Part 6 out of 6
Whilst he spoke thus, a doubtful tumultuous joy
Chased its fleeting effects o'er the face of the boy:
As when some stormy moon, in a long cloud confined,
Struggles outward through shadows, the varying wind
Alternates, and bursts, self-surprised, from her prison,
So that slow joy grew clear in his face. He had risen
To answer the Duke; but strength fail'd every limb;
A strange, happy feebleness trembled through him.
With a faint cry of rapturous wonder, he sank
On the breast of the nun, who stood near.
"Yes, boy! thank
This guardian angel," the Duke said. "I--you,
We owe all to her. Crown her work. Live! be true
To your young life's fair promise, and live for her sake!"
"Yes, Duke: I will live. I MUST live--live to make
My whole life the answer you claim," the boy said,
"For joy does not kill!"
Back again the faint head
Declined on the nun's gentle bosom. She saw
His lips quiver, and motion'd the Duke to withdraw
And leave them a moment together.
Them both with a wistful regard; turn'd and sigh'd,
And lifted the tent-door, and pass'd from the tent.
Like a furnace, the fervid, intense occident
From its hot seething levels a great glare struck up
On the sick metal sky. And, as out of a cup
Some witch watches boiling wild portents arise,
Monstrous clouds, mass'd, misshapen, and ting'd with strange dyes,
Hover'd over the red fume, and changed to weird shapes
As of snakes, salamanders, efts, lizards, storks, apes,
Chimeras, and hydras: whilst--ever the same
In the midst of all these (creatures fused by his flame,
And changed by his influence!) changeless, as when,
Ere he lit down to death generations of men,
O'er that crude and ungainly creation, which there
With wild shapes this cloud-world seem'd to mimic in air,
The eye of Heaven's all-judging witness, he shone.
And shall shine on the ages we reach not--the sun!
Nature posted her parable thus in the skies,
And the man's heart bore witness. Life's vapors arise
And fall, pass and change, group themselves and revolve
Round the great central life, which is love: these dissolve
And resume themselves, here assume beauty, there terror;
And the phantasmagoria of infinite error,
And endless complexity, lasts but a while;
Life's self, the immortal, immutable smile
Of God, on the soul in the deep heart of Heaven
Lives changeless, unchanged: and our morning and even
Are earth's alternations, not Heaven's.
While he yet
Watched the skies, with this thought in his heart; while he set
Thus unconsciously all his life forth in his mind,
Summ'd it up, search'd it out, proved it vapor and wind,
And embraced the new life which that hour had reveal'd,--
Love's life, which earth's life had defaced and conceal'd;
Lucile left the tent and stood by him.
Aroused him; and, turning towards her, he said:
"O Soeur Seraphine, are you happy?"
What is happier than to have hoped not in vain?"
She answer'd,--"And you?"
"You do not repent?"
"Thank Heaven!" she murmur'd. He musingly bent
His looks on the sunset, and somewhat apart
Where he stood, sigh'd, as though to his innermost heart,
"O bless'd are they, amongst whom I was not,
Whose morning unclouded, without stain or spot,
Predicts a pure evening; who, sunlike, in light
Have traversed, unsullied, the world, and set bright!"
But she in response, "Mark yon ship far away,
Asleep on the wave, in the last light of day,
With all its hush'd thunders shut up! Would you know
A thought which came to me a few days ago,
Whilst watching those ships? . . . When the great Ship of Life
Surviving, though shatter'd, the tumult and strife
Of earth's angry element,--masts broken short,
Decks drench'd, bulwarks beaten--drives safe into port;
When the Pilot of Galilee, seen on the strand,
Stretches over the waters a welcoming hand;
When, heeding no longer the sea's baffled roar,
The mariner turns to his rest evermore;
What will then be the answer the helmsman must give?
Will it be . . . 'Lo our log-book! Thus once did we live
In the zones of the South; thus we traversed the seas
Of the Orient; there dwelt with the Hesperides;
Thence follow'd the west wind; here, eastward we turn'd;
The stars fail'd us there; just here land we discern'd
On our lee; there the storm overtook us at last;
That day went the bowsprit, the next day the mast;
There the mermen came round us, and there we saw bask
A siren?' The Captain of Port will he ask
Any one of such questions? I cannot think so!
But . . . 'What is the last Bill of Health you can show?'
Not--How fared the soul through the trials she pass'd?
But--What is the state of that soul at the last?"
"May it be so!" he sigh'd. "There the sun drops, behold!"
And indeed, whilst he spoke all the purple and gold
In the west had turn'd ashen, save one fading strip
Of light that yet gleam'd from the dark nether lip
Of a long reef of cloud; and o'er sullen ravines
And ridges the raw damps were hanging white screens
Of melancholy mist.
"Nunc dimittis?" she said.
"O God of the living! whilst yet 'mid the dead
And the dying we stand here alive, and thy days
Returning, admit space for prayer and for praise,
In both these confirm us!
"The helmsman, Eugene,
Needs the compass to steer by. Pray always. Again
We two part: each to work out Heaven's will: you, I trust,
In the world's ample witness; and I, as I must,
In secret and silence: you, love, fame, await;
Me, sorrow and sickness. We meet at one gate
When all's over. The ways they are many and wide,
And seldom are two ways the same. Side by side
May we stand at the same little door when all's done!
The ways they are many, the end it is one.
He that knocketh shall enter: who asks shall obtain:
And who seeketh, he findeth. Remember, Eugene!"
She turn'd to depart.
"Whither? whither?" . . . he said.
She stretch'd forth her hand where, already outspread
On the darken'd horizon, remotely they saw
The French camp-fires kindling.
"See yonder vast host, with its manifold heart
Made as one man's by one hope! The hope 'tis your part
To aid towards achievement, to save from reverse
Mine, through suffering to soothe, and through sickness to nurse.
I go to my work: you to yours."
Whilst she spoke,
On the wide wasting evening there distantly broke
The low roll of musketry. Straightway, anon,
From the dim Flag-staff Battery bellow'd a gun.
"Our chasseurs are at it!" he mutter'd.
Smiled, and pass'd up the twilight.
He faintly discern'd
Her form, now and then, on the flat lurid sky
Rise, and sink, and recede through the mists: by and by
The vapors closed round, and he saw her no more.
Nor shall we. For her mission, accomplish'd, is o'er.
The mission of genius on earth! To uplift,
Purify, and confirm by its own gracious gift,
The world, in despite of the world's dull endeavor
To degrade, and drag down, and oppose it forever.
The mission of genius: to watch, and to wait,
To renew, to redeem, and to regenerate.
The mission of woman on earth! to give birth
To the mercy of Heaven descending on earth.
The mission of woman: permitted to bruise
The head of the serpent, and sweetly infuse,
Through the sorrow and sin of earth's register'd curse,
The blessing which mitigates all: born to nurse,
And to soothe, and to solace, to help and to heal
The sick world that leans on her. This was Lucile.
A power hid in pathos: a fire veil'd in cloud:
Yet still burning outward: a branch which, though bow'd
By the bird in its passage, springs upward again:
Through all symbols I search for her sweetness--in vain!
Judge her love by her life. For our life is but love
In act. Pure was hers: and the dear God above,
Who knows what His creatures have need of for life,
And whose love includes all loves, through much patient strife
Led her soul into peace. Love, though love may be given
In vain, is yet lovely. Her own native heaven
More clearly she mirror'd, as life's troubled dream
Wore away; and love sigh'd into rest, like a stream
That breaks its heart over wild rocks toward the shore
Of the great sea which hushes it up evermore
With its little wild wailing. No stream from its source
Flows seaward, how lonely soever its course,
But what some land is gladden'd. No star ever rose
And set, without influence somewhere. Who knows
What earth needs from earth's lowest creature? No life
Can be pure in its purpose and strong in its strife
And all life not be purer and stronger thereby.
The spirits of just men made perfect on high,
The army of martyrs who stand by the Throne
And gaze into the face that makes glorious their own,
Know this, surely, at last. Honest love, honest sorrow,
Honest work for the day, honest hope for the morrow,
Are these worth nothing more than the hand they make weary,
The heart they have sadden'd, the life they leave dreary?
Hush! the sevenhold heavens to the voice of the Spirit
Echo: He that o'ercometh shall all things inherit.
The moon was, in fire, carried up through the fog;
The loud fortress bark'd at her like a chained dog.
The horizon pulsed flame, the air sound. All without,
War and winter, and twilight, and terror, and doubt;
All within, light, warmth, calm!
In the twilight, longwhile
Eugene de Luvois with a deep, thoughtful smile
Linger'd, looking, and listening, lone by the tent.
At last he withdrew, and night closed as he went.