Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  Mary Arden

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

Eric Mackay b. 1851

Mary Arden

O THOU to whom, athwart the perished days

And parted nights, long sped, we lift our gaze,

Behold! I greet thee with a modern rhyme,

Love-lit and reverent as befits the time,

To solemnize the feast-day of thy son.

And who was he who flourished in the smiles

Of thy fair face? ’T was Shakespeare of the Isles,

Shakespeare of England, whom the world has known

As thine, and ours, and Glory’s, in the zone

Of all the seas and all the lands of earth.

He was unfamous when he came to thee,

But sound, and sweet, and good for eyes to see,

And born at Stratford, on St. George’s Day,

A week before the wondrous month of May;

And God therein was gracious to us all.

He loved thee, lady! and he loved the world;

And, like a flag, his fealty was unfurled;

And kings who flourished ere thy son was born

Shall live through him, from morn to furthest morn,

In all the far-off cycles yet to come.

He gave us Falstaff, and a hundred quips,

A hundred mottoes from immortal lips;

And, year by year, we smile to keep away

The generous tears that mind us of the sway

Of his great singing, and the pomp thereof.

His was the nectar of the gods of Greece,

The lute of Orpheus, and the Golden Fleece

Of grand endeavor; and the thunder-roll

Of words majestic, which, from pole to pole,

Have borne the tidings of our English tongue.

He gave us Hamlet; and he taught us more

Than schools have taught us; and his fairy-lore

Was fraught with science; and he called from death

Verona’s lovers, with the burning breath

Of their great passion that has filled the spheres.

He made us know Cordelia, and the man

Who murdered sleep, and baleful Caliban;

And, one by one, athwart the gloom appeared

Maidens and men and myths who were revered

In olden days, before the earth was sad.

Ay! this is true. It was ordainéd so;

He was thine own, three hundred years ago;

But ours to-day; and ours till earth be red

With doom-day splendor for the quick and dead,

And days and nights be scattered like the leaves.

It was for this he lived, for this he died:

To raise to Heaven the face that never lied,

To lean to earth the lips that should become

Fraught with conviction when the mouth was dumb,

And all the firm, fine body turned to clay.

He lived to seal, and sanctify, the lives

Of perished maids, and uncreated wives,

And gave them each a space wherein to dwell;

And for his mother’s sake he loved them well

And made them types undying of all truth.

O fair and fond young mother of the boy

Who wrought all this—O Mary!—in this the joy

Didst thou perceive, when, fitful from his rest,

He turned to thee, that his would be the best

Of all men’s chanting since the world began?

Didst thou, O Mary! with the eye of trust

Perceive, prophetic through the dark and dust

Of things terrene, the glory of thy son,

And all the pride therein that should be won

By toilsome men, content to be his slaves?

Didst thou, good mother! in the tender ways

That women find to fill the fleeting days,

Behold afar the Giant who should rise

With foot on earth, and forehead in the skies,

To write his name and thine among the stars?

I love to think it; and in dreams at night

I see thee stand, erect, and all in white,

With hands out-yearning to that mighty form,

As if to draw him back from out the storm—

A child again, and thine to nurse withal.

I see thee, pale and pure, with flowing hair,

And big, bright eyes—far-searching in the air

For thy sweet babe—and, in a trice of time,

I see the boy advance to thee, and climb,

And call thee “Mother!” in ecstatic tones.

Yet if my thought be vain—if, by a touch

Of this weak hand, I vex thee overmuch—

Forbear the blame, sweet Spirit! and endow

My heart with fervor while to thee I bow

Athwart the threshold of my fading dream.

For—though so seeming-bold in this my song—

I turn to thee with reverence, in the throng

Of words and thoughts, as shepherds scanned afar

The famed effulgence of that eastern star

Which ushered in the Crowned One of the heavens.

In dreams of rapture I have seen thee pass

Along the banks of Avon, by the grass,

As fair as that fair Juliet whom thy son

Endowed with life, but with the look of one

Who knows the nearest way to some new grave.

And often, too, I ’ve seen thee in the flush

Of thy full beauty, while the mother’s “Hush!”

Hung on thy lip, and all thy tangled hair

Re-clothed a bosom that in part was bare

Because a tiny hand had toyed therewith!

Oh! by the June-tide splendor of thy face

When, eight weeks old, the child in thine embrace

Did leap and laugh—O Mary! by the same,

I bow to thee, subservient to thy fame,

And call thee England’s Pride forevermore!