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Light


First-born of the creating Voice!
Minister of God's spirit, who wast sent
To wait upon Him first, what time He went
Moving about 'mid the tumultuous noise
Of each unpiloted element
Upon the face of the void formless deep!
Thou who didst come unbodied and alone,
Ere yet the sun was set his rule to keep,
Or ever the moon shone,
Or e'er the wandering star-flocks forth were driven!
Thou garment of the Invisible, whose skirt
Falleth on all things from the lofty heaven!
Thou Comforter, be with me as thou wert
When first I longed for words, to be
A radiant garment for my thought, like thee.

We lay us down in sorrow,
Wrapt in the old mantle of our mother Night;
In vexing dreams we 'strive until the morrow;
Grief lifts our eyelids up--and lo, the light!
The sunlight on the wall! And visions rise
Of shining leaves that make sweet melodies;
Of wind-borne waves with thee upon their crests;
Of rippled sands on which thou rainest down;
Of quiet lakes that smooth for thee their breasts;
Of clouds that show thy glory as their own.
O joy! O joy! the visions are gone by,
Light, gladness, motion, are Reality!

Thou art the god of earth. The skylark springs
Far up to catch thy glory on his wings;
And thou dost bless him first that highest soars.
The bee comes forth to see thee; and the flowers
Worship thee all day long, and through the skies
Follow thy journey with their earnest eyes.
River of life, thou pourest on the woods;
And on thy waves float forth the wakening buds;
The trees lean towards thee, and, in loving pain,
Keep turning still to see thee yet again.
And nothing in thine eyes is mean or low:
Where'er thou art, on every side,
All things are glorified;
And where thou canst not come, there thou dost throw
Beautiful shadows, made out of the Dark,
That else were shapeless. Loving thou dost mark
The sadness on men's faces, and dost seek
To make all things around of hope and gladness speak.

And men have worshipped thee.
The Persian, on his mountain-top,
Kneeling doth wait until thy sun go up,
God-like in his serenity.
All-giving, and none-gifted, he draws near;
And the wide earth waits till his face appear--
Longs patient. And the herald glory leaps
Along the ridges of the outlying clouds,
Climbing the heights of all their towering steeps;
And a quiet multitudinous laughter crowds
The universal face, as, silently,
Up cometh he, the never-closing eye.
Symbol of Deity! men could not be
Farthest from truth when they were kneeling unto thee.

Thou plaything of the child,
When from the water's surface thou dost fall
In mazy dance, ethereal motion wild,
Like his own thoughts, upon the chamber wall;
Or through the dust darting in long thin streams!
How I have played with thee, and longed to climb
On sloping ladders of thy moted beams!
And how I loved thee falling from the moon!
And most about the mellow harvest-time,
When night had softly settled down,
And thou from her didst flow, a sea of love.
And then the stars, ah me! that flashed above
And the ghost-stars that shimmered in the tide!
While here and there mysterious earthly shining
Came forth of windows from the hill and glen;
Each ray of thine so wondrously entwining
With household love and rest of weary men.
And still I am a child, thank God! To see
Thee streaming from a bit of broken glass,
That else on the brown earth lay undescried,
Is a high joy, a glorious thing to me,
A spark that lights the light of joy within,
A thought of Hope to Prophecy akin,
That from my spirit fruitless will not pass.

Thou art the joy of Age:
The sun is dear even when long shadows fall.
Forth to the sunlight the old man doth crawl,
Enlivened like the bird in his poor cage.
Close by the door, no further, in his chair
The old man sits; and sitteth there
His soul within him, like a child that lies
Half dreaming, with his half-shut eyes,
At close of a long afternoon in summer;
High ruins round him, ancient ruins, where
The raven is almost the only comer;
And there he broods in wonderment
On the celestial glory sent
Through the rough loopholes, on the golden bloom
That waves above the cornice on the wall,
Where lately dwelt the echoes of the room;
And drinking in the yellow lights that lie
Upon the ivy tapestry.
So dreams the old man's soul, that is not old,
But sleepy 'mid the ruins that infold.

What meanings various thou callest forth
Upon the face of the still passive earth!
Even like a lord of music bent
Over his instrument;
Whether, at hour of sovereign noon,
Infinite cataracts sheet silent down;
Or a strange yellow radiance slanting pass
Betwixt long shadows o'er the meadow grass,
When from the lower edge of a dark cloud
The sun at eve his blessing head hath bowed;
Whether the moon lift up her shining shield,
High on the peak of a cloud-hill revealed;
Or crescent, low, wandering sun-dazed away,
Unconscious of her own star-mingled ray,
Her still face seeming more to think than see,
She makes the pale world lie in dreams of thee.
Each hour of day, each hour of thoughtful night,
Hath a new poem in the changing light.

Of highest unity the sole emblem!
In whom all colours that our eyes can see
In rainbow, moonbow, or in opal gem,
Unite in living oneness, purity,
And operative power! whose every part
Is beauty to the eyes, and truth unto the heart!
Outspread in yellow sands, blue sea and air,
Green growing corn, and scarlet poppies there;--
Regent of colours, thou, the undefiled!
Whether in dark eyes of the laughing child,
Or in the vast white cloud that floats away,
Bearing upon its breast a brown moon-ray;
The universal painter, who dost fling
Thy overflowing skill on everything!
The thousand hues and shades upon the flowers,
Are all the pastime of thy leisure hours;
And all the gems and ores that hidden be,
Are dead till they are looked upon by thee.

Everywhere,
Thou art shining through the air;
Every atom from another
Takes thee, gives thee to his brother;
Continually,
Thou art falling on the sea,
Bathing the deep woods down below,
Making the sea-flowers bud and blow;
Silently,
Thou art working ardently,
Bringing from the night of nought
Into being and to thought;
Influences
Every beam of thine dispenses,
Powerful, varied, reaching far,
Differing in every star.
Not an iron rod can lie
In circle of thy beamy eye,
But thy look doth change it so
That it cannot choose but show
Thou, the worker, hast been there;
Yea, sometimes, on substance rare,
Thou dost leave thy ghostly mark
In what men do call the dark.
Doer, shower, mighty teacher!
Truth-in-beauty's silent preacher!
Universal something sent
To shadow forth the Excellent!

When the firstborn affections,
Those winged seekers of the world within,
That search about in all directions,
Some bright thing for themselves to win,
Through unmarked forest-paths, and gathering fogs,
And stony plains, and treacherous bogs,
Long, long, have followed faces fair,
Fair faces without souls, that vanished into air;
And darkness is around them and above,
Desolate, with nought to love;
And through the gloom on every side,
Strange dismal forms are dim descried;
And the air is as the breath
From the lips of void-eyed Death;
And the knees are bowed in prayer
To the Stronger than Despair;
Then the ever-lifted cry,
Give us light, or we shall die,
Cometh to the Father's ears,
And He listens, and He hears:
And when men lift up their eyes,
Lo, Truth slow dawning in the skies!
'Tis as if the sun gleamed forth
Through the storm-clouds of the north.
And when men would name this Truth,
Giver of gladness and of youth,
They can call it nought but Light--
'Tis the morning, 'twas the night.
Yea, every thought of hope outspread
On the mountain's misty head,
Is a fresh aurora, sent
Through the spirit's firmament,
Telling, through the vapours dun,
Of the coming, coming sun.

All things most excellent
Are likened unto thee, excellent thing!
Yea, He who from the Father forth was sent,
Came the true Light, light to our hearts to bring;
The Word of God, the telling of His thought;
The Light of God, the making-visible;
The far-transcending glory brought
In human form with man to dwell;
The dazzling gone; the power not less
To show, irradiate, and bless;
The gathering of the primal rays divine,
Informing chaos, to a pure sunshine!

Death, darkness, nothingness!
Life, light, and blessedness!

* * * * *

Dull horrid pools no motion making;
No bubble on the surface breaking;
Through the dead heavy air, no sound;
Asleep and moveless on the marshy ground.

* * * * *

Rushing winds and snow-like drift,
Forceful, formless, fierce, and swift;
Hair-like vapours madly riven;
Waters smitten into dust;
Lightning through the turmoil driven,
Aimless, useless, yet it must.

* * * * *

Gentle winds through forests calling;
Big waves on the sea-shore falling;
Bright birds through the thick leaves glancing;
Light boats on the big waves dancing;
Children in the clear pool laving;
Mountain streams glad music giving;
Yellow corn and green grass waving;
Long-haired, bright-eyed maidens living;
Light on all things, even as now--
God, our Father, it is Thou!
Light, O Radiant! thou didst come abroad,
To mediate 'twixt our ignorance and God;
Forming ever without form;
Showing, but thyself unseen;
Pouring stillness on the storm;
Making life where death had been!
If thou, Light, didst cease to be,
Death and Chaos soon were out,
Weltering o'er the slimy sea,
Riding on the whirlwind's rout;
And if God did cease to be,
O Beloved! where were we?

Father of Lights, pure and unspeakable,
On whom no changing shadow ever fell!
Thy light we know not, are content to see;
And shall we doubt because we know not Thee?
Or, when thy wisdom cannot be expressed,
Fear lest dark vapours dwell within thy breast?
Nay, nay, ye shadows on our souls descending!
Ye bear good witness to the light on high,
Sad shades of something 'twixt us and the sky!
And this word, known and unknown radiant blending,
Shall make us rest, like children in the night,--
Word infinite in meaning: God is Light.
We walk in mystery all the shining day
Of light unfathomed that bestows our seeing,
Unknown its source, unknown its ebb and flow:
Thy living light's eternal fountain-play
In ceaseless rainbow pulse bestows our being--
Its motions, whence or whither, who shall know?
O Light, if I had said all I could say
Of thy essential glory and thy might,
Something within my heart unsaid yet lay,
And there for lack of words unsaid must stay:
For God is Light.


(1864)


George MacDonald