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The Altar; or Meditations in Verse on the Great Christian Sacrifice

By Isaac Williams

London: Joseph Masters, 1849.

XXVII. Christ's Body on the Cross


"But it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light."

The dreadful scene is o'er, the woe is past,
And closed in death; yet penitential grief
Clings to the silent Cross; nor seeks relief
Elsewhere but there alone; the sun o'ercast,
Which hid itself in sorrow, now at last
Looks forth again: but in one day so brief
What scenes crowd thick for prayer or calm belief!
Loaded with destinies the minutes haste,
And in one moment all is finishèd.
Man lives, the Giver of all life is dead:
Man by His dying lives, by living dies
To what in him was human, lives to God:
Sin dies and man revives; the serpent lies
Slain by God-Man on the extended rod.


"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"

How terrible and deep is this repose!
There is no stillness like the calm of death
That stops the beating heart and stills the breath;
For so hath God ordained, that at the close
Sad Meditation veil'd in silent woes
Beneath the shadow of eternity
May sit, in silence like the evening sky.
But this, though companied with dying throes,
Is not as other deaths; for Death that seems
Upon the still cold limbs and hanging head
To sit as victor, while he little deems,
Himself is by his conquest vanquishèd:
Hope in despair is planted; and the beams
Of morning are on day's departing shed.


"Who going through the vale of misery use it for a well; and the pools are filled with water. They will go from strength to strength."

From hall of Judgment, by "the way of woe,"
To Golgotha and that sepulchral hill,
The numbered "stations" mark each spot of ill;
Whereon with faltering footsteps, sad and slow,
The pensive pilgrims linger as they go,
From scene to scene, from step to step, and still
From each anew their labouring bosoms fill
With prayer and praise. Each place, while from below
They upward wind, as flowers which bow their head
Beneath the passing footsteps as we tread,
Breathes incense of good thoughts, which shall imbue
The soul for future years. Thus mindful love
May pause upon each theme, and, like the dove,
In one same measured plaint her strain renew.


"Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little."

Why should I not beneath the Cross lie still,
Recounting o'er and o'er the self-same beads,
Though the proud world rides by and nothing heeds,
While musing Meditation has her fill
In sonnet after sonnet poured forth, till
Goodwill itself is weariness, and needs
Variety, to sooth that faith that feeds
Upon the memories of that dreadful hill
Of sorrows? What avails it, if so be
That such my melancholy sad delight
May profit others? Nature loves the sight
Of ordered sameness in variety;
How many golden ears in harvest field
Each like to each their full-grained treasure yield!


"We may speak much, and yet come short."

How many coral clusters hang and swing
Upon the mountain ash along the steep,
Which with its blood-red berries seems to weep!
More are they multiplied the more they cling
With roots into the rock from whence they spring;
For nature from her treasures vast and deep
With everlasting sameness loves to creep
Into fresh being; leaflets fluttering
Into new life one impress strive to hold;
Till on one tree, alike though manifold,
All fain would run into the self-same mould.
The flowers that look erect or hang on ground,
The stars that come forth in the blue profound,
So numberless, yet seem alike around.


"Thy statutes have been my songs: in the house of my pilgrimage."

And if of English bards the chief and best,
Shakespeare and Spenser, such their sonnets wove,
On the loose intricacies of creature love;
Like each to each as speckled eggs in nest,
Or azure pearls upon their fair one's breast,
Or plumes on neck of the impassioned dove,
Or bubbles which on Ocean's surface move,
Thrown from his labourings deep and dark unrest,
As with the breeze they sport, or catch the gleam:--
Then may I not unblamed, from thoughts that teem
Mid flowers of Paradise, a nobler theme
Construct in semblance of the honeyed cells;
And, as the self-same measure falls and swells,
Ring on from morn to eve my music bells?

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