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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

St. Theodule

By Starr Hoyt Nichols (1834–1909)

[Born in Danbury, Conn., 1834. Died, 1909. Monte Rosa. The Epic of an Alp.—Revised Edition. 1886.]

BENEATH dark Breithorn’s glancing helm, ’twixt that

And rearing Matterhorn, St. Theodule

Bends graciously its snow-white neck, as when

The laggard ox stoops low his tranquil head

To take the yoke; so forms a crescent pass

In that forbidding wall which otherwise

Imprisons Zermatt the streamy in its guard.

Thence on clear days when noon pours its steep light

On the white wonder of the Rosa’s snows,

The Mount displays its royalties at full.

Set like a castle mastered of great drifts,—

Donjon, portcullis, banquet-hall and moat

All half-submerged beneath them,—while its lords

Are gone, and gone its ladies all, it stands

Corner to a supernal masonry

Whose marbled scarps within their crescent hold

The Gorner glacier’s smooth arena, thus

Building a matchless amphitheatre—

Of girth to shrink Rome’s Colosseum famed

To scarce a feaster’s bowl,—with glacier paved,

And terraced through the clouds with shelf and wall

Of crystal glacier,—stairway to high heaven.

Here seems as if the Almighty’s writ had run

To build a court for that tremendous day

When dead men’s souls black with all sins are haled

Mid trumpets’ blare, before the angelic hosts—

Cherub and seraph, singing, sworded, winged,

And here assembled, crowding coign and cave

With dazzling ranks of Heaven’s imperial guard,

That still shall not out-brave the blazonry

Of these broad snows beneath this mid-day sun.

Here Breithorn, Kleine Matterhorn, and Twins,

Lyskamm, and many-towered Rosa flanked

By nameless goodly summits,—surpliced choir,

Of deathless singers choral without song,—

In one transcendent foreground meet the eye,

From crown to base, from base to dizzy crown;

What silver splendor,—great white throne of God!

How jetty precipice and delicate spire

With every craggy cape and curving bay

Are boldly marked amid the measureless snows,

With lustre blinding noon, and putting sun to shame!

What tireless roods of heaven-assaulting stone

Go charging at the zenith, lance in rest,

To pierce the trembling arch of firmament,

That bends a lover’s pace beyond their tips,

And frames their majesty in blue repose!

Their near horizon hides the rest of earth,

And peasant Nature stands like churl new-crowned

Dazed at imperial glories all her own.

Here one refulgent morning, after days

Of storm when hosts of thoughtless clouds had flung

Discarded snows on every bossy hill,

Chanced a good bishop from a western See,

A man athletic for his years and work,

Who held great Nature dear and not too much

Accursed by her Creator’s word of haste,

When Adam “took and ate.” Here toiling on

O’er the high level of St. Theodule,

Whose sheeted slope as Indian ivory shone,

The Alpine spectacle immense and pure,

A visual anthem of the universe,

Stirred his grave soul to prophet’s ecstasy;

That so he stood quite still and called his guides,

Those hardened veterans in such sceneries,

To check their swinging steps and bare their heads

With him in bended reverence, while each,

As each had learned at mother’s knee, re-said

In his own native speech the Lord’s great prayer,

Our Father which in Heaven art (as chanced

A psalm in triple tongue), to testify

Transcendent gratitude to most high God

For such amazing glory at its full.

So stood he with the astounded hill-men there,

Like some primeval Druid in his woods,

Head bared and lifted hands outspread toward heaven,

His white hair floating on the idle breeze,

Adoring ancient Nature—goddess dear

And mother of all worships ’neath the sun—

With deep, ancestral reverence ere he knew

Her gracious cult behind its thin disguise;

Stirring the wintry waste with such a voice

Of transport as his high cathedral roof

Had seldom echoed from its fretted vault.