Monday, December 28, 2009
In an Ancient Library
Thomas Thornely, In an Ancient Library
Tread softly here! The dust is deep,
And in the dust long buried, here they sleep,
Who, through the years, their ancient order keep.
In pages spotted o'er with mould,
Some edged with lingering trace of tarnished gold,
The serried tomes their ponderous wisdom hold.
From age-worn lancet overhead,
A little glooming, glimmering light is shed,
And by this light the old-time readers read.
What did they seek, who gathered here,
Where but the bibliomaniac cares to peer,
And the chance-comer scarcely veils his sneer?
And what was found? Did any rise
From these cramped seats, with startled wondering eyes,
Wrapped in the glory of some vast surmise?
Touch lightly! and with reverence due;
'Twas here perchance some darkened spirit drew
The strength to build a broken life anew.
Here lies, in frayed and tattered dress,
What once could fire the blood, or soothe distress,
Or wake the infrequent smiles of loneliness.
Some puzzled sage has hither brought
His tangled thicket of bewildered thought,
And sought with sighs for clue—and vainly sought.
And here some eager questioning mind,
Aflame with zeal some saving truth to find,
Pressed on and left authority behind,
And, to his dire confusion, found,
That he, by solemn vows and orders bound,
Had walked unwitting on forbidden ground.
This portly, cardinal-crested tome,
Like shell that vibrates to the distant foam,
Still holds faint rumblings of the wrath of Rome.
Its home-spun neighbour meekly strives
To gather honey from abandoned hives,
And store the sweets of sanctimonious lives.
While here, o'er-sprawled with gloss and note,
With lines deep-scored for pedagogues to quote,
The wind was brewed for many a boisterous throat.
This hide, in rusty ribbons slit,
Still guards its wealth of dull forensic wit,
As when the salt of usage seasoned it.
These shrivelled leaves of old romance
Have made the impetuous novice backward glance,
And change the censer for the pennoned lance.
Here science tried her infant wings,
And mingled dark and subtly-dangerous things
With her devout, inspired imaginings.
To this blurred, mildewed scroll 'twas given,
The sodden dough of life with joy to leaven,
And earth suffuse with rainbow tints of heaven.
Dim visions of approaching light
Have hung and hovered here and, at the sight,
Dust-clouded, thirsting souls have drunk delight.
Judge gently! Check the indulgent smile;
Mock not at quaint conceit or pedant style;
But stay and ponder on the past awhile.
Scorn not the stinted light it shed;
The lips, that at this long-dried fountain fed,
Have quivered passion-shaken as they read.