Superstition and Revelation/Superstition and Revelation

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SUPERSTITION AND REVELATION,

AN UNFINISHED POEM.


I.
Beings of brighter worlds! that rise at times
As phantoms with ideal beauty fraught,
In those brief visions of celestial climes
Which pass like sunbeams o'er the realms of thought,
Dwell ye around us?—are ye hovering nigh,
Throned on the cloud, or buoyant in the air?
And in deep solitudes, where human eye
Can trace no step, Immortals! are ye there?
Oh! who can tell?—what power, but Death alone,
Can lift the mystic veil that shades the world unknown!

II.
But Earth hath seen the days, ere yet the flowers
Of Eden wither'd, when reveal'd ye shone
In all your brightness midst those holy bowers—
Holy, but not unfading, as your own!
While He, the child of that primeval soil,
With you its paths in high communion trode,
His glory yet undimm'd by guilt or toil,
And beaming in the image of his God,
And his pure spirit glowing from the sky,
Exulting in its light, a spark of Deity.

III.
Then, haply, mortal and celestial lays,
Mingling their tones, from nature's temple rose,
When nought but that majestic song of praise
Broke on the sanctity of night's repose,
With music since unheard: and man might trace
By stream and vale, in deep embow'ring shade,

Devotion's first and loveliest dwelling-place,
The footsteps of th' Omnipotent, who made
That spot a shrine, where youthful nature cast
Her consecrated wealth, rejoicing as He pass'd.

IV.
Short were those days, and soon, O sons of Heaven!
Tour aspect changed for man. In that dread hour,
When from his paradise the alien driven
Beheld your forms in angry splendour tower,
Guarding the clime where he no more might dwell
With meteor-swords: he saw the living flame,
And his first cry of misery was—"Farewell!"
His heart's first anguish, exile: he became
A pilgrim on the earth, whose children's lot
Is still for happier lands to pine—and reach them not.

V.
Where now the chosen bowers that once beheld
Delight and Love their first bright sabbath keep?
From all its founts the world of waters swell'd,
And wrapt them in the mantle of the deep!
For He, to whom the elements are slaves,
In wrath unchain'd the oceans of the cloud,
And heaved the abyss beneath, till waves on waves
Folded creation in their mighty shroud;
Then left the earth a solitude, o'erspread
With its own awful wrecks—a desert of the dead

VI.
But onward flow'd life's busy course again,
And rolling ages with them bore away—
As to be lost amidst the boundless main,
Rich orient streams their golden sands convey—
The hallow'd lore of old—the guiding light
Left by tradition to the sons of earth,
And the blest memory of each sacred rite
Known in the region of their father's birth,
When in each breeze around his fair abode
Whisper'd a seraph's voice, or lived the breath of God.

VII.
Who hath not seen, what time the orb of day,
Cinctured with glory, seeks the ocean's breast,
A thousand clouds all glowing in his ray,
Catching brief splendour from the purple west?
So round thy parting steps, fair Truth! awhile
With borrow'd hues unnumber'd phantoms shone;
And Superstition, from thy lingering smile,
Caught a faint glow of beauty not her own,
Blending her rites with thine—while yet afar
Thine eye's last radiance beam'd, a slow-receding star.


VIII.
Yet still one stream was pure—one sever'd shrine
Was fed with holier fire, by chosen hands;
And sounds, and dreams, and impulses divine,
Were in the dwellings of the patriarch bands.
There still the father to his child bequeath'd
The sacred torch of never-dying flame;
There still Devotion's suppliant accents breathed
The One adored and everlasting Name;
And angel guests would linger and repose
Where those primeval tents amid their palm-trees rose.

IX.
But far o'er earth the apostate wanderers bore
Their alien rites. For them, by fount or shade,
Nor voice, nor vision, holy as of yore,
In thrilling whispers to the soul convey'd
High inspiration: yet in every clime,
Those sons of doubt and error fondly sought
With beings, in their essence more sublime,
To hold communion of mysterious thought;
On some dread power in trembling hope to lean,
And hear in every wind the accents of th' Unseen.

X.
Yes! we have need to bid our hopes repose
On some protecting influence: here confined,
Life hath no healing balm for mortal woes,
Earth is too narrow for th' immortal mind.
Our spirits burn to mingle with the day,
As exiles panting for their native coast,
Yet lured by every wild-flower from their way,
And shrinking from the gulf that must be cross'd.
Death hovers round us: in the zephyr's sigh.
As in the storm, he comes—and lo! Eternity!

XI.
As one left lonely on the desert sands
Of burning Afric, where, without a guide,
He gazes as the pathless waste expands—
Around, beyond, interminably wide;
While the red haze, presaging the Simoom,
Obscures the fierce resplendence of the sky,
Or suns of blasting light perchance illume
The glistening Serab[1] which illudes his eye:
Such was the wanderer Man, in ages flown,
Kneeling in doubt and fear before the dread Unknown.


XII.
His thoughts explored the past—and where were they,
The chiefs of men, the mighty ones gone by?
He turn'd—a boundless void before him lay,
Wrapp'd in the shadows of futurity.
How knew the child of Nature that the flame
He felt within him struggling to ascend,
Should perish not with that terrestrial frame
Doom'd with the earth on which it moved, to blend?
How, when affliction bade his spirit bleed,
If 'twere a Father's love or Tyrant's wrath decreed?

XIII.
Oh! marvel not if then he sought to trace
In all sublimities of sight and sound,
In rushing winds that wander through all space,
Or midst deep woods, with holy gloom embrown'd,
The oracles of Fate! or if the train
Of floating forms that throng the world of sleep,
And sounds that vibrate on the slumberer's brain,
When mortal voices rest in stillness deep,
Were deem'd mysterious revelations, sent
From viewless powers, the lords of each dread element.

XIV.
Was not wild Nature, in that elder-time,
Clothed with a deeper power?—earth’s wandering race,
Exploring realms of solitude sublime,
Not as we see, beheld her awful face!
Art had not tamed the mighty scenes which met
Their searching eyes; unpeopled kingdoms lay
In savage pomp before them—all was yet
Silent and vast, but not as in decay;
And the bright daystar, from his burning throne,
Look'd o'er a thousand shores, untrodden, voiceless, lone.

XV.
The forests in their dark luxuriance waved,
With all their swell of strange Æolian sound;
The fearful deep, sole region ne'er enslaved,
Heaved, in its pomp of terror, darkly round.
Then, brooding o'er the images, imprest
By forms of grandeur thronging on his eye,
And faint traditions, guarded in his breast,
Midst dim remembrances of infancy,
Man shaped unearthly presences, in dreams,
Peopling each wilder haunt of mountains, groves, and streams.


XVI.
Then bled the victim—then in every shade
Of rock or turf arose the votive shrine;
Fear bow'd before the phantoms she portray'd,
And Nature teem'd with many a mystic sign.
Meteors, and storms, and thunders! ye whose course
E'en yet is awful to th' enlighten'd eye,
As, wildly rushing from your secret source,
Your sounding chariot sweeps the realms on high,
Then o'er the earth prophetic gloom ye cast,
And the wide nations gazed, and trembled as ye pass'd.

XVII.
But you, ye stars! in distant glory burning.
Nurtured with flame, bright altars of the sky!
To whose far climes the spirit, vainly turning,
Would pierce the secrets of infinity—
To you the heart, bereft of other light,
Its first deep homage paid, on Eastern plains,
Where Day hath terrors, but majestic Night,
Calm in her pomp, magnificently reigns,
Cloudless and silent, circled with the race
Of some unnumber'd orbs, that light the depths of space.

XVIII.
Shine on! and brightly plead for erring thought,
Whose wing, unaided in its course, explored
The wide creation, and beholding nought
Like your eternal beauty, then adored
Its living splendours; deeming them inform'd
By natures temper'd with a holier fire—
Pure beings, with ethereal effluence warm'd,
Who to the source of spirit might aspire,
And mortal prayers benignantly convey
To some presiding Power, more awful far than they.

XIX.
Guides o'er the desert and the deep! to you
The seaman turn'd, rejoicing at the helm,
When from the regions of empyreal blue
Ye pour'd soft radiance o'er the ocean-realm;
To you the dweller of the plains address'd
Vain prayers, that call'd the clouds and dews your own;
To you the shepherd, on the mountain's crest,
Kindled the fires that far through midnight shone,
As earth would light up all her hills, to vie
With your immortal host, and image back the sky.

XX.
Hail to the queen of heaven! her silvery crown
Serenely wearing, o'er her high domain

She walks in brightness, looking cloudless down,
As if to smile on her terrestrial reign.
Earth should be hush'd in slumber—but the night
Calls forth her worshippers; the feast is spread,
On hoary Lebanon's umbrageous height
The shrine is raised, the rich libation shed
To her, whose beams illume those cedar-shades
Faintly as Nature's light the 'wilder'd soul pervades.

XXI.
But when thine orb, all earth's rich hues restoring,
Came forth, O sun! in majesty supreme,
Still, from thy pure exhaustless fountain, pouring
Beauty and life in each triumphant beam,
Through thine own East what joyous rites prevail'd!
What choral songs re-echo’d! while thy fire
Shone o'er its thousand altars, and exhaled
The precious incense of each odorous pyre,
Heap'd with the richest balms of spicy vales,
And aromatic woods that scent the Arabian gales.

XXII.
Yet not with Saba's fragrant wealth alone,
Balsam and myrrh, the votive pile was strew'd;
For the dark children of the burning zone
Drew frenzy from thy fervours, and bedew'd
With their own blood thy shrine; while that wild scene,
Haply with pitying eye, thine angel view'd,
And though with glory mantled, and severe
In his own fulness of beatitude,
Yet mourn'd for those whose spirits from thy ray
Caught not one transient spark of intellectual day.

XXIII.
But earth had deeper stains. Ethereal powers!
Benignant seraphs! wont to leave the skies,
And hold high converse, midst his native bowers,
With the once glorious son of Paradise,
Look'd ye from heaven in sadness? were your strains
Of choral praise suspended in dismay.
When the polluted shrine of Syria's plains
With clouds of incense dimm'd the blaze of day?
Or did ye veil indignantly your eyes.
While demons hail'd the pomp of human sacrifice?

XXIV.
And well the powers of evil might rejoice,
When rose from Tophet's vale the exulting cry,
And, deaf to Nature's supplicating voice,
The frantic mother bore her child to die!
Around her vainly clung his feeble hands
With sacred instinct: love hath lost its sway,
While ruthless zeal the sacrifice demands,
And the fires blaze, impatient for their prey.

Let not his shrieks reveal the dreadful tale!
Well may the drum's loud peal o'erpower an infant's wail!

XXV.
A voice of sorrow! not from thence it rose;
'Twas not the childless mother. Syrian maids,
Where with red wave the mountain streamlet flows,
Keep tearful vigil in their native shades.
With dirge and plaint the cedar-groves resound,
Each rock's deep echo for Adonis mourns:
Weep for the dead! Away! the lost is found—
To life and love the buried god returns!
Then wakes the timbrel—then the forests ring,
And shouts of frenzied joy are on each breeze's wing!

XXVI.
But fill'd with holier joy the Persian stood,
In silent reverence, on the mountain's brow,
At early dayspring, while the expanding flood
Of radiance burst around, above, below—
Bright, boundless as eternity: he gazed
Till his full soul, imbibing heaven, o'erflow'd
In worship of th' Invisible, and praised
In thee, O Sun! the symbol and abode
Of life, and power, and excellence—the throne
Where dwelt the Unapproach'd, resplendently alone.1[2]


XXVII.
What if his thoughts, with erring fondness, gave
Mysterious sanctity to things which wear
Th' Eternal's impress?—if the living wave,
The circling heavens, the free and boundless air—
If the pure founts of everlasting flame,
Deep in his country's hallow'd vales enshrined,
And the bright stars maintain'd a silent claim
To love and homage from his awestruck mind?
Still with his spirit dwelt a lofty dream
Of uncreated Power, far, far o'er these supreme.

XXVIII.

And with that faith was conquest He whose name
To Judah's harp of prophecy had rung—

He, of whose yet unborn and distant fame
The mighty voice of Inspiration sung,
He came, the victor Cyrus! As he pass'd,
Thrones to his footstep rock'd, and monarchs lay
Suppliant and clothed with dust; while nations cast
Their ancient idols down before his way,
Who in majestic march, from shore to shore,
The quenchless flame revered by Persia's children bore.

......

  1. Serab, mirage.
  2. 1At an earlier stage in the composition of this poem, the following stanza was here inserted:—

    "Nor rose the Maglan's hymn, sublimely swelling
        In full-toned homage to the source of flame.
    From fabric rear'd by man, the gorgeous dwelling
        Of such bright idol-forms as art could frame.
    He rear'd no temple, bade no walls contain
        The breath of incense or the voice of prayer;
    But made the boundless universe his fane.
        The rocks his altar-stone—adoring there
    The Being whose Omnipotence pervades
    All deserts and all depths, and hallows loneliest shades."