“But these dark powers do not rule the universe: they are in rebellion against Providential order; and by bell, book, and candle, literally or symbolically, we can push them down under.”
A faceless hood unfolds from Corbett’s crypt, and clammy fog fast fills the churchyard lawn. At witching hour, hours before the dawn, some specter’s skin-crawl claw creeps in to grip the throat with fingers like a hangman’s rope. This ancient power manifest tonight (malice-made-flesh, perverse incarnate wight) has come to leach your life and, worse, your hope. Best pray that Tailor John will too soon chime his cock-crow toll, his solemn, pealing call; or incantate the Word — some sacred rhyme breathed out on quivering, unsure lips is all you’ll need; or light the feeble, flickering shine of candle flame to drive away the pall.
Three stone steps, then through the chapel doors to stairs ascending down into the hull. There’s ceiling tiles beneath our feet (black-and-white-checked chess-board squares) and far above our heads the vaulted roof-ridge keel’s held high by buttressed ribs. Brilliant stained-glass portholes cast colored light full bright from some delightful land on pews where galley bondslaves four times each week row their oars in common meter to the drums’ command. On the sternchancel deck, beside the ship’s-wheel pulpit, the faithful helmsman crouches, steering strong and true along the Captain’s bearing, guided by the sextant of the Word. The westward rose-window prow cuts through the swells to lead our rightwise stone sanctuary toward the kingdom that has overturned this world. A watchman chimes eight bells from the crow’s-nest belfry; the lamps are lit, main and mizzen sails unfurled; the crew belowdecks gathers at the board to eat a double portion, strong wine and hardtack rations. Weigh anchor! We’ve long leagues left in this topsy sea — keel-up, mast-down — and still the Captain cries, “Sail on.”
In a coppice of aspen, their trunks silver-white, bright beams of splendent sunlight like spearshafts in flight pierce down through a ceiling of branches. The leaves as a yellow-green snow falling soft in the breeze drift to earth, and they flash as they turn in the sun. I swear — swear to God! — that the leaves of Lothlorien pale when compared to this common, anonymous wood; the Fields of Elysium, set next to this, cannot be nearer to heaven; if Avalon ever had gardens, their beauty’d be counted as none by any who’ve had the grand fortune to stand in this spinney. No wonder the ancient pagans built altars to worship the gods in these spaces where numina stoop to ordain common places.
The bells of Christendom, now long gone, once rang throughout the West. Laudo Deum verum, they tolled, and all who heard were blessed. They knelled sad news of every death and lauded every birth and marked at quarter hours each day the turning of the earth.
But all the bells of Christendom are fallen mute and dumb: Where are the Sabbath summons, now? The public calls to come and worship Christ the risen king? Where, now, their glad refrain? Where Benedictus Dominus? Where Oremus proclaim?
The dormant bells of Christendom wait silent for that day when the church, like bantys at the dawn, cock-crows all men awake. But who will steal to soundless steeples? Who pull the bellman’s rope? Where are the men to set the world a-ring with sounding hope?
Let’s toll one bell for Christendom — ring one, at least, again! Then Tailor Paul will clap his tongue, and with his full amen lay low the powers of the air. He’ll drive the storms away. He’ll gong the gospel — Christ is won! — and keep the fiend at bay.
Do you hear the bells of Christendom? Listen to their knell! Though still an echo on the wind, they sound a rising swell ’til, from steeples and from belfries, their peals will fill the sky. Yes, we’ll hear the bells of Christendom resound before we die.
Our home contains the world, these days. Not all We love, perhaps, but most and dearest-held Is sheltered safe inside these shabby walls. We hadn’t noticed how our lives had swelled Like springtime floods that, everflowing, rise To overwhelm the riverbanks but won’t Recede again; our floodplain never dries. Diversions tugged relentlessly (they don’t Deserve the time we gave them). Swindled by False urgency, we’d grasped toward each demand. Turns out this busied frenzy was a lie; The only tasks worth doing are at hand. This sudden, unexpected ebb has shown How small, yet rich, our cares should be: our own.
The year’s first snow should look more like the flakes in snowglobes or in Hallmark’s Christmas flicks than this, a dingy slop of wet sleet thick with slush and gross with leaves that lie unraked throughout the yard. Their tannins stain the snow like yellow piss. We’ll have to wait a few more weeks — a month, perhaps — before the truly picturesque snow falls. It will, I know, because it always has before. And when it does, the lamppost in our yard will stretch its charming beams like fingers out to catch and hold each gently falling snowflake. Then the snow (at last, a faultless wintry sight!) will blanket all, like Christ our sins, in white.
There are no graveyards here that want a ghost,
No clapboard churches crowning far-off hills
Whose stones like granite corn rows stretch almost
To where a slate-cold sky meets soil and chills
Our blood with thoughts of Pilgrim bones laid down
Beneath the frost line, safe from fall’s last fell
And skittish breath, which blows before it browning
Autumn leaves to heap in grave-like dells
Where wait old ghosts on crisp New England nights.
No, here belong no poltergeists to spy
And startle from our peace with sudden frights
We weary, footsore souls who wander by.
Here, instead, spring-turned-summer’s splendent rays (As far removed from cold Atlantic glooms As south from north) have long lit tranquil days Where wildflowers — butter-yellow blooms, Or lupine blue, like bonnets — dot vast plains Still somehow green despite the noontime heat. Those wisps might later swell with evening rains To water prairie grasses, long like wheat, But now they simply scuff the sky, too thin To send their shadows racing by, now slow, Now fast, spurred on before some sigh of wind That ripples waves across the fields below.
Yet even here, beneath the shadeless sun’s Benevolent and gently warming face, The headless Hessian’s stallion sometimes runs. Its sudden gallop spooks and puts to chase Scared choirs of startled songbirds from their trees. Then, with withered visage grimaced, tight-drawn, An unexpected specter stoops to seize With grasping, grapnel hands — and then it’s gone. The steadfast sun still shines unfazed, still bright, While we, who half-recall the birdsong, grieve To hear the fading wingbeats of their flight, The skittish scratch of browning autumn leaves.