Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
Old Souls
 
Thomas Gordon Hake (1809–94)
 
 
THE WORLD, not hush’d, lay as in trance;
    It saw the future in its van,
And drew its riches in advance
    To meet the greedy wants of man;
Till length of days, untimely sped,        5
Left its account unaudited.
 
The sun, untir’d, still rose and set,—
    Swerv’d not an instant from its beat;
It had not lost a moment yet,
    Nor used in vain its light and heat;        10
But, as in trance, from when it rose
To when it sank, man crav’d repose.
 
A holy light that shone of yore
    He saw, despis’d, and left behind:
His heart was rotting to the core        15
    Lock’d in the slumbers of the mind:
Not beat of drum, nor sound of fife,
Could rouse it to a sense of life.
 
A cry was heard, inton’d and slow,
    Of one who had no wares to vend:        20
His words were gentle, dull, and low,
    And he call’d out, “Old souls to mend!”
He peddled on from door to door,
And look’d not up to rich or poor.
 
His step kept on as if in pace        25
    With some old timepiece in his head,
Nor ever did its way retrace;
    Nor right nor left turn’d he his tread,
But utter’d still his tinker’s cry
To din the ears of passersby.        30
 
So well they knew the olden note
    Few heeded what the tinker spake,
Though here and there an ear it smote
    And seem’d a sudden hold to take;
But they had not the time to stay,        35
And it would do some other day.
 
Still on his way the tinker wends,
    Though jobs be far between and few;
But here and there a soul he mends
    And makes it look as good as new.        40
Once set to work, once fairly hir’d,
His dull old hammer seems inspir’d.
 
Over the task his features glow;
    He knocks away the rusty flakes;
A spark flies off at every blow;        45
    At every rap new life awakes.
The soul once cleans’d of outward sins,
His subtle handicraft begins.
 
Like iron unanneal’d and crude,
    The soul is plunged into the blast;        50
To temper it, however rude,
    ’T is next in holy water cast;
Then on the anvil it receives
The nimblest stroke the tinker gives.
 
The tinker’s task is at an end:        55
    Stamp’d was the cross by that last blow.
Again his cry, “Old souls to mend!”
    Is heard in accents dull and low.
He pauses not to seek his pay,—
That too will do another day.        60
 
One stops and says, “This soul of mine
    Has been a tidy piece of ware,
But rust and rot in it combine,
    And now corruption lays it bare.
Give it a look: there was a day        65
When it the morning hymn could say.”
 
The tinker looks into his eye,
    And there detects besetting sin,
The decent oldestablish’d lie,
    That creeps through all the chinks within.        70
Lank are its tendrils, thick its shoots,
And like a worm’s nest coil the roots.
 
Like flowers that deadly berries bear,
    His seed, if tended from the pod,
Had grown in beauty with the year,        75
    Like deodara drawn to God;
Now, like a dank and curly brake,
It fosters venom for the snake.
 
The tinker takes the weed in tow,
    And roots it out with tooth and nail;        80
His labor patient to bestow,
    Lest like the herd of men he fail.
How best to extirpate the weed
Has grown with him into a creed.
 
His tack is steady, slow, and sure:        85
    He plucks it out, despite the howl,
With gentle hand and look demure,
    As cunning maiden draws a fowl.
He knows the job he is about,
And pulls till all the lie is out.        90
 
“Now steadfastly regard the man
    Who wrought your cure of rust and rot!
You saw him ere the work began:
    Is he the same, or is he not?
You saw the tinker; now behold        95
The Envoy of a God of old.”
 
This said, he on the forehead stamps
    The downward stroke and one across,
Then straight upon his way he tramps;
    His time for profit, not for loss;        100
His task no sooner at an end
Than out he cries, “Old souls to mend!”
 
As night comes on he enters doors,
    He crosses halls, he goes upstairs,
He reaches first and second floors,        105
    Still busied on his own affairs.
None stop him or a question ask;
None heed the workman at his task.
 
Despite his cry, “Old souls to mend!”
    Which into dull expression breaks,        110
Not mov’d are they, nor ear they lend
    To him who from old habit speaks;
Yet does the deep and one-ton’d cry
Send thrills along eternity.
 
He gads where out-door wretches walk,        115
    Where outcasts under arches creep;
Among them holds his simple talk.
    He lets them hear him in their sleep.
They who his name have still denied,
He lets them see him crucified.        120
 
On royal steps he takes a stand
    To light the beauties to the ball;
He holds a lantern in his hand,
    And lets this simple saying fall.
They deem him but some sorry wit        125
Serving the Holy Spirit’s writ.
 
They know not souls can rust and rot,
    And deem him, while he says his say,
The tipsy watchman who forgot
    To call out, “Carriage stops the way!”        130
They know not what it can portend,
This mocking cry, “Old souls to mend!”
 
While standing on the palace stone,
    He is in workhouse, brothel, jail;
He is to play and ballroom gone,        135
    To hear again the beauties rail;
With tender pity to behold
The dead alive in pearls and gold.
 
In meaning deep, in whispers low
    As bubble bursting on the air,        140
He lets the solemn warning flow
    Through jewell’d ears of creatures fair,
Who, while they dance, their paces blend
With his mild words, “Old souls to mend!”
 
And when to church their sins they take,        145
    And bring them back to lunch again,
And fun of empty sermons make,
    He whispers softly in their train;
And sits with them if two or more
Think of a promise made of yore.        150
 
Of those who stay behind to sup,
    And in remembrance eat the bread,
He leads the conscience to the cup,
    His hands across the table spread.
When contrite hearts before him bend,        155
Glad are his words, “Old souls to mend!”
 
The little ones before the font
    He clasps within his arms to bless;
For Childhood’s pure and guileless front
    Smiles back his own sweet gentleness.        160
“Of such,” he says, “my kingdom is,
For they betray not with a kiss.”
 
He goes to hear the vicars preach:
    They do not always know his face,
Him they pretend the way to teach,        165
    And, as one absent, ask his grace.
Not then his words, “Old souls to mend!”
Their spirits pierce or bosoms rend.
 
He goes to see the priests revere
    His image as he lay in death:        170
They do not know that he is there;
    They do not feel his living breath,
Though to his secret they pretend
With incense sweet, old souls to mend.
 
He goes to hear the grand debate        175
    That makes his own religion law;
But him the members, as he sate
    Below the gangway, never saw.
They us’d his name to serve their end,
And others left old souls to mend.        180
 
Before the church exchange he stands,
    Where those who buy and sell him, meet:
He sees his livings changing hands,
    And shakes the dust from off his feet.
Maybe his weary head he bows,        185
While from his side fresh ichor flows.
 
From mitred peers he turns his face.
    Where priests convok’d in session plot,
He would remind them of his grace
    But for his now too humble lot;        190
So his dull cry on ears devout
He murmurs sadly from without.
 
He goes where judge the law defends,
    And takes the life he can’t bestow,
And soul of sinner recommends        195
    To grace above, but not below;
Reserving for a fresh surprise
Whom it shall meet in Paradise.
 
He goes to meeting, where the saint
    Exempts himself from deadly ire,        200
But in a strain admir’d and quaint
    Consigns all others to the fire,
While of the damn’d he mocks the howl,
And on the tinker drops his scowl.
 
Go here, go there, they cite his word,        205
    While he himself is nigh forgot.
He hears them use the name of Lord,
    He present though they know him not.
Though he be there, they vision lack,
And talk of him behind his back.        210
 
Such is the Church and such the State.
    Both set him up and put him down,—
Below the houses of debate,
    Above the jewels of the crown.
But when “Old souls to mend!” he says,        215
They send him off about his ways.
 
He is the humble, lowly one,
    In coat of rusty velveteen,
Who to his daily work has gone;
    In sleeves of lawn not ever seen.        220
No mitre on his forehead sticks:
His crown is thorny, and it pricks.
 
On it the dews of mercy shine;
    From heaven at dawn of day they fell;
And it he wears by right divine,        225
    Like earthly kings, if truth they tell;
And up to heaven the few to send,
He still cries out, “Old souls to mend!”
 

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