My Room by George MacDonald

To G.E.M.

‘Tis a little room, my friend;
A baby-walk from end to end;
All the things look sadly real,
This hot noontide’s Unideal.
Seek not refuge at the casement,
There’s no pasture for amazement
But a house most dim and rusty,
And a street most dry and dusty;
Seldom here more happy vision
Than water-cart’s blest apparition,
We’ll shut out the staring space,
Draw the curtains in its face.

Close the eyelids of the room,
Fill it with a scarlet gloom:
Lo! the walls on every side
Are transformed and glorified;
Ceiled as with a rosy cloud
Furthest eastward of the crowd,
Blushing faintly at the bliss
Of the Titan’s good-night kiss,
Which her westward sisters share,–
Crimson they from breast to hair.
‘Tis the faintest lends its dye
To my room–ah, not the sky!
Worthy though to be a room
Underneath the wonder-dome:
Look around on either hand,
Are we not in fairy-land?
In the ruddy atmosphere
All familiar things appear
Glowing with a mystery
In the red light shadowy;
Lasting bliss to you and me,
Colour only though it be.

Now on the couch, inwrapt in mist
Of vapourized amethyst,
Lie, as in a rose’s heart;
Secret things I will impart;
Any time you would receive them;
Easier though you will believe them
In dissolving dreamy red,
Self-same radiance that is shed
From the summer-heart of Poet,
Flushing those that never know it.
Tell me not the light thou viewest
Is a false one; ’tis the truest;
‘Tis the light revealing wonder,
Filling all above and under;
If in light you make a schism,
‘Tis the deepest in the prism.

The room looks common; but the fact is
‘Tis a cell of magic practice,
So disguised by common daylight,
By its disenchanting grey light,
Only spirit-eyes, mesmeric,
See its glories esoteric.
There, that case against the wall,
Glowingly purpureal!
A piano to the prosy–
Not to us in twilight rosy:
‘Tis a cave where Nereids lie.
Naiads, Dryads, Oreads sigh,
Dreaming of the time when they
Danced in forest and in bay.
In that chest before your eyes,
Nature’s self enchanted lies;
Awful hills and midnight woods;
Sunny rains in solitudes;
Deserts of unbounded longing;
Blessed visions, gladness thronging;

All this globe of life unfoldeth
In phantom forms that coffer holdeth.
True, unseen; for ’tis enchanted–
What is that but kept till wanted?
Do you hear that voice of singing?
‘Tis the enchantress that is flinging
Spells around her baby’s riot,
Music’s oil the waves to quiet:
She at once can disenchant them,
To a lover’s wish to grant them;
She can make the treasure casket
Yield its riches, as that basket
Yielded up the gathered flowers;
Yet its mines, and fields, and bowers,
Full remain, as mother Earth
Never tired of giving birth.

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Do you doubt me? Wait till night
Brings black hours and white delight;
Then, as now, your limbs outstretching,
Yield yourself to her bewitching.
She will bring a book of spells
Writ like crabbed oracles;
Wherewith necromantic fingers
Raise the ghosts of parted singers:
Straight your senses will be bound
In a net of torrent sound.
For it is a silent fountain,
Fed by springs from unseen mountain.

Till with gestures cabalistic,
Crossing, lining figures mystic,
(Diagram most mathematic,
Simple to these signs erratic,)
O’er the seals her quick hands going
Loose the rills and set them flowing:
Pent up music rushing out
Bathes thy spirit all about;
Spell-bound nature, freed again,
Joyous revels in thy brain.

On a mountain-top you stand,
Looking o’er a sunny land;
Giant forces marching slow,
Rank on rank, the great hills go,
On and on without a stay,
Melting in the blue away.
Wondrous light, more wondrous shading;
High relief in faintness fading;
Branching streams, like silver veins,
Meet and part in dells and plains.
There a woody hollow lies,
Dumb with love, and bright with eyes;
Moorland tracks of broken ground
Rising o’er, it all around:
Traveller climbing from the grove
Needs the tender heavens above.
“Ah, my pictured life,” you cry,
“Fading into sea and sky!”

Lost in thought that gently grieves you,
All the fairy landscape leaves you;
Sinks the sadness into rest,
Ripple-like on water’s breast;
Mother’s bosom rests the daughter,–
Grief the ripple, Love the water.
All the past is strangely blended
In a mist of colours splendid,
But chaotic as to form,
An unfeatured beauty-storm.

Wakes within, the ancient mind
For a gloriousness defined:
As she sought and knew your pleasure,–
Wiling with a dancing measure,
Underneath your closed eyes
She calls the shapes of clouded skies;
White forms flushing hyacinthine
Twine in curvings labyrinthine;
Seem with godlike graceful feet,
For such mazy motion meet,
To press from air each lambent note,
On whose throbbing fire they float;
With an airy wishful gait
On each others’ motion wait;
Naked arms and vesture free
Fill up the dance of harmony.

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Gone the measure polyhedral!
Springs aloft a high cathedral;
Every arch, like praying arms
Upward flung in love’s alarms,
Knit by clasped hands o’erhead,
Heaves to heaven the weight of dread.
Underneath thee, like a cloud,
Gathers music, dim not loud,
Swells thy bosom with devotion,
Floats thee like a wave of ocean;
Vanishes the pile away,–
In heaven thou kneelest down to pray.

Let the sounds but reach thy heart,
Straight thyself magician art;
Walkest open-eyed through earth;
Seest wonders in their birth,
Whence they come and whither go;
Thou thyself exalted so,
Nature’s consciousness, whereby
On herself she turns her eye.
Only heed thou worship God;
Else thou stalkest on thy sod,
Puppet-god of picture-world,
For thy foolish gaze unfurled;
Mirror-thing of things below thee.
Thy own self can never know thee;
Not a high and holy actor;
A reflector, and refractor;
Helpless in thy gift of light,
Self-consuming into night.

Lasting yet the roseate glory!
I must hasten with my story
Of the little room’s true features,
Seldom seen by mortal creatures;
Lest my prophet-vision fading
Leave me in the darkness wading.
What are those upon the wall,
Ranged in rows symmetrical?
They are books, an owl would say;
But the owl’s night is the day:
Of these too, if you have patience,
I can give you revelations:
Through the walls of Time and Sight,
Doors they are to the Infinite;
Through the limits that embrace us,
Openings to the eternal spaces,
Round us all the noisy day,
Full of silences alway;
Round us all the darksome night,
Ever full of awful light:
And, though closed, may still remind us
There is mystery behind us.

That, my friend? Now, it is curious,
You should hit upon the spurious!
‘Tis a blind, a painted door:
Knock at it for evermore,
Never vision it affords
But its panelled gilded boards;
Behind it lieth nought at all,
But the limy, webby wall.
Oh no, not a painted block–
Not the less a printed mock;
A book, ’tis true; no whit the more
A revealing out-going door.
There are two or three such books
For a while in others’ nooks;
Where they should no longer be,
But for reasons known to me.

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Do not open that one though.
It is real; but if you go
Careless to it, as to dance,
You’ll see nothing for your glance;
Blankness, deafness, blindness, dumbness,
Soon will stare you to a numbness.
No, my friend; it is not wise
To open doors into the skies,
As into a little study,
Where a feeble brain grows muddy.
Wait till night, and you shall be
Left alone with mystery;
Light this lamp’s white softened ray,
(Another wonder by the way,)
Then with humble faith and prayer,
Ope the door with patient care:
Yours be calmness then, and strength
For the sight you see at length.

Sometimes, after trying vainly,
With much effort, forced, ungainly,
To entice the rugged door
To yield up its wondrous lore,
With a sudden burst of thunder
All its frame is dashed asunder;
The gulfy silence, lightning-fleet,
Shooteth hellward at thy feet.
Take thou heed lest evil terror
Snare thee in a downward error,
Drag thee through the narrow gate,
Give thee up to windy fate,
To be blown for evermore
Up and down without a shore;
For to shun the good as ill
Makes the evil bolder still.
But oftener far the portal opes
With the sound of coming hopes;
On the joy-astonished eyes
Awful heights of glory rise;
Mountains, stars, and dreadful space,
The Eternal’s azure face.
In storms of silence self is drowned,
Leaves the soul a gulf profound,
Where new heavens and earth arise,
Rolling seas and arching skies.

Gathers slow a vapour o’er thee
From the ocean-depths before thee:
Lo! the vision all hath vanished,
Thou art left alone and banished;
Shut the door, thou findest, groping,
Without chance of further oping.
Thou must wait until thy soul
Rises nearer to its goal;
Till more childhood strength has given–
Then approach this gate of Heaven:
It will open as before,
Yielding wonders, yet in store
For thee, if thou wilt turn to good
Things already understood.

Why I let such useless lumber
Useful bookshelves so encumber?
I will tell thee; for thy question
Of wonders brings me to the best one.
There’s a future wonder, may be–
Sure a present magic baby;
(Patience, friend, I know your looks–
What has that to do with books?)
With her sounds of molten speech
Quick a parent’s heart to reach,
Though uncoined to words sedate,
Or even to sounds articulate;
Yet sweeter than the music’s flowing,
Which doth set her music going.
Now our highest wonder-duty
Is with this same wonder-beauty;
How, with culture high and steady,
To unfold a magic-lady;
How to keep her full of wonder
At all things above and under;
Her from childhood never part,
Change the brain, but keep the heart.
She is God’s child all the time;
On all the hours the child must climb,
As on steps of shining stairs
Leading up the path of prayers.
So one lesson from our looks,
Must be this: to honour books,
As a strange and mystic band
Which she cannot understand;
Scarce to touch them without fear,
Never, but when I am near,
As a priest, to temple-rite
Leading in the acolyte.
But when she has older grown,
And can see a difference shown,

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She must learn, ’tis not appearing
Makes a book fit for revering;
To distinguish and divide
‘Twixt the form and soul inside;
That a book is more than boards,
Leaves and words in gathered hordes,
Which no greater good can do man
Than the goblin hollow woman,
Or a pump without a well,
Or priest without an oracle.
Form is worthless, save it be
Type of an infinity;
Sign of something present, true,
Though unopened to the view,
Heady in its bosom holding
What it will be aye unfolding,
Never uttering but in part,
From an unexhausted heart.
Sight convincing to her mind,
I will separate kind from kind,
Take those books, though honoured by her
Lay them on the study fire,
For their form’s sake somewhat tender,
Yet consume them to a cinder;
Years of reverence shall not save them
From the greedy flames that crave them.
You shall see this slight Immortal,
Half-way yet within life’s portal;
Gathering gladness, she looks back,
Streams it forward on her track;
Wanders ever in the dance
Of her own sweet radiance.
Though the glory cease to burn,
Inward only it will turn;
Make her hidden being bright,
Make herself a lamp of light;
And a second gate of birth
Will take her to another earth.

But, my friend, I’ve rattled plenty
To suffice for mornings twenty;
And I must not toss you longer
On this torrent waxing stronger.
Other things, past contradiction,
Here would prove I spoke no fiction,
Did I lead them up, choragic,
To reveal their nature magic.
There is that machine, glass-masked,
With continual questions tasked,
Ticking with untiring rock:
It is called an eight-day clock.
But to me the thing appears
Made for winding up the years,
Drawing on, fast as it can,
The day when comes the Son of Man.

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On the sea the sunshine broods,
And the shining tops of woods;
We will leave these oracles,
Finding others ‘mid the hills.


Grief held me silent in my seat,
I neither moved nor smiled:
Joy held her silent at my feet,
My little lily-child.

She raised her face; she seemed to feel
That she was left outside;
She said one word with childish zeal
That would not be denied.

Twice more my name, with infant grace;
Sole word her lips could mould!
Her face was pulling at my face–
She was but ten months old.

I know not what were my replies–
I thought: dost Thou, O God,
Need ever thy poor children’s eyes,
To ease thee of thy load?

They find not Thee in evil case,
But, raised in sorrow wild,
Bring down from visiting thy face
The calmness of a child.

Thou art the depth of Heaven above–
The springing well in her;
Not Father only in thy love,
But daily minister.

And this is how the comfort slid
From her to me the while,–
It was thy present face that did
Smile on me from her smile.

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