Thursday, 17 May 2018

'Slumber Song of the Madonna' and 'Pirates' - Alfred Noyes

May is traditionally the month of Our Lady, the mother of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, wholly God and wholly man, was born of the virgin Mary,  and was subject to the parental love and care of his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph.
The following poem, 'Slumber Songs of the Madonna', by Alfred Noyes, reflects as far as the poet was able, the love of Mary for her baby son. Some may consider this a 'Christmas' poem, but the reality is that  Christ's birth is celebrated daily in men's hearts. Indeed our good neighbours, the 'Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer' (F.SS.R.) community, at Golgotha Monastery, Papa Stronsay, celebrate the birth of Our Lord on the 25th day of every month throughout the year.


                                                        Slumber Songs of the Madonna

Dante saw the great white Rose  
          Half unclose;
Dante saw the golden bees
    Gathering from its heart of gold
            Sweets untold,
Love's most honeyed harmonies.

Dante saw the threefold bow
               Strangely glow,
Saw the Rainbow Vision rise,
And the Flame that wore the crown
               Bending down
O'er the flowers of Paradise.

Something yet remained, it seems;
              In his dreams
Dante missed - as angels may
     In their white and burning bliss -
               Some small kiss
Mortals meet with every day.

Italy in splendour faints
               Neath her saints!
O, her great Madonnas, too,
     Faces calm as any moon
             Glows in June,
Hooded with the night's deep blue!

What remains?  I pass and hear
Ay, or see in silent eyes
     Just the song she still would sing
              Thus - a swing
O'er the cradle where he lies.

Sleep, little baby, I love thee,
Sleep, little king, I am bending above thee!
   How should I know what to sing
                                                  Here in my arms as I swing thee to sleep?
  Hushaby low,
 Rockaby so,
Kings may have wonderful jewels to bring,
Mother has only a kiss for her king!
Why should my singing so make me to weep?
Only I know that I love thee, I love thee,
  Love thee, my little one, sleep.


                                                                           Is it a dream?   Ah, yet, it seems
   Not the same as other dreams!
I can but think that angels sang,
   When thou wast born, in the starry sky,
And that their golden harps out-rang
    While the silver clouds went by!

The morning sun shuts out the stars,
    Which are much loftier than the sun;
But, could we burst our prison bars
    And find the Light whence light began,
The dreams that heralded thy birth
Were truer than the truths of earth;
And, by that far immortal Gleam,
Soul of my soul, I still would dream!

A ring of light was round thy head,
The great-eyed oxen nigh thy bed
Their cold and innocent noses bowed!
Their sweet breath rose like an incense cloud
In the blurred and mystic lanthorn light.

About the middle of the night
The black door blazed like some great star
With a glory from afar,
Or like some mighty chrysolite
Wherein an angel stood with white
Blinding arrowy bladed wings
Before the throne of the King of kings;
And, through it, I could dimly see
A great steed tethered to a tree.

Then, with crimson gems aflame
Through the door the three kings came,
And the black Ethiop unrolled
The richly broidered cloth of gold,
                                                                And poured forth before thee there
                                                                Gold and frankincense and myrrh!


See, what a wonderful smile!  Does it mean
     That my little one knows of my love?
Was it meant for an angel that passed unseen,
     And smiled at us both from above?
Does it mean that he knows of the birds and the flowers
That are waiting to sweeten his childhood’s hours,
And the tales I shall tell and the games he will play,
And the songs we shall sing and the prayers we shall pray
      In his boyhood’s May,
     He and I, one day?


For in the warm blue summer weather
We shall laugh and love together:
      I shall watch my baby growing,
I shall guide his feet,
      When the orange trees are blowing
And the winds are heavy and sweet!
      When the orange orchards whiten
      I shall see his great eyes brighten
To watch the long-legged camels going
    Up the twisted street,
When the orange trees are blowing
       And the winds are sweet.

What does it mean?   Indeed it seems
A dream!   Yet not like other dreams!

We shall walk in pleasant vales,
      Listening to the shepherd’s song
I shall tell him lovely tales
      All day long:
He shall laugh while mother sings
Tales of fishermen and  kings.
He shall see them come and go
   O’er the wistful sea,
Where rosy oleanders blow
     Round blue Lake Galilee,
Kings with fisher’s ragged coats
And silver nets across their boats,
Dipping through the starry glow,
With crowns for him and me!
 Ah, no;
Crowns for him, not me!

Rockaby so!   Indeed, it seems
A dream!  Yet not like other dreams!
Ah, see what a wonderful smile again!
      Shall I hide it away in my heart,
To remember one day in a world of pain
      When the years have torn us apart,
Little babe,
When the years have torn us apart?
Sleep, my little one, sleep,
     Child with the wonderful eyes,
    Wild miraculous eyes,
Deep as the skies are deep!
What star-bright glory of tears
Waits in you now for the years
That shall bid you waken and weep?
Ah, in that day, could I kiss you to sleep
Then, little lips, little eyes, 
Little lips that are lovely and wise,
Little lips that are dreadful and wise!


Clenched little hands like crumpled roses
  Dimpled and dear,
Feet like flowers that the dawn uncloses,
 What do I fear?
Little hands, will you ever be clenched in anguish?
White little limbs, will you droop and languish?
   Nay, what do I hear?
I hear a shouting, far away,
You shall ride on a kingly palm-strewn way
   Some day!

But when you are crowned with a golden crown
        And throned on a golden throne,
You’ll forget the manger of Bethlehem town
      And your mother that sits alone
Wondering whether the mighty king
Remembers a song she used to sing,
    Long ago,

    “Rockaby so,
Kings may have wonderful jewels to bring,
Mother has only a kiss for her king!”  .  .  .

Ah, see what a wonderful smile, once more;
        He opens his great dark eyes!
Little child, little king, nay, hush, it is o’er
        My fear of those deep twin skies,  -
        Little child,
         You are all too dreadful and wise!


But now you are mine, all mine,
       And your feet can lie in my hand so small,
And your tiny hands in my heart can twine,
       And you cannot walk, so you never shall fall,
Or be pierced by the thorns beside the door,
Or the nails that lie upon Joseph’s floor;
Through sun and rain, through shadow and shine,
You are mine, all mine!

                                         Alfred Noyes.

Portrait of Alfred Noyes.jpg

               Portrait of Alfred Noyes, by Alexander Bassano, 1922.                    (Wikimedia Commons)

Alfred Noyes, born 16 September, 1880, Wolverhampton, England.  Died 25 June 1958, Isle of Wight, England.

Prolific writer and poet. Depicted the evils of war in his writings and poetry, but accepted the principle of a 'just war'.

In 1907 he married an American lady, Garnett Daniels. They lived in both England and the USA, where from 1914 to 1923,  Noyes was appointed visiting Professor of modern English Literature at Princeton University. In 1926 his wife died in France whilst they were visiting friends.

In 1927 he married Mary Angela Weld-Blundell, a widow, whose husband had been killed in the Great War. This English lady was a Catholic, and later that same year Alfred Noyes converted to Catholicism. In 1929 they settled permanently at Lisle Combe, on the Undercliffe, near Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight. 

As a young man Noyes suffered from defective vision which debarred him from serving on the Front line in World War 1. Instead he was attached to the Foreign Office where he worked with the author John Buchan on propaganda. In later life Noyes' vision deteriorated to the extent that he was unable to write his work himself, and was obliged to resort to dictation. 

(For a far more comprehensive and detailed  account of the life and achievements of Alfred Noyes, I strongly recommend the article in Wikipedia.)


Come to me, you with the laughing face, in the night as I lie
Dreaming of days that are dead and of joys gone by;
Come to me, comrade, come through the slow-dropping rain,
Come from the grave in the darkness and let us be playmates again.

Let us be boys together to-night, and pretend as of old
We are pirates at rest in a cave among huge heaps of gold,
Red Spanish doubloons and great pieces of eight, and muskets and swords,
And a smoky red camp-fire to glint, you know how, on our ill-gotten hoards.

The old cave in the fir-wood that slopes down the hills to the sea
Still is haunted, perhaps, by young pirates as wicked as we:
Though the fir with the magpie’s big mud-plastered nest used to hide it so well,
And the boys in the gang had to swear that they never would tell.

Ah, that tree; I have sat in its boughs and looked seaward for hours.
I remember the creak of its branches, the scent of the flowers
That climbed round the mouth of the cave: it is odd I recall
Those little things best, that I scarcely took heed of at all.

I remember how brightly the brass on the butt of my spy-glass gleamed
As I climbed through the purple heather and thyme to our eyrie and dreamed;
I remember the smooth glossy sun-burn that darkened our faces and hands
As we gazed at the merchantmen sailing away to those wonderful lands.

I remember the long,  long sigh of the sea as we raced in the sun,
To dry ourselves after our swimming; and how we would run
With a cry and a crash through the foam as it creamed on the shore,
Then back to bask in the warm dry gold of the sand once more.

Come to me, you with the laughing face, in the gloom as I lie,
Dreaming of days that are dead and of joys gone by;
Let us be boys together to-night and pretend as of old
We are pirates at rest in a cave among great heaps of gold.

Come;  you shall be chief.  We’ll not quarrel, the time flies so fast.
There are ships to be grappled, there’s blood to be shed, ere our playtime be past.
No;  perhaps we will quarrel, just once, or it scarcely will seem
So like the old days that have flown  from us both like a dream.

Still;  you shall be chief in the end;  and then we’ll go home
To the hearth and the tea and the books that we loved:  ah, but come,
Come to me, come through the night and the slow-dropping rain;
Come, old friend, come thro’ the darkness and let us be playmates again.
                                       Alfred Noyes.
NB. If you like this poetry, there are two links below which will lead you to other works by Alfred Noyes:-