The Prophecy Of St. Oran Part I
'Earth, earth on the mouth of Oran, that he may blab no more.' Gaelic Proverb.
THE storm had ceased to rave: subsiding slow
Lashed ocean heaved, and then lay calm and still;
From the clear North a little breeze did blow
Severing the clouds: high o'er a wooded hill
The slant sun hung intolerably bright,
And spanned the sea with a broad bridge of light.
Now St. Columba rose from where he sat
Among his monkish crew; and lifting high
His pale worn hands, his eagle glances met
The awful glory which suffused the sky.
As soars the lark, sweet singing from the sod,
So prayer is wafted from his soul to God.
For they in their rude coracle that day
Shuddered had climbed the crests of mountainous wave,
To plunge down glassy walls of shifting spray,
From which death roared as from an open grave;
Till, the grim fury of the tempest o'er,
Bursts on their ravished sight an azure shore.
Ah! is this solid earth which meets their view,
Or some still cloud-land islanded on high?
Those crags are too aërially blue,
Too soft those mountains mingling with the sky,
And too ineffable their dewy gleam,
For aught but fabric of a fleeting dream.
Entranced they gaze, and o'er the glimmering track
Of seething gold and foaming silver row:
Now to their left tower headlands, bare and black
And blasted, with grey centuries of snow,
Deep in whose echoing caves, with hollow sighs,
Monotonous seas for ever ebb and rise.
Rounding these rocks, they glide into a deep
And tranquil bay, in whose translucent flood
The shadows of the azure mountains sleep:
High on a hill, amid green foliage, stood
A square and rough-hewn tower, whose time-bleached stone,
Like some red beacon, with the sunset shone.
A few more vigorous strokes, and the sharp keel
Grates on the beach, on which, inclining low
Their tonsured heads, the monks adoring kneel;
While St. Columba, his pale face aglow
With outward light and inward, lifts on high
The Cross, swart outlined on the burning sky.
Impassive, though in silent wonder, stood
The islesmen while these worshipped, on their shore,
A thorn-crowned figure nailed upon the wood,
From whose pierced side the dark blood seemed to pour;
While on the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
They loudly called as brow and breast they crost.
Spoke now their Master, in a voice whose ring
Was like the west wind's in a twilight grove:
'Glad tidings to this sea-girt isle we bring,
Good tidings of our heavenly Father's love,
Who sent His only Son,--oh, marvellous
Deep love!--to die that He might ransom us.'
'Come! listen to the story of our Lord!
Sweet Jesus Christ, a child of lowly birth,
Whom in the manger the wise kings adored,
For well they knew Him Lord of Heaven and Earth,
With myrrh and spice they journeyed from the far
Prophetic East, led by the Pilgrim Star:
'And when the star stood still, and mildly shone
Above a shed where lay the new-born child,
They hailed Him God's only-begotten Son,
Saviour of sinners and Redeemer mild;
Eve's promised seed, when she with streaming eyes
Saw the bright sword wave her from Paradise.
'For we are children of a fallen race,
Our sins are grievous in the Father's sight,
Death was our doom, but that by heavenly grace
God sent His Son to be a steadfast light,
Which calmly shining o'er life's troubled wave,
The storm-tossed souls of erring men might save.
'Go unto Him, all ye that toil and weep,
Ye that are weary with the long day's load;
He is the Shepherd watching o'er His sheep,
He leads His flock along the narrow road;
And when He hears the bleating lamb's alarm
He folds the weak one in His sheltering arm.
'Ah, tender Shepherd, who didst love us so,
Choosing to die that we Thy flock might live;
What bitter anguish, ah! what heavy woe
To think, O Lord! that mortal hands should give
This wound that cleaves Thy side, that mortal scorn
In mockery crowned Thee with the barren thorn!'
Sad was Columba's face, his words were slow
As though reluctant to the piteous tale--
But now his eyes with sacred rapture glow,
And his wan features kindle, like a pale
Dissolving cloud through which the moon is shed:
He speaks of Christ re-risen from the dead.
He ceased, then cried: 'Glory unto the Lord
Whose mercy is as boundless as the sea;
Fruitful to-day makes He my feeble word,
For with faith's eye an ancient chief I see,
Whose bark o'er the blue deep is drawing nigh,
He comes to be baptised before he die.'
Scarce had he ended when towards the land
A wicker boat sped swiftly o'er the bay;
There by the Pictish chieftain, hand in hand,
Her golden locks entangled with his grey,
His grandchild sat, lit by the level rays;
The loveliest and the last of all her race.
They hailed the Chief as to a sea-worn stone
Two fishers bore him; and his muffled sense
Struggled with feeble eld to seize the tone
Of the Saint's voice, as he in words intense
Proclaimed the saving truth of gospel lore,
Then with his hands baptised the Chieftain hoar.
And when the holy dew had wet his brow,
And his wan lips tasted the sacrament,
His head against Columba's breast sank low,
And o'er his face a smile of rapt content
Played softly, smoothing out the lines of care
Which joy and grief and toil had planted there.
Then on the spot where he has breathed his last
They lay him, letting dust to dust return;
Then one by one, as solemnly they cast
A little earth upon his grave, they turn
To the benighted heathen, look above,
And chaunt: 'His soul is God's, and God is love.'
A piteous cry and terrible then rung
Even like a very echo to the word
Upon the startled hearers, whom it wrung
With answering grief, as when along the chord
Of palpitating harp the breezes sigh
Each string responsive wails in sympathy.
A maiden with wild eyes and streaming hair
And features white with horror rose aghast,
Unconscious of the pitying people's stare,
And on the new-made grave herself she cast
In utter desolation, till her frame
Convulsed by sobs shook like a wind-blown flame.
'Oh father, father,' she at last made moan,
'My father's father, last of all our race,
Hast thou gone too, and left me here alone
So helpless as I am, so weak to face
The dreadful shifts of war with all its woes,
Cold, hunger, shame, fear of insulting foes.'
'Nay, child, blaspheme not in thine agony!
Art thou not in our heavenly Father's care?
He who upholds the everlasting sky
Throughout the ages, suffers not a hair
Of thine to fall but that it is His will;
Bless Him for joy, for sorrow bless Him still.
'Yea! clasp thine unused hands in prayer, and lift
Thy still down-drooping eyes to Him above.
Is not the giver greater than His gift?
Must not His love contain all lesser love
Of father, mother, brother, husband, wife--
The Alpha He and Omega of life?'
Thus spake Columba, burning to allay
The pains of earthly love with saving truth;
But she, who deemed confusedly that they
With their sad rites had slain her sire, forsooth,
Was deaf to him, and ever made her moan,
'Hast thou gone too, and left me here alone!'
At last--when all his words and prayers had failed
To comfort or assuage the orphan's woe,
Who prostrate on the grave still wept and wailed,--
Columba muttered as he turned to go:
'Nay, sooner parley with the roaring main
Than with a woman maddening in her pain.'
So thus they left her, as she would not come,
Left her to night and a few firstling stars
That here and there from the celestial dome
Peered brightly through the narrow cloudy bars,
As though some great white seraph's lidless eyes
Were looking down on her from Paradise.
But one there was who could not rest in peace,
For pity of that maiden's lonely pain!
Was there no balm in Gilead to appease
Her wounded spirit?--yea, might not he gain
That soul benighted to eternal bliss,
By teaching her God's love through grief like this?
Thus Oran mused, the youngest and most fair
Of that devoted zealous little band
That now for many a laborious year
Followed Columba's lead from land to land,
Daring the danger of the narrow seas
To plant the Cross among the Hebrides.
Young, but most fervid of their brotherhood,
Fair Oran was, whose faith leaped like a sword
From out the sheath, and could not be subdued
When brandished in the service of the Lord,
To whom--as sparks leap upward from a fire--
His soaring thoughts incessantly aspire.
Yea, he must save her soul, that like a bark
Drifting without a rudder, rudely tossed
On life's rough sea, might founder in the dark,
In the abysm of hell engulfed and lost.
Thus musing, he retraced his steps once more
Towards the grave beside the sounding shore.
'Arise, and let the dead bury their dead!'
He said to her still shedding stanchless tears.
Affrighted by his voice, she raised her head
With eyes dilated like a startled deer's;
With lovely, longing, melancholy eyes,
She looked up at him with a dumb surprise.
'Come unto Jesus, He will give thee rest,'
Oran began, but stammered as he spoke:
Why throbbed his heart so loudly in his breast,
As if impatient of the heavy yoke
Of faith, that curbed desire as soon as born,
That nipped the rose, but left its piercing thorn?
A moment has undone the work of years!
A single glance o'erthrown an austere saint!
And the clear faith, achieved with stripes and tears
And midnight fasts and vigils, now grows faint,
And like a star lost in the new-born light
Flickers awhile, then fades into the night.
Still Oran wrestles with the fiend within,
Striving to teach the gospel to the maid;
He tells her of man's fall through deadly sin,
And of the Saviour who our ransom paid:
She, with her eyes now bent upon the ground,
Listens like one by strong enchantment bound.
It was a clear and cloudless summer night,
Stars without number clustered in the blue,
Some like mere sparks of evanescent light
Receding infinite from mortal view,
Some with a steadier lustre softly glow,
Like golden flames or silver flakes of snow.
But lo! like some lost soul from heaven's height
Hurled headlong, shivering to its awful doom,
A wingèd star shoots dazzling through the night,
And vanishes in some stupendous gloom:
Thus once the brightest of the angels fell
Through yawning space into profoundest hell.
And trembling for his own soul, Oran prayed:
'Oh blessed Virgin, whom the angelic quire
Rapturous adore! immaculate Mother-maid!
Pure Queen! make pure my heart of every fire
Which is not kindled on thy sacred shrine,
Of every thought not wholly, solely thine!'
Even while suppliant's lips devoutly move,
A heavenly face, though not the Virgin's, filled
His eyes with beauty, and his heart with love,
Till with dread rapture all his pulses thrilled:
A face whose heavenly innocence might well
Eradicate the very thought of hell.
Perplexed, bewildered, breathless Oran stood,
Torn by the passions he had still suppressed
With macerations of the flesh and blood;
But now this idol which enthralled his breast
With subtle witchcraft, snake-like seemed to hiss,
'Thine immortality for one long kiss!'
'Get thee behind me, Satan!' wildly cries
The monk, and flees in horror from the place.
Did not the devil tempt him through those eyes
Burning like two fair lights in that fair face,
Till moth-like drawn in ever-narrowing rings
Towards the flame, his soul must scorch her wings?
Far o'er the moorland through the starlit night
He rushed, like one who flies in mortal fear
Of some dread enemy that dogs his flight,
And who, whate'er his speed, still draweth near:
Yea, though he shall outspeed the wingèd wind,
How fly the haunting thought of his own mind?
At last he knelt all breathless on the sod,
And gathered up his whole soul in one prayer,
Yea,--even as Jacob wrestled before God
While angels hovered on the heavenly stair,
He wrestled,--loudly calling on the Lord
To keep him from the sin his soul abhorred.
When his long prayer was done, and the pale priest
Rose cold with clinging vapour, one by one
The flickering stars went out, and in the East
The dim air kindled with the coming sun,
While in illimitable sheer delight
The holy larks rose worshipping the light.
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