Born: April 13, 1824, Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Died: September 12, 1911, Devon, England.
Buried: City Cemetery, Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
William was the son of Robert Alexander, prebendary of Aghadowey, Northern Ireland.
He was educated at Tunbridge School, and at Exeter College and Brasenose College, Oxford, graduating with classical honors in 1847.
Entering holy orders, he was successively rector of Camus-Juxta-Morne, Strabane, County Tyrone; dean of Emly (1864); and bishop of Derry and Raphoe (1867).
Alexander was select preacher at Oxford (1870–72 & 1882), Cambridge (1872–92), and Dublin (1879). He was also Bampton Lecturer in 1876.
Alexander’s poetry appeared in The Dublin University Magazine, The Spectator, Good Words, Lyra Britannica, and Lyra Anglicana.
He wrote two Oxford Prize poems, The Death of Jacob and The Waters of Babylon, and was appointed to recite the congratulatory ode to Lord Derby on his installation as chancellor in the Sheldonian Theater in 1852.
O Wonderful! round whose birth hour
Prophetic song, miraculous power,
Cluster and burn, like star and flower.
Those marvelous rays that at Thy will,
From the closed Heaven which is so still,
So passionless, streamed round Thee still,
Are but as broken lights that start,
O Light of light, from Thy deep heart;
Thyself, Thyself, the wonder art!
O Counselor! four thousand years,
One question tremulous with tears,
One awful question vexed our peers.
They asked the vault, but no one spoke;
They asked the depth: no answer woke;
They asked their hearts that only broke.
They looked, and sometimes on the height
Far off they saw a haze of white,
That was a storm, but looked like light.
The secret of the years is read,
The enigma of the quick and dead,
By the Child voice interpreted.
O everlasting Father, God!
Sun after sun went down, and trod
Race after race the green earth’s sod,
Till generations seemed to be
But dead waves of an endless sea,
But dead leaves of a deathless tree.
But Thou hast come, and now we know
Each wave hath an eternal flow,
Each leaf a lifetime after snow.
O Prince of Peace!
Crowned and discrowned,
They say no war nor battle’s sound
Was heard the tired world around.
They say the hour that Thou didst come,
The trumpet’s voice was stricken dumb,
And no one beat the battle drum.
Yea, still as life to them that mark
Its poor adventure, seems a bark
Whose track is pale, whose sail is dark:
Thou, who art wonderful, dost fling
One ray, till, like the sea-bird’s wing,
The canvas is a snowy thing—
Till the dark boat is turned to gold,
And all the great green ocean rolled
With anthems that are new and old,
With noble path of luminous ray
From the boat slanting all the way
To the Island of undying day.
And still as clouding questions swarm
Around our hearts, and dimly form
Their problems of the mist and storm:
As fleeting years seem poorly fraught
With broken words, wherefrom is wrought
Nathless of love the loveliest thought,
Mere meaningless syllables chance met,
Though in one perfect poem yet
Uninterrupted to be set;
And when not yet in God’s sunshine,
The smoke drifts from the embattled line
And shows the Captain’s full design;
We bid our doubts and passions cease,
Our restless fears be stilled with these—
Counselor, Father, Prince of Peace!
St. Augustine’s Holiday, 1886