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The Christiad Post by :solomon Category :Poems Author :Henry Kirk White Date :May 2011 Read :1222

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The Christiad




I sing the Cross!--Ye white-robed angel choirs,
Who know the chords of harmony to sweep,
Ye who o'er holy David's varying wires
Were wont, of old, your hovering watch to keep,
Oh, now descend! and with your harpings deep,
Pouring sublime the full symphonious stream
Of music, such as soothes the saint's last sleep,
Awake my slumbering spirit from its dream,
And teach me how to exalt the high mysterious theme.


Mourn! Salem, mourn! low lies thine humbled state,
Thy glittering fanes are level'd with the ground!
Fallen is thy pride!--Thine halls are desolate!
Where erst was heard the timbrels' sprightly sound,
And frolic pleasures tripp'd the nightly round,
There breeds the wild fox lonely,--and aghast
Stands the mute pilgrim at the void profound,
Unbroke by noise, save when the hurrying blast
Sighs, like a spirit, deep along the cheerless waste.


It is for this, proud Solyma! thy towers
Lie crumbling in the dust; for this forlorn
Thy genius wails along thy desert bowers,
While stern Destruction laughs, as if in scorn,
That thou didst dare insult God's eldest born;
And, with most bitter persecuting ire,
Pursued his footsteps till the last day dawn
Rose on his fortunes--and thou saw'st the fire
That came to light the world, in one great flash expire.


Oh! for a pencil dipp'd in living light,
To paint the agonies that Jesus bore!
Oh! for the long lost harp of Jesse's might,
To hymn the Saviour's praise from shore to shore;
While seraph hosts the lofty paan pour,
And Heaven enraptured lists the loud acclaim!
May a frail mortal dare the theme explore?
May he to human ears his weak song frame?
Oh! may he dare to sing Messiah's glorious name.


Spirits of pity! mild crusaders, come!
Buoyant on clouds around your minstrel float,
And give him eloquence who else were dumb,
And raise to feeling and to fire his note!
And thou, Urania! who dost still devote
Thy nights and days to God's eternal shrine,
Whose mild eyes 'lumined what Isaiah wrote,
Throw o'er thy Bard that solemn stole of thine,
And clothe him for the fight with energy divine.


When from the temple's lofty summit prone,
Satan, o'ercome, fell down; and 'throned there,
The son of God confess'd in splendour shone:
Swift as the glancing sunbeam cuts the air,
Mad with defeat, and yelling his despair,
* * * * *
Fled the stern king of Hell--and with the glare
Of gliding meteors, ominous and red,
Shot athwart the clouds that gather'd round his head.


Right o'er the Euxine, and that gulf which late
The rude Massageta adored, he bent
His northering course, while round, in dusky state
The assembling fiends their summon'd troops augment;
Clothed in dark mists, upon their way they went,
While as they pass'd to regions more severe,
The Lapland sorcerer swell'd with loud lament
The solitary gale; and, fill'd with fear,
The howling dogs bespoke unholy spirits near.


Where the North Pole, in moody solitude,
Spreads her huge tracks and frozen wastes around,
There ice-rocks piled aloft, in order rude,
Form a gigantic hall, where never sound
Startled dull Silence' ear, save when profound
The smoke-frost mutter'd: there drear Cold for aye
Thrones him,--and, fix'd on his primaval mound,
Ruin, the giant, sits; while stern Dismay
Stalks like some woe-struck man along the desert way.


In that drear spot, grim Desolation's lair,
No sweet remain of life encheers the sight;
The dancing heart's blood in an instant there
Would freeze to marble.--Mingling day and night
(Sweet interchange, which makes our labours light)
Are there unknown; while in the summer skies
The sun rolls ceaseless round his heavenly height,
Nor ever sets till from the scene he flies,
And leaves the long bleak night of half the year to rise.


'T was there, yet shuddering from the burning lake,
Satan had fix'd their next consistory,
When parting last he fondly hoped to shake
Messiah's constancy,--and thus to free
The powers of darkness from the dread decree
Of bondage brought by him, and circumvent
The unerring ways of Him whose eye can see
The womb of Time, and, in its embryo pent,
Discern the colours clear of every dark event.


Here the stern monarch stay'd his rapid flight,
And his thick hosts, as with a jetty pall,
Hovering obscured the north star's peaceful light,
Waiting on wing their haughty chieftain's call.
He, meanwhile, downward, with a sullen fall,
Dropp'd on the echoing ice. Instant the sound
Of their broad vans was hush'd, and o'er the hall,
Vast and obscure, the gloomy cohorts bound,
Till, wedged in ranks, the seat of Satan they surround.


High on a solium of the solid wave,
Prank'd with rude shapes by the fantastic frost,
He stood in silence;--now keen thoughts engrave
Dark figures on his front; and, tempest-toss'd,
He fears to say that every hope is lost.
Meanwhile the multitude as death are mute;
So, ere the tempest on Malacca's coast,
Sweet Quiet, gently touching her soft lute,
Sings to the whispering waves the prelude to dispute.


At length collected, o'er the dark Divan
The arch fiend glanced as by the Boreal blaze
Their downcast brows were seen, and thus began
His fierce harangue:--"Spirits! our better days
Are now elapsed; Moloch and Belial's praise
Shall sound no more in groves by myriads trod.
Lo! the light breaks;--The astonish'd nations gaze,
For us is lifted high the avenging rod!
For, spirits! this is He,--this is the Son of God!


"What then!--shall Satan's spirit crouch to fear?
Shall he who shook the pillars of God's reign
Drop from his unnerved arm the hostile spear?
Madness! The very thought would make me fain
To tear the spanglets from yon gaudy plain,
And hurl them at their Maker!--Fix'd as Fate
I am his foe!--Yea, though his pride should deign
To soothe mine ire with half his regal state,
Still would I burn with fix'd unalterable hate.


"Now hear the issue of my cursed emprize.
When from our last sad synod I took flight,
Buoyed with false hopes, in some deep-laid disguise,
To tempt this vaunted Holy One to write
His own self-condemnation; in the plight
Of aged man in the lone wilderness,
Gathering a few stray sticks, I met his sight;
And, leaning on my staff, seem'd much to guess
What cause could mortal bring to that forlorn recess.


"Then thus in homely guise I featly framed
My lowly speech:--'Good Sir, what leads this way
Your wandering steps? must hapless chance be blamed
That you so far from haunt of mortals stray?
Here have I dwelt for many a lingering day.
Nor trace of man have seen: but how! methought
Thou wert the youth on whom God's holy ray
I saw descend in Jordan, when John taught
That he to fallen man the saving promise brought.'


"'I am that man,' said Jesus, 'I am He.
But truce to questions--Canst thou point my feet
To some low hut, if haply such there be
In this wild labyrinth, where I may meet
With homely greeting, and may sit and eat;
For forty days I have tarried fasting here,
Hid in the dark glens of this lone retreat,
And now I hunger; and my fainting ear
Longs much to greet the sound of fountains gushing near.'


"Then thus I answer'd wily:--'If, indeed,
Son of our God thou be'st, what need to seek
For food from men?--Lo! on these flint stones feed,
Bid them be bread! Open thy lips and speak,
And living rills from yon parch'd rock will break'
Instant as I had spoke, his piercing eye
Fix'd on my face;--the blood forsook my cheek,
I could not bear his gaze;--my mask slipp'd by;
I would have shunn'd his look, but had not power to fly.


"Then he rebuked me with the holy word--
Accursed sounds; but now my native pride
Return'd, and by no foolish qualm deterr'd,
I bore him from the mountain's woody side
Up to the summit, where extending wide
Kingdoms and cities, palaces and fanes,
Bright sparkling in the sunbeams, were descried,
And in gay dance, amid luxuriant plains,
Tripp'd to the jocund reed the emasculated swains.


"'Behold,' I cried, 'these glories! scenes divine!
Thou whose sad prime in pining want decays;
And these, O rapture! these shall all be thine,
If thou wilt give to me, not God, the praise.
Hath he not given to indigence thy days?
Is not thy portion peril here and pain?
Oh! leave his temples, shun his wounding ways!
Seize the tiara! these mean weeds disdain,
Kneel, kneel, thou man of woe, and peace and splendour gain.'


"'Is it not written,' sternly he replied,
'Tempt not the Lord thy God!' Frowning he spake,
And instant sounds, as of the ocean tide,
Rose, and the whirlwind from its prison brake,
And caught me up aloft, till in one flake
The sidelong volley met my swift career,
And smote me earthward.--Jove himself might quake
At such a fall; my sinews crack'd, and near,
Obscure and dizzy sounds seem'd ringing in mine ear.


"Senseless and stunn'd I lay; till casting round
My half unconscious gaze, I saw the foe
Borne on a car of roses to the ground,
By volant angels; and as sailing slow
He sunk the hoary battlement below,
While on the tall spire slept the slant sunbeam,
Sweet on the enamour'd zephyr was the flow
Of heavenly instruments. Such strains oft seem,
On star-light hill, to soothe the Syrian shepherd's dream.


"I saw blaspheming. Hate renew'd my strength;
I smote the ether with my iron wing,
And left the accursed scene.--Arrived at length
In these drear halls, to ye, my peers! I bring
The tidings of defeat. Hell's haughty king
Thrice vanquished, baffled, smitten, and dismay'd!
O shame! Is this the hero who could fling
Defiance at his Maker, while array'd,
High o'er the walls of light, rebellion's banners play'd!


"Yet shall not Heaven's bland minions triumph long;
Hell yet shall have revenge. O glorious sight,
Prophetic visions on my fancy throng,
I see wild Agony's lean finger write
Sad figures on his forehead!--Keenly bright
Revenge's flambeau burns! Now in his eyes
Stand the hot tears,--immantled in the night,
Lo! he retires to mourn!--I hear his cries!
He faints--he falls--and lo!--'t is true, ye powers, he dies."


Thus spake the chieftain,--and as if he view'd
The scene he pictured, with his foot advanced
And chest inflated, motionless he stood,
While under his uplifted shield he glanced,
With straining eyeball fix'd, like one entranced,
On viewless air;--thither the dark platoon
Gazed wondering, nothing seen, save when there danced
The northern flash, or fiend late fled from noon,
Darken'd the disk of the descending moon.


Silence crept stilly through the ranks.--The breeze
Spake most distinctly. As the sailor stands,
When all the midnight gasping from the seas
Break boding sobs, and to his sight expands
High on the shrouds the spirit that commands
The ocean-farer's life; so stiff--so sear
Stood each dark power;--while through their numerous bands
Beat not one heart, and mingling hope and fear
Now told them all was lost, now bade revenge appear.


One there was there, whose loud defying tongue
Nor hope nor fear had silenced, but the swell
Of over-boiling malice. Utterance long
His passion mock'd, and long he strove to tell
His labouring ire; still syllable none fell
From his pale quivering lip, but died away
For very fury; from each hollow cell
Half sprang his eyes, that cast a flamy ray,
* * * * *


"This comes," at length burst from the furious chief,
"This comes of distant counsels! Here behold
The fruits of wily cunning! the relief
Which coward policy would fain unfold,
To soothe the powers that warr'd with Heaven of old!
O wise! O potent! O sagacious snare!
And lo! our prince--the mighty and the bold,
There stands he, spell-struck, gaping at the air,
While Heaven subverts his reign, and plants her standard there."


Here, as recovered, Satan fix'd his eye
Full on the speaker; dark it was and stern;
He wrapp'd his black vest round him gloomily,
And stood like one whom weightiest thoughts concern.
Him Moloch mark'd, and strove again to turn
His soul to rage. "Behold, behold," he cried,
"The lord of Hell, who made these legions spurn
Almighty rule--behold he lays aside
The spear of just revenge, and shrinks, by man defied."


Thus ended Moloch, and his burning tongue
Hung quivering, as if (mad) to quench its heat
In slaughter. So, his native wilds among,
The famish'd tiger pants, when, near his seat,
Press'd on the sands, he marks the traveller's feet.
Instant low murmurs rose, and many a sword
Had from its scabbard sprung; but toward the seat
Of the arch-fiend all turn'd with one accord,
As loud he thus harangued the sanguinary horde.

* * * * *

"Ye powers of Hell, I am no coward. I proved
this of old: who led your forces against the armies
of Jehovah? Who coped with Ithuriel and the
thunders of the Almighty? Who, when stunned
and confused ye lay on the burning lake, who first
awoke, and collected your scattered powers? Lastly,
who led you across the unfathomable abyss to this
delightful world, and established that reign here
which now totters to its base? How, therefore,
dares yon treacherous fiend to cast a stain on Satan's
bravery? he who preys only on the defenceless--who
sucks the blood of infants, and delights only in
acts of ignoble cruelty and unequal contention.
Away with the boaster who never joins in action,
but, like a cormorant, hovers over the field, to feed
upon the wounded, and overwhelm the dying. True
bravery is as remote from rashness as from hesitation;
let us counsel coolly, but let us execute our
counselled purposes determinately. In power we
have learned, by that experiment which lost us
Heaven, that we are inferior to the Thunder-bearer:--In
subtlety, in subtlety alone we are his equals.
Open war is impossible.

* * * * *

"Thus we shall pierce our conqueror through the race
Which as himself he loves; thus if we fall,
We fall not with the anguish, the disgrace,
Of falling unrevenged. The stirring call
Of vengeance rings within me! Warriors all,
The word is vengeance, and the spur despair.
Away with coward wiles!--Death's coal-black pall
Be now our standard!--Be our torch the glare
Of cities fired! our fifes, the shrieks that fill the air!"

Him answering rose Mecashpim, who of old,
Far in the silence of Chaldea's groves,
Was worshipp'd, God of Fire, with charms untold
And mystery. His wandering spirit roves,
Now vainly searching for the flame it loves;
And sits and mourns like some white-robed sire,
Where stood his temple, and where fragrant cloves
And cinnamon unheap'd the sacred pyre,
And nightly magi watch'd the everlasting fire.

He waved his robe of flame, he cross'd his breast,
And sighing--his papyrus scarf survey'd,
Woven with dark characters, then thus address'd
The troubled council.

* * * * *


Thus far have I pursued my solemn theme
With self-rewarding toil, thus far have sung
Of godlike deeds, far loftier than beseem
The lyre which I in early days have strung:
And now my spirit's faint, and I have hung
The shell, that solaced me in saddest hour,
On the dark cypress! and the strings which rung
With Jesus' praise, their harpings now are o'er,
Or, when the breeze comes by, moan and are heard no more.

And must the harp of Judah sleep again?
Shall I no more reanimate the lay?
Oh! thou who visitest the sons of men,
Thou who dost listen when the humble pray,
One little space prolong my mournful day!
One little lapse suspend thy last decree!
I am a youthful traveller in the way,
And this slight boon would consecrate to thee,
Ere I with Death shake hands, and smile that I am free.

* * * * *

(The end)
Henry Kirk White's poem: Christiad

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