“The Seen and the Unseen” by “Ernest Helfenstein”

by Ann Neilson

The Seen and the Unseen
Ernest Helfenstein (Elizabeth Oakes Smith)
From The Mayflower, 1847, ed. Elizabeth Oakes Smith

‘As in a glass darkly.’ St. Paul.*

WE pass along with careless tread,
Where vine and buds are springing;
We smile for all above our head,
Are light and gladness ringing,
Unconscious that beneath our feet,
The lava flood is leaping,
That in the pleasant summer heat,
The lightning flash is sleeping:

And human eyes each other meet,
With meanings sealed forever,
And loving lips each other greet,
Their tale revealed, ah! never—
And smiles, cold beaming smiles go round,
The breaking heart concealing,
And temples are with garlands crowned,
Nor they their throbs revealing.

I too, for seeming must be mine,
With careless words shall greet thee,
Although the slightest tone of thine,
Like music will entreat me—
And I shall coldly meet thine hand,
‘T is thus the world is going,
Like mocking effigies we stand,
No one his neighbor knowing.

Ah! better thus than each should know
His brother’s heart-felt grieving,
For who could bide the sight of we,
Which bears of no relieving;
And who could list the mournful tone,
From every heart up-swelling,
Where hopes are dying one by one,
And hear their death-dirge knelling.

Oh! should a sickness of the heart,
A weariness come o’er thee,
Would that these lines might peace impart,
Might unto joy restore thee.
And thou, with dreamy half-closed eyes,
Would’st o’er the missive ponder,
While floating faintly should arise
A form of light and wonder.

Oh then bethink, that there is one,
Though none the secret readeath,
Whose soul forever and alone,
For thee in secret pleadeth;
Who trembles when thy name is heard,
Yet meekly would be dreaming,
That had we dared to breathe one word,
Thy coldness had been seeming.

*[Note: 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.“]