Diary of an Old Soul



WE are a shadow and a shining, we!
One moment nothing seems but what we see,
Nor aught to rule but common circumstance—
Nought is to seek but praise, to shun but chance;
A moment more, and God is all in all,
And not a sparrow from its nest can fall
But from the ground its chirp goes up into his hall.


I know at least which is the better mood.
When on a heap of cares I sit and brood,
Like Job upon his ashes, sorely vext,
I feel a lower thing than when I stood
The world's true heir, fearless as, on its stalk,
A lily meeting Jesus in his walk:
I am not all mood—I can judge betwixt.


Such differing moods can scarce to one belong;
Shall the same fountain sweet and bitter yield?
Shall what bore late the dust-mood, think and brood
Till it bring forth the great believing mood?
Or that which bore the grand mood, bald and peeled,
Sit down to croon the shabby sensual song,
To hug itself, and sink from wrong to meaner wrong?


In the low mood, the mere man acts alone,
Moved by impulses which, if from within,
Yet far outside the centre man begin;
But in the grand mood, every softest tone
Comes from the living God at very heart—
From thee who infinite core of being art,
Thee who didst call our names ere ever we could sin.


There is a coward sparing in the heart,
Offspring of penury and low-born fear:—
Prayer must take heed nor overdo its part,
Asking too much of him with open ear!
Sinners must wait, not seek the very best,
Cry out for peace, and be of middling cheer:—
False heart! thou cheatest God, and dost thy life molest.


Thou hungerest not, thou thirstest not enough.
Thou art a temporizing thing, mean heart.
Down-drawn, thou pick'st up straws and wretched stuff,
Stooping as if the world's floor were the chart
Of the long way thy lazy feet must tread.
Thou dreamest of the crown hung o'er thy head—
But that is safe—thou gatherest hairs and fluff!


Man's highest action is to reach up higher,
Stir up himself to take hold of his sire.
Then best I love you, dearest, when I go
And cry to love's life I may love you so
As to content the yearning, making love,
That perfects strength divine in weakness' fire,
And from the broken pots calls out the silver dove.


Poor am I, God knows, poor as withered leaf;
Poorer or richer than, I dare not ask.
To love aright, for me were hopeless task,
Eternities too high to comprehend.
But shall I tear my heart in hopeless grief,
Or rise and climb, and run and kneel, and bend,
And drink the primal love—so love in chief?


Then love shall wake and be its own high life.
Then shall I know 'tis I that love indeed—
Ready, without a moment's questioning strife,
To be forgot, like bursting water-bead,
For the high good of the eternal dear;
All hope, all claim, resting, with spirit clear,
Upon the living love that every love doth breed.


Ever seem to fail in utterance.
Sometimes amid the swift melodious dance
Of fluttering words—as if it had not been,
The thought has melted, vanished into night;
Sometimes I say a thing I did not mean,
And lo! 'tis better, by thy ordered chance,
Than what eluded me, floating too feathery light.


If thou wouldst have me speak, Lord, give me speech.
So many cries are uttered now-a-days,
That scarce a song, however clear and true,
Will thread the jostling tumult safe, and reach
The ears of men buz-filled with poor denays:
Barb thou my words with light, make my song new,
And men will hear, or when I sing or preach.


Can anything go wrong with me? I ask—
And the same moment, at a sudden pain,
Stand trembling. Up from the great river's brim
Comes a cold breath; the farther bank is dim;
The heaven is black with clouds and coming rain;
High soaring faith is grown a heavy task,
And all is wrong with weary heart and brain.


"Things do go wrong. I know grief, pain, and fear.
I see them lord it sore and wide around."
From her fair twilight answers Truth, star-crowned,
"Things wrong are needful where wrong things abound.
Things go not wrong; but Pain, with dog and spear,
False faith from human hearts will hunt and hound.
The earth shall quake 'neath them that trust the solid ground."


Things go not wrong when sudden I fall prone,
But when I snatch my upheld hand from thine,
And, proud or careless, think to walk alone.
Then things go wrong, when I, poor, silly sheep,
To shelves and pits from the good pasture creep;
Not when the shepherd leaves the ninety and nine,
And to the mountains goes, after the foolish one.


Lo! now thy swift dogs, over stone and bush,
After me, straying sheep, loud barking, rush.
There's Fear, and Shame, and Empty-heart, and Lack,
And Lost-love, and a thousand at their back!
I see thee not, but know thou hound'st them on,
And I am lost indeed—escape is none.
See! there they come, down streaming on my track!


I rise and run, staggering—double and run.—
But whither?—whither?—whither for escape?
The sea lies all about this long-necked cape—
There come the dogs, straight for me every one—
Me, live despair, live centre of alarms!—
Ah! lo! 'twixt me and all his barking harms,
The shepherd, lo!—I run—fall folded in his arms.


There let the dogs yelp, let them growl and leap;
It is no matter—I will go to sleep.
Like a spent cloud pass pain and grief and fear,
Out from behind it unchanged love shines clear.—
Oh, save me, Christ!—I know not what I am,
I was thy stupid, self-willed, greedy lamb,
Would be thy honest and obedient sheep.


Why is it that so often I return
From social converse with a spirit worn,
A lack, a disappointment—even a sting
Of shame, as for some low, unworthy thing?—
Because I have not, careful, first of all,
Set my door open wide, back to the wall,
Ere I at others' doors did knock and call.


Yet more and more of me thou dost demand;
My faith and hope in God alone shall stand,
The life of law—not trust the rain and sun
To draw the golden harvest o'er the land.
I must not say—"This too will pass and die,"
"The wind will change," "Round will the seasons run."
Law is the body of will, of conscious harmony.


Who trusts a law, might worship a god of wood;
Half his soul slumbers, if it be not dead.
He is a live thing shut in chaos crude,
Hemmed in with dragons—a remorseless head
Still hanging over its uplifted eyes.
No; God is all in all, and nowhere dies—
The present heart and thinking will of good.


Law is our schoolmaster. Our master, Christ,
Lived under all our laws, yet always prayed—
So walked the water when the storm was highest.—
Law is Thy father's; thou hast it obeyed,
And it thereby subject to thee hast made—
To rule it, master, for thy brethren's sakes:—
Well may he guide the law by whom law's maker makes.


Death haunts our souls with dissolution's strife;
Soaks them with unrest; makes our every breath
A throe, not action; from God's purest gift
Wipes off the bloom; and on the harp of faith
Its fretted strings doth slacken still and shift:
Life everywhere, perfect, and always life,
Is sole redemption from this haunting death.


God, thou from death dost lift me. As I rise,
Its Lethe from my garment drips and flows.
Ere long I shall be safe in upper air,
With thee, my life—with thee, my answered prayer
Where thou art God in every wind that blows,
And self alone, and ever, softly dies,
There shall my being blossom, and I know it fair.


I would dig, Master, in no field but thine,
Would build my house only upon thy rock,
Yet am but a dull day, with a sea-sheen!
Why should I wonder then that they should mock,
Who, in the limbo of things heard and seen,
Hither and thither blowing, lose the shine
Of every light that hangs in the firmament divine.


Lord, loosen in me the hold of visible things;
Help me to walk by faith and not by sight;
I would, through thickest veils and coverings,
See into the chambers of the living light.
Lord, in the land of things that swell and seem,
Help me to walk by the other light supreme,
Which shows thy facts behind man's vaguely hinting dream.


I see a little child whose eager hands
Search the thick stream that drains the crowded street
For possible things hid in its current slow.
Near by, behind him, a great palace stands,
Where kings might welcome nobles to their feet.
Soft sounds, sweet scents, fair sights there only go—
There the child's father lives, but the child does not know.


On, eager, hungry, busy-seeking child,
Rise up, turn round, run in, run up the stair.
Far in a chamber from rude noise exiled,
Thy father sits, pondering how thou dost fare.
The mighty man will clasp thee to his breast:
Will kiss thee, stroke the tangles of thy hair,
And lap thee warm in fold on fold of lovely rest.


The prince of this world came, and nothing found
In thee, O master; but, ah, woe is me!
He cannot pass me, on other business bound,
But, spying in me things familiar, he
Casts over me the shadow of his flight,
And straight I moan in darkness—and the fight
Begins afresh betwixt the world and thee.


In my own heart, O master, in my thought,
Betwixt the woolly sheep and hairy goat
Not clearly I distinguish; but I think
Thou knowest that I fight upon thy side.
The how I am ashamed of; for I shrink
From many a blow—am borne on the battle-tide,
When I should rush to the front, and take thy foe by the throat.


The enemy still hath many things in me;
Yea, many an evil nest with open hole
Gapes out to him, at which he enters free.
But, like the impact of a burning coal,
His presence mere straight rouses the garrison,
And all are up in arms, and down on knee,
Fighting and praying till the foe is gone.

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