A poem

The Village Church

A poem by the Rev Charles Lesingham Smith, rector of Little Canfield

The poem was published in 1870 in a book with other poems by the same author. It follows verses entitled ‘The Village School’ and ‘The Village Feast’, to which reference is made in the first verse.

Is it any good?

Are shrin’d in song, and yet remains,
Ere from my task I be releas’d,
A theme demanding nobler pains.
O may the Spirit of God, who deigns
To illumine the darkest in the search
For heav’nly truth, inspire my strains
While now I sing the VILLAGE CHURCH.

There’s music in its very stones!
Those in the deep foundation cry
To passers by in startling tones,
‘Ye also in this earth must lie!’
And those which lightly pois’d on high
Build up the tall and graceful spire
Exclaim, while pointing at the sky,
‘Thither be all thy soul’s desire!’

The dripstones of each window end
In corbel’d saints who bid us keep
Close to God’s house like them, and spend
The moments there undrows’d by sleep.
The dial-shadows, as they creep
Along the wall from notch to notch,
By holy motto sculptur’d deep
Say what was said by Jesus, ‘Watch!’

Uplifted on each gable high,
And exquisitely carv’d in stone,
The Cross, beheld athwart the sky,
Tells of the Saviour’s dying moan;
Tell us where’er we may be thrown
In life, on pathway bright or dim,
‘Mid wealth or want, in crowds or lone,
‘Take up thy Cross and follow Him!’

The sparrows, as in days of yore
When David sang, build many a nest
Beneath the jutting eaves, and o’er
The altars of Jehovah rest;
And Christ’s unerring words attest
That e’en for these God careth still,
And that not one such humble guest
Falls to the ground without His will.

The porch’s richly panell’d wall
Unfolds an arched and shafted way,
Which, like the heav’nly gate, to all
Gives access ever in the day.
Through the open side-lights oft the ray
Of sunshine speeds with gladden’d look,
And small birds hie for rest or play,
Familiar with each coign and nook.

Ere through the Norman door we pass,
Note well the structure, plain and old,
The time-worn stone, the oaken mass
With iron hinge of graceful mould.
Outside it, sleeps the world so cold!
Inside, O what awakening lore
Reminds us oft of Him who told
His faithful flock, ‘I am the door!’

And now we stand within the nave!
Its awful space is hush’d and lone!
Beneath it many a hollow grave
Is tenanted by mouldering bone!
The dead, forgotten and unknown
To their own place, for us leave room
In turn to pray and make our moan
For sin, and drop into the tomb!

The font, a shape of ancient stone,
On columns five is resting nigh,
Where living waters oft are strown
To cleanse from sin’s infirmity.
How sweetly there do infants lie
Unconscious on the surplic’d arm,
While o’er them sounds the lullaby,
Releasing them from spiritual harm!

Behold yon roof! Though on its height
Were ne’er three thousand people array’d,
As on that roof which Samson’s might
Pull’d down, large art is there display’d.
And though its beams are not inlaid
With gold, nor wrought of cedar fine,
A fair perspective is survey’d
Of bays in mingled oak and pine.

Nich’d in the basement of the tower
An organ lifts its golden reeds,
From which, with largely varied power,
Note after note impell’d succeeds.
Now hymning the Creator’s deeds,
Its loudest diapason rolls;
Now meltinh into woe it pleads
For mercy on despairing souls.

The western window, plain in hue,
Spreads into tracery bold and fine;
Above it, in triangle true
Three lesser lights in one combine,
Each trefoil’d; and these all enshrine
The brightest tints that eye may see,
Meet emblem of the United Trine,
The Three in One – the One in Three!

Beneath, bur rais’d above the ground
In triple rows, on gradual seat
The children make response, and sound
The holy psalm with measur’d beat,
While organ tones subdued and sweet
Accompany their simple lays;
And though to poilsh’d ears unmet
The music seem, it lacks not praise.

For here a sire, from home remote,
On every Sabbath morn attends,
As did his child ere her sweet note
Was hush’d in death; and fancy blends
Amid the music, as it wends
Past him, the voice of his lost child,
And o’er his furrowe’d cheek descends
The tear in sorrow unbeguil’d.

Advance we through the central aisle
Where seats unbarr’d by doors expand;
Pass we where wrought in ruder style
The reading-desk and pulpit stand:
The mark the screen by which is spann’d
The Chancel-arch, how dark and old!
Carv’d out of oak by cunning hand
With pointed tracery rich and bold.

And ere we quit the nave, inspect
Yon mural tablet o’er the pew,
And from the named inroll’d select
For contemplation chiefly two,
Father and son, whose ages grew
Each to a hundred years – to man
A mighty stret attain’d by few!
To the infinite not e’en a span!

Arriv’d within the Chancel, lo!
What holy objects we descry!
What softly blended colours glow!
What graceful form allures the eye!
We seem while here to mount more nigh
To God, and, like the Patriarch, trace
The steps to heav’n, and with him cry,
‘Surely the Lord is in this place!’

Wooing the South, two windows rich
In decoration both have two
Main openings glass’d, in each of which
One of the Evangelists we view
Reliev’d against a sky dark blue,
And canopied with purple and gold;
And his own book divinely true
Each in his hand is seen to hold.

Westward the sacred monogram
Is deftly trac’d in the upper light,
To mind us of the spotless Lamb
Now thron’d above the empyreal height.
Nor has a skill’d hand fail’d to write
Alpha and Omega below,
Those mystic letters, sharp and bright,
Him first, Him also last to show.

And read in trefoil’d space, above
The figures more to the East, the sign
Of Pow’r with Wisdom join’d and Love,
One God, the Unit in the Trine,
Triangle fram’d with equal line,
To which there intricately cleaves
A curve tri-cusp’d, whose branches twine
To fashion three co-equal leaves.

Those windows flank on either side
A beauteous work, the Chancel door,
On which the workmen all have vied
The riches of their skills to pour.
A canopy with crockets o’er
The arch aspires, and on a shield
Inclos’d within it see once more
The sacred monogram reveal’d.

The delicately slender shaft
Is hewn from marble lightly red,
And all the chisel’s utmost craft
Is lavish’d on its leafy head.
The ball-flow’rs are profusely shed
Along the moulding deep and fine,
And angels, with their wings outspread
As corbels, tell of things divine.

The one with hand uplifted seems
Absorb’d in pray’r for a lost race.
And the sweet light of pity gleams
O’er all the features of the face.
In the other with clasp’d hands we trace
Love mingled with desire to scan
The marvels of redeeming grace
Unfolded now to fallen man.

Close to the window, quaintly nich’d,
And old Piscina decks the wall,
With foliate head not unenrich’d,
Nor meanly moulded, though but small.
The hole through which the priest let fall
The water which had cleans’d his hands;
Or rins’d the holy vessels all
For the Lord’s Supper still expands.

But Eastward turn we now to view
The grander orient window, dy’d
With colours gorgeous all, ’tis true,
Yet apt to pull down human pride.
Aloft, St Paul’s three virtues bide,
Faith, Hope and Charity; below,
Scenes from the Saviour’s life descried
Speak two of joy, and one of woe.

Faith, looking at a Cross, beholds
Things to the natural eye unseen;
Hope firmly to her anchor holds,
Amid the storms of life serene;
And Charity, with affection keen,
Supports young orphans on her knee,
And clasps them to her breast – I ween
She is the greatest of the tree.

Below see first in hallow’d rest
The new-born infant Jesus lie,
While o’er Him bends His Mother blest,
And Joseph, wrapt in thought, is nigh;
The Shepherds in devotion vie,
Rejoic’d to have found Him; and a throng
Of angels in the azure sky
With trumpets chant their holy song.

In the mid space on fatal tree,
With crown of thorns on His meek head,
And hands and feet all bleeding, see
The suffering Saviour well-nigh dead!
Here is the Roman banner spread,
And men with threat’ning looks advance;
There on a steed, inspiring dread,
A mounted warrior lifts his lance.

The Virgin Mother, simply clad
In sombre raiment, swoons below:
With tender aid the young and sad
Saint John supports her in her woe;
And Mary Magdalen, not slow
To feel her misery and loss,
Falls down, while tears of anguish flow,
To kiss the dying Saviour’s Cross.

But every trace of grief and gloom
Has melted yonder on the right,
Where gazing upward from the tomb,
Now void, the apostles watch the flight
Of Jesus glorified in light
And rising slowly in His shroud,
Until the vision from their sight
Evanish in the curling cloud.

Now all the windows thus array’d
Are mirror’d on the polish’d floor
Encaustic, whence the whole is made
A scene twice richer than before:
And oft to enhance the splendour more
A sunbeam through each opening throws
The tints far onward till all o’er
With rainbow light the Chancel glows.

Nor think this decoration vain,
Or only meet for taste refin’d:
The poor draw thence a sold gain
Through the eye into their simple mind;
The deaf too may, in pray’rs consign’d
To books, join with the common mass,
But all the sermon which they find,
Is written on the pictur’d glass.

The reredos at the Eastern wall
Enclasps the window: grav’n on stone
In letters legible to all
Is writ the pray’r Christ taught to His own:
And here th’Apostles’ Creed is shown,
And also as penn’d (O thought of awe!)
By God’s own hand from Sinai’s throne,
The ten commandments of the Law.

How simply is yon table spread!
And when array’d in linen fine
With paten for the mystic bread,
And golden chalice for the wine,
’Tis simple still! O Feast divine,
Where body and soul alike are fed,
And Christ reveals by holy sign
That He has suffer’d in our stead!

How many a sad and fainting soul
Has knelt before this goodly rail,
And here been made by Jesus whole
From leprous guilt and deadly bale!
What numbers here have joy’d to hail
The Spirit descending from above,
And through the Crucial thorn and nail
Have known at last that God is love!

Here oft before the altar stand
The youthful bridegroom and the bride,
And twain conjoining hand with hand
Into one holy knot are tied:
And faithful friends are at their side,
And words of blessing thrill the ear,
And warning then succeeds to guide
Their steps in holy love and fear.

Observe beneath, amid the gloom,
And minding us our own own goal,
A stone inlaid with brass, the tomb
Of one yclept in ancient scroll
‘Lord of this town’. For centuries whole
Have ceas’d his earthly joys pains:
His flesh is dust, and sleeps his soul;
Of his abode no trace remains!

Carv’d in the Chacel’s Northern wall
In precinct hallow’d and retir’d,
And like a mural tomb (though small,
Were space for effigy requir’d)
A niche recedes, with roof admir’d
For flowery pendent, moulded groin,
And all the grace which love untir’d
Could throw on panel, shaft and coign.

Contrasting with the paler stone,
The marble rising dark behind,
Records on graven scroll the moan
A son makes for a Mother kind;
Describes the music of her mind
Which made his home one summer song,
And tells how sweetly she resign’d
A life as guileless as ’twas long.

Pierc’d through the wall, near this, a stair
Winds upward to the vestry floor,
Where lie preserv’d with reverent care
The records of parochial lore:
Most quaint are those from days of yore
Matching yon aged wooden chest
With triple lock, which heretofore
Held holy plate and priestly vest.

Besides the sculptures thus detail’d
Which makes the Chancel’s richest dower,
The thoughtful builder has not fail’d
Elsewhere to exert creative power,
To fling life-forms around, and shower
On corbel, capital and string
The ivy, vine and passion-flower,
All emblems of some holy thing.

Returning to the Chancel, mark
That other structure in the wall,
West of the stair, a funeral ark
With decorated arch for pall,
Rear’d by a brother to recall
A sister’s worth; its brassy chart
Proclaims from holy writ to all
How ‘blessed are the pure in heart’.

Yes! Beautiful indeed are these,
And may by none be pass’d with scorn;
Yet ’tis the living stones which please
Our God, and most His temple adorn.
How sweet to mark each Sabbath morn,
While from afar the chime is heard,
God’s people wending through the corn,
And o’er the mead, to hear His Word.

They move on different paths which all
Converge to one concentred site,
And much the greater part forestall
The hour ordain’d for holy rite,
So that whene’er the day is bright,
They gather into groups and tell
Their doings all, and change of plight,
Since last they heard the Sabbath bell.

Within the porch, on either side,
A bench of stone invites repose,
After long walk in summer tide,
Until ‘the Parson’s ring’ shall close:
And old men seated on the rows
Ask of each other how they fare,
Discoursing, while the zephyr blows,
And gently lifts their silver hair.

The bell is hush’d. Sedately now
All enter, and as up the aisle
Each old man moves, he makes his bow
Towards the Priest in the olden style:
Nor let the modern sceptic smile
At usage so remote and dim;
God sees the homage without guile,
And reckons it as paid to Him.

With rev’rence do they hear the pray’rs,
And join in what they understand;
But by such simple minds as theirs
The whole is seldom clearly scann’d.
Yet sill do they delight to stand,
As did their sires, on the ancient ways;
And what is dark to them seems grand,
And meant for their Creator’s praise.

So too the very Word divine,
The tuneful psalms, when sweetly sung,
To those who know not line from line,
Are accents of an unknown tongue;
Yet when the voices of the young
Blent with the organ tones arise,
The darkest heart at times is wrung,
And lifted nearer to the skies.

But from the sermon all can win
The utmost wealth which it contains;
And e’en the sound of falling pin
Be heard, so deep a silence reigns.
For here the Pracher oft explains
The mercies through the Gospel strown,
And aye in homely Saxon strains
Speaks to men’s bosoms from his own.

And as he opens out his text,
See yonder earnest listener rise
From his own seat, and, on the next
Supported, bend with eager eyes
And ears to catch each sound that flies
From lips that seem to him inspired,
From bar’d he thinks his bosom lies
With all its thoughts howe’er retired;

Nor knows that the good man has drawn
This portraiture exact and bold
From his own conscience, which is gnawn
By sins within itself inroll’d;
For ah! To sinners none can hold
The mirror up so well as he
Who, tangled in the Serpent’s fold,
Has been by Mercy’s arm set free.

The sermon done, the blessing said,
All homeward wend their several ways,
And into lengthen’d lines are spread
Diverging as the solar rays:
Save that perchance a loiterer stays
To view the tranquil scene, or lone
And silent o’er the churchyard strays
To scan there each recording stone.

God’s acres are to thoughtful minds
Epitomes of human life,
Telling how loose the tie that binds
Each pilgrim to this vale of strife;
How busy Death is; and how rife
The causes which invite his blow;
How parents, husband, children, wife,
All living, soon will sleep below.

Here infants, early laid to rest,
Are cradled in Death’s hollow cave;
The worm is yonder maiden’s guest,
Whom youth and beauty could not save;
A stalwart man has ceased to rave
Of thrift and wealth beneath that mound;
And age has found a peaceful grave
Where nods yon tombstone o’er the ground.

But hark! I hear the passing bell!
How loudly booms its fitful toll!
O mortal, ponder; ‘this the knell
Announcing a departed soul!
That speeds to its appointed goal;
Its vest with crumble to a clod;
Nor be resum’d until the roll
Of trumpet summon it to God.

Lo, yonder yawns an open grave
Which says to all men, Die ye must!
None shall scape, the young, the brave,
The rich, the grand, nor e’en the just.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust!
Yet through the gloom faith sees the light,
For whoso in his God shall trust
Will rise with Christ, and walk in white.

In glory when He comes with sound
Of trump, and all before Him stand,
May those who worship here be found
Elect to pass to His right hand!
And when their ransom’d souls expand
With boundless rapture, may they search
Not vainly mid the radiant band
For him who sang the VILLAGE CHURCH.