Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  Old Souls

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

Thomas Gordon Hake 1809–94

Old Souls

THE WORLD, not hush’d, lay as in trance;

It saw the future in its van,

And drew its riches in advance

To meet the greedy wants of man;

Till length of days, untimely sped,

Left its account unaudited.

The sun, untir’d, still rose and set,—

Swerv’d not an instant from its beat;

It had not lost a moment yet,

Nor used in vain its light and heat;

But, as in trance, from when it rose

To when it sank, man crav’d repose.

A holy light that shone of yore

He saw, despis’d, and left behind:

His heart was rotting to the core

Lock’d in the slumbers of the mind:

Not beat of drum, nor sound of fife,

Could rouse it to a sense of life.

A cry was heard, inton’d and slow,

Of one who had no wares to vend:

His words were gentle, dull, and low,

And he call’d out, “Old souls to mend!”

He peddled on from door to door,

And look’d not up to rich or poor.

His step kept on as if in pace

With some old timepiece in his head,

Nor ever did its way retrace;

Nor right nor left turn’d he his tread,

But utter’d still his tinker’s cry

To din the ears of passersby.

So well they knew the olden note

Few heeded what the tinker spake,

Though here and there an ear it smote

And seem’d a sudden hold to take;

But they had not the time to stay,

And it would do some other day.

Still on his way the tinker wends,

Though jobs be far between and few;

But here and there a soul he mends

And makes it look as good as new.

Once set to work, once fairly hir’d,

His dull old hammer seems inspir’d.

Over the task his features glow;

He knocks away the rusty flakes;

A spark flies off at every blow;

At every rap new life awakes.

The soul once cleans’d of outward sins,

His subtle handicraft begins.

Like iron unanneal’d and crude,

The soul is plunged into the blast;

To temper it, however rude,

’T is next in holy water cast;

Then on the anvil it receives

The nimblest stroke the tinker gives.

The tinker’s task is at an end:

Stamp’d was the cross by that last blow.

Again his cry, “Old souls to mend!”

Is heard in accents dull and low.

He pauses not to seek his pay,—

That too will do another day.

One stops and says, “This soul of mine

Has been a tidy piece of ware,

But rust and rot in it combine,

And now corruption lays it bare.

Give it a look: there was a day

When it the morning hymn could say.”

The tinker looks into his eye,

And there detects besetting sin,

The decent oldestablish’d lie,

That creeps through all the chinks within.

Lank are its tendrils, thick its shoots,

And like a worm’s nest coil the roots.

Like flowers that deadly berries bear,

His seed, if tended from the pod,

Had grown in beauty with the year,

Like deodara drawn to God;

Now, like a dank and curly brake,

It fosters venom for the snake.

The tinker takes the weed in tow,

And roots it out with tooth and nail;

His labor patient to bestow,

Lest like the herd of men he fail.

How best to extirpate the weed

Has grown with him into a creed.

His tack is steady, slow, and sure:

He plucks it out, despite the howl,

With gentle hand and look demure,

As cunning maiden draws a fowl.

He knows the job he is about,

And pulls till all the lie is out.

“Now steadfastly regard the man

Who wrought your cure of rust and rot!

You saw him ere the work began:

Is he the same, or is he not?

You saw the tinker; now behold

The Envoy of a God of old.”

This said, he on the forehead stamps

The downward stroke and one across,

Then straight upon his way he tramps;

His time for profit, not for loss;

His task no sooner at an end

Than out he cries, “Old souls to mend!”

As night comes on he enters doors,

He crosses halls, he goes upstairs,

He reaches first and second floors,

Still busied on his own affairs.

None stop him or a question ask;

None heed the workman at his task.

Despite his cry, “Old souls to mend!”

Which into dull expression breaks,

Not mov’d are they, nor ear they lend

To him who from old habit speaks;

Yet does the deep and one-ton’d cry

Send thrills along eternity.

He gads where out-door wretches walk,

Where outcasts under arches creep;

Among them holds his simple talk.

He lets them hear him in their sleep.

They who his name have still denied,

He lets them see him crucified.

On royal steps he takes a stand

To light the beauties to the ball;

He holds a lantern in his hand,

And lets this simple saying fall.

They deem him but some sorry wit

Serving the Holy Spirit’s writ.

They know not souls can rust and rot,

And deem him, while he says his say,

The tipsy watchman who forgot

To call out, “Carriage stops the way!”

They know not what it can portend,

This mocking cry, “Old souls to mend!”

While standing on the palace stone,

He is in workhouse, brothel, jail;

He is to play and ballroom gone,

To hear again the beauties rail;

With tender pity to behold

The dead alive in pearls and gold.

In meaning deep, in whispers low

As bubble bursting on the air,

He lets the solemn warning flow

Through jewell’d ears of creatures fair,

Who, while they dance, their paces blend

With his mild words, “Old souls to mend!”

And when to church their sins they take,

And bring them back to lunch again,

And fun of empty sermons make,

He whispers softly in their train;

And sits with them if two or more

Think of a promise made of yore.

Of those who stay behind to sup,

And in remembrance eat the bread,

He leads the conscience to the cup,

His hands across the table spread.

When contrite hearts before him bend,

Glad are his words, “Old souls to mend!”

The little ones before the font

He clasps within his arms to bless;

For Childhood’s pure and guileless front

Smiles back his own sweet gentleness.

“Of such,” he says, “my kingdom is,

For they betray not with a kiss.”

He goes to hear the vicars preach:

They do not always know his face,

Him they pretend the way to teach,

And, as one absent, ask his grace.

Not then his words, “Old souls to mend!”

Their spirits pierce or bosoms rend.

He goes to see the priests revere

His image as he lay in death:

They do not know that he is there;

They do not feel his living breath,

Though to his secret they pretend

With incense sweet, old souls to mend.

He goes to hear the grand debate

That makes his own religion law;

But him the members, as he sate

Below the gangway, never saw.

They us’d his name to serve their end,

And others left old souls to mend.

Before the church exchange he stands,

Where those who buy and sell him, meet:

He sees his livings changing hands,

And shakes the dust from off his feet.

Maybe his weary head he bows,

While from his side fresh ichor flows.

From mitred peers he turns his face.

Where priests convok’d in session plot,

He would remind them of his grace

But for his now too humble lot;

So his dull cry on ears devout

He murmurs sadly from without.

He goes where judge the law defends,

And takes the life he can’t bestow,

And soul of sinner recommends

To grace above, but not below;

Reserving for a fresh surprise

Whom it shall meet in Paradise.

He goes to meeting, where the saint

Exempts himself from deadly ire,

But in a strain admir’d and quaint

Consigns all others to the fire,

While of the damn’d he mocks the howl,

And on the tinker drops his scowl.

Go here, go there, they cite his word,

While he himself is nigh forgot.

He hears them use the name of Lord,

He present though they know him not.

Though he be there, they vision lack,

And talk of him behind his back.

Such is the Church and such the State.

Both set him up and put him down,—

Below the houses of debate,

Above the jewels of the crown.

But when “Old souls to mend!” he says,

They send him off about his ways.

He is the humble, lowly one,

In coat of rusty velveteen,

Who to his daily work has gone;

In sleeves of lawn not ever seen.

No mitre on his forehead sticks:

His crown is thorny, and it pricks.

On it the dews of mercy shine;

From heaven at dawn of day they fell;

And it he wears by right divine,

Like earthly kings, if truth they tell;

And up to heaven the few to send,

He still cries out, “Old souls to mend!”