Title: Lollingdon Downs, and Other Poems, with Sonnets
Author: John Masefield
Release date: December 9, 2018 [eBook #58435]
Credits: Produced by Al Haines
AND OTHER POEMS, WITH SONNETS
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Uniform with this Volume
THE DAFFODIL FIELDS
PHILIP THE KING
THE FAITHFUL (A PLAY)
LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
AND OTHER POEMS, WITH SONNETS
LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN. 1917.
So I have known this life,
These beads of coloured days,
This self the string.
What is this thing?
Not beauty, no; not greed,
O, not indeed;
Not all, though much;
Its colour is not such.
It has no eyes to see,
It has no ears;
It is a red hour's war
Followed by tears.
It is an hour of time,
An hour of road,
Flesh is its goad;
Yet, in the sorrowing lands,
Women and men take hands.
O earth, give us the corn,
Come rain, come sun;
We men who have been born
Have tasks undone.
Out of this earth
Comes the thing birth,
The thing unguessed, unwon.
O wretched man, that for a little mile
Crawls beneath heaven for his brother's blood,
Whose days the planets number with their style,
To whom all earth is slave, all living, food!
O withering man, within whose folded shell
Lies yet the seed, the spirit's quickening corn,
That Time and Sun will change out of the cell
Into green meadows, in the world unborn!
If Beauty be a dream, do but resolve
And fire shall come, that in the stubborn clay
Works to make perfect till the rocks dissolve,
The barriers burst, and Beauty takes her way:
Beauty herself, within whose blossoming Spring
Even wretched man shall clap his hands and sing.
Out of the special cell's most special sense
Came the suggestion when the light was sweet;
All skill, all beauty, all magnificence,
Are hints so caught, man's glimpse of the complete.
And, though the body rots, that sense survives;
Being of life's own essence, it endures
(Fruit of the spirit's tillage in men's lives)
Round all this ghost that wandering flesh immures.
That is our friend, who, when the iron brain
Assails, or the earth clogs, or the sun hides,
Is the good God to whom none calls in vain,
Man's Achieved Good, which, being Life, abides:
The man-made God, that man in happy breath
Makes in despite of Time and dusty Death.
You are the link which binds us each to each.
Passion, or too much thought, alone can end
Beauty, the ghost, the spirit's common speech,
Which man's red longing left us for our friend.
Even in the blinding war I have known this,
That flesh is but the carrier of a ghost
Who, through his longing, touches that which is
Even as the sailor knows the foreign coast.
So by the bedside of the dying black
I felt our uncouth souls subtly made one:
Forgiven, the meanness of each other's lack;
Forgiven, the petty tale of ill things done.
We were but Man, who for a tale of days
Seeks the one city by a million ways.
I could not sleep for thinking of the sky,
The unending sky, with all its million suns
Which turn their planets everlastingly
In nothing, where the fire-haired comet runs.
If I could sail that nothing, I should cross
Silence and emptiness with dark stars passing;
Then, in the darkness, see a point of gloss
Burn to a glow, and glare, and keep amassing,
And rage into a sun with wandering planets,
And drop behind; and then, as I proceed,
See his last light upon his last moon's granites
Die to a dark that would be night indeed:
Night where my soul might sail a million years
In nothing, not even Death, not even tears.
How did the nothing come, how did these fires,
These million-leagues of fires, first toss their hair,
Licking the moons from heaven in their ires,
Flinging them forth for them to wander there?
What was the Mind? Was it a mind which thought?
Or chance? or law? or conscious law? or power?
Or a vast balance by vast clashes wrought?
Or Time at trial with Matter for an hour?
Or is it all a body where the cells
Are living things supporting something strange,
Whose mighty heart the singing planet swells
As it shoulders nothing in unending change?
Is this green earth of many-peopled pain
Part of a life, a cell within a brain?
It may be so; but let the unknown be.
We, on this earth, are servants of the sun:
Out of the sun comes all the quick in me,
His golden touch is life to everyone.
His power it is that makes us spin through space;
His youth is April and his manhood bread;
Beauty is but a looking on his face;
He clears the mind, he makes the roses red.
What he may be, who knows? But we are his;
We roll through nothing round him, year by year,
The withering leaves upon a tree which is,
Each with his greed, his little power, his fear,
What we may be, who knows? But every one
Is dust on dust a servant of the sun.
The Kings go by with jewelled crowns;
Their horses gleam, their banners shake, their spears are many.
The sack of many-peopled towns
Is all their dream;
The way they take
Leaves but a ruin in the brake,
And, in the furrow that the ploughmen make,
A stampless penny: a tale, a dream.
The merchants reckon up their gold;
Their letters come, their ships arrive, their freights are glories;
The profits of their treasures sold
They tell and sum;
Their foremen drive
The servants starved to half-alive,
Whose labours do but make the earth a hive
Of stinking stories: a tale, a dream.
The priests are singing in their stalls;
Their singing lifts, their incense burns, their praying clamours;
Yet God is as the sparrow falls;
The ivy drifts,
The votive urns
Are all left void when Fortune turns;
The god is but a marble for the kerns
To break with hammers: a tale, a dream.
O Beauty, let me know again
The green earth cold, the April rain, the quiet waters figuring sky,
The one star risen.
So shall I pass into the feast
Not touched by King, merchant, or priest;
Know the red spirit of the beast,
Be the green grain;
Escape from prison.
What is this life which uses living cells
It knows not how nor why, for no known end,
This soul of man upon whose fragile shells
Of blood and brain his very powers depend?
Pour out its little blood or touch its brain,
The thing is helpless, gone, no longer known;
The carrion cells are never man again,
No hand relights the little candle blown.
It comes not from Without, but from the sperm
Fed in the womb; it is a man-made thing
That takes from man its power to live a term,
Served by live cells of which it is the King.
Can it be blood and brain? It is most great.
Through blood and brain alone it wrestles Fate.
Can it be blood and brain, this transient force
Which, by an impulse, seizes flesh and grows
To man, the thing less splendid than the horse,
More blind than owls, less lovely than the rose?
O, by a power unknown it works the cells
Of blood and brain; it has the power to see
Beyond the apparent thing the something else
Which it inspires dust to bring to be.
Both blood and brain are its imperfect tools,
Easily wrecked, soon worn, slow to attain;
Only by years of toil the master rules
To lovely ends those servants, blood and brain.
And Death, a touch, a germ, has still the force
To make him ev'n as the rose, the owl, the horse.
Not only blood and brain its servants are;
There is a finer power that needs no slaves,
Whose lovely service distance cannot bar,
Nor the green sea with all her hell of waves;
Nor snowy mountains, nor the desert sand,
Nor heat, nor storm, it bends to no control;
It is a stretching of the spirit's hand
To touch the brother's or the sister's soul;
So that from darkness in the narrow room
I can step forth and be about her heart,
Needing no star, no lantern in the gloom,
No word from her, no pointing on the chart,
Only red knowledge of a window flung
Wide to the night, and calling without tongue.
Drop me the seed, that I even in my brain
May be its nourishing earth. No mortal knows
From what immortal granary comes the grain,
Nor how the earth conspires to make the rose;
But from the dust and from the wetted mud
Comes help, given or taken; so with me,
Deep in my brain the essence of my blood
Shall give it stature until Beauty be.
It will look down, even as the burning flower
Smiles upon June, long after I am gone.
Dust-footed Time will never tell its hour,
Through dusty Time its rose will draw men on,
Through dusty Time its beauty will make plain
Man, and, Without, a spirit-scattering grain.
Ah, but Without there is no spirit scattering;
Nothing but Life, most fertile but unwise,
Passing through change in the sun's heat and cloud's watering,
Pregnant with self, unlit by inner eyes.
There is no sower, nor seed for any tillage;
Nothing but the grey brain's pash, and the tense will,
And that poor fool of the Being's little village
Feeling for the truth in the little veins that thrill.
There is no Sowing, but digging, year by year,
In a hill's heart, now one way, now another,
Till the rock breaks and the valley is made clear,
And the poor Fool stands, and knows the sun for his brother,
And the Soul shakes wings like a bird escaped from cage,
And the tribe moves on to camp in its heritage.
You are too beautiful for mortal eyes,
You the divine unapprehended soul;
The red worm in the marrow of the wise
Stirs as you pass, but never sees you whole.
Even as the watcher in the midnight tower
Knows from a change in heaven an unseen star,
So from your beauty, so from the summer flower,
So from the light, one guesses what you are.
So in the darkness does the traveller come
To some lit chink, through which he cannot see,
More than a light, nor hear, more than a hum,
Of the great hall where Kings in council be.
So, in the grave, the red and mouthless worm
Knows of the soul that held his body firm.
Is it a sea on which the souls embark
Out of the body, as men put to sea?
Or do we come like candles in the dark
In the rooms in cities in eternity?
Is it a darkness that our powers can light?
Is this, our little lantern of man's love,
A help to find friends wandering in the night
In the unknown country with no star above?
Or is it sleep, unknowing, outlasting clocks
That outlast men, that, though the cockcrow ring,
Is but one peace, of the substance of the rocks;
Is but one space in the now unquickened thing;
Is but one joy, that, though the million tire,
Is one, always the same, one life, one fire?
Before Man's labouring wisdom gave me birth
I had not even seen the light of day;
Down in the central darkness of the earth,
Crushed by the weight of continents I lay,
Ground by the weight to heat, not knowing then
The air, the light, the noise, the world of men.
We grew on mountains where the glaciers cry,
Infinite sombre armies of us stood
Below the snow-peaks which defy the sky;
A song like the gods moaning filled our wood;
We knew no men; our life was to stand stanch,
Singing our song, against the avalanche.
THE HEMP AND FLAX.
We were a million grasses on the hill,
A million herbs which bowed as the wind blew,
Trembling in every fibre, never still;
Out of the summer earth sweet life we drew.
Little blue-flowered grasses up the glen,
Glad of the sun, what did we know of men?
We tore the iron from the mountain's hold,
By blasting fires we smithied it to steel;
Out of the shapeless stone we learned to mould
The sweeping bow, the rectilinear keel;
We hewed the pine to plank, we split the fir,
We pulled the myriad flax to fashion her.
Out of a million lives our knowledge came,
A million subtle craftsmen forged the means;
Steam was our handmaid, and our servant flame,
Water our strength, all bowed to our machines.
Out of the rock, the tree, the springing herb,
We built this wandering beauty so superb.
We, who were born on earth and live by air,
Make this thing pass across the fatal floor,
The speechless sea; alone we commune there,
Jesting with Death, that ever-open door.
Sun, moon, and stars are signs by which we drive
This wind-blown iron like a thing alive.
I march across great waters like a queen,
I whom so many wisdoms helped to make;
Over the uncruddled billows of seas green
I blanch the bubbled highway of my wake.
By me my wandering tenants clasp the hands
And know the thoughts of men in other lands.
The blacksmith in his sparky forge
Beat on the white-hot softness there;
Ever as he beat he sang an air
To keep the sparks out of his gorge.
So many shoes the blacksmith beat,
So many shares and links for traces,
So many builders' struts and braces,
Such tackling for the chain-fore-sheet,
That, in his pride, big words he spake:
"I am the master of my trade;
What iron is good for I have made,
I make what is in iron to make."
Daily he sang thus by his fire,
Till one day, as he poised his stroke
Above his bar, the iron spoke;
"You boaster, drop your hammer, liar!"
The hammer dropped out of his hand,
The iron rose, it gathered shape,
It took the blacksmith by the nape,
It pressed him to the furnace, and
Heaped fire upon him till his form
Was molten, flinging sparks aloft,
Until his bones were melted soft,
His hairs crisped in a fiery storm.
The iron drew him from the blaze
To place him on the anvil; then
It beat him from the shape of men,
Like drugs the apothecary brays;
Beat him to ploughing coulters, beat
Body and blood to links of chain,
With endless hammerings of pain
Unending torment of white heat;
And did not stop the work, but still
Beat on him while the furnace roared.
The blacksmith suffered and implored,
With iron bonds upon his will.
And, though he could not die nor shrink,
He felt his being beat by force
To horseshoes stamped on by the horse,
And into troughs whence cattle drink.
He felt his blood, his dear delight,
Beat into shares, he felt it rive
The green earth red; he was alive,
Dragged through the earth by horses' might.
He felt his brain, that once had planned
His daily life, changed to a chain
Which curbed a sail or dragged a wain,
Or hoisted shiploads to the land.
He felt his heart, that once had thrilled
With love of wife and little ones,
Cut out and mingled with his bones
To pin the bricks where men rebuild.
He felt his very self impelled
To common uses, till he cried:
"There's more within me than is tried,
More than you ever think to weld.
"For all my pain I am only used
To make the props for daily labour;
I burn, I am beaten like a tabour
To make men tools: I am abused.
"Deep in the white heat where I gasp
I see the unmastered finer powers.
Iron by cunning wrought to flowers,
File-worked, not tortured by the rasp.
"Deep in this fire-tortured mind
Thought bends the bar in subtler ways;
It glows into the mass, its rays
Purge, till the iron is refined.
"Then, as the full moon draws the tide
Out of the vague uncaptained sea.
Some moony-power there ought to be
To work on ore; it should be tried.
"By this fierce fire in which I ache
I see new fires not yet begun,
A blacksmith smithying with the sun,
At unmade things man ought to make.
"Life is not fire and blows, but thought,
Attention kindling into joy;
Those who make nothing new destroy:
O me, what evil I have wrought!
"O me!" and as he moaned he saw
His iron master shake; he felt
No blow, nor did the fire melt
His flesh, he was released from law.
He sat upon the anvil top
Dazed, as the iron was dazed; he took
Strength, seeing that the iron shook;
He said: "This cruel time must stop."
He seized the iron and held him fast
With pincers, in the midmost blaze;
A million sparks went million ways,
The cowhorn handle plied the blast.
"Burn, then," he cried; the fire was white,
The iron was whiter than the fire.
The fireblast made the embers twire;
The blacksmith's arm began to smite.
First vengeance for old pain, and then
Beginning hope of better things;
Then swordblades for the sides of Kings
And corselets for the breasts of men;
And crowns and such-like joys and gems,
And stars of honour for the pure,
Jewels of honour to endure,
Beautiful women's diadems;
And coulters, sevenfold-twinned, to rend,
And girders to uphold the tower,
Harness for unimagined power,
New ships to make the billows bend;
And stores of fire-compelling things
By which men dominate and pierce
The iron-imprisoned universe,
Where angels lie with banded wings.
COTTA. LUCIUS. THEIR CHIEF.
COTTA. Would God the route would come for home!
My God! this place, day after day,
A month of heavy march from Rome!
This camp, the troopers' huts of clay,
The horses tugging at their pins,
The roaring brook and then the whins,
And nothing new to do or say!
LUCIUS. They say the tribes are up.
COTTA. Who knows!
LUCIUS. Our scouts say that they saw their fires.
COTTA. Well, if we fight it's only blows
And bogging horses in the mires.
LUCIUS. Their raiders crossed the line last night,
Eastward from this, to raid the stud;
They stole our old chief's stallion, Kite.
He's in pursuit.
COTTA. That looks like blood.
LUCIUS. Well, better that than dicing here
Beside this everlasting stream.
COTTA. My God! I was in Rome last year,
Under the sun; it seems a dream.
LUCIUS. Things are not going well in Rome;
This frontier war is wasting men
Like water, and the Tartars come
COTTA. We beat them back agen.
LUCIUS. So far we have, and yet I feel
The empire is too wide a bow
For one land's strength.
COTTA. The stuff's good steel.
LUCIUS. Too great a strain may snap it, though.
If we were ordered home...
COTTA. Good Lord! ...
LUCIUS. If ... then our friends, the tribesmen there,
Would have glad days.
COTTA. This town would flare
To warm old Foxfoot and his horde.
LUCIUS. We have not been forethoughtful here,
Pressing the men to fill the ranks;
Centurions sweep the province clear.
COTTA. We get no thanks.
LUCIUS. We strip the men for troops abroad,
And leave the women and the slaves
For merchants and their kind. The graves
Of half each province line the road;
These people could not stand a day
Against the tribes, with us away.
COTTA. Here comes the Chief.
LUCIUS. Sir, did your riders catch the thief?
CHIEF. No; he got clear and keeps the horse.
But bad news always comes with worse:
The frontier's fallen, we're recalled,
Our army's broken, Rome's appalled!
My God! the whole world's in a blaze.
So now we've done with idle days,
Fooling on frontiers. Boot and start.
It gives a strange feel in the heart
To think that this, that Rome has made,
Is done with. Yes, the stock's decayed.
We march at once. You mark my words:
We're done, we're crumbled into sherds;
We shall not see this place again
When once we go.
LUCIUS. Do none remain?
CHIEF. No, none; all march. Here ends the play.
March, and burn camp. The order's gone;
Your men have sent your baggage on.
COTTA. My God! hark how the trumpets bray!
CHIEF. They do. You see the end of things.
The power of a thousand kings
Helped us to this, and now the power
Is so much hay that was a flower.
LUCIUS. We have been very great and strong.
CHIEF. That's over now.
LUCIUS. It will be long
Before the world will see our like.
CHIEF. We've kept these thieves beyond the dyke
A good long time, here on the Wall.
LUCIUS. Colonel, we ought to sound a call
To mark the end of this.
CHIEF. We ought.
Look, there's the hill-top where we fought
Old Foxfoot. Look, there in the whin.
Old ruffian knave! Come on! Fall in!
Night is on the downland, on the lonely moorland,
On the hills where the wind goes over sheep-bitten turf,
Where the bent grass beats upon the unploughed poorland
And the pine-woods roar like the surf.
Here the Roman lived on the wind-barren lonely,
Dark now and haunted by the moorland fowl;
None comes here now but the peewit only,
And moth-like death in the owl.
Beauty was here, on this beetle-droning downland;
The thought of a Cæsar in the purple came
From the palace by the Tiber in the Roman town-land
To this wind-swept hill with no name.
Lonely Beauty came here and was here in sadness,
Brave as a thought on the frontier of the mind,
In the camp of the wild upon the march of madness,
The bright-eyed Queen of the Blind.
Now where Beauty was are the wind-withered gorses,
Moaning like old men in the hill-wind's blast;
The flying sky is dark with running horses,
And the night is full of the past.
The fox came up by Stringer's Pound;
He smelt the south-west warm on the ground,
From west to east a feathery smell
Of blood on the wing-quills tasting well.
A buck's hind-feet thumped on the sod,
The whip-like grass snake went to clod,
The dog-fox put his nose in the air
To taste what food was wandering there.
Under the clover down the hill
A hare in form that knew his will.
Up the hill the warren awake
And the badger showing teeth like a rake.
Down the hill the two twin thorpes
Where the crying night owl waked the corpse,
And the moon on the stilly windows bright
Instead of a dead man's waking light.
The cock on his perch that shook his wing
When the clock struck for the chimes to ring,
A duck that muttered, a rat that ran,
And a horse that stamped, remembering man.
Up on the downs the red-eyed kestrels hover,
Eyeing the grass.
The field-mouse flits like a shadow into cover
As their shadows pass.
Men are burning the gorse on the down's shoulder;
A drift of smoke
Glitters with fire and hangs, and the skies smoulder,
And the lungs choke.
Once the tribe did thus on the downs, on these downs, burning
Men in the frame,
Crying to the gods of the downs till their brains were turning
And the gods came.
And to-day on the downs, in the wind, the hawks, the grasses,
In blood and air,
Something passes me and cries as it passes,
On the chalk downland bare.
No man takes the farm,
Nothing grows there;
The ivy's arm
Strangles the rose there.
Old Farmer Kyrle
Farmed there the last;
He beat his girl
(It's seven years past).
After market it was
He beat his girl;
He liked his glass,
Old Farmer Kyrle.
Old Kyrle's son
Said to his father:
"Now, dad, you ha' done,
I'll kill you rather!
"Stop beating sister,
Or by God I'll kill you!"
Kyrle was full of liquor—
Old Kyrle said: "Will you?"
Kyrle took his cobb'd stick
And beat his daughter;
He said: "I'll teach my chick
As a father oughter."
Young Will, the son,
Heard his sister shriek;
He took his gun
Quick as a streak.
He said: "Now, dad,
Stop, once for all!"
He was a good lad,
Good at kicking the ball.
His father clubbed
The girl on the head.
Young Will upped
And shot him dead.
"Now, sister," said Will,
"I've a-killed father,
As I said I'd kill.
O my love, I'd rather
"A-kill him again
Than see you suffer.
O my little Jane,
Kiss good-bye to your brother.
"I won't see you again,
Nor the cows homing,
Nor the mice in the grain,
Nor the primrose coming,
"Nor the fair, nor folk,
Nor the summer flowers
Growing on the wold,
Nor ought that's ours.
"Not Tib the cat,
Not Stub the mare,
Nor old dog Pat,
"For I'll be hung
In Gloucester prison
When the bell's rung
And the sun's risen."
* * *
They hanged Will
As Will said;
With one thrill
They choked him dead.
Jane walked the wold
Like a grey gander;
All grown old
She would wander.
She died soon:
At full moon,
The brook chatters
As at first;
The farm it waters
No man takes it,
Nothing grows there;
Blood straiks it,
A ghost goes there.
A hundred years ago they quarried for the stone here;
The carts came through the wood by the track still plain;
The drills show in the rock where the blasts were blown here,
They show up dark after rain.
Then the last cart of stone went away through the wood,
To build the great house for some April of a woman,
Till her beauty stood in stone, as her man's thought made it good,
And the dumb rock was made human.
The house still stands, but the April of its glory
Is gone, long since, with the beauty that has gone;
She wandered away west, it is an old sad story:
It is best not talked upon.
And the man has gone, too, but the quarry that he made,
Whenever April comes as it came in old time,
Is a dear delight to the man who loves a maid,
For the primose comes from the lime....
And the blackbird builds below the catkin shaking,
And the sweet white violets are beauty in the blood,
And daffodils are there, and the blackthorn blossom breaking
Is a wild white beauty in bud.
Here the legion halted, here the ranks were broken,
And the men fell out to gather wood;
And the green wood smoked, and bitter words were spoken,
And the trumpets called to food.
And the sentry on the rampart saw the distance dying
In the smoke of distance blue and far,
And heard the curlew calling and the owl replying
As the night came cold with one star;
And thought of home beyond, over moorland, over marshes,
Over hills, over the sea, across the plains, across the pass,
By a bright sea trodden by the ships of Tarshis,
The farm, with cicadæ in the grass.
And thought, as I: "Perhaps, I may be done with living
To-morrow, when we fight. I shall see those souls no more.
O beloved souls, be beloved in forgiving
The deeds and the words that make me sore."
We danced away care till the fiddler's eyes blinked,
And at supper, at midnight, our wine glasses chinked;
Then we danced till the roses that hung round the wall
Were broken red petals that did rise and did fall
To the ever-turning couples of the bright eyed and gay
Singing in the midnight to dance care away.
Then the dancing died out and the carriages came,
And the beauties took their cloaks and the men did the same,
And the wheels crunched the gravel and the lights were turned down,
And the tired beauties dozed through the cold drive to town.
Nan was the belle, and she married her beau,
Who drank, and then beat her, and she died long ago;
And Mary, her sister, is married, and gone
To a tea-planter's lodge, in the plains, in Ceylon.
And Dorothy's sons have been killed out in France,
And May lost her man in the August advance,
And Em the man jilted, and she lives all alone
In the house of this dance which seems burnt in my bone.
Margaret and Susan and Marian and Phyllis,
With red lips laughing and the beauty of lilies,
And the grace of wild-swans and a wonder of bright hair,
Dancing among roses with petals in the air
All, all are gone, and Hetty's little maid
Is so like her mother that it makes me afraid.
And Rosalind's son, whom I passed in the street,
Clinked on the pavement with the spurs on his feet.
Long, long ago, when all the glittering earth
Was heaven itself, when drunkards in the street
Were like mazed kings shaking at giving birth
To acts of war that sickle men like wheat;
When the white clover opened Paradise
And God lived in a cottage up the brook,
Beauty, you lifted up my sleeping eyes
And filled my heart with longing with a look.
And all the day I searched but could not find
The beautiful dark-eyed who touched me there.
Delight in her made trouble in my mind.
She was within all nature, everywhere.
The breath I breathed, the brook, the flower, the grass,
Were her, her word, her beauty, all she was.
Night came again, but now I could not sleep;
The owls were watching in the yew, the mice
Gnawed at the wainscot. The mid dark was deep.
The death-watch knocked the dead man's summons thrice.
The cats upon the pointed housetops peered
About the chimneys, with lit eyes which saw
Things in the darkness, moving, which they feared;
The midnight filled the quiet house with awe.
So, creeping down the stair, I drew the bolt
And passed into the darkness, and I knew
That beauty was brought near by my revolt.
Beauty was in the moonlight, in the dew,
But more within myself, whose venturous tread
Walked the dark house where death-ticks called the dead.
Even after all these years there comes the dream
Of lovelier life than this in some new earth,
In the full summer of that unearthly gleam
Which lights the spirit when the brain gives birth;
Of a perfected I, in happy hours,
Treading above the sea that trembles there,
A path through thickets of immortal flowers
That only grow where sorrows never were;
And, at a turn, of coming face to face
With Beauty's self, that Beauty I have sought
In women's hearts, in friends, in many a place,
In barren hours passed at grips with thought,
Beauty of woman, comrade, earth and sea,
Incarnate thought come face to face with me.
If I could come again to that dear place
Where once I came, where Beauty lived and moved,
Where, by the sea, I saw her face to face,
That soul alive by which the world has loved;
If, as I stood at gaze among the leaves,
She would appear again as once before,
While the red herdsmen gathered up his sheaves
And brimming waters trembled up the shore;
If, as I gazed, her Beauty that was dumb,
In that old time, before I learned to speak,
Would lean to me and revelation come,
Words to the lips and colour to the cheek,
Joy with its searing-iron would burn me wise;
I should know all, all powers, all mysteries.
Here in the self is all that man can know
Of Beauty, all the wonder, all the power,
All the unearthly colour, all the glow,
Here in the self which withers like a flower;
Here in the self which fades as hours pass,
And droops and dies and rots and is forgotten
Sooner, by ages, than the mirroring glass
In which it sees its glory still unrotten.
Here in the flesh, within the flesh, behind,
Swift in the blood and throbbing on the bone,
Beauty herself, the universal mind,
Eternal April wandering alone;
The God, the holy Ghost, the atoning Lord,
Here in the flesh, the never yet explored.
Flesh, I have knocked at many a dusty door,
Gone down full many a windy midnight lane,
Probed in old walls and felt along the floor,
Pressed in blind hope the lighted window-pane.
But useless all, though sometimes when the moon
Was full in heaven and the sea was full,
Along my body's alleys came a tune
Played in the tavern by the Beautiful.
Then for an instant I have felt at point
To find and seize her, whosoe'er she be,
Whether some saint whose glory doth anoint
Those whom she loves, or but a part of me,
Or something that the things not understood
Make for their uses out of flesh and blood.
But all has passed, the tune has died away,
The glamour gone, the glory; is it chance?
Is the unfeeling mud stabbed by a ray
Cast by an unseen splendour's great advance?
Or does the glory gather crumb by crumb
Unseen, within, as coral islands rise,
Till suddenly the apparitions come
Above the surface, looking at the skies?
Or does sweet Beauty dwell in lovely things
Scattering the holy hintings of her name
In women, in dear friends, in flowers, in springs,
In the brook's voice, for us to catch the same?
Or is it we who are Beauty, we who ask?
We by whose gleams the world fulfils its task.
These myriad days, these many thousand hours,
A man's long life, so choked with dusty things,
How little perfect poise with perfect powers,
Joy at the heart and Beauty at the springs.
One hour, or two, or three, in long years scattered
Sparks from a smithy that have fired a thatch,
Are all that life has given and all that mattered;
The rest, all heaving at a moveless latch.
For these, so many years of useless toil,
Despair, endeavour, and again despair,
Sweat, that the base machine may have its oil,
Idle delight to tempt one everywhere.
A life upon the cross. To make amends,
Three flaming memories that the deathbed ends.
There, on the darkened deathbed, dies the brain
That flared three several times in seventy years.
It cannot lift the silly hand again,
Nor speak, nor sing, it neither sees nor hears;
And muffled mourners put it in the ground
And then go home, and in the earth it lies
Too dark for vision and too deep for sound,
The million cells that made a good man wise.
Yet for a few short years an influence stirs,
A sense or wraith or essence of him dead,
Which makes insensate things its ministers
To those beloved, his spirit's daily bread;
Then that, too, fades; in book or deed a spark
Lingers, then that, too, fades; then all is dark.
So in the empty sky the stars appear,
Are bright in heaven marching through the sky,
Spinning their planets, each one to his year,
Tossing their fiery hair until they die;
Then in the tower afar the watcher sees
The sun, that burned, less noble than it was,
Less noble still, until by dim degrees
No spark of him is specklike in his glass.
Then blind and dark in heaven the sun proceeds,
Vast, dead and hideous, knocking on his moons,
Till crashing on his like creation breeds,
Striking such life, a constellation swoons;
From dead things striking fire a new sun springs,
New fire, new life, new planets with new wings.
It may be so with us, that in the dark,
When we have done with time and wander space,
Some meeting of the blind may strike a spark,
And to Death's empty mansion give a grace.
It may be, that the loosened soul may find
Some new delight of living without limbs,
Bodiless joy of flesh-untrammelled mind,
Peace like a sky where starlike spirit swims.
It may be, that the million cells of sense,
Loosed from their seventy years' adhesion, pass
Each to some joy of changed experience,
Weight in the earth or glory in the grass.
It may be, that we cease; we cannot tell.
Even if we cease, life is a miracle.
What am I, Life? A thing of watery salt
Held in cohesion by unresting cells
Which work they know not why, which never halt,
Myself unwitting where their master dwells.
I do not bid them, yet they toil, they spin;
A world which uses me as I use them,
Nor do I know which end or which begin,
Nor which to praise, which pamper, which condemn.
So, like a marvel in a marvel set,
I answer to the vast, as wave by wave
The sea of air goes over, dry or wet,
Or the full moon comes swimming from her cave,
Or the great sun comes north, this myriad I
Tingles, not knowing how, yet wondering why.
If I could get within this changing I,
This ever altering thing which yet persists,
Keeping the features it is reckoned by,
While each component atom breaks or twists,
If, wandering past strange groups of shifting forms,
Cells at their hidden marvels hard at work,
Pale from much toil, or red from sudden storms,
I might attain to where the Rulers lurk.
If, pressing past the guards in those grey gates,
The brains most folded, intertwisted shell,
I might attain to that which alters fates,
The King, the supreme self, the Master Cell;
Then, on Man's earthly peak, I might behold
The unearthly self beyond, unguessed, untold.
What is this atom which contains the whole,
This miracle which needs adjuncts so strange,
This, which imagined God and is the soul,
The steady star persisting amid change?
What waste, that smallness of such power should need
Such clumsy tools so easy to destroy,
Such wasteful servants difficult to feed,
Such indirect dark avenues to joy.
Why, if its business is not mainly earth,
Should it demand such heavy chains to sense?
A heavenly thing demands a swifter birth,
A quicker hand to act intelligence;
An earthly thing were better like the rose,
At peace with clay from which its beauty grows.
Ah, we are neither heaven nor earth, but men;
Something that uses and despises both,
That takes its earth's contentment in the pen,
Then sees the world's injustice and is wroth,
And flinging off youth's happy promise, flies
Up to some breach, despising earthly things,
And, in contempt of hell and heaven, dies
Rather than bear some yoke of priests or kings.
Our joys are not of heaven nor earth, but man's.
A woman's beauty, or a child's delight,
The trembling blood when the discoverer scans
The sought-for world, the guessed-at satellite;
The ringing scene, the stone at point to blush
For unborn men to look at and say "Hush."
Roses are beauty, but I never see
Those blood drops from the burning heart of June
Glowing like thought upon the living tree
Without a pity that they die so soon,
Die into petals, like those roses old,
Those women, who were summer in men's hearts
Before the smile upon the Sphinx was cold
Or sand had hid the Syrian and his arts.
O myriad dust of beauty that lies thick
Under our feet that not a single grain
But stirred and moved in beauty and was quick
For one brief moon and died nor lived again;
But when the moon rose lay upon the grass
Pasture to living beauty, life that was.
Over the church's door they moved a stone,
And there, unguessed, forgotten, mortared up,
Lay the priest's cell where he had lived alone.
There was his ashy hearth, his drinking cup,
There was his window whence he saw the Host,
The God whose beauty quickened bread and wine;
The skeleton of a religion lost,
The ghostless bones of what had been divine.
O many a time the dusty masons come
Knocking their trowels in the stony brain
To cells where perished priests had once a home,
Or where devout brows pressed the window pane,
Watching the thing made God, the God whose bones
Bind underground our soul's foundation stones.
Out of the clouds come torrents, from the earth
Fire and quakings, from the shrieking air
Tempests that harry half the planet's girth.
Death's unseen seeds are scattered everywhere.
Yet in his iron cage the mind of man
Measures and braves the terrors of all these.
The blindest fury and the subtlest plan
He turns, or tames, or shows in their degrees.
Yet in himself are forces of like power,
Untamed, unreckoned; seeds that brain to brain
Pass across oceans bringing thought to flower,
New worlds, new selves, where he can live again
Eternal beauty's everlasting rose
Which casts this world as shadow as it goes.
O little self, within whose smallness lies
All that man was, and is, and will become,
Atom unseen that comprehends the skies
And tells the tracks by which the planets roam;
That, without moving, knows the joys of wings,
The tiger's strength, the eagle's secrecy,
And in the hovel can consort with kings,
Or clothe a God with his own mystery.
O with what darkness do we cloak thy light,
What dusty folly gather thee for food,
Thou who alone art knowledge and delight,
The heavenly bread, the beautiful, the good.
O living self, O God, O morning star,
Give us thy light, forgive us what we are.
I went into the fields, but you were there
Waiting for me, so all the summer flowers
Were only glimpses of your starry powers;
Beautiful and inspired dust they were.
I went down by the waters, and a bird
Sang with your voice in all the unknown tones
Of all that self of you I have not heard,
So that my being felt you to the bones.
I went into the house, and shut the door
To be alone, but you were there with me;
All beauty in a little room may be,
Though the roof lean and muddy be the floor.
Then in my bed I bound my tired eyes
To make a darkness for my weary brain;
But like a presence you were there again,
Being and real, beautiful and wise,
So that I could not sleep, and cried aloud,
"You strange grave thing, what is it you would say?"
The redness of your dear lips dimmed to grey,
The waters ebbed, the moon hid in a cloud.
This is the living thing that cannot stir.
Where the seed chances there it roots and grows,
To suck what makes the lily or the fir
Out of the earth and from the air that blows,
Great power of Will that little thing the seed
Has, all alone in earth, to plan the tree,
And, though the mud oppresses, to succeed
And put out branches where the birds may be.
Then the wind blows it, but the bending boughs
Exult like billows, and their million green
Drink the all-living sunlight in carouse,
Like dainty harts where forest wells are clean,
While it, the central plant, which looks o'er miles,
Draws milk from the earth's breast, and sways, and smiles.
Here, where we stood together, we three men,
Before the war had swept us to the East,
Three thousand miles away, I stand agen
And hear the bells, and breathe, and go to feast.
We trod the same path, to the self-same place,
Yet here I stand, having beheld their graves,
Skyros whose shadows the great seas erase,
And Sedd-el-Bahr that ever more blood craves.
So, since we communed here, our bones have been
Nearer, perhaps, than they again will be.
Earth and the world-wide battle lie between,
Death lies between, and friend-destroying sea.
Yet here, a year ago, we talked and stood
As I stand now, with pulses beating blood.
I saw her like a shadow on the sky
In the last light, a blur upon the sea;
Then the gale's darkness put the shadow by.
But from one grave that island talked to me;
And in the midnight, in the breaking storm,
I saw its blackness and a blinding light,
And thought "So death obscures your gentle form,
So memory strives to make the darkness bright;
And, in that heap of rocks, your body lies,
Part of the island till the planet ends,
My gentle comrade, beautiful and wise,
Part of this crag this bitter surge offends,
While I, who pass, a little obscure thing,
War with this force, and breathe, and am its king."
Look at the grass, sucked by the seed from dust,
Whose blood is the spring rain, whose food the sun,
Whose life the scythe takes ere the sorrels rust,
Whose stalk is chaff before the winter's done.
Even the grass its happy moment has
In May, when glistering buttercups make gold;
The exulting millions of the meadow-grass
Give out a green thanksgiving from the mould.
Even the blade that has not even a blossom
Creates a mind, its joy's persistent soul
Is a warm spirit on the old earth's bosom
When April's fire has dwindled to a coal;
The spirit of the grasses' joy makes fair
The winter fields when even the wind goes bare.
There is no God, as I was taught in youth,
Though each, according to his stature, builds
Some covered shrine for what he thinks the truth,
Which day by day his reddest heart-blood gilds.
There is no God; but death, the clasping sea,
In which we move like fish, deep over deep,
Made of men's souls that bodies have set free,
Floods to a Justice though it seems asleep.
There is no God; but still, behind the veil,
The hurt thing works, out of its agony.
Still like the given cruse that did not fail
Return the pennies given to passers-by.
There is no God; but we, who breathe the air,
Are God ourselves, and touch God everywhere.
Wherever beauty has been quick in clay
Some effluence of it lives, a spirit dwells,
Beauty that death can never take away
Mixed with the air that shakes the flower bells;
So that by waters where the apples fall,
Or in lone glens, or valleys full of flowers,
Or in the streets where bloody tidings call,
The haunting waits the mood that makes it ours.
Then at a turn, a word, an act, a thought,
Such difference comes; the spirit apprehends
That place's glory; for where beauty fought
Under the veil the glory never ends;
But the still grass, the leaves, the trembling flower
Keep, through dead time, that everlasting hour.
Beauty, let be; I cannot see your face,
I shall not know you now, nor touch your feet,
Only within me tremble to your grace,
Tasting this crumb vouchsafed which is so sweet.
Even when the full-leaved summer bore no fruit
You gave me this, this apple of man's tree;
This planet sings when other spheres were mute,
This light begins when darkness covered me.
Now, though I know that I shall never know
All, through my fault, nor blazon with my pen
That path prepared where only I could go,
Still, I have this, not given to other men:
Beauty, this grace, this spring, this given bread,
This life, this dawn, this wakening from the dead.
You are more beautiful than women are,
Wiser than men, stronger than ribbed death,
Juster than Time, more constant than the star,
Dearer than love, more intimate than breath,
Having all art, all science, all control
Over the still unsmithied, even as Time
Cradles the generations of man's soul.
You are the light to guide, the way to climb.
So, having followed beauty, having bowed
To wisdom and to death, to law, to power,
I like a blind man stumble from the crowd
Into the darkness of a deeper hour,
Where in the lonely silence I may wait
The prayed-for gleam—your hand upon the gate.
Beauty retires; the blood out of the earth
Shrinks, the stalk dries, lifeless November still
Drops the brown husk of April's greenest birth.
Through the thinned beech clump I can see the hill.
So withers man, and though his life renews
In Aprils of the soul, an autumn comes
Which gives an end, not respite, to the thews
That bore his soul through the world's martyrdoms.
Then all the beauty will be out of mind,
Part of man's store, that lies outside his brain,
Touch to the dead and vision to the blind,
Drink in the desert, bread, eternal grain,
Part of the untilled field that beauty sows
With flowers untold, where quickened spirit goes.
Not for the anguish suffered is the slur,
Not for the woman's taunts, the mocks of men;
No, but because you never welcomed her,
Her of whose beauty I am only the pen.
There was a dog, dog-minded, with dog's eyes,
Damned by a dog's brute-nature to be true.
Something within her made his spirit wise;
He licked her hand, he knew her; not so you.
When all adulterate beauty has gone by,
When all inanimate matter has gone down,
We will arise and walk, that dog and I,
The only two who knew her in the town.
We'll range the pleasant mountain side by side,
Seeking the blood-stained flowers where Christs have died.
Beauty was with me once, but now, grown old,
I cannot hear nor see her: thus a King
In the high turret kept him from the cold
Over the fire with his magic ring,
Which, as he wrought, made pictures come and go
Of men and times, past, present, and to be;
Now like a smoke, now flame-like, now a glow,
Now dead, now bright, but always fantasy,
While, on the stair without, a faithful slave
Stabbed to the death, crawled bleeding, whispering, "Sir,
They come to kill you, fly: I come to save,
O you great gods, for pity let him hear."
Then, with his last strength tapped, and muttered, "Sire."
While the King smiled and drowsed above the fire.
So beauty comes, so with a failing hand
She knocks, and cries, and fails to make me hear,
She who tells futures in the falling sand,
And still, by signs, makes hidden meanings clear;
She, who behind this many peopled smoke,
Moves in the light and struggles to direct,
Through the deaf ear and by the baffled stroke,
The wicked man, the honoured architect.
Yet at a dawn before the birds begin,
In dreams, as the horse stamps and the hound stirs,
Sleep slips the bolt and beauty enters in
Crying aloud those hurried words of hers,
And I awake and, in the birded dawn,
Know her for Queen, and own myself a pawn.
You will remember me in days to come,
With love, or pride, or pity, or contempt,
So will my friends (not many friends, yet some),
When this my life will be a dream out-dreamt;
And one, remembering friendship by the fire,
And one, remembering love time in the dark,
And one, remembering unfulfilled desire,
Will sigh, perhaps, yet be beside the mark;
For this my body with its wandering ghost
Is nothing solely but an empty grange,
Dark in a night that owls inhabit most,
Yet when the King rides by there comes a change
The windows gleam, the cresset's fiery hair
Blasts the blown branch and beauty lodges there.
If Beauty be at all, if, beyond sense,
There be a wisdom piercing into brains,
Why should the glory wait on impotence,
Biding its time till blood is in the veins?
There is no beauty, but, when thought is quick,
Out of the noisy sickroom of ourselves
Some flattery comes to try to cheat the sick,
Some drowsy drug is groped for on the shelves.
There is no beauty, for we tread a scene
Red to the eye with blood of living things;
Thought is but joy from murder that has been,
Life is but brute at war upon its kings.
There is no beauty, nor could beauty care
For us, this dust, that men make everywhere.
If all be governed by the moving stars,
If passing planets bring events to be,
Searing the face of Time with bloody scars,
Drawing men's souls even as the moon the sea,
If as they pass they make a current pass
Across man's life and heap it to a tide,
We are but pawns, ignobler than the grass
Cropped by the beast and crunched and tossed aside.
Is all this beauty that doth inhabit heaven
Train of a planet's fire? Is all this lust
A chymic means by warring stars contriven
To bring the violets out of Cæsar's dust?
Better be grass, or in some hedge unknown
The spilling rose whose beauty is its own.
In emptiest furthest heaven where no stars are,
Perhaps some planet of our master sun
Still rolls an unguessed orbit round its star,
Unthought, unseen, unknown of anyone.
Roving dead space according to its law,
Casting our light on burnt-out suns and blind,
Singing in the frozen void its word of awe,
One wandering thought in all that idiot mind.
And, in some span of many a thousand year,
Passing through heaven its influence may arouse
Beauty unguessed in those who habit here,
And men may rise with glory on their brows
And feel new life like fire, and see the old
Fall from them dead, the bronze's broken mould.
Perhaps in chasms of the wasted past,
That planet wandered within hail of ours,
And plucked men's souls to loveliness and cast
The old, that was, away, like husks of flowers;
And made them stand erect and bade them build
Nobler than hovels plaited in the mire,
Gave them an altar and a God to gild,
Bridled the brooks for them and fettered fire;
And, in another coming, forged the steel
Which, on life's scarlet wax, for ever set
Longing for beauty bitten as a seal
That blood not clogs nor centuries forget,
That built Atlantis, and, in time, will raise
That grander thing whose image haunts our days.
For, like an outcast from the city, I
Wander the desert strewn with travellers' bones,
Having no comrade but the starry sky
Where the tuned planets ride their floating thrones.
I pass old ruins where the kings caroused
In cups long shards from vines long since decayed,
I tread the broken brick where queens were housed
In beauty's time ere beauty was betrayed,
And in the ceaseless pitting of the sand
On monolith and pyle, I see the dawn
Making those skeletons of beauty grand
By fire that comes as darkness is withdrawn,
And, in that fire, the art of men to come
Shines with such glow I bless my martyrdom.
Death lies in wait for you, you wild thing in the wood,
Shy-footed beauty dear, half-seen, half-understood.
Glimpsed in the beech-wood dim and in the dropping fir,
Shy like a fawn and sweet and beauty's minister.
Glimpsed as in flying clouds by night the little moon,
A wonder, a delight, a paleness passing soon.
Only a moment held, only an hour seen,
Only an instant known in all that life has been,
One instant in the sand to drink that gush of grace,
The beauty of your way, the marvel of your face.
Death lies in wait for you, but few short hours he gives;
I perish even as you by whom all spirit lives.
Come to me, spirit, come, and fill my hour of breath
With hours of life in life that pay no toll to death.
They called that broken hedge The Haunted Gate.
Strange fires (they said) burnt there at moonless times.
Evil was there, men never went there late,
The darkness there was quick with threatened crimes.
And then one digging in that bloodied clay
Found, but a foot below, a rotted chest.
Coins of the Romans, tray on rusted tray,
Hurriedly heaped there by a digger prest.
So that one knew how, centuries before,
Some Roman flying from the sack by night,
Digging in terror there to hide his store,
Sweating his pick, by windy lantern light,
Had stamped his anguish on that place's soul,
So that it knew and could rehearse the whole.
There was an evil in the nodding wood
Above the quarry long since overgrown,
Something which stamped it as a place of blood
Where tortured spirit cried from murdered bone.
Then, after years, I saw a rusty knife
Stuck in a woman's skull, just as 'twas found,
Blackt with a centuried crust of clotted life,
In the red clay of that unholy ground.
So that I knew the unhappy thing had spoken,
That tongueless thing for whom the quarry spoke,
The evil seals of murder had been broken
By the red earth, the grass, the rooted oak,
The inarticulate dead had forced the spade,
The hand, the mind, till murder was displayed.
Go, spend your penny, Beauty, when you will,
In the grave's darkness let the stamp be lost.
The water still will bubble from the hill,
And April quick the meadows with her ghost;
Over the grass the daffodils will shiver,
The primroses with their pale beauty abound,
The blackbird be a lover and make quiver
With his glad singing the great soul of the ground;
So that if the body rot, it will not matter;
Up in the earth the great game will go on,
The coming of spring and the running of the water,
And the young things glad of the womb's darkness gone.
And the joy we felt will be a part of the glory
In the lover's kiss that makes the old couple's story.
Though in life's streets the tempting shops have lured
Because all beauty, howsoever base,
Is vision of you, marred, I have endured,
Tempted or fall'n, to look upon your face.
Now through the grinning death's-head in the paint,
Within the tavern-song, hid in the wine,
In many-kinded man, emperor and saint,
I see you pass, you breath of the divine.
I see you pass, as centuries ago
The long dead men with passionate spirit saw.
O brother man, whom spirit habits so,
Through your red sorrows Beauty keeps her law,
Beauty herself, who takes your dying hand,
To leave through Time the Memnon in the sand.
When all these million cells that are my slaves
Fall from my pourried ribs and leave me lone,
A living speck among a world of graves,
What shall I be, that spot in the unknown?
A glow-worm in a night that floats the sun?
Or deathless dust feeling the passer's foot?
An eye undying mourning things undone?
Or seed for quickening free from prisoning fruit?
Or an eternal jewel on your robe,
Caught to your heart, one with the April tire
That made me yours as man upon the globe,
One with the spring, a breath in all desire,
One with the primrose, present in all joy?
Or pash that rots, which pismires can destroy?
Let that which is to come be as it may,
Darkness, extinction, justice, life intense,
The flies are happy in the summer day,
Flies will be happy many summers hence.
Time with his antique breeds that built the Sphinx,
Time with her men to come whose wings will tower,
Poured and will pour, not as the wise man thinks,
But with blind force, to each his little hour.
And when the hour has struck, comes death or change,
Which, whether good or ill we cannot tell,
But the blind planet will wander through her range
Bearing men like us who will serve as well.
The sun will rise, the winds that ever move
Will blow our dust that once were men in love.
Some seven or eight of these poems have appeared serially in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, the Yale Review, The Forge, Contemporary Verse, and Science Progress; others have been issued privately, in a book now out of print; the rest are new.
February 1, 1917.
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