The Dead Musician

In memory of Brother Basil, organist for half a century at Notre Dame.

H E was the player and the played upon,
He was the actor and the acted on,
Artist, and yet himself a substance wrought;
God played on him as he upon the keys,
Moving his soul to mightiest melodies
Of lowly serving, hid austerities,
And holy thought that our high dream outtops, —
He was an organ where God kept the stops.
Naught, naught
Of all he gave us came so wondrous clear
As that he sounded to the Master's ear.

Wedded he was to the immortal Three,
Poverty, Obedience and Chastity,
And in a fourth he found them all expressed,
For him all gathered were in Music's breast,
And in God's house
He took her for his spouse, —
High union that the world's eye never scans
Nor world's way knows.
Not any penny of applauding hands
He caught, nor would have caught,
Not any thought
Save to obey
Obedience that bade him play,
And for his bride
To have none else beside,
That both might keep unflecked their virgin snows.

Yet by our God's great law
Such marriage issue saw,
As they who cast away may keep,
Who sow not reap.
In Chastity entombed
His manhood bloomed,
And children not of earth
Had spotless birth.
With might unmortal was he strong
That he begot
Of what was not,
Within the barren womb of silence, song.
Yea, many sons he had
To make his sole heart glad —
Romping the boundless meadows of the air,
Skipping the cloudy hills, and climbing bold
The heavens' nightly stairs of starry gold,
Nay winning heaven's door
To mingle evermore
With deathless troops of angel harmony.
He filled the house of God
With servants at his nod,
A music-host of moving pageantry,
Lo, this a priest, and that an acolyte:
Ah, such we name aright
Creative art,
To body forth love slumbering in the heart...
Fools, they who pity him,
Imagine dim
Days that the world's glare brightens not.
Until the seraphim
Shake from their flashing hair
Lightnings, and weave serpents there,
His days we reckon fair. . . .

Yet more he had than this;
Lord of the liberative kiss,
To own, and yet refrain,
To hold his hand in rein.
High continence of his high power
That turns from virtue's very flower,
In loss of that elected pain
A greater prize to gain.
As one who long had put wine by
Would now himself deny
Water, and thirsting die.
So, sometimes he was idle at the keys,
Pale fingers on the aged ivories:
Then, like a prisoned bird,
Music was seen, not heard,
Then were his quivering hands most strong
With blood of the repressed song, —
A fruitful barrenness. Oh, where,
Out of angelic air,
This side the heavens' spheres
Such sight to start and hinder tears.
Who knows, perhaps while silence throbbed
He heard the De Profundis sobbed.
By his own organ at his bier to-day, —
It is the saints' anticipative way,
He knew both hand and ear were clay.
That was one thought
Never is music wrought,
For silence only could that truth convey.
Widowed of him, his organ now is still,
His music-children fled, their echoing feet yet fill
The blue, far reaches of the vaulted nave,
The heart that sired them, pulseless in the grave.
Only the song he made is hushed, his soul,
Responsive to God's touch, in His control
Elsewhere shall tune the termless ecstasy
Of one who all his life kept here.
An alien ear,
Homesick for harpings of eternity.
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