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Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1706/Morbegno


There is a long straight road in Lombardy
Bordered with stunted trees and maize and vines,
And at its side the stealthy Adda slides,
Spreading the poison of its humid breath;
While dismal mists like wandering spectres steal
From rush-grown marshes and from osier beds,
And lay their cruel hands on human life,
Strangling its joy with clutch of fell disease.
We travelled on this road one summer day,
And at Morbegno rested for an hour;
The deadly mists hung close around the town,
The faded town, with houses gaunt and old,
And frescoes peeling from the mildewed walls,
And trouble-smitten people in the streets.
I see them still — those piteous haunting eyes
That gaze out wistfully from lifelong woe,
The vacant smile, the sad distorted face,
The wrinkled skin, the aimless feeble hands.
And through the mists there came a sound of bells,
In chimes that still had sweetness of their own,
But yet had lost the clue which guided them,
And had forgotten what they used to say.
O sweet, sad bells! O never-ended chime!
My voice went forth to God with those wild notes —
"Hast thou, indeed, made all men here for naught?
Do they not cry aloud these souls of thine
Whom thou hast formed to suffer till they die?
What have they done, these weary stricken ones,
That age to age should hand their misery down,
One generation sending on thy curse
To that which follows in its hopeless track?
I call thee Father, and in thy great name
Thy spirit binds to mine in bonds of love
All human beings on this world of thine:
Brothers and sisters thou hast made us, Lord.
I cannot bear the woe of these I love,
Let me but suffer for them. O my God,
Gather thy wrath, thy vengeance in one cup,
And pour it out on me, but give them joy.
"Of old it 'was expedient one should die,
And that all should not perish.' Let it be
Thy will once more, and bid the plague be stayed.
See, in their misery they kneel to thee,
These men and women who must bear thy curse,
See how they gather round the wayside shrine
And lift their weary hands to him who hangs
Upon the cross, and comforts human hearts
By having known the worst of human pain.
The 'Man of Sorrows' is their only God;
What should they know of One who reigns alone
Above all suffering and human want,
In endless plenitude of joy unknown
To them by anything which life can show?"
Such my wild prayer, and in my soul I heard
An answer wrought of pain and faith and hope.
"O foolish human heart that wrongest me,
How long shall I bear with you, yea, how long
Suffer you still to take my name in vain?
How can those half-blind eyes that scan the gloom
See anything aright of all my work,
And seeing not, why judge me in the dark?
Perchance some day the clearer light will show
That pain, disease, and grief are gifts as great
As strength and health and joy, which seem so dear.
Perchance some day in gazing back on life,
From some high standing-place much further on,
Your soul will give its verdict. 'Even this,
This place of doom in all its dreariness
Was nearer to the blessed light of God
Than I who pitied, and who prayed for it,' —
And you shall envy those who suffered here,
Who worked God's will through loathsomest disease,
And helped the world's redemption by their pain."
I bowed my head, my heart was humbled now.
"Father, forgive me. Like Morbegno's bells
The ending of my cry is lost in doubt,
Accept once more that plea made long ago
By one who trusted thee. O, not alone
For those he saw, Christ prayed his latest prayer,
We know not what we do, or say, or think.
Father, forgive us. Let thy will be done." —
And if it be that human misery
Is working out God's will, ye suffring ones,
Bear on through all things, for your rich reward
Is greater than our human hearts can grasp,
Is deeper than our finite souls can reach.
O weary men, your pain is dear to God;
O women, who must bring your children forth
Knowing them born to lives of misery,
Take comfort, the eternal will is sweet,
And ye are working out its large behest
Though life is bitter. Children, with those eyes
So full of sorrow, and of coming doom,
Our Father loves you, and the end is great
Though hidden far away from human sight.
Brothers and sisters, I could almost think
I hear the secret told which no man knows,
When I recall those patient weary eyes,
That gaze out wistfully on lifelong woe.
And God stays in Morbegno till the end,
While we pass on to Como and forget.

Macmillan's Magazine. F. M. Owen.