Poems by Robert Hugh Benson




I cannot soar and sing my Lord and love;
    No eagle's wings have I,
No power to rise and greet my King above,
    No heart to fly.
Creative Lord Incarnate, let me lean
    My heavy self on Thee;
Nor let my utter weakness come between
    Thy strength and me.

I cannot trace Thy Providence and plan,
    Nor dimly comprehend
What in Thyself Thou art, and what is man,
    And what the end.
Here in this wilderness I cannot find
    The path the Wise Men trod;
Grant me to rest on Thee, Incarnate Mind
    And Word of God.

I cannot love, my heart is turned within
    And locked within; (Ah me!
How shivering in self-love I sit) for sin
    Has lost the key.
Ah! Sacred Heart of Jesus, Flame divine,
    Ardent with great desire,
My hope is set upon that love of Thine,
    Deep Well of Fire.

I cannot live alone another hour.
    Jesu, be Thou my Life!
I have not Power to strive; be Thou my Power
    In every strife!
I can do nothing -- hope, nor love, nor fear,
    But only fail and fall.
Be Thou my soul and self, O Jesu dear,
    My God and all!


Lie still, my soul, the Sun of Grace
Is warm within this garden space
    Beneath tall kindly trees.
The quiet light is green and fair;
A fragrance fills the swooning air;
    Lie still, and take thine ease.

This silent noon of Jesu's love
Is warm about thee and above --
    A tender Lord is He.
Lie still an hour -- this place is His.
He has a thousand pleasaunces,
And each all fair and fragrant is,
    And each is all for thee.

Then, Jesu, for a little space
I rest me in this garden place,
    All sweet to scent and sight.
Here, from this high-road scarce withdrawn,
I thrust my hot hands in the lawn
Cool yet with dew of far-off dawn
    And saturate with light.

But ah, dear Saviour, human-wise,
I yearn to pierce all mysteries,
To catch Thine Hands, and see Thine Eyes
    When evening sounds begin.
There, in Thy white Robe, Thou wilt wait
At dusk beside some orchard gate,
And smile to see me come so late,
    And, smiling, call me in.



I waited for the Lord a little space.
    So little! in whose sight as yesterday
Passes a thousand years: -- I cried for grace,
        Impatient of delay.


He waited for me -- ah so long! For He
    Sees in one single day a loss or gain
That bears a fruit through all eternity: --
        My soul, did He complain?



Thou who hast made these hearts to answer Thine, --
  Infused Thy virtues, faith, hope, charity,
  Mirror'd Thine image here that all may see,
If such be earthly, what must be divine;
Thou who hast taught by riddle, type, and sign,
  The weakness of our immaturity
  The measure of Thy strength one day to be,
By precept upon precept, line on line; --

Lord, take these sighs and longings, hopes and fears,
  The throb of love, the pulse of penitence,
  The praise of all Thy love has done -- shall do --
And teach us, -- as Thy fuller light appears
  And brightens at the gates of earthly sense, --
Who love Thy grace, to love Thy glory too.



Who hast made this world so wondrous fair; --
  The pomp of clouds; the glory of the sea;
  Music of water; song-birds' melody;
The organ of Thy thunder in the air;
Breath of the rose; and beauty everywhere --
  Lord, take this stately service done to Thee,
  The grave enactment of Thy Calvary
In jewelled pomp and splendour pictured there!

Lord, take the sounds and sights; the silk and gold;
  The white and scarlet; take the reverent grace
  Of ordered step; window and glowing wall --
Prophet and Prelate, holy men of old;
  And teach us children of the Holy Place
Who love Thy Courts, to love Thee best of all.


Libera me a terrore nocturno a negotio
Perambulante in tenebris . . . custodi
animam meam O Domine visitans me
visitatione sanctorum revela mihi animum
in visionibus noctis

Ere yet I slept, the summer night
  Lay vague and mellow in the gloom
Beyond the steady candlelight.
  The moth came tapping on the pane,
    Intent on doom.
Then sank into the night again.

Then, as I lie, the darkened walls
  Grow dim; the sheets are turned to air,
As fold on fold the slumber falls.
  The ticking clock grows dumb with sleep
    And everywhere
About the soul slow pauses creep.

The sense contracts from form and space --
  Shrinks to a speck within the brain --
Then opens on a wider place
  That knows no law, no harmony;
    Till once again
A newer world is born for me.

My spirit moves in dark dismay
  About a house of misty halls:
I hear the shuddering branches sway
  At gable-corners; on the floor
    And on the walls
The firelight glimmers through the door.

I sit and talk beside the bed,
  Grasp hands, and meet the living eyes,
Of one whom I had fancied dead
  Some ten years back "How strange," I say
    In glad surprise,
"That we should meet again to-day!"

He smiles for answer sudden then
  I understand the mystery
Of dying, for the sons of men
  And wonder where the sadness lay
    To see him die
Last year -- or was it yesterday?

All passes; -- down long corridors,
  That lead about this wilderness,
Fall footsteps tramping on the floors,
  That come from nowhere and are gone
    Yet none the less
I run in panting terror on.

Here is a lawn with beds and grass;
  The birds sing shrilly in the air,
While multitudes pass and re-pass,
  Who fill me with unknown distress,
    That holds me there
To mark their swift unweariedness.

And so with eyes that ache to close,
  And feet that fly and flag in turn,
About, about, my spirit goes.
  In wondrous wise from deep to deep,
    Before me burn
The crumbling pageantries of sleep.

O Lord of Light, who gav'st me breath,
  And set'st my spirit ill at ease
Within the body of this death,
  What means this dreaming rush and rout --
    These phantasies
Born from within and seen without?

Since ghost and devil, foe and friend
  Throng -- shadows on this shadow-stage --
Move from no source and seek no end --
  Since all the passions born of fear
    Terror and rage,
As in a looking-glass appear;

Why com'st Thou not Thyself, O Lord,
  To still the tossing of the brain,
And calm with one imperious word
  This storm of fancy under Thee,
    And yet again
Bid peace, as once in Galilee?

Come, Lord; and if through toilsome days
  I pray in dumb perplexity,
And strive to lift my wearied praise, --
  Yet let me rest when night is deep,
    And look on Thee
The Lord of waking and of sleep.




Plead Thou my cause, else who will plead for me,
  My Kingly Advocate before the Throne?
  Trembling I stand; guilty, ashamed, alone,
Girt only by my own iniquity,
Cried down by sins that fain would silence Thee,
  Some coming after, some to judgment gone.
  What I have done, what I have left undone,
Beckon me out to deathless misery.

The Court is set, and will not let me go;
  The heavy books are black with blotted shame.
    I cannot answer; none can plead but Thou.
I knew not what I did in sinning so;
  Hell hungers for me; see, the worm, the flame
    Nought but Love's eloquence can save me now.




Plead Thou my cause; yet let me bear the pain,
  Lord, Who hast done so much to ransom me,
  Now that I know how I have wounded Thee,
And crucified Thee, Prince of Life, again.
Yea, let me suffer; Thou wilt not disdain
  To let me hang beside Thee on the Tree
  And taste Thy bitter Cup of agony.
Let it not be that Thou hast died in vain.

Ah, awful Face of Love, bruised by my hand,
  Turn to me, pierce me with Thine eyes of flame,
    And give, me deeper knowledge of my sin.
So let me grieve and, when I understand
  How great my guilt, my ruin, and my shame,
    Open Thy Sacred Heart and let me in!


Lord take Thine ease within my heart,
  Rest here and count Thyself at home
Do as Thou wilt; rise, set, depart;
My Master, not my guest, Thou art
  Come as Thou wilt, but come, Lord, come.

Do Thine own pleasure. Surely, Lord,
  Thou art full free to come and go,
To lift my sorrow by a word,
Or pierce me with a sudden sword,
  And leave me sobbing in my woe.

Come in broad day, for good or ill,
  In time of business or of prayer;
Come in disguise, if so Thy Will
Be better served, that I may still
  Wait on my Lord, though unaware.

Come with the dawn, shine in on me
  And wake my soul with welcome light;
Or let the twilight herald Thee,
And falling dusk Thy shelter be
  To shroud Thy coming from my sight.

Come by the way beneath the trees
  Where whispering heath and bracken stir
There, where my spirit takes her ease,
Let that pure scented evening breeze
  Waft me the aloes and the myrrh.

Come, tender Lover, still and bright;
  Rose crowned and framed in gracious form
Or come with terror, and by night,
Thundrous and girt with vivid light,
  A giant striding with the storm.

Come through the Cloister, past the lawn
  And laurels where the thin jet plays
Where, from the wrangling world withdrawn,
Waking to silence dawn by dawn,
  My soul comes forth to studious days.

Come through the carven door, and bring
  A burst of Music through to me;
One chord of organ-thundering
And measured song of those that sing,
  Dear Saviour, to the praise of Thee.

Or come by some forgotten way
  Untrodden long and overgrown;
And on a sudden on a day
Burst in; snap web and ivy spray
  That claim the entrance for their own.

So many doors, and all divine,
  And every latch is loose to Thee;
So many paths, and all are Thine
That bring Thee to this heart of mine,
  And all are therefore dear to me!


She moves in tumult; round her lies
  The silence of the world of grace;
The twilight of our mysteries
  Shines like high noonday on her face
Our piteous guesses, dim with fears,
She touches, handles, sees, and hears.

In her all longings mix and meet;
  Dumb souls through her are eloquent;
She feels the world beneath her feet
  Thrill in a passionate intent
Through her our tides of feeling roll
And find their God within her soul.

Her faith the awful Face of God
  Brightens and blinds with utter light;
Her footsteps fall where late He trod
  She sinks in roaring voids of night
Cries to her Lord in black despair,
And knows, yet knows not, He is there.

A willing sacrifice she takes
  The burden of our fall within;
Holy she stands; while on her breaks
  The lightning of the wrath of sin
She drinks her Saviour's cup of pain,
And, one with Jesus, thirsts again.


O God, I love Thee mightily,
Not only for Thy saving me,
Nor yet because who love not Thee
Must burn throughout eternity.
Thou, Thou, my Jesu, once didst me
Embrace upon the bitter Tree.
For me the nails, the soldier's spear,
With injury and insult, bear --
In pain all pain exceeding,
In sweating and in bleeding,
Yea, very death, and that for me
    A sinner all unheeding!
O Jesu, should I not love Thee
Who thus hast dealt so lovingly --
Not hoping some reward to see,
Nor lest I my damnation be
But, as Thyself hast lovèd me,
So love I now and always Thee,
Because my King alone Thou art,
Because, O God, mine own Thou art!


Fecisti nos ad Te et inquietum est cor
nostrum donec requiescat in Te

The City wakes to fever once again,
  Breathes up her smoke, and restless lies below,
Thirsty for life and eager of her pain;
    See, as the sun goes down
    How all the slumbrous town
Tosses her craving fingers to and fro!

The sobbing child that breaks her heart at sin,
  The fool self-centred at his solemn play,
The saint that dies without, the knave within,
    Each adds a note, and dies;
    While all about them rise
The crashing discords of a world's dismay.

Come, lift thine eyes from out this dark unrest
  Beyond the bitter mist of tears and blood!
Above the vivid fury of the west,
    With radiance softly keen,
    Incredibly serene,
A star swims high above the phantom flood,

Till in an ordered glory, star by star,
  Leaps into life the wonder of the sky
And in dark vaults, immeasurably far,
    The splendour spreads and breaks,
    And all wide heaven awakes
And earth's disorders and her tumults die.

Come, lift thine eyes from that disordered heart --
  Pities and passions, half-born treacheries,
Follies and sudden prudence -- come apart
    And watch the dark unfold
    Her myriad gates of gold
Till all thy wailing into wonder dies

So to the soul that, weary of her pain,
  Looks for her Lord in uttermost despair,
He spreads a vision of Himself again; --
    Kindles her ancient creed,
    Lightens the dark indeed,
And writes Himself in glory everywhere.

Here throbs a heart that only lives for love,
  For warmth and colour, passion and desire,
Cries out for these alone: -- and, lo above,
    Opens a vision dim --
    Wide Arms that yearn for him,
Eyes full of longing and a Heart of fire.

Here dwells a subtle mind that seeks to trace
  In line on line a symmetry and plan,
To mark degrees of glory and of grace
    And, lo, all wisdom lies
    Within the tranquil Eyes
Of that Incarnate Word that dwelt with man.

Here lives a soul that kindles at a tale
  Of noble deeds and daring, fair to see,
For very love of fighting glad to fail; --
    And, lo, the hard-won throne
    Of Him that went alone
To win it, and a crown, on Calvary.

Lo, to the soul that looked for peace on earth,
  And lost her yearning with the barren years,
There dawns the Star that lit the Saviour's Birth --
    Broadens, until four-square,
    Gem-built and jewelled fair,
As once to John, the Peace of God appears.

Nay, but the veriest sinner in his sin
  Seeks but to clasp the life he knows is there,
Driv'n reckless by the power of God within
    Yet he may rise and gain
    Some harvest of his pain,
As Peter rose to pardon through despair.

Ah, God is good, Who writes His glory plain
  Above thee, and about thee at thy side, --
Bids thee look upward from that blinding pain,
    And, ere thy longing tires,
    Kindles His sudden fires.
Look, and let all thy soul be satisfied!


What hast thou learnt to-day?
Hast thou sounded awful mysteries,
Hast pierced the veilèd skies,
Climbed to the feet of God,
Trodden where saints have trod,
Fathomed the heights above?
This only have I learnt, that God is love.

What hast thou heard to-day?
Hast heard the Angel-trumpets cry,
And rippling harps reply;
Heard from the Throne of flame
Whence God incarnate came
Some thund'rous message roll?
This have I heard, His voice within my soul.

What hast thou felt to-day?
The pinions of the Angel-guide
That standeth at thy side
In rapturous ardours beat,
Glowing, from head to feet,
In ecstasy divine?
This only have I felt, Christ's hand in mine.


"Hail Mary!" Gabriel whispered, as he dropt --
  A shining herald of the Holy Three.
"Hail Mary!" and the dying world half-stopt
    His sick, sin-laden breath
    In nestling Nazareth;
And singing cherubim looked down to see.

"Hail Mary!" See, the trembling of the air;
  The Presence moves about her soft as fire;
For righteousness and peace have kissèd there.
    And suddenly the Shrine
    Is bright with light Divine,
The Hope of Israel and the world's Desire.

He whom we sought came suddenly, and round
  His Temple clean from every spot of sin;
And all the world seems consecrated ground;
    Her prayers, like incense, rise;
    And see, her very eyes
Shine like twin tapers as the Lord comes in.

Where the four mystic Eden-rivers rise --
  The Angel-guard, that stands above the vale
And keeps the gate of sunlit Paradise,
    Let fall his sword of flame
    And cried upon thy name,
"Hail Mary!" and the garden answered "Hail!"

Shouted the sons of God; the morning stars
  Sang once again, as when the Lord began
To build the hills with battlements and bars.
    Ah, what a cry there fell! --
The Lord of Angels and the Son of Man!

"Hail Mary!" For the world remembers yet
  The Maiden Mother and the Holy Son
Remembers! How can any child forget
    The hope of heaven and thee --
    Such stainless purity --
Sin conquered, and the reign of peace begun?

Remembers! Yea, if I remember not
  The joys of Nazareth and Bethlehem,
Yet can thy dolours never be forgot:
    Thy thorn-crowned Son and thee
    Set high on Calvary,
The whole world mourns for -- and remenbers them.

"Hail Mary!" When the ungenerous sons of men
  Grieve at thy glory, strip thee of thy praise,
The beasts and birds take up the song again
    With carol shrill and high
    Of Maying melody:
"Hail Mary, Mary Maiden, full of grace!"

O Mother, take this verse and pray for me,
  Now and at my last hour, lest that the cost
Of my redemption, and thy charity,
    Be wasted on thy Child,
    O Mary undefiled, --
Lest grace be vanquished and a sinner lost!


Father, within Thy House to-day
  We wait Thy kindly love to see;
Since thou hast said in truth that they
  Who dwell in love are one with Thee,
Bless these who for Thy blessing wait,
Their love accept and consecrate.

Dear Lord of love, whose Heart of Fire,
  So full of pity for our sin,
Was once in that Divine Desire
  Broken, Thy Bride to woo and win:
Look down and bless them from above
And keep their hearts alight with love.

Blest Spirit, who with life and light
  Didst quicken chaos to Thy praise,
Whose energy, in sin's despite,
  Still lifts our nature up to grace;
Bless those who here in troth consent.
Creator, crown Thy Sacrament.

Great One in Three, of Whom are named
  All families in earth and heaven,
Hear us, who have Thy promise claimed,
  And let a wealth of grace be given
Grant them in life and death to be
Each knit to each, and both to Thee.


Death! It is death, dear death, whom I sought so long
    On the rack, on the stairs, in the cell,
Death that I feared, half-feared, when my brain was strong,
        And my heart was well.
Now I am sickened of life, if life be this,
    Death comes as dear as a bride
Dying is rest from the flesh, and dying is bliss
        With Thee at my side.

"Faint heart, poor soul," do they say, "to recant at a pain,
    To repent at the turn of a screw!"
Ah, I ask pardon of God again and again,
        And pardon from you!
Can the brain balance and weigh when the sinews are rent,
    Is there room but for agony there?
What if the lips have lied, did the heart consent
        In that night of despair?
Slow rocked the rafters above as I blinked in my pain
    With the tears and the sweat in my eyes
Torn was my heart on the rack, and entangled my brain;
        Is there cause for surprise?

Visions! What visions? I know not, but leave them to Him
    Who allowed me to dream of a day
When a world that is weary with sorrow, whose longings are dim
        And dumb with delay,
Shall look to this city and cry for that secret of hers
    That should shine in her eyes, on her lips.
Nay, but I dreamed of too much! the wisest man errs,
        The surest foot slips.
Yet is it wonder I dreamed that the King of the sky
    Should be King of the earth that He trod?
Nay, He was King for a moment in Florence, and I
        Gave glory to God.

Yea, is it wonder I dreamed that the Saviour could save,
    As I saw in the twilight below
God's light a-glimmer on faces in transept and nave?
        Who could know, who could know
Soon -- ah so soon -- that the glimmer would change to a glare
    And the stillness to noisy contempt --
Nave where they listened would yield to the bellowing square,
        And the dream that I dreamt
Fade in this bitter awakening? Bitter the ban
    Of the Church that I love. Yet I cry
Mercy of God: for the mercies or curses of man
        Shall be nought by and by.
Naked I came from Him, naked return I again
    To my God through a fiery door;
Back, earth to earth, go I through a portal of pain.
        Can friar do more?


Almost a very god thou wert to me;
  Haloed with brilliant virtues; every grace
  Lived in thy look and shone about thy face:
I bowed beneath thee, loved, feared, worshipped thee.
Then in my folly and my jealousy
  I let my critic thoughts prevail apace,
  Which entered, swarming, tore thee from thy place,
And dashed thee down in wrath and enmity.

So some ungallant priest in other days
  Bade Cromwell's troopers to the House of God,
    And marked Our Lady totter from the height;
And when the shame was finished, in amaze
  Looked piteously, and, kneeling where they trod,
    Fell all a-weeping at the sorry sight.


Laud, O Sion, thy Salvation,
Laud in songs of exultation
  This thy Shepherd and thy King:
All thy might in triumph raising
Praise Him who surpasses praising,
  Far beyond thine honouring.

Be our theme of high thanksgiving
Living Bread and source of living
  Set to-day before us here
Broken at that Supper blessed,
As by every mouth confessed,
  For the brethren gathered there.

Laud be lifted, sweet and sounding,
Ringing from an heart abounding,
  Rising into jubilee
Laud in duteous celebration
Of this Table's consecration
  For such high solemnity.

Lo, the King His Law revises;
Newer truth from elder rises,
  Newer Law and Paschal rite.
Ancient truths their room surrender,
Glows the twilight into splendour,
  Darkness vanishes in light.

That He wrought at supper lying
In remembrance of His dying
  Christ hath bid His Church renew;
We the ordinance obeying,
Earthly bread and wine displaying,
  Consecrate the Victim due.

Now the sacred truth receiving
We, the Bread His Flesh believing
  And the Wine His Blood to be,
What tho' eye and mind be failing,
Nature's order countervailing
  Grasp by faith the mystery.

Under diverse kinds concealed
While to sense yet unrevealed
  Lies a wonder all-divine
Flesh and Blood hath each its token
Yet abides their Christ unbroken
  Hidden under either sign.

Perfect to the priest who breaks it,
Perfect in the hand that takes it,
  Christ is undivided there,
One or thousands may receive Him
Yet true hearts in truth believe Him
  Unconsumed everywhere.

Good and bad alike partaking
Each, by diverse lot, is making
  One to woe and one to weal,
Each from each is set asunder:
Mark the word of grace and wonder --
  One to hurt and one to heal.

Thus the Lord His Presence hiding
Dwells in many parts abiding, --
Every soul in Him confiding
  Doubts not that the Whole is there.
He the One remaineth ever
Under every part: for never
Aught can Christ from Christ dissever,
  Still abiding everywhere.


Now God forbid that Faith be blind assent,
  Grasping what others know; else Faith were nought
But learning, as of some far continent
        Which others sought,
And carried thence, better the tale to teach,
Pebbles and shells, poor fragments of the beach.

Now God forbid that Faith be built on dates,
  Cursive or uncial letters, scribe or gloss,
What one conjectures, proves, or demonstrates:
        This were the loss
Of all to which God bids that man aspire,
This were the death of life, quenching of fire.

Nay, but with Faith I see. Not even Hope,
  Her glorious sister, stands so high as she.
For this but stands expectant on the slope
        That leads where He
Her source and consummation sets His seat,
Where Faith dwells always to caress His Feet.

Nay, but with Faith I saw my Lord and God
  Walk in the fragrant garden yesterday.
Ah! how the thrushes sang; and, where He trod
        Like spikenard lay
Jewels of dew, fresh-fallen from the sky,
While all the lawn rang round with melody.

Nay, but with Faith I marked my Saviour go,
  One August noonday, down the stifling street
That reeked with filth and man; marked from Him flow
        Radiance so sweet,
The man ceased cursing, laughter lit the child,
The woman hoped again, as Jesus smiled.

Nay, but with Faith I sought my Lord last night,
  And found Him shining where the lamp was dim;
The shadowy altar glimmered, height on height,
        A throne for Him:
Seen as through lattice work His gracious Face
Looked forth on me and filled the dark with grace.

Nay then, if proof and tortured argument
  Content thee -- teach thee that the Lord is there,
Or risen again; I pray thee be content,
        But leave me here
With eye unsealed by any proof of thine,
With eye unsealed to know the Lord is mine.

Prove if thou wilt, my friend, that Paul is Paul
  And Peter Peter: talk till crack of doom;
Marshal thy facts ; yes, yes, l know them all;
        And, spite of gloom,
Of all the dust and science raised by thee,
I saw my Lord was there Who smiled on me.

Thou dost believe that, ah, so long ago
  He lived, wrought marvels, and was crucified,
Because that Holy Matthew tells thee so?
        I, on my side,
Know Him as Love; and Love could not pass by
And leave men sinning -- therefore Love must die.

Thou dost believe, because He rose again,
  That Christ is very God? Yet I believe
He rose because I see Him walk with men,
        Sinners receive,
Loose stammering tongues, open the blindest eyes.
And none but God doth so; and God must rise.

"Nay, but I serve Him," is thy claim, "for yet
  The faith of some rests all on evidence.
Men will remember me, while they forget
        Thine eloquence,
And set it by for solid argument;
Let me serve such, and I am well content."

Each to his own: yet surely I have read
  How of two sisters (each to Him was dear),
One listened but to what the Saviour said, --
        Thought to be near
The Lord Himself were best: -- the other ran
Laid plates, clashed dishes, filled and set the can;

And all to serve Him. Yet the Lord preferred
  A quiet face, and that turned up to read
The reason of His silence or His word;
        And said indeed
Somewhat, I fancy, of a better part
Near to His Feet, but nearer to His Heart.

Choose thou, then, Martha, if thou wilt; perchance
  The joy of serving is enough for thee.
Let me choose Mary; yea, love's arrogance
        Is all for me:
Nay, more than Mary -- let me seek His side
And sit by Him in penitential pride.


Lord, hast thou set me here
        Thy priest to be,
The burden of Thy yoke to bear,
To feel thy cords about me set,
Wince at the lash, but never yet
        Thy Face to see?

Lord, see what wounds on me
        Thy burden makes
Dost Thou despise my misery?
Ah, Master! wilt Thou let me strain,
And fall and rise and fall again,
        Till my heart breaks?

Lord, I am near to die,
        So steep the hill,
So slow the wheels, so feeble I,
The halting place so far above.
Art Thou indeed a God of Love,
        And tender still?

"Son, turn a moment, see
        Is that blood thine?
Who is it shares thy yoke with thee,
Treads foot by foot with thee the road?
Whose shoulder bears the heavier load, --
        Is it not Mine?"


See, how the sombre cassocks come and go,
  About the sunny garden, in and out!
God reigns in highest heaven -- while here below
        We grope and rout;
And, like our foolish fathers down the ages,
Look for divinity in printed pages.

"Look at that priest, how slow he walks, how slow!
  You would not think he ran a race with Death;
Why does he loiter here? Rise, rise and go,
        Draw swifter breath!
Go! let your pulses leap with love and laughter;
Live now! and let God settle what comes after!

"Mark that man -- how he moves with nervous speed;
  His blood is beating hot in heart and brain
Ah, cast away that cold and cruel creed!
        Go back again
Tear off that black; and leap and ride and run,
And live like Adam in the wind and sun!

"What, does God love to see his creatures pine,
  Crouching and cringing -- weaklings half-afraid?
God, who has made the oil, the wheat, the vine,
        Bright sun, cool shade,
God, who has fashioned youth, clean limbs, red blood.
What, said He not that all is very good?"

So spoke the Devil in me, as I sat
  To watch the brethren passing to and fro.
So he had whispered, till I fancied that
        Myself said so
That it was I that chafed and longed to flee
And taste, with God's consent, such liberty.

Then dropt a sudden sickness on my heart,
  That shook it, as an ague shakes a limb.
I marked a lean priest as he walked apart,
        And feared for him:
So once men trembled when they saw on high
Hung on a Cross a God in agony.

Ah! not with wealth and wine and gaiety
  Did God bring back His wayward human race.
There was no beauty there for us to see
        In that marred Face,
When God Incarnate passed from Pilate's hall,
Bearing the heavy Cross to save us all.

No gracious woman leaned and laughed; no child
  Clapped gladsome hands to speed Him to that Hill;
Only the piteous Mother undefiled
        Stared white and still
On Him Who knew her pains and pitied them,
With all the daughters of Jerusalem.

Thus Adam's sin, that ruined Adam's seed,
  And shut the gate that leads to Paradise,
Was ransomed by that bitter price decreed --
        Christ's Sacrifice --
When Satan sickened, and the old world died
Beneath the sad eyes of the Crucified.

The Crucified! And thus His servant spoke:
  "Whereby the world is crucified to me,
And I unto the world." The darkness broke,
        And, fair to see,
The garden shone -- the priests went to and fro.
God has gone up, but left His Cross below.


There went a merry company
    On the road to Bethlehem,
Going all to taxed be
By the governour's decree
    On the road to Bethlehem --
Would I had been there to see.
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

Coldly blew the wind and snow
    On the road to Bethlehem.
Two there were that walkèd slow,
All that day so long ago,
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Would I had been there also.
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

One, a maid of high degree,
    On the road to Bethlehem,
Walking, walking wearily; --
"Joseph -- Joseph, wait for me
    On the road to Bethlehem!"
Would I had been there to see.
Would I had been then to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

Thus they came the town within,
    To the town of Bethlehem
Sought they straight the public inn,
So they might a shelter win
    In the town of Bethlehem;
See them tirling at the pin.
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

"Get you gone -- the night is late
    In the town of Bethlehem."
Hear them chapping at the gate,
Richer folk both small and great,
    In the town of Bethlehem
When they knock the poor must wait.
Would I had seen there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

Sought they straight the stable door
    In the town of Bethlehem.
Mary dropped upon the floor;
Wearied was she -- wearied sore
    In the town of Bethlehem.
"Joseph dear -- I can no more."
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

"Cheer thee, cheer thee, Mary Maid,
    In the town of Bethlehem --
See the straw is smoothly laid."
Poor folks' wages, poorly paid,
    In the town of Bethlehem!
Would I had been there to aid.
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

What a lodging, cold and bare,
    In the town of Bethlehem.
Bring me wrappings fine and fair,
Silk and satin rich and rare,
    In the town of Bethlehem --
Lay our Lady softly there!
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

Nay, no silk or satin bright
    In the town of Bethlehem
Think ye on this wondrous sight
Soon to see: The Lord of Light
    In the town of Bethlehem
Comes in lowliness to-night.
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

Ox and ass with patient pace,
    In the town of Bethlehem,
Mark the Maiden full of grace
Lying by the manger-place
    In the town of Bethlehem --
Lying in such sorry case.
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

Ere the night had passed to morn,
    In the town of Bethlehem,
Rose the Sun on us forlorn
In the manger old and worn,
    In the town of Bethlehem,
Jesus Christ our Lord was born.
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

Eastern Kings are on their way
    To the town of Bethlehem;
Shepherds run ere break of day
At His Feet their vows to pay
    In the town of Bethlehem,
Where a God Incarnate lay.
Would I had been there to see
    On the road to Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!

Christian souls, with one accord
    Come to Holy Bethlehem
Meet Him at His Holy Board
Praise the Saviour, praise the Lord, --
    In the town of Bethlehem
Who on us His glory poured!
Would I had been there to see
    In the town of Bethlehem;
Mary, Joseph, pray for me!


Hail, true Body born of Mary,
  Which for man was crucified;
Lo, the mingled blood and water,
  Flowing from the pierced Side!

Lord of Life Who once did'st suffer,
  When we draw our latest breath,
Be to us our Food and succour
  In the awful hour of death!

<< Poems by Robert Hugh Benson >>