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An Ode It lieth low near merry England's heart Like a long-buried sin; and Englishmen Forget that in its death their sires had part. And, like a sin, Time lays it bare again To tell of races wronged, And ancient glories suddenly overcast, And treasures flung to fire and rabble wrath. If thou hast ever longed To lift the gloomy curtain of Time Past, And spy the secret things that Hades hath, Here through this riven ground take such a view. The dust, that fell unnoted as a dew, Wrapped the dead city's face like mummy-cloth: All is as was: except for worm and moth. Since Jove was worshipped under Wrekin's shade Or Latin phrase was writ in Shropshire stone, Since Druid chaunts desponded in this glade Or Tuscan general called that field his own, How long ago? How long? How long since wanderers in the Stretton Hills Met men of shaggy hair and savage jaw, With flint and copper prong, Aiming behind their dikes and thorny grilles? Ah! those were days before the axe and saw, Then were the nights when this mid-forest town Held breath to hear the wolves come yelping down, And ponderous bears 'long Severn lifted paw, And nuzzling boars ran grunting through the shaw. Ah me! full fifteen hundred times the wheat Hath risen, and bowed, and fallen to human hunger Since those imperial days were made complete. The weary moon hath waxen old and younger These eighteen thousand times Without a shrine to greet her gentle ray. And other temples rose; to Power and Pelf, And chimed centurial chimes Until their very bells are worn away. While King by King lay cold on vaulted shelf And wars closed wars, and many a Marmion fell, And dearths and plagues holp sire and son to hell; And old age stiffened many a lively elf And many a poet's heart outdrained itself. I had forgot that so remote an age Beyond the horizon of our little sight, Is far from us by no more spanless gauge Than day and night, succeeding day and night, Until I looked on Thee, Thou ghost of a dead city, or its husk! But even as we could walk by field and hedge Hence to the distant sea So, by the rote of common dawn and dusk, We travel back to history's utmost edge. Yea, when through thy old streets I took my way, And recked a thousand years as yesterday, Methought sage fancy wrought a sacrilege To steal for me such godly privilege! For here lie remnants from a banquet table - Oysters and marrow-bones, and seeds of grape - The statement of whose age must sound a fable; And Samian jars, whose sheen and flawless shape Look fresh from potter's mould. Plasters with Roman finger-marks impressed; Bracelets that from the warm Italian arm Might seem to be scarce cold; And spears - the same that pushed the Cymry west- Unblunted yet; with tools of forge and farm Abandoned, as a man in sudden fear Drops what he holds to help his swift career: For sudden was Rome's flight, and wild the alarm. The Saxon shock was like Vesuvius' qualm. O ye who prate of modern art and craft . Mark well that Gaulish brooch, and test that screw! Art's fairest buds on antique stem are graft. Under the sun is nothing wholly new! At Viricon today The village anvil rests on Roman base And in a garden, may be seen a bower With pillars for its stay That anciently in basilic had place. The church's font is but a pagan dower: A Temple's column, hollowed into this. So is the glory of our artifice, Our pleasure and our worship, but the flower Of Roman custom and of Roman power. O ye who laugh and, living as if Time Meant but the twelve hours ticking round your dial, Find it too short for thee, watch the sublime, Slow, epochal time-registers awhile, Which are Antiquities. O ye who weep and call all your life too long And moan: Was ever sorrow like to mine? Muse on the memories That sad sepulchral stones and ruins prolong. Here might men drink of wonder like strong wine And feel ephemeral troubles soothed and curbed. Yet farmers, wroth to have their laws disturbed, Are sooner roused for little loss to pine Than we are moved by mighty woes long syne. Above this reverend ground, what traveller checks? Yet cities such as these one time would breed Apocalyptic visions of world-wrecks. Let Saxon men return to them, and heed! They slew and burnt, But after, prized what Rome had given away Out of her strength and her prosperity. Have they yet learnt The precious truth distilled from Rome's decay? Ruins! On England's heart press heavily! For Rome hath left us more than walls and words And better yet shall leave; and more than herds Or land or gold gave the Celts to us in fee; E'en Blood, which makes poets sing and prophets see.
Wilfred Owen's other poems:
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