Achsa White Sprague

Nov. 17, 1827 - Jul. 6, 1862


The Ruined Church

by Achsa White Sprague

It was a sadder sight than one would think,
To see that ruined church upon the hill,
Deserted, dreary, lone and desolate;
But then its spire would point to heaven still.
Like standard-bearer wounded in the fight,
Who, with his last remaining strength, upholds
His nation's banner; so this dying church,
In its last hours, seemed bent on saving souls.

'Twas sad to see the windows broken through;
But then they let God's air and sunshine in:
The church, once closed to keep all errors out,
Now seemed as if it prayed more light to win.
And early spring-birds entered fearless there,
Within the church-pale unconverted came,
And built their nests within the pulpit's shade,
And never dreamed there could be any blame.

The door stood open; all might enter in,
Jew, Christian, Heathen, Mussulman, the same;
As if, progressing even in decay,
It held no creed that fashioned faith or name.
The pews were broken, doors had fallen off,
The seats torn up, the plaster paved the aisles,
Strange names were written on the crumbling walls,
And rubbish, panels, dust, lay heaped in piles.

I wondered if the ancient fathers slept
In peace, within the churchyard just away,
While this, their pride, their consecrated dome,
So all unheeded crumbled to decay;
And more, if creeds escape while churches fall,
If they've no broken doors and windows, too,
By time's or progress' hand, -- through which the light
Of higher truths comes brightly streaming through.

I climbed with fear the staircase weak and old,
That tottered like a ship by tempest driven,
Ald wondered if the saints had feared as much,
When through its creed they groped their way to heaven;
And stood within the galleries that ran
From end to end, and bent and gazed below
With heart that trembled like the saints of old,
Lest all should crumble, and I sink to woe.

And, as I gazed, and thought how sad that now
No feet of worshippers its old aisles trod, --
Alike forsaken by its builder, man,
And him to whom they gave, its owner, God;
I heard the voice of children in their mirth,
A group of little faces gathered there,
All unbaptized, some fresh from God's own hand,
Who played and sported where they knelt in prayer.

The scene grew dim; my eyes were full of tears:
Why ask for saints from those old days gone by,
When here come those with morning on their cheeks,
And heaven's own blue just prismed in their eye?
Those sunny curls an angel well might wear,
Those guileless hearts an angel's well might be.
No prayer that came from kneeling homage there,
Had half such music as their tones to me.

No sermon like their joyous, happy face,
Their trust in all that comes, and is to come;
Their perfect love and absence of all doubt,
Strike sceptic, priest, and pope, alike as dumb.
And who shall say they are not nearer Heaven,
Than those old saints with all their change of heart,
These, fresh from God, just wandered out of heaven,
Those, travelling back with theologic art?

I lingered till the human angels passed, --
Until the sun was growing faint and dim,
When, soft and sweet, amid the stillness there,
The birds -- Heaven's choir -- began their vesper hymn;
And while I listened to their Te Deum,
That made the ruin with its echo ring,
I said, Not half so sweet the anthems loud,
That many souls in dim cathedrals sing!

And while this spire keeps pointing unto Heaven,
And while the birds will build their nests and sing,
And while the sunny, blue-eyed children play,
A strange, rich beauty to these ruins cling;
And I would rather wander there alone,
Though by no worshipper its aisles are trod,
To give my soul's deep homage unto God.


The Poet And Other Poems.
Copyright 1864
Boston: William White And Co.,
158 Washington Street.