. But bending over me,
As bends a mother o'er her waking babe,
He raised me tenderly, saying, 'My child.'
And I, like Thomas on that sacred eve,
Could only answer Him, 'My Lord, my God.'
And then He drew me closer, and Himself
With His own hand, His pierced hand of love,
Wiped the still falling tear-drops from my face,
And told me I was His and He was mine,
And how my Father loved me and He loved.

That hour for brevity a moment seemd;
For benediction, ages. But at last
Calmly He said, 'The night is almost spent;
The morning is at hand. Fearless meanwhile
Rest thou in peace. Oriel, thy guardian spirit,
Shall lead thee to those bowers felicitous,
Where now thy parents and thy babes await
My kindgom with the other Blessed Dead.'

So saying, by the hand He led me forth,
(Lowly in heart as when He stoop'd and led
The blind man of Bethsaida aside),
And brought me to the spot where Oriel stay'd
Expectant with those courier seraphim
And all that choir of angels. Reverent
They rose, and knelt in worship at His feet;
And there was silence till again His voice
Breathed new delight ineffable in all.

'Soldier and servant of the Lord, well done!
My faithful Oriel, well hast thou discharged
Thy long and arduous ministry of love
'Twixt earth and heaven, now for six thousand years:
And not least faithful proved in guarding this
Thy youngest brother from the hosts of hell
Confederate to destroy My child in vain.
And ye, My winged ministers of light,
Well have ye brought him hither. And, ye choirs
Celestial, I have heard well-pleased your songs
And notes of welcome. For a little while
Abide ye in these happy fields, for soon
A mightier triumph shall awake your harps.
And, Oriel, be it thine to take thy ward
Where wait his coming those he loved on earth:
And, when fulfill'd with their society
And all the present bliss of Paradise,
Lead him apart, and patiently disclose
That which thou knowest of eternity's
To-day and yesterday. The morrow dawns.
Make him partaker of thy thoughts, whom thou
Hast brought to share thy glory. And meanwhile
Receive from Me this token of thy trust.'

He said, and from His bosom pluck'd what seem'd
A gem of fire, a globe of liquid light,
As Venus in her prime shines on the earth,
And placed it in my guardian's starry crown:
An amaranthine diadem, enwove
With many jewels, now at last complete.
New love beat in all hearts, new joy, new praise:
And in a moment we were there alone;
Yet not alone, I felt that He was there,
Invisible, but personally there;
Spirit with spirit: I with Him, and He
With me. Such virtue Omnipresence hath,
Which only hides its glory in itself,
That it may manifest itself anew
In forms of unknown beauty, light with cloud,
Voices with silence, movement with repose
Combining in eternal interchange.

And through an open glade we took our way,
And many an avenue of forest trees, -
Such forests Paradise alone may rear, -
And on through many a deep ravine, which slept
Beneath the guardianship of shadowing hills,
Gliding as easily as glides a train
Of golden mist amid Norwegian pines;
Or a a parting smile of evening, shed
By the proud king of day, ere he retires
Within the crimson curtains of the West,
Breaks over the cloud-mantled Pyrenees,
Till their peaks glow like opal, and the lakes
Catching the transitory radiance gleam
Like liquid pearl: so smoothly without sound
Of footfall on the printless flowers we pass'd.

The track was long, soliciting our stay;
The time was briefer than my words. And lo,
A valley open'd on our sudden gaze
Pre-eminently beautiful and bright
'Mid that bright world of beauty. But straightway
Or ever I could utter words of praise,
Voices familiar as my mother tongue
Fell on me; and an infant cherub sprang,
As springs a sunbeam to the heart of flowers,
Into my arms, and murmur'd audibly,
'Father, dear father;' and another clasp'd
My knees, and falter'd the same name of power.
One look sufficed to tell me they were mine,
My babes, my blossoms, my long parted ones;
The same in features and in form as when
I bent above their dying pillow last,
Only the spirit now disenrobed of flesh,
And beaming with the likeness of their Lord.

The one who nestled in my breast had seen
All the earth's year except the winter's snows.
Spring, summer, autumn, like sweet dreams, had smiled
On her. Eva - or
- was her name;
A bud of life folded in leaves and love;
The dewy morning star of summer days;
The golden lamp of happy fire-side hours;
The little ewe-lamb nestling by our side;
The dove whose cooing echoed in our hearts;
The sweetest chord upon our harp of praise;
The quiet spring, the rivulet of joy;
The pearl among His gifts who gave us all;
On whom not we alone, but all who look'd,
Gazing would breathe the involuntary words,
'God bless thee, Eva - God be bless'd for thee.'
Alas, clouds gather'd quickly, and the storm
Fell without warning on our tender bud,
Scattering its leaflets; and the star was drench'd
In tears; the lamp was faint; the weary dove
Cower'd its young head beneath its drooping wing;
The chord was loosen'd on our harp; the fount
Was troubled, and the rill ran nearly dry;
And in our souls we heard our Father, saying,
'Will ye return the gift?' The Voice was low -
The answer lower still - 'Thy will be done.'
And now, where we had often pictured her,
I saw her one of the beatified;
Eva, our blossom, ours for ever now,
Unfolding in the atmosphere of love;
The star that set upon our earthly home
Had risen in glory, and in purer skies
Was shining; and the lamp we sorely miss'd,
Shed its soft radiance in a better home;
Our lamb was pasturing in heavenly meads;
Our dove had settled on the trees of life;
Another chord was ringing with delight,
Another spring of rapture was unseal'd,
In Paradise; our treasure was with God;
The gift in the great Giver's strong right hand;
And none who look'd on her could choose but say,
'Eva, sweet angel, God be bless'd for thee.'

But, were it possible, more beauteous seem'd
The cherub child who clung about my knees -
A different beauty, here. Sweet Constance, she
Had trodd'n a longer, rougher pathway home,
And not unset with thorns, - long for a babe,
Two winters and three summers was her life -
Rough only for a babe; but every step
Ta'en by her little bleeding feet had left
Its tracery upon her spirit now
In tender lines of love, and peace, and praise.
Yet both were only infants; babes of light
In God's great household: heaven with all its joys
Had perfected, not changed, their infancy:
The younger, with the fearless gaze of one
Who never knew the shadow of a cloud,
Sparkling as sparkles a pure diamond:
The elder, with a child's deep confidence,
Which trusts you with illimitable trust,
And with one look summons and wins your heart.

A babe in glory is a babe for ever.
Perfect as spirits, and able to pour forth
Their glad heart in the tongues which angels use,
These nurslings gather'd in God's nursery
For ever grow in loveliness and love,
(Growth is the law of all intelligence)
Yet cannot pass the limit which defines
Their being. They have never fought the fight,
Nor borne the heat and burden of the day,
Nor stagger'd underneath the weary cross;
Conceived in sin, they sinn'd not; though they died,
They never shudder'd with the fear of death:
These things they know not and can never know.
Yet fallen children of a fallen race,
And early to transgression, like the rest,
Sure victims, they were bought with Jesus' blood,
And cleansed by Jesus' Spirit, and redeem'd
By His Omnipotent arm from death and hell:
A link betwixt mankind and angelhood:
As born of woman, sharers with all saints
In that great ransom paid upon the cross;
In purity and inexperience
Of guilt akin to angels. Infancy
Is one thing, manhood one. And babes, though part
Of the true archetypal house of God
Built on the heavenly Zion, are not now,
Nor will be ever, massive rocks rough-hewn,
Or ponderous corner-stones, or fluted shafts
Of columns, or far-shadowing pinnacles;
But rather as the delicate lily-work
By Hiram wrought for Solomon of old,
Enwreathed upon the brazen chapiters,
Or flowers of lilies round the molten sea.
Innumerable flowers thus bloom and blush
In heaven. Nor reckon God's designs in them
Frustrate, or shorn of full accomplishment;
The lily is as perfect as the oak;
The myrtle is as fragrant as the palm;
And Sharon's roses are as beautiful
As Lebanon's majestic cedar crown.

And when I saw my little lambs unchanged,
And heard them fondly call me by my name,
'Then is the bond of parent and of child
Indissoluble,' I exclaim'd, and drew
Them closer to my heart and wept for joy.

But other voices of familiar love,
And other forms of light reminded me
By the deep yearnings of my soul, I was
Myself not only' a father but a child;
Nor child alone, but brother, pastor, friend.
How often had I long'd in dreams o' the night,
Or meditative solitude, to see
The beaming sunshine of my father's smile,
Which ever seem'd to me a reflex of joy
Cast from God's smile; or haply oftener yet
My mother's face of fond solicitude, -
Solicitous for all except herself.
They were before me now. Nor they alone:
Betwixt them leant a slender seraph form,
My sister's spirit, who with frailest bark
Year after year had stemm'd the wildest sea,
Pain, conflict, cloud, and utter weariness,
Till the last billow, almost unawares,
On its rough bosom bore her into rest.
And can this be that wave-tost voyager,
This she? Radiant with beauty and with bloom,
As if the past had written on her brow
Its transcript in those shades of pensive grace
And breathing sympathy, wherein remain'd
Nothing of sadness, all of saintliness.
She stood and look'd on me a moment, saying,
'My brother, it is he!' and on my neck
She fell; nor arms alone were interlock'd
In that embrace. And then the pent up thoughts
Of many years flow'd from our eager lips,
As waters from a secret spring unseal'd.

I was no stranger in a strange land there:
But rather as one who travel-worn and weary,
Weary of wandering through many climes,
At length returning homeward, eyes far off
The white cliffs of his fatherland, and ere
The laboring ship touches its sacred soil
Leaps on the pier, while round him crowding press
Children and kith and friends, who in a breath
Ask of his welfare, and with joyous tongues
Pour all their love into his thirsty ear.
Such welcome home was mine; such questionings
Of things that had befallen me since last
We met, and of my pathway thitherwards,
And of the dear ones I had left behind: -
Words with embraces interspersed. And then,
Tasking my hands exultingly in theirs
And singing for delight, they led me on
Adown that heavenly valley: and the joy
Of Oriel, who resign'd me to their charge
Awhile, and with his radiant retinue
Hung on our footsteps, was fulfill'd in mine.
Straight towards a river bank they bent their steps,
Shaded by trees of life, whose pendent boughs,
Fann'd by soft gales, and laden with fresh fruit,
Dipp'd in the living waters. Every step
Some fondly loved familiar face was seen,
Whom I had known in pilgrim days, unchanged,
And yet all bright with one similitude:
One Lord had look'd on them.

So pass'd we on,
And lo, a group of the beatified
Advanced to meet us, on whose lips methought,
Hush'd to a whisper for delight, I heard
The strange salute of father. In amaze
I ask'd what meant such gratulation there?
And one for many answer'd, 'From thy mouth
We heard of Jesus' love, and thine the hand
That led us to His feet.' It was enough:
For all the parent and the pastor woke
Within me; all the holy memories
Of bygone days flow'd in a refluent tide
Over my soul once more. Some I had known
From rosy dawn of childhood, and had watch'd
Their hearts like buds beneath a cottage wall
Unfolding to the sunshine of God's love.
Some I had shepherded, yea many, who
With all the throbbing impulses of youth,
Gave me the inviolable confidence
Of their young life. And some in after years
Had pour'd the burden of a wounded spirit,
Suffering and sunken, into mine; and we
Had wept together, and together sought
The sinner's only Friend, nor sought in vain.
And others, dying, heard me read of him
Who on the cross for mercy cried to Christ;
Heard, and themselves believed. All these I knew;
And quickly' as light their story flash'd on me.
But in that group of filial spirits there came
Many I knew not - part of that great store
Of unsuspected treasure heaven conceals:
And they too pour'd on me beatitudes.
Nor, what I chiefly noted, seem'd my heart
Surcharged, or freighted overmuch, with love.
Affections with affections jarr'd not. All
Was music. As through some cathedral aisles
An organ of a thousand pipes pours forth
Its rich and multitudinous harmonies,
While the rapt organist touches at will
Its various stops, hautboy, and trump, and flute,
The clarion with the dulciana smooths,
And chastens with the plaintive tremulant
The diapason's thunder-roll: so love
Without confusion blended there with love,
Symphoniously distinct: and I embraced
Each one with all my heart, and all as each.

But now arrived upon that river bank
Whose lucid waves were shaded by the trees
Of life, along its marge in loose array
We wander'd, saints and angels, hand in hand,
The children dancing in their innocent glee,
And showering roses round our steps. But soon,
Hard by a wooded precipice, whence fell
The living waters with melodious fall
In numberless cascades from rock to rock
Exultant, like a rain of diamonds,
Through gates of woven myrtle' and vine we pass'd,
And enter'd what they call'd their bower of bliss,
One of the countless bowers of Paradise.
Or rather it might seem a sylvan shrine
For worship; so precipitous the trees,
Trees loftier than those giant pines which cast
Their shade athwart Peruvian forests, shot
Right upward towards the crystal firmament,
And wove aloft branches and leaves and fruit
In arches intricate, a fretted roof,
Through which the light cool'd and empurpled came,
With moss of amaranth and delicate ferns.
On these the spirits elect straightway reclined,
And I with them: while Oriel over me
Leant gazing with such pure perfect delight
As guardian angels only know. And then
My children placed within my hands the wreaths
Which they had woven of unfading flowers
Against my coming: these my mother took
And set upon my brow, smiling, and said,
'Thy crown of glory other hands than mine,
And in an hour of holier victory,
Shall give thee.'

And at Oriel's signal came
My father, bearing in his hand a harp
Of simplest form but manifold in tones
Of musical modulations without end,
And gave it to me, saying, 'Take it, my son;
It is heaven's workmanship, and made for thee.'
I took it, nothing loath; and, though on earth
In lute or harp my skill was nothing, then
Immediately I felt the tremulous strings
Responsive to my every thought, as when
The wind in sportive or in pensive mood
Wakens AEolian music. Strung it was
And pitch'd in most mysterious unison
With my heart's sympathies; for when I laid
My fingers on its airy chords, straightway
My very soul gush'd forth in melody,
The harp and harper vibrating in tune:
While words, like echoes of an old refrain
That heard in childhood haunts our riper years,
Broke in heaven's music from my lips - 'To Him
Who loved us, and hath wash'd us from our sins
In His own blood, and made us unto God
And to the Father kings and priests, to Him
Be glory and dominion, power and praise
For ever and for evermore. Amen.'
And all the ransom'd spirits rejoicingly
Answer'd, 'For evermore, Amen.' And all
The choir of angels struck their golden lyres,
Prolonging the sweet melody, until
On every face a brighter radiance fell,
And He, whose presence in the bowers of bliss
Is Omnipresent, secretly reveal'd
Himself to each, diffusing fragrance round
And joy unutterable; as when the wind
Moves clouds of incense from an altar flame,
And sheds a momentary roseate light
On priests and worshippers and temple walls.

The gleam o' the Divine glory pass'd: and then
My children brought me fruitage they had pluck'd
From off the trees of life, and water drawn
From living springs, and ruddy juice of grapes
More large and luscious than the fruit which grew
On Esheol's sunny vines. Nor deem it strange
That bodiless spirits partake of meat and drink.
Are not the angels spirits? and ate they not
At Mamre, by the tent of Abraham,
Press'd by his courteous hospitality?
And when the manna fell for forty years
Around the watchfires of that pilgrim host,
Was it not angel's food - the corn of heaven?
The Increate alone is self-sustain'd,
Life in Himself possessing, and all other
His creatures, from the burning seraphim
That sing around His everlasting throne,
Even to the moth which floating in the light
Wings in an hour its little life away,
Feed on the bounty of a Father's love,
Who opens wide His hand and satisfies
All living things with life-sustaining food.
And so we bless'd the Ever Blessed One,
And ate and drank with such pure appetite,
As gives not pain but pleasure to the feasts
Of angels. Nor was lacking there the joy
Of innocent laughter (they who weep on earth
Shall laugh in heaven) and all the genial glow
Of brotherly endearment, heart to heart
And eye to eye, after long severance,
Meeting for ever in our Father's house.
Sweet and refreshing interlude.

But soon
To graver converse turn'd we: and they ask'd,
With keen expectancy, what last I knew
Of the great warfare waged by saints on earth?
What lights of morning in the golden East
Streak'd the horizon? what the tidings sent
From heathen shores and from Emmanuel's land?
What victories the cross had last achieved
Over the paling crescent? whether still
The doom'd embattlements of Babylon
Stood in apparent might? and if the Bride
Sustain'd her weary vigil, as of old,
From watch to watch repeating 'Till He come?'
They ask'd: I answer'd, marvelling to find
How thin a veil parted the blessed Church
Triumphant, and that militant on earth;
And how the wrestlers, racers, combatants,
Wrestled and ran and fought, encompass'd round
So closely by a cloud of witnesses.

Father I may not linger to relate
The infinite delights of that first tryst
With those, who earlier than myself had won
Their rest, and tasted of the fruit of life.
It might be many days of earthly time,
Which pass'd in glory without weariness
Or measure. But at length our hearts were fill'd,
Even to the overflowing brim of joy,
Each with the other's love; and forth we pass'd,
In groups or singly, on our several paths
Of rest or service: service there is rest,
Rest, service: for the Paradise of saints,
Like Eden with its toilless husbandry,
Has many plants to tend, and flowers to twine,
And fruit-trees in the garden of the soul,
That ask the culture of celestial skill.
Some wander'd amid vines, and flowery meads,
And from the grateful lips of angels learn'd
More virtues than he knew who spake of trees
From cedars to the hyssop on the wall.
Some perfected their skill in dance and song,
With lyre or lute accompanied, and made
Those woods and valleys vocal with sweet sounds,
Sweeter than those which from a thousand birds
Fill Vallombrosa's vale in spring-time. Here
It was perpetual spring. Some clomb with ease,
Swift as the winds, the everlasting hills,
And from their summit bathed in light survey'd
The glorious landscape. Some in silence mused:
Heaven has its calm unbroken solitudes
For prayer and lonely meditation meet.
And some in clusters, walking or recline,
Heard from an elder saint or guardian spirit
The awful story of the past, or bent
Over the mystic chart of prophecy,
Brother to brother saying, 'It is done.
The day-spring is at hand.'

Me Oriel led
From bower to bower, from peopled glen to glen,
From saintly company to company,
And show'd me of the mysteries that fill
That world of spirits, that nether Paradise,
That suburb of the New Jerusalem,
That Beautiful gate of heaven, that vestibule
Where the saints wait their bright apparelling
Of glory 'neath the veil now rent which hangs
Betwixt the Holy and Most Holy Place.
Children of light, through fields of light we pass'd
Unchallenged, not ungreeted with the smiles
Of welcomes without number. And I mark'd
How largely the redeem'd though free to range
Within the limits almost limitless
Of those celestial regions, group'd themselves,
They and their guardian spirits, with other saints,
Their fellow-pilgrims, on the earth. It was
No rigid severance; for many walk'd,
As we were walking, to and fro abroad
Throughout those blissful mansions: but enough
Of chosen and endear'd companionship
To mark the character of centuries
And generations, as concentric rings
Of increase chronicle the growth of trees;
Or as the strata of the rocks record,
Not without many an intercepting vein,
The onward march of ages. Oriel read
My wonder, though unspoken, and replied
'Remember that the same Omniscient Love
Design'd this temple built of living stones,
Wherein Himself to dwell for evermore,
As hung the firmament with globes of light,
And group'd them, as it pleased Him best, in groups
Of suns and planets, and in spiral coils
Of stars innumerable, and decreed
Amid this maze of constellations each
Should minister to each, and by one law
Of gravitation be for ever link'd.
So by the vast necessity of love,
Necessity with equal freedom poised,
Saints cling to saints, angels to angels cleave,
And men and angels in One Father's house
Are all as brethren. Not that love can be
Without the chosen specialties of love,
The nearest to the nearest most akin.
But none are strangers here, none sojourners:
And as the cloudless ages glide away,
New fountains of delight to us, to all,
Will open in the fellowship of hearts,
Unfathom'd by us yet. Nor time will fail;
For an eternity to come is ours
With humble contemplation to adore
The counsels of a past eternity
But mark who next seem waiting our advance
In yonder vale.'

Straightway I look'd, and lo,
We were among the parents of that age
In which my life was cast - my father's peers -
Some of them standard-bearers in God's host,
Who, when their mortal course was finish'd, left
Large space, and in the front ranks, as they fell,
Till comrades pressing onward fill'd the chasm:
And others walking in the lowliest paths
Of earth, now comrades with the high'st in heaven.
The first who greeted me by name was one
Whom I had known long since, an aged saint
Dwelling all lonely in her little room,
On scantiest means subsisting and content,
But with a queenly heart, wide as the world,
And loving all for His sake who is love;
Hers now was meet society. And then
Saluted me the venerable man
Whose writings first waken'd my dying soul
To deathless life - one of those secret bonds
Which interlink the family of God.
But here I must not register the names
Of these, and spirits of every clime and tongue,
Who throng'd this region clothed in dazzling white:
For through them, bent on traversing the fields
Of Paradise, onward to other ranks
Of that illimitable host we pass'd,
Their fathers and their fathers' fathers, men
Whose lamps burn'd brightly once in earthly gloom,
And now themselves shone forth as stars in heaven,
Illuminating with eternal light
The brightness of that filmless firmament.

So pass'd we on from saintly band to band
Among those vales resting from all their toil,
In multitudes more countless than the tribes
Of Israel when from Dan to Beersheba
Flocking to Zion's sacred hill they kept
The feast of tabernacles, seven days
On song and gladness. In their midst I saw
Some who appear'd more radiant than the rest,
And ask'd what meant their bright pre-eminence
In glory. Oriel answer'd, 'These are they
Of whom the Church on earth so often sings;
Some of the martyrs' noble army: these
For Christ gave up their bodies to be burn'd,
Or bow'd their necks beneath the murderous sword;
Or, though their names appear not on the scroll
Of martyrologists, laid down their life,
No less a martyrdom in Jesus' eyes,
For His dear brethren's sake - watching the couch
Of loathsome sickness or of slow decay;
Or binding up the ravages which men,
Marring God's image, deal on fellow-men;
Or visiting the captive in his cell;
Or struggling with a burden not their own
Until their very life-springs wore away.
These too are martyrs, brother.'

As he spake,
The high supremacy of sacrifice,
The majesty of service filled my soul
With thoughts too deep for words.

And not a few
I saw there of the goodly fellowship
Of prophets, the ambassadors who stood
Age after age amid the scoffing world,
And lifted up the standard of the cross,
Unmoved, undaunted. Nor, as some have deem'd,
Form'd they an order to themselves of saints,
But mingling moved, like shepherds through their flocks,
Amid their fellow-saints, wielding the sway
By them, by all, felt rather than confess'd,
Of grateful and predominating love.
There is predominance in heaven, and grades
Of lower and superior sanctities;
All are not equal there; for brotherhood
And freedom both abhor equality,
The very badge of serfdom; only there
It is the true nobility of worth,
The aristocracy of gentleness,
The power of goodness and of doing good.

And when I look'd upon those blessed saints,
Those perfect spirits albeit the lowest there
Was greater than the greatest upon earth,
For all were clothed in sinless purity,
At once I knew the principalities
And virtues and subordinate degrees
Amongst them. And when Oriel told their names,
A deep chord vibrated within my heart,
And past things lived again, And then I saw
That many first were last, and last were first -
Not all, not most, but many. There were those
Once foremost in the foremost ranks, not now
Distinguishable from their peers in light:
And some, aforetime hidden and unknown,
Now shone in lustrous dignity sublime.
But one and all were circled with a cloud
Of infant spirits, pure mirthful innocents,
Like sunbeams glancing to and fro, like birds
Warbling their song of praise. The elder saints
Seem'd to my eyes a countless multitude;
But these cherubic babes outnumber'd them,
As the dark pine-trees of Siberia's wilds,
Unfell'd immeasurable forests, yield
In numbers to the ferns and summer flowers
Which grow beneath their shadowing boughs, and fringe
Their gnarled roots with beauty. Heaven methinks -
So awful is eternal life, so vast
Its lights and shadows - heaven itself would seem
Too solemn and severe without its choirs
Of infants revelling in innocence,
Who never knew a touch of sinful grief,
But live in joy, and joy because they live.
So hath God will'd. So will'd the Son of God
What time He took the children in His arms,
Laying His hands on them and blessing them,
And saying, 'Suffer them to come to Me,
Forbid them not, for of such babes as these
And sucklings is My kingdom in the heavens.'
But time and space would fail me to narrate
All I beheld in that great under-world;
The golden grain of threescore centuries
Reap'd from a thousand harvest-fields and stored
In heaven. Backward from age to age we traced
The course of time along those wastes of gloom,
When darkness amid which the lurid flames
Of persecution blazed, and witnesses,
In ashes and in sackcloth prophesied,
Now clothed in dazzling light: and with them those
Who underneath the skirts of Antichrist
Bewilder'd clung to Christ, and led by Him,
In cell or cloister groped their way to heaven:
Not one was wanting there.

And there we saw
The children of the Gospel's holier dawn,
Austin, and Chrysostom, and Cyprian,
And Irenaeus, and blest Polycarp,
Names representing many not unlike
In love and labor, fellow-travellers
On earth, now fellow-citizens in heaven.
And there was holy Antipas, and there
The protomartyr Stephen; and the band
Whom Jesus chose, the Apostolic Twelve.
As heralds of His love to all the world.
Peter and John were walking, as of old
They used to walk along the silver sand
Wash'd by the waters of Gennesaret,
In closest converse; and beside them he
Of all men likest Christ, whose cross he preach'd
Unwearied from Jerusalem to Rome,
Burning with fire or melting into tears,
As God's Spirit moved upon his human spirit -
The myriad-minded lion-hearted Paul:
Amid heaven's peers peerless triumvirate.
Yet as we pass'd they bent a beaming smile
On me the humblest and the last arrived
Of all their brotherhood, so full of love
It seem'd to promise feasts of intercourse
In after ages. And not far from them,
Half hidden by a branching tree of life,
Type of herself, the blessed Mary sate,
In calm humility musing alone
Upon those mysteries of grace, which seem'd
Vaster in length and breadth and depth and height,
The measureless dimensions of God's love,
As still the Bridal of the Church drew near.
Hard by, Elizabeth and Zachary,
Anna the prophetess, and Simeon stood,
Engraven on whose countenance I traced
The light of summer suns and mellow tints
Of autumn, not the wintry frosts of age.
And with them he who in the wilderness
Was the voice heralding the Word, the star
That hid itself within the golden beams
Of the uprisen Sun of Righteousness.

Nor was there any chasm betwixt the saints
Who wrought before and after. They were one, -
One building, and one body, and one bride.

I saw the wise sons of Betirah there,
Hillel who loosed, and Shammai who bound,
And Rabban, Hillel's son, and Jonathan;
And near them those great worthies, who deserved
So nobly of their noble fatherland,
The dauntless and heroic Maccabees;
And there the mother of those tortured sons,
Who in their dying suffer'd sevenfold death,
Yet flinch'd not: round her clustering they stood
A retinue of everlasting praise;
She was not childless now. Esther was there,
More lovely than upon that golden eve
When she her royal captor captive led;
And saintly Daniel, and the three who walk'd
Unsinged and scatheless in the fiery flame;
And all the holy seers from Malachi
To Samuel; there the rapt Ezekiel,
And plaintive Jeremy, and he whose lips
A seraph touch'd with a live coal of fire.
And there the kingly Hezekiah moved
Among the thrones of heaven; and David's son
Was there; and David the beloved himself,
Touching a sweeter harp than that he struck
Upon the grassy slopes of Bethlehem.
And there I saw the captains of God's hosts,
Samson and Jephthah, not without his child,
Who for her country and her father's vow
A virgin lived and died; and Gideon;
And Deborah the warrior prophetess;
And him who led his people Israel
Through Jordan's smitten waves, the son of Nun;
And, of the elder saints haply the first,
Moses the man of God, who, looking down
On all the royalties of Egypt, sought
A nobler sceptre and a name inscribed,
Not in the hieroglyphic scrolls of men,
But in God's book of life. And there were all
The pilgrim fathers in the better land
They long'd for; Joseph and the patriarchs,
The princely Israel, and that child of prayer,
The meditative son of Abraham,
And Abraham himself, the friend of God;
And Noah and his children, who by faith
Condemn'd the faithless world; and those who pray'd
In time's first dawn the matins of the Church,
Seated around our primal ancestors,
The father and the mother of mankind,
Who through the Son of Man, the woman's Seed,
Had won in heaven a nobler Paradise
Than Eden, forfeited and lost by sin.

Long while I gazed in silent awe; for these
Were only some familiar names and few
Among ten thousand times ten thousand saints,
All diversely felicitous, and each
On each reflecting gladness. But at last
The fire of love and admiration burn'd
So hot within me, that I spake and said,
'O blessed Oriel, can the highest heavens
Surpass the glory of this Paradise?
If only all I loved were present now,
Here, here methinks I could for ever dwell.
What beauty can excel these radiant forms?
What do they lack of excellence or grace?
Are they not swifter than the viewless winds?
Are they not pure as is the light itself?
Say, are there brighter robes in heaven, or harps
Of tenderer music? Or have they who walk
The golden streets and fill with songs of praise
The mansions of the New Jerusalem,
More open vision of the Lord their God,
And in Him more divine beatitude?'

Smiling, my guardian answer'd, 'It is sweet
Be sure for me, who hither led thy steps,
To hear thy words of rapturous delight
In this fair world of purity and peace,
And in these blessed spirits who here throng
Heaven's portals waiting their investiture
With resurrection glory. Yes, the Bride
Is almost ready for her bridal robes:
The heavenly temple is almost complete.
How different from that hour, for I was here,
When the first saint, disrobed of mortal flesh,
The martyr'd Abel, trod these fields, and we
His angel brothers sought, and not in vain,
To gladden his else solitary rest.
Since then six thousand years have pass'd: and now
The countless multitudes of God's elect,
The festal throng and church of the firstborn,
Are well nigh gather'd home. Yet think not this
The crown and final summit of their joy.
They are not perfect here, whose bodies sleep
And moulder crumbling in the silent tomb,
Death's trophies; for the union, flesh and spirit,
In one compacted, was the fruit nature
Of God's eternal counsels, when He breathed
Into the mouldered clay the breath of life,
And man became a living soul: and when
The dust returns unto its kindred dust,
And the lone spirit to God, this strange divorce
Is the permitted reign, gloomy though brief,
Of the dread king of terrors. Here unclothed
Of their own natural apparelling,
Man's proper garb, their puissance is weak
To that of angels who were form'd by God
Pure spirits. Nor is this Paradise of saints,
Albeit large and glorious, more than one
Of many mansions in our Father's house,
Wherein His children, by their birthright free
Of His whole universe, and citizens
Of the celestial city, wait the hour
Which shall for ever consummate their bliss.
But see who yonder walk.'

I look'd, and, lo,
Two diverse from the rest appear'd. Their form
Was that of men, and yet not mortal men;
Their likeness spiritual, yet not spirits alone;
So pure the texture of that robe they wore,
The light translucent through transfigured flesh,
As onyx stones, or ruby flashing fire.

'Who are these,' I exclaim'd, 'these royal priests?
Are they Elias, and that saint who walk'd
With God and was not?'

'Rightly hast thou judged,'
Oriel made answer; 'and their presence here
Is pledge and earnest to the Blessed Dead
Of that great resurrection day, whose dawn
Already gilds the Easter of the world:
They with the saints who rose when Jesus rose
Are wave-sheafs of the harvest. But of these
And other mysteries in earth and heaven
Conversing, on the range of yonder hills,
Whose summits bound these beatific fields,
And look far off into the waste beyond,
If such thy pleasure, let us wait the end.'

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Poems About Light

  1. 451. Yesterday, To-Day, And For Ever: Book Ii.. , Edward Henry Bickersteth
  2. 452. Yesterday, To-Day, And For Ever: Book Iv.. , Edward Henry Bickersteth
  3. 453. Evgeny Onegin 6-10 A.S. Pushkin , Yuri Starostin
  4. 454. The World's Twilight , natalie vail
  5. 455. This Light , Robert Rumery
  6. 456. Festus - Xv , Philip James Bailey
  7. 457. Selected Poems Of Dr. Mahendra Bhatnagar.. , MAHENDRA BHATNAGAR
  8. 458. Friends At The Casino.............. , Eva Tortora
  9. 459. Darkness , yvonne stine
  10. 460. Icing And Rosaries! ~ Eva Tortora , Eva Tortora
  11. 461. Sleeping Night , Egbe Chris
  12. 462. Daily Light , gray wolf
  13. 463. Butterfly Mosaics , Eva Tortora
  14. 464. Trangresion Hard , Ramie Jackson
  15. 465. She Is Mine , Ibrahim Lawal Soro
  16. 466. Sunflowers In The Light................... , Eva Tortora
  17. 467. Orange Stars....By Eva Tortora , Eva Tortora
  18. 468. Freestyle Blue............................ , Eva Tortora
  19. 469. The Light Of Love , Abraham Perez
  20. 470. Light Tone , Emranor Reja
  21. 471. Sparkle.....By Eva Tortora , Eva Tortora
  22. 472. Hello, the Roses , Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge
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