Within a gloomy charnel-house one day
I viewed the countless skulls, so strangely mated,
And of old times I thought that now were gray.
Close packed they stand that once so fiercely hated,
And hardy bones that to the death contended,
Are lying crossed,—to lie forever, fated.
What held those crooked shoulder-blades suspended?
No one now asks; and limbs with vigor fired,
The hand, the foot—their use in life is ended.
Vainly ye sought the tomb for rest when tired;
Peace in the grave may not be yours; ye’re driven
Back into daylight by a force inspired;
But none can love the withered husk, though even
A glorious noble kernel it contained.
To me, an adept, was the writing given
Which not to all its holy sense explained.
When ’mid the crowd, their icy shadows flinging,
I saw a form that glorious still remained,
And even there, where mould and damp were clinging,
Gave me a blest, a rapture-fraught emotion,
As though from death a living fount were springing.
What mystic joy I felt! What rapt devotion!
That form, how pregnant with a godlike trace!
A look, how did it whirl me toward that ocean
Whose rolling billows mightier shapes embrace!
Mysterious vessel! Oracle how dear!
Even to grasp thee is my hand too base,
Except to steal thee from thy prison here
With pious purpose, and devoutly go
Back to the air, free thoughts, and sunlight clear.
What greater gain in life can man e’er know
Than when God-Nature will to him explain
How into Spirit steadfastness may flow,
How steadfast, too, the Spirit-Born remain.
No living atom comes at last to naught!
Active in each is still the eternal Thought:
Hold fast to Being if thou wouldst be blest.
Being is without end; for changeless laws
Bind that from which the All its glory draws
Of living treasures endlessly possessed.
Unto the wise of old this truth was known,
Such wisdom knit their noble souls in one;
Then hold thou still the lore of ancient days!
To that high power thou ow’st it, son of man,
By whose decree the earth its circuit ran
And all the planets went their various ways.
Then inward turn at once thy searching eyes;
Thence shalt thou see the central truth
From which no lofty soul goes e’er astray;
There shalt thou miss no needful guiding sign—
For conscience lives, and still its light divine
Shall be the sun of all thy moral day.
Next shalt thou trust thy senses’ evidence,
And fear from them no treacherous offence
While the mind’s watchful eye thy road commands:
With lively pleasure contemplate the scene
And roam securely, teachable, serene,