Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Poem.

Enjoy this? Share it!

Westminster Abbey
by [?]


JULY 25, 1881.

(The Day of Burial, in the Abbey, of ARTHUR PENRHYN
STANLEY, Dean of Westminster.)

What! for a term so scant
Our shining visitant
Cheer’d us, and now is pass’d into the night?
Couldst thou no better keep, O Abbey old,
The boon thy dedication-sign foretold,[a]
The presence of that gracious inmate, light?–
A child of light appear’d;
Hither he came, late-born and long-desired,
And to men’s hearts this ancient place endear’d;
What, is the happy glow so soon expired?

–Rough was the winter eve;
Their craft the fishers leave,
And down over the Thames the darkness drew.
One still lags last, and turns, and eyes the Pile
Huge in the gloom, across in Thorney Isle,
King Sebert’s work, the wondrous Minster new.
–‘Tis Lambeth now, where then
They moor’d their boats among the bulrush stems;
And that new Minster in the matted fen
The world-famed Abbey by the westering Thames.

His mates are gone, and he
For mist can scarcely see
A strange wayfarer coming to his side–
Who bade him loose his boat, and fix his oar,
And row him straightway to the further shore,
And wait while he did there a space abide.
The fisher awed obeys,
That voice had note so clear of sweet command;
Through pouring tide he pulls, and drizzling haze,
And sets his freight ashore on Thorney strand.

The Minster’s outlined mass
Rose dim from the morass,
And thitherward the stranger took his way.
Lo, on a sudden all the Pile is bright!
Nave, choir and transept glorified with light,
While tongues of fire on coign and carving play!
And heavenly odours fair
Come streaming with the floods of glory in,
And carols float along the happy air,
As if the reign of joy did now begin.

Then all again is dark;
And by the fisher’s bark
The unknown passenger returning stands.
O Saxon fisher! thou hast had with thee
The fisher from the Lake of Galilee–
So saith he, blessing him with outspread hands;
Then fades, but speaks the while:
At dawn thou to King Sebert shalt relate
How his St. Peter’s Church in Thorney Isle
Peter, his friend, with light did consecrate.

Twelve hundred years and more
Along the holy floor
Pageants have pass’d, and tombs of mighty kings
Efface the humbler graves of Sebert’s line,
And, as years sped, the minster-aisles divine
Grew used to the approach of Glory’s wings.
Arts came, and arms, and law,
And majesty, and sacred form and fear;
Only that primal guest the fisher saw,
Light, only light, was slow to reappear.

The Saviour’s happy light,
Wherein at first was dight
His boon of life and immortality,
In desert ice of subtleties was spent
Or drown’d in mists of childish wonderment,
Fond fancies here, there false philosophy!
And harsh the temper grew
Of men with mind thus darken’d and astray;
And scarce the boon of life could struggle through,
For want of light which should the boon convey.

Yet in this latter time
The promise of the prime
Seem’d to come true at last, O Abbey old!
It seem’d, a child of light did bring the dower
Foreshown thee in thy consecration-hour,
And in thy courts his shining freight unroll’d:
Bright wits, and instincts sure,
And goodness warm, and truth without alloy,
And temper sweet, and love of all things pure,
And joy in light, and power to spread the joy.

And on that countenance bright
Shone oft so high a light,
That to my mind there came how, long ago,
Lay on the hearth, amid a fiery ring,
The charm’d babe of the Eleusinian king–[1]
His nurse, the Mighty Mother, will’d it so.
Warm in her breast, by day,
He slumber’d, and ambrosia balm’d the child;
But all night long amid the flames he lay,
Upon the hearth, and play’d with them, and smiled.