The Phantom Chapel


THE night-breeze puffed our sail, as through
The shadowy strait we steered ; and soon
Along the flashing lake we flew,
Upon the white wake of the moon.
Betwixt the islands and the shore,
From cape to cape, we still pursued
Her sparkling keel, which sped before,
Like hopes that, laughing, still elude.
The mild night’s universal smile
Touched sheltered cove and glistening leaf;
Each shadow-girt and wooded isle
Shook in the wind its silvered sheaf.
By day a flower, by night a bud,
Her pure soul rocked in dreamy calms,
The lily slept upon the flood
Her nun-like sleep, with folded palms.
From cove to cove, from cape to cape,
We chased the hurrying moon, —when, lo !
In yonder glen, what gleaming shape
Behind the trees uprises slow?
Between the upland and the wood,
Half hid by elms that fringed the shore,
The semblance of a chapel stood
Where never chapel stood before.
All still and fair, in misty air,
The lovely miracle upsprings,
As if some great white angel there,
Just lighted, stooped with half-shut wings.
Locked in the lonely vale, aloof
From men, the Gothic wonder rose:
On pallid pinnacle and roof
The quiet moonlight shed its snows.
From the dim pile, across the gray,
Uncertain landscape, faintly came,
Through pictured panes, a stainéd ray,
Red from some martyr’s shirt of flame.
And, listening ever, we could trace
The strains of a mysterious hymn,
Divinely cadenced, like the praise
Of far-off quiring seraphim.
The winds were hushed : a holy calm
Filled all the night : it seemed as if
The spirit of that solemn psalm
Had charmed the waves that rocked our skiff.
The winds were hushed, our hearts were bowed
In silent awe, when on the night
Rose dark and slow a wingéd cloud,
And swept the marvel from our sight.
But, homeward voyaging, we seemed
Like souls that leave a land enchanted,
And all night long in memory gleamed
That moonlit valley wonder-haunted.


Upon the morrow, to explore
At dawn the mystery of the night,
We pushed once more our boat from shore,
Through whispering flags and lilies white.
Along the widening strait we steered,
Past windy cape and sheltered cove :
The cape we cleared, the vale we neared,
There sloped the upland, flushed the grove ;
And, where the church had stood, behold !
The latticed wing and pointed gable
And well-sweep of a farm-house old,
Turret and vane on barn and stable !
There at their work the housemaids sung
The songs that had entranced the night ;
The farm-boy’s magic lantern hung,
A pumpkin, in the morning-light !
Thereat we murmured : “ Wherefore pray
For perfect knowledge? Better far
Than the sure insight of the day
The moonlight’s soft illusions are.
“ The moon is full of fairy dreams :
She pours them from her pensive horn,
And buildeth with her silver beams
Fabrics too frail to meet the morn.
“So fade the airy hopes of youth,
And Love’s young promise disappears
Before the morning gray of Truth,
The unsparing light of later years.
“ So perish manhood’s pillared schemes ;
And in the dawning of that day
That wakes us from this world of dreams,
Even church and faith may fade away.”
But one said, “ Nay, though we may miss
The cherished, changeful veil of things,
Within illusion’s chrysalis
The shrouded Truth hides shining wings.
“ Though we may miss the pearl and gold,
And heaven be other than we deem,
Doubt not the future will unfold
To something better than our dream.
“ Last evening’s bud laughs on the flood,
A perfect flower of purest white ;
And life is but a folded bud
That still awaits the Morning Light.”
Even while we spoke, a sweeter charm
Than ever night and moonlight knew
Breathed over all the breezy farm,
And lurked in shade and shone in dew.
Freshness of life and pure delight
In earth and air, in sight and sound,
Displaced the fancies of the night,
And better than we sought we found.
The farm-house, fairer in the glance
Of dawn than in its moonlight vest,
Lay clasped in airs of sweet romance
And tender human interest.
Along the dazzling waves the glory
Of the full summer morning blazed;
From the sun-fronting promontory
The crescent-crownéd cattle gazed.
The wild crows cawed; on great slow wings
Up soared the heron from the brake ;
The pickerel leaped in rippling rings ;
The supple swallow skimmed the lake.
O’er all, its roof the blue above,
Its floor the common daily sod,
Walled round with light, upheld by Love,
Arose the living Church of God.
J. T. Trowbridge.