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Marjorie Pickthall (1883-1922)

The Lamp of Poor Souls


        In many English churches before the Reformation there was kept a little lamp continually burning, called the Lamp of Poor Souls. People were reminded thereby to pray for the souls of those dead whose kinsfolk were too poor to pay for prayers and masses.

              1Above my head the shields are stained with rust,
              2The wind has taken his spoil, the moth his part;
              3Dust of dead men beneath my knees, and dust,
              4Lord, in my heart.

              5Lay Thou the hand of faith upon my fears;
              6The priest has prayed, the silver bell has rung,
              7But not for him. O unforgotten tears,
              8He was so young!

              9Shine, little lamp, nor let thy light grow dim.
            10Into what vast, dread dreams, what lonely lands,
            11Into what griefs hath death delivered him,
            12Far from my hands?

            13Cradled is he, with half his prayers forgot.
            14I cannot learn the level way he goes.
            15He whom the harvest hath remembered not
            16Sleeps with the rose.

            17Shine, little lamp, fed with sweet oil of prayers.
            18Shine, little lamp, as God's own eyes may shine,
            19When He treads softly down His starry stairs
            20And whispers, "Thou art Mine."

            21Shine, little lamp, for love hath fed thy gleam.
            22Sleep, little soul, by God's own hands set free.
            23Cling to His arms and sleep, and sleeping, dream,
            24And dreaming, look for me.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Marjorie L. C. Pickthall, The Lamp of Poor Souls and Other Poems (Toronto: S. B. Gundy, 1916): 13-14. PS 8531 I35L3 Robarts Library.
First publication date: September 1909
Publication date note: Scribner's (Sept. 1909).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Rhyme: abab


Other poems by Marjorie Pickthall