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Henry Vaughan (Oxford Poetry Library) by Henry Vaughan
The Timber
Sure thou didst flourish once! and many springs,
  Many bright mornings, much dew, many showers,
Pass’d o’er thy head; many light hearts and wings,
  Which now are dead, lodg’d in thy living bowers.

And still a new succession sings and flies;
  Fresh groves grow up, and their green branches shoot
Towards the old and still enduring skies,
  While the low violet thrives at their root.

But thou beneath the sad and heavy line
  Of death, doth waste all senseless, cold, and dark;
Where not so much as dreams of light may shine,
  Nor any thought of greenness, leaf, or bark.

And yet—as if some deep hate and dissent,
  Bred in thy growth betwixt high winds and thee,
Were still alive—thou dost great storms resent
  Before they come, and know’st how near they be.

Else all at rest thou liest, and the fierce breath
  Of tempests can no more disturb thy ease;
But this thy strange resentment after death
  Means only those who broke—in life—thy peace.
My soul, there is a country
  Far beyond the stars,
Where stands a wingèd sentry
  All skilful in the wars:
There, above noise and danger,
  Sweet Peace sits crown’d with smiles,
And One born in a manger
  Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious Friend,
  And—O my soul, awake!—
Did in pure love descend
  To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
  There grows the flower of Peace,
The Rose that cannot wither,
  Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges;
  For none can thee secure
But One who never changes—
  Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
So stick up ivy and the bays,
And then restore the heathen ways.
Green will remind you of the spring,
Though this great day denies the thing.
And mortifies the earth and all
But your wild revels, and loose hall.
Could you wear flowers, and roses strow
Blushing upon your *******’ warm snow,
That very dress your lightness will
Rebuke, and wither at the ill.
The brightness of this day we owe
Not unto music, masque, nor show:
Nor gallant furniture, nor plate;
But to the manger’s mean estate.
His life while here, as well as birth,
Was but a check to pomp and mirth;
And all man’s greatness you may see
Condemned by His humility.

Then leave your open house and noise,
To welcome Him with holy joys,
And the poor shepherd’s watchfulness:
Whom light and hymns from heaven did bless.
What you abound with, cast abroad
To those that want, and ease your load.
Who empties thus, will bring more in;
But riot is both loss and sin.
Dress finely what comes not in sight,
And then you keep your Christmas right.
Happy those early days, when I
Shin’d in my Angel-infancy!
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white celestial thought:
When yet I had not walk’d above
A mile or two from my first Love,
And looking back—at that short space—
Could see a glimpse of His bright face:
When on some gilded cloud, or flow’r,
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity:
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My Conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispense
A several sin to ev’ry sense,
But felt through all this fleshly dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.

  O how I long to travel back,
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train;
From whence th’ enlightned spirit sees
That shady City of Palm-trees.
But ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk, and staggers in the way!
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move;
And when this dust falls to the urn,
In that state I came, return.
They are all gone into the world of light!
    And I alone sit ling’ring here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
        And my sad thoughts doth clear.

It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast,
    Like stars upon some gloomy grove,
Or those faint beams in which this hill is drest
        After the sun’s remove.

I see them walking in an air of glory,
    Whose light doth trample on my days:
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
         Mere glimmering and decays.

O holy Hope! and high Humility,
    High as the heavens above!
These are your walks, and you have show’d them me,
        To kindle my cold love.

Dear, beauteous Death! the jewel of the Just,
    Shining nowhere, but in the dark;
What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust,
        Could man outlook that mark!

He that hath found some fledg’d bird’s nest may know,
    At first sight, if the bird be flown;
But what fair well or grove he sings in now,
        That is to him unknown.

And yet as Angels in some brighter dreams
    Call to the soul, when man doth sleep:
So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes,
        And into glory peep.

If a star were confin’d into a tomb,
    Her captive flames must needs burn there;
But when the hand that lock’d her up gives room,
        She’ll shine through all the sphere.

O Father of eternal life, and all
    Created glories under Thee!
Resume Thy spirit from this world of thrall
        Into true liberty.

Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill
    My perspective still as they pass:
Or else remove me hence unto that hill,
        Where I shall need no glass.

Awake, glad heart! Get up and sing,
It is the birthday of thy King,
     Awake! Awake!
     The sun doth shake
Light from his locks, and all the way
Breathing perfumes, doth spice the day.

Awake, awake! Hark, how the wood rings,
Winds whisper, and the busy springs
     A consort make;
     Awake, awake!
Man is their high-priest, and should rise
To offer up the sacrifice.

I would I were some bird or star,
Fluttering in woods, or lifted far
     Above this inn
     And road of sin!
Then either star, or bird, should be
Shining, or singing still to Thee.

I would I had in my best part
Fit rooms for Thee! Or that my heart
     Were so clean as
     Thy manger was!
But I am all filth, and obscene,
Yet if Thou wilt, Thou canst make clean.

Sweet Jesu! will then; Let no more
This ***** haunt, and soil Thy door,
     Curse him, ease him
     O release him!
And let once more by mystic birth
The Lord of life be born in earth.


How kind is heaven to man! If here
     One sinner doth amend
Straight there is joy, and every sphere
     In music doth contend;
And shall we then no voices lift?
     Are mercy, and salvation
Not worth our thanks? Is life a gift
     Of no more acceptation?
Shall He that did come down from thence,
     And here for us was slain,
Shall He be now cast off? No sense
     Of all His woes remain?
Can neither Love, nor sufferings bind?
     Are we all stone, and earth?
Neither His ****** passions mind,
     Nor one day bless His birth?
   Alas, my God! Thy birth now here
   Must not be numbered in the year.
Sweet, harmless lives! (on whose holy leisure
     Waits innocence and pleasure),
Whose leaders to those pastures, and clear springs,
     Were patriarchs, saints, and kings,
How happened it that in the dead of night
     You only saw true light,
While Palestine was fast asleep, and lay
     Without one thought of day?
Was it because those first and blessed swains
     Were pilgrims on those plains
When they received the promise, for which now
     ’Twas there first shown to you?
’Tis true, He loves that dust whereon they go
     That serve Him here below,
And therefore might for memory of those
     His love there first disclose;
But wretched Salem, once His love, must now
     No voice, nor vision know,
Her stately piles with all their height and pride
     Now languished and died,
And Bethlem’s humble cotes above them stepped
     While all her seers slept;
Her cedar, fir, hewed stones and gold were all
     Polluted through their fall,
And those once sacred mansions were now
     Mere emptiness and show;
This made the angel call at reeds and thatch,
     Yet where the shepherds watch,
And God’s own lodging (though He could not lack)
     To be a common rack;
No costly pride, no soft-clothed luxury
     In those thin cells could lie,
Each stirring wind and storm blew through their cots
     Which never harbored plots,
Only content, and love, and humble joys
     Lived there without all noise,
Perhaps some harmless cares for the next day
     Did in their bosoms play,
As where to lead their sheep, what silent nook,
     What springs or shades to look,
But that was all; and now with gladsome care
     They for the town prepare,
They leave their flock, and in a busy talk
     All towards Bethlem walk
To see their souls’ Great Shepherd, Who was come
     To bring all stragglers home,
Where now they find Him out, and taught before
     That Lamb of God adore,
That Lamb whose days great kings and prophets wished
     And longed to see, but missed.
The first light they beheld was bright and gay
     And turned their night to day,
But to this later light they saw in Him,
     Their day was dark, and dim.
Peace? and to all the world? sure, One
And He the Prince of Peace, hath none.
He travels to be born, and then
Is born to travel more again.
Poor Galilee! thou canst not be
The place for His nativity.
His restless mother’s called away,
And not delivered till she pay.

A tax? ’tis so still! we can see
The church thrive in her misery;
And like her Head at Bethlem, rise
When she, oppressed with troubles, lies.
Rise? should all fall, we cannot be
In more extremities than He.
Great Type of passions! come what will,
Thy grief exceeds all copies still.
Thou cam’st from heaven to earth, that we
Might go from earth to heaven with Thee.
And though Thou foundest no welcome here,
Thou didst provide us mansions there.
A stable was Thy court, and when
Men turned to beasts, beasts would be men.
They were Thy courtiers, others none;
And their poor manger was Thy throne.
No swaddling silks Thy limbs did fold,
Though Thou couldst turn Thy rays to gold.
No rockers waited on Thy birth,
No cradles stirred, nor songs of mirth;
But her chaste lap and sacred breast
Which lodged Thee first did give Thee rest.

But stay: what light is that doth stream,
And drop here in a gilded beam?
It is Thy star runs page, and brings
Thy tributary Eastern kings.
Lord! grant some light to us, that we
May with them find the way to Thee.
Behold what mists eclipse the day:
How dark it is! shed down one ray
To guide us out of this sad night,
And say once more, “Let there be light.”

— The End —