Laurence Housman (1865-1959), younger brother of AE, was a prolific playwright and illustrator who made beautiful art nouveau illlustrations for writers like Christina Rossetti and George Meredith. He also wrote a somewhat scandalous nativity play - apparently depicting biblical characters on the stage was one of the Victorians' many, many taboos - and this lovely poem for the Feast of the Nativity: “A Disputation between Christ and the human form.” It's a little bit Herberty, and a little bit more like one of Andrew Marvell's dialogues between Body and Soul, but I like it mostly because of the very unusual meter and rhyme scheme.
If I'm right, the scheme looks something like this:
I can't see a pattern, but then I don't have the sort of brain that finds patterns easily. My only thought about how it works is a vague one about poetic form itself as a metaphor for the incarnation: the incarnation of Christ fills, exceeds and even plays jazz riffs on the human form - stretching its possibilities, sounding notes it never knew it possessed. Also, the sixth stanza contains the only unrhymed line ending - 'Christ'. Perhaps a discord suggesting that although Christ comes in peace, he and the world do not, cannot, rhyme.
Comest Thou peaceably, O Lord?
‘Yea, I am Peace!
Be not so fearful to afford
Thy Maker room! for I am the Reward
To which all generations of increase
Looking did never cease.
‘Down from amid dark wings of storm
I set My Feet
To earth. Will not My earth grow warm
To feel her Maker take the form
He made, when now, Creation’s purpose meet,
Man’s body is to be God’s Mercy-seat?’
Lord, I am foul: there is no whole
Fair part in me
Where Thou canst deign to be!
This form is not Thy making, since it stole
Fruit from the bitter Tree.
‘Yet still thou hast the griefs to give in toll
That I may test the sickness of man’s soul.’
O Lord, my work is without worth!
I am afraid,
Lest I should man the blissful Birth.
Quoth Christ, ‘Ere seas had shores, or earth
My Cross was made!’
‘Naught canst thou do that was not willed
By Love to be,
To bring the Work to pass through Me. No knee
Stiffens, or bends before My Sov’reignty,
But from the world’s beginning hath fulfilled
Its choice betwixt the valleyed and the hilled.
For both, at one decree,
My Blood was spilled.’
Yet canst Thou use these sin-stained hands?
‘These hands,’ quoth Christ,
‘Of them I make My need:
Since they sufficed to forge the bands
Wherein I hunger, they shall sow the seed!
And with bread daily they shall feed
My Flesh till, bought and bound, It stands
A Sacrifice to bleed.’
Lord, let this house be swept and garnished first!
For fear lest sin
Do there look in,
Let me shut fast the windows: lest Thou thirst,
Make some pure inner well of waters burst:
For no sweet water can man’s delving win—
Earth is so curst.
Also bar up the door: Thou wilt do well
To dwell, whilst with us, anchorite in Thy cell.
Christ said ‘Let be: leave wide
All ports to grief!
Here when I knock I will not be denied
The common lot of all that here abide;
Were I so blinded, I were blind in chief:
How should I see to bring the blind relief?
Wilt Thou so make Thy dwelling? Then I fear
Man, after this, shall dread to enter here:
For all the inner courts will be so bright,
He shall be dazzled with excess of light,
And turn, and flee!
‘But from his birth I will array him right,
And lay the temple open for his sight,
And say to help him, as I bid him see:
“This is for thee!”’