My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.Raise me a dais of silk and down;Hang it with vair and purple dyes;Carve it in doves and pomegranates,And peacocks with a hundred eyes;Work it in gold and silver grapes,In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;Because the birthday of my lifeIs come, my love is come to me.
This is Christina Rossetti, a poet acquainted with silence as with wonder. Here she found a way to make the sad silence of an Easter Saturday wonderful.
The tempest over and gone, the calm begun,
Lo, “it is finished,” and the Strong Man sleeps:
All stars keep vigil watching for the sun,
The moon her vigil keeps.
A garden full of silence and of dew,
Beside a virgin cave and entrance stone:
Surely a garden full of Angels too,
Wondering, on watch, alone.
They who cry “Holy, Holy, Holy,” still
Veiling their faces round God’s throne above,
May well keep vigil on this heavenly hill
And cry their cry of love.
Adoring God in His new mystery
Of Love more deep than hell, more strong than death;
Until the day break and the shadows flee,
The Shaking and the Breath.
Thinking of Isabel's sad wandering in Rome made me think of one of my favourite Christina Rossettis: 'An End'. To me it speaks about an ending that's not tempestuous or anguished, but quiet and still, sad and soft. There's even almost relief, after the heat of death-strong love, in the coolness of it.
Love, strong as Death, is dead.
Come, let us make his bed
Among the dying flowers:
A green turf at his head;
And a stone at his feet,
Whereon we may sit
In the quiet evening hours.
He was born in the Spring,
And died before the harvesting:
On the last warm summer day
He left us; he would not stay
For Autumn twilight cold and grey.
Sit we by his grave, and sing
He is gone away.
To few chords and sad and low
Sing we so:
Be our eyes fixed on the grass
Shadow-veiled as the years pass,
While we think of all that was
In the long ago.
From depth to height, from height to loftier height,
The climber sets his foot and sets his face,
Tracks lingering sunbeams to their halting-place,
And counts the last pulsations of the light.
Strenuous thro' day and unsurprised by night
He runs a race with Time, and wins the race,
Emptied and stripped of all save only Grace,
Will, Love, - a threefold panoply of might.
Darkness descends for light he toiled to seek;
He stumbles on the darkened mountain-head,
Left breathless in the unbreathable thin air,
Made freeman of the living and the dead, -
He wots not he has topped the topmost peak,
But the returning sun will find him there.
Today is Epiphany. Not being Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox or any other 'high' church goer (my tradition is the lowest of the low) I have never observed this particular feast, or indeed any other feast - and certainly not lent. But having grown up without them, I now find them intriguing occasions for reflection. Without having observance forced on me, I can enjoy them as novelties, fresh and strange, as a calendar that curiously overlaps my usual one without imposing on it. What I like best about them is the opportunity they afford poets to produce variations on a theme, improvisations on very familiar tunes. Since my 12 Lays included only one woman poet, I thought I'd make up the deficiency with the eminently 'high' Christina Rossetti. Here's her poem "Epiphany."
‘Lord Babe, if Thou art He
We sought for patiently,
Where is Thy court?
Hither may prophecy and star resort;
Men heed not their report.' –
'Bow down and worship, righteous man:
This Infant of a span
Is He man sought for since the world began!' –
'Then, Lord, accept my gold, too base a thing
For Thee, of all kings King.' –
'Lord Babe, despite Thy youth
I hold Thee of a truth
Both Good and Great:
But wherefore dost
Thou keep so mean a state,
Low-lying desolate?' –
'Bow down and worship, righteous seer:
The Lord our God is here
Approachable, Who bids us all draw near.' –
'Wherefore to Thee I offer frankincense,
Thou Sole Omnipotence.' –
'But I have only brought
Myrrh; no wise afterthought
To gather pearls or gems, or choice to see
Coral or ivory.' –
'Not least thine offering proves thee wise:
For myrrh means sacrifice,
And He that lives, this Same is He that dies.' –
'Then here is myrrh: alas, yea woe is me
That myrrh befitteth Thee.' -
Myrrh, frankincense, and gold:
And lo from wintry fold
Good-will doth bring
A Lamb, the innocent likeness of this King
Whom stars and seraphs sing:
And lo the bird of love, a Dove,
Flutters and coos above:
And Dove and Lamb and Babe agree in love: –
Come all mankind, come all creation hither,
Come, worship Christ together.