Ballad of the Nightingale

The priest sleeps, he sleeps soundly;
The bell strikes the midnight.
See, on the blank wall brightening,
A flame, a wavering sprite?
In the bare cell,
Weaving a spell,
A gentle, gambolling light?

It mounts, a moveless column,
And One is standing there.
Straight as a flame is lifted
From His bright head His hair;
Like strings of fire
On a burning lyre,
A cresset of quivering hair.

He does not touch the sleeper;
He draws him with His eyes.
With one slow sliding motion
The priest begins to rise:
Nor sound, nor word,
Like a tight cord,
To his full height doth rise.

They pass the moon-ribbed cloister,
And walk the thronged street;
They move like souls in slumber
Which know not those they meet:
Their eyes as far
Voyagers' are,
And soundless are their feet.

Lo, the sun stands straight in heaven,
For it is full noon-day.
The folk march with loud shouting,
But yet as tranced are they:
With garlanded hair,
They smile as 'twere
Some strange redemption day.

And murderers in red raiment
Move as the blessed move:
Their eyes like frozen daggers
Are fixed, still-held, above,
As quivering
Pulses of naked love.

And harlots robed for bridal
Bring peace on all who see:
Their brows have naught left on them
Save first virginity.
As risen from deep
Clear gulfs of sleep
Their eyes are pure and free.

And ribbed wood-scented creatures
Stalk noiseless here and there:
The mountain-headed lion,
The doe, star-browed and fair:
By their blunt heads
A maiden leads
Two tigers stark and bare.

The beasts lift up their faces
Like statues, and adore;
They seem as they would never
Look earthwards any more.
So still they are,
They look like far
Cliffs on some quiet shore.

But they rise like ranked waves rising;
The birds' song bursts like a gale;
The priest stands still and listens
To hear the nightingale;
His ear-drums burst
For dreadful thirst
Of the songless nightingale.

Songless! and all slow-turning,
Gaze at him silently.
Their eyes burn in so deeply,
They are as one great eye
Of some mystical
Huge animal.
He shrieks: " 'Tis I! 'Tis I! "

And 'neath the farthest circle
They sweep wild-voiced away.
The day is void, is perished,
And it is but our day.
The priest awakes,
With numb hand takes
Back, back his torpid clay.
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