Oft have I read of sunny realms, where skies are pure at even,
And sight goes deep in lucid air, and earth seems nearer Heaven,
And wheresoe'er you lift your eyes, the holy Cross, they say,
Stands guardian of your journey, by lone or crowded way;
And I have mused how awfully its shadows and its gleams
Might haply fall on infants' eyes, and mingle with their dreams,
And draw them up by silent power of its o'ershading arm,
And deepen on the tender brow CHRIST's seal and saintly charm.
--Upon a verdant hillock the sacred sign appears,
A damsel on no trembling arm an eager babe uprears,
With a sister's yearning love, and an elder sister's pride,
She lifts the new-baptized, to greet the Friend Who for him died.
Who may the maiden's thought divine, performing thus in sight
Of all the heavenly Watchers her pure unbidden rite?
While fearless to those awful Lips her treasure she would raise,
I see her features shrink, as though she fain would downward gaze.
Perchance a breath of self-reproach is fluttering round her heart:--
'Thou, darling, in our Saviour may'st for certain claim thy part:
The dews baptismal bright and keen are glistening on thy brow,
He cannot choose but own thee, in His arms received e'en now.
But much I've sinn'd and little wept: will He not say, "Begone"?
I dare not meet His searching eye; my penance is undone.
But thou and thy good Angel, who nerves mine arm to bear
And lift thee up so near Him, will strive for me in prayer.'
Or chanced the Thorny Crown her first upseeking glance to win,
And the deep lines of agony traced by the whole world's sin?
Oh, deeply in her bosom went the thought, 'Who draw so nigh
Unto those awful Lips, and share the LORD's departing sigh,--
Who knoweth what mysterious pledge upon their souls is bound,
To copy in their own hearts' blood each keen and bitter Wound?
If of the dying JESUS we the Kiss of Peace receive
How but in daily dying thenceforward dare we live?
'And was it meet, thou tender flower, on thy young life to lay
Such burden, pledging thee to vows thou never canst unsay?
What if the martyrs' fire some day thy dainty limbs devour?
What if beneath the scourge they writhe, or in dull famine cower?
What if thou bear the cross within, all aching and decay?--
And 'twas I that laid it on thee:--what if thou fall away?'
Such is Love's deep misgiving, when stronger far than Faith,
She brings her earthly darlings to the Cross for life or death.
O, be Thou present in that hour, high Comforter, to lead
Her memory to th' eternal Law, by the great King decreed,
What time the highly favour'd one who on His bosom lay,
And he who of the chosen twelve first trode the martyr way,
Taught by their mother, craved the boon next to Thy throne to be,
For her dreams were of the Glory, but the Cross she could not see.
O well for that fond mother, well for her beloved, that they,
When th' hour His secret meaning told, did by their promise stay!
'Thy baptism and Thy cup be ours: for both our hearts are strong.'
Learn it, ye babes, at matin prime, repeat it all day long.
Ev'n as the mother's morning kiss is token of delight
Through all the merry hours of day, and at fall of dewy night
Her evening kiss shall to her babe the softest slumbers seal,
So Thy first greeting life imparts, Thy last shall cheer and heal.--
Then, maiden, trust thy nursling here! thou wilt not choose amiss
For his sweet soul; here let him dwell; here is the gate of bliss.