Henry Charles Beeching, ed. (1859–1919). Lyra Sacra: A Book of Religious Verse. 1903.

By Robert Bridges (1844–1930)


JOY, 1 sweetest lifeborn Joy, where dost thou dwell?
Upon the formless moments of our being
Flitting, to mock the ear that heareth well,
To escape the trainèd eye that strains in seeing,
Dost thou fly with us whither we are fleeing;        5
Or home in our creations, to withstand
Black-wingèd Death, that slays the making hand?
The making mind, that must untimely perish
Amidst its work which time may not destroy,
The beauteous forms which man shall love to cherish,        10
The glorious songs that combat Earth’s annoy?
Thou dost dwell here, I know, divinest Joy:
But they who build thy towers fair and strong,
Of all that toil, feel most of care and wrong.
Sense is so tender, O and hope so high,        15
That common pleasures mock their hope and sense;
And swifter than doth lightning from the sky
The ecstasy they pine for flashes hence,
Leaving the darkness and the woe immense,
Wherewith it seems no thread of life was woven,        20
Nor doth the track remain where once ’twas cloven.
And heaven and all the stable elements
That guard God’s purpose mock us, though the mind
Be spent in searching: for His old intents
We see were never for our joy designed:        25
They shine as doth the bright sun on the blind,
Or like His pensioned stars, that hymn above
His praise, but not toward us, that God is love.
For who so well hath wooed the maiden hours
As quite to have won the worth of their rich show,        30
To rob the night of mystery, or the flowers
Of their sweet delicacy ere they go?
Nay, even the dear occasion when we know,
We miss the joy, and on the gliding day
The special glories float and pass away.        35
Only life’s common plod: still to repair
The body and the thing which perisheth:
The soil, the smutch, the toil and ache and wear,
The grinding enginry of blood and breath,
Pain’s random darts, the heartless spade of Death:        40
All is but grief, and heavily we call
On the last terror for the end of all.
Then comes the happy moment: not a stir
In any tree, no portent in the sky:
The morn doth neither hasten nor defer,        45
The morrow hath no name to call it by,
But life and joy are one,—we know not why,—
As though our very blood long breathless lain
Had tasted of the breath of God again.
And having tasted it I speak of it,        50
And praise Him thinking how I trembled then
When His touch strengthened me, as now I sit
In wonder, reaching out beyond my ken,
Reaching to turn the day back, and my pen
Urging to tell a tale which told would seem        55
The witless phantasy of them that dream.
But O most blessèd truth, for truth thou art,
Abide thou with me till my life shall end.
Divinity hath surely touched my heart;
I have possessed more joy than earth can lend:        60
I may attain what time shall never spend.
Only let not my duller days destroy
The memory of thy witness and my joy.
Note 1. Mr Bridges’ sonnets are from “The Growth of Love”; the other pieces from “Shorter Poems.” [back]