On a Spanish Cathedral [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was published in Songs from the Mountains (1880).]

On a Spanish Cathedral.*

Deep under the spires of a hill by the feet of the thunder-cloud trod,
I pause in a luminous, still, magnificent temple of God!
At the steps of the altar august — a vision of angels in stone —
I kneel, with my head to the dust, on the floors by the seraphim known.
No father in Jesus is near with the high, the compassionate, face;
But the glory of Godhead is here — its presence transfigures the place!
Behold, in this beautiful fane with the lights of blue heaven impearled,
I think of the Elders of Spain, in the deserts — the wilds of the world!

I think of the wanderers poor who knelt on the flints and the sands
When the mighty and merciless Moor was lord of the Lady of Lands.
Where the African scimetar flamed with a swift bitter death in its kiss,
The fathers unknown and unnamed found God in cathedrals like this!
The glow of His Spirit — the beam of His blessing — made lords of the men
Whose food was the herb of the stream, whose roof was the dome of the den.
And, far in the hills by the sea, these awful hierophants prayed
For Rome and its temples to be — in a temple by Deity made.

Who knows of their faith — of its power? Perhaps, with the light in their eyes,
They saw, in some wonderful hour, the marvel of centuries rise!
Perhaps in some moment supreme, when the mountains were holy and still,
They dreamed the magnificent dream that came to the monks of Seville!
Surrounded by pillars and spires whose summits shone out in the glare
Of the high — the omnipotent fires, who knows what was seen by them there?
Be sure, if they saw in the noon of their faith some ineffable fane,
They looked on the Church like a moon dropped down by the Lord into Spain.

And the Elders who shone in the time when Christ over Christendom beamed
May have dreamed at their altars sublime the dream that their fathers had dreamed.
By the glory of Italy moved — the majesty shining in Rome —
They turned to the land that they loved, and prayed for a Church in their home.
And a soul of unspeakable fire descended on them; and they fought,
And laboured, a life for the spire and tower and dome of their thought!
These grew under blessing and praise, as morning in summertime grows —
As Troy in the dawn of the days to the music of Delphicus rose.

In a land of bewildering light, where the feet of the season are Spring’s
They worked in the day and the night, surrounded by beautiful things.
The wonderful blossoms in stone — the flower and leaf of the Moor
On column and cupola shone, and gleamed on the glimmering floor.
In a splendour of colour and form, from the marvellous African’s hands
Yet vivid and shining and warm, they planted the Flower of the Lands.
Inspired by the patience supreme of the mute, the magnificent, Past,
They toiled till the Dome of their Dream in the firmament blossomed at last!

Just think of these men — of their time — of the days of their deed, and the scene!
How touching their zeal — how sublime their suppression of self must have been!
In a city yet hacked by the sword, and scarred by the flame of the Moor,
They started the work of their Lord, sad, silent, and solemnly poor.
These Fathers, how little they thought of themselves, and how much of the days
When the children of men would be brought to pray in their Temple and praise!
Ah! full of the radiant, still, heroic old life that has flown,
The merciful monks of Seville toiled on, and died bare and unknown.

The music, the colour, the gleam, of their mighty Cathedral will be
Hereafter a luminous dream of the Heaven I never may see.
To a spirit that suffers and seeks for the calm of a competent creed,
This Temple whose majesty speaks becomes a religion indeed.
The passionate lights, the intense — the ineffable beauty of sound
Go straight to the heart through the sense, as a song would of seraphim crowned.
And lo! by these altars august, the life that is highest we live,
And are filled with the infinite trust and the peace that the world cannot give.

They have passed — have the Elders of Time: they have gone; but the work of their hands,
Pre-eminent, peerless, sublime, like a type of Eternity stands!
They are mute, are the Fathers who made this Church in the century dim;
But the dome with their beauty arrayed remains, a perpetual hymn.
Their names are unknown; but, so long as the humble in spirit and pure
Are worshipped in speech and in song, our love for these monks will endure.
And the lesson by sacrifice taught will live in the light of the years
With a reverence not to be bought, and a tenderness deeper than tears.

* Every happy expression in these stanzas may fairly be claimed by the Hon. W. B. Dalley.

Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 164-172

Editor’s notes:
fane = a church or temple

Lord = in a religious context, and capitalized, a reference to Jesus or God

Moor = a general term for the Arabs of Northern Africa (references to the Moors may also include those Arabs who had invaded, conquered, and settled in Southern Europe)

scimetar = an alternative spelling of “scimitar”

seraphim = angels which are regarded as a highly-ranked order of angel (the Seraphim are mentioned in the Bible, in Isaiah 6: “I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne . . . Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings”)

Seville = the capital city of the province of Seville (Spain)

W. B. Dalley = William Bede Dalley (1831-1888), born in Sydney, a politician in New South Wales; he was the first Australian to be appointed to the Privy Council (UK)

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