CHAPTER XV. THE MYSTICS
The organ rolls through them as solemnly as ever it did in the Abbey Church; but in mediaeval art so much more depends on the mass than on the measure - on the dignity than on the detail - that equivalents are impossible. Even Walter Scott was content to translate only three verses of the "Dies Irae." At best, Viollet-le-Duc could reproduce only a sort of modern Gothic; a more or less effaced or affected echo of a lost emotion which the world never felt but once and never could feel again. Adam composed a number of hymns to the Virgin, and, in them all, the feeling counts for more, by far, than the sense. Supposing we choose the simplest and try to give it a modern version, aiming to show, by comparison, the difference of sound; one can perhaps manage to recover a little of the simplicity, but give it the grand style one cannot; or, at least, if any one has ever done both, it is Walter Scott, and merely by placing side by side the "Dies Irae" and his translation of it, one can see at a glance where he was obliged to sacrifice simplicity only to obtain sound: -
Dies irae, dies illa,
Solvet seclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando judex est venturus,
Cuncta stride discussurus!
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.
That day of wrath, that dreadful day,
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
What power shall be the sinner's stay?
How shall he meet that dreadful day?
When shrivelling like a parched scroll
The flaming heavens together roll;
When louder yet and yet more dread
Swells the high trump that wakes the dead.
As translation the last line is artificial.
The "Dies Irae" does not belong, in spirit, to the twelfth century; it is sombre and gloomy like the Last Judgments on the thirteenth- century portals; it does not love. Adam loved. His verses express the Virgin; they are graceful, tender, fervent, and they hold the same dignity which cannot be translated: -
In hac valle lacrimarum
Nihil dulce, nihil carum,
Suspecta sunt omnia;
Quid hic nobis erit tutum,
Cum nec ipsa vel virtutum
Tuta sit victoria!
Caro nobis adversatur,
Mundus cami suffragatur
In nostram perniciem;
Hostis instat, nos infestans,
Nunc se palam manifestans,
Nunc occultans rabiem.
Et peccamus et punimur,
Et diversis irretimur
O Maria, mater Dei,
Tu, post Deum, summa spei,
Tu dulce refugium;
Tot et tantis irretiti,
Non valemus his reniti
Ne vi nec industria;
Mortis rompe retia!
In this valley full of tears,
Nothing softens, nothing cheers,
All is suspected lure;
What safety can we hope for, here,
When even virtue faints for fear
Her victory be not sure!
Within, the flesh a traitor is,
Without, the world encompasses,
A deadly wound to bring.
The foe is greedy for our spoils,
Now clasping us within his coils,
Or hiding now his sting.
We sin, and penalty must pay,
And we are caught, like beasts of prey,
Within the hunter's snares.
Nearest to God! oh Mary Mother!
Hope can reach us from none other,
Sweet refuge from our cares;
We have no strength to struggle longer,
For our bonds are more and stronger
Than our hearts can bear!
You who rest the heavy-laden,
You who lead lost souls to Heaven,
Burst the hunter's snare!
The art of this poetry of love and hope, which marked the mystics, lay of course in the background of shadows which marked the cloister. "Inter vania nihil vanius est homine." Man is an imperceptible atom always trying to become one with God. If ever modern science achieves a definition of energy, possibly it may borrow the figure: Energy is the inherent effort of every multiplicity to become unity. Adam's poetry was an expression of the effort to reach absorption through love, not through fear; but to do this thoroughly he had to make real to himself his own nothingness; most of all, to annihilate pride; for the loftiest soul can comprehend that an atom, - say, of hydrogen, - which is proud of its personality, will never merge in a molecule of water. The familiar verse: "Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?" echoes Adam's epitaph to this day: -
Haeres peccati, natura filius irae,
Exiliique reus nascitur omnis homo.
Unde superbit homo, cujus conceptio culpa,
Nasci poena, labor vita, necesse mori?
Heir of sin, by nature son of wrath,
Condemned to exile, every man is born.
Whence is man's pride, whose conception fault,
Birth pain, life labour, and whose death is sure?
Four concluding lines, not by him, express him even better: -