Francis Turner Palgrave

A Churchyard in Oxfordshire

September: 1643

Sweet air and fresh; glades yet unsear'd by hand
Of Midas-finger'd Autumn, massy-green;
Bird-haunted nooks between,
Where feathery ferns, a fairy palmglove, stand,
An English-Eastern band:--
While e'en the stealthy squirrel o'er the grass
Beside me to the beech-clump dares to pass:--
In this still precinct of the happy dead,
The sanctuary of silence,--Blessed they!
I cried, who 'neath the gray
Peace of God's house, each in his mounded bed
Sleep safe, nor reck how the great world runs on;
Peasant with noble here alike unknown.

Unknown, unnamed beneath one turf they sleep,
Beneath one sky, one heaven-uplifted sign
Of love assured, divine:
While o'er each mound the quiet mosses creep,
The silent dew-pearls weep:
--Fit haven-home for thee, O gentlest heart
Of Falkland! all unmeet to find thy part
In those tempestuous times of canker'd hate
When Wisdom's finest touch, and, by her side,
Forbearance generous-eyed
To fix the delicate balance of the State
Were needed;--King or Nation, which should hold
Supreme supremacy o'er the kingdoms old.

--God's heroes, who? . . . Not most, or likeliest, he
Whom iron will cramps to one narrow road,
Driving him like a goad
Till all his heart decrees seem God's decree;
That worst hypocrisy
When self cheats self, and conscience at the wheel
Herself is steer'd by passion's blindfold zeal;
A nether-world archangel!  Through whose eyes
Flame the red mandates of remorseless might;
A gloom of lurid light
That holds no commerce with the crystal skies;
Like those rank fires that o'er the fen-land flee,
Or on the mast-head sign the wrath to be.

As o'er that ancient weird Arlesian plain
Where Zeus hail'd boulder-stones on the giant crew,
And changed to stone, or slew,
No bud may burgeon in Spring's gracious rain,
No blade of grass or grain:
--So bare, so scourged, a prey to chaos cast
The wisest despot leaves his realm at last!
Though for the land he toil'd with iron will,
Earnest to reach persuasion's goal through power,
The fruit without the flower!
And pray'd and wrestled to charm good from ill;
Waking perchance, or not, in death,--to find
Man fights a losing fight who fights mankind!

And as who in the Theban avenue,
Sphinx ranged by Sphinx, goes awestruck, nor may read
That ancient awful creed
Closed in their granite calm:--so dim the clue,
So tangled, tracking through
That labyrinthine soul which, day by day
Changing, yet kept one long imperious way:
Strong in his weakness; confident, yet forlorn;
Waning and waxing; diamond-keen, or dull,
As that star Wonderful,
Mira, for ever, dying and reborn:--
Blissful or baleful, yet a Power throughout,
Throned in dim altitude o'er the common rout.

Alas, great Chief!  The pity of it!--For he
Lay on his unlamented bier; his life
Wreck'd on that futile strife
To wed things alien by heaven's decree,
Sword-sway with liberty:--
Coercing, not protecting;--for the Cause
Smiting with iron heel on England's laws:
--Intolerant tolerance!  Soul that could not trust
Its finer instincts; self-compell'd to run
The blood-path once begun,
And murder mercy with a sad 'I must!'
Great lion-heart by guile and coarseness marr'd;
By his own heat a hero warp'd and scarr'd.

Despot despite himself!--And when the cry
Moan'd up from England, dungeon'd in that drear
Sectarian atmosphere,
With glory he gilt her chains; in Spanish sky
Flaunting the Red Cross high;--
Wars, just or unjust, ill or well design'd,
Urged with the will that masters weak mankind.
--God's hammer Thou!--not hero!--Forged to break
The land,--salve wounds with wounds, heal force by force;
Sword-surgeon keen and coarse:--
To all who worship power for power's own sake,--
Strength for itself,--Success, the vulgar test,--
Fit idol of bent knee, and servile breast!

--O in the party plaudits of the crowd
Glorious, if this be glory!--o'er that shout
A small still voice breathes out
With subtle sweetness silencing the loud
Hoarse vaunting of the proud,--
A song of exaltation for the vale,
And how the mountain from his height shall fail!
How God's true heroes, since this earth began,
Go sackcloth-clad through scourge and sword and scorn,
Crown'd with the bleeding thorn,
Down-trampled by man's heel as foes to man,
And whispering _Eli_, _Eli_! as they die,--
Martyrs of truth and Saint Humility.

These conquer in their fall: Persuasion flies
Wing'd, from their grave: The hearts of men are turn'd
To worship what they burn'd:
Owning the sway of Love's long-suffering eyes,
Love's sweet self-sacrifice;
The might of gentleness; the subduing force
Of wisdom on her mid-way measured course
Gliding;--not torrent-like with fury spilt,
Impetuous, o'er Himalah's rifted side,
To ravage blind and wide,
And leave a lifeless wreck of parching silt;--
Gliding by thorpe and tower and grange and lea
In tranquil transit to the eternal sea.

--Children of Light!--If, in the slow-paced course
Of vital change, your work seem incomplete,
Your conquest-hour defeat,
Won by mild compromise, by the invisible force
That owns no earthly source;
Yet to all time your gifts to man endure,
God being with you, and the victory sure!
For though o'er Gods the Giants in the course
May lord it, Strength o'er Beauty; yet the Soul
Immortal, clasps the goal;
Fair Wisdom triumphs by her inborn force:
--Thus far on earth! . . . But, ah!--from mortal sight
The crowning glory veils itself in light!


--Seal'd of that holy band,
Rest here, beneath the foot-fall hushing sod,
Wrapt in the peace of God,
While summer burns above thee; while the land
Disrobes; till pitying snow
Cover her bareness; till fresh Spring-winds blow,
And the sun-circle rounds itself again:--
Whilst England cries in vain
For thy wise temperance, Lucius!--But thine ear
The violent-impotent fever-restless cry,
The faction-yells of triumph, will not hear:
--Only the thrush on high
And wood-dove's moaning sweetness make reply.

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