"Then what is life?" I cried. And with that cry
I woke from deeper slumber--was it sleep?--
And saw a hooded figure standing by
The bed whereon I lay.
"Why do you keep,
O spirit beautiful and swift, this guard
About my slumber? Shelley, from the deep
Why do you come with veiled face, mighty bard,
As that unearthly shape was veiled to you
At Casa Magni?"
Then the room was starred
With light as I was speaking, and I knew
The god, my brother, from whose face the veil
Melted as mist.
"What mission fair and true,
While I am sleeping, brings you? For I pale
Amid this solemn stillness, for your face
As when the dale
At midnight echoes for a little space,
The night-bird's cry, the god responded "Come,"
And nothing more. I left my bed apace,
And followed him with wings above the gloom
Of clouds like chariots driven on to war,
Between whose wheels the swift moon raced and swum.
A mile beneath us lay the earth, afar
Were mountains which as swift as thought drew near
As we passed over pines, where many a star
And heaven's light made every frond as clear
As through a glass or in the lightning's flash.
Yet I seemed flying from an olden fear,
A bulk of black that sought to sting or gnash
My breast or side--which was myself, it seemed,
The flesh or thinking part of me grown rash
And violent, a brain soul unredeemed,
Which sometime earlier in the grip of Death
Forgot its terror when my soul which streamed
Like ribbons of silk fire, with quiet breath
Said to the body, as it were a thing
Separate and indifferent: "How uneath
That fellow turns, while I am safe yet cling
Close to him, both another and the same."
Now was this mood reversed: That self must wing
Its fastest flight to fly him, lest he maim
With fleshly hands my better, stronger part,
As dragon wings my flap and quench a flame.
But as we passed o'er empires and athwart
A bellowing strait, beholding bergs and floes
And running tides which made the sinking heart
Rise up again for breath, I felt how close
The god, my brother, was, who would sustain
My wings whatever dangers might oppose,
And knowing him beside me, like a strain
Of music were his thoughts, though nothing yet
Was spoken by him.
When as out of rain
Suddenly lights may break, the earth was set
Beneath us, and we stood and paused to see
The Dussel river from a parapet
Of earth and rock. Then bending curiously,
As reaching, in a moment with his hand
He scraped the turf and stones, pried up a key
Of harder granite, and at his command,
When he had made an opening, I slid
And sank, down, down through the Devonian land
Until with him I reached a cavern hid
From every eye but ours, and where no light
But from our faces was, a pyramid
Of hills that walled this crypt of soundless night.
Then in a mood, it seemed more fanciful,
He bent again and raked, and to my sight
Upheaved and held the remnant of a skull--
Gorilla's or a man's, I could not guess.
Yet brutal though it was, it was a hull
Too fine and large to house the nakedness
Of a beast's mind.
But as I looked the god
Began these words: "Before the iron stress
Of the north pole's dominion fell, he trod
The wastes of Europe, ere the Nile was made
A granary for the east, or ere the clod
In Babylon or India baked was laid
For hovels, this man lived. Ten thousand years
Before the earliest pyramid cast its shade
Upon the desolate sands this thing of fears,
Lusts, hungers, lived and hunted, woke and slept,
Mated, produced its kind, with hairy ears,
And tiger eyes sensed all that you accept
In terms of thought or vision as the proof
Of immanent Power or Love. But this skull kept
The intangible meaning out. This heavy roof
Of brutish bone above the eyes was dead
Even to lower ethers, no behoof
Of seasons, stars or skies took, though they bred
Suspicions, fears, or nervous glances, thought,
Which silent as a lizard's shadow fled
Before it graved itself, passed over, wrought
No vision, only pain, which he deemed pangs
Of hunger or of thirst."
As you have sought
The meaning of life's riddle, since it hangs
In waking or in slumber just above
The highest reach of prophecy, and fangs
With poison of despair all moods but love,
Behold its secret lettered on this brow
Placed by your own!
This is the word thereof:
Change and progression from the glazed slough,
Where life creeps and is blind, ascending up
The jungled slopes for prey till spirits bow
On Calvaries with crosses, take the cup
Of martyrdom for truth's sake.
It may be
Men of to-day make monstrous war, sleep, sup,
Traffic, build shrines, as earliest history
Records the earliest day, and that the race
Is what it was in virtue, charity,
And nothing better. But within this face
No light shone from that realm where Hindostan,
Delving in numbers, watching stars took grace
And inspiration to explore the plan
Of heaven and earth. And of the scheme the test
Is not five thousand years, which leave the van
Just where it was, but this change manifest
In fifty thousand years between the mind
Neanderthal's and Shelley's.
Along these years, found eyes where he was blind,
Put instinct under thought, crawled from the cave,
And faced the sun, till somewhere heaven's wind
Mixed with the light of Lights descending, gave
To mind a touch of divinity, making whole
An undeveloped growth.
As ships that brave
Great storms at sea on masts a flaming coal
From heaven catch, bear on, so man was wreathed
Somewhere with lightning and became a soul.
Into his nostrils purer fire was breathed
Than breath of life itself, and by a leap,
As lightning leaps from crag to crag, what seethed
In man from the beginning broke the sleep
That lay on consciousness of self, with eyes
Awakened saw himself, out of the deep
And wonder of the self caught the surmise
Of Power beyond this world, and felt it through
The flow of living.
And so man shall rise
From this illumination, from this clue
To perfect knowledge that this Power exists,
And what man is to this Power, even as you
Have left Neanderthal lost in the mists
And ignorance of centuries untold.
What would you say if learned geologists
Out of the rocks and caverns should unfold
The skulls of greater races, records, books
To shame us for our day, could we behold
Therein our retrogression? Wonder looks
In vain for these, discovers everywhere
Proof of the root which darkly bends and crooks
Far down and far away; a stalk more fair
Upspringing finds its proof, buds on the stalk
The eye may see, at last the flowering flare
Of man to-day!
I see the things which balk,
Retard, divert, draw into sluices small,
But who beholds the stream turned back to mock,
Not just itself, but make equivocal
A Universal Reason, Vision? No.
You find no proof of this, but prodigal
Proof of ascending Life!
So life shall flow
Here on this globe until the final fruit
And harvest. As it were until the glow
Of the great blossom has the attribute
In essence, color of eternal things,
And shows no rim between its hues which suit
The infinite sky's. Then if the dead earth swings
A gleaned and stricken field amid the void
What matters it to you, a soul with wings,
Whether it be replanted or destroyed?
Has it not served you?"
Now his voice was still,
Which in such discourse had been thus employed.
And in that lonely cavern dark and chill
I heard again, "Then what is life?" And woke
To find the moonlight on the window sill
That which had seemed his presence. And a cloak,
Whose hood was perked upon the moonbeams, made
The skull of the Neanderthal. The smoke
Blown from the fireplace formed the cavern's shade.
And roaring winds blew down as they had tuned
The voice which left me calm and unafraid.
My brother, the god, and I grow sick
Of heaven's heights.
We plunge to the valley to hear the tick
Of days and nights.
We walk and loiter around the Loom
To see, if we may,
The Hand that smashes the beam in the gloon
To the shuttle's play;
Who grows the wool, who cards and spins,
Who clips and ties;
For the storied weave of the Gobelins,
Who draughts and dyes.
But whether you stand or walk around
You shall but hear
A murmuring life, as it were the sound
Of bees or a sphere.
No Hand is seen, but still you may feel
A pulse in the thread,
And thought in every lever and wheel
Where the shuttle sped,
Dripping the colors, as crushed and urged-
Is it cochineal?-
Shot from the shuttle, woven and merged
A tale to reveal.
Woven and wound in a bolt and dried
As it were a plan.
Closer I looked at the thread and cried
The thread is man!
Then my brother curious, strong and bold,
Tugged hard at the bolt
Of the woven life; for a length unrolled
The cryptic cloth.
He gasped for labor, blind for the moult
Of the up-winged moth.
While I saw a growth and a mad crusade
That the Loom had made;
Land and water and living things,
Till I grew afraid
For mouths and claws and devil wings,
And fangs and stings,
And tiger faces with eyes of hell
In caves and holes.
And eyes in terror and terrible
For awakened souls.
I stood above my brother, the god
Unwinding the roll.
And a tale came forth of the woven slain
Sequent and whole,
Of flint and bronze, trowel and hod,
The wheel and the plane,
The carven stone and the graven clod
Painted and baked.
And cromlechs, proving the human heart
Has always ached;
Till it puffed with blood and gave to art
The dream of the dome;
Till it broke and the blood shot up like fire
In tower and spire.
And here was the Persian, Jew and Goth
In the weave of the cloth;
Greek and Roman, Ghibelline, Guelph,
Angel and elf.
They were dyed in blood, tangled in dreams
Like a comet's streams.
And here were surfaces red and rough
In the finished stuff,
Where the knotted thread was proud and rebelled
As the shuttle proved
The fated warp and woof that held
When the shuttle moved;
And pressed the dye which ran to loss
In a deep maroon
Around an altar, oracle, cross
Or a crescent moon.
Around a face, a thought, a star
In a riot of war!
Then I said to my brother, the god, let be,
Though the thread be crushed,
And the living things in the tapestry
Be woven and hushed;
The Loom has a tale, you can see, to tell,
And a tale has told.
I love this Gobelin epical
Of scarlet and gold.
If the heart of a god may look in pride
At the wondrous weave
It is something better to Hands which guide
I see and believe.
The Grand River Marshes
Silvers and purples breathing in a sky
Of fiery mid-days, like a watching tiger,
Of the restrained but passionate July
Upon the marshes of the river lie,
Like the filmed pinions of the dragon fly.
* * * * *
A whole horizon's waste of rushes bend
Under the flapping of the breeze's wing,
Departing and revisiting
The haunts of the river twisting without end.
* * * * *
The torsions of the river make long miles
Of the waters of the river which remain
Coiled by the village, tortuous aisles
Of water between the rushes, which restrain
The bewildered currents in returning files,
Twisting between the greens like a blue racer,
Too hurt to leap with body or uplift
Its head while gliding, neither slow nor swift
* * * * *
Against the shaggy yellows of the dunes
The iron bridge's reticules
Are seen by fishermen from the Damascened lagoons.
But from the bridge, watching the little steamer
Paddling against the current up to Eastmanville,
The river loosened from the abandoned spools
Of earth and heaven wanders without will,
Between the rushes, like a silken streamer.
And two old men who turn the bridge
For passing boats sit in the sun all day,
Toothless and sleepy, ancient river dogs,
And smoke and talk of a glory passed away.
And of the ruthless sacrilege
Which mowed away the pines,
And cast them in the current here as logs,
To be devoured by the mills to the last sliver,
Making for a little hour heroes and heroines,
Dancing and laughter at Grand Haven,
When the great saws sent screeches up and whines,
And cries for more and more
Slaughter of forests up and down the river
And along the lake's shore.
* * * * *
But all is quiet on the river now
As when the snow lay windless in the wood,
And the last Indian stood
And looked to find the broken bough
That told the path under the snow.
All is as silent as the spiral lights
Of purple and of gold that from the marshes rise,
Like the wings of swarming dragon flies,
Far up toward Eastmanville, where the enclosing skies
Quiver with heat; as silent as the flights
Of the crow like smoke from shops against the glare
Of dunes and purple air,
There where Grand Haven against the sand hill lies.
* * * * *
The forests and the mills are gone!
All is as silent as the voice I heard
On a summer dawn
When we two fished among the river reeds.
As silent as the pain
In a heart that feeds
A sorrow, but does not complain.
As silent as above the bridge in this July,
Noiseless, far up in this mirror-lighted sky
Wheels aimlessly a hydroplane:
A man-bestridden dragon fly!
Of John Cabanis' wrath and of the strife
Of hostile parties, and his dire defeat
Who led the common people in the cause
Of freedom for Spoon River, and the fall
Of Rhodes' bank that brought unnumbered woes
And loss to many, with engendered hate
That flamed into the torch in Anarch hands
To burn the court-house, on whose blackened wreck
A fairer temple rose and Progress stood --
Sing, muse, that lit the Chian's face with smiles,
Who saw the ant-like Greeks and Trojans crawl
About Scamander, over walls, pursued
Or else pursuing, and the funeral pyres
And sacred hecatombs, and first because
Of Helen who with Paris fled to Troy
As soul-mate; and the wrath of Peleus' son,
Decreed to lose Chryseis, lovely spoil
Of war, and dearest concubine.
Thou son of night, called Momus, from whose eyes
No secret hides, and Thalia, smiling one,
What bred 'twixt Thomas Rhodes and John Cabanis
The deadly strife? His daughter Flossie, she,
Returning from her wandering with a troop
Of strolling players, walked the village streets,
Her bracelets tinkling and with sparkling rings
And words of serpent wisdom and a smile
Of cunning in her eyes. Then Thomas Rhodes,
Who ruled the church and ruled the bank as well,
Made known his disapproval of the maid;
And all Spoon River whispered and the eyes
Of all the church frowned on her, till she knew
They feared her and condemned.
But them to flout
She gave a dance to viols and to flutes,
Brought from Peoria, and many youths,
But lately made regenerate through the prayers
Of zealous preachers and of earnest souls,
Danced merrily, and sought her in the dance,
Who wore a dress so low of neck that eyes
Down straying might survey the snowy swale
Till it was lost in whiteness.
With the dance
The village changed to merriment from gloom.
The milliner, Mrs. Williams, could not fill
Her orders for new hats, and every seamstress
Plied busy needles making gowns; old trunks
And chests were opened for their store of laces
And rings and trinkets were brought out of hiding
And all the youths fastidious grew of dress;
Notes passed, and many a fair one's door at eve
Knew a bouquet, and strolling lovers thronged
About the hills that overlooked the river.
Then, since the mercy seats more empty showed,
One of God's chosen lifted up his voice:
"The woman of Babylon is among us; rise,
Ye sons of light, and drive the wanton forth!"
So John Cabanis left the church and left
The hosts of law and order with his eyes
By anger cleared, and him the liberal cause
Acclaimed as nominee to the mayoralty
To vanquish A. D. Blood.
But as the war
Waged bitterly for votes and rumors flew
About the bank, and of the heavy loans
Which Rhodes' son had made to prop his loss
In wheat, and many drew their coin and left
The bank of Rhodes more hollow, with the talk
Among the liberals of another bank
Soon to be chartered, lo, the bubble burst
'Mid cries and curses; but the liberals laughed
And in the hall of Nicholas Bindle held
Wise converse and inspiriting debate.
High on a stage that overlooked the chairs
Where dozens sat, and where a pop-eyed daub
Of Shakespeare, very like the hired man
Of Christian Dallmann, brow and pointed beard,
Upon a drab proscenium outward stared,
Sat Harmon Whitney, to that eminence,
By merit raised in ribaldry and guile,
And to the assembled rebels thus he spake:
"Whether to lie supine and let a clique
Cold-blooded, scheming, hungry, singing psalms,
Devour our substance, wreck our banks and drain
Our little hoards for hazards on the price
Of wheat or pork, or yet to cower beneath
The shadow of a spire upreared to curb
A breed of lackeys and to serve the bank
Coadjutor in greed, that is the question.
Shall we have music and the jocund dance,
Or tolling bells? Or shall young romance roam
These hills about the river, flowering now
To April's tears, or shall they sit at home,
Or play croquet where Thomas Rhodes may see,
I ask you? If the blood of youth runs o'er
And riots 'gainst this regimen of gloom,
Shall we submit to have these youths and maids
Branded as libertines and wantons?"
His words were done a woman's voice called "No!"
Then rose a sound of moving chairs, as when
The numerous swine o'er-run the replenished troughs;
And every head was turned, as when a flock
Of geese back-turning to the hunter's tread
Rise up with flapping wings; then rang the hall
With riotous laughter, for with battered hat
Tilted upon her saucy head, and fist
Raised in defiance, Daisy Fraser stood.
Headlong she had been hurled from out the hall
Save Wendell Bloyd, who spoke for woman's rights,
Prevented, and the bellowing voice of Burchard.
Then 'mid applause she hastened toward the stage
And flung both gold and silver to the cause
And swiftly left the hall.
A giant figure, bearded like the son
Of Alcmene, deep-chested, round of paunch,
And spoke in thunder: "Over there behold
A man who for the truth withstood his wife --
Such is our spirit -- when that A. D. Blood
Compelled me to remove Dom Pedro --"
Before Jim Brown could finish, Jefferson Howard
Obtained the floor and spake: "Ill suits the time
For clownish words, and trivial is our cause
If naught's at stake but John Cabanis' wrath,
He who was erstwhile of the other side
And came to us for vengeance. More's at stake
Than triumph for New England or Virginia.
And whether rum be sold, or for two years
As in the past two years, this town be dry
Matters but little -- Oh yes, revenue
For sidewalks, sewers; that is well enough!
I wish to God this fight were now inspired
By other passion than to salve the pride
Of John Cabanis or his daughter. Why
Can never contests of great moment spring
From worthy things, not little? Still, if men
Must always act so, and if rum must be
The symbol and the medium to release
From life's denial and from slavery,
Then give me rum!"
Exultant cries arose.
Then, as George Trimble had o'ercome his fear
And vacillation and begun to speak,
The door creaked and the idiot, Willie Metcalf,
Breathless and hatless, whiter than a sheet,
Entered and cried: "The marshal's on his way
To arrest you all. And if you only knew
Who's coming here to-morrow; I was listening
Beneath the window where the other side
Are making plans."
So to a smaller room
To hear the idiot's secret some withdrew
Selected by the Chair; the Chair himself
And Jefferson Howard, Benjamin Pantier,
And Wendell Bloyd, George Trimble, Adam Weirauch,
Imanuel Ehrenhardt, Seth Compton, Godwin James
And Enoch Dunlap, Hiram Scates, Roy Butler,
Carl Hamblin, Roger Heston, Ernest Hyde
And Penniwit, the artist, Kinsey Keene,
And E. C. Culbertson and Franklin Jones,
Benjamin Fraser, son of Benjamin Pantier
By Daisy Fraser, some of lesser note,
And secretly conferred.
But in the hall
Disorder reigned and when the marshal came
And found it so, he marched the hoodlums out
And locked them up.
Meanwhile within a room
Back in the basement of the church, with Blood
Counseled the wisest heads. Judge Somers first,
Deep learned in life, and next him, Elliott Hawkins
And Lambert Hutchins; next him Thomas Rhodes
And Editor Whedon; next him Garrison Standard,
A traitor to the liberals, who with lip
Upcurled in scorn and with a bitter sneer:
"Such strife about an insult to a woman --
A girl of eighteen" -- Christian Dallman too,
And others unrecorded. Some there were
Who frowned not on the cup but loathed the rule
Democracy achieved thereby, the freedom
And lust of life it symbolized.
Now morn with snowy fingers up the sky
Flung like an orange at a festival
The ruddy sun, when from their hasty beds
Poured forth the hostile forces, and the streets
Resounded to the rattle of the wheels
That drove this way and that to gather in
The tardy voters, and the cries of chieftains
Who manned the battle. But at ten o'clock
The liberals bellowed fraud, and at the polls
The rival candidates growled and came to blows.
Then proved the idiot's tale of yester-eve
A word of warning. Suddenly on the streets
Walked hog-eyed Allen, terror of the hills
That looked on Bernadotte ten miles removed.
No man of this degenerate day could lift
The boulders which he threw, and when he spoke
The windows rattled, and beneath his brows,
Thatched like a shed with bristling hair of black,
His small eyes glistened like a maddened boar.
And as he walked the boards creaked, as he walked
A song of menace rumbled. Thus he came,
The champion of A. D. Blood, commissioned
To terrify the liberals. Many fled
As when a hawk soars o'er the chicken yard.
He passed the polls and with a playful hand
Touched Brown, the giant, and he fell against,
As though he were a child, the wall; so strong
Was hog-eyed Allen. But the liberals smiled.
For soon as hog-eyed Allen reached the walk,
Close on his steps paced Bengal Mike, brought in
By Kinsey Keene, the subtle-witted one,
To match the hog-eyed Allen. He was scarce
Three-fourths the other's bulk, but steel his arms,
And with a tiger's heart. Two men he killed
And many wounded in the days before,
And no one feared.
when the hog-eyed one
Saw Bengal Mike his countenance grew dark,
The bristles o'er his red eyes twitched with rage,
The song he rumbled lowered. Round and round
The court-house paced he, followed stealthily
By Bengal Mike, who jeered him every step:
"Come, elephant, and fight! Come, hog-eyed coward!
Come, face about and fight me, lumbering sneak!
Come, beefy bully, hit me, if you can!
Take out your gun, you duffer, give me reason
To draw and kill you. Take your billy out;
I'll crack your boar's head with a piece of brick!"
But never a word the hog-eyed one returned
But trod about the court-house, followed both
By troops of boys and watched by all the men.
All day, they walked the square. But when Apollo
Stood with reluctant look above the hills
As fain to see the end, and all the votes
Were cast, and closed the polls, before the door
Of Trainor's drug store Bengal Mike, in tones
That echoed through the village, bawled the taunt:
"Who was your mother, hog-eyed?" In a trice,
As when a wild boar turns upon the hound
That through the brakes upon an August day
Has gashed him with its teeth, the hog-eyed one
Rushed with his giant arms on Bengal Mike
And grabbed him by the throat. Then rose to heaven
The frightened cries of boys, and yells of men
Forth rushing to the street. And Bengal Mike
Moved this way and now that, drew in his head
As if his neck to shorten, and bent down
To break the death grip of the hog-eyed one;
'Twixt guttural wrath and fast-expiring strength
Striking his fists against the invulnerable chest
Of hog-eyed Allen. Then, when some came in
To part them, others stayed them, and the fight
Spread among dozens; many valiant souls
Went down from clubs and bricks.
But tell me, Muse,
What god or goddess rescued Bengal Mike?
With one last, mighty struggle did he grasp
The murderous hands and turning kick his foe.
Then, as if struck by lightning, vanished all
The strength from hog-eyed Allen, at his side
Sank limp those giant arms and o'er his face
Dread pallor and the sweat of anguish spread.
And those great knees, invincible but late,
Shook to his weight. And quickly as the lion
Leaps on its wounded prey, did Bengal Mike
Smite with a rock the temple of his foe,
And down he sank and darkness o'er his eyes
Passed like a cloud.
As when the woodman fells
Some giant oak upon a summer's day
And all the songsters of the forest shrill,
And one great hawk that has his nestling young
Amid the topmost branches croaks, as crash
The leafy branches through the tangled boughs
Of brother oaks, so fell the hog-eyed one
Amid the lamentations of the friends
Of A. D. Blood.
Just then, four lusty men
Bore the town marshal, on whose iron face
The purple pall of death already lay,
To Trainor's drug store, shot by Jack McGuire.
And cries went up of "Lynch him!" and the sound
Of running feet from every side was heard
Bent on the
He follows me no more, I said, nor stands
Beside me. And I wake these later days
In an April mood, a wonder light and free.
The vision is gone, but gone the constant pain
Of constant thought. I see dawn from my hill,
And watch the lights which fingers from the waters
Twine from the sun or moon. Or look across
The waste of bays and marshes to the woods,
Under the prism colors of the air,
Held in a vacuum silence, where the clouds,
Like cyclop hoods are tossed against the sky
In terrible glory.
And earth charmed I lie
Before the staring sphinx whose musing face
Is this Egyptian heaven, and whose eyes
Are separate clouds of gold, whose pedestal
Is earth, whose silken sheathed claws
No longer toy with me, even while I stroke them:
Since I have ceased to tease her.
A breeze is blown out of a world becalmed,
And as I see the multitudinous leaves
Fluttered against the water and the light,
And see this light unveil itself, reveal
An inner light, a Presence, Secret splendor,
I clap hands over eyes, for the earth reels;
And I have fears of dieties shown or spun
From nothingness. But when I look again
The earth has stayed itself, I see the lake,
The leaves, the light of the sun, the cyclop hoods
Of thunder heads, yet feel upon my arm
A hand I know, and hear a voice I know—
He has returned and brought with him the thought
And the old pain.
The voice says: "Leave the sphinx.
The garden waits your study fully grown."
And I arise and follow down a slope
To a lawn by the lake and an ancient seat of stone,
And near it a fountain's shattered rim enclosing
An Eros of light mood, whose sculptured smile
Consciously dimples for the unveiled pistil of love,
As he strokes with baby hand the slender arching
Neck of a swan. And here is a peristyle
Whose carven columns are pink as the long updrawn
Stalks of tulips bedded in April snow.
And sunk amid tiger lillies is the face
Of an Asian Aphrodite close to the seat
With feet of a Babylonian lion amid
This ruined garden of yellow daisies, poppies
And ruddy asphodel from Crete, it seems,
Though here is our western moon as white and thin
As an abalone shell hung under the boughs
Of an oak, that is mocked by the vastness of sky between
His boughs and the moon in this sky of afternoon. ...
We walk to the water's edge and here he shows me
Green scum, or stalks, or sedges, grasses, shrubs,
That yield to trees beyond the levels, where
The beech and oak have triumph; for along
This gradual growth from algae, reeds and grasses,
That builds the soil against the water's hands,
All things are fierce for place and garner life
From weaker things.
And then he shows me root stocks,
And Alpine willow, growths that sneak and crawl
Beneath the soil. Or as we leave the lake
And walk the forest I behold lianas,
Smilax or woodbine climbing round the trunks
Of giant trees that live and out of earth,
And out of air make strength and food and ask
No other help. And in this place I see
Spiral bryony, python of the vines
That coils and crushes; and that banyan tree
Whose spreading branches drop new roots to earth,
And lives afar from where the parent trunk
Has sunk its roots, so that the healthful sun
Is darkened: as a people might be darkened
By ignorance or want or tyranny,
Or dogma of a jungle hidden faith.
Why is it, think I, though I dare not speak,
That this should be to forests or to men;
That water fails, and light decreases, heat
Of God's air lessens, and the soil goes spent,
Till plants change leaves and stalks and seeds as well,
Or migrate from the olden places, go
In search of life, or if they cannot move
Die in the ruthless marches.
That is life, he said.
For even these, the giants scatter life
Into the maws of death. That towering tree
That for these hundred years has leafed itself,
And through its leaves out of the magic air
Drawn nutriment for annual girths, took root
Out of an acorn which good chance preserved,
While all its brother acorns cast to earth,
To make trees, by a parent tree now gone,
Were crushed, devoured, or strangled as they sprouted
Amid thick jealous growth wherein they fell.
All acorns but this one were lost.
Then he reads
My questioning thought and shows me yuccas, cactus
Whose thick leaves in the rainless places thrive.
And shows me leaves that must have rain, and roots
That must have water where the river flows.
And how the spirit of life, though turned or driven
This way or that beyond a course begun,
Cannot be stayed or quenched, but moves, conforms
To soil and sun, makes roots, or thickens leaves,
Or thins or re-adjusts them on the stem
To fashion forth itself, produce its kind.
Nor dies not, rests not, nor surrenders not,
Is only changed or buried, re-appears
As other forms of life.
We had walked through
A forest of sequoias, beeches, pines,
And ancient oaks where I could see the trace
Of willows, alders, ruined or devoured
By the great Titans.
We reached my hill and sat and overlooked
The garden at our feet, even to the place
Of tiger lilies and of asphodel,
By now beneath the self-same moon, grown denser:
As where the wounded surface of the shell
Thickens its shimmering stuff in spiral coigns
Of the shell, so was the moon above the seat
Beside the Eros and the Aphrodite
Sunk amid yellow daisies and deep grass.
And here we sat and looked. And here my vision
Was over all we saw, but not a part
Of what we saw, for all we saw stood forth
As foreign to myself as something touched
At to learn the thing it is.
I ght have asked
Who owns this garden, for the thought arose
With my surprise, who owns this garden, who
Planted this garden, why and to what end,
And why this fight for place, for soil and sun
Water and air, and why this enmity
Between the things here planted, and between
Flying or crawling life and plants, and whence
The power that falls in one place but arises
Some other place; and why the unceasing growth
Of all these forms that only come to seed,
Then disappear to enrich the insatiate soil
Where the new seed falls? But silence kept me there
For wonder of the beauty which I saw,
Even while the faculty of external vision
Kept clear the garden separate from me,
Envisioned, seen as grasses, sedges, alders,
As forestry, as fields of wheat and corn,
As the vast theatre of unceasing life,
Moving to life and blind to all but life;
As places used, tried out, as if the gardener,
For his delight or use, or for an end
Of good or beauty made experiments
With seed or soils or crossings of the seed.
Even as peoples, epochs, did the garden
Lie to my vision, or as races crowding,
Absorbing, dispossessing, killing races,
Not only for a place to grow, but under
A stimulus of doctrine: as Mahomet,
Or Jesus, like a vital change of air,
Or artifice of culture, made the garden,
Which mortals call the world, grow in a way,
And overgrow the world as neither dreamed.
Who is the Gardener then? Or is there one
Beside the life within the plant, within
The python climbers, wandering sedges, root stalks,
Thorn bushes, night-shade, deadly saprophytes,
Goths, Vandals, Tartars, striving for more life,
And praying to the urge within as God,
The Gardener who lays out the garden, sprays
For insects which devour, keeps rich the soil
For those who pray and know the Gardener
As One who is without and over-sees? ...
But e in contemplation of the garden,
Whether from failing day or from departure
Of my own vision in the things it saw,
Bereft of penetrating thought I sank,
Became a part of what I saw and lost
The great solution.
As we sat in silence,
And coming night, what seemed the sinking moon,
Amid the yellow sedges by the lake
Began to twinkle, as a fire were blown--
And it was fire, the garden was afire,
As it were all the world had flamed with war.
And a wind came out of the bright heaven
And blew the flames, first through the ruined garden,
Then through the wood, the fields of wheat, at last
Nothing was left but waste and wreaths of smoke
Twisting toward the stars. And there he sat
Nor uttered aught, save when I sighed he said
"If it be comforting I promise you
Another spring shall come."
“And after that?"
"Another spring--that's all I know myself,
There shall be springs and springs!"
| Llibre del Tigre |
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