Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > 246. The Tree of Life
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Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
  
246. The Tree of Life
By Henry Charles Beeching
  
Recognition in four Seasons
ARGUMENT


  A prophet, desiring to recover for men the fruit of the Tree of Life, seems to find Paradise by certain traditional signs of beauty in nature. He is further persuaded by observing the beauty and innocence of children. By and by he comes upon the Tree of Knowledge, whose fruit, now old, he discerns to be evil; but from which, to his desire, new is brought forth, which is good. At each recognition one of the Guardian Angels of the Tree of Life is withdrawn, until there is left only the Angel of Death, in the light of whose sword he perceives it. The Angels’ songs are not heard by the prophet.

I. SPRING

Prophet

O TREE of life, blissful tree,
O Old as the world, still springing green,
Planted, watered by God; whose fruit
Hath year by year fallen about the root,
  And century by century;        5
Grant me that I thy glory unseen
  At last attain to see!
 
Chorus of Angels

The flame of our eyes still bideth
  The fatal tree:
Which God in charge confideth       10
  That none may see,
Till ’gainst our light advances
  A purer ray,
And melts with fervid glances
  Our swords of day.       15
 
Prophet

This garden I consider: if not the wise
Repute it Paradise,
The wise may err and ancient fame be lost;
As Ophir on the swart Arabian coast,—
Whence she, of Saba queen,       20
In silk raiment and gold,
Bearing spices manifold,
Not unlike this lily’s purer sheen,
Came a weary way to salute Solomon,
Fainting to see, and fainted having seen,       25
Such wisdom dazzled from his throne,—
  Now Ophir lies unknown;
Yet stumbling haply on gold, a man shall say
    Who feeds his flock by the well,
  ‘Lo Ophir!’ what if I to-day       30
    A like token recover, and tell.

Considerate lilia agri quomodo crescunt.
 
Chorus of Angels

The fire of our heart presages
  (And gins to dim,)
That though through ageless ages
  We wait for him       35
He comes; our glory retires,
  And shrinks from strife,
Folding in closer fires
The Tree of Life.
 
Prophet

Goeth up a mist,
       40
To water the ground from the four streams at even;
Wrapt in a veil of amethyst
The trees and thickets wait for Spring to appear,
An angel out of heaven,
Bringing apparel new for the new year;       45
In the soft light the birds
Reset to the loved air the eternal words,
And in the woods primroses peer.
 
Angel of the Spring

He bath seem me with eyes of wonder
  And named my name,       50
My shield is riven in sunder,
  And quencht my flame:
My task is done, and rewarded
  If faithfully;
By others now is guarded       55
  The mystic tree.
 
II. SUMMER

Prophet

O tree of life, blessed tree,
When shall I thy beauty attain to see?
New fledged ev’n now, new canopied with green,
(Not darkening ever as these in brooding heat,)       60
  To beasts of the field a screen,
A shadowy bower for weary eyes and feet:
  Tree by tree musing, I find not thee.
 
See, in the rippling water the children at play,
Flashing hither and thither, diamonded with spray;       65
Lithe and fair their limbs, their hearts light and gay—
  As fair as they of Niobe;
Divinely fair, but too divinely famed;
  Not so now let it be.
Children of Adam these by birth proclaimed,       70
Clasping a mother’s breast, a father’s knee,
  By father’s father named.
  Ay, but see, but see,
Their mien how high, how free their spirit!
  They are naked and not ashamed       75
Of that translucent veil, that symmetry.
  How they shout for glee!
It is the primal joy, and not the curse, they inherit.
  A child of Adam, a child of God can he be?
  O look, look and see!

Sinite parvulos, &c.
       80
 
The Angels of Children

His ear through nature’s noises,
  Where’er be trod,
Could hear in the children’s voices
  The praise of God.
Our task is done, and rewarded       85
  If faithfully,
By others now is guarded
  The mystic tree.
 
III. AUTUMN

Prophet

Say who are ye upon this bank reclining
  At random laid,       90
Where loaded boughs a diaper intertwining
  Of fragrant shade,
Stretch down their fruits to cheer the heart’s repining.
They hear me not, asleep, or drunken, or (ah!) dead.
O Tree of Knowledge, ’tis thou, tree divine       95
Of good and ill:—trembling, I view thee.
To me, as them, thy golden apples incline,
Able to slake my thirst, or else undo me.
Which shall I pluck, which dread
Of all their goodlihead?      100
If roots be twain, from which there flows
To these elixir, poison to those,
How can I track their currents through the stem
Which bears and buries them?
Nay, but it cannot be the tree of good;      105
’Tis utter evil; to nearer view
The fruit dislustres, dull of hue,
All its ripe vermilion vanished,
Dead fruit, not human food;
And these mistaking souls from life are banished.      110
But see,—a wonder,—lo, on each branch swells
A new fruit ruddy-rinded, that smells
Freshly, and from their places in decay
The old shrivel and drop away.
The ripeness allures to taste, O what should stay me?      115
Ill was the old, but the new is goodly and sweet:
A blessing is in it, desire to greet,
Not a curse to slay me;
(O divine the taste!)
Of the blind to open the eyes,      120
Deaf ears to unstop, make wise
The feeble-hearted, and to-day (O haste!)
For these poor dead the tree of life display!

Dicitenim Vetus melius est.
 
Angel of the Tree of Divine Knowledge

The old fruit which evil bringeth
  He hath eschewed;      125
I breathe, and a new fruit springeth;
  He saw it good.
My task is done, and rewarded
  If faithfully;
By others now is guarded      130
  The mystic tree.
 
IV. WINTER

Prophet

I had thought ere this to have blest mine eyes
With thy vision benign, immortal tree;
For since that fruit, more than with Euphrasy,
My spirits are all alert, my sense more keen.      135
Nor is the north that chides with the stript boughs
  An enemy, if it shows
All these but mortal, though in Paradise.
  But thou, O still unseen,
Come into sight; not yet I faint, but abide      140
And ever abide, yearning thee to behold.
Thee following, this girdling forest wide,
My heart by hope made bold,
I have laboured through, and now emerge at length
Torn by the briers, spent my strength;      145
But branches wintry-bare deny the sheen
Of the amaranthine leaves and fruit of gold.
Till now at last the light
Fails from my hope as from the heaven,
Where marshal the clouds, blown up with boisterous breath;      150
The trees strain from the blast of death
Shrieking convulsed, so fierce the hail is driven
  Across the vault of night.
And now the waving brand
Of a cherub lightens down      155
And rends the air with crashing din;
Ah, if it be by God’s command
To show light in the darkness of nature’s frown
That I my purpose win!
It flashes and still flashes, and now I see      160
Beyond the blaze glooming a tree, a tree,
Stately and large,—(O light deceive not,
O weary eyes not now believe not!)—
Unseen before; to that I press,
Despite the tempest and limbs’ tardiness.      165
Lighten, O sword divine, to clear my way,
And thou, O happy heart, upstay
Steps that falter and swerve, since few
Remain; come light again, I shall win through.

Qui perdiderit animam suam inveniet.
 
Angel of Death

My flame he hath not abhorred,
      170
  Nor nature’s strife,
But lightened through my sword
  Hath passed to Life.
My task is done, and rewarded
  If faithfully;      175
Henceforth no more is guarded
  The mystic tree.

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