ORDAINED - John Duncombe Poems


Poems » john duncombe » ordained


Through jewelled windows in the walls
     The tempered daylight smiles,
And solemn music swells and falls
     Adown these stately aisles;
Beneath that carven chancel-rood
Low murmurs, hushed to silence, brood;
     One voice in prayer appeals
For Holy Spirit's quickening grace
To light his now anointed face
     Who at the altar kneels.

One hour ago, like us, he trod
     Along these cloisters dim --
Now we are bid to reverence God
     Made manifest in him;
To mock at our enlightened sense
And dearly won experience,
     So far beyond his own;
To take him for our heaven-sent guide
Upon these seas, so wild and wide,
     To him as yet unknown.

Unconscious of the coming strife,
     Unformed in mind and thought,
Without one ripe idea of life
     Save what his school books taught,
An ignorant boy, he vows a vow
To think and feel as he does now
     Till his gold locks are grey;
Pledges his word to learn no more --
To add no wisdom to the store
     His young mind holds to-day.

How shall he keep this senseless oath
     When once a full-grown man?
How shall he check his upward growth
     To fit this meagre plan?
Only by ruthless pinching out
Of all the fairest shoots that sprout,
     As on a healthy tree,
From his expanding brain and heart --
Defrauding his diviner part
     Of its virility.

And thus shall youthful passion pale
     In native force and fire;
And thus shall soaring pinions fail,
     Bedraggled in the mire;
This tender conscience, now so bright,
Lose its fine sense of wrong and right --
     Dulled with a moral rust;
This ardent intellect be damped,
This eager spirit starved and cramped --
     Choked in mediæval dust.

Thus shall the fettered arm grow numb,
     And blind the bandaged eye;
Thus shall the silenced voice grow dumb,
     As year by year goes by;
Until at last, from long abuse
And lack of free and wholesome use,
     All manhood's powers decline;
And, like a lamp unfed, untrimmed,
Intelligence, once bright, is dimmed,
     No more to burn and shine.

Then may we see this sanguine youth --
     Born for a nobler lot --
Turn traitor to the highest truth
     Because he knows it not;
Serving for Mammon, veiled as God,
Cringing for high-born patron's nod,
     For social place and gain,
While he mechanically yields
The produce of his fallow fields --
     Husks of long-garnered grain.

No more a brave and honest man,
     Whose conscience is his own,
But worse than thief and courtesan
     To degradation grown;
A cheat and hypocrite, content,
In shelter of base precedent,
     The downward path to tread,
Lest he should lose his Esau's bowl,
That bought the birthright of his soul,
     And have to earn his bread.

Or, if remorsefully aware
     Of his ignoble case,
Owning himself too weak to dare
     A brother's hostile face,
Too weak to stand alone and fight
Against the strong world's might with right --
     A leader's part to take;
Dying a daily death in life,
At outward peace and inward strife,
     For poor convention's sake.

Let organ music swell and peal,
     And priests and people pray,
Let those who can at altar kneel --
     I have no heart to stay.
I cannot bear to see it done --
This fresh young life, scarce yet begun,
     Closed by that iron door;
A free-born spirit gagged and bound,
Tethered to one small plot of ground,
While all the great world spreads around,
     And doomed to fly no more.