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Ballads and Lyrics of Socialism 1883-1908 . Nesbit, E. (Edith), 1858–1924.
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page: 53

The Devil’s Due

A priest tells how, in his youth, a church was built by the free labour of love—as was men’s wont in those days; and how the stone and wood were paid for by one who had grown rich on usury and the pillage of the poor—and of what chanced thereafter.


  • ARSENIUS, priest of God, I tell,
  • For warning in your younger ears,
  • Humbly and plainly what befell
  • That year—hone by a many years—
  • When Veraignes church was built. Ah! then
  • Brave churches grew ’neath hands of men:
  • We see not now their like again.
  • We built it on the green hill‐side
  • That leans its bosom o’er the town,
  • So that its presence, sanctified,
  • Might ever on our lives look down.
  • We built; and those who built not, they
  • Brought us their blessing day by day,
  • And lingered to rejoice and pray.
  • For years the masons toiled, for years
  • The craftsmen wrought till they had made
  • A church we scarce could see for tears—
  • Its fairness made our love afraid.
  • Its rich‐wrought silver tracery
  • Stood out against the deep bright sky
  • Like good deeds ’gainst eternity.
  • In the deep roof each separated beam
  • Had its own garland—ivy, vine,—
  • Giving to man the carver’s dream,
  • In sight of men a certain sign—
  • And all day long the workers plied.
  • ‘The church shall finished be,’ we cried,
  • ‘And consecrate by Easter‐tide.’
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  • Our church! It was so fair, so dear,
  • So fit a church to praise God in!
  • It had such show of carven gear,
  • Such chiselled work, without, within!
  • Such marble for the steps and floor,
  • Such window‐jewels and such store
  • Of gold and gems the altar bore!
  • Each stone by loving hands was hewn,
  • By loving hands each beam was sawn;
  • The hammers made a merry tune
  • In winter dusk and summer dawn.
  • Love built the house, but gold had paid
  • For that wherewith the house was made.
  • ‘Would love had given all!’ we said.
  • But poor in all save love were we,
  • And he was poor in all save gold
  • Who gave the gold. By usury
  • Were gained his riches manifold.
  • We knew that? If we knew, we thought
  • ’Tis good if men do good in aught,
  • And by good works may heaven be bought!
  • At last the echo died in air
  • Of the last stroke. The silence then
  • Passed in to fill the church, left bare
  • Of the loving voice of Christian men.
  • The silence saddened all the sun,
  • So gladly was our work begun.
  • Now all that happy work was done.
  • Did any voices in the night
  • Call through those arches? Were there wings
  • That swept between the pillars white—
  • Wide pinions of unvisioned things?
  • page: 55
  • The priests who watched the relics heard
  • Wing‐whispers—not of bat or bird—
  • And moan of inarticulate word.
  • Then sunlight, morning, and sweet air
  • Adorned our church, and there were borne
  • Great sheaves of boughs of blossoms fair
  • To grace the consecration morn.
  • Then round our church trooped knight and dame;
  • Within, alone, the bishop came,
  • And the twelve candles leaped to flame.
  • Then round our church the bishop went
  • With all his priests—a brave array.
  • There was no sign nor portent sent
  • As, glad at heart, he went his way,
  • Sprinkling the holy water round
  • Three times on walls and crowd and ground
  • Within the empty churchyard’s bound.
  • Then—but ye know the function’s scope
  • At consecration—all the show
  • Of torch and incense, stole and cope;
  • And how the acolytes do go
  • Before the bishop—how they bear
  • The lighted tapers, flaming fair,
  • Blown back by the sweet wavering air.
  • The bishop, knocking at the door,
  • The deacon answering from within,
  • ‘Lift up your heads, ye gates, be sure
  • The King of Glory shall come in’—
  • The bishop passed in with the choir.
  • Thank God for this—our soul’s desire,
  • Our altar, meet for heaven’s fire!
page: 56
  • The bishop, kneeling in his place
  • Where our bright windows made day dim,
  • With all heaven’s glory in his face,
  • Began the consecration hymn:
  • Veni,’ he sang, in clear strong tone.
  • Then—on the instant—song was done,
  • Its very echo scattered—gone!
  • For, as the bishop’s voice rang clear,
  • Another voice rang clearer still—
  • A voice wherein the soul could hear
  • The discord of unmeasured ill—
  • And sudden breathless silence fell
  • On all the church. And I wot well
  • There are such silences in hell.
  • Taper and torch died down—went out—
  • And all our church grew dark and cold,
  • And deathly odours crept about,
  • And chill, as of the churchyard mould;
  • And every flower drooped its head,
  • And all the rose’s leaves were shed,
  • And all the lilies dropped down dead.
  • There, in the bishop’s chair, we saw—
  • How can I tell you? Memories shrink
  • To mix anew the cup of awe
  • We shuddering mortals had to drink.
  • What was it there? The shape that stood
  • Before the altar and the rood—
  • It was not human flesh and blood!
  • A light more bright than any sun,
  • A shade more dark than any night,
  • A shape that human shape was none,
  • A cloud, a sense of wingëd might,
  • page: 57
  • And, like an infernal trumpet sound,
  • Rang through the church’s hush profound
  • A voice. We listened horror‐bound.
  • Venio! Cease, cease to consecrate!
  • Love built the church, but it is mine!
  • ’Tis built of stone hewn out by hate,
  • Cemented by man’s blood divine.
  • Whence came the gold that paid for this?
  • From pillage of the poor, I wis—
  • That gold was mine, and mine this is!
  • ‘Your King has cursed the usurer’s gold,
  • He gives it to me for my fee!
  • Your church is builded, but behold
  • Your church is fair for me—for me!
  • Who robs the poor to me is given;
  • Impenitent and unforgiven,
  • His church is built for hell, not heaven!’
  • Then, as we gazed, the face grew clear,
  • And all men stood as turned to stone;
  • Each man beheld through dews of fear
  • A face—his own—yet not his own;
  • His own face, darkened, lost, debased,
  • With hell’s own signet stamped and traced,
  • And all the God in it effaced.
  • A crash like thunder shook the walls,
  • A flame like lightning shot them through:
  • ‘Fly, fly before the judgment falls,
  • And all these stones be fallen on you!’
  • And as we fled we saw bright gleams
  • Of fire leap out ’mid joists and beams.
  • Our church! Oh, love—oh, hopes—oh, dreams!
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  • We stood without—a pallid throng—
  • And as the flame leaped high and higher,
  • Shrill winds we heard that rushed along
  • And fanned the transports of the fire.
  • The sky grew black; against the sky
  • The blue and scarlet flames leaped high,
  • And cries as of lost souls wailed by.
  • The church in glowing vesture stood,
  • The lead ran down as it were wax,
  • The great stones cracked and burned like wood,
  • The wood caught fire and flamed like flax:
  • A horrid chequered light and shade,
  • By smoke and flame alternate made,
  • Upon men’s upturned faces played.
  • Down crashed the walls. Our lovely spire,
  • A blackened ruin, fell and lay.
  • The very earth about caught fire,
  • And flame‐tongues licked along the clay.
  • The fire did neither stay nor spare
  • Till the foundations were laid bare
  • To the hot, sickened, smoke‐filled air.
  • There in the sight of men it lay,
  • Our church that we had made so fair!
  • A heap of ashes white and gray,
  • With sparks still gleaming here and there.
  • The sun came out again, and shone
  • On all our loving work undone—
  • Our church destroyed, our labour gone!
  • Gone? Is it gone? God knows it, no!
  • The hands that builded built aright:
  • The men who loved and laboured so,
  • Their church is built in heaven’s height!
  • In every stone a glittering gem,
  • Gold in the gold Jerusalem—
  • The church their love built waits for them.
1892.
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