If thou hadst been a sculptor, what a race
Of forms divine had thenceforth filled the land!
Methinks I see thee, glorious workman, stand,
Striking a marble window through blind space–
Thy face’s reflex on the coming face,
As dawns the stone to statue ‘neath thy hand–
Body obedient to its soul’s command,
Which is thy thought, informing it with grace!
So had it been. But God, who quickeneth clay,
Nor turneth it to marble–maketh eyes,
Not shadowy hollows, where no sunbeams play–
Would mould his loftiest thought in human guise:
Thou didst appear, walking unknown abroad,
God’s living sculpture, all-informed of God.
If one should say, “Lo, there thy statue! take
Possession, sculptor; now inherit it;
Go forth upon the earth in likeness fit;
As with a trumpet-cry at morning, wake
The sleeping nations; with light’s terror, shake
The slumber from their hearts, that, where they sit,
They leap straight up, aghast, as at a pit
Gaping beneath;” I hear him answer make:
“Alas for me, I cannot nor would dare
Inform what I revered as I did trace!
Who would be fool that he like fool might fare,
With feeble spirit mocking the enorm
Strength on his forehead!” Thou, God’s thought thy form,
Didst live the large significance of thy face.
Men have I seen, and seen with wonderment,
Noble in form, “lift upward and divine,”
In whom I yet must search, as in a mine,
After that soul of theirs, by which they went
Alive upon the earth. And I have bent
Regard on many a woman, who gave sign
God willed her beautiful, when he drew the line
That shaped each float and fold of beauty’s tent:
Her soul, alas, chambered in pigmy space,
Left the fair visage pitiful–inane–
Poor signal only of a coming face
When from the penetrale she filled the fane!–
Possessed of thee was every form of thine,
Thy very hair replete with the divine.
If thou hadst built a temple, how my eye
Had hungering fed thereon, from low-browed crypt
Up to the soaring pinnacles that, tipt
With stars, gave signal when the sun drew nigh!
Dark caverns in and under; vivid sky
Its home and aim! Say, from the glory slipt,
And down into the shadows dropt and dipt,
Or reared from darkness up so holy-high?–
Thou build’st the temple of thy holy ghost
From hid foundation to high-hidden fate–
Foot in the grave, head at the heavenly gate,
From grave and sky filled with a fighting host!
Man is thy temple; man thy work elect;
His glooms and glory thine, great architect!
If thou hadst been a painter, what fresh looks,
What outbursts of pent glories, what new grace
Had shone upon us from the great world’s face!
How had we read, as in eternal books,
The love of God in loneliest shiest nooks!
A lily, in merest lines thy hand did trace,
Had plainly been God’s child of lower race!
And oh how strong the hills, songful the brooks!
To thee all nature’s meanings lie light-bare,
Because thy heart is nature’s inner side;
Clear as, to us, earth on the dawn’s gold tide,
Her notion vast up in thy soul did rise;
Thine is the world, thine all its splendours rare,
Thou Man ideal, with the unsleeping eyes!
But I have seen pictures the work of man,
In which at first appeared but chaos wild:
So high the art transcended, they beguiled
The eye as formless, and without a plan.
Not soon, the spirit, brooding o’er, began
To see a purpose rise, like mountain isled,
When God said, Let the Dry appear! and, piled
Above the waves, it rose in twilight wan.
So might thy pictures then have been too strange
For us to pierce beyond their outmost look;
A vapour and a darkness; a sealed book;
An atmosphere too high for wings to range;
And so we could but, gazing, pale and change,
And tremble as at a void thought cannot brook.