Tabb’s Poetry XXXI

The Shell

Silence—a deeper sea—
   Now sunders thee
Save from the primal tone—
   Thy mother’s moan.

Within her waves, hadst thou
   No voice as now;
A life of exile long
   Hath taught thee song. 

Visible Sound

Aye, have we not felt it and known,
Ere Science proclaimed it her own,
That form is but visible tone?

Behold, where in silence was drowned
The last fleeting echo of sound,
The rainbow—its blossom—is found;

While anon, with a verdurous sweep
From the mountain-side, wooded and steep,
Swells the chorus of deep unto deep,

That the trumpet flowers, flame-flashing, blow
Till the lilies enkindled below
Swoon pale into passion, like snow!

Yea, Love, of sweet Nature the Lord,
Hath fashioned each manifold chord
To utter His visible Word,

Whose work, wheresoever begun,
Like the rays floating back to the Sun,
In the soul of all beauty is one. 

The Chord

In this narrow cloister bound
Dwells a Sisterhood of Sound,
Far from alien voices rude
As in secret solitude
Unisons, that yearned apart,
Here, in harmony of heart,
Blend divided sympathies,
And in choral strength arise,
Like the cloven tongues of fire,
One in heavenly desire. 

The Lute-Player

He touched the strings; & lo, the strain—
   As waters dimple to the rain—
Spontaneous rose and fell again.

In swaddling clothes of silence bound,
   His genius a soul had found,
And wakened it to light and sound. 

The Statue

First fashioned in the artist’s brain,
It stood as in the marble vein,
   Revealed to him alone;
Nor could he from its native night
Have led it to the living light,
   Save through the lifeless stone.

E’en so, of Silence and of Sound
A twin-born mystery is found,
   Like as of death and birth;
Without the pause we had not heard
The harmony, nor caught the word
   That Heaven reveals to Earth.

John B. Tabb

For a recitation, click the play button:

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“The Shell”: Later Lyrics, p. 7; Poetry, p. 171. October 1902. The Shell is a seashell whose mother is the sea. Primal means first or earliest.

“Visible Sound”: Poems, p. 42; Poetry, p. 158. 1894. Anon means soon; verdurous means lush and green. Deep unto deep (Latin, abyssus abyssum invocat) is a phrase from the Psalms. In the Latin Vulgate and the English Douay-Rheims versions, both of which Father Tabb would have used, the phrase comes from Psalm 41:8. In most other Bibles, it is enumerated as Psalm 42:7.

“The Chord”: Poems, p. 40; Poetry, p. 149. 1894. A chord in music is a group of notes as the basis of harmony; Father Tabb was a gifted pianist. A cloister is a place of religious seclusion, especially a convent or monastery, or some enclosed area in either. The concluding simile alludes to Pentecost, as recounted in Acts 2:1-4, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Lord’s disciples, appearing as tongues of fire.

“The Lute-Player”: Later Poems, p. 46; Poetry, p. 187. July 1907. Swaddling clothes are those used to clothe a newborn infant.

“The Statue”: Lyrics, p. 14; Poetry, p. 169. May 1893.

A convert to the Catholic faith, Rev. John Banister Tabb (1845-1909) was a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, and Professor of English at St. Charles’ College, Ellicott City, Maryland. Poems selected, arranged, and annotated by E.L. Core.
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