The Child of the Rhine


H E dwelleth where the waters shine,
Of that broad stream, the German's boast,
Where, night and day, the lordly Rhine
Goes singing by his castled coast.

Though on his ear the murmurs fall,
He cannot see the blue waves glide
By Ehrenbreitstein's storied wall
To meet the Mosel's silver tide.

On garden green and vine-clad hill,
Round Coblentz fair the sunlight streams,
Through all his frame he feels the thrill
Of warmth and gladness in its beams.

But not for him the shadows fade,
Or deepen on the mountain grey;
He never watch'd the ripple, made
By the light oars, sink slow away.

All real things of shape and size
In his child's spirit have no place,
For never on his sealed eyes
Hath outward object left a trace.

Still Nature wears a form and hue
By his own thoughtful soul imprest;
He walks with things he never knew,
In darkness, yet the child is blest.

The quiet soul, so gentle, frames
No wish for that great good, unknown;
He treasures up men's words and names,
And gives them colours of his own.

He laugheth loud in childish glee,
His mother singeth some old strain,
He creepeth softly to her knee,
And makes her sing it o'er again.

He feeleth with his little hand
O'er all the face he loves so well,
And, listening, doth not understand
The tale he wins her still to tell.

'Tis sad to watch those eyes uplift
Their fair lids, fringed with golden hair,
Yet know that God's most precious gift,
Bright power of vision, dwells not there.

But underneath God's glorious heaven
I ween there is a sadder sight —
It is when God's good gifts are given
And men misuse the precious right.

The earth is green, the Rhine is blue,
Yet here are eyes that stream or flower
Hath never charm'd; and God is true,
Yet here are hearts that mock His power.

The blind of soul, the blind of sense,
They dwell beneath the same roof-tree,
She darker of intelligence
Than, in his natural blindness, he.

For dull and dim, as mists that fold
The Drachenfels' broad summit bare,
To her, bright Truth, the strong and bold,
Doth veils, and clouds, and shadows wear.

Poor earth's inventions — tales and dreams —
These to her blind child she has taught;
And he, cut off from sights and gleams
And pictured forms, nor knowing aught

Of images that minister
Unto her wandering fancy's need,
Perchance doth not so widely err,
And holds in thought a purer creed.

She leads him to the old church pile,
What time they sing the solemn mass —
He stands within the pillar'd aisle,
He feels the glowing incense pass;

He sees no gorgeous windows dim,
No vested priests around him bend;
He only hears the chanted hymn,
The prayer he cannot comprehend.

To " Father, Spirit, Son, " they sung
Those strains that, lingering, swell and faint;
He cannot tell that foreign tongue,
He kneeleth to his mother's saint.

Seldom he speaks to Him who erst
Himself to mortal needs drew near,
Nor sent the little children first,
To servant loved, or mother dear.

Yet leave the child his simple thought
Of one great Being throned above,
His sense of power that bows to nought,
His faith in all-pervading love.

Leave him his own dream-haunted night,
His meek content, his thoughtless bliss,
Nor tell him that strange power of sight,
Unknown, unsought, may yet be his.

Go, tread to-day the rose in dust,
To-morrow brings a flower as fair,
But he that tramples childhood's trust
Shall find no second blossom there.


The vines are bending to the ground
Beneath their summer burden bright,
Through all the Rhine-land goes a sound,
The murmur of a strange delight.

Full fifty years the holy vest
Has lain in sacred mystery seal'd, —
Come forth, ye troubled, and find rest,
Come forth, ye sickly, and be heal'd.

The mother whispers of strange things,
And wonders wrought for faithful men;
In the child's soul a dream upsprings
Of the bright world beyond his ken.

A voice from old imperial Treves,
Responsive thousands catch the cry;
Long pilgrim hosts, like swelling waves,
Pour on to that cathedral high.

From many a vine-wreath'd hut and hall,
Where Danube's troubled waters ride,
From shores that hear the murmuring fall
Of that fair sea without a tide;

From citron-groves where Spaniards roam,
That weary pilgrimage they take,
And Gaul's gay peasants leave their home,
And Erin's island echoes wake.

The church is crowded, choir and nave;
From altar screen to open door
Fresh thousands still a blessing crave,
Fresh thousands thronging still adore.

Within the Lady Chapel fair,
Aloft the awful relic stands,
The grey old Bishop sitteth there,
And blesseth all with lifted hands.

Round the High Altar slow they came
To kiss that honour'd vest divine:
Where was His honour to whose name
Men rear'd of old that costly shrine?

Round the High Altar, two by two,
They pass'd without a word or strain,
Then, turning round in order due,
They pass'd it, silent, back again.

Yet here the sick man came for health,
And here the sinner came for aid,
And here the rich man brought his wealth,
And here the earnest-minded pray'd.

Not unto Him of old who wore
Such humble garb in Jewish land;
The prayers, the vows, the tears they pour
To mouldering work of human hand.


She leaves behind the murmuring waves,
Fair Coblentz, round thy pleasant homes;
With lingering step to lordly Treves
The mother and her blind child comes.

His little hands across his breast
The child has folded piously,
And ever cries: " O holy vest,
O vest most holy, pity me! "

A sunbeam, breaking through the trees,
Falls on his cheek so warm and bright,
The poor child almost thinks he sees
And knows the ecstasy of light.

" O mother, mother, linger not! "
He strains her weary hand and cries;
" I die to kneel on that blest spot,
And learn to know thee with mine eyes.

" I yearn to see this pleasant heat,
To watch old father Rhine ride by,
I hear the trampling of his feet,
I know his hoarse and hollow cry.

" How could he bear our little boat,
I felt no arms encircling me?
O holy coat, most holy coat,
Make me to know what others see! "

They wander on by hill and bower,
He hears no voices whispering round,
One strange bright hope absorbs all power
Of grateful scent, or pleasant sound.

And still across his little breast
His hands are folded; piteously
He crieth out: " O holy vest,
Have mercy on my misery! "

There's many an angel carved in white
On the tall pillars' chapiters,
And blue-eyed boys as fair as light
Are singing with the choristers.

But not one form of sculptured grace,
Nor breathing boy in that fair choir,
Is beautiful as he, whose face
Pales with its own intense desire.

She leads him round the altar high;
With trembling limb, with quivering throat,
And up-raised face and straining eye,
He kneeleth to the holy coat.


The Rhine runs gladly, as before,
By castled crag and vine-wreath'd cot,
The child beside his low-roof'd door
Sits once again, and sees him not.

The stream is broad and bright as ever,
But the child's heart is glad no more;
His short sweet laughter mingleth never
Now with the water's sullen roar.

The sleep that was so full of dreams,
His wakeful, joyous, tranquil night
Is clouded over, and it seems
No more its fancied forms are bright.

One glorious gleam flash'd through his brain,
Wherein each other light wax'd dim;
'Tis vanish'd now, but ne'er again
His own old stars shall shine for him.

He loved so much in forest bowers
The rustle of the soft green leaves;
He loved to listen when long hours
The home-birds twitter'd in the eaves.

The music of the murmuring wave,
The wild-bee's hum, the whispering rain,
Tones that yet dearer transport gave,
Sing as of old — but sing in vain.

Then bitterer feelings wring the breast —
Whom should he love, or whom believe,
If all who said they loved caress'd
His weakness only to deceive?

The torturing dread — the chilling doubt —
The hollow hopelessness — begin,
Worse, worse than changeless night without,
The gathering vacancy within.

And that fond faith of childish years,
That meekly trusted and obey'd —
That held no doubts, that had no fears,
How is its simpleness betray'd!

O mother, was it meet to guide
The heart thou couldst have taught to cling
Close to His own Redeemer's side,
And leave it with that powerless thing?

And when thy false words urged him on,
And lured him down the devious track,
Was there no deeper, dearer tone
To call the cheated wanderer back?

Where was her warning, sweet and stern,
The mother of his second birth?
Ah! she has stain'd her own pure urn
With the polluted streams of earth.

In many an old religious land
Her once true notes are false and vain,
And she has forged with her own hand,
And rivets still her children's chain.

Dear Church, along our English dells,
Still pure as in thine earliest years,
Thy sweet voice, echo'd by church-bells,
Comes floating down to peasant ears!

Still round thy shrines thy poor bereaved
In Christ's own presence meet to pray,
And, none rejected, none deceived,
Bear all His choicest gifts away.

Oh, if one, wandering from thy fold,
Hath in her pictured paths found pleasure,
Who singeth the good strains of old,
But sings them to another measure;

If he have touch'd enchanted ground,
And love to roam and linger there,
Oh lure him back with the sweet sound
Of thy pure creed and simple prayer;

And with the spirit, stern and strong,
That fill'd thy martyrs' souls undaunted,
And with the sympathies that throng
Round thine old churches, angel-haunted!

And if thy pleas in vain be said,
Then show the doubt, the grief, the gloom,
The soul untrain'd, the heart misled —
The blind child's solitary doom.
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