On the stony streets I stood
On the rink of Aalder’s icy stream
On the rim of Aalder’s graying wood,
And watched the church up on the rise
Whose sight had filled my latest dreams.
They say the building looks its best
When the common clouds are barely sailing
When the creeping coldness brings its test.
It grows, seems nearer to our eyes
Beside the timber’s ashen paling.
When the town was small and bare,
The sometime men of Aalder laid its base
They hewed its stones to build its stony stair;
They cast the spire-bells, whose cries
Have tolled of joy and death’s embrace.
Who taught those men? You well may ask,
And how they learned to build so strong and tall;
But it’s sure their powers surpassed their task
For though each neighboring building dies
The church on the hill refuses to fall.
Newer steeples down below
Now long since have sprung up to supplant,
And the elder all but overthrow;
Though its halls were old and wise
Angels elsewhere more are visitant.
To tear it down I once took thought
To ruin what for years in ruin stood,
Killing hope where hope and aid was sought;
As heavy words in heaven’s guise
Dimmed our eyes to grace and good.
Then I remembered Ahab’s whale
And how such foes are better left alone,
How woe on woe is heaped in all such tales;
Sorrows came never in single spies
For men with vengeance in their bones.
So I, like others, left its doors;
Now I sing and bear a better load,
Feeling yet the bruise of older sores
When once we leave, we realize
That life is more than they forebode.
Once a fount of song and tears
As a few of us remember still
Though wasted now it stands by waning years
As stone from stone the ivy pries
So goes the church up on the hill.