120. The Married and the Single
A Fragment from St. Gregory Nazianzen.

AS, when the hand some mimic form would paint,
It marks its purpose first in shadows faint,
And next, its store of varied hues applies,
Till outlines fade, and the full limbs arise;
So in the earlier school of sacred lore
The Virgin-life no claim of honour bore,
While in Religion's youth the Law held sway,
And traced in symbols dim that better way.
But, when the Christ came by a Virgin-birth,—
His radiant passage from high heaven to earth,—
And, spurning father for His mortal state,
Did Eve and all her daughters consecrate,
Solved fleshly laws, and in the letter's place
Gave us the Spirit and the Word of Grace,
Then shone the glorious Celibate at length,
Robed in the dazzling lightnings of its strength, {203}
Surpassing spells of earth and marriage vow,
As soul the body, heaven this world below,
The eternal peace of saints life's troubled span,
And the high throne of God, the haunts of man.
So now there circles round the King of Light
A heaven on earth, a blameless court and bright,
Aiming as emblems of their God to shine,
Christ in their heart, and on their brow His Sign,—
Soft funeral lights in the world's twilight dim,
Loving their God, and ever loved by Him.

Ye countless multitudes, content to bow
To the soft thraldom of the marriage vow!
I mark your haughty step, your froward gaze,
Gems deck your hair, and silk your limbs arrays;
Come, tell the gain which wedlock has conferr'd
On man; and then the single shall be heard.

The married many thus might plead, I ween;
Right glib their tongue, full confident their mien:—
"Hear all who live! to whom the nuptial rite
Has brought the privilege of life and light.
We, who are wedded, but the law obey
Stamp'd at creation on our blood and clay, {204}
What time the Demiurge our line began,
Oped Adam's side, and out of man drew man.
Thenceforth let children of a mortal sod
Honour the law of earth, the primal law of God.

    "List, you shall hear the gifts of price that lie
Gathered and bound within the marriage-tie.
What taught the arts of life, the truths which sleep
In earth, or highest heaven, or vasty deep?
What fill'd the mart, and urged the vessel brave
To link in one fair countries o'er the wave?
What raised the town? what gave the type and germ
Of social union, and of sceptre firm?
What the first husbandman, the glebe to plough,
And rear the garden, but the marriage vow?

    "Nay, list again! Who seek its kindly chain,
A second self, a double presence gain;
Hands, eyes, and ears, to act or suffer here,
Till e'en the weak inspire both love and fear,—
A comrade's sigh, to soothe when cares annoy,
A comrade's smile, to elevate his joy. {205}

    "Nor say it weds us to a carnal life,

When want is urgent, fears and vows are rife.

Light heart is his, who has no yoke at home,

Scant prayer for blessings, as the seasons come;

But wife, and offspring, goods which go or stay,

Teach us our need, and make us trust and pray.

Take love away, and life would be defaced,

A ghastly vision on a howling waste,

Stern, heartless, reft of the sweet spells which swage

The throes of passion, and which gladden age.

No child's sweet pranks, once more to make us

No ties of place about our heart-strings flung;

No public haunts to cheer; no festive tide

When harmless mirth and smiling wit preside;

A life which scorns the gifts by heaven assign'd,

Nor knows the sympathy of human kind.

    "Prophets and teachers, priests and victor kings,

Deck'd with each grace which heaven-taught
    nature brings,

These were no giant offspring of the earth,

But to the marriage-promise owed their birth:— {206}

Moses and Samuel, David, David's Son,
The blessed Tishbite, the more blessed John,
The sacred Twelve in apostolic choir,
Strong-hearted Paul, instinct with seraph fire,
And others, now or erst, who to high heaven aspire.
Bethink ye; should the single state be best,
Yet who the single, but my offspring blest?
My sons, be still, nor with your parents strive:
They coupled in their day, and so ye live."

Thus marriage pleads. Now let her rival speak—
Dim is her downcast eye, and pale her cheek;
Untrimm'd her gear; no sandals on her feet;
A sparest form for austere tenant meet.
She drops her veil her modest face around,
And her lips open, but we hear no sound.
I will address her:—"Hail, O child of Heaven,
Glorious within! to whom a post is given
Hard by the Throne where angels bow and fear,
E'en while thou hast a name and mission here,
O deign thy voice, unveil thy brow and see
Thy ready guard and minister in me.
Oft hast thou come heaven-wafted to my breast,
Bright Spirit! so come again, and give me rest." {207}
 ... "Ah, who has hither drawn my backward
Changing for worldly strife my lone retreat?
Where, in the silent chant of holy deeds,
I praise my God, and tend the sick soul's needs;
By toils of day, and vigils of the night,
By gushing tears, and blessed lustral rite.
I have no sway amid the crowd, no art
In speech, no place in council or in mart.
Nor human law, nor judges throned on high,
Smile on my face, and to my words reply.
Let others seek earth's honours; be it mine
One law to cherish, and to track one line,
Straight on towards heaven to press with single
To know and love my God, and then to die con-
.    .    .    .    .    .    .
.    .    .    .


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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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