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Giant Hours With Poet Preachers by William L. Stidger

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To the Christian the following quotation will mean much. In it we hear
the echo of Masefield's The Everlasting Mercy; or of that marvelous
story of the regeneration of a human soul in Tolstoy's The
Resurrection; an old-fashioned conversion of a human being; a
Paul's on the road to Damascus experience. And the tragedy is that just
about the time that the world of literature is being fascinated with
this story of "Rebirth" the church seems to be forgetting it. It is
told in the first verse of Ex Tenebris--"The Lay of the King Who Rose

"Take away my rage!
Take away my sin!
Strip me all bare
Of that I did wear--
The foul rags, the base rags,
The rude and the mean!
Strip me, yea strip me
Right down to my skin!
Strip me all bare
Of that I have been!
Then wash me in water,
In fair running water,
Wash me without,
And wash me within,
In fair running water,
In fresh running water,
Wash me, ah wash me,
And make me all clean!
--Clean of the soilure
And clean of the sin,
--Clean of the soul-crushing
Sense of defilure,
--Clean of the old self,
And clean of the sin!
In fair running water,
In fresh running water,
In sun-running water,
All sweet and all pure,
Wash me, ah wash me,
And I shall be clean."

The Fiery Cross


From the voice of Christ and the voice of the cross it is not far to
hear the voice of God either in life or in John Oxenham's books. Behind
the cross and behind the Christ stands the Father, and a treatment of
this great poet's writings would not be complete if one did not quote a
few excerpts from his writings to show that God was ever present
"keeping watch above his own."

The first note we catch of the Father's voice is in "The Call of the

"One way there is--one only--
Whereby ye may stand sure;
One way by which ye may understand
All foes, and Life's High Ways command,
And make your building sure.---
Take God once more as Counselor,
Work with Him, hand in hand,
Build surely, in His Grace and Power,
The nobler things that shall endure,
And, having done all--STAND!"

The Vision Splendid.

And as the poet has walked the streets of America and elsewhere and has
seen the service flag, which in "Each window shrines a name," he has
felt God everywhere. In "The Leaves of the Golden Book" he comforts
those who mourn:

"God will gather all these scattered
Leaves into His Golden Book,
Torn and crumpled, soiled and battered,
He will heal them with a look.
Not one soul of them has perished;
No man ever yet forsook
Wife and home, and all he cherished,
And God's purpose undertook,
But he met his full reward
In the 'Well Done' of his Lord!"

The Vision Splendid.

So it is that over and over we hear this note, wrung from the
experiences of war, that those who give up all, to die for God's plan,
to take the cross in suffering that the world may be better; these
shall have life eternal. And who dares to dispute it?

In "Our Share" we are admonished that we must find God anew:

"Heads of sham gold and feet of crumbling clay,
If we would build anew and build to stay,
We must find God again,
And go His way."

All's Well.

Oxenham does not claim to fully understand the world cataclysm any more
than some of the rest of us. If we all had to understand, we might find
ourselves ineligible for the Kingdom, but the Book says everywhere, "He
that believeth on me shall have everlasting life." And we can believe
whether we understand or no. So voices the poet in "God's Handwriting":

"He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of deaths, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,--
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this--

All's Well,

What better way to close this brief interpretation of our poet in this
day of darkness and hate and hurt and war and woe and want, of seeing
hopelessness and helplessness, than with these heartening lines from
"God Is":

"God is;
God sees;
God loves;
God knows.
And Right is Right;
And Right is Might.
In the full ripeness of His Time,
All these His vast prepotencies
Shall round their grace-work to the prime
Of full accomplishment,
And we shall see the plan sublime
Of His beneficent intent.
Live on in hope!
Press on in faith!
Love conquers all things,
Even Death."

All's Well.

[Illustration: ALFRED NOYES.]


[Footnote: The poetical selections appearing in this chapter are used
by permission, and are taken from Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes, two
volumes, copyright, 1913, by the Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York.]


If one wants to find the tenderest, most completely sympathetic study
of childhood, one that finds echo not only in the heart of the
grown-up, but in the heart of children the world over, he must this day
go to Alfred Noyes. If you want proof of this, read "The Forest of Wild
Thyme" or "The Flower of Old Japan" to your children and watch them sit
with open mouths and open hearts to hear these wonder fairy tales. And,
further, if you are too grown-up to want to read Noyes for his complete
sympathy with childhood, more universal even than our beloved Riley;
and you want a poet that challenges you to a more vigorous manhood, a
poet who calls man to his highest and deepest virility, read Noyes. Or,
if you happen to need a clearer, firmer insight into the man of Galilee
and Calvary, read Noyes; and, finally, if you want firmer, more
rocklike foundations to plant your faith in God upon, read Noyes, for
herein one finds all of these. From childhood to Godhood is, indeed,
a wide range for a poet to take, and yet they are akin.

As another poet has said, none less than Edwin Markham, "Know man and
you will know the deep of God." And as Noyes himself says in the
introduction to "The Forest of Wild Thyme":

"Husband, there was a happy day,
Long ago in love's young May,
When, with a wild-flower in your hand
You echoed that dead poet's cry--
'Little flower, but if I could understand!'
And you saw it had roots in the depth of the sky,
And there in that smallest bud lay furled
The secret and meaning of all the world."

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And when we know that the mother was talking about "Little Peterkin,"
their lost baby, we know that she meant that in a little child there
lay furled "The secret and meaning of all the world."

And so, beginning with childhood, through those intermediate steps of
manhood and Christhood, with Noyes leading us, as he literally leads
the little tots through the mysteries of Old Japan and the Wild Thyme,
let us go from tree to tree, and flower to flower, and hope to hope,
and pain to pain, up to God, from whence we came. It is a clear sweet
pathway that he leads us.


Noyes assumes something that we all know for truth: that "Grown-ups do
not understand" childhood. But after reading this sweet poet we know
that he does understand; and we thank God for him. In Part II of "The
Forest of Wild Thyme" one sees this clearly.

"O, grown-ups cannot understand,
And grown-ups never will,
How short's the way to fairyland
Across the purple hill:
They smile: their smile is very bland,
Their eyes are wise and chill;
And yet--at just a child's command--
The world's an Eden still."

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

Thank the stars that watch over us in love that the great-hearted
poets, and the children of the world--at least those little ones that a
half-way Christian civilization has not robbed of childhood--know that
"The world's an Eden still."

From the prelude to "The Flower of Old Japan" comes that same note,
like a bluebird in springtime, that note of belief, of trust, of hope:

"Do you remember the blue stream;
The bridge of pale bamboo;
The path that seemed a twisted dream
Where everything came true;
The purple cheery-trees; the house
With jutting eaves below the boughs;
The mandarins in blue,
With tiny tapping, tilted toes,
With curious curved mustachios?

* * * * *

"Ah, let us follow, follow far
Beyond the purple seas;
Beyond the rosy foaming bar,
The coral reef, the trees,
The land of parrots and the wild
That rolls before the fearless child
In ancient mysteries:
Onward, and onward if we can,
To Old Japan, to Old Japan."

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And "The Forest of Wild Thyme" is full of the echos of fairy tales and
childhood rhymes heard the world over. Little Peterkin, who went with
the children to "Old Japan," is dead now:

"Come, my brother pirates, I am tired of play;
Come and look for Peterkin, little brother Peterkin,
Our merry little comrade that the fairies took away."

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And so, they go to the last place they saw him, the old God's Acre, and
fall asleep amid the wild thyme blooming there. As they dream the thyme
grows to the size of trees, and they wander about in the forest hunting
for Peterkin.

As they hunted they found out who killed Cock Robin. They appeal to
Little Boy Blue to help them hunt for Peterkin:

"Little Boy Blue, you are gallant and brave,
There was never a doubt in those clear, bright eyes.
Come, challenge the grim, dark Gates of the Grave
As the skylark sings to those infinite skies!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

The King of Fairyland gives command to Pease-Blossom:

"And cried, Pease-blossom, Mustard-Seed! You know the old command;
Well; these are little children; you must lead them on to Peterkin!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

They even discovered, as they were led on by Pease-Blossom and Mustard-
Seed, how fairies were born:

"Men upon earth
Bring us to birth
Gently at even and morn!
When as brother and brother
They greet one another
And smile--then a fairy is born!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And, too, they found why fairies die:

"But at each cruel word
Upon earth that is heard,
Each deed of unkindness or hate,
Some fairy must pass
From the games in the grass
And steal through the terrible Gate."

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And they learned what it took to make a rose:

"'What is there hid in the heart of a rose,
'Ah, who knows, who knows, who knows?
A man that died on a lonely hill
May tell you perhaps, but none other will,
Little child.'

"'What does it take to make a rose,
'The God that died to make it knows.
It takes the world's eternal wars,
It takes the moon and all the stars,
It takes the might of heaven and hell
And the everlasting Love as well,
Little child.'"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And they heard the old tales over:

"And 'See-Saw; Margery Daw,' we heard a rollicking shout,
As the swing boats hurtled over our heads to the tune of the
And 'Little Boy Blue, come blow up your horn,' we heard the showmen
And 'Dickery Dock, I'm as good as a clock,' we heard the swings

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

Then at last they found their little brother Peterkin in "The Babe of

And if this were not enough to make the reader see how completely and
wholly and sympathetically Noyes understood the child heart, hear this
word from his great soul:

"Kind little eyes that I love,
Eyes forgetful of mine,
In a dream I am bending above
Your sleep and you open and shine;
And I know as my own grow blind
With a lonely prayer for your sake,
He will hear--even me--little eyes that were kind,
God bless you, asleep or awake!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.


Virility like unto steel is the very mark of Noyes. But as this study
of Childhood has shown, it is a virility touched with tenderness. As
Bayard Taylor sings:

"The bravest are the tenderest,
The loving are the daring!"

And this is Noyes. Noyes knew Manhood, he sang it, he challenged it
too, he crowned it in "Drake"; he placed it a little lower than the
gods. Hear this supreme word, enough to lift man to the skies:

"Where, what a dreamer yet, in spite of all,
Is man, that splendid visionary child
Who sent his fairy beacon through the dusk!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

This tribute to Marlow--how eaglelike it is! How suggestive of heights,
and mountain peaks and blue skies and far-flung stars!

"But he who dared the thunder-roll,
Whose eagle-wings could soar,
Buffeting down the clouds of night,
To beat against the Light of Light,
That great God-blinded eagle-soul,
We shall not see him more!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

Then he makes us one with all that is granite and flower and high and
holy in "The Loom of the Years":

"One with the flower of a day, one with the withered moon,
One with the granite mountains that melt into the noon,
One with the dream that triumphs beyond the light of the spheres,
We come from the Loom of the Weaver, that weaves the Web of the

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

From "Drake" again this ringing word:

"His face was like a king's face as he spake,
For sorrows that strike deep reveal the deep;
And through the gateways of a ragged wound
Sometimes a God will drive his chariot wheels
From some deep heaven within the hearts of men!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.


From childhood to manhood through Christhood to Godhood is a
progression that Noyes sees clearly and makes us see as clearly.
Somehow Christ is very real to Noyes. He is not a historical character
far off. He is the Christ of here and now; the Christ that meets our
every need; as real as a dearly beloved friend next door to us. No poet
sees the Christ more clearly.

First he caught the meanings of Christ's gospel of new birth. He was
not confused on that. He knows:

"The task is hard to learn
While all the songs of Spring return
Along the blood and sing.

"Yet hear--from her deep skies,
How Art, for all your pain, still cries,
_Ye must be born again_!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And who could put his worship more beautifully than the poet does in
"The Symbolist"?

"Help me to seek that unknown land!
I kneel before the shrine.
Help me to feel the hidden hand
That ever holdeth mine.

"I kneel before the Word, I kneel
Before the Cross of flame.
I cry, as through the gloom I steal,
The glory of the Name."

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

Christ's face, and his life experiences, here and there slip out of the
lines of this English poet with an insistence that cannot but win the
heart of the world, especially the heart of the Christian. Here and
there in the most unexpected places his living presence stands before
you, with, to use another of the poet's own lines, "Words that would
make the dead arise," as in "Vicisti, Galilee":

"Poor, scornful Lilliputian souls,
And are ye still too proud
To risk your little aureoles
By kneeling with the crowd?

* * * * *

"And while ye scoff, on every side
Great hints of Him go by,--Souls
that are hourly crucified
On some new Calvary!"

* * * * *

"In flower and dust, in chaff and grain,
He binds Himself and dies!
We live by His eternal pain,
His hourly sacrifice."

* * * * *

"And while ye scoff from shore to shore
From sea to moaning sea,
'Eloi, eloi,' goes up once more,
'Lama sabachthani!'
The heavens are like a scroll unfurled,
The writing flames above--
This is the King of all the World
Upon His Cross of Love!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And there in the very midst of "Drake," that poem of a great sea
fighter, comes this quatrain unexpectedly, showing the Christ always in
the background of the poet's mind. He uses the Christ eagerly as a
figure, as a help to his thought. He always puts the Christ and his
cross to the fore:

"Whence came the prentice carpenter whose voice
Hath shaken kingdoms down, whose menial gibbet
Rises triumphant o'er the wreck of Empires
And stretches out its arms amongst the Stars?"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

Then in "The Old Skeptic" we hear these of the Christ in the concluding

"I will go back to my home and look at the wayside flowers,
And hear from the wayside cabin the kind old hymns again,
Where Christ holds out His arms in the quiet evening hours,
And the light of the chapel porches broods on the peaceful lane.

"And there I shall hear men praying the deep old foolish prayers,
And there I shall see once more, the fond old faith confessed,
And the strange old light on their faces who hear as a blind
man hears--
'Come unto me, ye weary, and I will give you rest.'

"I will go back and believe in the deep old foolish tales,
And pray the simple prayers that I learned at my mother's knee,
Where the Sabbath tolls its peace, through the breathless
And the sunset's evening hymn hallows the listening sea."

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.


He finds God. There is no uncertainty about it. From childhood to
Godhood has the poet come, and we have come with him. It has been
a triumphant journey upward. But we have not been afraid. Even the
blinding light of God's face has not made us tremble. We have
learned to know him through this climb upward and upward to his throne.

At first it was uncertain. The poet had to challenge us to one great
end in "The Paradox":

"But one thing is needful; and ye shall be true
To yourself and the goal and the God that ye seek;
Yea, the day and the night shall requite it to you
If ye love one another, if your love be not weak!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

For he knew the heart hunger for God that was in every human breast:

"I am full-fed, and yet
I hunger!
Who set this fiercer famine in my maw?
Who set this fiercer hunger in my heart?"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

From "Drake" comes that scintillating line: "A scribble of God's finger
in the sky"; and an admonition to the preacher: "Thou art God's
minister, not God's oracle!"

Nor did he forget that man, in his search for God, is, after all, but
man, and weak! So from "Tales of a Mermaid Tavern":

"... and of that other Ocean
Where all men sail so blindly, and misjudge
Their friends, their charts, their storms, their stars, their

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

Even like unto "Bo'sin Bill," who was and is a prevalent type, but not
a serious type--that man who claims to be an atheist, but in times of
stress, like unto us all, turns to God. And what humorous creatures we
are! Enough to make God smile, if he did not love us so much:

"But our bo'sin Bill was an atheist still
Ex-cept--sometimes--in the dark!"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And again from "The Paradox":

"Flashing forth as a flame,
The unnameable Name,
The ineffable Word,
_I am the Lord_!"

"I am the End to which the whole world strives:
Therefore are ye girdled with a wild desire and shod
With sorrow; for among you all no soul
Shall ever cease, or sleep, or reach its goal
Of union and communion with the Whole
Or rest content with less than being God."

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

And thus we find God, with Noyes. And I have saved for the last
quotation one from "The Origin of Life," which the poet says is
"Written in answer to certain scientific theories." I save it for the
last because, strangely, it sums up all the journey that we have passed
through, from childhood to God-hood:

"Watched the great hills like clouds arise and set,
And one--named Olivet;
When you have seen as a shadow passing away,
One child clasp hands and pray;
When you have seen emerge from that dark mire
One martyr ringed with fire;
Or, from that Nothingness, by special grace
One woman's love-lit face...."

* * * * *

"Dare you re-kindle then,
One faith for faithless men,
And say you found, on that dark road you trod,
In the beginning, _God_?"

Collected Poems by Alfred Noyes.

[Illustration: JOHN MASEFIELD.]


[Footnote: The poetical selections appearing in this chapter are used
by permission, and are taken from the following works: The Everlasting
Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street, Salt Water Poems and Ballads,
and Good Friday, published by The Macmillan Company, New York.]

To climb is to achieve. We like to see men achieve; and the harder that
achievement is, the more we thrill to it. For that reason we all have a
hope to climb a Shasta, or a Whitney, or a Hood to its whitest peak,
and glory in the achievement. And because of this human delight in the
climb we thrill to see a man climb out of sin, or out of difficulty, or
out of defeat to triumph.

From "bar-boy" to poet is a great achievement, a great climb, or leap,
or lift, whichever figure you may prefer, but that is exactly what
John Masefield did.

Perhaps Hutton's figure may describe it better--"The Leap to God." At
least ten years ago John Masefield, a wanderer on the face of the
earth, found himself in New York city without friends and without
means, and it was not to him an unusual thing to accept the position of
"bar-boy" in a New York saloon. This particular profession has within
its scope the duties of wiping the beer bottles, sweeping the floor,
and other menial tasks.

And now John Masefield has within recent months come to New York city
to be the lauded and feted. Newspaper reporters met him as his boat
landed, eager for his every word; Carnegie Hall was crowded to hear him
read from his own poetry; and his journey across the country was just a
great triumph from New York to San Francisco.

Something had happened in those ten years. This man had achieved. This
poet had climbed to God. This man had experienced the "Soul's Leap to
God." He had found that Man of all men who once said, "If I be lifted
up, I will draw all men unto me." He always lifts men out of nothing
into the glory of the greatest achievement. Yes, something had happened
in those ten years.

And the things that had happened in those ten years are perfectly
apparent in his writings if one follow them from the beginning to the
end. And the things that had happened I shall trace through this poet's
writings from the first, boyhood verses of "Salt Water Ballads" to
"Good Friday"; and therein lies the secret; and incidentally therein
lies some of the most thrilling human touches, vivid illustrations for
the preacher; some of the most intensely interesting religious
experiences that any biography ever revealed consciously or


One may search these "Salt Water Ballads" through from the opening line
of "Consecration" to "The Song At Parting" and find no faint suggestion
of that deep religious glory of "The Everlasting Mercy." This book was
written, even as Masefield says, "in my boyhood; all of it in my
youth." He has not caught the deeper meaning of life yet--the spiritual
meaning--although he has caught the social meaning, just as Markham has
caught it.

1. _Social Consciousness_

Even in "Consecration" we hear the challenging ring of a young voice
who has wandered over the face of the earth and has taken his place
with the "Outcast," has cast his lot with the sailor, the stoker, the

"Not the ruler for me, but the ranker, the tramp of the road,
The slave with the sack on his shoulders pricked on with the goad,
The man with too weighty a burden, too weary a load.
"Others may sing of the wine and the wealth, and the mirth,
The portly presence of potentates goodly in girth;
Mine be the dirt and the dross, the dust, and the scum of the earth!

* * * * *

"Mine be a handful of ashes, a mouthful of mould.
Of the maimed, of the halt and the blind in the rain and the cold--
Of these shall my songs be fashioned, my tales be told. Amen."

Salt Water Poems and Ballads.

And it is a most fascinating story to see him climb from his boyhood,
purely social, sympathetic interest in the outcast to that higher, that
highest social consciousness, vitalized with religion. Here, seems it
to me, that those who possess true social consciousness must come at
last if they do their most effective work for the social regeneration
of the world. Many have tremendous social consciousness, but no Christ.
Christ himself is the very pulse beat of the social regeneration.
Without him it must fail.

One feels, even here in his youth poems, however, a promise of that
deeper Masefield that later finds his soul in "The Everlasting Mercy."

2. _Faith in Immortality_

In "Rest Her Soul," these haunting lines with that expression of a deep
faith found in "All that dies of her," we find a ray of light, which
slants through a small window of the man that is to be:

"On the black velvet covering her eyes
Let the dull earth be thrown;
Her's is the mightier silence of the skies,
And long, quiet rest alone.
Over the pure, dark, wistful eyes of her,
O'er all the human, all that dies of her,
Gently let flowers be strown."

Salt Water Poems and Ballads.

But most of these ballads, as their title suggests, are nothing more
than the very sea foam of which they speak, and whose tale they tell;
as compared with that later, deeper verse of Christian hope and

And then pass those ten years; ten years following the period of "The
Salt Water Ballads"; and ten years following the time when he was a
"bar-boy" in New York; ten years in which he climbs from a simple
"social consciousness" to a social consciousness that has the heart
beat of Christ in its every line. The poems he writes in this period
are all of the Christ. "Good Friday," perhaps the strongest poem
dealing with this great day in Christ's life, is full of a close
knowledge of the spirit of the Man of Galilee. But it is in "The
Everlasting Mercy" and not "The Story of a Round House" that we find
Masefield at his big best, battering at the very doors of eternity with
the fist of a giant and the tender love of a woman, and the plea of a
penitent sinner.

Something had happened to Masefield in those ten years. A man's entire
life had been revolutionized; and his poetry with it. He still feels
the want and need of the world, and the social injustice; but he has
found the cure. In a word, he has been converted. I do not care whether
or no Masefield means to tell his own story in "The Everlasting Mercy,"
but I do know that he tells, in spite of himself, a story that fits
curiously into, and marvelously explains, the strange revolution and
change in his own life from "Salt Water Ballads" to "Good Friday."


It is an old-fashioned Methodist conversion of which he tells, which
links itself up with the New Testament gospel of the regeneration of
a human soul in such a fascinating way that it gives those of us who
preach this gospel an impelling, modern, dramatic putting of the old,
old story, that will thrill our congregations and grip the hearts of
men who know not the Christ.

1. _Conviction of Sin_

Saul Kane was an amateur prizefighter. He and his friend Bill have a
fight in the opening lines of the tale, and Saul wins. This victory
is followed by the usual debauch, which lasts until all the drunken
crowd are asleep on the floor of the "Lion." No Russian novelist, nor
a Dostoievesky, nor another, ever dared such realism as Masefield has
given us in his picture of this night's sin. He makes sin all that it
is--black and hideous:

"From three long hours of gin and smokes,
And two girls' breath and fifteen blokes,
A warmish night and windows shut
The room stank like a fox's gut.
The heat, and smell, and drinking deep
Began to stun the gang to sleep."

The Everlasting Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street.

But this was too much for Saul Kane. He had still enough decency left
to be ashamed. He wanted air. He went to a window and threw it open:

"I opened window wide and leaned
Out of that pigsty of the fiend,
And felt a cool wind go like grace
About the sleeping market-place.
The clock struck three, and sweetly, slowly,
The bells chimed, Holy, Holy, Holy;
And in a second's pause there fell
The cold note of the chapel bell,
And then a cock crew flapping wings,
And summat made me think of things!"

The Everlasting Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street.

There it is: sin, and conviction of sin. Perhaps he thought of another
man who had virtually betrayed the Christ, and the cock crew and made
that other "think o' things."

Then came the reaction from that conviction; the battle against that
same conviction that he must give up sin and surrender to the Christ;
and a terrific battle it is, and a terrific description of that battle
Masefield gives us, lightninglike in its vividness until there comes
the little woman of God, Miss Bourne (a deaconess, if you please), who
has always known the better man in Saul, who has followed him with her
Christly love like "The Hound of Heaven." And how tenderly, yet how
insistently, how pleadingly she speaks:

"'Saul Kane,' she said, 'when next you drink,
Do me the gentleness to think
That every drop of drink accursed
Makes Christ within you die of thirst;
That every dirty word you say
Is one more flint upon His way,
Another thorn about His head,
Another mock by where He tread;
Another nail another cross;
All that you are is that Christ's loss.'"

The Everlasting Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street.

These searching words were beyond defeat. They went home to his already
convicted heart and mind like arrows. They hurt. They cut. They
awakened. They called. They pierced. They pounded with giant fists.
They lashed like spiked whips. They burned like a soul on fire. They
clamored, and they whispered like a mother's love, and at last his
heart opened:

2. _Forgiveness_

"I know the very words I said,
They bayed like bloodhounds in my head.
'The water's going out to sea
And there's a great moon calling me;
But there's a great sun calls the moon,
And all God's bells will carol soon
For joy and glory, and delight
Of some one coming home to-night.'"

The Everlasting Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street.

And then came the consciousness that he was "done with sin" forever:

"I knew that I had done with sin,
I knew that Christ had given me birth
To brother all the souls on earth,"

The Everlasting Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street.

which was followed by two "glories"--the "Glory of the Lighted Mind"
and the "Glory of the Lighted Soul." I think that perhaps in our
preaching on conversion we make too little of the regeneration of the
"mind." Masefield does not miss one whit of a complete regeneration.

3. _The Joy of Conversion_

"O glory of the lighted mind.
How dead I'd been, how dumb, how blind!
The station brook to my new eyes
Was babbling out of Paradise,
The waters rushing from the rain
Were singing, 'Christ has risen again!'"

The Everlasting Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street.

And then the soul glory:

"O glory of the lighted Soul.
The dawn came up on Bradlow Knoll,
The dawn with glittering on the grasses,
The dawn which pass and never passes."

The Everlasting Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street.

But that wasn't all. Masefield knows that the other self must be
completely eradicated, so he makes Saul Kane change his environment
entirely. He goes to the country. He plows, and as he plows he learns
the lesson of the soil and cries:

"O Jesus, drive the coulter deep
To plow my living man from sleep."

The Everlasting Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street.

And more word from Christ as he plowed:

"I knew that Christ was there with Callow,
That Christ was standing there with me,
That Christ had taught me what to be,
That I should plow and as I plowed
My Saviour Christ would sing aloud,
And as I drove the clods apart
Christ would be plowing in my heart,
Through rest-harrow and bitter roots,
Through all my bad life's rotten fruits."

The Everlasting Mercy and the Widow in the Bye Street.

And so it is, that beginning with his poems of youth, John Masefield
starts out with a sympathetic social consciousness, but nothing more
apparently. He brothers with the outcast and frankly prefers it. Then
comes the great regenerating influence in his life, which we surely
find in his expression of faith that the soul is immortal, and finally
that upheaval which we call conversion with all of its incident steps
from conviction of sin to repentance; and then to the consciousness of
forgiveness; to the lighted mind and the lighted soul; and then to the
uprooting of evil and the planting of good in the soil of his life. And
so through Saul Kane we see John Masefield and have an explanation of
that subtle yet revolutionary change in his life and his poetry,
pregnant with illustrations that, to quote another English poet, Noyes,
"Would make the dead arise!"


[Footnote: The poetical selections appearing in this chapter are used
by permission, and are taken from the following works: The Spell of the
Yukon; Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, published by Barse & Hopkins, New
York; Rhymes of a Rolling Stone, published by Dodd, Mead & Co., New


A preacher once preached a sermon, and in the opening moments of this
sermon he quoted eight lines, and a layman said at the conclusion of
this sermon, "Ah, the sermon was fine, but those lines that you
quoted--they were tremendous; they gripped me!" And those lines were
from Robert Service, the poet of the Alaskan ice-peaks, of the Yukon's
turbulent blue waters, of the great silences, of the high peaks and
high hopes; of men and gold and sin and death.

And the lines that gripped the layman were:

"I've stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That's plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I've watched the big husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim;
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming
And the stars tumbled out neck and crop;
And I've thought that I surely was dreaming
With the peace o' the world piled on top."

The Spell of the Yukon.

[Illustration: ROBERT SERVICE.]

Everything that the great northland holds was dear to him and clear to
him and near to him. He knew it all as intimately as a child knows his
own backyard. He makes it as dear and near and clear too, to those who

"The summer--no sweeter was ever,
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill;
The strong life that never knows harness,
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freedom, the freshness, the farness;
O God! how I'm stuck on it all!"

The Spell of the Yukon.

Virile as the mountains that he has neighbored with; clean as the snows
that have blinded his eyes, and made beautiful the valleys; subdued to
love of God through the height and the might of all that he sees, with
a vigor that shakes one awake, he speaks, not forgetting the pines; for
the pines are kith and kin to the mountains and the snows:

"Wind of the East, wind of the West, wandering to and fro,
Chant your hymns in our topmost limbs, that the sons of men may know
That the peerless pine was the first to come, and the pine will be
the last to go.

"Sun, moon, and stars give answer; shall we not staunchly stand
Even as now, forever, wards of the wilder strand,
Sentinels of the stillness, lords of the last, lone land?"

The Spell of the Yukon.

And these white peaks, and these lone sentinels lift one nearer to God:

"But the stars throng out in their glory,
And they sing of the God in man;
They sing of the Mighty Master,
Of the loom his fingers span,
Where a star or a soul is a part of the whole,
And weft in the wondrous plan.

"Here by the camp-fire's flicker,
Deep in my blanket curled,
I long for the peace of the pine-gloom,
Where the scroll of the Lord is unfurled,
And the wind and the wave are silent,
And world is singing to world."

The Spell of the Yukon.

"Have you strung your soul to silence?" he abruptly asks in "The Call
of the Wild"; and again, another searching query, "Have you known the
great White Silence, not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver? (Eternal truths
which shame our soothing lies.)" And again another query that rips the
soul open, and that tears off life's veneer:

"Have you suffered, starved, and triumphed, groveled down,
yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
'Done things,' just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
See through the nice veneer the naked soul?"

The Spell of the Yukon.

and how his virile soul rings its tribute to the "silent men who do
things!"--the kind that the world finds once in a century for its great

"The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things--."

The Spell of the Yukon.


The world is full of sin and death, and the former is so often the
father of the other. Service has seen this in the far, hard, cruel
northland as no other can see it. The hollowness of material things he
learns from this land of yellow gold, the very soul of the material
quest of the world. He learns that "It isn't the gold that we're
wanting, so much as just finding the gold:"

"There's gold, and it's haunting and haunting;
It's luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace."

The Spell of the Yukon.

Or another verse:

"I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy--I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it--
Came out with a fortune last fall--
Yet somehow life's not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn't all."

The Spell of the Yukon.

Who has not learned that? Thank God for the lesson! Too many of us hurl
our youths, aye, our lives into the grave learning that, and only come
to know at last that Joaquin Miller was right when he said,

"All you can take in your cold, dead hand
Is what you have given away."

And how the warning against sin hurtles its
way into your soul; its grip; its age; its power:

"It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it's been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end."

The Spell of the Yukon.

Sin is like that. Service is right! Sin lures, and calls under the
guise of beauty. But sin, as John Masefield shows in "The Everlasting
Mercy," is ugly. In the modern word of the street "Sin will get you."
Service says the same thing in "It grips you."


Maybe you have never thought of God as the God of the trails and
Alaskan reaches, but Service makes you see him as "The God of the
trails untrod" in "The Heart of the Sourdough." He does not leave God
out. Nor do these rough men of the avalanches, the frozen rivers, the
gold trails, which are death trails. Indeed, these are the very men who
know God, for do not their "Lives just hang by a hair"?

"I knew it would call, or soon or late, as it calls the whirring
It's the olden lure, it's the golden lure, it's the lure of the
timeless things,
And to-night, O, God of the trails untrod, how it whines in
my heart-strings!"

The Spell of the Yukon.

This God leads to "The Land of Beyond," the heaven of the gold seeker:

"Thank God! there is always a Land of Beyond
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A farness that never will fail;
A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal,
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
Behold it, our Land of Beyond!"

Rhymes of a Rolling Stone.

And the northman cannot forget death, as we have suggested, because he
is face to face with it all the time, at every turn of a river; at
every jump from cake to floe, at every step of every trail:


"Just think! some night the stars will gleam
Upon a cold, grey stone,
And trace a name with silver beam,
And lo! 'twill be your own,

"That night is speeding on to greet
Your epitaphic rhyme.
Your life is but a little beat
Within the heart of Time.

"A little gain, a little pain,
A laugh lest you may moan;
A little blame, a little fame,
A star-gleam on a stone."

Rhymes of a Rolling Stone.

Perhaps it is because the men of the north are always so near to death
and so conscious of death that they hold to the strict Puritanical
rules of conduct that they do, expressed in Service's "The Woman and
the Angel," that story of the Angel who came down to earth and
withstood all the temptations until he met the beautiful, sinning
woman, and who was about to fall. Hear her tempt him:

"Then sweetly she mocked his scruples, and softly she him beguiled:
'You, who are verily man among men, speak with the tongue of a child.
We have outlived the old standards; we have burst like an overtight
The ancient outworn, Puritanic traditions of Right and Wrong.'"
"Then the Master feared for His angel, and called him again to His
For O, the woman was wondrous, and O, the angel was tried!
And deep in his hell sang the devil, and this was the strain of his
'The ancient, outworn, Puritanic traditions of Right and Wrong.'"

The Spell of the Yukon.

And I doubt not, but that we all need that warning not to give up "The
ancient, outworn, Puritanic traditions of Right and Wrong."


Here it is that we find a consciousness of the Eternal creeping through
the smoke and din and glare. Here, like the hard, dangerous life of the
Alaskan trails, only harder and more dangerous; here amid war in "The
Fool" we catch six last lines that thrill us:

"He died with the glory of faith in his eyes,
And the glory of love in his heart.
And though there's never a grave to tell,
Nor a cross to mark his fall,
Thank God we know that he "batted well"
In the last great Game of all."

Rhymes of a Red Cross Man.

And even amid the terrible thunder of war the "Lark" sings, as Service
reminds us in his poem of that name, sings and points to heaven:

"Pure heart of song! do you not know
That we are making earth a hell?
Or is it that you try to show
Life still is joy and all is well?
Brave little wings! Ah, not in vain
You beat into that bit of blue:
Lo! we who pant in war's red rain
Lift shining eyes, see Heaven too!"

Rhymes of a Red Cross Man.

To close this study of Service, which has run from the hard battle
ground of the Alaskan trails to the harder battle ground of France;
which has run from a study of white peaks and white lives, to high
peaks and high hopes, through sin and death to heaven and the Father
himself, I quote the closing lines of Service's "The Song of the Wage
Slave," which will remind the reader in tone and spirit of Markham's
"The Man with the Hoe":

"Master, I've filled my contract, wrought in thy many lands;
Not by my sins wilt thou judge me, but by the work of my hands.
Master, I've done thy bidding, and the light is low in the west,
And the long, long shift is over--Master, I've earned it--Rest."

[Illustration: RUPERT BROOKE.]


[Footnote: The poetical selections from the writings of Rupert Brooke
appearing in this chapter are used by permission, and are taken from
The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke, published by John Lane Company,
New York.]


Wilfred Gibson expressed it for us all; voiced the sorrow and the
hope in the death of Rupert Brooke, a victim of the Hun as well as that
other giant of art, the Rheims Cathedral; expressed it in these lines
written shortly after Rupert Brooke died:

"He's gone.
I do not understand.
I only know
That, as he turned to go
And waved his hand,
In his young eyes a sudden glory shone,
And I was dazzled by a sunset glow--
And he was gone,"

Thanks, Wilfred Gibson, you who have made articulate the voice of the
downtrodden of the world, the poetic "Fires" which have lighted up with
sudden glow the slums, the slag heaps, the factories, the coal mines,
and hidden common ways of folks who toil; thanks that you have also
beautifully lighted up the "End of the Trail" of your friend and our
friend, Poet Rupert Brooke; lighted it with the light that shines from
eternity. We owe you debt unpayable for that.

And you yourself, war-dead poet, you sang your end, full knowing that
it would come, as it did on foreign soil, far from the England that you
loved and voiced so wondrously. And now these lines that you wrote of
your own possible passing have new meaning for us who remain to mourn
your going:

"If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England's breathing, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home."

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

And so here, even in this hymn of your passing, you have given a
striking illustration off one of your strongest characteristics, love
of homeland. Poet of Youth who left us so early in life, take your
place along with Byron, and Shelley, and our own Seeger--a quartette of
immortals, whose voices were heard, but, like the horns of Elfland,
"faintly blowing" when they were hushed. Though you were but a
youthful voice, yet left you poetry worth listening to, and preached a
gospel that will make a better world, though it had not gone far enough
to save the world.


Among the few definite, outstanding gospels that Brooke preached is
seen the gospel of friendship. In "The Jolly Company" he says:

"O white companionship! You only
In love, in faith unbroken dwell,
Friends, radiant and inseparable!"

"Light-hearted and glad they seemed to me
And merry comrades, even so
God out of heaven may laugh to see.--"

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

Then, again, in a poem which he called "Lines Written in the Belief
That the Ancient Roman Festival of the Dead Was Called Ambarvalia," he
voices in an even more striking quatrain the immortality of friendship.
What a thrill of hope runs through us here as we, who believe that life
brings no richer gold than friendship, read this poet's thought that
friendship too shall last beyond the years!

"And I know, one night, on some far height,
In the tongue I never knew,
I yet shall hear the tidings clear
From them that were friends of you.--"

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.


And where Friendship sweeps into love who shall tell, or where the
dividing line is? But while Brooks lived he forgot not love. His was a
throbbing, beating love whose light was a beacon night and day; a
beacon of which he was not ashamed. He set the fires of romantic love
burning and when he went away he left them burning so that their light
might light the way for other poets and other lovers and other
travelers when they came. He believed, like Noyes, that love should not
be weak; that that was the great hope. Noyes said:

"But one thing is needful, and ye shall be true
To yourselves and the goal and the God that ye seek;
Yea, the day and the night shall requite it to you
If ye love one another if your love be not weak."

From Collected Poems of Alfred Noyes.

Now I do not mean to suggest that the love that Brooke sang was exactly
the type that Noyes sang in these four lines. In fact, one feels a
difference as he reads the two English poets, but they are alike in
that each agreed that Love should not be weak, whatever it was. Brooke
sang of romantic love, high and holy as that is; love of Youth for
Maiden, lad for lass, and man for woman; and thank God for the high
clean song that he gave to it in such lines as in "The Great Lover":

"Love is a flame;--we have beaconed the world's night.
A city:--and we have built it, these and I.
An emperor:--we have taught the world to die."

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

And again in that same great poem:

"--Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake,
And give what's left of love again, and make
New friends, now strangers...."

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.


And who shall say where the line of cleavage is between that love which
clings to Friends; and that greater or conjugal love which moulds man
and woman into one; and love for children, blood of one's blood, and
love of country; and love of God? I say that those who are truly the
great Lovers of the world love all of these and that not one is
omitted. At least the truly great Lovers have the capacity for love
of all these types. I have found no expression of paternal love in
Brooke, for he had not come to that great experience of life before
Death claimed him. And because Death robbed him of that experience
Death robbed us of a rare interpretation of that special type of Love.
But of all these other types which I have mentioned we have a clear
expression in the slender volume of poems that he left us as our
heritage from his estate. And, since we have already read one beautiful
expression of this love for his country in the opening paragraphs of
this chapter, we will add here another stanza of that noble expression
of his love for old England.

"And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven."

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

What a voice for the times! What a voice for America! Would that some
American Brooke might arise to sing this same deep song.


Rupert Brooke had a wide range of interests as indeed any great Lover
of Life and living must have. He expressed the hopelessness of the
heathen gods in a poem which he called "On the Death of Smet-Smet, the
Hippopotomus-Goddess" in lines that fairly sparkle with the electricity
of destruction and sarcasm:

"She was wrinkled and huge and hideous? She was our Mother.
She was lustful and lewd?--but a God; we had none other.
In the day She was hidden and dumb, but at nightfall moaned in the
We shuddered and gave Her Her will in the darkness; we were afraid.

(The People without)

"She sent us pain,
And we bowed before Her;
She smiled again
And bade us adore Her.
She solaced our woe
And soothed our sighing;
And what shall we do
Now God is dying?"

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

And so it was that with the deepest sense of understanding, with the
deepest sympathy, without intolerance Brooke, in this one verse sets
the Heathen gods where they belong and sets us where we belong in our
relations to those who worship these gods and goddesses. It is all they
have. We have no right to sneer and scorn until we are able to give
them better. These poor Egyptians knew no other God. They said
plaintively "but a God; we have none other"; and "And what shall we do
now God is dying?" The crime of destroying faith in a lesser god until
one has seen and can make seeable the real God is the greatest crime of
civilization. And to this writer's way of thinking there is no greater
sin than that of Intolerance; a sin to which a certain portion of the
institutionalized church is prone. Noyes shot the fist of indignation
at this type of intolerance straight from a manly shoulder when he

"How foolish, then, you will agree
Are those who think that all must see
The world alike, or those who scorn
Another who, perchance, was born
Where in a different dream from theirs
What they called Sin to him were prayers?"

The Collected Poems of Alfred Noyes.

Brooke saw the same thing and had great tolerance for those who
worshipped the "unknown gods"; worshipped the best they knew, although
it were a feeble worship. He understood their outcry that they knew not
what to do, now that their god was dying:

"She was so strong;
But death is stronger.
She ruled us long;
But time is longer.
She solaced our woe
And soothed our sighing;
And what shall we do
Now God is dying?"

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.


Then sweeping upward, although one must admit, with groping, reaching
eagerness, this young poet tried to find, and at last did find, the one
God. He mentions this God that he found more than any other one thing
about which he wrote, so far as I can find. In one slender volume are
more than a dozen striking references. Take for example the last
fifteen lines of "The Song of the Pilgrims":

"O Thou,
God of all long desirous roaming,
Our hearts are sick of fruitless homing,
And crying after lost desire.
Hearten us onward! as with fire
Consuming dreams of other bliss.
The best Thou givest, giving this
Sufficient thing--to travel still
Over the plain, beyond the hill,
Unhesitating through the shade,
Amid the silence unafraid,
Till, at some hidden turn, one sees
Against the black and muttering trees
Thine altar, wonderfully white,
Among the Forests of the Night."

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

Or again, from "Ambarvalia":

"But laughing and half-way up to heaven,
With wind and hill and star,
I yet shall keep before I sleep,
Your Ambarvalia."

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

Immortality, which goes hand in hand with the God of immortality, the
God of the "Everlasting Arms," is voiced in "Dining-Room Tea," a poem
addressed to one whom he loved:

"For suddenly, and other whence,
I looked on your magnificence.
I saw the stillness and the light,
And you, august, immortal, white,
Holy and strange; and every glint,
Posture and jest and thought and tint
Freed from the mask of transiency,
Triumphant in eternity,
Immote, immortal."

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

Then, speaking of the war and peace with great yearning and great
faith, the young poet cried a new glory in what he calls "God's
Hour" in a poem on "Peace":

"Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping."

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

And who has not felt this, but has not been able to thus express it?
And who has not seen that somehow, strangely, mysteriously, wondrously,
the youth not only of England, but of America has leaped to "God's
Hour," as Brooke calls this war; leaped from play, and from
listlessness in spiritual things; leaped from indifference to things of
the eternities; leaped to a magnificent heroism, selflessness,
sacrifice, brotherhood; leaped to a new and Godlike nobility.

To all who mourn for their dead lads comes the cheering word of Brooke,
who himself paid the great debt of love. It comes out of a poem called
"Safety." Read it, you who mourn, and be comforted:

"Dear! of all happy in the hour, most blest
He who has found our hid security,
Assured in the dark tides of the world that rest,
And hear our word, 'Who is so safe as we?'
'We have found safety with all things undying!'"

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

"We have found safety with all things undying." Brooke heard God's word
as did the prophet of old crying, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,
saith the Lord," and this sonnet comes as a personal message to
mourning mother and father in America. As they listen they hear the
voices of those they loved crying: "Who is so safe as we? We have
found safety with all things undying." Thank God that this poet, though
young, lived long enough, and saw enough of war and death to give this
heartening word to a world which weeps and wearies with war and woe and
want! Thus in this new immortality we shall

"Learn all we lacked before; hear, know and say
What this tumultuous body now denies:
And feel, who have laid our groping hands away;
And see, no longer blinded by our eyes."

The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke.

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