Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The First Sin (Author: Patrick Augustine Sheehan)
- I said the prayer: 'Into Thy hands
My spirit I commend, O Lord!'
And as my lips closed on that word,
Sleep pressed my eyes with velvet bands.
- This was my dream. The golden, noontide sun
High over pale blue mountains sat enthroned,
And flooded all the nether earth with light.
The broad infinities of space revealed
To our poor eyes in sea-green, azure depths
Were flecked with many feathered clouds; around
A silence deep as Death held Nature tranced.
The forest leaves untouched by zephyr lips
Swooned sorrow stricken in their loneliness.
No droning bee preferred eternal plaint
Amid the twilight of the dusky glades.
So calm was all, one almost feigned to hear
The sunbeams flitting through the maze of leaves
To frame a fair mosaic on the green.
A grassy champaign, carpeted with flowers
Sloped gently down to where about its waist
Was girded loose a wide and watery belt.
So strange a spell this wove upon my mind,
My eyes were glued unto its burnished face,
For something weird, and sad, unreal and yet
All undefined, hung round that quiet stream.
A light broke in at last: with awe-struck eyes
I looked and saw the stream was shadowless.
No plumes that hearse-like waved o'er its still face
Beheld their shadows in its opal depths;
No osier sprang from water-painted picture;
And no infinitude of sky below
Did make me shudder on the grassy bank
Lest I should hazard one false step therein
And lose myself in depths unfathomed.
Bright in its very blackness, on it flowed.
Beside me calm I thought it motionless,
And wrinkled with a tiny flower its face.
The flower sped on. But by the other bank,
And far away, the stream was turbid, dark,
A vast complexity of vortices,
Whirlpool to whirlpool linked, and beaded o'er
With yellow yeast that effervesced and foamed,
And died away into its funnel depths.
- And as I gazed, down the peaceful stream
Glided a bark, and in the stern-sheets sate
A golden child. Seven springs had fairly gemmed
The brown, bare, woodland arms with emerald buds,
Seven falls had made them brown, bare arms again,
Since that fair spirit, thus embodied, came.
Eves, from whose holy depths Heaven's self did shine,
Were raised aloft with that mute, sightless gaze,
With which earth's cloistered angels love to look,
When o'er their heads the love-imprisoned God
Is raised to bless His virgin worshippers.
Nor looked he now to either side-the years
For him were full, and Memory's magic wand
(Oh! what a brilliant conjuror she is
Till lashed by sin into that fiend, Remorse)
Some airy scene unto his vision gave,
For now he smiled, and clapped his little hands
And fain would leap from out himself in joy.
Some pleasant nutting in the Autumn woods?
Some pleasant gambol in the fragrant hay?
Some painted toy, bestowed with many a kiss,
And tear the wealth of mother's dearest love?
- There came a rude, a sacrilegious sound,
And smote the ear of listening silences;
A sound of mirth and wanton revelry,
More meet for midnight and the sickly gas
Where Dissipation flaunts its faded triumphs,
Than God's bright sunlight, making Sabbath sweet.
And where the river's banks did meet above
In dim perspective, rose a little cloud,
Not larger than the spiral-wreathed mist,
That creeps from unswung censer in the choir,
And as it reared, it foliated wide
In thick umbrageous folds of leaden mist;
And from its bosom calm the wanton laugh,
The ribald Attic jest, the easy oath,
And then the great, unpardonable sin,
That cursed the high, unutterable Name,
Which when he wrote the bearded Jewish sage
Laid down his pen, and covered his pale face,
Lest Sinai's thunders should peal forth again,
And Sinai's lightnings find him 'mongst the Dead.
The cloud crept on, and showed a gilded barge,
And sons of men were they that sat therein,
All heedless of the boiling waves beneath,
And flames that followed in their whitened wake.
- I turned to look upon the boy again;
And groaned as miser groans when waked from dreams
Which turned whate'er he touched to yellow gold,
To find the filings from the weary years,
Which late last night did scintillate so bright
Even at the bleared look of mouldy taper,
Now heavy dull-eyed lead, or worthless brass.
The solemn years that in their silent course
Write ghostly legends upon adamant
Were powerless thus to change that cherub face.
For Heaven had died from out the lustrous eves,
His forehead fair was seamed with heavy lines,
For Holiest Peace had left for evermore
That mansion now of festering care the prey.
Boat after boat came on, soul-laden,
With just a counterpart of this bright child;
And as they passed came salutation sweet,
The Name of Jesus be for ever praised!
And he from whose sweet ruby lips did flow
Like words, as freely as the gushing wave
On Arab desert sands leaped sunsparkling,
When summoned from its granite prison-depths
By the famed leader of the chosen host,
Now scarce could utter one small word Amen!
- The rudder of the little boat was tied
That thus it may not swerve to either bank,
But cut the middle bosom of the stream.
At this the Boy now pulled, nor pulled in vain:
With one fell sweep around the rudder swung,
The prow obedient yielded to its wish;
Then rose from Earth to Heaven a stifled cry,
A many-mouthed murmur filled the air.
Perhaps you've heard in some Cathedral vast
Repentant sobs from many a sinning breast
When truths that just were slumb'ring unto death,
By some frail voice-magnetic in its might
Are quickened into breathing life again.
E'en such the cry that winged its way to Heaven.
But louder still, and louder yet, it grow,
When now the boy, all haggard in his fear,
Approached the verge, where waves, Charybdis-like
In eddying circles leaped and lashed and foamed.
The hoarse, deep murmur, heretofore so void,
Took shape and thus in piteous accents borne,
It praised and pleaded in the ears of God.
- O Holy God!
O Strong God!
O Strong and Holy God!
O Strong God!
O Holy and Strong God!
O Holy God!
- And high o'er all, like seaman's dying shriek
O'er thund'rings of the tempest and the surge,
One voice did loudly plead: Eleison!
A thousand pleading voices caught the sound,
A thousand echoes flung it far and wide;
Dumb things did speak to cry: Eleison!
In vain! In vain! the boy had leaped the line.
The surging waves seethe round the little bark,
One smile of triumph madly dashed aside,
And terror, aye, despair, hath seized the soul,
And linked it firmly in their fiery chains.
- A sound went up; hath some new rebel God
Raised his proud eyes to rival the Most High?
Hath Michael's sword unsheathed been again?
The Man-God driven with his scythed car
New ingrate hosts from Salem's holy gates?
The angels closed their golden-tipped wings
To hide their burning faces from the sun;
That day Heaven's lofty aisles were echoless.
No silver harp dissolved in brook-like sound,
No cymbals clashed in mighty unison,
No braying trumpet preached unto the stars
The Holiest one did shroud Himself in awe,
And panic-stricken Heaven was found dumb.
- I woke: the birds proclaimed the day,
The sunlight dimpled all the wall;
I rose, obeying Jesus' call
To tread with Him the thorny way.
- Nor earth, nor earthly treasures seek;
That golden child is all to me.
I start from sleep in agony,
And tears are wet upon my cheek.
P. A. S.