Make Me a Broad Strong River

Leighton Isaacs' painting is inspired by the following lines from George MacDonald's poem, A Broken Prayer: 

Make me a broad strong river coming down
With shouts from its high hills, whose rocky hearts
Throb forth the joy of their stability
In watery pulses from their inmost deeps; 
And I shall be a vein upon thy world, 
Circling perpetual from the parent deep. 

Broadstrongriver.jpg

Painting by Leighton Isaacs. The full poem is presented below the brief recording by David Jack.

A Broken Prayer

O Lord, my God, how long
Shall my poor heart pant for a boundless joy? 
How long, O mighty Spirit, shall I hear
The murmur of Truth's crystal waters slide
From the deep caverns of their endless being, 
But my lips taste not, and the grosser air
Choke each pure inspiration of thy will? 

I am a denseness 'twixt me and the light; 
1 cannot round myself; my purest thought, 
Ere it is thought, hath caught the taint of earth, 
And mocked me with hard thoughts beyond my will. 

I would be a wind
Whose smallest atom is a viewless wing, 
All busy with the pulsing life that throbs
To do thy bidding; yea, or the meanest thing
That has relation to a changeless truth, 
Could I but be instinct with thee-each thought
The lightning of a pure intelligence, 
And every act as the loud thunder-clap
Of currents warring for a vacuum. 

Lord, clothe me with thy truth as with a robe; 
Purge me with sorrow; I will bend my head
And let the nations of thy waves pass over, 
Bathing me in thy consecrated strength; 
And let thy many-voiced and silver winds
Pass through my frame with their clear influence, 
O save me; I am blind; lo, thwarting shapes
Wall up the void before, and thrusting out
Lean arms of unshaped expectation, beckon
Down to the night of all unholy thoughts. 

Oh, when at midnight one of thy strong angels
Stems back the waves of earthly influence
That shape unsteady continents around me, 
And they draw off with the devouring gush
Of exile billows that have found a home, 
Leaving me islanded on unseen points, 
Hanging 'twixt thee and chaos-I have seen
Unholy shapes lop off my shining thoughts, 
And they have lent me leathern wings of fear, 
Of baffled pride and harrowing distrust; 
And Godhead, with its crown of many stars, 
Its pinnacles of flaming holiness, 
And voice of leaves in the green summer-time, 
Has seemed the shadowed image of a self! 
Then my soul blackened; and I rose to find
And grasp my doom, and cleave the arching deeps
Of desolation. 

O Lord, my soul is a forgotten well
Clad round with its own rank luxuriance; 
A fountain a kind sunbeam searches for, 
Sinking the lustre of its arrowy finger
Through the long grass its own strange virtue
Hath blinded up its crystal eye withal: 
Make me a broad strong river coming down
With shouts from its high hills, whose rocky hearts
Throb forth the joy of their stability
In watery pulses from their inmost deeps; 
And I shall be a vein upon thy world, 
Circling perpetual from the parent deep. 

Most mighty One, 
Confirm and multiply my thoughts of good; 
Help me to wall each sacred treasure round
With the firm battlements of special action. 
Alas, my holy happy thoughts of thee
Make not perpetual nest within my soul, 
But like strange birds of dazzling colours stoop
The trailing glories of their sunward speed
For one glad moment, filling my blasted boughs
With the sunshine of their wings. Make me a forest
Of gladdest life wherein perpetual spring
Lifts up her leafy tresses in the wind. 
Lo, now I see
Thy trembling starlight sit among my pines, 
And thy young moon slide down my arching boughs
With a soft sound of restless eloquence! 
And I can feel a joy as when thy hosts
Of trampling winds, gathering in maddened bands, 
Roar upward through the blue and flashing day
Round my still depths of uncleft solitude. 

Hear me, O Lord, 
When the black night draws down upon my soul, 
And voices of temptation darken down
The misty wind, slamming thy starry doors
With bitter jests:-'Thou fool!' they seem to say, 
'Thou hast no seed of goodness in thee; all
Thy nature hath been stung right through and through; 
Thy sin hath blasted thee and made thee old; 
Thou hadst a will, but thou hast killed it dead, 
And with the fulsome garniture of life
Built out the loathsome corpse; thou art a child
Of night and death, even lower than a worm; 
Gather the skirts up of thy shadowy self, 
And with what resolution thou hast left
Fall on the damned spikes of doom!' 

Oh, take me like a child, 
If thou hast made me for thyself, my God, 
And lead me up thy hills. I shall not fear, 
So thou wilt make me pure, and beat back sin
With the terrors of thine eye: it fears me not
As once it might have feared thine own good image, 
But lays bold siege at my heart's doors. 

Oh, I have seen a thing of beauty stand
In the young moonlight of its upward thoughts, 
And the old earth came round it with its gifts
Of gladness, whispering leaves, and odorous plants, 
Until its large and spiritual eye
Burned with intensest love: my God, I could
Have watched it evermore with Argus-eyes, 
Lest when the noontide of the summer's sun
Let down the tented sunlight on the plain, 
His flaming beams should scorch my darling flower; 
And through the fruitless nights of leaden gloom, 
Of plashing rains, and knotted winds of cold, 
Yea, when thy lightnings ran across the sky, 
And the loud stumbling blasts fell from the hills
Upon the mounds of death, I could have watched
Guarding such beauty like another life! 
But, O my God, it changed!- 
Yet methinks I know not if it was not I! 
Its beauty turned to ghastly loathsomeness! 
Then a hand spurned me backwards from the clouds, 
And with the gather of a mighty whirlwind, 
Drew in the glittering gifts of life. 

How long, O Lord, how long? 
I am a man lost in a rocky place! 
Lo, all thy echoes smite me with confusion
Of varied speech,-the cry of vanished Life
Rolled upon nations' sighs-of hearts uplifted
Against despair-the stifled sounds of Woe
Sitting perpetual by its grey cold well- 
Or wasted Toil climbing its endless hills
With quickening gasps-or the thin winds of Joy
That beat about the voices of the crowd! 

Lord, hast thou sent
Thy moons to mock us with perpetual hope? 
Lighted within our breasts the love of love
To make us ripen for despair, my God? 

Oh, dost thou hold each individual soul
Strung clear upon thy flaming rods of purpose? 
Or does thine inextinguishable will
Stand on the steeps of night with lifted hand
Filling the yawning wells of monstrous space
With mixing thought-drinking up single life
As in a cup? and from the rending folds
Of glimmering purpose, do all thy navied stars
Slide through the gloom with mystic melody, 
Like wishes on a brow? Oh, is my soul, 
Hung like a dewdrop in thy grassy ways, 
Drawn up again into the rack of change
Even through the lustre which created it? 
-O mighty one, thou wilt not smite me through
With scorching wrath, because my spirit stands
Bewildered in thy circling mysteries! 

Oh lift the burdened gloom that chokes my soul
With dews of darkness; smite the lean winds of death
That run with howls around the ruined temples, 
Blowing the souls of men about like leaves. 

Lo, the broad life-lands widen overhead, 
Star-galaxies arise like drifting snow, 
And happy life goes whitening down the stream
Of boundless action, whilst my fettered soul
Sits, as a captive in a noisome dungeon
Watches the pulses of his withered heart
Lave out the sparkling minutes of his life
On the idle flags! 

Come in the glory of thine excellence, 
Rive the dense gloom with wedges of clear light, 
And let the shimmer of thy chariot wheels
Burn through the cracks of night! So slowly, Lord, 
To lift myself to thee with hands of toil, 
Climbing the slippery cliffs of unheard prayer! 
Lift up a hand among my idle days- 
One beckoning finger: I will cast aside
The clogs of earthly circumstance and run
Up the broad highways where the countless worlds
Sit ripening in the summer of thy love. 
Send a clear meaning sparkling through the years; 
Burst all the prison-doors, and make men's hearts
Gush up like fountains with thy melody; 
Brighten the hollow eyes; fill with life's fruits
The hands that grope and scramble down the wastes; 
And let the ghastly troops of withered ones
Come shining o'er the mountains of thy love. 

Lord, thy strange mysteries come thickening down
Upon my head like snowflakes, shutting out
The happy upper fields with chilly vapour. 
Shall I content my soul with a weak sense
Of safety? or feed my ravenous hunger with
Sore purged hopes, that are not hopes but fears
Clad in white raiment? 

The creeds lie in the hollow of men's hearts
Like festering pools glassing their own corruption; 
The slimy eyes stare up with dull approval, 
And answer not when thy bright starry feet
Move on the watery floors: oh, shake men's souls
Together like the gathering of all oceans
Rent from their hidden chambers, till the waves
Lift up their million voices of high joy
Along the echoing cliffs! come thus, O Lord, 
With nightly gifts of stars, and lay a hand
Of mighty peace upon the quivering flood. 

O wilt thou hear me when I cry to thee? 
I am a child lost in a mighty forest; 
The air is thick with voices, and strange hands
Reach through the dusk, and pluck me by the skirts. 
There is a voice which sounds like words from home, 
But, as I stumble on to reach it, seems
To leap from rock to rock: oh, if it is
Willing obliquity of sense, descend, 
Heal all my wanderings, take me by the hand, 
And lead me homeward through the shadows. 
Let me not by my wilful acts of pride
Block up the windows of thy truth, and grow
A wasted, withered thing, that stumbles on
Down to the grave with folded hands of sloth
And leaden confidence.

George MacDonald :