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Gloria Mundi

I looked upon the fields so beautifully green,
I looked upon the hills and vale between,
By shade and sunshine flecked with day and night;
And then I heard the mountain breezes tread
Their wooded sides, like leafy steps that led
Down to the broad and blue bright river’s bed,
Dwindling in distance to a line of light.
I gazed, and gazed,—till all my senses caught
The earthy charm. Then waked the fevered thought:
“Drink, O my spirit, of thy cup of bliss,
That ne’er can fail thee in a world like this!”

The charm is gone! Ah, wherefore was it sent, To leave this vague and haunting discontent? I saw it rise, like moving meadow mists, Before my path, as ’t were a thing of sight; E’en as that vapory sea, drinking the light Fresh from the sun, and showering rubies bright Where’er it breaks, and purple amethysts. Ay, so it seemed. And then I saw it paled, Till, like that mimic sea, ’t was all exhaled. Then from her plumbless depth,—to mock the whole,— Dark in her mystery, came forth the Soul.
And now,—O, what to me this marvellous Earth But one vast show of misery and mirth, In fearful alternation wheeled through space; Where life is death; where the dead dust doth grow, And push to air, and drink the dew, and blow In fragrant flowers, that in their turn re-sow Their parent soil for some new living race; Where crumbled sepulchres uprise in thrones, And gorgeous palaces from dead men’s bones; Where, like the worm, the proudest lips are fed, The delicate, the dainty, on the dead.
Ah, glorious vanity! Ah, worse than vain To him who counts its whole possession gain, Or fondly seeks on Earth one point of rest,— E’en though it be the imperial house of Fame, That still ’mid falling empires stands the same: Alas! that house of breath but stays his name,— His restless spirit passes like a guest. No,—there ’s a spark that in the dullest lives; That once to all its light spiritual gives, Revealing to the soul a void so vast Not all in time may fill,—not all the past!
And yet there are, who, ever doubting, deem This inward light the fiction of a dream, Contemptuous turning to the reasoning day: While some with outward things e’en hope to close The too-obtruding gulf, and buy repose From ear and eye; or with fantastic shows In pride of intellect around it play. Vain toil of unbelief! For who may flee This fearful warrant of his destiny, That tracks the royal skeptic to his throne, Marking his fealty to a world unknown?
O, rather let me, in the void I feel, With no misgiving seek my lasting weal: Things blank and imageless in human speech Have oft a truth imperative in might; And so that stream, unnamed, unknown of sight, Unheard of ear, that thence doth day and night Flow on the Soul; and she doth feel it reach Her deepest seat of life, and knows her home Is whence that dim, mysterious stream doth come; Where all without is peace, all peace within,— A home closed only to the rebel, Sin.
Then be not in me quenched that inward ray, Shed on my spirit when this moving clay First took the wondrous gift, its life. O, never May things of sense beguile me to the brink Of that dark fount of Pride, of which to drink Is but to swallow madness,—when to think Will only be to doubt, till darkness ever Wall up the soul. But let Humility, Born of the obedient will, my guide still be Through this fair world,—though changing, yet how fair!— Till all shall be to me as things that were.
Washington Allston [1779–1843]