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

By Frederick William Faber (1814–1863)

The Sorrowful World

I HEARD 1 the wild beasts in the woods complain;
Some slept, while others wakened to sustain
Through night and day the sad monotonous round,
Half savage and half pitiful the sound.
The outcry rose to God through all the air,        5
The worship of distress, an animal prayer,
Loud vehement pleadings, not unlike to those
Job uttered in his agony of woes.
The very pauses, when they came, were rife
With sickening sounds of too successful strife,        10
As, when the clash of battle dies away,
The groans of night succeed the shrieks of day.
Man’s scent the untamed creatures scarce can bear,
As if his tainted blood defiled the air;
In the vast woods they fret as in a cage,        15
Or fly in fear, or gnash their teeth with rage.
The beasts of burden linger on their way,
Like slaves who will not speak when they obey;
Their faces, when their looks to us they raise,
With something of reproachful patience gaze.        20
All creatures round us seem to disapprove;
Their eyes discomfort us with lack of love;
Our very rights, with signs like these alloyed,
Not without sad misgivings are enjoyed.
Earth seems to make a sound in places lone,        25
Sleeps through the day, but wakes at night to moan,
Shunning our confidence, as if we were
A guilty burden it could hardly bear.
The winds can never sing but they must wail;
Waters lift up sad voices in the vale;        30
One mountain-hollow to another calls
With broken cries of plaining waterfalls.
Silence itself is but a heaviness,
As if the earth were fainting in distress,
Like one who wakes at night in panic fears,        35
And nought but his own beating pulses hears.
Inanimate things can rise into despair;
And, when the thunders bellow in the air
Amid the mountains, Earth sends forth a cry
Like dying monsters in their agony.        40
The sea, unmated creature, tired and lone,
Makes on its desolate sands eternal moan:
Lakes on the calmest days are ever throbbing
Upon their pebbly shores with petulant sobbing.
O’er the white waste, cold grimly overawes        45
And hushes life beneath its merciless laws;
Invisible heat drops down from tropic skies,
And o’er the land, like an oppression, lies.
The clouds in heaven their placid motions borrow
From the funereal tread of men in sorrow;        50
Or, when they scud across the stormy day,
Mimic the flight of hosts in disarray.
Mostly men’s many-featured faces wear
Looks of fixed gloom, or else of restless care;
The very babes, that in their cradles lie,        55
Out of the depths of unknown troubles cry.
Labour itself is but a sorrowful song,
The protest of the weak against the strong;
Over rough waters, and in obstinate fields,
And from dank mines, the same sad sound it yields.        60
O God! the fountain of perennial gladness!
Thy whole creation overflows with sadness;
Sights, sounds, are full of sorrow and alarm;
Even sweet scents have but a pensive charm.
Doth Earth send nothing up to Thee but moans?        65
Father! canst Thou find melody in groans?
Oh, can it be, that Thou, the God of bliss,
Canst feed Thy glory on a world like this?
Ah me! that sin should have such chemic power
To turn to dross the gold of Nature’s dower,        70
And straightway, of its single self, unbind
The eternal vision of Thy jubilant mind!
Alas! of all this sorrow there is need;
For us Earth weeps, for us the creatures bleed:
Thou art content, if all this woe imparts        75
The sense of exile to repentant hearts.
Yes! it is well for us: from these alarms,
Like children scared we fly into Thine arms;
And pressing sorrows put our pride to rout
With a swift faith which has not time to doubt.        80
We cannot herd in peace with wild beasts rude;
We dare not live in Nature’s solitude;
In how few eyes of men can we behold
Enough of love to make us calm and bold?
Oh, it is well for us: with angry glance        85
Life glares at us, or looks at us askance:
Seek where we will,—Father! we see it now,—
None love us, trust us, welcome us, but Thou.
Note 1. Faber, son of the vicar of Calverley, Yorks., and himself for three years Rector of Elton, Huntingdonshire, followed Newman to Rome in 1845. He founded the branch of Oratorians in London, now settled at Brompton. His hymns are among the most popular in current collections. [back]