The Mass Of Christ

I
DOWN in the woodlands, where the streamlet runs,
Close to the breezy river, by the dells
Of ferns and flowers that shun the summer suns
But gather round the lizard-haunted wells,
And listen to the birds' sweet syllables —
Down in the woodlands, lying in the shade,
Among the rushes green that shook and gleamed,
I, I whose songs were of my heart's blood made,
Found weary rest from wretchedness, it seemed,
And fell asleep, and as I slept, I dreamed.
II
I dreamed I stood beside a pillar vast
Close to a little open door behind,
Whence the small light there was stole in aghast,
And for a space this troubled all my mind,
To lose the sunlight and the sky and the wind.
For I could know, I felt, how all before,
Though high and wonderful and to be praised,
In heart and soul and mind oppressed me sore.
Nevertheless, I turned, and my face raised,
And on that pageant and its glory gazed.
The pillars, vast as this whereby I stood,
Hedged all the place about and towered up high,
Up, and were lost within a billowy cloud
Of slow blue-wreathing smoke that fragrantly
Rose from below. And a great chaunt and cry
Of multitudinous voices, with sweet notes,
Mingled of music solemn, glad, serene,
Swayed all the air and gave its echoes throats.
And priests and singers various, with proud mien,
Filled all the choir — a strange and wondrous scene.
And men and women and children, in all hues
Of colour and fresh raiment, filled the nave;
And yet it seemed, this vast place did refuse
Room for the mighty army that did crave,
And only to the vanguard harbourage gave.
And, as I gazed and watched them while they knelt
(Their prayers I watched with the incense disappear),
And could not know my thoughts of it, I felt
A touch upon mine arm, and in mine ear
Some words, and turned my face to see and hear.
There was a man beside me. In that light,
Tho' dim, remote, and shadowy, I could see
His face swarthy yet pale, and eyes like night,
With a strange, far sadness, looking at me.
It seemed as if the buffets of some sea
Had beaten on him as he faced it long.
The salty foam, the spittle of its wrath
Had blurred the bruises of its fingers strong,
Striking him pitilessly from out its path,
Yet had he braved it as the willow hath.
He turned his look from me and where we stood,
His far strange look of sadness, and it seemed
This temple vast, this prayerful multitude,
These priests and singers celebrant who streamed
In gorgeous ranks towards the fane that gleamed,
Were to him as some vision is, untrue,
Tho' true we take it, undeceived the while,
But, since it was unknown to him all through,
And hid some meaning (it might be of guile),
He turned once more, and spake in gentle style.
'Nay, this,' he said, 'is not the Temple, nor
The children of Israel these, whom less sufficed
Of chaunt and ritual. They whom we abhor,
The Phoenicians, to their gods have sacrificed!'
I said, 'Nay, sir, this is the Mass of Christ.'
'The Mass of Christ?' he murmured. And I said
'This is the day on which He came below,
And this is Rome, and far up overhead
Soars the great dome that bids the wide world know
St. Peter still rules o'er his Church below!'
'The Christ?' he said, 'and Peter, who are they?'
I answered, 'Jesus was he in the days long past,
And Peter was his chief disciple.' 'Nay,'
He answered, 'for of these the lot was cast
On poverty.' I said, 'That is all past!'
Then as I might, as for some stranger great
(Who saw all things under an unknown sun),
I told him of these things both soon and late,
Then, when I paused and turned, lo! he was gone,
Had left me, and I saw him passing on.
On, up the aisle, he passed, his long black hair
Upon his brown and common coat; his head
Raised, and his mien such aspect fixed did wear
As one may have whose spirit long is sped
(Though he still lives) among the mighty dead.
He paused not, neither swerved not, till he came
Unto the fane and steps. Nor there he learned
Awe, but went on, till rose a shrill acclaim,
And the High Priest from the great altar turned,
And raised the golden sign that blazed and burned.
And a slow horror grew upon us all —
On priests and people, and on us who gazed
As that Great King, alive beneath the pall,
Heard his own death-service that moaned and praised
So all we were fearful, expectant, dazed.
Then unknown murmurs round the High Priest rose
Of men in doubt; and all the multitude
Swayed, as one seized in a keen travail's throes,
Where, on the last steps of the altar stood,
The Man — the altar steps all red lik
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"The Mass Of Christ" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 22 May 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/14051/the-mass-of-christ>.

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