Richard Chenevix Trench

1807 - 1886 / Ireland

To Poetry

In my life's youth, while yet the deeper needs
Of the inmost spirit unawakened were,
Thou couldst recount of high heroic deeds,
Couldst add a glory unto earth and air,
A crowning glory, making fair more fair:
So that my soul was pleased and satisfied,
Which had as yet no higher, deeper care,
And said that thou shouldst evermore abide
With me, and make my bliss, and be my spirit's bride.

But years went on, and thoughts which slept before,
O'er the horizon of my soul arose-
Thoughts which perplexed me ever more and more;
As though a Sphinx should meet one, and propose
Enigmas hard, and which whoso not knows
To interpret, must her prey and victim be;
And I, round whom thick darkness seemed to close,
Knew only this one thing, that misery
Remained, if none could solve this riddle unto me.

Then I remembered that from thy lips fell
Large words of promise, how thou couldst succeed
All darkest mysteries of life to spell;
Therefore I pleaded with thee now to read
The riddle that was baffling me, with speed,
To yield some answer to the questioning.
Something thou spak'st, but nothing to my need,
So that I counted thee an idle thing,
Who, having promised much, couldst no true succour bring.

And I turned from thee, and I left thee quite,
And of thy name to hear had little care:
For I was only seeking if by flight
I might shun her, who else would rend and tear
Me, who could not her riddle dark declare:-
This toil, the anguish of this flight was mine,
Until at last, enquiring everywhere,
I won an answer from another shrine,
A holier oracle, a temple more divine.

But when no longer without hope I mourned,
When peace and joy revived in me anew,
Even from that moment my old love returned,
My former love, yet wiser and more true,
As seeing what for us thy power can do,
And what thy skill can make us understand
And know- and where that skill attained not to;
How far thou canst sustain us by the hand,
And what things shall in us a holier care demand-

My love of thee and thine; for earth and air,
And every common sight of sea and plain,
Then put new robes of glory on, and wear
The same till now; and things which dead had lain
Revived, as flowers that smell the dew and rain:
I was a man again of hopes and fears,
The fountains of my heart flowed forth again,
Whose sources had seemed dry for many years,
And there was given me back the sacred gift of tears.

And that old hope, which never quite had perished,
A longing which had stirred me from a boy,
And which in darkest seasons I had cherished,
Which nothing could quite vanquish or destroy,
This with all other things of life and joy
Revived within me- and I too would seek
The power, that moved my own heart, to employ
On others, who perchance would hear me speak,
If but the tones were true, although the voice were weak.

Though now there seems one only worthy aim
For poet- for my strength were as my will!-
And which renounce he cannot without blame-
To make men feel the presence by his skill
Of an eternal loveliness, until
All souls are faint with longing for their home,
Yet the same while are strengthened to fulfil
Their task on earth, that they may surely come
Unto the land of life, who here as exiles roam.

And what though loftiest fancies are not mine,
Nor words of chiefest power, yet unto me
Some voices reach out of the inner shrine,
Heard in mine heart of hearts, and I can see
At times some glimpses of the majesty,
Some prints and footsteps of the glory trace,
Which have been left on earth, that we might be
By them led forward to the secret place,
Where we perchance might see that glory face to face.

If in this quest, O power of sacred song,
Thou canst assist- oh, never take thy flight!
If thou canst make us gladder or more strong,
If thou canst fling glimpses of glorious light
Upon life's deepest depth and highest height,
Or pour upon its low and level plain
A gleam of mellower gladness, if this might
Thou hast- (and it is thine)- then not in vain
Are we henceforth prepared to follow in thy train.
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