A Preacher

Original Text: 
Augusta Webster, Dramatic Studies, 2nd edn. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1870): 3-14.
2When I have preached to others I myself
3Should be a castaway." If some one now
4Would take that text and preach to us that preach, --
5Some one who could forget his truths were old
6And what were in a thousand bawling mouths
7While they filled his -- some one who could so throw
8His life into the old dull skeletons
9Of points and morals, inferences, proofs,
10Hopes, doubts, persuasions, all for time untold
11Worn out of the flesh, that one could lose from mind
12How well one knew his lesson, how oneself
13Could with another, may be choicer, style
14Enforce it, treat it from another view
15And with another logic -- some one warm
16With the rare heart that trusts itself and knows
17Because it loves -- yes such a one perchance,
18With such a theme, might waken me as I
19Have wakened others, I who am no more
20Than steward of an eloquence God gives
21For others' use not mine. But no one bears
22Apostleship for us. We teach and teach
23Until, like drumming pedagogues, we lose
24The thought that what we teach has higher ends
25Than being taught and learned. And if a man
26Out of ourselves should cry aloud, "I sin,
27And ye are sinning, all of us who talk
28Our Sunday half-hour on the love of God,
29Trying to move our peoples, then go home
30To sleep upon it and, when fresh again,
31To plan another sermon, nothing moved,
32Serving our God like clock-work sentinels,
33We who have souls ourselves," why I like the rest
34Should turn in anger: "Hush this charlatan
35Who, in his blatant arrogance, assumes
36Over us who know our duties."
37                                                       Yet that text
38Which galls me, what a sermon might be made
39Upon its theme! How even I myself
40Could stir some of our priesthood! Ah! but then
41Who would stir me?
42                                     I know not how it is;
43I take the faith in earnest, I believe,
44Even at happy times I think I love,
45I try to pattern me upon the type
46My Master left us, am no hypocrite
47Playing my soul against good men's applause,
49But serve a Master whom I chose because
50It seemed to me I loved him, whom till now
51My longing is to love; and yet I feel
52A falseness somewhere clogging me. I seem
53Divided from myself; I can speak words
54Of burning faith and fire myself with them;
55I can, while upturned faces gaze on me
56As if I were their Gospel manifest,
57Break into unplanned turns as natural
58As the blind man's cry for healing, pass beyond
59My bounded manhood in the earnestness
60Of a messenger from God. And then I come
61And in my study's quiet find again
62The callous actor who, because long since
63He had some feelings in him like the talk
64The book puts in his mouth, still warms his pit
65And even, in his lucky moods, himself
66With the passion of his part, but lays aside
67His heroism with his satin suit
68And thinks "the part is good and well conceived
69And very natural -- no flaw to find" --
70And then forgets it.
71                                   Yes I preach to others
72And am -- I know not what -- a castaway?
73No, but a man who feels his heart asleep,
74As he might feel his hand or foot. The limb
75Will not awake without a little shock,
76A little pain perhaps, a nip or blow,
77And that one gives and feels the waking pricks.
78But for one's heart I know not. I can give
79No shock to make mine prick. I seem to be
80Just such a man as those who claim the power
81Or have it, (say, to serve the thought), of willing
82That such a one should break an iron bar,
83And such a one resist the strength of ten,
84And the thing is done, yet cannot will themselves
85One least small breath of power beyond the wont.
86To-night now I might triumph. Not a breath
87But shivered when I pictured the dead soul
88Awaking when the body dies to know
89Itself has lived too late, and drew in long
90With yearning when I shewed how perfect love
91Might make Earth's self be but an earlier Heaven.
92And I may say and not be over-bold,
93Judging from former fruits, "Some one to-night
94Has come more near to God, some one has felt
95What it may mean to love Him, some one learned
96A new great horror against death and sin,
97Some one at least -- it may be many." Yet --
98And yet -- Why I the preacher look for God,
99Saying "I know thee Lord, what I should see
100If I could see thee as some can on earth,
101But I do not see thee," and "I know thee Lord,
102What loving thee is like, as if I loved,
103But I cannot love thee." And even with the thought
104The answer grows "Thine is the greater sin,"
105And I stand self-convicted yet not shamed,
106But quiet, reasoning why it should be thus,
107And almost wishing I could suddenly
108Fall in some awful sin, that so might come
109A living sense of God, if but by fear,
110And a repentance sharp as is the need.
111But now, the sin being indifference,
112Repentance too is tepid.
113                                             There are some,
114Good men and honest though not overwise
115Nor studious of the subtler depths of minds
116Below the surface strata, who would teach,
117In such a case, to scare oneself awake
118(As girls do, telling ghost-tales in the dark),
119With scriptural terrors, all the judgments spoken
120Against the tyrant empires, all the wrath
121On them who slew the prophets and forsook
123For him whose dark dread sin is pardonless,
124So that in terror one might cling to God --
125As the poor wretch, who, angry with his life,
126Has dashed into a dank and hungry pool,
127Learns in the death-gasp to love life again
128And clings unreasoning to the saving hand.
129Well I know some -- for the most part with thin minds
130Of the effervescent kind, easy to froth,
131Though easier to let stagnate -- who thus wrought
132Convulsive pious moods upon themselves
133And, thinking all tears sorrow and all texts
134Repentance, are in peace upon the trust
135That a grand necessary stage is past,
136And do love God as I desire to love.
137And now they'll look on their hysteric time
138And wonder at it, seeing it not real
139And yet not feigned. They'll say "A special time
140Of God's direct own working -- you may see
141It was not natural."
142                                  And there I stand
143In face with it, and know it. Not for me;
144Because I know it, cannot trust in it;
145It is not natural. It does not root
146Silently in the dark as God's seeds root,
147Then day by day move upward in the light.
148It does not wake a tremulous glimmering dawn,
149Then swell to perfect day as God's light does.
150It does not give to life a lowly child
151To grow by days and morrows to man's strength,
152As do God's natural birthdays. God who sets
153Some little seed of good in everything
154May bring his good from this, but not for one
155Who calmly says "I know -- this is a dream,
156A mere mirage sprung up of heat and mist;
157It cannot slake my thirst: but I will try
158To fool my fancy to it, and will rush
159To cool my burning throat, as if there welled
160Clear waters in the visionary lake,
161That so perchance Heaven pitying me may send
162Its own fresh showers upon me." I perchance
163Might, with occasion, spite of steady will
164And steady nerve, bring on the ecstasy:
165But what avails without the simple faith?
166I should not cheat myself, and who cheats God?
167And wherefore should I count love more than truth,
168And buy the loving him with such a price,
169Even if 'twere possible to school myself
170To an unbased belief and love him more
171Only through a delusion?
172                                               Not so, Lord.
173Let me not buy my peace, nay not my soul,
174At price of one least word of thy strong truth
175Which is Thyself. The perfect love must be
176When one shall know thee. Better one should lose
177The present peace of loving, nay of trusting,
178Better to doubt and be perplexed in soul
179Because thy truth seems many and not one,
180Than cease to seek thee, even through reverence,
181In the fulness and minuteness of thy truth.
182If it be sin, forgive me: I am bold,
184To find if thou be there than -- thinking hushed
185"'Tis better to believe, I will believe,
186Though, were't not for belief, 'Tis far from proved" --
187Shout with the people "Lo our God is there,"
188And stun my doubts by iterating faith.
189And yet, I know not why it is, this knack
190Of sermon-making seems to carry me
191Athwart the truth at times before I know --
192In little things at least; thank God the greater
193Have not yet grown by the familiar use
194Such puppets of a phrase as to slip by
195Without clear recognition. Take to-night --
196I preached a careful sermon, gravely planned,
197All of it written. Not a line was meant
198To fit the mood of any differing
199From my own judgment: not the less I find --
200(I thought of it coming home while my good Jane
201Talked of the Shetland pony I must get
202For the boys to learn to ride:) yes here it is,
203And here again on this page -- blame by rote,
204Where by my private judgment I blame not.
205"We think our own thoughts on this day," I said,
206"Harmless it may be, kindly even, still
207Not Heaven's thoughts -- not Sunday thoughts I'll say."
208Well now do I, now that I think of it,
209Advise a separation of our thoughts
210By Sundays and by week-days, Heaven's and ours?
211By no means, for I think the bar is bad.
212I'll teach my children "Keep all thinkings pure,
213And think them when you like, if but the time
214Is free to any thinking. Think of God
215So often that in anything you do
216It cannot seem you have forgotten Him,
217Just as you would not have forgotten us,
218Your mother and myself, although your thoughts
219Were not distinctly on us, while you played;
220And, if you do this, in the Sunday's rest
221You will most naturally think of Him;
222Just as your thoughts, though in a different way,
223(God being the great mystery He is
224And so far from us and so strangely near),
225Would on your mother's birthday-holiday
226Come often back to her." But I'd not urge
227A treadmill Sunday labour for their mind,
228Constant on one forced round: nor should I blame
229Their constant chatter upon daily themes.
230I did not blame Jane for her project told,
231Though she had heard my sermon, and no doubt
232Ought, as I told my flock, to dwell on that.
233Then here again "the pleasures of the world
234That tempt the younger members of my flock."
235Now I think really that they've not enough
236Of these same pleasures. Grey and joyless lives
237A many of them have, whom I would see
238Sharing the natural gaieties of youth.
239I wish they'd more temptations of the kind.
241Meaning them and believing. As for me,
242What did I mean? Neither to feign nor teach
244That there are lessons and rebukes long made
245So much a thing of course that, unobserving,
246One sets them down as one puts dots to i's,
247Crosses to t's.
248                              A simple carelessness;
249No more than that. There's the excuse -- and I,
250Who know that every carelessness is falsehood
251Against my trust, what guide or check have I
252Being, what I have called myself, an actor
253Able to be awhile the man he plays
254But in himself a heartless common hack?
255I felt no falseness as I spoke the trash,
256I was thrilled to see it moved the listeners,
257Grew warmer to my task! 'Twas written well,
258Habit had made the thoughts come fluently
259As if they had been real --
260                                              Yes, Jane, yes,
261I hear you -- Prayers and supper waiting me --
262I'll come --
263                     Dear Jane, who thinks me half a saint.


1] From 1 Corinthians 9.24-27:
Know yee not that they which runne in a race, runne all, but one receiueth the price? So runne, that yee may obtaine.
And euery man that striueth for the masterie, is temperate in all things: Now they doe it to obtaine a corruptible crowne, but we an incorruptible.
I therefore so runne, not as vncertainely: so fight I, not as one that beateth the ayre:
But I keepe vnder my body, and bring it into subiection: lest that by any meanes when I haue preached to others, I my selfe should be a castaway.
Back to Line
48] monger: trafficker.
a cure: a curacy, a spiritual charge. Back to Line
122] Baal: Phoenician deity, a false god among the Israelites. Back to Line
183] touch the ark: treat the sacred irreverently, an allusion to the Ark of the Covenant in which Moses' tablets, holding the Ten Commandments, were laid. Back to Line
240] Donne and Allan: possibly John Donne, the 17th-century Bishop of London, but Allan has not been identified. Back to Line
243] Pharisaic: a strict Jewish sect, condemned for hypocrisy in the Christian New Testament. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2001