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- Preludes 1921-1922 - 1/8 -

Preludes 1921-1922

By John Drinkwater

All thoughts, all passions, all delights, Whatever stirs this mortal frame, All are but ministers of love, And feed his sacred flame.





NOTE.--This book is really one poem, and is a development of my sonnet sequence, Persuasion.


Though black the night, I know upon the sky, A little paler now, if clouds were none, The stars would be. Husht now the thickets lie, And now the birds are moving one by one,-- A note--and now from bush to bush it goes-- A prelude--now victorious light along The west will come till every bramble glows With wash of sunlit dew shaken in song. Shaken in song; O heart, be ready now, Cold in your night, be ready now to sing. Dawn as it wakes the sleeping bird on bough Shall summon you to instant reckoning,-- She is your dawn, O heart,--sing, till the night Of death shall come, the gospel of her light.


And Jonathan too had honour in his heart, Jonathan who with an armour-bearer went Alone by Michmash to the Philistines, And met a spray of swords because of courage That made him single greater than a host. Jonathan too had known his battles, dared At any hour the coming of death, because In twilight silence he had walked with God, Read Him in blossoms and the mountain brooks, And learnt that death, well known, can alter nothing. He was a brown man, burnt with love of summer, His young beard curled, and russet as the eyes That looked on life, and feared it, yet were master, Because they knew the tyranny they feared, Measured it, learnt it, gazed it into nothing.


And now he watched the boy, the son of Jesse, David with hair like maples in October, And skin that women loving coveted, David with eyes that often by the sheepfolds Had looked through leaves up to the folds of heaven, And seeing them crammed with golden fleece of stars, Had known how the blood can run because of beauty. Jonathan watched him take the armour off Given by Saul, and choose the bright smooth pebbles, And walk out from the Israelitish throng Into the field against the Philistine giant. Watching, he snatched his sword and cried to Saul, "Bid him come back. This murder must not be." And as he spoke, he knew the words were treason, His heart alone in all the world was sure That David was the Lord's appointed arm, To meet this bulk of dirt, this giant fear Brandishing out of the loathly camps of evil. And before Saul could answer, he put down The sword, and said, "I love him. Let him go."


But the words, I love him, were not for his father Saul, Hardly Jonathan knowing he spake them out. But as he looked on David love was there, Waking from that in David that he himself A little was, and always greatly shaping Himself towards, so that his name was spoken Famously in Saul's kingdom. It was courage, The clean heart, undivided in its doing, The purpose that, being bodied in the brain, Thenceforth knew every trickling argument That fell from tongues of persuading circumstance, As lures of evil ever threatening life, That Jonathan loved above all enterprise. He knew, or the rarer man within him knew, That once your yea in holy meditation Had shaped itself in the perfect syllable, Thenceforth no nay from any other tongue Or wise or passionate or masterful, Could be listened to without the shame of sin Corrupting all your constancy for ever. He knew the curse of good betraying good, Till both in bleak irresolution fall. And all his years was Jonathan's anguish only To keep this tillage of his wisdom clean.


Since boyhood he had known Philistia For the black thing it was, a plague opposed Always against the loveliness of Israel, And when his father Saul was anointed king By Samuel in Ramah, then Jonathan knew How all the lessons of his youth had been To fit him for the striking of the men Who profaned beauty and let the soul be blind. And he was diligent in bronze and arms, And kept his body supple, and his eye Keen, and the coming of his hooves was thunder, Wherever battle fell. He bore a flame, Zealous and pure, in the heavens of his mind, To serve and to instruct. Aye, to instruct-- There was the biting blemish, as we shall see.


Philistia was foul, and Jonathan knew, And the voice of God within him was plain and constant To strike and strike unwearying to the end. And then the poor, precise, infirmity That loads good minds with ever seeming virtue, Until they cast their treasure to the dust, Crept on him, wound about the gleaming truth That was his one foundation. Day by day He was resolved, and then the grain of doubt Would come to hurt the riding of his thought, And break the level balance that it had. Was then the Philistine mere black? That day Jonathan's arm half paused upon the blow, And evil went a little scatheless off. Surely the worst even of adversaries Had somewhere beams that pointed to salvation, And hasty judgment might not be the will Of an all-seeing Lord? Then would the vengeance Falter, and stay, and Jonathan's battle failed. And always then was bitterness and reproach In the night watches when upon his couch He looked on the stars studding his little window Before sleep came. Then he would speak again The word that single was his valiance, His only truth, his warrant as a man, And once again Philistia was doomed. Then for a season clean the stroke and sure That Jonathan drove, and black was known for black, Till slowly as before would mount and mount Scruple on scruple, as was not he himself A little black sometimes, or plainly wicked? And should the wicked man not be redeemed? Merely destruction surely was no answer, Since yet the wickedness must wander somewhere? How should he say, I, Jonathan of Israel Am good, and you the Philistine are cursed, Since in that face was something that had been Learnt from the buds and corn and frozen hills That he himself had known for seals of God? And would not his power on Israel increase, Take on a loftier authority, If to his famous arms he could add a tale Of counsel working in the hearts of men, Moving them to a finer charity, A little pity for offence? And so Instruction like a worm was at his roots, And pride of virtue made Jonathan forget. Then sometimes as he knew himself betrayed He would cry upon his spirit in the night--

I, Jonathan, who know The processes of God Moving within me, Turn aside to my idols of desire. He has taught me the ways

Preludes 1921-1922 - 1/8

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