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.

Nothing is so gloomy as it seems

Not far from our house is a picturesque little church, which you see photographed above. It was the sight of this, on just such a cloudy day, that led to this poem, and I worked on it sporadically from November to June.