The Harps of Heaven
On a solemn day I clomb the shining bulwark of the skies: Not by the beaten way, But climbing by a prayer, That like a golden thread hung by the giddy stair Fleck'd on the immemorial blue, By the strong step-stroke of the brave and few, Who, stirr'd by echoes of far harmonies, Must either lay them down and die of love, Or dare Those empyrean walls that mock their starward eyes. But midway in the dread emprize The faint and fainter footsteps cease; And, all my footing gone, Like one who gathers samphire, I hold on, And in the swaying air look up and down: And up and down through answering vasts descry Nor Earth nor Heaven; Above, The sheer eternal precipice; below, The sheer eternal precipice. Then when I, Gigantic with my desperate agony, Felt even The knotted grasp of bodily despair Relaxing to let go, A mighty music, like a wind of light, Blew from the imminent height, And caught me in its splendour; and, as flame That flickers and again aspires, Rose in a moment thither whence it came; And I, that thought me lost, Pass'd to the top of all my dear desires, And stood among the everlasting host. Then turn'd I to a seraph whose swift hands, That lived angelic passion, struck his soul Upon a harp-a seraph fair and strong, And faultless for his harp and for his throne, And yet, among The Strength and Beauty of the heavenly bands, No more to be remember'd than some one Poor warrior, when a king of many kings Stamps on the fields, and rears his glittering crop Of standing steel, and the vex'd spirit wings Above the human harvest, and in vain Begins from morn till eve to sum the embattled plain; Or when, After a day of peace, sudden and late The beacon flashes and the war-drums roll, And through the torches of the city gate, All the long winter night a martial race Streams to the nation's gathering-place, And, like as water-drop to water-drop, Pour on in changeless flood the innumerable men. I turn'd, and as from footing in mid-seas Looking o'er lessening waves thou may'st behold The round horizon of unshadow'd gold, I, standing on an amethyst, look'd round The moving Heaven of Harpers throned and crown'd, And said, 'Was it from these I heard the great sound?' And he said, 'What sound?' Then I grown bolder, seeing I had thriven To win reply-'This that I hear from thee, This that everywhere I hear, Rolling a sea of choristry Up and down the jewel of Heaven; A sea which from thy seat of light, That seems more loud and bright Because more near, To the white twinkle of yon furthest portal, Swells up those circling shores of chrysolite, And, like an odorous luminous mist, doth leap the eternal walls, And falls In wreaths of melody Adown the azure mountain of the sky; And round its lower slopes bedew'd Breathes lost beatitude; And far away, Low, low, below the last of all its lucent scarps, Sprinkles bewildering drops of immortality. O angel fair, thou know'st what I would say- This sound of harpers that I hear, This sound of harpers harping on their harps.' Then he bent his head And shed a tear And said, 'I perceive thou art a mortal.' Then I to him-'Not only, O thou bright Seraphic Pity! to a mortal ear These sacred sounds are dear, Or why withholdest not thy ceaseless hand? And why, Far as my dazzled eye Can pierce the lustre of the radiant land, See I the rapt celestial auditory, Each, while he blessed hears, gives back his bliss With never-tiring touch from golden harps like this?' Then he to me-'Oh, wherefore hast thou trod Beyond the limit of thine earthly lot? These that we bear Within our hands are instruments of glory, Wherewith, day without night, We make the glory of immortal light In the eyes of God. As for the sound, we hear it not; Yet, speaking to thee, child of ignorance, I do remember that I loved it once, In the sweet lower air.' Yet he spake once more,- 'But thou return to the remember'd shore; Why shouldst thou leave thy nation, Thy city, and the house of all most dear? Do we not all dwell in eternity? For we have been as thou, and thou Shalt be as we.' And he lean'd and kissèd me, Saying, 'But now Rejoice, O child, in other joys than mine Hear the dear music of thy mortal ear While yet it is the time with thee, Nor make haste to thine exaltation, Though our state be better than thine.'
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