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Poem by Edwin Arnold
Pleasanter than the hills of Thessaly, Nearer and dearer to the poet's heart Than the blue ripple belting Salamis, Or long grass waving over Marathon, Fair Academe-most holy Academe, Thou art, and hast been, and shalt ever be. I would be numbered now with things that were, Changing the wasting fever of to-day For the dear quietness of yesterday:- I would be ashes, underneath the grass, So I had wandered in thy platane walks One happy summer twilight-even one:- Was it not grand, and beautiful and rare, The music, and the wisdom, and the shade, The music of the pebble-paven rills, And olive boughs, and bowered nightingales, Chorussing joyously the joyous things Told by the gray Silenus of the grove, Low-fronted and large-hearted Socrates! Oh! to have seen under the olive blossoms But once-once only in a mortal life, The marble majesties of ancient Gods! And to have watched the ring of listeners, The Grecian boys gone mad for love of Truth, The Grecian girls gone pale for love of him Who taught the truth, who battled for the truth; And girls and boys, women and bearded men, Crowding to hear and treasure in their hearts Matter to make their lives a happiness, And Death a happy ending. One there was A meek disciple and an equal friend, Who night by night in rocky Megara Waited the coming of the evening star, As young Leander waited for the lighting Of Hero's lamp; and when the star was up Then rose he from the watch, and flung aside The broidered tunic and the leathern boot, Marking him masculine, and round his heart Folded a woman's robe, and on his foot Buckled a woman's shoe, and hid his beard Under the wimple of a woman's hood, Lest the bright glitter of its golden curl Bring him to death, for there was come a law, Told to the city from the trumpet-mouth:- 'If citizen of Megara shall tread 'The stones of Athens, he shall surely die.' But what are laws of men to him who lusted To learn the laws of God; he journeyed on Safe in his secrecy, the weary stades From Megara to Athens, never failing. And from the early flower-buds that break To see where summer tarries: to the frost That glitters first of Autumn, all the nights His soul was banqueting with Socrates. One night-the last of all the happy nights- They tracked him thitherward; he knew the fangs Of the fierce bloodhounds that had hunted him, Though they were habited in gentle guise Of teachable disciples, so he spake:- 'Dear master, I have earned the right to listen 'Only at cost of life, and they are here 'Who know me for thy country's enemy, 'And I must die, oh! is it pain to die? 'Tell me one word of this fierce-fronted Death 'Who strikes us to the soul.' Then answered he, That mighty teacher of the right and wrong: Who told thee that death was dreadful to see, A withered and ghastly anatomy, Faint, longing heart? That he rides in his wrath where the earth is red, Striking her daintiest children dead With a venemous dart? He weareth a dim and a shadowy form, Like the varying clouds of a summer storm With beauty like theirs; And he speedeth o'er city and sea and land, With a still soft step and a gentle hand, Drying up tears. And they that have gazed on his pitying look Are free to read in the spirit-book Where all things are told; And the sick heart's struggle is over then, And the soul springs up from its earthly den To its home of old. What though he come then, this gentle Death, With a quick faint pang, and a flagging breath, Shall we fear the meeting? Maiden and lover, and poet and slave, We should welcome him well at the gate of the grave With a proud, glad greeting. He ended; and the nightingales anew Sang clear contempt of pain, with feathered breasts Bleeding against the thorn; the tear of terror Dried into smile upon the scholar's cheek, A peaceful happy smile; that night he bought His spirit's freedom with his body's blood.
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