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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Mad Moments: Or First Verse Attempts by a Born Natural (1833). II. Nature

Henry Ellison (1811–1880)

(As revised for “The Poetry of Real Life.” 1844.)

OFT mighty Nature herself plays for me

Over again, (that I may the true key

Of Being hit), the music of the Past;

Not broken notes, as erst, (which scarce could be

Of their own sweetness conscious, ere, too fast,

And but half felt, they fled) but the whole vast

And boundless compass of her harmony;

Through all the vocal steps, e’en from the last,

Soft breathings, rising gradual to the blast

From the loud thunder to the cricket’s glee,—

The homesomest note of all her minstrelsy;

Which links the music of the household hearth

With hers: man’s small home with his vast home, earth!

And something more than this, oh something more

I hear (felt by the beating heart before,

At intervals, when hushed as is a flower,

It caught the import of some happier hour,

Yet scarcely conscious, though touched to the core:

Lost amid feelings, whose immensity

Makes us to pause, as when upon the shore

Of the hushed ocean we come suddenly)

A music of far far diviner power;

A choral burst from out the sanctuary,

The touching music of Humanity;

Which at the heart still of all Nature lies.

The deep bass now of all her harmonies.

In snatches I had felt it from the first,

Which more than they expressed seem to comprise;

Oft have the village-bells, the wild replies

Of Echo, as if earth with man conversed,—

A dying note, which seemingly dispersed,

Comes softly back once more, in whispering wise,

Like Nature at our ear, brought to my eyes,

The tears I scarce knew why, and scarcely durst

Ask mine own self: for awe—it seemed to rise

So far beyond my depth—to sympathise

With some mysterious pulse! but it has burst

On me at length, with its full melodies:

As thunder strong, yet gentle from the first

And clearly its deep import, not as erst

Unconsciously in all, I recognise!

What we entrust to Nature’s keeping, she

Will beautify a thousand-fold for our

Enlarged perceptions, at some future hour;

Though but the childish recollections we

Link with the daisy, or the faded flower,

She makes it as a spell of boundless power:

And, if from youth we walk in her ways, free

And unreproved her footsteps to explore,

The music of our own hearts then will be

With her eternal music blent—still more,

And clearer felt—not distinct, as before,

But needful parts of one full harmony:

Where what one wants the other doth supply.

The music which in boyhood charmed my ear,

The sound of village-bell, of bird and brook,

Was set to hopes and yearnings, which, tho’ dear

And deep, and holy, their sole impulse took

From homes so blessèd, yet still narrow sphere

Music, which few beyond would care to hear

Yet, since that too was hers, and in a key,

In which the highest melodies might be

Composed, was set e’en then—the key of Love—

In which the music of the spheres above

By God Himself is tuned!—still, as I grew

Did she enlarge, as she is wont to do,

For those who put their trust in her alone,

Its sphere and compass, till it now runs through

The whole vast scale, down to the smallest tone,

The least, least note, to living creature known!

Till this wide Earth seems now but as my home,

With the old footsteps marked, where’er I roam!

For such, to my enlarged perceptions shown,

With years expanding, the vast hall has grown,

And all things therein, as transfigured, shine,

Enlarged for mankind’s use, yet not to mine

Lost or diminished, but brought far, far more

Within my reach—a richer, goodlier store!

Thus all I seem’d to have lost again I find,

Differing but in degree—the same in kind!

The village-clock, whose chimes rang out so sweet,

With memories of youth and home replete,

Is now changed to the vast clock of the sky,

Whose chimes, the spheres, ring out man’s destiny!

And Earth, the grave of millions, is to me

Now sacred as the churchyard seemed to be,

In which the graves of my beloved ones lie!

With dew, for holy-water, the great God

Hath blessed it—yea! each flower on the sod!

His blessing is on all perceptible—

And from each open grave His voice is sent,

The echo to man’s deep presentiment!

Thus find I still, e’en to the least detail,

All home held dear, upon so grand a scale!

This world is now, with its starlighted dome,

Dear and familiar to me, as the room,

Where, in the holy concert, small yet true,

My heart, with those of all I loved, was like

A string, which Nature’s hand e’en then did strike,

Yielding a music which, though low, thrilled through

The World’s profound heart, that e’en then with it

Did beat, and strange, electric throbs transmit!

But now it swells into a nobler strain,

A mightier harmony, which can constrain

The pulses of the hush’d world, and subdue

Men’s hearts to rapture!—for ’tis now in true

Accord, and set to larger joy and pain,

The hopes and yearnings of this vaster home,

(For ever echoing up to heavens’ dome,

And mingling with the music of the spheres:

Where, like its written note, each star appears,

The score, with fire traced through all the sky!)

The deep sweet music of Humanity!

So deep, that its least tone can stir to tears!

Which e’en the living God delighted hears!

And, in its sublime swell of harmony

(Like the world-organ’s, whose vast pipes are blown

Upon by all the four winds of the sky

At once, so to produce commensurate tone

And fill its mighty lungs perpetually

With breath, that it may lift its voice on high,

And with its choral thunders still make known

The power of God! yet melting gradually,

(His gentleness and mercy to imply)

Into a strain so soft, as not to wake

The bird upon the bough, nor yet to make

A dewdrop tremble in the flower’s eye!)

Nature, my nobler mother grown, plays o’er

Again for me the music sweet of yore;

Not lost, but as a soft, deep undertone,

Blest with, for aye, and still more like, her own!

So homesome, so familiar, so clear,

That all that sublime music doth appear

To me but as the airs I used to play

On mine own flute, upon my homeward way;

And all the stops of that vast instrument,

Like those of my small pipe, obedient

To my least touch, repeat those tunes so dear;

So that, like the first flowers of the Year,

Life’s freshest feelings still to me are lent,—

For that which is true to the heart she keeps

In her own blessedness and beauty steeps,

And what man takes to heart, she takes to heart

Likewise, if good, and will not from it part—

Thus, if a truth be hid in antique rhyme,

She cleaves to it, and keeps it through all time:

Thus, the first song, that charmed our childish ear

Is still the sweetest music we can hear!

And comes back to us like the voice of God,

When in the paths of peace, His paths, we trod,

The paths of innocence: and with Truth played,

As with a cherub, who yet with us stayed!