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Poems

THE PROBLEM

I like a church; I like a cowl;
I love a prophet of the soul;
And on my heart monastic aisles
Fall like sweet strains, or pensive smiles;
Yet not for all his faith can see
Would I that cowlŽd churchman be.

Why should the vest on him allure,
Which I could not on me endure?

Not from a vain or shallow thought
His awful Jove young Phidias brought;
Never from lips of cunning fell
The thrilling Delphic oracle;
Out from the heart of nature rolled
The burdens of the Bible old;
The litanies of nations came,
Like the volcano's tongue of flame,
Up from the burning core below,
The canticles of love and woe:
The hand that rounded Peter's dome
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome
Wrought in a sad sincerity;
Himself from God he could not free;
He builded better than he knew,--
The conscious stone to beauty grew.

Know'st thou what wove yon woodbird's nest
Of leaves, and feathers from her breast?
Or how the fish outbuilt her shell,
Painting with morn each annual cell?
Or how the sacred pine-tree adds
To her old leaves new myriads?
Such and so grew these holy piles,
Whilst love and terror laid the tiles.
Earth proudly wears the Parthenon,
As the best gem upon her zone,
And Morning opes with haste her lids
To gaze upon the Pyramids;
O'er England's abbeys bends the sky,
As on its friends, with kindred eye;
For out of Thought's interior sphere
These wonders rose to upper air;
And Nature gladly gave them place,
Adopted them into her race,
And granted them an equal date
With Andes and with Ararat.

These temples grew as grows the grass;
Art might obey, but not surpass.
The passive Master lent his hand
To the vast soul that o'er him planned;
And the same power that reared the shrine
Bestrode the tribes that knelt within.
Ever the fiery Pentecost
Girds with one flame the countless host,
Trances the heart through chanting choirs,
And through the priest the mind inspires.
The word unto the prophet spoken
Was writ on tables yet unbroken;
The word by seers or sibyls told,
In groves of oak, or fanes of gold,
Still floats upon the morning wind,
Still whispers to the willing mind.
One accent of the Holy Ghost
The heedless world hath never lost.
I know what say the fathers wise,Ñ
The Book itself before me lies,
Old Chrysostom, best Augustine,
And he who blent both in his line,
The younger Golden Lips or mines,
Taylor, the Shakespeare of divines.
His words are music in my ear,
I see his cowlŽd portrait dear;
And yet, for all his faith could see,
I would not the good bishop be.

1839                1840

 

l. 7: vest: vestment
l. 10: Phidias: Greek sculptor of the fifth century B.C.E.v l. 12: Delphic oracle: prophetic utterances of the priestesses of the temple of Apollo at Delphos.
l. 19: the hand that rounded Peterfs dome: refers to Michelangelo (1475-1564), who became the chief architect of St. Peterfs Cathedral in his later years.
l. 51: Pentecost: the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles (Acts 2).
l. 58: fane: a temple; a place consecrated to religion [L. fanum, a place dedicated to some deity, a sanctuary].
l. 65: Chrysostom: St. John of Antioch (345?-407) was the Patriarch of Constantinople and a famed orator. His surname means ggolden-mouthedh. Augustine: St. Augustine (354-430) Bishop of Hippo and author of Confessions. He was a teacher of rhetoric in his youth
l. 68: Taylor: Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) was an Anglican clergyman famous for his eloquence. Author of Holy Living and Holy Dying.