Melancholy and Faith



by: Lionel Johnson (1867-1902)

      SOMBRE and rich, the skies;
      Great glooms, and starry plains.
      Gently the night wind sighs;
      Else a vast silence reigns.
      The splendid silence clings
      Around me: and around
      The saddest of all kings
      Crowned, and again discrowned.
      Comely and calm, he rides
      Hard by his own Whitehall:
      Only the night wind glides:
      No crowds, nor rebels, brawl.
      Gone, too, his Court; and yet,
      The stars his courtiers are:
      Stars in their stations set;
      And every wandering star.
      Alone he rides, alone,
      The fair and fatal king:
      Dark night is all his own,
      That strange and solemn thing.
      Which are more full of fate:
      The stars; or those sad eyes?
      Which are more still and great:
      Those brows; or the dark skies?
      Although his whole heart yearn
      In passionate tragedy:
      Never was face so stern
      With sweet austerity.
      Vanquished in life, his death
      By beauty made amends:
      The passing of his breath
      Won his defeated ends.
      Brief life and hapless? Nay:
      Through death, life grew sublime.
      Speak after sentence? Yea:
      And to the end of time.
      Armoured he rides, his head
      Bare to the stars of doom:
      He triumphs now, the dead,
      Beholding London’s gloom.
      Our wearier spirit faints,
      Vexed in the world’s employ:
      His soul was of the saints;
      And art to him was joy.
      King, tried in fires of woe!
      Men hunger for thy grace:
      And through the night I go,
      Loving thy mournful face.
      Yet when the city sleeps;
      When all the cries are still:
      The stars and heavenly deeps
      Work out a perfect will.

    • No reason for posting this other than the fact that it has always struck me as one of the most beautiful poems in the English language.  Catholic convert Lionel Johnson had a brief, and in many ways a tormented, life, but the beauty he could conjure up with words remains an imperishable monument to the man, more lasting than the statue that inspired this poem. 
    He also granted to his beloved King Charles I, misguided, devoted husband, Christian, foolish, good father, devious,  pious, heroic, a memorial much greater than any mere statue.  Alec Guinness memorably played the monarch, who had his finest moments during his spirited defense at his mockery of a trial and at his execution, in the movie Cromwell, a film filled with the usual historical howlers that seem to be required whenever a movie is made on a historical subject.  However Alec Guinness gave a masterful performance as King Charles and captured the look of the man well.  Here is the execution scene from the film which is correct in regard to most of the details.
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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

One Comment

  1. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89).

    ‘My own heart let me have more have pity on; let’

    MY own heart let me have more have pity on; let
    Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
    Charitable; not live this tormented mind
    With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
    I cast for comfort I can no more get
    By groping round my comfortless, than blind
    Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
    Thirst ’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.

    Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
    You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
    Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
    At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
    ’s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather—as skies
    Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.

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