City of Dream, The - Book 2: Strangers and Pilgrims

And now my path was on a public road,
And where I walk'd methought the weary air
Was full of lamentations; for the sick
Lay on the roadside basking in the sun,
The leper with his sores, the paralysed
Moveless as stone, the halt and lame and blind,
And many beggars pluck'd me by the sleeve,
And when I fled shriek'd curses after me;
And my tears fell, and my knees knock'd together,
And I fled faster, crying: " That first curse
Still darkens all! Oh, City Beautiful,
Where art thou? — for these ways are sad to tread."

Even as I spake I heard a gentle voice
Close by me saying, " Good morrow, gentle Sir;
'Tis sweet and pleasant weather; and I cried,
Quickly, not looking in his face who spake:
" I am in haste, and cannot pause for speech —
Farewell!" but, lo, the other touch'd my arm,
Saying: " One word, I prithee, ere thou fliest.
In yonder village, Poppythorpe by name —
Pastor I dwell — my name is Pitiful.
I know thine errand. Prithee, since 'tis late,
Accept the shelter of my roof this night."

THE PILGRIM .

I cannot rest. A wind behind me blows,
And like a cloud I travel darkly on.

PITIFUL .

And whither away? — Stay, from thy way-worn face
I guess; — thou goest to Christopolis?

THE PILGRIM .

Again that name. Oh help me! Guide me thither.

PITIFUL .

Most gladly. But, if thou wilt trust in me,
Rest for to-night, to-morrow fare afresh;
From hence the City is a weary way.

THE PILGRIM .

God help me! — I would fain not rest at all
Until the hunger of my heart is fed.
But tell me of those wretched on the road:
Whence have they come, and whither do they go?

PITIFUL .

Those wretched are but Pilgrims like thyself —
They, too, are crawling to Christopolis.
Ah, look not on them, or thy heart may fail —
For few will ever gain the golden Gate.

Then all my force was broken, and I leant
Heavily on the arm of my sad guide,
A pale tall wight with soft eyes red from tears,
And through a wicket gate across the fields
We pass'd, and came unto a lowly house, —
A peaceful house beside a running rill;
And Pitiful did bring me food and milk;
And Sentiment and Sensibility,
His two grave daughters, made me up a bed
Deep, soft, and drowsy; that same night, methought,
I slept therein; upon the morrow morn
Rose languid, and went forth upon my way.

The road was busy still with eager folk,
Coming and going, but I saw them not,
For I bethought me of the blessed Book,
And drew it from my heart, and as I walk'd
I read its solemn pages once again.

And now I read a tale so sad and sweet,
That all the darker matter of the Book
Dissolved away like mists around a star.
And I forgot the thunders of the Word
Spoken in Sinai to the bloody tribe,
Seeing a white Shape rise with heavenly eyes
By the still sleeping Lake of Galilee —
And Him, that Shape, the sick, and halt, and lame,
The miserable millions of the earth,
Follow'd in joy; and by His side walk'd women,
Tall and most fair, fair flowers that grew 'mong thorns
Like to the Huleh lily; and the earth
Blossom'd beneath the kiss of His bright feet.
But, suddenly, out of the gathering cloud
Above the footsteps of that Man Divine,
Jehovah's eyes, bloodthirsty, terrible,
Flash'd at the pallid, patient, upraised face;
And He, the Paraclete, the Son, the Lamb,
Trembled and held His hand upon His heart,
Crying: " O God, My God, if it may be,
Have mercy on Me, do not shed My blood!"
Whereon, methought, before my sight there swam
A vision of a night sown thick with stars
Like leopard spots, the deep dead dark below
The flashes of the torches round a town,
And the shrill sound of that last victim's shriek
To an omnipotent and vengeful God.

Now as I read, methought I stopp'd mine ears,
And fled in horror from the thoughts that surged
Within mine own sad soul; and all the earth
Seem'd hateful to me, yea, the scent of flowers,
The savour of the new-mown hay, the breath
Of browsing sheep and kine, all odour of life,
Grew sick and sacrificial; yea, mine eyes
Shed tears like blood; and my soul sicken'd, saying:
" How should this God have mercy upon men,
Seeing He spared not His anointed Son?"

Aloud I spake in agony of heart,
And as I ceased there came unto my side
One clad in crimson, bearing in his hand
A snow-white staff; and Time upon his hair
Had snow'd full long, but in his jet-black eyes
There burn'd a bitter and a baleful light.
" Peace!" cried he, lifting up his wand on high:
" Peace — thou blasphemest!"
Starting like a thief,
To have my thoughts so angrily surprised,
I gazed into the other's angry face
In question, but, ere yet my lips could speak,
That other, sinking lower his shrill voice,
Proceeded:
" What art thou , that thou shouldst judge
The cruelty or mercy of the Lord?
A Pilgrim, by the hunger in thy face —
Perchance a Pilgrim to Christopolis?
Nay, silence yet — and pluck not at my robe —
My guess was right, and to Christopolis
Indeed thou farest; thank the Lord thy God
They heard thee not who ope and shut the Gate,
Else surely would they never let thee in.
For less than thou hast harbour'd in thy heart
We hunted down a human wolf last night,
And would have slain him as a sacrifice,
But that an evil spirit interposed!"

Then did I tremble, for in him who spake
I recognised one of that hunting train
Whom I beheld upon the level meads
That hour I parted from Iconoclast.
Wherefore my heart woke in me angrily,
And in a low and bitter voice I said,
" I saw that chase, — and blest the holy form
Who from your cruelty deliver'd him."

White as sheet-lightning flash'd that other's face,
And his voice trembled crying: " Once again
Thou dost blaspheme! He did deny God's justice,
And God in justice gave him to our hands."

" Nay then," I answered, " God, for such a deed,
Was much too pitiful."

" Fool!" the other cried,
" Did yonder semblance cheat thee? Did thine eyes
Fail to perceive that yonder seeming shrine,
Erected by accurst Iconoclast,
Was but the brilliant-colour'd mouth of Hell?
And did Iconoclast (for I perceive
Thy lips have talk'd with that arch-enemy!)
So cheat thy vision that thou knew'st him not
For what he is, black Belial and a fiend?
I tell thee, though his hair be white as snow,
His face most holy, sweet, and venerable,
He is the procurer of Satan's self;
And those white doves thou saw'st around his head
Devils attendant, taking from his hand
The crumbs of guile, the seed of blasphemy!
His spell is on thee yet — his seal is there,
Over thine eyelids, — down upon thy knees,
Pray God to shrive thee from thy hateful sin
Of that dark speech with the abominable,
And even yet thy sinful soul may see
The light and glory of Christopolis."

Then spirit-shaken, broken, and appall'd,
Part by the horror in the stranger's eyes,
Part by the dim and darken'd memory
Of what my soul had read within the Book,
I cried aloud, and fell upon my knees,
And o'er my head the multitudinous clouds
Took dark and formless likenesses of One
Down-looking in His wrath; and as I pray'd,
I did remember how Iconoclast
Had blacken'd and reviled the Holy Book,
And wickedly blasphemed the very God.
Wherefore I moan'd: " Forgive me, Holy One!
By Thy Son's blood forgive me, for I knew not
With what false tongue I spake."
Then to my feet
Uprising, tottering as one drunk with wine,
I still beheld the stranger watching me
With cold, calm eyes. " What man art thou?" I cried,
" How shall I know that thou too art not false,
Some devil in disguise?"
Full scornfully
The other smiled. " By this same garb I wear,
And by this wand I wave within my hand,
Know then my priestly rank and privilege.
My name is Direful, and high-priest am I
Within the Holy City, where I preach
God's thunders and the lightnings of the Cross.
And if thou askest humbly, with strong sense
Of thine own undeserving, I perchance
May help thee through the golden City's Gates."

" Thou!" — cried I — " thou! " Then with a sob I said,
Clutching the pallid priest's red raimenthem,
" Is it not written that those Gates stand wide
To all whose souls are weary and would rest?"
" To all whose souls are weary of their sin,"
The other said, " and seek to glorify
His name who built the City with His blood."

THE PILGRIM .

O pole-star of our sleepless sea of pain —
Still shines He there?

DIREFUL .

Whom meanest thou?

THE PILGRIM .

Christ the King!

DIREFUL .

He reigns for ever through His deputies,
Christ's Vicars, Servants, and anointed Kings —
These to His glory day and night upraise
Hosannahs, building with their blessed hands
Temples, and fanes, and shrines of purest gold.
There mayst thou, as a fringe upon the skirt
Of His bright glory, hang for evermore,
Swayed into rapture by each heavenly throb
Of that divine and ever-bleeding Heart,
Which even as a raiment weareth those
Who do partake its glory and believe.

THE PILGRIM .

Ah me! if this be sooth, what shall I do
To win such rapture and deserve the same?

DIREFUL .

Deserve it thou canst never, but perchance,
Thine own iniquities remembering,
Thou yet mayst win it. First, mark well — this gift
Comes from no merit and no power of thine,
Who, if God used thee after thy deserts,
Would now be trembling in eternal flame,
Or 'neath His heel be crushed to nothingness!

THE PILGRIM .

What have I done to merit such a doom?

DIREFUL .

Done? — sum it in two little words — thou art .

THE PILGRIM .

If that be sin, God made me, and I am.

DIREFUL .

God, in His mercy, suffers thee to crawl,
As He doth suffer worms and creeping things;
God, in His justice, might obliterate
Thee and all creatures living from the earth.

THE PILGRIM .

Not so; that duty the created owes
To the Creator, the Creator, too,
Owes the created. God hath given me life,
I thank my God if life a blessing is,
How may I bless Him if it proves a curse?

DIREFUL .

Fool! juggle not with words, lest the red levin
Fall down and blast thee. Rather on thy knees
Crave, as a boon, from the All-Terrible,
What thou mayst ne'er solicit as a right.

THE PILGRIM .

I pray! I pray! Father, Thou hear'st, I pray!
Nay, have I not by gracious words and deeds,
By holy living, love for all my kind,
Pray'd to and praised, loved goodness for Thy sake?

DIREFUL .

Nay, neither words, nor deeds, nor love avail —
They are but other names for vanity —
Only believe and thou mayst gain the Gate.

THE PILGRIM .

Instruct me further. What must I believe?

DIREFUL .

In God Triune, yet One — in God the Father,
In God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost —
In God's eternal Book, and in His Church;
In God's fair City, builded under Heaven,
And rear'd upon the hundred thrones of Hell!

THE PILGRIM .

Why not? Belief is easy. Only show
The City and its Gateway, and I swear
No soul shall flout me for my lack of faith!
Yea, take me to divine Christopolis —
Let me be sure that shining City is —
Let me upon its fair perfections gaze —
And I will own indeed so blest a place
Transcends my best deserving, and will thank
That gracious God, who made me what I am,
For giving me this precious gift of life!

Thus speaking we had wander'd slowly on
A little way upon the dusty road;
But now behind us, riding hastily
There came that glorious hunting company
Which sought to slay the lonely hunted man.
And unto him who spake with me there strode
A slave, who held an empty-saddled steed
Bitted with gold and bright caparison'd;
Him Direful beckon'd, then to me he turn'd,
Crying, " Fare forward! — there beyond the hill
Lieth the shining City of thy quest."
So saying, lightly to his seat he sprang.
And in the track of that same hunting throng
Prick'd on his eager steed.

Then, sighing deep,
I gazed around me, on the weary way
Strewn with the weary and the miserable,
And every face was lighted with the flame
Of famine; yea, and all like bloodshot stars
Shone forward the one way; but ah! the limbs
Were feeble, and the weary feet were sore,
And some upon the wayside fell and moan'd,
And many lay as white and cold as stone
With thin hands cross'd in prayer upon their rags.
Meantime there flash'd along on fiery wheels
Full many a glorious company which bare
Aloft the crimson Cross, and mighty priests
Glode by on steeds bridled with glittering gold,
And delicate wantons on white palfreys pass'd
With soft eyes downcast as they told their beads,
And few of these on those who fell and died
Look'd down, but seem'd with all their spirits bent
To reach the golden Gate ere fall of night —
Only the priests stoop'd sometimes o'er the dead,
And made the hurried sign o' the Cross, and went.

Now as I gazed and sicken'd in despair,
Because my force within seem'd failing fast,
I met two glittering upturn'd eyes
That from the wayside grass regarded me;
And lo! I saw, upon two crutches leaning,
A cripple youth with gold hair like a maid's,
A pale face thin as is a skeleton's,
And thin soft hands, blue-vein'd and waxen white;
And pitiful and weak he would have seem'd
But for the light within his eyes, which shone
Most starlike yet most baleful, fraught with flame
That ne'er was kindled in a vestal shrine.
He meeting now my gaze of wonder, smiled,
And such a smile wear wicked elfin things
That in the lustre of the moonlight live
And dance i' the starry dew. " Well met," he cried,
In shrillest treble sharp as any bell,
" Well met, good Pilgrim! Stand a space, I pray,
Yea, stand, and buy a song."
Then did I mark
He bare within his hand long printed strings
Of ballads, and, as ballad-singers use,
Stood with his arms outreaching and intoning
Praise of his wares.
" I prithee, Pilgrim, buy!
Songs of all sorts I carry — songs for maids,
For sucking souls, for folks on pilgrimage,
Songs of Satanas and of Christ the King —
Come, buy, buy, buy; for with the thrift o' the sale
I hope betimes to buy myself an ass,
Mounted whereon, full gallop, I may gain
The golden Gates, nor rot upon the road
With those who fare a-foot."
And, while his eyes
Gleam'd wickedly and merrily, he clear'd
His throat, and in an elfin voice he sang: —

JESUS OF NAZARETH.

Tomb'd from the heavenly blue,
Who lies in dreamless death?
The Jew,
Jesus of Nazareth!

Shrouded in black He lies,
He doth not stir a limb,
His eyes
Closed up like pansies dim.

The old creeds and the new
He blest with his sweet breath,
This Jew,
Jesus of Nazareth!

His brows with thorns are bound,
His hands and feet are lead;
All round
His tomb the sands stretch red.

Oh, hark! who sobs, who sighs
Around His place of death —
" Arise,
Jesus of Nazareth!"

O'er head, like birds on wing,
Float shapes in white robes drest;
They sing,
But cannot break His rest.

They sing for Christ's dear sake:
" The hour is here," each saith;
" Awake,
Jesus of Nazareth!"

Silent He sleeps, thorn-crown'd,
He doth not hear or stir,
No sound
Comes from His sepulchre.

" Awake!" those angels sing;
" Arise, and vanquish Death,
O King!
Jesus of Nazareth!"

Too late! — where no light creeps
Lies the pale vanquish'd one —
He sleeps
Sound, for His dream is done!

Tomb'd from the heavenly blue,
Sleeps, with no stir, no breath
The Jew,
Jesus of Nazareth!

Some stood and listen'd, others cross'd themselves
And hurried past, one shriek'd out, " Anti-christ!"
And as he ceased a troop of hooded forms,
Women black-stoled, with crosses in their hands,
Passed swiftly by, and some at him who sang
Glanced sidelong, laughing with a sign obscene;
Answering that sign the cripple sang again: —

MARY MAGDALEN.

I saw in the Holy City, when all the people slept,
The shape of a woeful woman, who look'd at heaven, and wept.

Loose o'er her naked shoulders trembled her night-black hair;
Her robe was ragged and rent, and her feet were bleeding and bare.

And, lo! in her hands she carried a vessel with spices sweet,
And she cried, " Where are Thou, Master? I come to anoint Thy feet."

Then I touch'd her on the shoulder, " What thing are thou?" I said;
And she stood and gazed upon me with eyes like the eyes of the dead.

But I saw the painted colour flash on her cheeks and lips,
While she stood and felt in the vessel with tremulous finger-tips.

And she answer'd never a word, but stood in the lonely light
With the evil of earth upon her, and the darkness of death and night.

And I knew her then by her beauty, her sin and the sign of her shame,
And touch'd her again more gently, and sadly named her name.

She heard, and she did not answer; but her tears began to fall,
And again, " Where art Thou, Master?" I heard her thin voice call.

And she would have straightway left me, but I held her fast, and said,
While the chill wind moan'd around us, and the stars shone overhead,

" O Mary, where is thy Master? Where does He hide His face?
The world awaits His coming, but knows not the time or the place.

" O Mary, lead me to Him — He loved thee deep and true,
Since thou hast risen to find Him, He must be risen too."

Then the painted lips made answer, while the dead eyes gazed on me,
" I have sought Him all through His City, and yonder in Galilee.

" I have sought Him and not found Him, I have search'd in every land,
Though the door of the tomb was open, and the shroud lay shrunk in the sand.

" Long through the years I waited, there in the shade of the tomb,
Then I rose and went to meet Him, out in the world's great gloom.

" And I took pollution with me, wherever my footsteps came,
Yea, I shook my sin on the cities, my sin and the signs of my shame.

" Yet I knew if I could find Him, and kneel and anoint His feet,
That His gentle hands would bless me, and our eyes at last would meet,

" And my sin would fall and leave me, and peace would fill my breast,
And there in the tomb He rose from, I could lie me down and rest."

Tall in the moonlit City, pale as some statue of stone,
With the evil of earth upon her, she stood and she made her moan.

And away on the lonely bridges, or on the brink of the stream,
The pale street-walker heard her, a voice like a voice in a dream.

For, lo! in her hands she carried a vessel with spices sweet,
And she cried, " Where art Thou, Master? I come to anoint Thy feet."

Then my living force fell from me, and I stood and watch'd her go
From shrine to shrine in the daylight, with feeble feet and slow.

And the stars look'd down in sorrow, and the earth lay black beneath,
And the sleeping City was cover'd with shadows of night and death,

While I heard the faint voice wailing afar in the stony street,
" Where art Thou, Master, Master? I come to anoint Thy feet."

Then said I, creeping close to him who sang,
" God help thy folly! Surely thou dost frame
Lays for mad moonlight things, not mortal men
Who soberly on holy business fare,
Seeking the solemn City — — " In my face
The cripple laugh'd, then with forefinger lean
Outstretching, and his great eyes glittering,
He cried, " Who prates of moonshine? He who seeks
The moonshine City?"
Then I turn'd away,
And with a darken'd face was passing on,
Much anger on my heart, when, suddenly
Sinking his voice, while his great eyes grew fill'd
With tearful dew, the singer cried, " Fare on!
God help thee , brother — God make sure for thee
The City of thy dream!"
My sad soul stirr'd
By that new tone of pity in the voice,
I paused again, and, on the crippled form
Glancing in wonder and in tenderness,
Said, " I have strength, and I shall gain the Gate!
But thou? "
Again the cripple's lineaments
Changed into wickedness and mockery,
And loud he laugh'd, as shrill as elfins laugh
Seated in fairy rings under the moon,
And elfin-like he seem'd from head to foot,
While on his cheek and in his lustrous eyes
The pallid moon-dew gleam'd. " Hie on!" he cried;
" Fly thou as fast as any roc, be sure
That I shall reach that ne'er-discover'd bourne
As soon as thou!"
Thereon I turn'd my back
And set my face against the steepening hill;
And, as I climb'd among the climbing folk,
I heard the cripple's voice afar behind
Singing a weird and wondrous melody;
And even when I heard the voice no more
The sound was ringing in my heart and brain,
Like wicked music heard at dead of night
Within some fairy circle by the sea.
But still I fared with never-faltering feet,
Nor rested, till I gain'd the height and saw,
Far down below me, strangely glittering,
A valley like a cloud, and in its midst
A shining light that sparkled like a star.

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