Once in an abbey-church, the while we prayed,
All silent at the lifting of the Host,
A little bird through some high window strayed,
And to and fro
Like a wee angel lost
That on a sudden finds its heaven below,
It went the morning long
And made our Eucharist more glad with song.
It sang, it sang! And as the quiet priest
Far off about the lighted altar moved,
The awful substance of the mystic feast
All hushed before
It like a thing that loved,
Yet loved in liberty, would plunge and soar
Beneath the vault in play
And thence toss down the oblation of its lay.
The walls that went our sanctuary around
Did as of old, to that sweet summons yield.
New scents and sounds within our gates were found,
The cry of kine,
The fragrance of the field,
All woodland whispers, hastened to the shrine,
The country side was come
Eager and joyful, to its spirit’s home.
Far stretched I saw the cornfield and the plough,
The scudding cloud, the cleanly running brook,
The humble kindly turf, the tossing bough,
That all their light
From Love’s own furnace took,
This altar, where one angel brownly bright
Proclaimed the sylvan creed,
And sang the Benedictus of the mead.
All earth was lifted to communion then,
All lovely life was there to meet its King;
Ah, not the little arid souls of men
But sun and wind
And all desirous thing
The ground of their beseeching here did find;
All with one self same bread,
And all by one eternal priest were fed.
At twilight, when I lean the gunwale o’er
And watch the water turning from the bow,
I sometimes think the best is here and now—
The voyage all, and naught the hidden shore.
Is there no help? And must we make the land?
Shall every sailing in some haven cease?
And must the chain rush out, the anchor strike the sand,
And is there from its fetters no release?
And shall the steersman’s voice say, “Nevermore
The ravening gale, the soft and sullen fog,
No more the cunning shoal, the changeful ebb and flow.
Put up the charts, and take the lead below,
And close the vessel’s log?
Adventure is a seaman’s life, the port
Calls but the weary, and the tempest driven:
Perhaps its safety were too dearly bought
If that for this our freedom must be given.
For lo! Our Steersman is forever young
And with must gladness sails beneath the stars;
Our ship is old, yet still her sails are hung
Like eager wings upon the steady spars.
Then tell me not of havens for the soul
Where tides can never come, nor storms molest,
My sailing spirit seeks no sheltered goal,
Naught is more sad than safety—life is best
When every day brings danger for delight,
And each new solemn night
Engulfs our whitening wake within the whole.
Beyond the bent horizon oceans are
Where every star
Lies like an isle upon Eternity.
There would I be
Given to his rushing wind,
No prudent course to find
For some snug corner of Infinity;
But evermore to sail
Close reefed before the gale,
And see the steep
Great Billow of his love, with threatening foam
Come roaring home
And lift my counter in its mighty sweep.