Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Song of the Mystic (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I know of Father Abram J. Ryan (1838-1886) because he was once the pastor of the parish where I usually attend daily mass. Each day I walk by a historic marker that tells the story of this "poet, patriot, priest." The thing is, he was a Confederate loyalist, which makes him a rebel patriot.  Thankfully, the rebels lost the war. But even the Confederate troops needed a chaplain, and that is how Father Ryan served.

Father Ryan is best know for writing the poem Conquered Banner which, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, was "read or sung in every Southern household, and thus became the apotheosis of the 'Lost Cause.'" Lost causes are good and all, but I prefer the following poem by Father Ryan instead. It is simple, beautiful, and evokes the theme of solitude, silence, and prayer.

Song of the Mystic 

I walk down the Valley of Silence—
  Down the dim, voiceless valley—alone!
And I hear not the fall of a footstep
  Around me, save God's and my own;
And the hush of my heart is as holy
  As hovers where angels have flown!

Long ago was I weary of voices
  Where music my heart could not win;
Long ago was I weary of noises
  That fretted my soul with their din;
Long ago was I weary of places
  Where I met but the human—and sin.

I walked in the world with the worldly;
  I craved what the world never gave;
And I said: " In the world each Ideal,
  That shines like a star on life's wave,
Is wrecked on the shores of the Real,
  And sleeps like a dream in the grave."

And still did I pine for the perfect,
  And still found the False with the True;
I sought 'mid the Human for Heaven,
  But caught a mere glimpse of its blue;
And I wept when the clouds of the Mortal
  Veiled even that glimpse from my view.

And I toiled on, heart-tired of the Human,
  And I moaned 'mid the mazes of men,
Till I knelt, long ago, at an altar
  And I heard a voice call me. Since then
I walk down the Valley of Silence
  That lies far beyond mortal ken.

Do you ask what I found in the Valley?
 'Tis my trysting place with the Divine.
And I fell at the feet of the Holy,
  And above me a Voice said, " Be mine."
And there arose from the depths of my spirit
  An echo—" My heart shall be thine."

Do you ask how I live in the Valley?
  I weep—and I dream—and I pray.
But my tears are as sweet as the dew-drops
  That fall on the roses in May;
And my prayer, like the perfume from censers,
  Ascendeth to God night and day.

In the hush of the Valley of Silence
  I dream all the songs that I sing;
And the music floats down the dim Valley,
  Till each finds a word for a wing,
That to hearts, like the Dove of the Deluge,
  A message of peace they may bring.

But far on the deep there are billows
  That never shall break on the beach;
And I have heard songs in the silence
  That never shall float into speech;
And I have had dreams in the Valley
  Too lofty for language to reach.

And I have seen thoughts in the Valley—
  Ah! me, how my spirit was stirred!
And they wear holy veils on their faces,
  Their footsteps can scarcely be heard;
They pass through the Valley like Virgins:
  Too pure for the touch of a word!

Do you ask me the place of the Valley,
  Ye hearts that are harrowed by care?
It lieth afar between mountains,
  And God and His angels are there:
And one is the dark mount of Sorrow,
  And one the bright mountain of Prayer.

Belmont Abbey College, located near Charlotte North Carolina, has an archive on Father Ryan which you can access here.