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W. Garrett Horder, comp. The Poets’ Bible: New Testament. 1895.

A Vision of Virgins

E. Robert Bulwer, Lord Lytton (Owen Meredith) (1831–1891)

I HAD a vision of the night. It seem’d

There was a long red track of barren land

Block’d in by black hills, where a half-moon dream’d

Of morn, and whiten’d. Drifts of sallow sand,

This way and that, were heapt below; and flats

Of water;—glaring shallows, where strange bats

Came and went, and moths flicker’d. To the right

A dusty road, that crept along the waste

Like a white snake; and further up I traced

Turreted masses on a mason’d height.

A hundred casements all ablaze with light:

And shades that slid athwart them as in haste:

And a slow music, such as sometimes kings

Command at mighty revels, softly sent

From viol, and flute, and tabor, and the strings

Of many a sweet and slumbrous instrument,

That wound into the mute heart of night

Out of that distance.

Then I could perceive

A glory pouring through an open door,

And in it five bright maidens. I believe

That all those maidens milk-white vesture wore,

Or white it seem’d in the unstain’d embrace

Of radiance flowing down a lucid floor

Through glorious galleries, from an unseen place

That glow’d far inward. Still as statues all

They stood: each face of them, upslanted keen,

Of some great coming joy shone augural:

And each husht maiden, with majestic mien,

Held heavenward in her lifted hand a small

Clear-sparkling lamp whose little resolute flame

Throbb’d fast but flinch’d not. From that place unseen

There rose a shout ‘The Bridegroom!’ And one came

Crown’d for a feast. I could not see the face

That bent in welcome kingly and serene

Above those maidens waiting its command;

So great a glory from that unseen place

Transcended sight.

He took them by the hand,

And led them in. With light and music blent

They faded from me. On their bridal band,

And on the glory into which they went,

The great doors closed. Once more the desert land

Lay dark and silent; for the moon had dipp’d

Her reeling horn behind a battlement

Of black wind-broken cloud. My dream was stripp’d

And stricken bare. Deep sense of sudden loss

Fill’d all the night with silence and eclipse.

Then in the dark came, fitfully across

The creviced waste, a wail as from the lips

Of lost bewilder’d wanderers. And again

I had a vision on that midnight plain.

Five women. Young and beautiful they were:

But theirs such beauty as but deepens all

The desolation of things fashion’d fair

And steadfast, when they prematurely fall

In all their freshness, not beneath time’s slow

And softening touch, but in a shatter’d heap

Of irremediable overthrow

Suddenly thunder-smitten. Roused from sleep

With a fierce start that into wandering trouble

Over her else-unshelter’d shoulder threw

Her loosen’d tresses, one was bent half double,

A huddled shape, that hung o’er the last spark

Of a lamp slowly dying. As she blew

The dull light redder, and about the dark

The dry-wick, all in crumbling sparkles, flew,

I saw a light of horror in her eyes;

A wild light on her flush’d cheek; a wild white

On her dry lips; an agony of surprise

Fearfully fair. The lamp dropp’d. From my sight

She fell into the dark. Beside her sat

One without motion; and her stern face flat

Against the dark sky. One as still as death,

Hollow’d her hands about her lamp, for fear,

Some motion of the midnight, or her breath,

Should fan out the last flicker. Rosy-clear

The light oozed through her fingers, o’er her face:

There was a ruin’d beauty hovering there

Over deep pain, and, dash’t with lurid grace,

A waning bloom. The light grew dim and blear;

And she, too, slowly darken’d in her place.

Another, with both hands enwoven fast

Together, clinging to her heapéd knees,

Moan’d as she rock’d herself, until at last

She neither moved nor moan’d. By faint degrees

The moon, from her cloud chasm emerging, cast

(Cold as life’s last look from a dying eye)

A momentary livid light o’er these

Lost maidens. Then one rose up with a cry

To that late gleam; and stretch’d a wrathful arm

Of wild expostulation to the sky,

Shouting—“These earth-lamps fail us! And what harm?

Doth not the moon shine? Yonder, o’er the waste,

Methinks I hear, tho’ faint, the festal tone

Of lutes and viols. Let us rise, and haste

To meet the Bridegroom. It were better done,

At worst, to perish by the palace gate,

And sink in sight of safety one by one,

Than here upon the homeless wild to wait

Uncertain ills. Away! the hour is late!”

Again all darken’d. I could see no more.

Not the least gleam of light did heaven afford.

At last I heard a knocking on a door,

And some one crying “Open to us, Lord.”

There was an awful pause. I heard my heart

Beat. Then a voice—“I know you not. Depart!”

I caught, within, a glimpse of glory. And

The door closed.
Still in darkness dream’d the land.

I could not see those women. Not a breath!

Darkness and awe; a darkness deep as death.

The darkness took them…..