The Disciple by George MacDonald


To all who fain
Would keep the grain,
And cast the husk away–
That it may feed
The living seed,
And serve it with decay–
I offer this dim story
Whose clouds crack into glory.



The times are changed, and gone the day
When the high heavenly land,
Though unbeheld, quite near them lay,
And men could understand.

The dead yet find it, who, when here,
Did love it more than this;
They enter in, are filled with cheer,
And pain expires in bliss.

All glorious gleams the blessed land!–
O God, forgive, I pray:
The heart thou holdest in thy hand
Loves more this sunny day!

I see the hundred thousand wait
Around the radiant throne:
Ah, what a dreary, gilded state!
What crowds of beings lone!

I do not care for singing psalms;
I tire of good men’s talk;
To me there is no joy in palms,
Or white-robed, solemn walk.

I love to hear the wild winds meet,
The wild old winds at night;
To watch the cold stars flash and beat,
The feathery snow alight.

I love all tales of valiant men,
Of women good and fair:
If I were rich and strong, ah, then
I would do something rare!

But for thy temple in the sky,
Its pillars strong and white–
I cannot love it, though I try,
And long with all my might.

Sometimes a joy lays hold on me,
And I am speechless then;
Almost a martyr I could be,
To join the holy men.

Straightway my heart is like a clod,
My spirit wrapt in doubt:–
A pillar in the house of God,
And never more go out

No more the sunny, breezy morn;
All gone the glowing noon;
No more the silent heath forlorn,
The wan-faced waning moon!

My God, this heart will never burn,
Must never taste thy joy!
Even Jesus’ face is calm and stern:
I am a hapless boy!

* * * * *


I read good books. My heart despairs.
In vain I try to dress
My soul in feelings like to theirs–
These men of holiness.

My thoughts, like doves, abroad I fling
Into a country fair:
Wind-baffled, back, with tired wing,
They to my ark repair.

Or comes a sympathetic thrill
With long-departed saint,
A feeble dawn, without my will,
Of feelings old and quaint,

As of a church’s holy night,
With low-browed chapels round,
Where common sunshine dares not light
On the too sacred ground,–

One glance at sunny fields of grain,
One shout of child at play–
A merry melody drives amain
The one-toned chant away!

My spirit will not enter here
To haunt the holy gloom;
I gaze into a mirror mere,
A mirror, not a room.

And as a bird against the pane
Will strike, deceived sore,
I think to enter, but remain
Outside the closed door.

Oh, it will call for many a sigh
If it be what it claims–
This book, so unlike earth and sky,
Unlike man’s hopes and aims!–

To me a desert parched and bare–
In which a spirit broods
Whose wisdom I would gladly share
At cost of many goods!

* * * * *


O hear me, God! O give me joy
Such as thy chosen feel;
Have pity on a wretched boy;
My heart is hard as steel.

I have no care for what is good;
Thyself I do not love;
I relish not this Bible-food;
My heaven is not above.

Thou wilt not hear: I come no more;
Thou heedest not my woe.
With sighs and tears my heart is sore.
Thou comest not: I go.

* * * * *


Once more I kneel. The earth is dark,
And darker yet the air;
If light there be, ’tis but a spark
Amid a world’s despair–

One hopeless hope there yet may be
A God somewhere to hear;
The God to whom I bend my knee–
A God with open ear.

I know that men laugh still to scorn
The grief that is my lot;
Such wounds, they say, are hardly borne,
But easily forgot.

What matter that my sorrows rest
On ills which men despise!
More hopeless heaves my aching breast
Than when a prophet sighs.

AEons of griefs have come and gone–
My grief is yet my mark.
The sun sets every night, yet none
Sees therefore in the dark.

There’s love enough upon the earth,
And beauty too, they say:
There may be plenty, may be dearth,
I care not any way.

The world hath melted from my sight;
No grace in life is left;
I cry to thee with all my might,
Because I am bereft.

In vain I cry. The earth is dark,
And darker yet the air;
Of light there trembles now no spark
In my lost soul’s despair.

* * * * *


I sit and gaze from window high
Down on the noisy street:
No part in this great coil have I,
No fate to go and meet.

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My books unopened long have lain;
In class I am all astray:
The questions growing in my brain,
Demand and have their way.

Knowledge is power, the people cry;
Grave men the lure repeat:
After some rarer thing I sigh,
That makes the pulses beat.

Old truths, new facts, they preach aloud–
Their tones like wisdom fall:
One sunbeam glancing on a cloud
Hints things beyond them all.

* * * * *


But something is not right within;
High hopes are far gone by.
Was it a bootless aim–to win
Sight of a loftier sky?

They preach men should not faint, but pray,
And seek until they find;
But God is very far away,
Nor is his countenance kind.

Yet every night my father prayed,
Withdrawing from the throng!
Some answer must have come that made
His heart so high and strong!

Once more I’ll seek the God of men,
Redeeming childhood’s vow.–
–I failed with bitter weeping then,
And fail cold-hearted now!


Why search for God? A man I tread
This old life-bearing earth;
High thoughts awake and lift my head–
In me they have their birth.

The preacher says a Christian must
Do all the good he can:–
I must be noble, true, and just,
Because I am a man!

They say a man must watch, and keep
Lamp burning, garments white,
Else he shall sit without and weep
When Christ comes home at night:–

A man must hold his honour free,
His conscience must not stain,
Or soil, I say, the dignity
Of heart and blood and brain!

Yes, I say well–said words are cheap!
For action man was born!
What praise will my one talent reap?
What grapes are on my thorn?

Have high words kept me pure enough?
In evil have I no part?
Hath not my bosom “perilous stuff
That weighs upon the heart”?

I am not that which I do praise;
I do not that I say;
I sit a talker in the ways,
A dreamer in the day!


The preacher’s words are true, I know–
That man may lose his life;
That every man must downward go
Without the upward strife.

‘Twere well my soul should cease to roam,
Should seek and have and hold!
It may be there is yet a home
In that religion old.

Again I kneel, again I pray:
Wilt thou be God to me?
Wilt thou give ear to what I say,
And lift me up to thee?

Lord, is it true? Oh, vision high!
The clouds of heaven dispart;
An opening depth of loving sky
Looks down into my heart!

There is a home wherein to dwell–
The very heart of light!
Thyself my sun immutable,
My moon and stars all night!

I thank thee, Lord. It must be so,
Its beauty is so good.
Up in my heart thou mad’st it go,
And I have understood.

The clouds return. The common day
Falls on me like a No;
But I have seen what might be–may,
And with a hope I go.


I am a stranger in the land;
It gives no welcome dear;
Its lilies bloom not for my hand,
Its roses for my cheer.

The sunshine used to make me glad,
But now it knows me not;
This weight of brightness makes me sad–
It isolates a blot.

I am forgotten by the hills,
And by the river’s play;
No look of recognition thrills
The features of the day.

Then only am I moved to song,
When down the darkening street,
While vanishes the scattered throng,
The driving rain I meet.

The rain pours down. My thoughts awake,
Like flowers that languished long;
From bare cold hills the night-winds break,
From me the unwonted song.


I read the Bible with my eyes,
But hardly with my brain;
Should this the meaning recognize,
My heart yet reads in vain.

These words of promise and of woe
Seem but a tinkling sound;
As through an ancient tomb I go,
With dust-filled urns around.

Or, as a sadly searching child,
Afar from love and home,
Sits in an ancient chamber, piled
With scroll and musty tome,

So I, in these epistles old
From men of heavenly care,
Find all the thoughts of other mould
Than I can love or share.

No sympathy with mine they show,
Their world is not the same;
They move me not with joy or woe,
They touch me not with blame.

I hear no word that calls my life,
Or owns my struggling powers;
Those ancient ages had their strife,
But not a strife like ours.

Oh, not like men they move and speak,
Those pictures in old panes!
They alter not their aspect meek
For all the winds and rains!

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Their thoughts are full of figures strange,
Of Jewish forms and rites:
A world of air and sea I range,
Of mornings and of nights!


I turn me to the gospel-tale:–
My hope is faint with fear
That hungriest search will not avail
To find a refuge here.

A misty wind blows bare and rude
From dead seas of the past;
And through the clouds that halt and brood,
Dim dawns a shape at last:

A sad worn man who bows his face,
And treads a frightful path,
To save an abject hopeless race
From an eternal wrath.

Kind words he speaks–but all the time
As from a formless height
To which no human foot can climb–
Half-swathed in ancient night.

Nay, sometimes, and to gentle heart,
Unkind words from him go!
Surely it is no saviour’s part
To speak to women so!

Much rather would I refuge take
With Mary, dear to me,
To whom that rough hard speech he spake–
What have I to do with thee?

Surely I know men tenderer,
Women of larger soul,
Who need no prayer their hearts to stir,
Who always would make whole!

Oftenest he looks a weary saint,
Embalmed in pallid gleam;
Listless and sad, without complaint,
Like dead man in a dream.

And, at the best, he is uplift
A spectacle, a show:–
The worth of such an outworn gift
I know too much to know!

How find the love to pay my debt?–
He leads me from the sun!–
Yet it is hard men should forget
A good deed ever done!–

Forget that he, to foil a curse,
Did, on that altar-hill,
Sun of a sunless universe,
Hang dying, patient, still!

But what is He, whose pardon slow
At so much blood is priced?–
If such thou art, O Jove, I go
To the Promethean Christ!


A word within says I am to blame,
And therefore must confess;
Must call my doing by its name,
And so make evil less.

“I could not his false triumph bear,
For he was first in wrong.”
“Thy own ill-doings are thy care,
His to himself belong.”

“To do it right, my heart should own
Some sorrow for the ill.”
“Plain, honest words will half atone,
And they are in thy will.”

The struggle comes. Evil or I
Must gain the victory now.
I am unmoved and yet would try:
O God, to thee I bow.

The skies are brass; there falls no aid;
No wind of help will blow.
But I bethink me:–I am made
A man: I rise and go.


To Christ I needs must come, they say;
Who went to death for me:
I turn aside; I come, I pray,
My unknown God, to thee.

He is afar; the story old
Is blotted, worn, and dim;
With thee, O God, I can be bold–
I cannot pray to him.

Pray! At the word a cloudy grief
Around me folds its pall:
Nothing I have to call belief!
How can I pray at all?

I know not if a God be there
To heed my crying sore;
If in the great world anywhere
An ear keeps open door!

An unborn faith I will not nurse,
Pursue an endless task;
Loud out into its universe
My soul shall call and ask!

Is there no God–earth, sky, and sea
Are but a chaos wild!
Is there a God–I know that he
Must hear his calling child!


I kneel. But all my soul is dumb
With hopeless misery:
Is he a friend who will not come,
Whose face I must not see?

I do not think of broken laws,
Of judge’s damning word;
My heart is all one ache, because
I call and am not heard.

A cry where there is none to hear,
Doubles the lonely pain;
Returns in silence on the ear,
In torture on the brain.

No look of love a smile can bring,
No kiss wile back the breath
To cold lips: I no answer wring
From this great face of death.


Yet sometimes when the agony
Dies of its own excess,
A dew-like calm descends on me,
A shadow of tenderness;

A sense of bounty and of grace,
A cool air in my breast,
As if my soul were yet a place
Where peace might one day rest.

God! God! I say, and cry no more,
But rise, and think to stand
Unwearied at the closed door
Till comes the opening hand.


But is it God?–Once more the fear
Of No God loads my breath:
Amid a sunless atmosphere
I fight again with death.

Such rest may be like that which lulls
The man who fainting lies:
His bloodless brain his spirit dulls,
Draws darkness o’er his eyes.

But even such sleep, my heart responds,
May be the ancient rest
Rising released from bodily bonds,
And flowing unreprest.

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The o’ertasked will falls down aghast
In individual death;
God puts aside the severed past,
Breathes-in a primal breath.

For how should torture breed a calm?
Can death to life give birth?
No labour can create the balm
That soothes the sleeping earth!

I yet will hope the very One
Whose love is life in me,
Did, when my strength was overdone,
Inspire serenity.


When the hot sun’s too urgent might
Hath shrunk the tender leaf,
Water comes sliding down the night,
And makes its sorrow brief.

When poet’s heart is in eclipse,
A glance from childhood’s eye,
A smile from passing maiden’s lips,
Will clear a glowing sky.

Might not from God such influence come
A dying hope to lift?
Might he not send to poor heart some
Unmediated gift?

My child lies moaning, lost in dreams,
Abandoned, sore dismayed;
Her fancy’s world with horror teems,
Her soul is much afraid:

I lay my hand upon her breast,
Her moaning dies away;
She does not wake, but, lost in rest,
Sleeps on into the day.

And when my heart with soft release
Grows calm as summer-sea,
Shall I not hope the God of peace
Hath laid his hand on me?


But why from thought should fresh doubt start–
An ever-lengthening cord?
Might he not make my troubled heart
Right sure it was the Lord?

God will not let a smaller boon
Hinder the coming best;
A granted sign might all too soon
Rejoice thee into rest.

Yet could not any sign, though grand
As hosts of fire about,
Though lovely as a sunset-land,
Secure thy soul from doubt.

A smile from one thou lovedst well
Gladdened thee all the day;
The doubt which all day far did dwell
Came home with twilight gray.

For doubt will come, will ever come,
Though signs be perfect good,
Till heart to heart strike doubting dumb,
And both are understood.


I shall behold him, one day, nigh.
Assailed with glory keen,
My eyes will open wide, and I
Shall see as I am seen.

Of nothing can my heart be sure
Except the highest, best
When God I see with vision pure,
That sight will be my rest.

Forward I look with longing eye,
And still my hope renew;
Backward, and think that from the sky
Did come that falling dew.


But if a vision should unfold
That I might banish fear;
That I, the chosen, might be bold,
And walk with upright cheer;

My heart would cry: But shares my race
In this great love of thine?
I pray, put me not in good case
Where others lack and pine.

Nor claim I thus a loving heart
That for itself is mute:
In such love I desire no part
As reaches not my root.

But if my brothers thou dost call
As children to thy knee,
Thou givest me my being’s all,
Thou sayest child to me.

If thou to me alone shouldst give,
My heart were all beguiled:
It would not be because I live,
And am my Father’s child!


As little comfort would it bring,
Amid a throng to pass;
To stand with thousands worshipping
Upon the sea of glass;

To know that, of a sinful world,
I one was saved as well;
My roll of ill with theirs upfurled,
And cast in deepest hell;

That God looked bounteously on one,
Because on many men;
As shone Judea’s earthly sun
On all the healed ten.

No; thou must be a God to me
As if but me were none;
I such a perfect child to thee
As if thou hadst but one.


Oh, then, my Father, hast thou not
A blessing just for me?
Shall I be, barely, not forgot?–
Never come home to thee?

Hast thou no care for this one child,
This thinking, living need?
Or is thy countenance only mild,
Thy heart not love indeed?

For some eternal joy I pray,
To make me strong and free;
Yea, such a friend I need alway
As thou alone canst be.

Is not creative infinitude
Able, in every man,
To turn itself to every mood
Since God man’s life began?

Art thou not each man’s God–his own,
With secret words between,
As thou and he lived all alone,
Insphered in silence keen?

Ah, God, my heart is not the same
As any heart beside;
My pain is different, and my blame,
My pity and my pride!

My history thou know’st, my thoughts
Different from other men’s;
Thou knowest all the sheep and goats
That mingle in my pens.

Thou knowest I a love might bring
By none beside me due;
One praiseful song at least might sing
Which could not but be new.

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Nor seek I thus to stand apart,
In aught my kind above;
My neighbour, ah, my troubled heart
Must rest ere thee it love!

If God love not, I have no care,
No power to love, no hope.
What is life here or anywhere?
Or why with darkness cope?

I scorn my own love’s every sign,
So feeble, selfish, low,
If his love give no pledge that mine
Shall one day perfect grow.

But if I knew Thy love even such,
As tender and intense
As, tested by its human touch,
Would satisfy my sense

Of what a father never was
But should be to his son,
My heart would leap for joy, because
My rescue was begun.

Oh then my love, by thine set free,
Would overflow thy men;
In every face my heart would see
God shining out again!

There are who hold high festival
And at the board crown Death:
I am too weak to live at all
Except I breathe thy breath.

Show me a love that nothing bates,
Absolute, self-severe–
Even at Gehenna’s prayerless gates
I should not “taint with fear.”


I cannot brook that men should say–
Nor this for gospel take–
That thou wilt hear me if I pray
Asking for Jesus’ sake.

For love to him is not to me,
And cannot lift my fate;
The love is not that is not free,
Perfect, immediate.

Love is salvation: life without
No moment can endure.
Those sheep alone go in and out
Who know thy love is pure.


But what if God requires indeed,
For cause yet unrevealed,
Assent to one fixed form of creed,
Such as I cannot yield?

Has God made for Christ’s sake a test–
To take or leave the crust,
That only he may have the best
Who licks the serpent-dust?

No, no; the words I will not say
With the responding folk;
I at his feet a heart would lay,
Not shoulders for a yoke.

He were no lord of righteousness
Who subjects such would gain
As yield their birthright for a mess
Of liberty from pain!

“And wilt thou bargain then with Him?”
The priest makes answer high.
‘Tis thou, priest, makest the sky dim:
My hope is in the sky.


But is my will alive, awake?
The one God will not heed
If in my lips or hands I take
A half-word or half-deed.

Hour after hour I sit and dream,
Amazed in outwardness;
The powers of things that only seem
The things that are oppress;

Till in my soul some discord sounds,
Till sinks some yawning lack;
Then turn I from life’s rippling rounds,
And unto thee come back.

Thou seest how poor a thing am I,
Yet hear, whate’er I be;
Despairing of my will, I cry,
Be God enough to me.

My spirit, low, irresolute,
I cast before thy feet;
And wait, while even prayer is mute,
For what thou judgest meet.


My safety lies not, any hour,
In what I generate,
But in the living, healing power
Of that which doth create.

If he is God to the incomplete,
Fulfilling lack and need,
Then I may cast before his feet
A half-word or half-deed.

I bring, Lord, to thy altar-stair,
To thee, love-glorious,
My very lack of will and prayer,
And cry–Thou seest me thus!

From some old well of life they flow!
The words my being fill!–
“Of me that man the truth shall know
Who wills the Father’s will.”


What is his will?–that I may go
And do it, in the hope
That light will rise and spread and grow,
As deed enlarges scope.

I need not search the sacred book
To find my duty clear;
Scarce in my bosom need I look,
It lies so very near.

Henceforward I must watch the door
Of word and action too;
There’s one thing I must do no more,
Another I must do.

Alas, these are such little things!
No glory in their birth!
Doubt from their common aspect springs–
If God will count them worth.

But here I am not left to choose,
My duty is my lot;
And weighty things will glory lose
If small ones are forgot.

I am not worthy high things yet;
I’ll humbly do my own;
Good care of sheep may so beget
A fitness for the throne.

Ah fool! why dost thou reason thus?
Ambition’s very fool!
Through high and low, each glorious,
Shines God’s all-perfect rule.

‘Tis God I need, not rank in good:
‘Tis Life, not honour’s meed;
With him to fill my every mood,
I am content indeed.


Will do: shall know: I feel the force,
The fullness of the word;
His holy boldness held its course,
Claiming divine accord.

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What if, as yet, I have never seen
The true face of the Man!
The named notion may have been
A likeness vague and wan;

A thing of such unblended hues
As, on his chamber wall,
The humble peasant gladly views,
And Jesus Christ doth call.

The story I did never scan
With vision calm and strong;
Have never tried to see the Man,
The many words among.

Pictures there are that do not please
With any sweet surprise,
But gain the heart by slow degrees
Until they feast the eyes;

And if I ponder what they call
The gospel of God’s grace,
Through mists that slowly melt and fall
May dawn a human face.

What face? Oh, heart-uplifting thought,
That face may dawn on me
Which Moses on the mountain sought,
God would not let him see!


All faint at first, as wrapt in veil
Of Sinai’s cloudy dark,
But dawning as I read the tale,
I slow discern and mark

A gracious, simple, truthful man,
Who walks the earth erect,
Nor stoops his noble head to one
From fear or false respect;

Who seeks to climb no high estate,
No low consent secure,
With high and low serenely great,
Because his love is pure.

Oh not alone, high o’er our reach,
Our joys and griefs beyond!
To him ’tis joy divine to teach
Where human hearts respond;

And grief divine it was to him
To see the souls that slept:
“How often, O Jerusalem!”
He said, and gazed, and wept.

Love was his very being’s root,
And healing was its flower;
Love, human love, its stem and fruit,
Its gladness and its power.

Life of high God, till then unseen!
Undreamt-of glorious show!
Glad, faithful, childlike, love-serene!–
How poor am I! how low!


As in a living well I gaze,
Kneeling upon its brink:
What are the very words he says?
What did the one man think?

I find his heart was all above;
Obedience his one thought;
Reposing in his father’s love,
His father’s will he sought.

* * * * *


Years have passed o’er my broken plan
To picture out a strife,
Where ancient Death, in horror wan,
Faced young and fearing Life.

More of the tale I tell not so–
But for myself would say:
My heart is quiet with what I know,
With what I hope, is gay.

And where I cannot set my faith,
Unknowing or unwise,
I say “If this be what he saith,
Here hidden treasure lies.”

Through years gone by since thus I strove,
Thus shadowed out my strife,
While at my history I wove,
Thou wovest in the life.

Through poverty that had no lack
For friends divinely good;
Through pain that not too long did rack,
Through love that understood;

Through light that taught me what to hold
And what to cast away;
Through thy forgiveness manifold,
And things I cannot say,

Here thou hast brought me–able now
To kiss thy garment’s hem,
Entirely to thy will to bow,
And trust thee even for them

Who in the darkness and the mire
Walk with rebellious feet,
Loose trailing, Lo, their soiled attire
For heavenly floor unmeet!

Lord Jesus Christ, I know not how–
With this blue air, blue sea,
This yellow sand, that grassy brow,
All isolating me–

Thy thoughts to mine themselves impart,
My thoughts to thine draw near;
But thou canst fill who mad’st my heart,
Who gav’st me words must hear.

Thou mad’st the hand with which I write,
The eye that watches slow
Through rosy gates that rosy light
Across thy threshold go;

Those waves that bend in golden spray,
As if thy foot they bore:
I think I know thee, Lord, to-day,
Shall know thee evermore.

I know thy father thine and mine:
Thou the great fact hast bared:
Master, the mighty words are thine–
Such I had never dared!

Lord, thou hast much to make me yet–
Thy father’s infant still:
Thy mind, Son, in my bosom set,
That I may grow thy will.

My soul with truth clothe all about,
And I shall question free:
The man that feareth, Lord, to doubt,
In that fear doubteth thee.

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