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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

John Arthur Goodchild b. 1851

A Parable of the Spirit

I CAME in light that I might behold

The shadow which shut me apart of old.

Lo, it was lying robed in white,

With the still palms crossed o’er a lily, bright

With salt rain of tears; and everywhere

Around lay blossoms that filled the air

With perfume, snow of flowers that hid

The snow of the silken coverlid

With myrtle and orange bloom and store

Of jasmine stars, and a wreath it wore

Of stephanotis. Still it lay,

For its time of travail had passed away.

“Of old it was never so fair as this,”

I said, as I bent me down to kiss

The cast swathing robe. “It is well that so

I see it before I turn to go—

Turn to depart that I may bless

The love that has shown such tenderness.”

So I passed to my mother’s side,

Where she lay sleepless and weary-eyed;

Glided within, that I might see

The chamber her love had reserved for me.

It was wide and warm, and furnished forth

With the best she had, with gifts of worth,

Anxious watchings and tears and prayers

And ministrations of many years.

I bent me down o’er her wrinkled brow

And kissed it smooth, as I whispered low

Comfort and hope for her daughter dear,

Till my whisper drew forth the healing tear.

Last, I kissed her to slumber deep,

Kissed her to quiet rest and sleep.

I passed to my sister’s heart, and there

I heard sweet notes of her soaring prayer;

And, joining therewith, found the fair white shrine

That her love had set apart as mine.

On its alabaster altar stood

A vessel with sacrificial blood.

Incense of sweet unselfishness

Rose ever, a pillar of light to bless

That fair pure place with its flower-sweet fume.

Dimmed was that shrine by no cloud of gloom,

But bright shone that pillar which rose above

On her earthly jewels with its lambent love.

So I knew that any gift of mine

Was naught by her treasure of love divine,

Flowing freely down; but a flower I lent

That would bloom in her bosom with sweet content,

’T was forget-me-not. “Though poor,” I said,

“Mid her blossoms of living love, the dead

Would yet be loved, and I will that she

Keep this, and render it back to me.”

I knew how my blossom would live and grow,

As I kissed it once ere I turned to go;

Turned to go to my cousin Kate—

She who was rival to me of late,

Jealous, unhappy, but in the end

Nursed me and tended me like a friend.

I searched her heart, and soon I found

A plot of mine in her garden ground;

Flowers were there which had ripened seed,

But among them many a yellow weed.

Still, I saw with a gladdened eye

The weeds were pining and like to die,

Whilst heartsease throve, and sprigs of rue

Watered well with remorseful dew.

So I bent down and rooted out

Nettles of envy, and round about

Cleared the ground that the flowers might live,

Live and blossom and grow and thrive.

Lastly, I drew with cords of love

A thistle of pride naught else might move,

Pressed her forehead and swiftly passed—

For I kept my best gifts to the last—

Treasures of comfort and hope to cheer

The heart which my own had held most dear.

I dreamed of the bliss that I should feel

When that opened heart should to me reveal

Its fulness, before but dimly seen,

As I lifted its veils and entered in—

Entered, and saw with mute amaze

How squalid and narrow was the place.

Still, I fancied, perchance for me

The best of that which is here may be.

Searching in dusk, I forced my way

To the secret place where my chamber lay,

Choked with the sordid piles o’erthrown

Of a miser’s dust which had been my own,

Till but little space for me remained,

All being filthy and weather-stained;

Whilst evil fungi, spawn of lust,

Pushed through the rotten floor, and thrust

Unsightly growths in that evil space,

And vanity pressed in the crowded space

Till room was scanty for me to tread.

I gazed shadowed a moment before I fled,

For no gift of mine of love or care

Might live in that pestilential air;

Still, for the love of dreams bygone,

I could not leave him quite alone,

So I planted cypress to warn of death.

It might live, and its keen balsamic breath

Would wither these fungi one by one,

Giving entrance, perchance, to some ray of sun.

Then I departed, earth’s lesson o’er.

Never henceforth shall I enter more;

And the thought was mine of former dread

And former longings, and so I said,

“Blind I was when my dearest wish

Was ever to dwell in a home like this.”

Knew, as I went forth to my rest,

My prayer was a child’s, and God knew best.