Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
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Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
 
Balaam
By John Keble (1792–1866)
 
      O FOR a sculptor’s hand,
      That thou might’st take thy stand,
Thy wild hair floating on the eastern breeze,
      Thy tranc’d yet open gaze
      Fix’d on the desert haze,        5
As one who deep in heaven some airy pageant sees!
 
      In outline dim and vast
      Their fearful shadows cast
The giant forms of empires on their way
      To ruin: one by one        10
      They tower and they are gone,
Yet in the Prophet’s soul the dreams of avarice stay.
 
      No sun or star so bright
      In all the world of light
That they should draw to Heaven his downward eye!        15
      He hears th’ Almighty’s word,
      He sees the angel’s sword,
Yet low upon the earth his heart and treasure lie.
 
      Lo! from yon argent field,
      To him and us reveal’d,        20
One gentle Star glides down, on earth to dwell.
      Chain’d as they are below
      Our eyes may see it glow,
And as it mounts again, may track its brightness well.
 
      To him it glared afar,        25
      A token of wild war,
The banner of his Lord’s victorious wrath:
      But close to us it gleams,
      Its soothing lustre streams
Around our home’s green walls, and on our church-way path.        30
 
      We in the tents abide
      Which he at distance eyed,
Like goodly cedars by the waters spread,
      While seven red altar-fires
      Rose up in wavy spires,        35
Where on the mount he watch’d his sorceries dark and dread.
 
      He watch’d till morning’s ray
      On lake and meadow lay,
And willow-shaded streams, that silent sweep
      Around the banner’d lines,        40
      Where by their several signs
The desert-wearied tribes in sight of Canaan sleep.
 
      He watch’d till knowledge came
      Upon his soul like flame,
Not of those magic fires at random caught:        45
      But true prophetic light
      Flash’d o’er him, high and bright,
Flash’d once, and died away, and left his darken’d thought.
 
      And can he choose but fear,
      Who feels his God so near,        50
That when he fain would curse, his powerless tongue
      In blessing only moves?—
      Alas! the world he loves
Too close around his heart her tangling veil hath flung.
 
      Sceptre and Star divine,        55
      Who in Thine inmost shrine
Hast made us worshippers, O claim Thine own!
      More than Thy seers we know—
      O teach our love to grow
Up to Thy heavenly light, and reap what Thou hast sown.        60
 
 
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