Cathedral Music


The solemn organ poured sonorous waves
Of melody through the cathedral aisles
Dim, but most beautiful, that stood in gloom
Like antique forests, hardened into stone.
And as th' invisible musician played,
And all the pious women told their beads,
I, a spectator — not a worshipper —
Of a strange creed, and in a foreign land,
Thought of the music more than of the prayers,
Yet felt the spirit of devotion fill
And permeate my being. All my soul
Glowed with seraphic raptures of delight,
Until it seemed upon those seas of sound
To leave its cold mortality behind,
And float with favoring winds from Earth to Heav'n.

The anthem ceased; the kneeling women rose;
The long aisles slowly emptied of the crowd;
But still the organ pealed its solemn tones;
Touched by a mighty master of his art,
It gave its soul of melody for his.
He played a Voluntary to himself
Unconscious of a listener. What he dreamed
I never knew; but I that heard him play
Shaped his imaginings to suit my own,
And formed them into this: —

The low, soft notes
Trickled upon each other like the drip
Of rain in summer upon trees and flowers.
And lo — I wandered knee-deep in the grass
Through a green meadow pied with butter-cups,
Valerian, daisies, and wild hyacinths.
I heard the rippling murmur of a brook,
Whose limpid waters sparkled to the sun; —
Upon its brink a troop of children sat —
Fair boys with chubby cheeks and laughing eyes,
And girls with ringlets waving to the wind.
They braided garlands of the meadow flowers,
And tied them up with rushes: I could hear
Their joyous laughter and their artless talk; —
The song of blackbirds in the neighboring copse,
The trumpet of the gnat, the bee's loud horn,
And click of grasshoppers, like meeting spears.

Anon the organ poured a deeper strain
And carried me away — far, far away —
In the green meadows, miles and miles adown
A lengthening river, widening evermore.
I saw the towns and cities on its banks —
I heard the pealing of the holiday bells,
And roar of people in the market-place,
The flapping of the sails of merchant-ships
Laden with corn, that with each flowing tide
Came upwards to the towns: I heard the creak
Of chains and dropping anchors in the ports,
A chorus at the capstan, of the crews,
As round and round they trod with measured steps,
And all the bustle of their busy life.

And still away — away — in floods of sound!
The unseen musician sitting at his keys,
Transported me, a willing auditor,
Where'er his fancy would: — the deep full tones
Grew deeper, fuller, louder, more sublime,
Until the waves of music swelled to seas
Whose angry billows, white with crests of foam,
Rushed with impetuous thunders on the land.
The moon withdrew her splendor from the clouds
And hid herself in darkness — the wind rose,
And soared in chorus with th' exulting sea
That answered it with thunders of her own.
Rain, hail, and sleet, and avalanche of spray
Broke in succession — wind, and sea, and sky,
Octave on octave — burst in worlds of sound,
The mighty discords clashing evermore,
Only to melt and fuse in harmonies.

Anon the lightning flashed upon the dark,
And thunder rattled o'er the cloudy vault,
As if the chariots of the heavenly host
Drove to the judgment-seat, and Earth's last day
Were sounded by the trumpets of the spheres.
The echoes rolled through the cathedral aisles
And died in silence: — Lo, the round full moon
Peered from the bosom of a rifted cloud;
The winds sank low — the raging seas grew calm,
While loud clear voices from the upper air
Sang in sweet harmonies — " The Lord is great —
His loving-kindness lasts for evermore."
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