The Christ upon the Hill

Original Text: 
Cosmo Monkhouse, The Christ upon the Hill: A Ballad etched by W. Stanc (London: Smith Elder & Co., 1895. 20 pages. LR 404 K3 British Library (presentation copy of 200)
2    And they were bent and gray;
3They burned the charcoal for their Lord,
4    Who lived long leagues away.
5Deep in the wood the old pair dwelt,
6    Far from the paths of men,
7And saw no face but their poor son's,
8    And a wanderer's now and then.
9The son, alas! Had grown apace,
10    And left his wits behind;
11He was as helpless as the air,
12    As empty as the wind.
13With puffing lips and shambling feet,
14    And eyes a-staring wide,
15He whistled ever as he went,
16    And little did beside.
17He whistled high, he whistled low,
18    He whistled sharp and sweet;
19He brought the redbreast to his hand,
20    And the brown hare to his feet.
21Without a fear of beast or bird,
22    He wandered all the day;
23But when the light began to fail
24    His courage passed away.
25He feared the werewolf in the wood,
26    The dragon in the dell,
27And home he fled as if pursued
28    By all the hosts of hell.
29"Ah! we are old," the woman said,
30    "And soon shall we be gone,
31And what will our poor Michael do
32    When he is left alone?
33"We are forgotten of all men;
34    And he is dead, I fear,
35That good old priest, who used to come
36    And shrive us thrice a year.
37"We have no kin," the mother said,
38    "We have no friend," said she;
39The father gazed upon the fire,
40    And not a word said he.
41Again she spoke, "No friend or kin,
42    'Death, only Death,' is near;
43And he will take us both away,
44    And leave our Michael here.
45"And who shall give him bite or sup?
46    And who shall keep him neat?
47Ah! what were Heaven if we must weep
48    Before God's mercy-seat!"
49And when the woman ceased, the man
50    A little waited still,
51And then he said, "We have one friend --
52    The Christ upon the Hill."
PART II.
53The Christ upon the Hill --so gaunt
54    And lean and stark and drear;
55It made the heart with pity start,
56    It smote the soul with fear.
57High reared against a cliff it stood,
58    Just where the great roads met;
59And many a knee had worn the stone
60    Wherein the Rood was set.
61For deadly was the pass beyond,
62    And all men paused to pray
63For courage, or to pour their thanks
64    For dangers passed away.
65But not for fear of beast or fiend,
66    But boding deeper ill,
67The charcoal-burner and his wife
68    Slow climbed the weary hill.
69Before the Rood their simple son
70    Lay stretched upon the ground,
71And crumbled black bread for the birds
72    That hopped and pecked around.
73(For he had gone before with feet
74    As wild and light as air,
75And borne the basket on his back
76    That held their frugal fare.)
77And they were faint, and, ere they prayed,
78    They sat them down to eat;
79And much they marvelled at their son,
80    Who never touched his meat,
81But, now the birds were flown away,
82    Sat up, and only gazed
83Upon the Christ upon the cross,
84    As one with wonder dazed.
85Full long he sat and never moved;
86    But then he gave a cry,
87And caught his mother by the wrist
88    And said, "I heard a sigh."
89"It is an image made of wood,
90    It has no voice," she said;
91"'Twas but the wind you heard, my son,"
92    But Michael shook his head,
93And gazed again, so earnestly
94    His face grew almost wise;
95And now he cried again, and said,
96    "Look, how he closed his eyes!"
97"'Tis but the shadow of a bird
98    That passed across his face,"
99The mother said; "see, even now
100    It hovers near the place."
101And then the father said, "My son,
102    The image is of wood;
103And do you think a man could live
104    Without a taste of food?"
105"No food?" the silly youth replied,
106    And pointed to a wren,
107Who with a crumb upon Christ's lip
108    Had just alighted then.
109And now the old man held his peace,
110    And the woman ceased to strive,
111For still he shook his silly head,
112    And said, "The man's alive."
113"It is God's will," they said, and knelt,
114    And knew not what to say;
115But when they rose they felt as though
116    All fear had passed away.
117And they could smile when Michael left
118    His dinner on the stone;
119He said, "The birds will feed the Christ
120    When they are quite alone."
PART III.
121The couple sat before the fire,
122    More old, and sad, and poor,
123For there was winter at the heart,
124    And winter at the door.
125It shook the roof with shocks of wind;
126    It caked the pane with snow;
127The candle flickered on the sill,
128    Like a soul that longed to go.
129'Twas Michael's beacon, -- gone to feed
130    The Christ upon the Hill;
131And midnight long had passed and gone,
132    And he was absent still.
133And now and then they turned a log,
134    And now they dropped a word:
135"'Twas all the wind," the mother said;
136    The father said, "The bird."
137"I hoped that it was God himself,"
138    The mother muttered low;
139"It must have been the fiend," he said,
140    "For to deceive him so."
141And then the mother cried aloud,
142    "What matter it?" she said;
143"Or wind, or bird, or fiend, or God,
144    For he is dead -- is dead!"
145"Hark!" cried the man, and through the storm
146    A note came high and clear;
147It was the whistle of their son,
148    That sound they longed to hear.
149And then a cry for help, and out
150    Into the snow they ran;
151And there was Michael. On his back
152    He bore a helpless man.
153"He lives, he lives," he wildly cried;
154    "His wounds are dripping still;"
155And surely, red from hand and side
156    There ran a tiny rill.
157They brought Him in and laid Him down,
158    Upon the warm hearthstone;
159It was the Christ, but not of wood,
160    But made of flesh and bone.
161They washed His wounds, and at their touch
162    They turned to purple scars,
163Like a young moon upon the breast,
164    On hands and feet like stars.
165They brought to moisten His dry lips
166    They hoarded flask of wine;
167They wrapped Him round with blankets warm,
168    And waited for a sign.
169And soon without the help of hand
170    He rose upon His feet,
171And like a friend beside the fire
172    He took the vacant seat.
173He sat up in the chair then,
174    And straight began to shine,
175Until His face and raiment poured
176    A glory most divine.
177The thorns upon His forehead
178    Broke out in leaves of gold;
179The blood-drops turned to berries,
180    Like rubies rich and bold.
181The blankets that bewrapped Him
182    Flowed into folds of white,
183Bestarred with gold and jewels
184    Which sparkled in the light.
185The very chair He sat on
186    Became a crystal throne;
187The oaken stool beneath His feet
188    Turned to a jasper stone.
189He stretched an arm to Michael,
190    And touched him with His hand,
191And he arose beside the throne
192    An angel, bright and grand.
193And then His lips were opened,
194    And strong and sweet and clear,
195Like water from a fountain,
196    His voice was good to hear.
197"I am the King of Glory;
198    I am your brother too;
199And even as you do to Me,
200    So do I unto you.
201"You took Me in and clothed Me;
202    You washed My body pierced;
203You gave me of your wine to drink
204    When I was sore athirst.
205"And you have suffered also,
206    And you must suffer still;
207I suffered upon Calvary;
208    I suffer on the Hill.
210    And I am Lord of Care;
211I come to bring you comfort,
212    And save you from despair.
213"Your son, your only son, is safe
214    And beautiful to see;
216    You know he is with Me.
217"And I will give him peace and joy
218    As no man every knew --
219A little grief, a little pain,
220    And I will come for you."
221He rose, His arms around their son;
222    And through the open door
223They only saw a whirl of snow,
224    And heard the tempest roar.

Notes

1] In Pasiteles the Elder & Other Poems, with a prefatory note by Austin Dobson (London: R. Brimley Johnson, 1901): 52 (011651.i.74 British Library), Monkhouse published "Sonnet (On being asked whether "The Christ upon the Hill," was a version of an old legend.)":

1     No legend of old Time in verses drest
2     Is my dear tale, "The Christ upon the Hill."
3     But, like some perfumed breeze, it came to fill
4     My empty heart, and all my soul possessed.
5     If from the East it came, or from the West,
6     From the loud sea, or from the desert still,
7     I had no thought to ask, for all my will
8     Was bent to entertain my sudden guest.

9     A Christian I, in that I hold the Christ
10   The human essence of the Spirit divine,
11   The real response of Heaven to Earth's distress,
12   Yet of no creed of priest or dogmatist,
13   It spoke to me, but rather seemed a sign
14   Of Everlasting Truth in human dress.

Back to Line

209] The version of the poem in Pasiteles the Elder & Other Poems (1901) replaces lines 209-210 with the following:
"But I'm the end to sorrow,
And I'm the end to care,
Other minor changes in punctuation appear throughout the poem. Back to Line
215] a while: awhile (1901). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1895
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2001.
Rhyme: