The Soul's Quest and Other Poems

by Frederick George Scott


 

JUSTIN



DEDICATION

 

O POOR, sad hearts that struggle on and wait,
    Like shipwrecked sailors on a spar at sea,
Through deepening glooms, if haply, soon or late,
    Some day-dawn glimmer of what is to be,
Not knowing Christ, nor gladdened by His Love
5
    And Life indwelling—to you I dedicate
These humble musings, praying that from above,
    On you, being faithful found, the light may shine
    Of Life incarnate and of Love divine.
Take, then, these thoughts, in loving memory
10
Of those dead hearts that brought it first to me.

 

DOWN by the sea, in infinite solitude
And wrapt in darkness, save when gleams of light
Broke from the moon aslant the hurrying clouds
That fled the wind, lay Justin, worn with grief,
And heart-sick with vain searching after God.

15
He heeded not the cold white foam that crept
In silence round his feet, nor the tall sedge
That sighed like lonely forest round his head;
His heart was weary of this weight of being,
Weary of all the mystery of life,
20
Weary of all the littleness of men,
And the dark riddle that he could not solve—
Why men should be, why pain and sin and death,
And where were hid the lineaments of God.
No voice was near. Behind, a lofty cape,
25
Whose iron face was scarred by many a storm,
Loomed threatening in the dark, and cleft the main,
And laid its giant hand upon the deep.
One grizzled oak tree crowned it, and the surf
Broke ever at its base, with ceaseless voice
30
Powerless to mar its silent majesty.
Sweet was the loneliness to Justin, sweet
Perturbèd nature, as in harmony
With the dark thoughts that beat upon his soul.
Nor speechless long he lay. The tide of grief,
35
O’erflowing the narrow limits of the mind,
Broke from him, and in burning word he cried:
“O God, if God there be in this foul chase!
O Fate, if Fate it be that drives us thus!
O Chance, if it be Thou that mouldeth all!
40
Stern Power, whate’er Thy name, that sit’st sublime
Above creation, throned creation’s Lord,
With feet upon the spheres, whose flaming arms
Scatter new worlds form age to age, to roll
Thro’ the dim cycles of all time, to bloom
45
Into warm life—what iron law impels,
Or wanton cruelty in the eternal deep
Of mind supreme, Thee to send sin and death
To prey thus on the creatures of Thine hands,
Until the while skulls crumble back to earth
50
From whence they sprung? O Chance! O Fate! O God!
My soul is broken with the clang of worlds;
The universe is discord all to me,
I see dark planets roll o’er human graves;
I feel them quivering with the cries of souls.
55
I know no more. O Power, whose face is veiled
From man in Thine own greatness,—Thou, whom I
Thro’ weary years have sought, but sought in vain,
In every shadow upon every hill,
In the sweet features of a child, or on
60
The illimitable sea, in heat, in cold,
And in the rain that clothes the earth with buds,
And in the breath of things invisible,
Till, worn and helpless, now I long for death,—
Let me before I die hear some still voice
65
(If such indeed there be), some undertone
That, flowing from eternity thro’ all
The jarring voices that now rend the soul,
Shall blend them into one long harmony:
So let me hearing die, and dying rest.”
70

He ceased, and, sweet as after day of storm
Flows the still sea at even—the winds and waves
Asleep in purple mists—a silence crept
Over the worlds and flooded Justin’s soul;
And in the silence Justin heard a voice,
75
And the warm throbbing of a human heart.
And thro’ the darkness moved the form of Christ,
White-robed, with crown of thorns and those sad eyes
That saw His Mother weep beside the cross.
Then form innumerable throats uprose
80
One glorious music, one great hymn of praise
From all creation, th’ universal sounds
Of tireless nature,—thunders of the sea
On clouded crags where arctic winds at night
Tear at its foaming lips, a land of ice
85
And spectral suns; the deep-toned mountains, too,
All shadow-clad in forests, send their voice
From caverns subterranean, where the newts
And blind-worms fear no day; the lion’s roar
On viewless waste; the thundering cataract,
90
And huge leviathan. Nor only these,
But from the laughing groves and vine-clad hills
And valleys come sweet sounds—the notes of birds,
The hum of insects, when the meridian sun
Drives the glad reapers to their noonday meal,
95
By leaf-arched brook; and lowings from the fold,
In cooler evening, when the maidens ply
Their daily task; the children’s innocent mirth,
And angels’ songs, cloud-wafted from the deep
Of heaven’s blue; and, fainter still, the sounds
100
Of far-off worlds and the orbed universe.
But that which ran thro’ all, and linked them all
In one long harmony—that undertone
Which made them music—was the voice of Christ
And the soft beating of His human heart.
105
A calm light stole on Justin, and a peace,
Unknown before, unutterable, deep
Within the spirit’s depths—a new-born sense
As if his heart had eyes, and every eye
Saw God thro’ all in His own loveliness.
110
The vision passed, and slowly Justin rose,
Unwilling quickly to disturb the peace
Which his strange dream had poured into his soul,
And the last accents of the voice that yet
Throbbed in his heart and kindled all his love.
115
There was a stillness and a hush o’er nature,
The sweet expectancy of early dawn
That waits its king; the wind had fall’n, the sea
And shore spoke but in whispers; only birds
Felt not the universal awe, but from their nests,
120
Dew-sprinkled, woke with songs the sleeping woods,
Through which, a faded beauty, peered the moon.
Then, turning, Justin suddenly beheld
A man of years, with long dark robes and hair
Whiter than sea-foam in the moonlight seen,
125
Strewn on black rocks, who, seeing Justin rise,
Moved nearer to him, saying, “O my son!
For son thou art in this new faith whereto
I call thee, seeing thou wilt be born again
By water and the washing of thy soul
130
Form its vain creeds, me hath the Father sent
(In His great mercy loving thee and all)
To be a witness to thee of thy dream,
To solve the mysteries thou couldst not solve
By thine own searching, and to lead thee now
135
To that dear Voice thou heard’st, and lay thine head
Upon the Heart that filled thy soul with peace.”

So by the sea, among the frowning rocks,
They sat in converse, while the aged priest
Led Justin’s spirit onward thro’ the gloom

140
Of vain philosophies, as one who guides
An alpine traveller up some dizzy height,
Where opening views expand at every step
Thro’ lessening mist, till Justin gazed at last
Upon a manger rude, and, sleeping, lain therein,
145
He saw the features of the Son of God.
“My Father,” then cried Justin, “now my heart
Reads the bright message of my dream. I see
How vain and futile all philosophies,
But this the last which burns into my soul
150
With fire of love so wondrous; yet I see
How even they, with weak and tremulous hand,
Point toward the Christ and lead men up to Him.
I now descry His footsteps in dead years,
He guiding me unconscious, knowing Him not.
155
When first my limbs, full-grown in sinewy youth,
Felt the strong life within, my spirit glad
Moved like broad day enshrined in cloudless skies;
No care I knew, no sorrow grieved my heart,
But all was joy—a throbbing, flowing joy.
160
I wandered thro’ the forests and the wilds,
On mountain height, above the birth of storms;
I heard unmoved the thunder at my feet,
And tottering crags that filled abysmal depths
With shattered pinnacles, and voices dread
165
That made earth tremble to its central fire;
I heard the lion’s roar, but felt no fear:
The many-fingered forests clapped their hands,
They breathed my life, the lions were free as I,—
I felt all nature and myself were one;
170
Birds, beasts, and insects, breathing flowers and trees,
And charmèd life linked us in brotherhood.
I watched the rising sun from day to day
Surprise the world with glories ever new.
No clouds obscured; the rosy hands of dawn
175
But lifted us to realms of joyousness
And deepening light. No thought of setting day
Saddened my heart, and in the silent eve
I saw the new sun, like a golden seed,
Hid in the crimson bosom of the old,
180
Full of fresh life and hope and songs of birds,
To wake the morn. The fish and I were friends;
Their silvery shinings could no swifter pierce
The lucid depths and shallows than could I;
They were my brothers, too, for thy had life,
185
And life meant joy, and joy was brotherhood.
My comrades laughed, and called me, ‘ocean’s king,’
‘Neptune, the ocean’s king.’ ‘Not so,’ said I;
‘Call me not king, but rather friend of all!’
Thus passed the years, till one day in a wood,
190
As I lay dreaming by a moss-edged pool,
Whose twinkling eyes were laughing at the trees
That laughed in golden glories overhead,
While burnished beetles, green and amber-hued,
Skimmed o’er its waves, I heard a strange wild note,
195
Above the notes of birds, so beautiful,
It thrilled my soul, and made my pulses glow
With warmer life. The leaves were pushed aside,
And, stepping thro’ the shadows, came a youth,
God-like in motion, tall and supple-limbed,
200
Drenched with the dappled sunlight, and begirt
With skin of leopard clasped about the waist
With silver. Pendant from his neck there hung
A shell, such as Apollo found at dawn,
Sea-voiced and singing to the plaintive wind,
205
Careless who heard. This, when he held and struck
With skilful hand, gave forth divinest sounds,
Softer than the low humming of the bees,
And sweeter than the trill of nightingale;
Or, stern and powerful, as his mood would change,
210
Like the loud voice that fills the midnight trees
And runs before the chariot of the storm,
Startling all nature, crying, ‘Lo! he comes,
The Storm-God comes!’ or, shrill as winter winds
That wail at evening round the woodman’s hut,
215
When close-drawn lattice and the blazing hearth
And meal well earned make glad the hearts within
Of children and of sire. ‘O youth!’ I cried,
Gaining my speech at last, ‘fain would I know
The art that can so charm the sense,—not birds
220
Or aught on earth so beautiful. Could I
But follow thee in all thy wanderings,
But hear thee play and drink my spirit’s fill
Of those wild melodies, how would not joy
Grow more intense! After such wakening life
225
Were poor indeed, the common lot of beasts
And flowers; but man I see is higher,
(Tho’ till this hour content). These strains have roused
Immortal sense within of something great;
Unutterable longings chafe the soul,
230
Dreams of the gods, and voices of dead years.
The liquid strains so thrilled me with their power
That, with expanded consciousness, I saw
The birth of empires, heard the rolling spheres,
Masts snapped at sea, and, in strange concourse blent,
235
The din of cities, cries of wasted hearts,
Marshalling of steeds, ravings of fevered men;
While, over all the moaning of a sea,
And faint, a voice growing stronger, ‘Is this all?’
If Music has such power, She, and not life,
240
Must be man’s good. Oh, let me follow Thee,
Her worshipper, for She can satisfy.’
Then, with a smile like sunlight on his face,
He sang this song in answer, carelessly—

‘O Soul, glad Soul, what wert thou without song?

245
    Morns never smiling, wilds without a tree,
A waste of voiceless twilight wide and long,
    Dark rivers dying in eternal sea,
O Soul, sad Soul, that wert thou without song.

‘O Soul, sad Soul, the rivers have to die,

250
    Morn grows to eve, trees wither by the way,
Clouds hide the sun and tears fall from the sky;
    But Music lives though earth should melt away.
Oh! joy, glad Soul, she will not let thee die.’

“He scarce had ceased when such a pain convulsed

255
His features as the agony that comes
At death, and with one ringing cry he shook
An adder from his foot, then wildly fled,
With face distorted, blanched with deadly fear,
Eyes glaring madly, thro’ the tangled glade,
260
Like some chased stag that hears the hounds behind,
Nor recks what lies before. I followed fast,
But swift as wind he fled. A river deep
And rapid flowed hard by, whose rocky sides,
Upheaved by some convulsion, frowning stood
265
To guard its narrow channel. There a cliff
Stretched half across the stream, and at its foot
The hurrying waters curled in many a fold
Of creamy white. Him, on the rocks I found
There lying, prostrate, racked with anguish sore,
270
And cold with coming death; his foaming lips
Were bloodless, and his limbs, all stained and torn,
Writhed helplessly. I brought green moss and placed
For pillow ’neath his head; I laved his brow
And face and clotted hair; but all in vain
275
I strove, for ever a wild look would come
In his dark eyes, and shade of ghastly fear.
Colder he grew, and silent, till at length
I thought him dead, and wondered, pitying him,
And his fair form so helpless on the sand,
280
As some white statue fallen from its niche,
Broken irreparably. A sudden thought
Flashed on my mind. The shell—the shell was there,
Still round his neck. If I could strike some sounds
Of that new power that had so swayed my soul,
285
What might not chance! For music should indeed,
If god of men, be master over death,
And light up fire within the chilling breast.
I seized the shell and struck it: one low sound
Broke from it, dying among the cliffs and roar
290
Of current, soft as a child’s moan in dreams.
But, ere I touched again, with a wild laugh
That made the forests ring and scared the owls
From their day-sleep, and drove them hooting out
In blinding sunlight, suddenly he sprang,
295
Clutched with mad hands the shell, and, crushing it,
Flung the white fragments in the waves below.
He saw them sink, then crying aloud, ‘’Tis vain!
’Tis vain; the shadow comes!’ he fell back dead.
O death-cry in the roaring of the waves,
300
O death-cry in the stillness of the rocks,
O death-cry in the laughing of the trees!
The shadow passing by had fallen on me,
Never to rise. So thought I then. I broke
Into loud weeping thus that life should end,
305
In pain and loathsomeness, the fairest flower
Of nature dying unfruitful. Stygian dark
And horrors of the shades passed over me,
Cries of the Furies and the torrents roar
Rang in my ears, and voices out of hell
310
Re-echoed, ‘Vain! ’tis vain; the shadow comes!’
I hid the dead with moss, then turned and fled,
I cared not whither, so that I might fly
From the dark thoughts that drove me night and day,
And sights of death that haunted me. All changed
315
The glorious world! and rapine, lust, and death
Glared in each face, and blasted all but wilds
Where man was not. Then, Father, came the thought
That in that higher nature might be peace
Which music roused, but could not satisfy;
320
So sought I wisdom and the secret, dread,
Of life and death, nor knew I where to find.
I journeyed to the blazing East, and there,
In blinding simooms and a sun that scorched
League upon league of sand, I stood before
325
The stony monster that primeval hands,
Fraught with mad longings, shaped with giant tools
From mountain-side. O passionless cold lips!
O smile of scorn! O glance of burning hate!
I placed my lips against its stony mouth,
330
On fire to hear, tho’ hearing were to die,
The secret of the Sphinx. I heard the birth
And death of empires, heard the rolling spheres,
Masts snapped at sea, and, in strange concourse blent,
The din of cities, cries of wasted hearts,
335
Marshalling of steeds, ravings of fevered men,
While over all the moaning of a sea,
And faint a voice, growing stronger, ‘This is all.’
And this was all; and so I journeyed home,
Heart-sick, and with dark thoughts that gnawed my soul
340
As fire eats out a tree, when thunder-clouds
Darken the woods, and lightning blasts the stems,
With fruit half-ripe. The unexpressed desire
For something further than the furthest star,
For something deeper than the lowest deep,
345
For something behind all, thro’ all, in all,
Drove me to fathom all philosophy.
Thus long time sought I God, not knowing, in fire,
In cold, in light, and, mole-like, closed my eyes,
And groped thro’ nature, while the truth I sought
350
Was at my door, His hand upon my latch,
And I too blind to see, for the dark shade
Of things material hung upon my sight.
Oh, Father, I was fearful lest the truth
Should grind my soul to powder if I found.
355
For what was I but man? and God, the God
Of this great universe, what should He care
For one worn heart among a myriad stars?
If I should find—what should I find, indeed,
But some great power my senses could not grasp,
360
A part of some vast whole I could not see,
And I no more to Him than breathing clay?
What link between the Maker and the made?
For men can draw no nourishment from stones
And things in nature save thro’ beasts and flowers,
365
Which link the two; and so, methought, if God
Should be the God I deem Him, how can He,
The hidden Force that blindly moves the world,
Soothe the fierce hunger in the soul of man
That craves for love? What sympathy between
370
The finite and the infinite? Life itself
Grew hard to breathe beneath eternal clouds;
No sun, no goal, to cheer it. But I see
In this dear Christ the answer of my soul;
The pledge of God's great love; the link that binds
375
The Godhead and the manhood into one;
The undertone that makes one harmony
Of our existence, giving life and peace
And love for men where once a fruitless search
Thro’ the blind forces of the universe
380
In weary years shut out the light of day,
And dried the fount of love within the soul.”

He ceased, and answered lovingly the Sage:
“Son, I perceive that now thy soul hath found
The peace it sought, and in the rifted Side

385
A hiding-place and shelter form the blast.
Now I perceive the Spirit, as at first,
Moves on the troubled waters of thy mind,
And from dark chaos bringeth light and peace.
And now in this still hour, when every day
390
On the dim altar lies the Son of God,
That offering of which the prophet spake,*
And feeds His children with their daily bread,
Let us speak on of those high themes that lift
The soul from out the trammels of this life
395
Up to the throne of God; and so, perchance,
As on that country road at eventide,
The risen One shall come with gentle voice
And set our hearts on fire.”
                                                  Thus they conversed,
400
Unconscious of aught else in trance divine.
And, as a mist rising from vale and hill
Discloses fields, and further off the dawn
On the broad sea, until there rolls unveiled
The long full glory of the landscape, thus,
405
As Justin sat, clearer his vision grew
Of this new faith, until he saw the Christ
Come towards him thro’ the mists of dying creeds
That once had shrouded Him. And thus they spake;
And Justin learned how suffering here and sin
410
Resisted were but powers to try the soul,
And forge it out more strong for this hard life,
More bright for that hereafter, and that Christ,
Informing all the soul with His great love,
Can purge the thoughts and bend the stubborn will.
415
For other creeds but touch the edge of being,
But this new life breathes life into our life;
For Christ hath trod our path before, and conquered all,
In the cold desert and upon the cross,
With bleeding hands and feet.
420
                                                  Then, kneeling down
Upon the cold, hard rocks, with lifted face
Turned to the glimmering east, he cried, “O God!
Lord of innumerable worlds which move,
Zone upon zone, thro’ that thick night which hangs
425
About Thy feet for ever—Thou, whose voice
From the dead earth can frame the souls of men,
The lips that murmur praises, and the eyes
That kindle into love—O Thou, from whom
In the blind past flowed forth the light and power
430
That make creation circle round Thy throne
Thro’ all the ages—Thou, to whom alone
Time’s self is dead, and death is but new life
That flows unseen thro’ this great universe,
Reframing all and springing in new forms
435
More worthy Thee—O Thou, in whom unite
The past, the present, and the future—Thou,
The centre of all time, the great I AM,
Heart of eternity, —in Thee I find,
O God, my God, the resting-place I sought,
440
In Thee I find the answer of my quest,
In Thee the satisfaction of my soul.
I thank Thee Thou hast led me like a child
To these sweet streams for which my soul hath longed
Thro’ the dim past. And now I see anew
445
How all creation, like some pyramid,
Built on a waste of ages as the sands
Of a great desert, doth on every side,
Step upon step, lead upward to Thy throne.
Inscrutable Thy ways, O God, and yet
450
Thro’ the thick clouds that hide Thy face there comes
A beam of light, the offspring of Thy love;
For in my dreams I heard a human voice,
And the warm beating of a human heart
Throbbing thro’ nature; and I saw far off
455
In the dim void the suffering face of Christ.
O Christ in God! O God in Christ! O God!
Pledge of the Father’s love, O Fount of light!
Thine was the voice that stilled my fearful heart,
Thine was the heart that filled my soul with peace.
460
O Christ, the centre of humanity!
O God, the heart of this great universe!
O Christ in God! Thou linkest all to Thee
By Thy torn side and bleeding hands and feet.
How can we fear, tho’ long and loud the storm,
465
If thro’ the darkness comes a human voice?
How can we tremble, when our head is laid
Upon that breast where beasts a human heart?
O Man in God, that bringest God to men!
O God in Man, that liftest man to God!
470
Effulgence of the essence which, divine,
Without Thee incommunicable were;
Strong Light to light all mysteries, and Thou,
The perfect rest I sought through weary years
On trackless wastes! Behold, in faith and love,
475
O God, my God, I come, I come to Thee.”
He ceased, and, slowly rising from his knees,
He saw the priest afar with tearful eyes,
And arms outstretched in thankfulness, and said,
“I would be born again in this new faith,
480
My Father, by the washing of my soul
Form its dark stains, for I am but a babe,
And would learn life anew.” So, silent, moved
They to the shore, absorbed in thoughts too deep
For earthly speech, and silence fell awhile
485
Upon the earth in reverence to its God,
And sky and ocean seemed to wait in awe.
There, by the long white ripples on the shore,
The priest stooped down in that still hour, and took
A handful form the waves, the eternal sea,
490
That, like the love of God, flows over all,
Or height or depth, and levels all, and thus
Baptized he Justin in the Triune Name,
And on his forehead made the holy sign;
And, as the water fell on him, the sun
495
Rose in full glory, and the sky grew bright,
And angels sang far off, for day had dawned
Upon the ocean and in Justin’s soul.

Then spake the priest, “My son, in this calm sea
I read thy life, all stillness now and peace,

500
In the sweet morning ’neath the new-born day.
But see, the wind now breaks it into waves,
Which, rising form their sleep, each tipped with light,
Make that long golden pathway to the sun.
So shall it be with thee. Thy soul now yearns
505
To rest for ever at the feet of Christ;
But suffering, pain, and toil shall sweep across
Its stillness, and the strife of noisy tongues,
And persecution, cold, and nakedness
Shall break its surface; but each pain shall be
510
Bright with the love of Christ, and all thy life
Shall be a path to lead men up to Him.”

So the priest parted, blessing him, and Justin
Rose from his knees and moved among all men,
And reasoned with them of the love of God

515
And his dear Christ, and led men up to Him
From false philosophies, until at last
His life set in the crimson of his blood,
And rose in splendour near the throne of God.

1885.

 

* Mal. i. II. [back]
St. Luke xxiv. 13-3. [back]