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Littell's Living Age/Volume 169/Issue 2190/Cain and Abel

Three Sonnets suggested by Three Designs by G. F. Watts, R.A.

                         I.
               CAIN AND ABEL
Thou, the young world's first dead, unwept shall be
     Through storied time, pure spirit, called to rise
     With the first flame of thy first sacrifice –
Thy door of life so forced but set thee free;
All pity be reserved, dark Cain, for thee,
     Delving the earth and drawing thence thy prize,
     Then withering in God's unregarding eyes
To see the fruit of lifeless husbandry.

For straight within thy stubborn heart of man
     The beast unsacrificed to God, found place –
And brute unbrotherly instincts overran
     Thee wholly, making strange thy human face
Before the angel came to brand, not ban,
     But hide thee in a hell of saving grace.


                         II.
               OUTCAST CAIN.

No death by brother's hand to us shows dire
     As this thy life, cut off from man and God –
     From brother's vengeance and from father's rod -
The cloud about thee closing ever nigher,
No wrath to scourge, no love tore-inspire,
     Naught felt but under foot the senseless clod,
     Naught hoped but what might spring from out the sod,
Naught seen but smoke of hell's averted fire.

Thus safe in lone invisibility
Thou, wandering o'er the earth from sea to sea,
     Must bear the curse of life and blinding hate;
No gush of joy, no cry of mortal pain,
No plaint of love or song of bird, dark Cain,
     Makes thy dull harp of life reverberate.


                         III.
               CAIN REPENTANT.
(See the picture now at the Royal Academy.)

Black to the heart and calcined to the bone,
     With love that desolates and fills no sphere,
     The barren love that holds the sole self dear,
Which makes the hell wherein it reigns alone;
So wanders Cain till self to self is grown,
     A spectre which, in flying, he falls sheer -
     Bowed to God's all-consuming breath – a mere
Dumb sacrifice on Abel's altar-stone.

Then lo, the cloud that darkened all his day
     And hid the watchful angel of God's love,
The angel's stormy hand has rent away;
     Pure light of life beats on him from above,
Cool tears of dawn make soft his hardened clay,
     And heal the frenzied heart God's lightnings rove.