Patrick Regan has kindly shared the material from his George Heath site with readers of the Victorian Web, who may wish to consult the original.

The summer's day lies sickening in the west
Upon a citrine couch of melting blooms;
No breath of air, or fringe of cloud upheaves
One long-line ripple on the ether calm.
The heat is sobering, mellowing; and the cool
Comes filtering o'er the eastern mountains, from
The balmy breathings of the dawning eve.
The tingling mists, dissolving, mingling, deepening
Rise up —   like blushes on a maiden's face,
Upturned amid the moonlight, glowing with
Her lover's parting kiss: whose form she sees,
With something of a sadness, fading in
The dusk — amid the vales, to bid the sun,
Earth's lover-face, good-night.
          A murmurous sound
Of eddying voices, and the rumbling roll
Of toil and traffic from the city world
Float up, and clamour lazily amid
The thickening air.

          A plastic form, with eye
Of slumberous fire, and broad and brooding brow,
And floating webs of brown and glossy curls,
Strolls 'neath dim cypress-shaded avenues,
And twines among grey monuments and tombs,
And enters through a grand cathedral door;
And pauses reverently, and gazes long,
Awe-wrapt, upon the vast, magnific pile;
Around the cavernous nave, adown the long
Dim-lustred chancel, where a mystic flush
Of variegated light pervades, cast through
The Saviour, saint, and scene-limned glass, that fills
The web-arched, scalloped, many-mullioned windows,
And wanders with a step subdued adown
The grey-'lumed aisles, beneath huge canopies,
Agape to catch and toss from nook to nook
The faintest sound; climbs lightly to the grand
High-vaulted choir, and sinks from sight beyond
A crimson curtain, crown and cross emblazed.

     Anon, a sound — a breath — a sob — a strain —
Soft as the dawn-sigh on the coppice leaves
Breaks forth and trembles like a distant moan,
And swells into a gush of tremulous jets
Like to the sear-wind 'mongst the autumn days,
And bursts at length in one harmonic roll
Like to the storm-wind wrestling with the waves —
A throbbing tide that fills the echoing choir,
And sweeps its bounds, and leaps in billows huge
Along the dusky cavities and domes,
Till all the hungry space is thrilled and gorged
With one weird, frantic torrent-tide of sound.

     Outside, a wan, decrepit, blind, bowed man
Sits shaking on an almost sunken mound,
Deep in the shadow of a flaunting tomb.
All suddenly a wee wind-mercury
Wafts to his ears a rumour of the sound;
He lifts his thin white head and hearkens, still,
Then gathers up his form and totters forth,
And with his iron-shod staff creeps feeling up
The gravelled path, beneath the vestibule,
And thence into the huge-ribbed tenement,
Where throbs the music like a mighty soul
Apant for immortality, and drops
Upon an oaken bench that skirts the wall,
Shrinks softly farther, farther, from the draught,
Slopes dreamily his staff, and piles his hands
Atop, and droops his furrowed cheek thereon,
And listens, listens.

     And now the prelude ends;
And from the massy pipes the master-hand
Draws forth the occult power and wonderment,
The madness and the mystery of music;
At first, a soft, sweet quivering of weak
And infant tones, and then a turbulent gush
Like glorious youth wind-beating on the hills;
Anon, a strong calm roll of dauntless might
Like manhood majesty; a throb of pain,
Of desolation, hunger, grief, despair,
A home-sick murmuring of weariness,
A brief temptation, struggle, feverish,
A holy swell of firm, heroic will,
A passionate burst of lofty eloquence,
A grieved complaint, a yearning humanness,
A pleading moan, a wailing trouble-prayer,
A storm of passion wrestling terrible,
A cry of agony, intense and wild,
A gasp of pitifulness, a sob of death,
A trumpet-crash of triumph-ecstasy!
The master-soul has burst the manacles
Of its long incarnation, and has leaped
With falcon-wing to its own element,
And revels there exultant; even as
A bird escaped anew the fancier's toils;
Thought, memory, are carried off and lost
In the storm-harmony; while on and on
The tempest sweeps, till all the depths and heights
And torrent-rolls of fever-life have found
An utterance.

     Incessantly the rush,
The panting, fluctuating cataract
Sweeps through the thrilling minster, vault, and dome;
And twists and doubles 'neath the gothic spans,
And twirls and eddies round and round, and up
The many-pillared piers and pedestals,
And tall and massy columns; chuckling wild
In echoing crypt and niche, recess and nook;
And leaps and dances through the clamouring space:
Into the dusky transepts, everywhere;
Rushes and meets, and clashing, twirls along;
And wriggles up the zigzag architraves,
The fluted buttresses, and pilasters;
Among rare ornament and tracery;
And swarms along the transoms huge and carved,
And plays upon the sculptured draperies,
The statues, worship-faces, finials,
The spiral volutes, scrolls, and mimic urns;
And touches lightly, still recumbent forms,
White marble hands clasped over marble breasts;
And kisses fearfully white lips and eyes,
And throbless brows that sleep unconsciously
In all the rigid peace of sepulture:
And breaks away and skims along the aisles,
As sensible unto the ear as is
The street-lights lingering quiver to the eye!
The old man listens, and the shrivelled face
Grows strangely fresh again: the cold hard lines
Depart: a nervous tremor runs around
The thin seared lips; the sightless balls roll up
And round, e'en as the eye-balls work beneath
The half-closed lids of one a-dream; and great
White globes of tears slide off and dash upon
The bony fingers, all a-twitch with nerve.
But suddenly the chant is hush'd; and through
The vacuous pause the echoes rush and clasp
And wild and frantic-eyed swoop here and there
Sink down to faint vociferations; melt,
Dissolve, and swooning, die away, away!
The old man lifts his white head with a start,
And, sighing low, sings in his soul a song: —

"O! wherefore pauseth the lofty strain,
     The triumph and ecstasy?
Why sinketh my spirit to bonds again
     From the transport of liberty?
My soul is a-weary of waking gloom,
     My limbs are with pain a-wrack:
O waft me away on that strain once more,
     Ah! tenderly waft me back!

For I am a desolate, sear'd old man,
     And dark as a dawnless sea;
A stranger man in the world of men:
     Alone in my misery!
The scourge of care and the tooth of age
     Have wrought on me many a track;
I stand in the mirk of a vanished day,
     O tenderly waft me back.

The pure I loved, and the base I scorned
     Have passed from the world and me;
And I long for my home with a longing strange —
     My home o'er the darkest sea:
The further I go the sadder I am,
     And the more I find I lack;
My sun hath gone down on a northern night;
     O tenderly waft me back!

Away from the cold and the shadow'd now —
     The nothingness, hunger, woe;
Away from the weakness that rains with tears,
     From all that 'tis pain to know: —
Away to the haunts of the glorious hills
     Where the winds of the roses smack,
And the earth lies glad in a noontide glow;
     O tenderly waft me back!

Away to the time of my youth and might —
     Of rapture and liberty,
When the voices of nature were tropes of fun,
     And the wild winds spirits of glee;
When I breasted the trees and vanquished the nuts
     In a brief and a bloodless strife;
Imprisoned the bee in the foxglove bell,
     And laugh'd in the face of life;

When health gave my footsteps a lithesome ring,
     My features a lustre bright;
And the poet Hope gave me eyes and ears,
     And loving — a bosom light:
When life was the glimpse of a joy-wing'd hour,
     The world — all I hoped or dream'd;
When faces were minds, appearances truths,
     And dewdrops the gems they seem'd.

Away to the scene of my fair lad-love,
     Whose features I most forget;
But whose goodness and worth lay sweet on the years,
vAnd gladden my memory yet.
When my eyes were awake, and could drink the sky
     And the grandeur-world's great dower;
When music to me was a worship-breath
     A rapture, a tongue, a power!

They say I'm a child, and I feel like a child,
     Am weak as a child, ah me!
O waft me away, to the brief bright sky
     Of the life that I dream'd might be:
There let me close up the weary lids,
     Forgetting the now and then,
And pass to the birth of a deathless life
     From the sorrowful world of men."

The old man listens, but no more, no more
The wonder-spirit flutters to his ear:
Comes but the sound, by echo multiplied
Into a troop of footsteps in the aisle.
He drops his head, and, for a moment, sobs
In quiet helplessness; then draws once, twice,
His russet sleeve across his darkened eyes,
And, rising, gropes his way and totters out
Into the wide, cold world, beneath the night
That melteth into dawn for him no more.


Victorian Web George Heath Contents

Last modified 3 September 2002