Death And Birth by George MacDonald

A Symbol.

[Sidenote: He looks from his window on the midnight town.]

‘Tis the midnight hour; I heard
The city clocks give out the word.
Seldom are the lamp-rays shed
On the quick foot-farer’s head,
As I sit at my window old,
Looking out into the cold,
Down along the narrowing street
Stretching out below my feet,
From base of this primeval block,
My old home’s foundation rock.

[Sidenote: He renounces Beauty the body for Truth the soul.]

How her windows are uplighted!
God in heaven! for this I slighted,
Star-profound immensity
Brooding ever in the sky!
What an earthly constellation
Fills those chambers with vibration!
Fleeting, gliding, weaving, parting;
Light of jewels! flash of eyes!
Meeting, changing, wreathing, darting,
In a cloud of rainbow-dyes.
Soul of light, her eyes are floating
Hither, thither, through the cloud,
Wandering planets, seeking, noting
Chosen stars amid the crowd.
Who, as centre-source of motion
Draws those dark orbs’ spirit-ocean?
All the orbs on which they turn
Sudden with shooting radiance burn;
Mine I felt grow dim with sheen,
Sending tribute to their queen:
Queen of all the slaves of show–
Queen of Truth’s free nobles–no.
She my wandering eyes might chain,
Fill my throbbing burning brain:
Beauty lacking Truth within
Spirit-homage cannot win.
Will is strong, though feeling waver
Like the sea to its enslaver–
Strong as hills that bar the sea
With the word of the decree.

[Sidenote: The Resentment of Genius at the thumbscrews of worldly talent.]

That passing shadow in the street!
Well I know it, as is meet!
Did he not, before her face,
Seek to brand me with disgrace?
From the chiselled lips of wit
Let the fire-flakes lightly flit,
Scorching as the snow that fell
On the damned in Dante’s hell?
With keen-worded opposition,
playful, merciless precision,
Mocking the romance of Youth,
Standing on the sphere of Truth,
He on worldly wisdom’s plane
Rolled it to and fro amain.–
Doubtless there it could not lie,
Or walk an orbit but the sky.–
I, who glowed in every limb,
Knowing, could not answer him;
But I longed yet more to be
What I saw he could not see.
So I thank him, for he taught
What his wisdom never sought.
It were sweet to make him burn
With his poverty in turn,
Shaming him in those bright eyes,
Which to him are more than skies!
Whither? whither? Heart, thou knowest
Side by side with him thou goest,
If thou lend thyself to aught
But forgiving, saving thought.

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[Sidenote: Repentance.]

[Sidenote: The recess of the window a niche, wherein he beholds
all the world of his former walk as the picture of a vain slave.

Ah! come in; I need your aid.
Bring-your tools, as then I said.–
There, my friend, build up that niche.
“Pardon me, my lord, but which?”
That, in which I stood this minute;
That one with the picture in it.–
“The window, do you mean, my lord?
Such, few mansions can afford!
Picture is it? ‘Tis a show
Picture seldom can bestow!
City palaces and towers,
Forest depths of floating pines,
Sloping gardens, shadowed bowers;
Use with beauty here combines.”
True, my friend, seen with your eyes:
But in mine ’tis other quite:
In that niche the dead world lies,
Shadowed over with the night.
In that tomb I’ll wall it out;
Where, with silence all about,
Startled only by decay
As the ancient bonds give way,
Sepulchred in all its charms,
Circled in Death’s nursing arms,
Mouldering without a cross,
It may feed itself on loss.

[Sidenote: The Devil Contempt whistling through the mouth of the Saint Renunciation.]

Now go on, lay stone on stone,
I will neither sigh nor moan.–
Whither, whither, Heart of good?

[Sidenote: Repentance.]

Art thou not, in this thy mood,
One of evil, priestly band,
With dark robes and lifted hand,
Square-faced, stony-visaged men,
In a narrow vaulted den,
Watching, by the cresset dun,
A wild-eyed, pale-faced, staring nun,
Who beholds, as, row by row,
Grows her niche’s choking wall,
The blood-red tide of hell below
Surge in billowy rise and fall?

[Sidenote: Dying unto sin]

Yet build on; for it is I
To the world would gladly die;
To the hopes and fears it gave me,
To the love that would enslave me,
To the voice of blame it raises,
To the music of its praises,
To its judgments and its favours,
To its cares and its endeavours,
To the traitor-self that opes
Secret gates to cunning hopes;–
Dying unto all this need,
I shall live a life indeed;
Dying unto thee, O Death,
Is to live by God’s own breath.
Therefore thus I close my eyes,
Thus I die unto the world;
Thus to me the same world dies,
Laid aside, a map upfurled.
Keep me, God, from poor disdain:
When to light I rise again,
With a new exultant life
Born in sorrow and in strife,
Born of Truth and words divine,
I will see thee yet again,
Dwell in thee, old world of mine,
Aid the life within thy men,
Helping them to die to thee,
And walk with white feet, radiant, free;
Live in thee, not on thy love,
Breathing air from heaven above.

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[Sidenote: Regret at the memory of Beauty, and Appreciation, and Praise.]

Lo! the death-wall grows amain;
And in me triumphant pain
To and fro and outward goes
As I feel my coffin close.–
Ah, alas, some beauties vanish!
Ah, alas, some strength I banish!
Maidens listening with a smile
In confiding eyes, the while
Truths they loved so well to hear
Left my lips. Lo, they draw near!
Lo! I see my forehead crowned
With a coronal of faces,
Where the gleam of living graces
Each to other keeps them bound;
Leaning forward in a throng,
I the centre of their eyes,
Voices mute, that erst in song
Stilled the heart from all but sighs–
Now in thirsty draughts they take
At open eyes and ears, the Truth
Spoken for their love and youth–
Hot, alas! for bare Truth’s sake!
There were youths that held by me,
Youths with slightly furrowed brows,
Bent for thought like bended bows;
Youths with souls of high degree
Said that I alone could teach them,
I, one of themselves, could reach them;
I alone had insight nurst,
Cared for Truth and not for Form,
Would not call a man a worm,
Saw God’s image in the worst.
And they said my words were strong,
Made their inward longings rise;
Even, of mine, a little song,
Lark-like, rose into the skies.
Here, alas! the self-same folly;
‘Twas not for the Truth’s sake wholly,
Not for sight of the thing seen,
But for Insight’s sake I ween.
Now I die unto all this;
Kiss me, God, with thy cold kiss.

[Sidenote: “I dreamed that Allah kissed me, and his kiss was cold.”]

All self-seeking I forsake;
In my soul a silence make.
There was joy to feel I could,
That I had some power of good,
That I was not vainly tost:
Now I’m empty, empty quite;
Fill me, God, or I am lost;
In my spirit shines no light;
All the outer world’s wild press
Crushes in my emptiness.
Am I giving all away?
Will the sky be always grey?
Never more this heart of mine
Beat like heart refreshed with wine?
I shall die of misery,
If Thou, God, come not to me.

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[Sidenote: Dead indeed unto Sin.]

Now ’tis finished. So depart
All untruth from out my heart;
All false ways of speaking, thinking;
All false ways of looking, linking;
All that is not true and real,
Tending not to God’s Ideal:
Help me–how shall human breath
Word Thy meaning in this death!

[Sidenote: How is no matter, so that he wake to Life and Sight.]

Now come hither. Bring that tool.
Its name I know not; but its use
Written on its shape in full
Tells me it is no abuse
If I strike a hole withal
Through this thick opposed wall.
The rainbow-pavement! Never heed it–
What is that, where light is needed?
Where? I care not; quickest best.
What kind of window would I choose?
Foolish man, what sort of hues
Would you have to paint the East,
When each hill and valley lies
Hungering for the sun to rise?
‘Tis an opening that I want;
Let the light in, that is all;
Needful knowledge it will grant.
How to frame the window tall.
Who at morning ever lies
Thinking how to ope his eyes?
This room’s eyelids I will ope,
Make a morning as I may;
‘Tis the time for work and hope;
Night is waning near the day.

I bethink me, workman priest;
It were best to pierce the wall
Where the thickness is the least–
Nearer there the light-beams fall,
Sooner with our dark to mix–
That niche where stands the Crucifix.
“The Crucifix! what! impious task!
Wilt thou break into its shrine?
Taint with human the Divine?”
Friend, did Godhead wear a mask
Of the human? or did it
Choose a form for Godhead fit?

[Sidenote: The form must yield to the Truth.]

Brother with the rugged crown
Won by being all divine,
This my form may come to Thine:
Gently thus I lift Thee down;
Lovingly, O marble cold,
Thee with human hands I fold,
And I set Thee thus aside,
Human rightly deified!
God, by manhood glorified!

[Sidenote: Nothing less than the Cross would satisfy the Godhead for its own assertion and vindication.]

Thinkest thou that Christ did stand
Shutting God from out the land?
Hiding from His children’s eyes
Dayspring in the holy skies?
Stood He not with loving eye
On one side, to bring us nigh?
“Doth this form offend you still?
God is greater than you see;
If you seek to do His will,
He will lead you unto me.”
Then the tender Brother’s grace
Leads us to the Father’s face.
As His parting form withdrew,
Burst His Spirit on the view.
Form completest, radiant white,
Sometimes must give way for light,
When the eye, itself obscure,
Stead of form is needing cure:
Washed at morning’s sunny brim
From the mists that make it dim,
Set thou up the form again,
And its light will reach the brain.
For the Truth is Form allowed,
For the glory is the cloud;
But the single eye alone
Sees with light that is its own,
From primeval fountain-head
Flowing ere the sun was made;
Such alone can be regaled
With the Truth by form unveiled;
To such an eye his form will be
Gushing orb of glory free.

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[Sidenote: Striving.]

Stroke on stroke! The frescoed plaster
Clashes downward, fast and faster.
Now the first stone disengages;
Now a second that for ages
Bested there as in a rock
Yields to the repeated shock.
Hark! I heard an outside stone
Down the rough rock rumbling thrown!

[Sidenote: Longing.]

Haste thee, haste! I am athirst
To behold young Morning, nurst
In the lap of ancient Night,
Growing visibly to light.
There! thank God! a faint light-beam!
There! God bless that little stream
Of cool morning air that made
A rippling on my burning head!

[Sidenote: Alive unto God.]

Now! the stone is outward flung,
And the Universe hath sprung
Inward on my soul and brain!

[Sidenote: A New Life.]

I am living once again!
Out of sorrow, out of strife,
Spring aloft to higher life;
Parted by no awful cleft
From the life that I have left;
Only I myself grown purer
See its good so much the surer,
See its ill with hopeful eye,
Frown more seldom, oftener sigh.
Dying truly is no loss,
For to wings hath grown the cross.
Dear the pain of giving up,
If Christ enter in and sup.
Joy to empty all the heart,
That there may be room for Him!
Faintness cometh, soon to part,
For He fills me to the brim.
I have all things now and more;
All that I possessed before;
In a calmer holier sense,
Free from vanity’s pretence;
And a consciousness of bliss,
Wholly mine, by being His.
I am nearer to the end
Whither all my longings tend.
His love in all the bliss I had,
Unknown, was that which made me glad;
And will shine with glory more,
In the forms it took before.

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[Sidenote: Beauty returned with Truth.]

Lo! the eastern vapours crack
With the sunshine at their back!
Lo! the eastern glaciers shine
In the dazzling light divine!
Lo! the far-off mountains lifting
Snow-capt summits in the sky!
Where all night the storm was drifting,
Whiteness resteth silently!
Glorious mountains! God’s own places!
Surely man upon their faces
Climbeth upward nearer Thee
Dwelling in Light’s Obscurity!
Mystic wonders! hope and fear
Move together at your sight.

[Sidenote: Silence and Thought.]

That one precipice, whose height
I can mete by inches here,
Is a thousand fathoms quite.
I must journey to your foot,
Grow on you as on my root;
Feed upon your silent speech,
Awful air, and wind, and thunder,
Shades, and solitudes, and wonder;

[Sidenote: The Realities of existence must seize on his soul.]

Distances that lengthening roll
Onward, on, beyond Thought’s reach,
Widening, widening on the view;
Till the silence touch my soul,
Growing calm and vast like you.
I will meet Christ on the mountains;
Dwell there with my God and Truth;

[Sidenote: Baptism.]

Drink cold water from their fountains,
Baptism of an inward youth.
Then return when years are by,
To teach a great humility;

[Sidenote: Future mission.]

To aspiring youth to show
What a hope to them is given:
Heaven and Earth at one to know;
On the Earth to live in Heaven;
Winning thus the hearts of Earth
To die into the Heavenly Birth.

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