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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
 
Madonna’s Child
Alfred Austin (1835–1913)
 
Madonna’s Child, by Alfred Austin. This romantic poem, which its author, the poet-laureate, calls the “first-born of his serious Muse,” was first published in 1872. The scene is laid at Spiaggiascura, on the Riviera; and Olympia, the heroine, “a daughter of the sunlight and the shrine,” is sacristan of a little seaside chapel:—
  “Sacred to prayer, but quite unknown to fame,
Maria Stella Maria is its name….
Breaks not a morning but its snow-white altar
  With fragrant mountain flowers is newly dight;
Comes not a noon but lowly murmured psalter
  Again is heard with unpretentious rite.”
To this chapel comes a stranger, Godfrid, and surprises Olympia,
  “Atiptoe, straining at a snow-white thorn
Whose bloom enticed but still escaped her hand.”
He
                    “deftly broke
A loftier bow in lovelier bloom arrayed,”
and gave it to her; and then accompanied her to the chapel, kneeling with her before the Madonna. Later, she finds to her horror that he is an unbeliever. To her supplications to—
  “Bend pride’s stiff knee; no longer grace withstand,”
his answer is, “I cannot.” With her he makes a pilgrimage to Milan. She leaves him with a priest who has been her adviser; but the old priest’s efforts are in vain, and he tells her:—
  “Through his parched bosom, prayer no longer flows.
By Heaven may yet the miracle be wrought;
But human ways are weak, and words are naught.”
She decides that they must part, but he asks:—
  “Is there no common Eden of the heart,
Where each fond bosom is a welcome guest?
No comprehensive Paradise to hold
All loving souls in one celestial fold?”
She answers:—
  “Leave me, nay, leave me ere it be too late;
Better part here, then part at Heaven’s gate.”
*        *        *        *        *
“Pure but not spared, she passes from our gaze,
Victim, not vanquisher, of Love. And he?
Once more an exile over land and main:
Ah! Life is sad, and scarcely worth the pain!”
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