Beneath the Surface [poem by Menie Parkes]

[Editor: This poem by Menie Parkes was published in Poems (1867).]

Beneath the Surface.

I gazed on earth and on earthly scenes,
On human passions and pride;
“Oh, would that I knew what the Master means
To end this struggle!” I sighed.
A fluttering thrill and a gleaming shade,
And a fragrance floating wide;
A sense of repression upon me laid,
And an angel stood beside;
“Wouldst thou see beyond the present sight,
Interpreting all in Truth’s fair light,
Thy heart must be touched by the presence of sadness,
Thy sight must be bathed in secret tears,
And thy steps, from their pace of dancing gladness,
Must be curbed by uncertain fears:
It is thine to refuse, or the gift to choose,
But thou must surrender the sense of youth.”
“Take the price,” I said, “I have chosen truth.”

The angel vision bent above;
Beneath their depths his grave eyes smiled
With that faint look of speechless love
A mother gives an only child.
His arrow finger swiftly pressed
Upon my lip, my heart, my brain;
I sank, by momentary pain opprest,
Then rose, and stood myself again:
Myself — but neath a weight of thought,
That with sweet youth was dearly bought!

Time had no power to curb my vision;
Falsehood no means to cheat;
And hollow were all the world’s dreams elysian;
And the grave beneath my feet,
No more than the throbbing heart, could hide
The secrets dire that it held inside.
Oh Truth, I had won thee with mountains of sadness,
But would not exchange thee for dear youth’s gladness.

I saw a glorious being, crowned
With the bright earth’s proudest bays;
And kings and nations gathered round
To laud him in their lays;
And oh, beneath the swelling tone
And regal speech, I saw
A heart as hard as polished stone —
Ice that no sun could thaw;

Encrusted with the leprosy of self,
Intent to gather Talent’s pelf —
That hollow, shadowy spectre, Fame,
Intent for only this,
And careless of the conscious blame,
Or of the whispering bliss,
By which his guardian spirit near
Strove fervently to gain his ear,
And offered still Heaven’s slighted crown,
Rejected for earth’s base renown!

I saw a child, whose sunny years,
Yet unbereft of bloom,
Made her more lovely for her tears,
Kneel in a silent room.
A lily, ere the bee has swept
The dew-drop off its bud,
Were the best type of the pure prayer
That young saint breathed to God.
Those parted rose bud lips, so grave,
Those eyes, so contrite, yet so trusting-brave;
Beseeching hands, so closely twined,
And tender, loving words —
They reached the heavens, blue, calm, and kind,
And pierced their walls like swords;
And angel hosts, at Heaven’s command,
Came down to meet the child’s demand;
And never, from that hour of prayer,
Did cease to shield her by their care.

I saw a man, in cold despair,
Hating himself and earth,
Stand gazing at the helpless stars,
With piteous sense of dearth:
His heart was beating mad and wild,
Tumultuous with woe,
And sin that once had kissed and smiled
Now caused the angriest throe,
And shouted, with harsh, mocking voice,
That she had been his youth’s free choice:
But, from the skies, I saw a Hand,
That never pointed yet in vain,
Mark out that man where he did stand,
In reverie of pain;
All silently the angels gathered round,
And touched with gentle hands his spirit’s wound,
And from that tempest came a life
That conquered sin and fettered strife.

I saw a woman moaning low
By a dead husband’s side;
’Twas but a little year ago
And she had been a bride;
And now; oh, who shall tell the grief,
The eating, hopeless care,
With which she sees her broken sheaf
Scattered and wasted there!
And who shall blame her anguished cries,
Or who reprove her heavy sighs?
But I beheld the parting soul
Rising above the world,
New learning all its glory’s whole,
With its bright wings half-furled,
And saw it ever swifter speeding
To where the Saviour, interceding
For man before his Father’s throne,
Neglecteth yet to fill his own.



Source:
Menie Parkes, Poems, F. Cunninghame, Sydney, [1867], pages 111-114

Editor’s notes:
Elysian = blissful, delightful; a reference to Elysium (also known as the Elysian Fields) of Greek mythology, as a conception of an indulgent afterlife for the righteous and the heroic

neath = beneath

opprest = oppressed

throe = a hard, painful, or violent struggle, spasm, or pang; paroxysm (e.g. someone in the throes of agony)

unbereft = not bereft, not lacking (bereft means to be deprived of, to lack, or to have lost something)

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