Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
Things New and Old (1884).
Chalfont St. Giles
By Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821–1891)
(From Thomas Elwood to William Pennington, A.D. 1665)

YES, 1 he is with me now, that blind old man,
Of whom I oft have told thee. I have sought
To save him from the city’s tainted air;
And so from out the streets, whose midnight hush
Is broken by the plague-cart’s bell, while death        5
With sweeping scythe mows down the grass of life,
I brought him hither. But a few green fields
Divide us, and at morn, and noon, and eve,
We meet as friends familiar, I to hear,
And he to speak. From pale lips eloquent        10
Flow golden words, and from the treasured store,
Like a wise scribe, he brings forth new and old;
Remembered words of poets and of sage
Float, like a strain of music, to his ears;
And so from out the dark clouds of the night        15
The moon looks forth upon his lonely path, 2
And leads him o’er wild moor and dreary waste,
Until the day-star rises. And his joy,
When o’er him comes the breath of new-mown fields,
The fragrance of the eglantine and rose,        20
Or the rich sweetness which the summer rain
Draws from the bosom of the parchèd earth,
Shines, like a sunbeam o’er that sightless face,
And sound, by some strange mystery of the sense,
Seems half-transmuted into subtler waves,        25
And tells of form and colour. Not for him
The golden sunset and the roseate dawn;
And yet the breath of morning, and the songs
Of lark that chants his anthems high and clear,
Bring to his soul the brightness and the glow.        30
He cannot see the lightning’s fiery flash,
But every peal of solemn thunder sweeps
With sudden glory to the inward eye;
And lo! his soul mounts upward to the Throne
Whence issue voices mighty as the surge        35
Of many waters, and the emerald arch
Spans the wide vault, and thousand angels wait,
Each in his order, or go to and fro,
Serving their Master. So each varying tone,
When the soft breeze, from out the pine-tree tops,        40
Calls the low murmur as of distant seas,
Or pattering of the raindrops on the eaves
Tells of the spring-tide shower, or babbling brook,
From pebbly depths and shallows in its course,
Makes clearest music,—all alike for him        45
Are but the notes of one vast symphony
That rises up from Nature to her God;
And each fair scene is present to his thoughts,
As once it was to sight that now is quenched.
But man is more than Nature, and his soul        50
Soars to yet loftier empyrean heights,
When from the ivory keys the expert’s touch
Creates its wondrous world of melody,
The solemn chants which fill the lofty choir,
The madrigals which speak of youth and joy,        55
The rushing flood of some o’erflowing strain
That pours unbidden, man’s will powerless
To start, or guide, or check it. This his hands
Work for themselves, and I but sit and hear,
Wrapt in that cloud of music, and borne on        60
To heights before unknown; and yet my voice,
That too has power to stir the depths of life,
Or ringing out Great Homer’s trumpet tones,
Or following Virgil’s calmer, statelier tread,
Or the dread vision of the Florentine,        65
Or in our English speech, with psalm and hymn,
And hallelujah, such as Levites sang
Before their God, the Lord of Sabaoth,
Kindling his spirit, till the wind that sweeps
With mighty rushing wakes his soul to hear        70
The echoes of the anthems of the stars,
The music of the mountain and the flood.
*        *        *        *        *
Note 1. Chalfont St. Giles is memorable in English literature as the place of Milton’s retirement during the great Plague of London, A.D. 1665. Thither he was taken by Thomas Elwood, one of the early disciples of William Penn, from whom this narrative of his life there is supposed to come in a letter to one of the brotherhood of Friends. [back]
Note 2. “Then the remembrance of early reading came over his dark and lonely path like the moon emerging from the clouds.”—Hallam: History of Literature, iv., p. 425, ed. 1839. [back]

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