If Thou hadst been a sculptor, what a race
Of forms divine had ever preached to men!
Lo, I behold thy brow, all glorious then,
(Its reflex dawning on the statue’s face)
Bringing its Thought to birth in human grace,
The soul of the grand form, upstarting, when
Thou openest thus thy mysteries to our ken,
Striking a marble window through blind space.
But God, who mouldeth in life-plastic clay,
Flashing his thoughts from men with living eyes,
Not from still marble forms, changeless alway,
Breathed forth his human self in human guise:
Thou didst appear, walking unknown abroad,
The son of man, the human, subject God.
“There, Buonarotti, stands thy statue. Take
Possession of the form; 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; and, where they sit,
Let them leap up aghast, as at a pit
Agape beneath.” I hear him answer make:
“Alas! I dare not; I could not inform
That image; I revered as I did trace;
I will not dim the glory of its grace,
Nor with a feeble spirit mock the enorm
Strength on its brow.” Thou cam’st, God’s thought thy form,
Living the large significance of thy face.
Some men I have beheld with wonderment,
Noble in form and feature, God’s design,
In whom the thought must search, as in a mine,
For that live soul of theirs, by which they went
Thus walking on the earth. And I have bent
Frequent regard on women, who gave sign
That God willed Beauty, when He drew the line
That shaped each float and fold of Beauty’s tent;
But the soul, drawing up in little space,
Thus left the form all staring, self-dismayed,
A vacant sign of what might be the grace
If mind swelled up, and filled the plan displayed:
Each curve and shade of thy pure form were Thine,
Thy very hair replete with the divine.
If Thou hadst been a painter, what fresh looks,
What shining of pent glories, what new grace
Had burst upon us from the great Earth’s face!
How had we read, as in new-languaged books,
Clear love of God in lone retreating nooks!
A lily, as thy hand its form would trace,
Were plainly seen God’s child, of lower race;
And, O my heart, blue hills! and grassy brooks!
Thy soul lay to all undulations bare,
Answering in waves. Each morn the sun did rise,
And God’s world woke beneath life-giving skies,
Thou sawest clear thy Father’s meanings there;
‘Mid Earth’s Ideal, and expressions rare,
The ideal Man, with the eternal eyes.
But I have looked on pictures made by man,
Wherein, at first, appeared but chaos wild;
So high the art transcended, it beguiled
The eye as formless, and without a plan;
Until the spirit, brooding o’er, began
To see a purpose rise, like mountains piled,
When God said: Let the dry earth, undefiled,
Rise from the waves: it rose in twilight wan.
And so I fear thy pictures were 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:
At God’s designs our spirits pale and change,
Trembling as at a void, thought cannot brook.
And is not Earth thy living picture, where
Thou utterest beauty, simple and profound,
In the same form by wondrous union bound;
Where one may see the first step of the stair,
And not the next, for brooding vapours there?
And God is well content the starry round
Should wake the infant’s inarticulate sound,
Or lofty song from bursting heart of prayer.
And so all men of low or lofty mind,
Who in their hearts hear thy unspoken word,
Have lessons low or lofty, to their kind,
In these thy living shows of beauty, Lord;
While the child’s heart that simply childlike is,
Knows that the Father’s face looks full in his.