The Prophecy Of St. Oran Part IV
It is the night: across the starless waste
Of silent heaven the solitary moon
Flits like a frightened maid who flies in haste,
And wild with terror seems to reel and swoon,
As in her rear the multitudinous clouds
Follow like spectral huntsmen in their shrouds.
And sometimes the wild rout o'ertakes its prey,
And holds her captive in the lowering sky,
But ever and anon she bursts away,
And her white orb floats lustrously on high,
And with its lambent flame transmutes the haze
Into a living halo for her face.
And far o'er black morass and barren moor
The fitful splendour of the moonlight falls,
Its broken eddies sweep across the floor,
And dance in chequered silver on the walls,
And flood the chapel's grave-encircled site
With sudden flashes of unearthly light.
And as the unquiet moonlight comes and flies
Athwart the little roofless house of prayer,
Like some lost spirit strayed from Paradise
Or dæmon-angel of the realms of air,
A pallid shape flits through the open door
And flings itself, low wailing, on the floor;
And wailing, wailing, lay there in its pain,
When suddenly it snatched from the out the sod
Some late-forgotten spade, while tears like rain
Poured from its eyes, enough to melt the clod,
And digging hard the small breach grew apace,
Till the soil lay like molehills round the place.
But through the silence suddenly there swells
Along the gusty breaths of midnight air
The mellow tinkling sound of magic bells,
Such as the pious brethren love to wear,
To keep the fiends and goblins off that prowl
For ever near to catch a tripping soul.
And as the monks, chanting a solemn hymn,
Draw nigh the chapel to perform their rite,
That wailing shape flies far into the dim
Recess behind the altar full of night;
While they with burning torches move in file
To consecrate afresh their sacred pile.
Three days, three nights have fled since in that spot,
Where fiends and dæmons revelled unforbid,
They buried that false monk who was a blot
Upon their rule: but since the earth has hid
His bones accursed, God's sun has shone again,
Nor has fresh ill assailed their prospering fane
Which now they enter, singing hymns of praise,
Columba at their head--when lo, behold
The grave yawns open and a bloodless face,
The face of him they knew, rose from the mould:
Slowly he rose from the incumbent clay
Lifting the white shroud in the moonlight grey.
Slowly his arm beneath the winding-sheet
He waved three times, as though to bid them hear;
Then in the moonlight rose he to his feet
Showing his shrunken body, and his sere
Discoloured hair, and smouldering eyes that lie
Sunk in their sockets, glaring hot and dry.
Slowly he raised his voice--once rich in tone
Like sweetest music, now a mournful knell
With dull sepulchral sounds, as of a stone
Cast down into a black unfathomed well--
And murmured, 'Lo, I come back from the grave,--
Behold, there is no God to smite or save.
'Poor fools! wild dreamers! No, there is no God;
Yon heaven is deaf and dumb to prayer and praise;
Lo, no almighty tyrant wields the rod
For evermore above our hapless race;
Nor fashioned us, frail creatures that we be,
To bear the burden of eternity.
'Hear it, self-torturing monks, and cease to wage
Your mad, delirious, suicidal war;
There is no devil who from age to age
Waylays and tempts all souls of men that are;
For ever seeking whom he may devour,
And damn with wine and woman, gold and power.
'Deluded priests, ye think the world a snare,
Denouncing every tender human tie!
Behold, your heaven is unsubstantial air,
Your future bliss a sick brain's phantasy;
There is no room amid the stars which gem
The firmament for your Jerusalem.
'Rejoice, poor sinners, for I come to tell
To you who hardly dare to live for fright;
There is no burning everlasting hell
Where souls shall be tormented day and night:
The fever ye call life ends with your breath;
All weary souls set in the night of death.
'Then let your life on earth be life indeed!
Nor drop the substance, snatching at a shade!
Ye can have Eden here! ye bear the seed
Of all the hells and heavens and gods ye made
Within that mighty world-transforming thought
Which permeates the universe it wrought--
'Wrought out of stones and plants and birds and beasts,
To flower in man, and know itself at last:
Around, about you, see what endless feasts
The spring and summer bountifully cast!
'A vale of tears,' ye cry--'if ye were wise,
The earth itself would change to Paradise.
'The earth itself--the old despisèd earth,
Would render back your love a thousandfold,
Nor yet afflict the sons of men with dearth,
Disease, and misery, and drought and cold;
If you would seek a blessing in her sod,
Instead of crying vainly on your God.
'Cast down the crucifix, take up the plough!
Nor waste your breath which is the life in prayer!
Dare to be men, and break you impious vow,
Nor fly from woman as the devil's snare!
For if within, around, beneath, above
There is a living God, that God is Love.'
'The fool says in his heart, There is no God,'
Cried St. Columba, white with Christian ire
'Seize Oran, re-inter him in the sod
And may his soul awake in endless fire:
Earth on his mouth--the earth he would adore,
That his blaspheming tongue may blab no more.'
Then like swart ravens swooping on their prey
These monks rushed upon Oran; when there came
One gliding towards them in wild disarray
With hair that streamed behind her like a flame
And face dazed with the moon, who shrilly cried,
'Let not death part the bridegroom from his bride.'
But deeming her some fiend in female guise,
They drive her forth with threats, till, crazed with fear,
Across the stones and mounded graves she flies
Towards that lapping, moon-illumined mere;
And like a child seeking its mother's breast
She casts her life thereon, and is at rest.
And while the waves close gurgling o'er her head,
A grave is dug whence he may never stray,
Or come back prophesying from the dead,--
All shouting as they stifle him with clay:
'Earth on his mouth--the earth he would adore,
That his blaspheming tongue may blab no more.'
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