Ad Madonna

I .

If I could worship in these Shrines at all,
Methinks that 'twould be yonder, where I see
The Holy Mother fair and virginal
Holding the radiant Child upon her knee:
For Rome, eternal foe of all things free,
Still quick tho' stretch'd out cold 'neath Peter's pall,
By this one gift of grace redeems her fall
And makes amends to poor Humanity.
Madonna, pure as mortal mothers are,
Type of them all, for ever calm and good,
Over thy Son thou shinest like a star
While at thy milky breasts His mouth finds food ...
Holiest and best of all things, holier far
Than Godhead, is eternal Motherhood!

II .

Nineteen sad centuries have passed away,
Madonna, since this Man thy Son was slain,
Since pillow'd on thy breast thy dead Child lay
Nor heard thy moan of deep despair and pain:
So long! and all earth's tears have fallen in vain
Upon the grave that covereth that sweet clay —
Thou , too, didst cease to watch and plead and pray,
And slept at last never to wake again.
Best of all living creatures, thou alone
Whom God Himself had chosen (saith the Screed!)
Thou, Virgin of the Lily, must have known
If He, thy Son, was Son of God indeed;
Yet thou ('tis written) didst that claim disown,
Denying godhead to this Man, thy Seed!

III.

" His Mother and His Brethren stood without
And waited! " Ah, poor Mother, full of tears
While men believed and gladden'd, thou couldst doubt
And to that cry of godhead close thine ears!
Thro' the dark cloud of those forgotten years
I hear thee moaning yet, ring'd round about
With maniac faces, while the madmen shout
And high 'gainst Heaven the crimson Cross appears.
Mother of God! and yet thou couldst deny
In thine excess of love the Godlike claim!
Chosen of God, — yet thy despairing cry
Rose up to God in passionate grief and shame,
While, wrapt in kingly robes thy Son went by,
Nor answer'd when thy lips did breathe His name!

IV.

His face was raised to Heaven, not turn'd to thee,
While thou didst call Him back from that mad quest;
Taught by thy Mother's heart, thine eyes could see
The piteous end of His divine unrest. . . .
Ah, well, God heard thy cry, and on thy breast
Again He sleeping lay, and thou and He,
United at God's feet, eternally
Abide in peace, of all things last and best. . . .
And yet, God knows! We know not! Wherefore, then,
The weary strife, the fret that ceaseth never,
Wherefore the witless want which maddeneth men,
The cruel sleepless quest, the long endeavour,
If, having waken'd once, we sleep again,
And lose our heritage of Love for ever?

V.

Our heritage of Love! . . Life and not Death,
Light and not Night, we seek from age to age;
The Spirit Thou hast kindled with Thy breath
To serve thee, Lord of Life, demands its wage!
Amid Thy tempests that for ever rage,
Man at Thy conjuration travaileth:
" I did not crave to be, O God!" (he saith)
" But since I am, give me my heritage!
What Thou hast quicken'd, what Thy power hath taught
To serve Thee through all moods of doubt and fear, —
The mystic mood that flashes back Thy Thought,
The love that seeks Thy Heaven, and finds it here, —
These are Thy works, and what Thy hand hath wrought
Claims service still, from sleepless year to year!"

VI.

And yet, alas, the ways of God are dark,
His purpose hid, His will a mystery, —
No sign or voice that man may see or hark
Hath ever broke His Law's Eternity.
A little space we strive, then cease to be,
A day we smile, and then lie stiff and stark,
Forgotten 'neath the dust with none to mark,
Silent, Madonna, like thy Son and thee!
God gave no answer to our Brother's prayer;
The empty Heavens echoed back His cry;
He fainted 'neath the load we all must bear
That bitter day they led Him forth to die, —
" Father," He cried, in darkness and despair,
And drank the cup no hand hath yet put by!

VII.

Gentle and loving was this Man, thy Seed,
And innocent as any lamb at play,
For all the woes of man His heart did bleed,
Yea, till the wrath of God made dark His day,
Till with the whole world's woe His soul grew gray,
As radiant as the morning was His creed:
To heal the sick, to succour folk in need,
To bless the poor and wipe their tears away ...
Then groping darkly, maddening in His place,
Vainly He sought to grasp what none may find, —
For never tongue can speak or eye may trace
The Mystery God keeps dark from humankind,
And he who seeks to front God face to face
Is, by that Sun of Wonder, stricken blind!

VIII.

And lo! the issue! Of that loving Word
Thy dear one spoke, a multitudinous moan!
Not peace thy Son hath sent us, but a Sword
Shapen cross-wise, that flames from zone to zone!
And still the weary generations groan,
And still the vials of God's wrath are poured
On innocent and guilty, and the Lord
Veileth the very footstool of His Throne!
And unto every man, as to thy Son,
Cometh, at last, the same dark dread and doom —
All that our hands have wrought, our prayers have won,
Endeth with Him in utterness of gloom,
Our brief day endeth, and our Dream is done,
And lo! the woven shroud, the opening tomb!

IX.

Patient Madonna, with the heavenly eyes
Not upward bent, but downward on thy Child, —
Within thy open arms is Paradise
Happy and innocent and undefiled!
Smile thus, as many a mother sweet hath smiled,
Forgetful of that Shadow in the skies, —
Hushing the whole world's woe, and all the wild
Tumult of Nature, in thine Infant's cries;
And there, beneath that ever-loving gaze,
Eternal Child, find peace and calm at last!
Deaf to Thy passion, heedless of Thy praise,
God dwelt afar off in the empty Vast,
But Thou returnedst, after many days,
Unto the Heaven whence Thy feet had passed!

*****

I.

And O Madonna mine! O dear grey-hair'd
Mother, of human mothers first and best,
All that my soul hath sought, my dream hath dared,
All that my youth and hope thought goodliest
Depart, and leave me crying for thy breast!
A child again, I see thy bosom bared,
And, lo! I falter to the place prepared
Where, after life's long fever, I may rest!
This gift alone, when the long day is done,
I ask from Him who holds all gifts in store —
After the weary battle, lost or won,
To find thy love and blessing as before,
To be again thy little helpless son,
And feel thy dear arms round me evermore!

II.

Thou sleepest, Dear! — and yet a little space
I stir above thee, waiting for a sign:
Colder than coldest marble is thy face,
Shut are thine eyes, I cannot see them shine;
But thou wilt waken I and thine arms will twine
Around me in the dark and narrow place
Where thou art lying, and again God's grace
And blessing will be on us, Mother mine!
My hair is grey like yours, my faltering feet
Are weary, and my heart grows chill and cold,
Faint is the prayer my feeble lips repeat,
Sad is the soul that once was bright and bold,
But when at last thou wakenest, smiling sweet
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