Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes
From my window at the Foley Arms I can see the tower of the fine old abbey church of Malvern, which would be a centre of pilgrimages if it were in our country. But England is full of such monumental structures, into the history of which the local antiquarians burrow, and pass their peaceful lives in studying and writing about them with the same innocent enthusiasm that White of Selborne manifested in studying nature as his village showed it to him.
The broken circle of stones, some in their original position, some bending over like old men, some lying prostrate, suggested the thoughts which took form in the following verses. They were read at the annual meeting, in January, of the class which graduated at Harvard College in the year 1829. Eight of the fifty-nine men who graduated sat round the small table. There were several other classmates living, but infirmity, distance, and other peremptory reasons kept them from being with us. I have read forty poems at our successive annual meetings. I will introduce this last one by quoting a stanza from the poem I read in 1851:--
The name of Herbert, which we have met with in the cathedral, and which belongs to the Earls of Pembroke, presents itself to us once more in a very different and very beautiful aspect. Between Salisbury and Wilton, three miles and a half distant, is the little village of Bemerton, where "holy George Herbert" lived and died, and where he lies buried. Many Americans who know little else of him recall the lines borrowed from him by Irving in the "Sketch-Book" and by Emerson in "Nature." The "Sketch-Book" gives the lines thus:--
One incident of our excursion to Stonehenge had a significance for me which renders it memorable in my personal experience. As we drove over the barren plain, one of the party suddenly exclaimed, "Look! Look! See the lark rising!" I looked up with the rest. There was the bright blue sky, but not a speck upon it which my eyes could distinguish. Again, one called out, "Hark! Hark! Hear him singing!" I listened, but not a sound reached my ear. Was it strange that I felt a momentary pang? Those that look out at the windows are darkened, and all the daughters of music are brought low. Was I never to see or hear the soaring songster at Heaven's gate,--unless,--unless,--if our mild humanized theology promises truly, I may perhaps hereafter listen to him singing far down beneath me? For in whatever world I may find myself, I hope I shall always love our poor little spheroid, so long my home, which some kind angel may point out to me as a gilded globule swimming in the sunlight far away. After walking the streets of pure gold in the New Jerusalem, might not one like a short vacation, to visit the well-remembered green fields and flowery meadows? I had a very sweet emotion of self-pity, which took the sting out of my painful discovery that the orchestra of my pleasing life-entertainment was unstringing its instruments, and the lights were being extinguished,--that the show was almost over. All this I kept to myself, of course, except so far as I whispered it to the unseen presence which we all feel is in sympathy with us, and which, as it seemed to my fancy, was looking into my eyes, and through them into my soul, with the tender, tearful smile of a mother who for the first time gently presses back the longing lips of her as yet unweaned infant.
In my various excursions from Salisbury I was followed everywhere by the all-pervading presence of the towering spire. Just what it was in that earlier visit, when my eyes were undimmed and my sensibilities unworn, just such I found it now. As one drives away from the town, the roofs of the houses drop out of the landscape, the lesser spires disappear one by one, until the great shaft is left standing alone,--solitary as the broken statue of Ozymandias in the desert, as the mast of some mighty ship above the waves which have rolled over the foundering vessel. Most persons will, I think, own to a feeling of awe in looking up at it. Few can look down from a great height without creepings and crispations, if they do not get as far as vertigos and that aerial calenture which prompts them to jump from the pinnacle on which they are standing. It does not take much imagination to make one experience something of the same feeling in looking up at a very tall steeple or chimney. To one whose eyes are used to Park Street and the Old South steeples as standards of height, a spire which climbs four hundred feet towards the sky is a new sensation. Whether I am more "afraid of that which is high" than I was at my first visit, as I should be on the authority of Ecclesiastes, I cannot say, but it was quite enough for me to let my eyes climb the spire, and I had no desire whatever to stand upon that "bad eminence," as I am sure that I should have found it.下载