Sunday, May 01, 2011

Our Hearths are Altars All

First Sunday After Easter
by John Keble


First Father of the holy seed,
If yet, invoked in hour of need,
Thou count me for Thine own
Not quite an outcast if I prove,
(Thou joy'st in miracles of love),
Hear, from Thy mercy-throne!

Upon Thine altar's horn of gold
Help me to lay my trembling hold,
Though stained with Christian gore; -
The blood of souls by Thee redeemed,
But, while I roved or idly dreamed,
Lost to be found no more.

For oft, when summer leaves were bright,
And every flower was bathed in light,
In sunshine moments past,
My wilful heart would burst away
From where the holy shadow lay,
Where heaven my lot had cast.

I thought it scorn with Thee to dwell,
A Hermit in a silent cell,
While, gaily sweeping by,
Wild Fancy blew his bugle strain,
And marshalled all his gallant train
In the world's wondering eye.

I would have joined him--but as oft
Thy whispered warnings, kind and soft,
My better soul confessed.
"My servant, let the world alone -
Safe on the steps of Jesus' throne
Be tranquil and be blest."

"Seems it to thee a niggard hand
That nearest Heaven has bade thee stand,
The ark to touch and bear,
With incense of pure heart's desire
To heap the censer's sacred fire,
The snow-white Ephod wear?"

Why should we crave the worldling's wreath,
On whom the Savour deigned to breathe,
To whom His keys were given,
Who lead the choir where angels meet,
With angels' food our brethren greet,
And pour the drink of Heaven?

When sorrow all our heart would ask,
We need not shun our daily task,
And hide ourselves for calm;
The herbs we seek to heal our woe
Familiar by our pathway grow,
Our common air is balm.

Around each pure domestic shrine
Bright flowers of Eden bloom and twine,
Our hearths are altars all;
The prayers of hungry souls and poor,
Like armed angels at the door,
Our unseen foes appal.

Alms all around and hymns within -
What evil eye can entrance win
Where guards like these abound?
If chance some heedless heart should roam,
Sure, thought of these will lure it home
Ere lost in Folly's round.

O joys, that sweetest in decay,
Fall not, like withered leaves, away,
But with the silent breath
Of violets drooping one by one,
Soon as their fragrant task is done,
Are wafted high in death!

One of Keble's most underappreciated poems, I think. In this poem he never stumbles, and repeatedly comes close to the topmost summit of poetry, which is to say something so well that it could not be said better.

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