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John Townsend Trowbridge (Джон Таунсенд Троубридж)


Ancestors


ON READING A FAMILY HISTORY.

OPEN lies the book before me: in a realm obscure as dreams
I can trace the pale blue mazes of innumerable streams,
That from regions lost in distance, vales of shadow far apart,
Meet to blend their mystic forces in the torrents of my heart.

Pensively I turn the pages, pausing, curious and aghast:
What commingled, unknown currents, mighty passions of the past,
In this narrow, pulsing moment through my fragile being pour,
From the mystery behind me, to the mystery before!

I put by the book: in vision rise the gray ancestral ghosts,
Reaching back into the ages, vague, interminable hosts,
From the home of modern culture, to the cave uncouth and dim,
Where—what's he that gropes? a savage, naked, gibbering, and grim!

I was molded in that far-off time of ignorance and wrong,
When the world was to the crafty, to the ravenous and strong;
Tempered in the fires of struggle, of aggression and resistance:
In the prowler and the slayer I have had a preëxistence!

Wild forefathers, I salute you! Though your times were fierce and rude,
From their rugged husk of evil comes the kernel of our good.
Sweet the righteousness that follows, great the forces that foreran:
'T is the marvel still of marvels that there's such a thing as man!

Now I see I have exacted too much justice of my race,
Of my own heart too much wisdom, of my brothers too much grace;
Craft and greed our primal dower, wrath and hate our heritage!
Scarcely gleams as yet the crescent of the full-orbed golden age.

Man's great passions are coeval with the vital breath he draws,
Older than all codes of custom, all religions and all laws;
Before prudence was, or justice, they were proved and justified:
We may shame them and deny them, their dominion will abide.

Still the darker age will linger in the slowly brightening present,
Still the old moon's fading phantom in the bosom of the crescent;
The white crown of reason covers the old kingdom of unrest,
And I feel at times the stirring of the savage in my breast.

Wrong and insult find me weaponed for a more heroic strife;
In the sheath of mercy quivers the barbarian's ready knife!
But I blame no more the givers for the rudeness of the dower:
'T was the roughness of the thistle that insured the future flower.

Somehow hidden in the slayer was the singer yet to be,
In the fiercest of my fathers lived the prophecy of me;
But the turbid rivers flowing to my heart were filtered through
Tranquil veins of honest toilers to a more cerulean hue.

O my fathers, in whose bosoms slowly dawned the later light,
In whom grew the thirst for knowledge, in whom burned the love of right,
All my heart goes out to know you! With a yearning near to pain,
I once more take up the volume, but I turn the leaves in vain.

Not a voice, of all your voices, comes to me from out the vast;
Not a thought, of all your thinking, into living form has passed:
As I peer into the darkness, not a being of my name
Stands revealed against the shadows in the beacon-glare of fame.

Yet your presence, O my parents, in my inmost self I find,
Your persistent spectres haunting the dim chambers of the mind:
Old convulsions of the planet in the new earth leave their trace,
And the child's heart is an index to the story of his race.

Each with his unuttered secret down the common road you went,
Winged with hope and exaltation, bowed with toil and discontent:
Fear and triumph and bereavement, birth and death and love and strife,
Wove the evanescent vesture of your many-colored life.

Your long-silent generations first in me have found a tongue,
And I bear the mystic burden of a thousand lives unsung:
Hence this love for all that's human, the strange sympathies I feel,
Subtle memories and emotions which I stammer to reveal.

Now I also, in my season, walk beneath the sun and moon,
Face the hoary storms of winter, breathe the luxury of June:
Here to gaze awhile and wonder, here to weep and laugh and kiss;
Then to join the pale procession sweeping down the dark abyss.

To each little life its moment! We are sparkles of the sea:
Still the interminable billows heave and gleam,—and where are we?
Still forever rising, following, mingling with the mighty roar,
Wave on wave the generations break upon the eternal shore.

Here I joy and sing and suffer, in this moment fleeting fast,
Then become myself a phantom of the far-receding past,
When our modern shall be ancient, and the narrow times expand,
Down through ever-broadening eras, to a future vast and grand.

Clouds of ancestors, ascending from this sublunary coast,
Here am I, enrolled already in your ever-mustering host!
Here and now the rivers blended in my blood once more divide,
In the fair lad leaping yonder, in these darlings by my side.

Children's children, I salute you! From this hour and from this land,
To your far off generations I uplift the signal hand!
Well contented, I resign you to the vision which I see,—
O fraternity of nations! O republics yet to be!

Yours the full-blown flower of freedom, which in struggle we have sown;
Yours the spiritual science, that shall overarch our own.
You, in turn, will look with wonder, from a more enlightened time,
Upon us, your rude forefathers, in an age of war and crime!

Half our virtues will seem vices by your broader, higher right,
And the brightness of the present will be shadow in that light;
For, behold, our boasted culture is a morning cloud, unfurled
In the dawning of the ages and the twilight of the world!

'Life is a book, whose lines are flitting fast;
Each word a moment, every year a page,
Till, leaf by leaf, we quickly turn the last.'

Even while he spoke, the sunshine's witness crept
By many a fair and many a grizzled head,
Some drooping heavily, as if they slept,
Over the unspelled minutes as they sped.

A boy of twelve, with fancies fresh and strong,
Who found the text no cushion of repose,
Who deemed the shortest sermon far too long,
My thoughts were in the tree-tops with the crows;

Or farther still I soared, upon the back
Of white clouds sailing in the shoreless blue,
Till he recalled me from their dazzling track
To the old meeting-house and high-backed pew.

'To eager childhood, as it turns the leaf,
How long and bright the unread page appears!
But to the aged, looking back, how brief,
How brief the tale of half a hundred years!'

Over the drowsy pews the preacher's word
Resounded, as he paused to wipe his brows:
I seem to hear it now, as then I heard,
Reëchoing in the hollow meeting-house.

'Our youth is gone, and thick and thicker come
The hoary years, like tempest-driven snows;
Flies fast, flies fast, life' s wasting pendulum,
And ever faster as it shorter grows.'

My mates sat wondering wearily the while
How long before his Lastly would come in,
Or glancing at the girls across the aisle,
Or in some distant corner playing pin.

But in that moment to my inward eyes
A sudden window opened, and I caught
Through dazzling rifts a glimpse of other skies,
The dizzy deeps, the blue abyss of thought.

Beside me sat my father, grave and gray,
And old, so old, at twoscore years and ten!
I said, 'I will remember him this day,
When I am fifty, if I live till then.

'I will remember all I see and hear,
My very thoughts, and how life seems to me,
This Sunday morning in my thirteenth year;—
How will it seem when I am old as he?

'What is the work that I shall find to do?
Shall I be worthy of his honored name?
Poor and obscure? or will my dream come true,
My secret dream of happiness and fame?'

Ah me, the years betwixt that hour and this!
The ancient meeting-house has passed away,
And in its place a modern edifice
Invites the well-dressed worshiper to-day.

With it have passed the well-remembered faces:
The old are gone, the boys are gray-haired men;
They too are scattered, strangers fill their places;
And here am I at twoscore years and ten!

How strangely, wandering here beside the sea,
The voice of crows in yonder forest boughs,
A cloud, a Sabbath bell, bring back to me
That morning in the gaunt old meeting-house!

An oasis amid the desert years,
That golden Sunday smiles as then it smiled:
I see the venerated head; through tears
I see myself, that far-off wondering child!

The pews, the preacher, and the whitewashed wall,
An imaged book, with careless children turning
Its awful pages,—I remember all;
My very thoughts, the questioning and yearning;

The haunting faith, the shadowy superstition,
That I was somehow chosen, the special care
Of Powers that led me through life's changeful vision,
Spirits and Influences of earth and air.

In curious pity of myself, grown wise,
I think what then I was and dared to hope,
And how my poor achievements satirize
The boy's brave dream and happy horoscope.

To see the future flushed with morning fire,
Rosy with banners, bright with beckoning spears,
Fresh fields inviting courage and desire,—
This is the glory of our youthful years.

To feel the pettiness of prizes won,
With all our vast ambition; to behold
So much attempted and so little done,—
This is the bitterness of growing old.

Yet why repine? Though soon we care no more
For triumphs which, till won, appear so sweet,
They serve their use, as toys held out before
Beguiled our infancy to try its feet.

Not in rewards, but in the strength to strive,
The blessing lies, and new experience gained;
In daily duties done, hope kept alive,
That Love and Thought are housed and entertained.

So not in vain the struggle, though the prize
Awaiting me was other than it seemed.
My feet have missed the paths of Paradise,
Yet life is even more blessed than I deemed.

Riches I never sought, and have not found,
And Fame has passed me with averted eye;
In creeks and bays my quiet voyage is bound,
While the great world without goes surging by.

No withering envy of another's lot,
Nor nightmare of contention, plagues my rest:
For me alike what is and what is not,
Both what I have and what I lack, are best.

A flower more sacred than far-seen success
Perfumes my solitary path; I find
Sweet compensation in my humbleness,
And reap the harvest of a tranquil mind.

I keep some portion of my early dream:
Brokenly bright, like moonbeams on a river,
It lights my life, a far elusive gleam,
Moves as I move, and leads me on forever.

Our earliest longings prophesy the man,
Our fullest wisdom still enfolds the child;
And in my life I trace that larger plan
Whereby at last all things are reconciled.

The storm-clad years, the years that howl and hasten,
The world, where simple faith soon grows estranged,
Toil, passion, loss, all things that mold and chasten,
Still leave the inmost part of us unchanged.

O boy of long ago, whose name I bear,
Small self, half-hidden by the antique pew,
Across the years I see you, sitting there,
Wondering and gazing out into the blue;

And marvel at this sober, gray-haired man
I am or seem! How changed my days, how fame
The wild, swift hopes with which my youth began!
Yet in my inmost self I am the same.

The dreamy soul, too sensitive and shy,
The brooding tenderness for bird and flower
The old, old wonder at the earth and sky,
And sense of guidance by an Unseen Power,—

These keep perpetual childhood in my heart.
The peaks of age, that looked so bare and cold,
Those peaks and I are still as far apart
As in the years when fifty seemed so old.

Age, that appeared far off a bourn at rest,
Recedes as I advance; the fount of joy
Rises perennial in my grateful breast;
And still at fifty I am but a boy. 



John Townsend Trowbridge's other poems:
  1. The Isle of Lambs
  2. Old Man Gram
  3. Filling an Order
  4. Pleasant Street
  5. The Old Lobsterman


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