Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
St. Augustine at Ostia (Author: Patrick Augustine Sheehan)


Confessiones Sancti Augustini, Liber ix., capitulum x., 3.1

  1. At Ostia? Yes! 'Twas the springtime: through the green mist that hung on the trees
    Brown birds shook their love-songs in rapture; and earth, but for moan of her seas,
    Was silent with joy; it was evening; a glory still hung in the west,
    Where the curl of his fires marked the place where the sun-god had reeled to his rest.
    And she sat beside me, my mother, whose face I still trembled to see —
    I knew that its olive was furrowed with lines through her anguish for me;
    I knew that the wide eyes were sad from the watch in the night, and the tear
    That blurred the soft beauty of stars, when the hand that was lingering here
    On my knee, firmly clasped in my own, was lifted to God in the night,
    And the pulses of stars, and her pulses of pain, were both bare to His sight.
  2. Well, there, in the fragrance of twilight I hooded my reason — he slept
    And I drew forth my Fancy, my dove, with her pinions of pearl, that kept
    Folded close (for this falcon she feared since the Pasch, and the baptismal tryst,
    When I threw off the purple of Plato, and put on the fool-garments of Christ),
    And I bade her go out into spaces, where never a sunshaft had sped,
    Nor the arrows of stars; where the light and the roar of the furnaces red
    Whence the Godhead had smitten his suns, never reached but to pause and to die,
    Stricken down by the darkness, the silence, that circle our space as a sky;
    And there she should pause; and eyes closed, wings folded, should answer me this:
    If a silence so great could encompass a soul yet unraised to the bliss
    Of a Heaven made perfect with vision of beauty, so radiant, so full
    That the dream of it weakens us here; but a soul that yet clings to this dull,
    Cold earth, is environed with nerves that tremble, and tingle and shrink —
    If a dim sea of silence were round, into which every whisper should sink;
    Hushed the roar of the rapid suns, hushed the trailing of tresses bright
    Which the darling comets loosen and leave in their lawless flight,
    Hushed the sibilance harsh of the waves when their white teeth bite the sand;
    Hushed the crash of the siroc; the seismic terror that tears the land;
    Hushed the moaning of storms in the pines; hushed the lonely horrors of Alps
    Where the avalanche roars and leaps on the summits of hoary scalps;
    Hushed the soft susurrus of prayer; hushed the cooing of doves at rest;
    And the tender cry to the mother from the depths of a downy nest;
    Hushed the opening of buds to the sun; hushed the floating of fragrance rare
    Poured cut from the hearts of the flowers on the breath of the summer air;
    Hushed the falling of dews on the sea; hushed the waving of palms in the deep;
    Hushed the pulsings of light in the sky; hushed the breathing of babes in their sleep;
    And all things held their breath; and the beatings of Time should cease
    Could we call such silence rest for that soul? Could we call it peace?

  3. p.350

  4. But lo! as I spoke — pinions broken, eyes filmed, lay dead at my feet
    My dove; but the falcon unhooded, with tumult of cries, with a fleet,
    Swift flight as of meteors autumnal, that glide from the depths of the signs,
    Flashed out from the known to th'unknown, from things seen to the hidden design
    That lie deep in the bosom of God, like fire in a cloud — and from thence
    Leaped down the abysses, was lost in the realm of the ideal, where sense
    Faints away, and the language of men is a babbling of brooks to the sky,
    The ‘to en — the to pann — time, space, the soul, the dead, and the quick who die;’
    Ephemerides all, men and motes, — a cycle of shades, which a breath
    Doth make and unmake, which leap from nothing to life, to death,
    As a mist on the mirror of time, where the face of the Godhead is glassed —
    The Eternal — the Selfsame — Who Is — who knoweth no future, no past.
    Ah! Manes, thou fool! who wouldst seek two Gods, and two fountains of being,
    Find me One! He eludeth thy grasp, dumbs thy voice, maketh foolish thy seeing;
    Go, plumb the abysses and find Him: real nature, and say, if you can.
    That ‘He sleeps in the mineral, dreams in the animal, wakens in man!’
    And I reeled from the din of my thoughts; to the whirl of conjectures cried ‘Cease!’
    And with gall on my lips said aloud to the night: ‘Is this rest? is this peace?’
  5. And my boy sang, below in his boat, sang clear with a promise of life,
    The vesper-hymn, Lucis Creator, but on me in the night and the strife
    A stream, thick and turbid, and luscious, rolled out from the caverns of the past,
    Not of Lethe, would God that it were! but of memories vicious and vast,
    Of dreams that make welcome the dawn, of visions that haunt me and mock
    My senses with odours as sweet as an echo of music, — the shock
    Of sounds that make drunk with delight, soft touches that torture and thrill,
    Pluck my robe, fan my face with a breath of balm, that if breathed, would kill;
    And I laid my heal low on the sill, filled the hyacinth bells with my tears,
    Cried to Christ to relieve me from memories of death, from a future of fear,
    From a torture of thought that kills, from the vengeance of vice, — the increase
    Of pain in knowledge — the evil exchange for pride of the gift of peace
    But a hand soft as light stole around me, and a whisper so low and sweet,
    I'd have crept to the ground, but she held me, I'd have crept and have clasped her feet.
    "Whilst abyss calleth out to abyss; whilst deep moaneth back unto deep,
    Hearest thou not the soft voice of the spouse, ‘His Beloved what giveth He? Sleep!’
    Ah! but ‘who's His Beloved?’ I cried in my pain: then she drew back my head,
    Kissed my cheek, but was silent; God spoke: two Sabbaths, and she was dead!
  6. P. A. SHEEHAN