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Poem by Francis Thompson


A Judgment in Heaven


Athwart the sod which is treading for God * the poet paced with his splendid eyes;
Paradise-verdure he stately passes * to win to the Father of Paradise,
Through the conscious and palpitant grasses * of inter-tangled relucent dyes.

The angels a-play on its fields of Summer * (their wild wings rustled his guides cymars)
Looked up from disport at the passing comer, * as they pelted each other with handfuls of stars;
And the warden-spirits with startled feet rose, * hand on sword, by their tethered cars.

With plumes night-tinctured englobed and cinctured, * of Saints, his guided steps held on
To where on the far crystálline pale * of that transtellar Heaven there shone
The immutable crocean dawn * effusing from the Fathers Throne.

Through the reverberant Eden-ways * the bruit of his great advent driven,
Back from the fulgent justle and press * with mighty echoing so was given,
As when the surly thunder smites * upon the clangèd gates of Heaven.

Over the bickering gonfalons, * far-ranged as for Tartarean wars,
Went a waver of ribbèd fire *as night-seas on phosphoric bars
Like a flame-plumed fan shake slowly out * their ridgy reach of crumbling stars.

At length to where on His fretted Throne * sat in the heart of His aged dominions
The great Triune, and Mary nigh, * lit round with spears of their hauberked minions,
The poet drew, in the thunderous blue * involvèd dread of those mounted pinions.

As in a secret and tenebrous cloud * the watcher from the disquiet earth
At momentary intervals * beholds from its raggèd rifts break forth
The flash of a golden perturbation, * the travelling threat of a witchèd birth;

Till heavily parts a sinister chasm, * a grisly jaw, whose verges soon,
Slowly and ominously filled * by the on-coming plenilune,
Supportlessly congest with fire, * and suddenly spit forth the moon:

With beauty, not terror, through tangled error * of night-dipt plumes so burned their charge;
Swayed and parted the globing clusters * so,disclosed from their kindling marge,
Roseal-chapleted, splendent-vestured, * the singer there where Gods light lay large.

Hu, hu! a wonder! a wonder! see, * clasping the singers glories clings
A dingy creature, even to laughter * cloaked and clad in patchwork things,
Shrinking close from the unused glows * of the seraphs versicoloured wings.

A rhymer, rhyming a futile rhyme, * he had crept for convoy through Eden-ways
Into the shade of the poets glory, * darkened under his prevalent rays,
Fearfully hoping a distant welcome * as a poor kinsman of his lays.

The angels laughed with a lovely scorning: *Who has done this sorry deed in
The garden of our Father, God? * mid his blossoms to sow this weed in?
Never our fingers knew this stuff: * not so fashion the looms of Eden!

The singer bowed his brow majestic, * searching that patchwork through and through,
Feeling Gods lucent gazes traverse * his singing-stoling and spirit too:
The hallowed harpers were fain to frown * on the strange thing come mid their sacred crew,
Only the singer that was earth * his fellow-earth and his own self knew.

But the poet rent off robe and wreath, * so as a sloughing serpent doth,
Laid them at the rhymers feet, * shed down wreath and raiment both,
Stood in a dim and shamèd stole, * like the tattered wing of a musty moth.

Thou gavst the weed and wreath of song, * the weed and wreath are solely Thine,
And this dishonest vesture * is the only vesture that is mine;
The life I textured, Thou the song *my handicraft is not divine!

He wrested oer the rhymers head * that garmenting which wrought him wrong;
A flickering tissue argentine * down dripped its shivering silvers long:
Better thou wovst thy woof of life * than thou didst weave thy woof of song!

Never a chief in Saintdom was, * but turned him from the Poet then;
Never an eye looked mild on him * mid all the angel myriads ten,
Save sinless Mary, and sinful Mary *the Mary titled Magdalen.

Turn yon robe, spake Magdalen, * of torn bright song, and see and feel.
They turned the raiment, saw and felt * what their turning did reveal
All the inner surface piled * with bloodied hairs, like hairs of steel.

Take, I pray, yon chaplet up, * thrown down ruddied from his head.
They took the roseal chaplet up, * and they stood astonishèd:
Every leaf between their fingers, * as they bruised it, burst and bled.

See his torn flesh through those rents; * see the punctures round his hair,
As if the chaplet-flowers had driven * deep roots in to nourish there
Lord, who gavst him robe and wreath, * what was this Thou gavst for wear?

Fetch forth the Paradisal garb! * spake the Father, sweet and low;
Drew them both by the frightened hand * where Marys throne made irised bow
Take, Princess Mary, of thy good grace, * two spirits greater than they know.

NoteI have throughout this poem used an asterisk to indicate the caesura in the middle of the line, after the manner of the old Saxon section-point.



Francis Thompson


Francis Thompson's other poems:
  1. Epilogue to the Poet's Sitter
  2. Scala Jacobi Portaque Eburnea
  3. A Fallen Yew
  4. Any Saint
  5. To My Godchild, Francis M.W.M.


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