Verse > Anthologies > W. Garrett Horder, ed. > The Poets’ Bible: New Testament
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W. Garrett Horder, comp.  The Poets’ Bible: New Testament.  1895.
 
A Vision of Virgins
E. Robert Bulwer, Lord Lytton (Owen Meredith) (1831–1891)
 
I HAD a vision of the night. It seem’d
There was a long red track of barren land
Block’d in by black hills, where a half-moon dream’d
Of morn, and whiten’d. Drifts of sallow sand,
This way and that, were heapt below; and flats        5
Of water;—glaring shallows, where strange bats
Came and went, and moths flicker’d. To the right
A dusty road, that crept along the waste
Like a white snake; and further up I traced
Turreted masses on a mason’d height.        10
A hundred casements all ablaze with light:
And shades that slid athwart them as in haste:
And a slow music, such as sometimes kings
Command at mighty revels, softly sent
From viol, and flute, and tabor, and the strings        15
Of many a sweet and slumbrous instrument,
That wound into the mute heart of night
Out of that distance.

                Then I could perceive
A glory pouring through an open door,
And in it five bright maidens. I believe        20
That all those maidens milk-white vesture wore,
Or white it seem’d in the unstain’d embrace
Of radiance flowing down a lucid floor
Through glorious galleries, from an unseen place
That glow’d far inward. Still as statues all        25
They stood: each face of them, upslanted keen,
Of some great coming joy shone augural:
And each husht maiden, with majestic mien,
Held heavenward in her lifted hand a small
Clear-sparkling lamp whose little resolute flame        30
Throbb’d fast but flinch’d not. From that place unseen
There rose a shout ‘The Bridegroom!’ And one came
Crown’d for a feast. I could not see the face
That bent in welcome kingly and serene
Above those maidens waiting its command;        35
So great a glory from that unseen place
Transcended sight.

                He took them by the hand,
And led them in. With light and music blent
They faded from me. On their bridal band,
And on the glory into which they went,        40
The great doors closed. Once more the desert land
Lay dark and silent; for the moon had dipp’d
Her reeling horn behind a battlement
Of black wind-broken cloud. My dream was stripp’d
And stricken bare. Deep sense of sudden loss        45
Fill’d all the night with silence and eclipse.
Then in the dark came, fitfully across
The creviced waste, a wail as from the lips
Of lost bewilder’d wanderers. And again
I had a vision on that midnight plain.        50
Five women. Young and beautiful they were:
But theirs such beauty as but deepens all
The desolation of things fashion’d fair
And steadfast, when they prematurely fall
In all their freshness, not beneath time’s slow        55
And softening touch, but in a shatter’d heap
Of irremediable overthrow
Suddenly thunder-smitten. Roused from sleep
With a fierce start that into wandering trouble
Over her else-unshelter’d shoulder threw        60
Her loosen’d tresses, one was bent half double,
A huddled shape, that hung o’er the last spark
Of a lamp slowly dying. As she blew
The dull light redder, and about the dark
The dry-wick, all in crumbling sparkles, flew,        65
I saw a light of horror in her eyes;
A wild light on her flush’d cheek; a wild white
On her dry lips; an agony of surprise
Fearfully fair. The lamp dropp’d. From my sight
She fell into the dark. Beside her sat        70
One without motion; and her stern face flat
Against the dark sky. One as still as death,
Hollow’d her hands about her lamp, for fear,
Some motion of the midnight, or her breath,
Should fan out the last flicker. Rosy-clear        75
The light oozed through her fingers, o’er her face:
There was a ruin’d beauty hovering there
Over deep pain, and, dash’t with lurid grace,
A waning bloom. The light grew dim and blear;
And she, too, slowly darken’d in her place.        80
Another, with both hands enwoven fast
Together, clinging to her heapéd knees,
Moan’d as she rock’d herself, until at last
She neither moved nor moan’d. By faint degrees
The moon, from her cloud chasm emerging, cast        85
(Cold as life’s last look from a dying eye)
A momentary livid light o’er these
Lost maidens. Then one rose up with a cry
To that late gleam; and stretch’d a wrathful arm
Of wild expostulation to the sky,        90
Shouting—“These earth-lamps fail us! And what harm?
Doth not the moon shine? Yonder, o’er the waste,
Methinks I hear, tho’ faint, the festal tone
Of lutes and viols. Let us rise, and haste
To meet the Bridegroom. It were better done,        95
At worst, to perish by the palace gate,
And sink in sight of safety one by one,
Than here upon the homeless wild to wait
Uncertain ills. Away! the hour is late!”
 
Again all darken’d. I could see no more.        100
Not the least gleam of light did heaven afford.
 
At last I heard a knocking on a door,
And some one crying “Open to us, Lord.”
There was an awful pause. I heard my heart
Beat. Then a voice—“I know you not. Depart!”        105
I caught, within, a glimpse of glory. And
The door closed.
            Still in darkness dream’d the land.
I could not see those women. Not a breath!
Darkness and awe; a darkness deep as death.
The darkness took them…..        110
 
 
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