PUT OFF THY SHOES
By Derek Neville
Did a star move in the skies,
Or was it a leaf that stirred
When first my inward eyes
Saw heaven, and I heard
The sweet sure sound in common things
Of something tender, deep,
The sudden touch of angel wings
Against my soul asleep?
I know not now; I only know
That something deep and strong
Had told my heart that I must go,
For all the world was wrong.
Yes! All the world, I knew, was vain,
And all the world was lost,
And love to me was only pain
With anguish for its cost.
But all the forests and the seas,
The stars, the rain, the wind,
Cried ‘Love is love;’ the flowers, the trees,
Sighed ‘Love is very kind.’
Aye! Nature’s voices cried ‘Go find,
(For search you shall and must)
‘That love is real and wondrous kind
‘Beneath its veil of dust.’
I searched, in pleasure haunts I ran,
And where the world pressed near;
I looked for love in fellow-man
And found there only fear.
I gambled; yes, I took my soul
And bargained it for gain
That I might know life’s secrets a’
Through pleasure, lust, or pain.
And every flower that coins could buy,
Or bloom that lies could bring,
I let each trembling blossom die;
I killed each lovely thing.
And when the wine was running red,
And stars were in the sky,
I loosed the arms around my head
And let the beauty die.
Then loud I cried with voice that rang
Against the hidden years,
And ever wild rebellion sprang
Above the choking tears.
‘If there be God behind the sun
‘Or reason up on high,
‘Why should each lovely thing be done
‘And every beauty die?
‘Why ashes after every flame?
‘And bitter after sweet?
‘And why the halt, the blind, the lame,
‘O Maker Incomplete?
‘Why fields of blood where men are slain?
‘Why savage beast of prey
‘Thou maker of the sun, the rain,
‘The primrose and the day?
‘And why do men each other hate
‘If Thine the law of love?
‘What other law hath entered fate,
‘What other gods above?
‘If but one God and He supreme,
‘If only heaven be real,
‘Whose hand hath made this bloody dream,
‘Whose is the iron heel?
‘What devil teaches men to scorn,
‘And spit, and crucify?
‘And was it Thou who made the thorn
‘The rose to beautify?’
Thus did I cry aloud; and stood
In fear because my brain
Was trembling in the sudden flood
Of overwhelming pain.
Did a star fall as it burned?
Or was it a leaf that moved
When first my spirit turned
To heaven; and I loved?
I knew not then; I only knew
A darkness overhead,
And wondered whether aught was true
And whether God was dead.
And yet . . . I saw the sky all set
With twinkling points of light;
And, as I gazed, my eyes were wet
To see the lovely sight.
The Voice Divine
Then came to me a voice that said—
‘Why do you seek afar?
‘Not in the starlight overhead,
‘Not in the lovely star,
‘Not in the leaf that falls to earth,
‘Not in the flesh of friend,
‘Not in the petal is the worth,
‘Not in the music’s end,
‘Not in the hush of summer eve,
‘Not in the treasured hours,
‘Not in the words that men believe,
‘Not in the fragrant flowers,
‘Not in the paths of mortal ways,
‘Not in the heart of man,
‘Not in the rising sounds of praise,
‘Not in the visible plan.
‘Not in the rushes where they sing,
‘By river’s shady shore,
‘Not by the altars where they bring
‘The candles and the law,
‘Not where you think God ought to be,
‘Not where you search in vain;
‘The God you seek is near to thee,
‘Go seek—and seek again.’
The leaves were falling; and the wind
Seemed whispering of heaven,
And the warm sun was wondrous kind,—
The sun that God had given.
And then I swore that I would keep
The memory of that day,
And climb, though all the path be steep,
And briars all the way.
And in my agony I prayed
That He should take my shame
To hold before the un-essayed
And my unworthy name.
So clearly now—so well I see
The sunlight and the gold,
The world was bathed in purity,
The grass was soft to hold.
And I remember how I took
A stone within my palm,
A common stone that had the look
Of heaven in its charm.
And to myself I said ‘’Tis here,
‘Within the soul of me;
‘No more will I seek far or near
‘For love and purity.
‘Mine is the heart that now can give
‘All purity and grace,
‘And God in me shall henceforth live
‘And shine upon my face.
‘My ears unblocked, my heart unstemmed,
‘No more shall I complain
‘Except I first stand uncondemned
‘Against the blind world’s pain.
‘No more,’ said I, ‘shall I complain
‘Of all the blind world’s lies,
‘Except I stand without a stain
‘And see with undimmed eyes.
O God in heaven! Send Thy fire,
‘Take Thou my broken heart,
‘And take and mould my own desire
‘To be of Thine a part.’
the strange and precious years
Like lovely angels came
And slowly died my inner fears,
More holy grew His Name.
No joy, thought I, could ever shine,
Nor paradise convey
More than this inner bliss of mine
That changed my night to day.
I knew the very heights, thought I,
Whereon the angels dwelt;
But Jacob’s ladder rises high—
’Twas at the root I knelt.
Perchance because God kneels to tend
The feet of those who gaze on high,
And calls the broken sinner ‘Friend,’
And lives for him whose self would die,
Perchance because this love so vast
Must seek the manger or the cross,
To claim each wayward soul at last
From out the world’s unhallowed dross,
Or else because He knew my blood
Was thrilling in my pent-up veins,
And that my soul had sensed a flood
Of mercy ’gainst the rude world’s chains,
For this, or these, or other plan,
He came to me as fire to coal,
Transforming clay and raising man
From separation into whole.
And in that moment every star
Or sun that shone in unknown space,
And every fragment near or far
That went to make His ageless Face,
And every second of the hours,
And every joy upon the years,
The deep soft splendour of the flowers,
The still imprisonment of tears,
All hidden glories, voiceless prayers,
Time-buried things without a name,
And all man’s struggles, pain and cares,
O’er-shot with joy, together came.
So still was I, and yet I moved
Swift, plunging where the worlds were set,
Though voiceless, thoughtless, yet I loved
All things within dear heaven’s net.
The flame devoured. The world was white
In sacredness and purity.
(Ah, friend! ’Tis so, by day or night!
You dwell within Eternity!)
I only knew that I was love,
Yea! Love unchanging and divine,
For all the powers of God above
Absorbed the powers I thought were mine.
Dear God! I had not asked for this!
I had not sought such proof, nor known
That such a magnitude of bliss
The confines of the soul could own.
The moment passed; and I was left
To sleep with body worn and tired,
Though well I knew before I slept
That henceforth life would be inspired.
O wisdom of the mind of man!
O learned talk! O ceaseless brain!
When will ye learn the hidden plan?
When will ye learn to love again?
See! How above thy blindness shines
The sun that calls to birth the flowers!
And threaded through thy life the signs
Of heaven working out the hours!
Dost think that there is naught on earth
Unknown to logic of the mind?
Who gave the grain or wheat its birth?
Or set the stars? or drove the wind?
Or who made this for thee to read?
If I am mad—and thou art sane—
Then say—what else but love the need
To banish hate and greed and pain?
And now, for me, the world of yore,
Disintegrated, comes anew,
And everywhere I see the store
Of heaven’s riches running through.
No longer doth it darkly seem
That love is the Creator’s mind.
The glowing of the infant dream
Has moved the mountains, climbed the wind.
And now the stars in distant space
Gleam brightly from within my soul,
And everywhere I see the face
Of goodness, beauty, over all.
The doubts of men! O what are they?
I fear the vale of doubt no more.
The sun has risen, and the day
Has caught in gold the farthest shore.
The little leaves upon the tree,
The blade of grass, the common street,—
The whisper of their dreams to me,
The ground is holy at my feet.
The world is crying out for love.
I hear the cry in varied tones
From human prayers to God above—
To deepest silence of the stones.
And where the mingling paths are one,
At bottom of a thousand creeds,
I stand and serve as doth the sun
—The answer to a million needs.
All men can come to me for aid,
The heavy-laden and the poor,
For I am that for which they prayed,
I am the ever-open door.
I am my enemy’s best friend,
I am the curse-proof saviour crowned
With charity until the end
Of each uncharitable sound.
The dust that roams the earth and sky,
The soundless light that floods the land—
With light and dust the stars I fly
In universal life to stand.
Men see my form and know my name,
They hear my voice or touch my hand,
But who am I or whence I came
They neither know nor understand.
And though I live the world to bless,
And though I bless the world to heal,
Only the loving heart can guess,
Only the loving heart can feel.
But the cool wind that stirs the boughs,
Or the warm rain that feeds the stream—
’Tis such a constant friend that knows
The everlasting from the dream.
And the dear eyes of creatures know,
Or the warm hearts that sing and sing;
The deeps of understanding go
With tamed dumb fur or feathered wing.
Dogs are my friends. The faithful band
Who worship Christ as good in man,
And do not try to understand
Much else about the lovely plan.
For they, without the gift of speech,
Can to their wiser brethren tell
The truth of life; and they can preach
All that we know of heaven and hell.
But when the wealth of hidden years
Has left its touch of gold for aye,
All men shall know the truth; and tears
Shall evermore be wiped away.
Then as I know, shall I be known,
And they shall see me face to face
With prejudice and doubting flown
And love and light in every place.
Then shall the kingdom truly come,
And all, forgiving, be forgiven,
And man be in his rightful home
And know himself a child of heaven.
Peace be to you, I leave my peace
To guide your path and bless your day.
My love for you shall never cease,
My peace shall never pass away.
THE DOOR OF HEAVEN
(Based on an old Chinese Legend)
Night had come upon the city
And the air was wet with dew
And the tears of Heaven's pity
Drenched the almond blossoms through.
Yana left her father sleeping,
Kissed his brow and left him there,
And she felt the still night weeping
In the hot and sultry air.
Yana knew that he was dying
As she walked among the flowers
Deathly still he had been lying
On his couch for many hours,
And her heart was overflowing,
And her mind was filled with fears.
And the faint starlight was showing
That her eyes were wet with tears.
All her life had Yana tended
Flowers within the garden square.
Broken blossoms she had mended,
Friend of all the beauty there;
And of all the garden's story
There was nothing could compare
With the little flower-girl's glory,
Nor was anything so fair.
But tonight her breath comes faster
And her eyes are bright with tears
As she, trembling, tries to master
All the heart-break of her fears;
And the little flowers that love her
Cry "Sweet Yana-Iook on high!"
And she sees the stars above her
And eternal charity
Then, behold, the flower-girl raises
Both her arms towards the sky;
And her soul is filled with praises
As she sees the clouds float by,
And she whispers to the moonbeams
"Do not, do not let him die!"
Time has passed. And Yana, waking,
Turns to where her father lies.
And her tear-filled heart is breaking
As she sees his fast-closed eyes;
As she lays a hand a-trembling
On the cold and dying brow,
Cry her fear-filled thoughts dissembling
"Save him! Save him! Ah! But how?"
Scarcely is his heart still beating,
Scarcely does he breathe a breath,
And the tiny spark is fleeting
Through the passages of death.
Then does Yana turn and leave him,
Turn and seize a scarf and coat.
Time enough will come to grieve him
When his soul has crossed the moat.
Through the star-lit street she patters
Lonely, pitiful, forlorn,
Thinking of the Hand that scatters
Gems to herald every dawn;
Thinking of the Mind outweighing
All the little minds it made,
Of the beauty, undecaying,
In a world that fast decayed.
Thus, her heart so strangely taken
Lifted high in spite of fears
Yana throws a stone to waken
Old Fu-Chang-the friend of years,
Old Fu-Chang whose wizened features
Speak as well of love as age
(For he loves his fellow-creatures
And is rightly called The Sage)
And to him goes Yana pleading
"Tell me, tell me what to do
"For my Father's life is speeding
"Out beyond the boundless blue
"And I know not, Oh I know not
"How to pray or what to do."
Courage child!" Fu-Chang stands thinking
Immobile, and strangely still,
Like a tree whose roots are drinking
All unseen their secret fill.
"You must go my little daughter,
"You must go to Mount Ya-Chi
"Where the holy temple water
"Flows with all its purity.
"There, if thou art first to enter
"At the very break of day,
"Thou shalt find the mystic centre
"Of this world of changing clay.
"Thou shalt leave thy burden, daughter,
"Leave it there-and come away."
Yana's face is strained and frightened
As she hears Fu-Chang's advice.
"Still am I most unenlightened!
"For I needs must earn the rice,
"Needs must tend the flowers and gardens,
"Needs must cool my father's brow.
"Oh-Fu-Chang-the problem hardens,
"How proceed to Ya-Chi now?
"It is far beyond the city,
"Farther than my feet can go.
"Fu-Chang-have the Gods no pity?
"That they treat their daughter so?"
But the Sage is smiling at her,
Smiling as he answers slow;
"Oh my daughter, dost thou hearken
"To my voice with all thy heart? "
'Tis the inner eyes that darken
"Where they only see in part.
"For the journey to a mountain,
"Or the journey to a star,
"If, thyself, thou art a fountain,
"May not be so very far.
"Ya-Chi is a hundred measures,
"And a half a hundred more,
"But thy heart, with all its treasures,
"Yet shall open Ya-Chi's door."
Yana, as she homeward wended
Through the streets her lonely way,
Saw the paling stars that ended
Darkness and her lingering sway;
And her heart rose with the sunrise,
And her soul was wrapped in day.
All that morning she is stooping,
Cutting flowers and pulling weeds,
Watching where the blooms are drooping,
Turning soil and sowing seeds;
But her heart is kneeling lower,
Lower even than her deeds.
When, at length, the sun is setting,
Yana, tired from all her toil,
Draws across the window-netting;
Washes from her hands the soil;
Tends her father, soft caressing
Fevered cheeks and silvered hair;
Leaves, with gentle kiss, a blessing
Warm and fragrant as a prayer;
Stands a moment wrapped in silence;
Turns, at last, and leaves him there.
Then goes Yana to the garden,
Back to where the shadows grow;
And the sleeping flowers their warden
Even in the darkness know,
For her hand strays down to bless them
Where their whitened faces show.
In her hand the incense burning,
Yana walks the garden's length.
Prays at each successive turning
For her God to give her strength;
Up and down the path she paces
Both hands clasped as if in prayer,
And the night has many faces,
Many eyes that see her there;
But the night, with all her graces,
Shows not anything so fair.
Soon the sky looks down in wonder
With a million stars that gleam,
Stars that tear the depths asunder
Beauteous as a sparkling stream;
But the light of all the heavens
Fades against the flower-girl's dream.
For she is a pilgrim pacing
Every step to Mount Ya-Chi.
Gone the garden she is facing,
Gone the shadows that we see
In the soul of Yana, flower-girl,
There is but Eternity.
Eighty times, the pathway ending,
Yana turns upon her track;
Eighty times her feet are wending
All the weary journey back,
-Weary-but for strength now mending
All her weakness and her lack.
Till, at last, the moon has vanished
And the night's long hours slipped by,
And the light, no longer banished,
Floods with gold the Eastern sky,
And the silent stars, reluctant,
One by one are seen to die.
Twenty miles, in Western measure,
Yana walked the dew-drenched sod,
But her heart was light with treasure,
And her feet with love were shod
For she walked the Holy Mountain,
And she knew she walked with God.
Seven nights went Yana pacing
Up and down the garden ground,
Every little footstep tracing
Far beyond the narrow bound,
Far beyond her prison confines
-It was Heaven that she found.
Gone was time and human caring,
Gone was space and prison bars,
For the flower-girl's soul was wearing
All the magic of the stars;
Every measured pace was taking
Yana nearer Mount Ya-Chi,
And her constant prayer was waking
All the powers of Charity.
Till, at last, the seventh dawning
Plunged the garden into sun,
And the little flowers, at morning,
Knew that Yana's task was done.
Knew that love and prayer and service,
-Knew that constancy had won.
Meanwhile, at the Holy Mountain,
Seething crowds of pilgrims wait
At the Temple of the Fountain,
At the Holy Temple Gate.
All are eager, pressing forward.
All but who is first are late.
For 'tis said that who shall offer
To the Goddess of the Dawn,
Who shall be the first to proffer
Incense at the break of mom,
He shall have his heart's desirings,
And his life shall be re-born.
Now the Eastern sky is greying,
And the stars are paling fast,
Whispers from the crowds are saying
That the dawn is come at last.
Suddenly a cock is crowing
And another night is past.
At the gates, a rich man, hearing,
Elbows forward, passes on,
Feels at last that he is nearing
All the Hope he leans upon.
(For his wealth has bribed the Guardian,
And, for him, the race is won.)
Through the sacred door, he falters,
Hesitates, and stands afraid;
Kneeling at the holy Altars
Is the figure of a maid.
And the incense sticks are lighted,
And the offering is made!
Fu-Chang's words were wisely spoken.
For the journey to a star,
Once the bread of love is broken,
May not be so very far.