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Short poem

Augusta (Davies) Webster (1837-1894)

A Preacher

              1                            "Lest that by any means
              2When I have preached to others I myself
              3Should be a castaway." If some one now
              4Would take that text and preach to us that preach, --
              5Some one who could forget his truths were old
              6And what were in a thousand bawling mouths
              7While they filled his -- some one who could so throw
              8His life into the old dull skeletons
              9Of points and morals, inferences, proofs,
            10Hopes, doubts, persuasions, all for time untold
            11Worn out of the flesh, that one could lose from mind
            12How well one knew his lesson, how oneself
            13Could with another, may be choicer, style
            14Enforce it, treat it from another view
            15And with another logic -- some one warm
            16With the rare heart that trusts itself and knows
            17Because it loves -- yes such a one perchance,
            18With such a theme, might waken me as I
            19Have wakened others, I who am no more
            20Than steward of an eloquence God gives
            21For others' use not mine. But no one bears
            22Apostleship for us. We teach and teach
            23Until, like drumming pedagogues, we lose
            24The thought that what we teach has higher ends
            25Than being taught and learned. And if a man
            26Out of ourselves should cry aloud, "I sin,
            27And ye are sinning, all of us who talk
            28Our Sunday half-hour on the love of God,
            29Trying to move our peoples, then go home
            30To sleep upon it and, when fresh again,
            31To plan another sermon, nothing moved,
            32Serving our God like clock-work sentinels,
            33We who have souls ourselves," why I like the rest
            34Should turn in anger: "Hush this charlatan
            35Who, in his blatant arrogance, assumes
            36Over us who know our duties."
            36                                                       Yet that text
            37Which galls me, what a sermon might be made
            38Upon its theme! How even I myself
            39Could stir some of our priesthood! Ah! but then
            40Who would stir me?
            40                                     I know not how it is;
            41I take the faith in earnest, I believe,
            42Even at happy times I think I love,
            43I try to pattern me upon the type
            44My Master left us, am no hypocrite
            45Playing my soul against good men's applause,
            46Nor monger of the Gospel for a cure,
            47But serve a Master whom I chose because
            48It seemed to me I loved him, whom till now
            49My longing is to love; and yet I feel
            50A falseness somewhere clogging me. I seem
            51Divided from myself; I can speak words
            52Of burning faith and fire myself with them;
            53I can, while upturned faces gaze on me
            54As if I were their Gospel manifest,
            55Break into unplanned turns as natural
            56As the blind man's cry for healing, pass beyond
            57My bounded manhood in the earnestness
            58Of a messenger from God. And then I come
            59And in my study's quiet find again
            60The callous actor who, because long since
            61He had some feelings in him like the talk
            62The book puts in his mouth, still warms his pit
            63And even, in his lucky moods, himself
            64With the passion of his part, but lays aside
            65His heroism with his satin suit
            66And thinks "the part is good and well conceived
            67And very natural -- no flaw to find" --
            68And then forgets it.
            68                                   Yes I preach to others
            69And am -- I know not what -- a castaway?
            70No, but a man who feels his heart asleep,
            71As he might feel his hand or foot. The limb
            72Will not awake without a little shock,
            73A little pain perhaps, a nip or blow,
            74And that one gives and feels the waking pricks.
            75But for one's heart I know not. I can give
            76No shock to make mine prick. I seem to be
            77Just such a man as those who claim the power
            78Or have it, (say, to serve the thought), of willing
            79That such a one should break an iron bar,
            80And such a one resist the strength of ten,
            81And the thing is done, yet cannot will themselves
            82One least small breath of power beyond the wont.
            83To-night now I might triumph. Not a breath
            84But shivered when I pictured the dead soul
            85Awaking when the body dies to know
            86Itself has lived too late, and drew in long
            87With yearning when I shewed how perfect love
            88Might make Earth's self be but an earlier Heaven.
            89And I may say and not be over-bold,
            90Judging from former fruits, "Some one to-night
            91Has come more near to God, some one has felt
            92What it may mean to love Him, some one learned
            93A new great horror against death and sin,
            94Some one at least -- it may be many." Yet --
            95And yet -- Why I the preacher look for God,
            96Saying "I know thee Lord, what I should see
            97If I could see thee as some can on earth,
            98But I do not see thee," and "I know thee Lord,
            99What loving thee is like, as if I loved,
          100But I cannot love thee." And even with the thought
          101The answer grows "Thine is the greater sin,"
          102And I stand self-convicted yet not shamed,
          103But quiet, reasoning why it should be thus,
          104And almost wishing I could suddenly
          105Fall in some awful sin, that so might come
          106A living sense of God, if but by fear,
          107And a repentance sharp as is the need.
          108But now, the sin being indifference,
          109Repentance too is tepid.
          109                                             There are some,
          110Good men and honest though not overwise
          111Nor studious of the subtler depths of minds
          112Below the surface strata, who would teach,
          113In such a case, to scare oneself awake
          114(As girls do, telling ghost-tales in the dark),
          115With scriptural terrors, all the judgments spoken
          116Against the tyrant empires, all the wrath
          117On them who slew the prophets and forsook
          118Their God for Baal, and the awful threat
          119For him whose dark dread sin is pardonless,
          120So that in terror one might cling to God --
          121As the poor wretch, who, angry with his life,
          122Has dashed into a dank and hungry pool,
          123Learns in the death-gasp to love life again
          124And clings unreasoning to the saving hand.
          125Well I know some -- for the most part with thin minds
          126Of the effervescent kind, easy to froth,
          127Though easier to let stagnate -- who thus wrought
          128Convulsive pious moods upon themselves
          129And, thinking all tears sorrow and all texts
          130Repentance, are in peace upon the trust
          131That a grand necessary stage is past,
          132And do love God as I desire to love.
          133And now they'll look on their hysteric time
          134And wonder at it, seeing it not real
          135And yet not feigned. They'll say "A special time
          136Of God's direct own working -- you may see
          137It was not natural."
          137                                  And there I stand
          138In face with it, and know it. Not for me;
          139Because I know it, cannot trust in it;
          140It is not natural. It does not root
          141Silently in the dark as God's seeds root,
          142Then day by day move upward in the light.
          143It does not wake a tremulous glimmering dawn,
          144Then swell to perfect day as God's light does.
          145It does not give to life a lowly child
          146To grow by days and morrows to man's strength,
          147As do God's natural birthdays. God who sets
          148Some little seed of good in everything
          149May bring his good from this, but not for one
          150Who calmly says "I know -- this is a dream,
          151A mere mirage sprung up of heat and mist;
          152It cannot slake my thirst: but I will try
          153To fool my fancy to it, and will rush
          154To cool my burning throat, as if there welled
          155Clear waters in the visionary lake,
          156That so perchance Heaven pitying me may send
          157Its own fresh showers upon me." I perchance
          158Might, with occasion, spite of steady will
          159And steady nerve, bring on the ecstasy:
          160But what avails without the simple faith?
          161I should not cheat myself, and who cheats God?
          162And wherefore should I count love more than truth,
          163And buy the loving him with such a price,
          164Even if 'twere possible to school myself
          165To an unbased belief and love him more
          166Only through a delusion?
          166                                               Not so, Lord.
          167Let me not buy my peace, nay not my soul,
          168At price of one least word of thy strong truth
          169Which is Thyself. The perfect love must be
          170When one shall know thee. Better one should lose
          171The present peace of loving, nay of trusting,
          172Better to doubt and be perplexed in soul
          173Because thy truth seems many and not one,
          174Than cease to seek thee, even through reverence,
          175In the fulness and minuteness of thy truth.
          176If it be sin, forgive me: I am bold,
          177My God, but I would rather touch the ark
          178To find if thou be there than -- thinking hushed
          179"'Tis better to believe, I will believe,
          180Though, were't not for belief, 'Tis far from proved" --
          181Shout with the people "Lo our God is there,"
          182And stun my doubts by iterating faith.
          183And yet, I know not why it is, this knack
          184Of sermon-making seems to carry me
          185Athwart the truth at times before I know --
          186In little things at least; thank God the greater
          187Have not yet grown by the familiar use
          188Such puppets of a phrase as to slip by
          189Without clear recognition. Take to-night --
          190I preached a careful sermon, gravely planned,
          191All of it written. Not a line was meant
          192To fit the mood of any differing
          193From my own judgment: not the less I find --
          194(I thought of it coming home while my good Jane
          195Talked of the Shetland pony I must get
          196For the boys to learn to ride:) yes here it is,
          197And here again on this page -- blame by rote,
          198Where by my private judgment I blame not.
          199"We think our own thoughts on this day," I said,
          200"Harmless it may be, kindly even, still
          201Not Heaven's thoughts -- not Sunday thoughts I'll say."
          202Well now do I, now that I think of it,
          203Advise a separation of our thoughts
          204By Sundays and by week-days, Heaven's and ours?
          205By no means, for I think the bar is bad.
          206I'll teach my children "Keep all thinkings pure,
          207And think them when you like, if but the time
          208Is free to any thinking. Think of God
          209So often that in anything you do
          210It cannot seem you have forgotten Him,
          211Just as you would not have forgotten us,
          212Your mother and myself, although your thoughts
          213Were not distinctly on us, while you played;
          214And, if you do this, in the Sunday's rest
          215You will most naturally think of Him;
          216Just as your thoughts, though in a different way,
          217(God being the great mystery He is
          218And so far from us and so strangely near),
          219Would on your mother's birthday-holiday
          220Come often back to her." But I'd not urge
          221A treadmill Sunday labour for their mind,
          222Constant on one forced round: nor should I blame
          223Their constant chatter upon daily themes.
          224I did not blame Jane for her project told,
          225Though she had heard my sermon, and no doubt
          226Ought, as I told my flock, to dwell on that.
          227Then here again "the pleasures of the world
          228That tempt the younger members of my flock."
          229Now I think really that they've not enough
          230Of these same pleasures. Grey and joyless lives
          231A many of them have, whom I would see
          232Sharing the natural gaieties of youth.
          233I wish they'd more temptations of the kind.
          234Now Donne and Allan preach such things as these
          235Meaning them and believing. As for me,
          236What did I mean? Neither to feign nor teach
          237A Pharisaic service. 'Twas just this,
          238That there are lessons and rebukes long made
          239So much a thing of course that, unobserving,
          240One sets them down as one puts dots to i's,
          241Crosses to t's.
          241                              A simple carelessness;
          242No more than that. There's the excuse -- and I,
          243Who know that every carelessness is falsehood
          244Against my trust, what guide or check have I
          245Being, what I have called myself, an actor
          246Able to be awhile the man he plays
          247But in himself a heartless common hack?
          248I felt no falseness as I spoke the trash,
          249I was thrilled to see it moved the listeners,
          250Grew warmer to my task! 'Twas written well,
          251Habit had made the thoughts come fluently
          252As if they had been real --
          252                                              Yes, Jane, yes,
          253I hear you -- Prayers and supper waiting me --
          254I'll come --
          254                     Dear Jane, who thinks me half a saint.


1] From 1 Corinthians 9.24-27:

Know yee not that they which runne in a race, runne all, but one receiueth the price? So runne, that yee may obtaine.
And euery man that striueth for the masterie, is temperate in all things: Now they doe it to obtaine a corruptible crowne, but we an incorruptible.
I therefore so runne, not as vncertainely: so fight I, not as one that beateth the ayre:
But I keepe vnder my body, and bring it into subiection: lest that by any meanes when I haue preached to others, I my selfe should be a castaway.

46] monger: trafficker.
a cure: a curacy, a spiritual charge.

118] Baal: Phoenician deity, a false god among the Israelites.

177] touch the ark: treat the sacred irreverently, an allusion to the Ark of the Covenant in which Moses' tablets, holding the Ten Commandments, were laid.

234] Donne and Allan: possibly John Donne, the 17th-century Bishop of London, but Allan has not been identified.

237] Pharisaic: a strict Jewish sect, condemned for hypocrisy in the Christian New Testament.

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: Augusta Webster, Dramatic Studies, 2nd edn. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1870): 3-14.
First publication date: 1870
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/1

Rhyme: unrhyming

Other poems by Augusta (Davies) Webster