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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘Festus’

By Philip James Bailey (1816–1902)


FESTUS—Men’s callings all

Are mean and vain; their wishes more so: oft

The man is bettered by his part or place.

How slight a chance may raise or sink a soul!

Lucifer—What men call accident is God’s own part.

He lets ye work your will—it is his own:

But that ye mean not, know not, do not, he doth.

Festus—What is life worth without a heart to feel

The great and lovely harmonies which time

And nature change responsive, all writ out

By preconcertive hand which swells the strain

To divine fulness; feel the poetry,

The soothing rhythm of life’s fore-ordered lay;

The sacredness of things?—for all things are

Sacred so far,—the worst of them, as seen

By the eye of God, they in the aspect bide

Of holiness: nor shall outlaw sin be slain,

Though rebel banned, within the sceptre’s length;

But privileged even for service. Oh! to stand

Soul-raptured, on some lofty mountain-thought,

And feel the spirit expand into a view

Millennial, life-exalting, of a day

When earth shall have all leisure for high ends

Of social culture; ends a liberal law

And common peace of nations, blent with charge

Divine, shall win for man, were joy indeed:

Nor greatly less, to know what might be now,

Worked will for good with power, for one brief hour.

But look at these, these individual souls:

How sadly men show out of joint with man!

There are millions never think a noble thought;

But with brute hate of brightness bay a mind

Which drives the darkness out of them, like hounds.

Throw but a false glare round them, and in shoals

They rush upon perdition: that’s the race.

What charm is in this world-scene to such minds?

Blinded by dust? What can they do in heaven,

A state of spiritual means and ends?

Thus must I doubt—perpetually doubt.

Lucifer—Who never doubted never half believed.

Where doubt, there truth is—’tis her shadow. I

Declare unto thee that the past is not.

I have looked over all life, yet never seen

The age that had been. Why then fear or dream

About the future? Nothing but what is, is;

Else God were not the Maker that he seems,

As constant in creating as in being.

Embrace the present. Let the future pass.

Plague not thyself about a future. That

Only which comes direct from God, his spirit,

Is deathless. Nature gravitates without

Effort; and so all mortal natures fall

Deathwards. All aspiration is a toil;

But inspiration cometh from above,

And is no labor. The earth’s inborn strength

Could never lift her up to yon stars, whence

She fell; nor human soul, by native worth,

Claim heaven as birthright, more than man may call

Cloudland his home. The soul’s inheritance,

Its birth-place, and its death-place, is of earth;

Until God maketh earth and soul anew;

The one like heaven, the other like himself.

So shall the new creation come at once;

Sin, the dead branch upon the tree of life

Shall be cut off forever; and all souls

Concluded in God’s boundless amnesty.

Festus—Thou windest and unwindest faith at will.

What am I to believe?
Lucifer—Thou mayest believe

But that thou art forced to.
Festus—Then I feel, perforce,

That instinct of immortal life in me,

Which prompts me to provide for it.

Festus—Man hath a knowledge of a time to come—

His most important knowledge: the weight lies

Nearest the short end; and the world depends

Upon what is to be. I would deny

The present, if the future. Oh! there is

A life to come, or all’s a dream.
Lucifer—And all

May be a dream. Thou seest in thine, men, deeds,

Clear, moving, full of speech and order; then

Why may not all this world be but a dream

Of God’s? Fear not! Some morning God may waken.

Festus—I would it were. This life’s a mystery.

The value of a thought cannot be told;

But it is clearly worth a thousand lives

Like many men’s. And yet men love to live

As if mere life were worth their living for.

What but perdition will it be to most?

Life’s more than breath and the quick round of blood;

It is a great spirit and a busy heart.

The coward and the small in soul scarce do live.

One generous feeling—one great thought—one deed

Of good, ere night, would make life longer seem

Than if each year might number a thousand days,

Spent as is this by nations of mankind.

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives

Who thinks most—feels the noblest—acts the best.

Life’s but a means unto an end—that end

Beginning, mean, and end to all things—God.

The dead have all the glory of the world.

Why will we live and not be glorious?

We never can be deathless till we die.

It is the dead win battles. And the breath

Of those who through the world drive like a wedge,

Tearing earth’s empires up, nears Death so close

It dims his well-worn scythe. But no! the brave

Die never. Being deathless, they but change

Their country’s arms for more—their country’s heart.

Give then the dead their due: it is they who saved us.

The rapid and the deep—the fall, the gulph,

Have likenesses in feeling and in life.

And life, so varied, hath more loveliness

In one day than a creeping century

Of sameness. But youth loves and lives on change,

Till the soul sighs for sameness; which at last

Becomes variety, and takes its place.

Yet some will last to die out, thought by thought,

And power by power, and limb of mind by limb,

Like lamps upon a gay device of glass,

Till all of soul that’s left be dry and dark;

Till even the burden of some ninety years

Hath crashed into them like a rock; shattered

Their system as if ninety suns had rushed

To ruin earth—or heaven had rained its stars;

Till they become like scrolls, unreadable,

Through dust and mold. Can they be cleaned and read?

Do human spirits wax and wane like moons?

Lucifer—The eye dims, and the heart gets old and slow;

The lithe limbs stiffen, and the sun-hued locks

Thin themselves off, or whitely wither; still,

Ages not spirit, even in one point,

Immeasurably small; from orb to orb,

Rising in radiance ever like the sun

Shining upon the thousand lands of earth.


CLARA—True prophet mayst thou be. But list: that sound

The passing-bell the spirit should solemnize;

For, while on its emancipate path, the soul

Still waves its upward wings, and we still hear

The warning sound, it is known, we well may pray.

Festus—But pray for whom?
Clara—It means not. Pray for all.

Pray for the good man’s soul:

He is leaving earth for heaven,

And it soothes us to feel that the best

May be forgiven.

Festus—Pray for the sinful soul:

It fleëth, we know not where;

But wherever it be let us hope;

For God is there.

Clara—Pray for the rich man’s soul:

Not all be unjust, nor vain;

The wise he consoled; and he saved

The poor from pain.

Festus—Pray for the poor man’s soul:

The death of this life of ours

He hath shook from his feet; he is one

Of the heavenly powers.

Pray for the old man’s soul:

He hath labored long; through life

It was battle or march. He hath ceased,

Serene, from strife.

Clara—Pray for the infant’s soul:

With its spirit crown unsoiled,

He hath won, without war, a realm;

Gained all, nor toiled.

Festus—Pray for the struggling soul:

The mists of the straits of death

Clear off; in some bright star-isle

It anchoreth.

Pray for the soul assured:

Though it wrought in a gloomy mine,

Yet the gems it earned were its own,

That soul’s divine.

Clara—Pray for the simple soul:

For it loved, and therein was wise;

Though itself knew not, but with heaven

Confused the skies.

Festus—Pray for the sage’s soul:

’Neath his welkin wide of mind

Lay the central thought of God,

Thought undefined.

Pray for the souls of all

To our God, that all may be

With forgiveness crowned, and joy


Clara—Hush! for the bell hath ceased;

And the spirit’s fate is sealed;

To the angels known; to man

Best unrevealed.


FESTUS—Well, farewell, Mr. Student. May you never

Regret those hours which make the mind, if they

Unmake the body; for the sooner we

Are fit to be all mind, the better. Blessed

Is he whose heart is the home of the great dead,

And their great thoughts. Who can mistake great thoughts?

They seize upon the mind; arrest and search,

And shake it; bow the tall soul as by wind;

Rush over it like a river over reeds,

Which quaver in the current; turn us cold,

And pale, and voiceless; leaving in the brain

A rocking and a ringing; glorious,

But momentary, madness might it last,

And close the soul with heaven as with a seal!

In lieu of all these things whose loss thou mournest,

If earnestly or not I know not, use

The great and good and true which ever live;

And are all common to pure eyes and true.

Upon the summit of each mountain-thought

Worship thou God, with heaven-uplifted head

And arms horizon-stretched; for deity is seen

From every elevation of the soul.

Study the light; attempt the high; seek out

The soul’s bright path; and since the soul is fire,

Of heat intelligential, turn it aye

To the all-Fatherly source of light and life;

Piety purifies the soul to see

Visions, perpetually, of grace and power,

Which, to their sight who in ignorant sin abide,

Are now as e’er incognizable. Obey

Thy genius, for a minister it is

Unto the throne of Fate. Draw towards thy soul,

And centralize, the rays which are around

Of the divinity. Keep thy spirit pure

From worldly taint, by the repellent strength

Of virtue. Think on noble thoughts and deeds,

Ever. Count o’er the rosary of truth;

And practice precepts which are proven wise,

It matters not then what thou fearest. Walk

Boldly and wisely in that light thou hast;—

There is a hand above will help thee on.

I am an omnist, and believe in all

Religions; fragments of one golden world

To be relit yet, and take its place in heaven,

Where is the whole, sole truth, in deity.

Meanwhile, his word, his law, writ soulwise here,

Study; its truths love; practice its behests—

They will be with thee when all else have gone.

Mind, body, passion all wear out; not faith

Nor truth. Keep thy heart cool, or rule its heat

To fixed ends; waste it not upon itself.

Not all the agony maybe of the damned

Fused in one pang, vies with that earthquake throb

Which wakens soul from life-waste, to let see

The world rolled by for aye, and we must wait

For our next chance the nigh eternity;

Whether it be in heaven, or elsewhere.


FESTUS—The dead of night: earth seems but seeming;

The soul seems but a something dreaming.

The bird is dreaming in its nest,

Of song, and sky, and loved one’s breast;

The lap-dog dreams, as round he lies,

In moonshine, of his mistress’s eyes;

The steed is dreaming, in his stall,

Of one long breathless leap and fall;

The hawk hath dreamed him thrice of wings

Wide as the skies he may not cleave;

But waking, feels them clipped, and clings

Mad to the perch ’twere mad to leave:

The child is dreaming of its toys;

The murderer, of calm home joys;

The weak are dreaming endless fears;

The proud of how their pride appears;

The poor enthusiast who dies,

Of his life-dreams the sacrifice,

Sees, as enthusiast only can,

The truth that made him more than man;

And hears once more, in visioned trance,

That voice commanding to advance,

Where wealth is gained—love, wisdom won,

Or deeds of danger dared and done.

The mother dreameth of her child;

The maid of him who hath beguiled;

The youth of her he loves too well;

The good of God; the ill of hell;

Who live of death; of life who die;

The dead of immortality.

The earth is dreaming back her youth;

Hell never dreams, for woe is truth;

And heaven is dreaming o’er her prime,

Long ere the morning stars of time;

And dream of heaven alone can I,

My lovely one, when thou art nigh.

From the Conclusion

FATHER of goodness,

Son of love,

Spirit of comfort,

Be with us!

God who hast made us,

God who hast saved,

God who hast judged us,

Thee we praise.

Heaven our spirits,

Hallow our hearts;

Let us have God-light


Ours is the wide world,

Heaven on heaven;

What have we done, Lord,

Worthy this?

Oh! we have loved thee;

That alone

Maketh our glory,

Duty, meed.

Oh! we have loved thee!

Love we will

Ever, and every

Soul of us.

God of the saved,

God of the tried,

God of the lost ones,

Be with all!

Let us be near thee

Ever and aye;

Oh! let us love thee