Among the Millet

by Archibald Lampman


 

EASTER EVE


 

Hear me, Brother, gently met;
Just a little, turn, not yet,
Thou shalt laugh, and soon forget:
    Now the midnight draweth near.
I have little more to tell;                                                   5
Soon with hallow stroke and knell,
Thou shalt count the palace bell,
    Calling that the hour is here.

Burdens black and strange to bear,
I must tell, and thou must share,                                  10
Listening with that stony stare,
    Even as many a man before.
Years have lightly come and gone
In their jocund unison,
But the tides of life roll on—                                        15
    They remember now no more.

Once upon a night of glee,
In an hour of revelry,
As I wandered restlessly,
    I beheld with burning eye,                                        20
How a pale procession rolled
Through a quarter quaint and old,
With its banners and its gold,
    And the crucifix went by.

Well I knew that body brave                                         25
That was pierced and hung to save,
But my flesh was now a grave
    For the soul that gnashed within.
He that they were bearing by,
With their banners white and high,                             30
He was pure, and foul was I,
    And his whiteness mocked my sin.

Ah, meseemed that even he,
Would not wait to look on me,
In my years and misery,                                               35
    Things that he alone could heal.
In mine eyes I felt the flame
Of a rage that naught could tame,
And I cried and cursed his name,
    Till my brain began to reel.                                      40

In a moment I was ’ware,
How that many watching there,
Fearfully with blanch and stare,
    Crossed themselves and shrank away;
Then upon my reeling mind,                                        45
Like a sharp blow from behind,
Fell the truth, and left me blind,
    Hopeless now and all astray.

O’er the city wandering wide,
Seeking but some place to hide,                                50
Where the sounds of mirth had died,
    Through the shaken night I stole;
From the ever-eddying stream
Of the crowds that did but seem
Like the processions in a dream                                55
    To my empty echoing soul.

Till I came at last alone
To a hidden street of stone,
Where the city’s monotone
    On the silence fell no more.                                     60
Then I saw how one in white
With a footstep mute and light,
Through the shadow of the night
    Like a spirit paced before.

And a sudden stillness came                                      65
Through my spirit and my frame,
And a spell without a name
    Held me in his mystic track.
Though his presence seemed so mild,
Yet he led me like a child,                                            70
With a yearning strange and wild,
    That I dared not turn me back.

Oh, I could not see his face,
Nor behold his utmost grace,
Yet I might not change my pace                                  75
    Fastened by a strange belief;
For his steps were sad and slow,
And his hands hung straight below,
And his head was bowed, as though
    Pressed by some immortal grief.                           80

So I followed, yet not I
Held alone that company:
Every silent passer-by
    Paled and turned and joined with me;
So we followed still and fleet,                                      85
While the city street by street,
Fell behind our rustling feet
    Like a deadened memory.

Where the sound of sin and riot
Broke upon the night’s dim quiet,                               90
And the solemn bells hung nigh it
    Echoed from their looming towers;
Where the mourners wept alway,
Watching for the morning grey;
Where the weary toiler lay,                                          95
    Husbanding the niggard hours;

By the gates where all night long
Guests in many a joyous throng,
With the sound of dance and song,
    Dreamed in golden palaces;                                100
Still he passed, and door by door
Opened with a pale outpour,
And the revel rose no more
    Hushed in deeper phantasies.

As we passed, the talk and stir                                105
Of the quiet wayfarer
And the noisy banqueter
    Died upon the midnight dim.
They that reeled in drunken glee
Shrank upon the trembling knee,                             110
And their jests died pallidly,
    As they rose and followed him.

From the street and from the hall,
From the flare of festival
None that saw him stayed, but all                            115
    Followed where his wonder would:
And our feet at first so few
Gathered as those white feet drew
    To a pallid multitude;

And the hushed and awful beat                               120
Of our pale unnumbered feet
Made a murmur strange and sweet,
    As we followed evermore.
Now the night was almost passed,
And the dawn was overcast,                                    125
When the stranger stayed at last
    At a great cathedral door.

Never word the stranger said,
But he slowly raised his head,
And the vast door openèd                                        130
    By an unseen hand withdrawn;
And in silence wave on wave,
Like an army from the grave,
Up the aisles and up the nave,
    All that spectral crowd rolled on.                          135

As I followed close behind,
Knowledge like an awful wind
Seemed to blow my naked mind
    Into darkness black and bare;
Yet with longing wild and dim,                                  140
And a terror vast and grim,
Nearer still I pressed to him,
    Till I almost touched his hair.

From the gloom so strange and eery,
From the organ low and dreary,                               145
Rose the wailing miserere,
    By mysterious voices sung;
And a dim light shone, none knew,
How it came, or whence it grew,
From the dusky roof and through                             150
    All the solemn spaces flung.

But the stranger still passed on,
Till he reached the alter stone,
And with body white and prone
    Sunk his forehead to the floor;                             155
And I saw in my despair,
Standing like a spirit there,
How his head was bruised and bare,
    And his hand were clenched before,

How his hair was fouled and knit                             160
With the blood that clotted it,
Where the prickled thorns had bit
    In his crownèd agony;
In his hands so wan and blue,
Leaning out, I saw the two                                        165
Marks of where the nails pierced through,
    Once on gloomy Calvary.

Then with trembling throat I owned
All my dark sin unatoned,
Telling it with lips that moaned,                                170
    And methought an echo came
From the bended crowd below,
Each one breathing faint and low,
Sins that none but he might know:
    "Master I did curse thy name."                             175

And I saw him slowly rise
With his sad unearthly eyes,
Meeting mine with meek surprise,
    And a voice came solemnly.
"Never more on mortal ground                                 180
For they soul shall rest be found,
But when bells at midnight sound
    Thou must rise and come with me."

Then my forehead smote the floor,
Swooning, and I knew no more,                               185
Till I heard the chancel door
    Open for the choristers:
But the stranger’s form was gone,
And the church was dim and lone:
Through the silence, one by one                              190
    Stole the early worshippers.

I an ageing now I know;
That was many years ago,
Yet or I shall rest below
    In the grave where none intrude,                          195
Night by night I roam the street,
And that awful form I meet,
And I follow pale and fleet,
    With a ghostly multitude.

Every night I see his face,                                         200
With its sad and burdened grace,
And the torn and bloody trace,
    That in hands and feet he has.
Once my life was dark and bad;
Now its days are strange and sad,                          205
And the people call me mad:
    See, they whisper as they pass.

Even now the echoes roll
From the swinging bells that toll;
It is midnight, now my soul                                        210
    Hasten, for he glideth by.
Stranger, ’tis no phantasie:
Look! my master waits for me
Mutely, but thou canst not see
    With the mortal blinded eye.                                 215