The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
In A Church

by R. L. Barth
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 491-495

[There is a modern poet named R. L. Barth who wrote poems about the Vietnam war; this is not that R. L. Barth. This poem appears in the 1893 book The Man with Seven Hearts, and Other Stories, by Arthur Burrell (pg 29)]

       Aimless, I walked 'neath the inky sky,
              Heart-vexed and sore,
       Doubly cursed as I wandered past
              The sacred door.

       When did I last this threshold cross,
              A peaceful soul;
       When did I hear the evening prayer
              And the organ's roll?

       It was with him, with him and with her,
              Both lost, lost now--
       He bound to me by the chain of a life,
              She, by her vow.

       Then while we prayed and I thanked my God
              For my darling one,
       Their eyes but met in a lull of a psalm,
              And Kypris won.

       He came like a man and told their love,
              Honestly told;
       I cursed him at heart for his lucky theft,
              For his face and his gold.

       I blessed them both in their selfish deed,
              Kypris had won;
       I cursed them both for the light in their eyes
              When my light had gone.

       I blessed them both on their wedding-day,
              Kypris had won;
       I cursed them hearing of their bliss,
              When my bliss had gone.

       Then the fiend took hold on me
              And whispered low;
       "Thus shalt thou wreck the house thou has built
              With a cunning blow."

       So I dragged her secret soul from my desk,
              All I had known,
       Every trivial sin of her day,
              I spared him none.

       With her sainted mother's warning words
              I inked each spot;
       But of her dull and dumb remorse
              I told him not.

       Dastard deed of a dastard heart,
              But it brought them low,
       I heard of their staggering in their joy
              Under my blow.

       Then I sought the priest. On my curly head
              Young hands he had laid;
       Fifty years with his feet on the rock
              He had preached and prayed--

       Preached and prayed till the man grew frail,
              While the saint burnt on,
       Through the lives of his children in the race,
              Born, wedded, and gone;

       And the clear voice faltered, the hands were weak,
              And the kind eyes dim;
       Never a man or a woman but felt
              The God in him.

       I told him the treason, the theft, the shame,
              Blackened each blot;
       But of the canker in their rose
              I told him not.

       He murmured the oft-repeated charm--
       What of the good or the ill I had done?
              I had lost the prize.

       I met them both when my bolt had flown,
              Saw their misery,
       Met their bowed heads with an insolent stare
              As they passed me by.

       Who drew the barbed shaft from the heart--
              Who gave them ease,
       When they drained at the altar the chalice of God
              That sealed their peace?

       I met them again when the wave was gone,
              Strange change that I
       Felt their quiet eyes burn through my blush,
              As I passed them by.

       As I sat and heard the beat of the storm
              In the darkened day,
       I was ware of the presence of two who knelt;
              I could not pray.

       Over the whole sad history
              My memory passed;
       Before me my foe, behind me the priest,
              Prayed through the blast.

       Round the walls in carvings dim
              There runs His life,
       Dumbly imploring foolish man
              To cease from strife.

       Pressing the stubble down with feet
              All travel-stained,
       Scaring the bestial from the man,
              Till the God remained.

       Here on the Galilean shore,
              There on the wave,
       Peasant and Ruler, Lover of men,
              Losing to save.

       Hanging over the preacher's head,
              Agonised stone,
       Dying the death again, clenching the nail,
              Groaning the groan.

       Is there no part of Him left in me
              Hard though I strive?
       Must He be dying, dying and dead,
              Never alive?

       Can He not still the waves of wrath
              That there be calm?
       Can He not send us the myrrh from the reed
              And the Gilead balm?

       Then from behind me a footfall soft
              In the noise I heard,
       A thin hand laid a leaf at my side,
              And a pencilled word;

       The word he had learnt at the braking of bread
              Whereby men live,
       The golden crown of his fifty years,
              The word, "Forgive."

       Had he but known, oh, had he but known
              How I struck the blow,
       Would he have left that word with me,
              And not with my foe?

       Was it the hour, or the Christ, or the storm,
              Or the priest, or the prayer?
       But I carried the leaf to the side of my foe,
              And I left it there.

       A firm step passed me that once I knew--
              Passed me but stayed;
       I dared not look, and I held my breath
              As I prayed and prayed.

       The step grew fainter in the gloom,
              And I prayed alone;
       The leaf, it lay at my side again,
              And my foe was gone.

       As the sun blazed forth in the storm-swept sky,
              Chasing the rain,
       While through a mist I gazed and gazed
              On that word again.

       So from my sky the clouds of years
              Were chased and driven;
       A single letter had wrought the spell,
              And I read "Forgive-n."

       In sliver gleams through the dripping leaves
              The sunlight played,
       The dead Christ rose and walked with me,
              And the priest prayed.

Proofread by LNL, August, 2023