Sunday, January 05, 2003

While we celebrate Epiphany today in the US...
Elsewhere it is the vigil, or Epiphany Eve. It was also the date Mary Newman, the Venerable's youngest sister, and the one closest to him, died suddenly at the age of nineteen. This was a terrible blow to him, and it, along with an illness of his own and other factors, helped keep him from sympathy with the 'liberalizing' tendencies common among many of the Fellows of Oriel College. As he states in the Apologia Pro Vita Sua :
" The truth is, I was beginning to prefer intellectual excellence to moral: I was drifting in the direction of liberalism. I was rudely awakened from my dream at the end of 1827 by two great blows—illness and bereavement."
He wrote a verse on the subject a few years later:

A Birthday Offering

Birthday gifts, with the early year,
Lo! we bring thee, Mary dear!
Prayer and praise upon thy death
Twined together in a wreath,
Grief and gladness, such as may
Suit a solemn holiday.
Christmas snow, for maiden's bloom
Blanched in winter's sudden tomb;
Christmas berries, His red token
Who that grave's stern seal hath broken;
These for thee the faithful heart,
Due mementos, sets apart.

'Twas a fast, that Eve of sorrow,
Herald veil'd of glorious morrow.
Speechless we sat; and watch'd, to know
How it would be; but time moved slow,
Along that day of sacred woe.
Then came the Feast, and we were told
Bravely of our best to bring,
Myrrh, and frankincense, and gold,
As our tribute to our King.

Dearest, gentlest, purest, best!
Deep is thy mysterious rest,
Now the solemn hours are over
And the Angels round thee hover,
With the fanning of their wings
Keeping time to one who sings
Of high themes consolatory,
Of the All-loving and His glory,
Of the age that has no ending,
Of the day of thy ascending
From those shades of paradise
To the bright supernal skies.

Thinkest of us, dearest, ever?
Ah! so be it nought can sever
Spirit and life, the past and present,
Still we yield thee musings pleasant.
—God above, and we below;—
So thought ranges, to and fro.
He, in sooth, by tutorings mild,
From the rude clay shaped His child,
Fiery trial, anguish chill,
Served not here His secret will;
But His voice was low and tender,
And so true was thy surrender,
That the work in haste was done,
Grace and nature blent in one.—
Harmless thus, and not unmeet,
To kiss the dear prints of thy feet,
Tracing thus the narrow road
All must tread, and Christ has trod.

Loveliest, meekest, blithest, kindest!
Lead! we seek the home thou findest!
Though thy name to us most dear,
Go! we would not have thee here.
Lead, a guiding beacon bright
To travellers on the Eve of Light.
Welcome aye thy Star before us,
Bring it grief or gladness o'er us;—
Keen regret and tearful yearning,
Whiles unfelt, and whiles returning;—
Or more gracious thoughts abiding,
Fever-quelling, sorrow-chiding;—
Or, when day-light blessings fail,
Transport fresh as spice-fraught gale,
Sparks from thee, which oft have lighted
Weary heart and hope benighted.

I this monument would raise,
Distant from the public gaze.
Few will see it;—few e'er knew thee;
But their beating hearts pursue thee,—
And their eyes fond thoughts betoken,
Though thy name be seldom spoken.
Pass on, stranger, and despise it!
These will read, and these will prize it.

January 5, 1830.


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