The Angel Of The Doves.

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THE angels stood in the court of the King,
And into the midst, through the open door,
Weeping came one whose broken wing
Piteously trailed on the golden floor.
Angel was she, and woman, and dove:
Dove and angel all womanly blent
With the virginal charm that is worshipped of love,
On the hither side of the firmament.
Where a rainbow hideth the holiest place,
Thither she moved, and there she kneeled;
And fain with her wings would have veiled her face,
Ere the bow should be lifted, and God revealed.
'Tis the angels' wont; and afresh she wept,
As with maimed pinion she strove in vain,
And tremor on tremor convulsively swept
O'er her plumes in a shuddering iris of pain.
And the angels who dwell from sorrow remote
Gazed on her woe as a marvellous thing;
For they wist but of pain from its echoes that float
In the strange new songs that the ransomed sing.
"Sister," at length said a shining one,
"To whom earth's doves for a care were given,
What hast thou done, or left undone,
That grief through thee should be known in heaven?
"When together for joy the angels sang,
Calling the new-made world to rejoice,
Sweeter than all hosannas that rang
Was the trembling rapture that thrilled thy voice.
"For thine was the grace to minister there —
Oh, favoured child of the heavenly host! —
To the sacred and lovely lives that wear
The mystic shape of the Holy Ghost.
"And we marked thy flight as the flight of a dove,
Till the luminous vapours around thee curled,
And we said, ‘She is glad in her errand of love,
To the happy glades of the new-born world.’
"And now thou returnest woe-stricken as one
That hath fallen from grace and is unforgiven.
What hast thou done, or left undone,
That grief through thee should be known in heaven?"
Faint was her voice as an echo heard
From the past by the soul in dreamful mood;
Sweet and sad as the plaint of a bird
Mourning forlorn in solitude.
"I tended my doves," she said through her tears,
"By day and by night, in storm and calm.
Happily flew the uncounted years
In bowers of myrtle and groves of palm.
"Many, alas, were the beautiful dead,
But the life of the race was always new,
For, ever ere one generation fled,
Out of its love another grew.
"And many a dove for man's sake died,
Noted in heaven with none offence,
Save when the heart of the cruel took pride
In slaying the witness of innocence.
"When countless seasons had come and gone,
Come and gone as a happy dream,
One noon of summer I lingered upon
The eastward marge of a sacred stream.
"And lo, 'mid a crowd on the further side,
That stood in the stream or knelt on the sod,
I saw — though a veil of flesh did hide
The splendour of Godhead — the Son of God.
"And ev'n as I gazed, the azure above
Burst into glory that dimmed the sun;
And the Spirit of God in the form of a dove
I saw descend on the Holy One,
"I deemed that my task was over then;
‘ 'Tis the dawn,’ I said, ‘of the reign of love;
Henceforth my doves will be safe with men,
Since God hath hallowed the form of the dove.’
"Then I soared aloft, but again returned;
For I said in my heart, ‘I will not cease
From my care, till man from His lips hath learned
That the birds have a share in the Gospel of Peace.’
"And it chanced on a day in the soft springtide,
When birds were joyous and love was sweet,
I saw the Lord on a mountain side,
And with Him were twelve, who sat at His feet.
"And I heard Him say, ‘Not a sparrow doth fall
To the ground but your Father taketh note,’
Then all the air grew musical,
And song awoke in each warbling throat.
"For into bird-music the message passed,
And from choir to choir in melody ran;
And I said, ‘My mission is over at last.
Farewell, my doves. Ye are safe with man.’
"Weeping, yet gladsome, I soared aloft,
Being fain of the glories of other spheres,
Whose beckoning lustre had lured me oft
In starry midnights of bygone years.
"And on seas of ether and isles of light
Through ages of joy I floated or trod,
Till I chanced on an angel in upward flight,
Bearing an infant home to God.
"And a waft of earth from the flowers that lay
On the young dead breast came sweet and faint;
And again, dream-echoed from far away,
I heard in the woodlands the turtle's plaint.
"For memory woke at the flowers' sweet breath,
And my spirit yearned to the earth again,
And I cried, ‘Canst thou tell, oh angel of death,
How fare my doves at the hands of men?’
" ‘Sad is their lot,’ the angel sighed;
‘For the pleasure of man they suffer pain;
And the heart of the cruel taketh pride
To slay thy doves and to number the slain.’
"I knew no more till the vapours of earth
Clung to my wings, and a peeling sound
Smote on mine ear, and voices of mirth;
And beneath me a dove fell dead to the ground.
"Leave me with God; for ye cannot know
How death takes shape in the human hand,
Nor the subtle devices that work for woe;
But the Lord will hear and will understand.
"And if, as I clove my unseen way
Between my doves and the deadly rain,
It was given unto me to become as they,
To share their wounds and to know their pain —
"Surely the rather will God give ear
To one who knoweth what He hath known;
Surely the rather will Jesus hear,
Who suffered, as I, for love of His own.
"Can it be that the great Lord doth not know
How Christ is needed on earth again?
Rise, lingering curtain! that I may show
The wounds of my doves, and may pray for men."
* * * * *
Slowly the rainbow rose, parting in twain;
And, lo, in the midst of the throne of love
There stood a Lamb as it had been slain;
And over the throne there brooded a Dove.

© James Brunton Stephens