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.
The VILLAGE SCHOOL and VILLAGE FEAST 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 fallm 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.