Alchemy in Heaven’s Architrave

In honor of the first real glimpse of the beautiful herald Snow, I wanted to share one of my favorite poems by Walter Leslie Wilmhurst, of which I believe to be the very pinnacle in describing our white guest, who brings both joy and toil.

SNOWFLAKES downfloating from the void
  Upon my face,
Spilth of the silent alchemy employed
  In deeps of space
Where viewless everlasting fingers ply
The power whose secret is the mystery
  That doth my world encase;
Power that with equal ease outshakes
  Yon architrave
Of massy stars in heaven and these frail flakes
  Earth’s floor that pave;
Swings the flamed orbs with infinite time for dower
And strews these velvet jewels not an hour
  Of sunshine that will brave;
Yet of whose clustered crystals none
  But speaks the act
Of the hand that steers each ceaseless-wheeling sun
  And to whose tact
Fire-wreath and spangled ice alike respond;
Thoughts from the void frozen to flower and frond,
  Divinely all compact;
Snowflakes, of pureness unalloyed,
  That in dark space
Are built, and spilt from out the teeming void
  With prodigal grace,
Air-quarried temples though you fall scarce-felt
And all your delicate architecture melt
  To tears upon my face,—
I too am such encrystalled breath
  In the void planned
And bodied forth to surge of life and death;
  And as I stand
Beneath this sacramental spilth of snow,
Crumbling, you whisper: ‘Fear thou not to go
  Back to the viewless hand;
‘Thence to be moulded forth again
  Through time and space
Till thy imperishable self attain
  Such strength and grace
Through endless infinite refinement passed
By the eternal Alchemist that at last
  Thou see Him face to face.’

I applaud you if you actually read the poem published in the Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse (1917), and didn’t skip ahead to this sentence.  If you did, how dare you! Go back and read it.  This lyric is definitely worth digging into with its intense, difficult language and metaphysical intent.  It reveals much that we take for granted on a daily basis, a simple example being the architecture of each flake of snow which falls from the airy spheres.

I love to think on the possibility that this poem presents:  that all snowflakes are not only built, but designed.  Designed how?  With prodigal grace… though I believe that no grace is prodigal. I think the point coming across is that it is so extravagant, so luxurious to think upon that each flake among trillions could be lovingly designed and created that it seems almost wasteful, especially considering the fact we never even notice it.

And then this beautiful lyric: “Air-quarried temples though you fall scarce-felt And all your delicate architecture melt To tears upon my face”  What a waste! …or is it?  Could the universe and all things, no matter how seemingly insignificant, really be that special?

Finally he exhorts us to relate this to ourselves, to our divine architecture, and the knowledge that we will melt as tears one day, be that soon or later.  And I agree that we must Fear not! though I differ slightly in his explanation in the penultimate line.  I hearken to the inferences of Kierkegaard in The Sickness unto Death when I say that the imperishable self will not see the eternal Alchemist face to face through endless infinite refinement, but through the strength, grace, and refinement of Another, who was equally white as snow.

Snow has begun in earnest, finally.  Its beauty, if not unmatched, is at least truly incomparable.  This wondrous habitué is a blessing in this season of winter, though when coming with its natural companion — wind, can be a blessed beast with teeth.

Watch with care, but watch!


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