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Sonnets (Felicia Hemans)

Published onApr 12, 2024
Sonnets (Felicia Hemans)


By Felicia Hemans




“Your tents are desolate; your stately steps,

Of all their choral dances, have not left

One trace beside the fountains: your full cup

Of gladness and of trembling, each alike

Is broken. Yet, amidst undying things,

The mind still keeps your loveliness, and still

All the fresh glories of the early world

Hang round you in the spirit’s pictured halls,

Never to change!”


As the tired voyager on stormy seas

Invokes the coming of bright birds from shore,

To waft him tidings, with the gentler breeze,

Of dim, sweet woods that hear no billows roar;

So, from the depth of days, when earth yet wore

Her solemn beauty and primeval dew,

I call you, gracious Forms! Oh, come! restore

Awhile that holy freshness, and renew

Life’s morning dreams. Come with the voice, the lyre,

Daughters of Judah! with the timbrel rise!

Ye of the dark, prophetic, Eastern eyes,

Imperial in their visionary fire;

Oh! steep my soul in that old, glorious time,

When God’s own whisper shook the cedars of your clime!


And come, ye faithful! round Messiah seen,

With a soft harmony of tears and light

Streaming through all your spiritual mien—

As in calm clouds of pearly stillness bright,

Showers weave with sunshine, and transpierce their slight

Ethereal cradle. From your heart subdued

All haughty dreams of power had wing’d their flight,

And left high place for martyr fortitude,

True faith, long-suffering love. Come to me, come!

And as the seas, beneath your Master’s tread,

Fell into crystal smoothness, round him spread

Like the clear pavement of his heavenly home;

So, in your presence, let the soul’s great deep

Sink to the gentleness of infant sleep.


A song for Israel’s God! Spear, crest, and helm

Lay by the billows of the old Red Sea,

When Miriam’s voice o’er that sepulchral realm

Sent on the blast a hymn of jubilee.

With her lit eye, and long hair floating free,

Queen-like she stood, and glorious was the strain,

E’en as instinct with the tempestuous glee

Of the dark waters, tossing o’er the slain.

A song for God’s own victory! Oh, thy lays,

Bright poesy! were holy in their birth:

How hath it died, thy seraph-note of praise,

In the bewildering melodies of earth!

Return from troubling, bitter founts—return,

Back to the life-springs of thy native urn!


The plume-like swaying of the auburn corn,

By soft winds to a dreamy motion fann’d,

Still brings me back thine image—O forlorn,

Yet not forsaken Ruth! I see thee stand

Lone, midst the gladness of the harvest-band—

Lone, as a wood-bird on the ocean’s foam

Fall’n in its weariness. Thy fatherland

Smiles far away! yet to the sense of home—

That finest, purest, which can recognise

Home in affection’s glance—for ever true

Beats thy calm heart; and if thy gentle eyes

Gleam tremulous through tears,’tis not to rue

Those words, immortal in their deep love’s tone,

Thy people and thy God shall be mine own!


“And Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven; and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.”—2 Sam. xxi. 10.

Who watches on the mountain with the dead,

Alone before the awfulness of night?—

A seer awaiting the deep spirit’s might?

A warrior guarding some dark pass of dread?

No—a lorn woman! On her drooping head,

Once proudly graceful, heavy beats the rain;

She recks not—living for the unburied slain,

Only to scare the vulture from their bed.

So, night by night, her vigil hath she kept

With the pale stars, and with the dews hath wept:

Oh! surely some bright Presence from above

On those wild rocks the lonely one must aid!

E’en so; a strengthener through all storm and shade,

Th’ unconquerable angel, mightiest Love!


“And she answered, I dwell among mine own people.”
2 Kings, iv. 13.

“I dwell among mine own,”—oh, happy thou!

Not for the sunny clusters of the vine,

Not for the olives on the mountain’s brow,

Nor the flocks wandering by the flowery line

Of streams, that make the green land where they shine

Laugh to the light of waters—not for these,

Nor the soft shadow of ancestral trees,

Whose kindly whisper floats o’er thee and thine—

Oh! not for these I call thee richly blest,

But for the meekness of thy woman’s breast,

Where that sweet depth of still contentment lies;

And for thy holy, household love, which clings

Unto all ancient and familiar things,

Weaving from each some link for home’s dear charities.


Lowliest of women, and most glorified!

In thy still beauty sitting calm and lone,

A brightness round thee grew—and by thy side,

Kindling the air, a form ethereal shone,

Solemn, yet breathing gladness. From her throne

A queen had risen with more imperial eye,

A stately prophetess of victory

From her proud lyre had struck a tempest’s tone,

For such high tidings as to thee were brought,

Chosen of heaven! that hour: but thou, oh! thou,

E’en as a flower with gracious rains o’erfraught,

Thy virgin head beneath its crown didst bow,

And take to thy meek breast th’ all-holy word,

And own thyself the handmaid of the Lord.


Yet as a sunburst flushing mountain-snow,

Fell the celestial touch of fire ere long

On the pale stillness of thy thoughtful brow,

And thy calm spirit lighten’d into song.

Unconsciously, perchance, yet free and strong

Flow’d the majestic joy of tuneful words,

Which living harps the choirs of heaven among

Might well have link’d with their divinest chords.

Full many a strain, borne far on glory’s blast,

Shall leave, where once its haughty music pass’d,

No more to memory than a reed’s faint sigh;

While thine, O childlike Virgin! through all time

Shall send its fervent breath o’er every clime,

Being of God, and therefore not to die.


There was a mournfulness in angel eyes,

That saw thee, woman! bright in this world’s train,

Moving to pleasure’s airy melodies,

Thyself the idol of the enchanted strain.

But from thy beauty’s garland, brief and vain,

When one by one the rose-leaves had been torn;

When thy heart’s core had quiver’d to the pain

Through every life-nerve sent by arrowy scorn;

When thou didst kneel to pour sweet odours forth

On the Redeemer’s feet, with many a sigh,

And showering tear-drop, of yet richer worth

Than all those costly balms of Araby;

Then was there joy, a song of joy in heaven,

For thee, the child won back, the penitent forgiven!


Oh! bless’d beyond all daughters of the earth!

What were the Orient’s thrones to that low seat

Where thy hush’d spirit drew celestial birth,

Mary! meek listener at the Saviour’s feet?

No feverish cares to that divine retreat

Thy woman’s heart of silent worship brought,

But a fresh childhood, heavenly truth to meet

With love, and wonder, and submissive thought.

Oh! for the holy quiet of thy breast,

Midst the world’s eager tones and footsteps flying,

Thou, whose calm soul was like a well-spring, lying

So deep and still in its transparent rest,

That e’en when noontide burns upon the hills,

Some one bright solemn star all its lone mirror fills.


One grief, one faith, O sisters of the dead!

Was in your bosoms—thou, whose steps, made fleet

By keen hope fluttering in the heart which bled,

Bore thee, as wings, the Lord of Life to greet;

And thou, that duteous in thy still retreat

Didst wait his summons, then with reverent love

Fall weeping at the bless’d Deliverer’s feet,

Whom e’en to heavenly tears thy woe could move.

And which to Him, the All-seeing and All-just,

Was loveliest—that quick zeal, or lowly trust?

Oh! question not, and let no law be given

To those unveilings of its deepest shrine,

By the wrung spirit made in outward sign:

Free service from the heart is all in all to heaven.


“Verily I say unto you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”—Matthew, xxvi. 13.—See also John, xii. 3.

Thou hast thy record in the monarch’s hall,

And on the waters of the far mid sea;

And where the mighty mountain-shadows fall,

The Alpine hamlet keeps a thought of thee:

Where’er, beneath some Oriental tree,

The Christian traveller rests—where’er the child

Looks upward from the English mother’s knee,

With earnest eyes in wondering reverence mild,

There art thou known—where’er the Book of light

Bears hope and healing, there, beyond all blight,

Is borne thy memory, and all praise above.

Oh! say what deed so lifted thy sweet name,

Mary! to that pure, silent place of fame?

One lowly offering of exceeding love.


Like those pale stars of tempest-hours, whose gleam

Waves calm and constant on the rocking mast.

Such by the cross doth your bright lingering seem,

Daughters of Zion! faithful to the last!

Ye, through the darkness o’er the wide earth cast

By the death-cloud within the Saviour’s eye,

E’en till away the heavenly spirit pass’d,

Stood in the shadow of his agony.

O blessed faith! a guiding lamp, that hour

Was lit for woman’s heart! To her, whose dower

Is all of love and suffering from her birth,

Still hath your act a voice—through fear, through strife,

Bidding her bind each tendril of her life

To that which her deep soul hath proved of holiest worth.


Weeper! to thee how bright a morn was given

After thy long, long vigil of despair,

When that high voice which burial-rocks had riven

Thrill’d with immortal tones the silent air!

Never did clarion’s royal blast declare

Such tale of victory to a breathless crowd,

As the deep sweetness of one word could bear

Into thy heart of hearts, O woman! bow’d

By strong affection’s anguish! one low word—

Mary!” and all the triumph wrung from death

Was thus reveal’d; and thou, that so hadst err’d,

So wept, and been forgiven, in trembling faith

Didst cast thee down before the all-conquering Son,

Awed by the mighty gift thy tears and love had won!


Then was a task of glory all thine own,

Nobler than e’er the still, small voice assign’d

To lips in awful music making known

The stormy splendours of some prophet’s mind.

Christ is arisen!”—by thee, to wake mankind,

First from the sepulchre those words were brought!

Thou wert to send the mighty rushing wind

First on its way, with those high tidings fraught—

Christ is arisen!” Thou, thou, the sin-enthrall’d!

In human hearts to give that rapture birth:

Oh raised from shame to brightness! there doth lie

The tenderest meaning of His ministry,

Whose undespairing love still own’d the spirit’s worth.



How shall the harp of poesy regain

That old victorious tone of prophet-years—

A spell divine o’er guilt’s perturbing fears,

And all the hovering shadows of the brain?

Dark, evil wings took flight before the strain,

And showers of holy quiet, with its fall,

Sank on the soul. Oh! who may now recall

The mighty music’s consecrated reign?

Spirit of God! whose glory once o’erhung

A throne, the ark’s dread cherubim between,

So let thy presence brood, though now unseen,

O’er those two powers by whom the harp is strung,

Feeling and Thought! till the rekindled chords

Give the long-buried tone back to immortal words.


What household thoughts around thee, as their shrine,

Cling reverently? Of anxious looks beguiled,

My mother’s eyes upon thy page divine

Each day were bent—her accents, gravely mild,

Breathed out thy lore: whilst I, a dreamy child,

Wander’d on breeze-like fancies oft away,

To some lone tuft of gleaming spring-flowers wild,

Some fresh-discover’d nook for woodland play,

Some secret nest. Yet would the solemn Word,

At times, with kindlings of young wonder heard,

Fall on thy waken’d spirit, there to be

A seed not lost,—for which, in darker years,

O Book of Heaven! I pour, with grateful tears,

Heart-blessings on the holy dead and thee!



Under a palm-tree, by the green, old Nile,

Lull’d on his mother’s breast, the fair child lies,

With dove-like breathings, and a tender smile

Brooding above the slumber of his eyes;

While, through the stillness of the burning skies,

Lo! the dread works of Egypt’s buried kings,

Temple and pyramid, beyond him rise,

Regal and still as everlasting things.

Vain pomps! from him, with that pure, flowery cheek,

Soft shadow’d by his mother’s drooping head,

A new-born spirit, mighty, and yet meek,

O’er the whole world like vernal air shall spread;

And bid all earthly grandeurs cast the crown,

Before the suffering and the lowly, down.


All the bright hues from eastern garlands glowing,

Round the young child luxuriantly are spread;

Gifts, fairer far than Magian kings, bestowing

In adoration, o’er his cradle shed.

Roses, deep-fill’d with rich midsummer’s red,

Circle his hands: but, in his grave, sweet eye,

Thought seems e’en now to wake, and prophesy

Of ruder coronals for that meek head.

And thus it was! a diadem of thorn

Earth gave to Him who mantled her with flowers;

To Him who pour’d forth blessings in soft showers

O’er all her paths, a cup of bitter scorn!

And we repine, for whom that cup He took,

O’er blooms that mock’d our hope, o’er idols that forsook!



I met that image on a mirthful day

Of youth; and, sinking with a still’d surprise,

The pride of life, before those holy eyes,

In my quick heart died thoughtfully away,

Abash’d to mute confession of a sway

Awful, though meek. And now that, from the strings

Of my soul’s lyre, the tempest’s mighty wings

Have struck forth tones which then unwaken’d lay;

Now that, around the deep life of my mind,

Affections, deathless as itself, have twined,

Oft does the pale, bright vision still float by;

But more divinely sweet, and speaking now

Of One whose pity, throned on that sad brow,

Sounded all depths of love, grief, death, humanity!


Happy were they, the mothers, in whose sight

Ye grew, fair children! hallow’d from that hour

By your Lord’s blessing. Surely thence a shower

Of heavenly beauty, a transmitted light

Hung on your brows and eyelids, meekly bright,

Through all the after years, which saw ye move

Lowly, yet still majestic, in the might,

The conscious glory of the Saviour’s love!

And honour’d be all childhood, for the sake

Of that high love! Let reverential care

Watch to behold the immortal spirit wake.

And shield its first bloom from unholy air;

Owning, in each young suppliant glance, the sign

Of claims upon a heritage divine.


“He went up to a mountain apart to pray.”

A child midst ancient mountains I have stood,

Where the wild falcons make their lordly nest

On high. The spirit of the solitude

Fell solemnly upon my infant breast,

Though then I pray’d not; but deep thoughts have press’d

Into my being since it breathed that air,

Nor could I now one moment live the guest

Of such dread scenes, without the springs of prayer

O’erflowing all my soul. No minsters rise

Like them in pure communion with the skies,

Vast, silent, open unto night and day;

So might the o’erburden’d Son of Man have felt,

When, turning where inviolate stillness dwelt,

He sought high mountains, there apart to pray.


“Consider the lilies of the field.”

Flowers! when the Saviour’s calm, benignant eye

Fell on your gentle beauty—when from you

That heavenly lesson for all hearts he drew,

Eternal, universal, as the sky—

Then, in the bosom of your purity,

A voice He set, as in a temple-shrine,

That life’s quick travellers ne’er might pass you by

Unwarn’d of that sweet oracle divine.

And though, too oft its low, celestial sound

By the harsh notes of work-day Care is drown’d,

And the loud steps of vain, unlistening Haste,

Yet, the great ocean hath no tone of power

Mightier to reach the soul, in thought’s hush’d hour,

Than yours, ye Lilies! chosen thus and graced!


“And behold the birds of the air.”

Ye too, the free and fearless birds of air,

Were charged that hour, on missionary wing,

The same bright lesson o’er the seas to bear,

Heaven-guided wanderers, with the winds of spring.

Sing on, before the storm and after, sing!

And call us to your echoing woods away

From worldly cares; and bid our spirits bring

Faith to imbibe deep wisdom from your lay.

So may those blessed vernal strains renew

Childhood, a childhood yet more pure and true

E’en than the first, within th’ awaken’d mind;

While sweetly, joyously, they tell of life,

That knows no doubts, no questionings, no strife,

But hangs upon its God, unconsciously resign’d.


“And he that was dead sat up and began to speak.”

He that was dead rose up and spoke—He spoke!

Was it of that majestic world unknown?

Those words, which first the bier’s dread silence broke,

Came they with revelation in each tone?

Were the far cities of the nations gone,

The solemn halls of consciousness or sleep,

For man uncurtain’d by that spirit lone,

Back from their portal summon’d o’er the deep?

Be hush’d, my soul! the veil of darkness lay

Still drawn: thy Lord call’d back the voice departed

To spread his truth, to comfort his weak-hearted,

Not to reveal the mysteries of its way.

Oh! take that lesson home in silent faith,

Put on submissive strength to meet, not question, death!


The palm—the vine—the cedar—each hath power

To bid fair Oriental shapes glance by;

And each quick glistening of the laurel bower

Wafts Grecian images o’er fancy’s eye.

But thou, pale Olive! in thy branches lie

Far deeper spells than prophet-grove of old

Might e’er enshrine: I could not hear the sigh

To the wind’s faintest whisper, nor behold

One shiver of thy leaves’ dim, silvery green,

Without high thoughts and solemn, of that scene

When, in the garden, the Redeemer pray’d—

When pale stars look’d upon his fainting head,

And angels, ministering in silent dread,

Trembled, perchance, within thy trembling shade.


On Judah’s hills a weight of darkness hung,

Felt shudderingly at noon: the land had driven

A Guest divine back to the gates of heaven—

A life, whence all pure founts of healing sprung,

All grace, all truth. And when, to anguish wrung,

From the sharp cross th’ enlightening spirit fled,

O’er the forsaken earth a pall of dread

By the great shadow of that death was flung.

O Saviour! O Atoner!—thou that fain

Wouldst make thy temple in each human heart,

Leave not such darkness in my soul to reign;

Ne’er may thy presence from its depths depart,

Chased thence by guilt! Oh! turn not thou away,

The bright and Morning Star, my guide to perfect day!


“God is a spirit.”

Spirit! whose life-sustaining presence fills

Air, ocean, central depths by man untried,

Thou for thy worshippers hast sanctified

All place, all time! The silence of the hills

Breathes veneration,—founts and choral rills

Of thee are murmuring,—to its inmost glade

The living forest with thy whisper thrills,

And there is holiness in every shade.

Yet must the thoughtful soul of man invest

With dearer consecration those pure fanes,

Which, sever’d from all sound of earth’s unrest,

Hear naught but suppliant or adoring strains

Rise heavenward. Ne’er may rock or cave possess

Their claim on human hearts to solemn tenderness.


Crowning a flowery slope, it stood alone

In gracious sanctity. A bright rill wound,

Caressingly, about the holy ground;

And warbled, with a never-dying tone,

Amidst the tombs. A hue of ages gone

Seem’d, from that ivied porch, that solemn gleam

Of tower and cross, pale-quivering on the stream,

O’er all th’ ancestral woodlands to be thrown—

And something yet more deep. The air was fraught

With noble memories, whispering many a thought

Of England’s fathers: loftily serene,

They that had toil’d, watch’d, struggled, to secure,

Within such fabrics, worship free and pure,

Reign’d there, the o’ershadowing spirit of the scene.

Fawsley Park, near Daventry.


Blessings be round it still! that gleaming fane,

Low in its mountain-glen! Old, mossy trees

Mellow the sunshine through the untinted pane;

And oft, borne in upon some fitful breeze,

The deep sound of the ever-pealing seas,

Filling the hollows with its anthem-tone,

There meets the voice of psalms! Yet not alone

For memories lulling to the heart as these,

I bless thee, midst thy rocks, gray house of prayer!

But for their sakes who unto thee repair

From the hill-cabins and the ocean-shore.

Oh! may the fisher and the mountaineer

Words to sustain earth’s toiling children hear,

Within thy lowly walls, for evermore!

That of Aber, near Bangor.


A fearless journeyer o’er the mountain-snow

Wert thou, Louise! The sun’s decaying light

Oft, with its latest, melancholy glow,

Redden’d thy steep, wild way: the starry night

Oft met thee, crossing some lone eagle’s height,

Piercing some dark ravine: and many a dell

Knew, through its ancient rock-recesses well,

Thy gentle presence, which hath made them bright

Oft in mid-storms—oh! not with beauty’s eye,

Nor the proud glance of genius keenly burning;

No! pilgrim of unwearying charity!

Thy spell was love—the mountain-deserts turning

To blessed realms, where stream and rock rejoice

When the glad human soul lifts a thanksgiving voice!


For thou, a holy shepherdess and kind,

Through the pine forests, by the upland rills,

Didst roam to seek the children of the hills,

A wild, neglected flock! to seek, and find,

And meekly win! there feeding each young mind

With balms of heavenly eloquence: not thine,

Daughter of Christ! but His, whose love divine

Its own clear spirit in thy breast had shrined,

A burning light! Oh! beautiful, in truth,

Upon the mountains are the feet of those

Who bear His tidings! From thy morn of youth,

For this were all thy journeyings; and the close

Of that long path, heaven’s own bright sabbath-rest,

Must wait thee, wanderer! on thy Saviour’s breast

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