The Soul's Quest and Other Poems

by Frederick George Scott


 

THE SOUL'S QUEST


 

PART I

 

IN the land that is neither night nor day,
Where the mists sleep over the forests grey,
A sad, sad spirit wandered away.

The woods are still—no brooks, no wind,
No fair green meadows can she find;

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But a low red light in the sky behind.

Far over the plain, to the spirit’s sight,
The city’s towers are black as night,
Against the edge of the low red light.

This side the city in darkness lies,

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But westward, at the glowering skies,
It glares with a thousand fiery eyes.

The road is long, the hedgerows bare,
There’s the chill of death in the silent air,
And a glimmer of darkness everywhere.

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“O sad, sad spirit, what thy quest,
With those flowing locks and that shadowy vest?”
The spirit answers, “I seek for rest.”

“Where seekest rest, when the air is cold
On the long, dim road, and the clock hath tolled

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The muffled hours form the belfry old?

“Where seekest rest through the twilight grey
Of the mists that sleep on the woods alway?”—
“I seek to-morrow or yesterday!”

Her face is pale, her feet are bare,

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Her sad dark eyes, wide open, stare
At the glimmering darkness everywhere.

To those cheeks no rose hath summer brought,
But on their pallor time hath wrought
The troubled lines of an after-thought.

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Her arms are crossed upon her breast,
Her round limbs shape the shadowy vest,
And thus, all silent, seeks she rest.

Her tread is light on the cold, hard road;
For the tread may be light, yet heavy the load

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Of grief at the heart and thoughts that goad.

She plucks a leaf from the roadway side,
And under its shade two violets hide—
As if from her cold touch, they hide.

She twines the violets in her hair;

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They have no scent—she does not care,
For the glimmer of darkness is everywhere.

And on through the dim of the twilight grey,
While the pale sky gloweth far away,
She seeks to-morrow or yesterday.

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PART II

 

“O Abbess, Abbess, the air is chill!
I heard the chaunting over the hill,
Like an angel’s voice when the soul is still.

“O, Abbess, open wide thy gate!
Out on the cold, dim road I wait,

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A spirit lone and desolate.

“Take thou these hands and these weary feet,
Cold as a corpse in its winding-sheet,
For the song of the nuns was so strange and sweet.

“Here with the sisters let me dwell,

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Under these walls, in the loneliest cell,
Waiting the sound of the matin bell.

“Cut off these locks of flowing hair,
Cover with weeds this bosom bare,
For the glimmer of darkness is everywhere.

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“Ask not my name, nor whence my way,
For the mist sleeps over the wood alway,
And I seek to-morrow or yesterday.”

She’s passed beneath the chapel door;
The nuns are kneeling on the floor,

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But a low wind moaneth evermore.

Sweeter and sweeter the sisters sing,
Till high in the roof the echoes ring,
For they know that God is listening.

Ave Maria, hear our cry,

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As the shadows roll across the sky,
For those that live and those that die!

Ave Maria, Virgin blest,
Help the sin-stained and distrest,
Give the weary-hearted rest!

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Ave Maria, who didst bear
Jesus in this world of care,
Grant us all thy bliss to share!”

Sweeter and sweeter the sisters sing,
From arch to arch the echoes ring,

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For they know that God is listening.

Out of the north the oceans roll,
Washing the lands from pole to pole:
No rest—no rest for the old world’s soul.

The after-glow of suns that set

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O’er fields with morning dew once wet,
Where all life’s flowering roadways met,

Long shadows of our joys has sent,
Sloping adown the way we went
Towards darkness where our feet are bent.

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Is it the moan of the evening wind?
Or the voice of the ocean in the mind,
While the pale red light looms up behind?

Is it moan of wind, or convent bell,
Or cry of the ocean? I cannot tell;

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But a voice in her heart has locked the spell.

She does not hear the organ’s swell;
In vain she strives her beads to tell,
For a voice in her heart has locked the spell.

She broods among the tangled fears,

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The undergrowth of perished years,
That darken round the lake of tears.

Silent and dank, they fringe the brim
Of waters motionless and dim,
Unmoved by wings of Seraphim.

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No lights on the altar the spirit sees,
The cloistered aisles are but leafless trees,
And the music, the sigh of the evening breeze.

No matin or vesper bell for her;
The leafless branches never stir

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In the pale, pale light of the days that were.

No matin or vesper hymn or prayer
Can shut those eyes’ wide-open stare
At the glimmering darkness everywhere.

The sweetest singing dies away;

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No note of birds for those who stray
In the land that is neither night nor day.

 

PART III

 

In the shadowy light of the silent land,
With the tall gaunt hedges on either hand,
On the long, dim road doth the spirit stand.
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Under the hedges the air is chill,
And the mists sleep over the forest still,
And are folded like wings on the sides of the hill.

Her arms are crossed upon her breast,
Her round limbs shape the shadowy vest,

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Her feet are worn with seeking rest.

To her cheeks no rose hath summer brought,
While on their pallor time hath wrought
The troubled lines of an after-thought.

But sweet is the gaze of those sad dark eyes,

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And sweet their look of mute surprise,
As something in the road she spies.

Spurned under foot, o’ergrown with moss,
Counted of foolish men but loss,
On the cold, hard road lies Jesus’ cross.

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In the dim twilight as she stood,
She saw the marks of Jesus’ Blood,
Then stooped and kissed the Holy Rood.

There are sounds of joy from the years gone by,
There’s a pale red light in the forward sky,

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And a star looks down through the mist on high.

Hush! for the light falls clear from that star,
Hush! for the day-dawn kindles afar,
Hush! for the gate of the sky is ajar.

What is the voice of the boundless sea

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As it clasps the lands excitedly?
Not the voice of the dead, but of what shall be—

Of what shall be when the world shall cease,
And oceans die in the reign of peace,
When God grants pardon and release.

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O sweetest taste of Jesus’ Blood!
Joy bursts upon her like a flood;
The spirit kisseth Holy Rood.

A low wind moaneth evermore,
The nuns still kneel upon the floor,

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But Jesus trod this way before.

She lifts the sacred emblem up:
This was His drink, His bitter cup;
And all His loved with Him must sup.

Beneath its arms she bows her head,

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Those arms so rudely fashionèd,
Which Jesus made His dying bed.

She bends beneath the cross’s weight,
But now no longer desolate,
She stands before the convent gate.

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Sweeter and sweeter the sisters sing,
From arch and roof the echoes ring,
While God above is listening.

Ave Maria, Virgin blest,
Help the sin-stained and distrust,

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Grant the weary-hearted rest!”

The altar-lights are shining fair,
And Jesus’ cross is standing there;
The darkness brightens everywhere.

In silent bliss the spirit kneels,

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For mortal utterance half conceals
The deepest joy the bosom feels.

She bears her burden day by day;
It wakens her at morning grey,
And calms her at eve’s setting ray.

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She bears it through the length of years;
The rough wood drives away her fears,
The blood-stains check all earthly tears.

Through daily round of deed and psalm,
She moves in silent strength and calm,

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The cross her solace and her balm.

She bears it round from door to door,
And lonely hearts that ached before,
Find joy and peace for evermore.

So in the present, people say,

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Of holy deed and prayer alway,
She finds to-morrow and yesterday.

COGGESHALL, ESSEX,
November 12, 1886.