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Poem by William Watson
The Man Who Saw
The master weavers at the enchanted loom Of Legend, weaving long ago those tales Through which there wanders the grey thread of truth, Lost in the gorgeous arras of romance, Tell how King Vortigern resolved to build A Tower of Safety, 'mid the solitudes That are the hem of the great druid robe Of Snowdon, Mount of Eagles. So each day The builders laboured, marrying stone to stone; But ever in the night an adversary Invisible as malevolent cancelled those Cold nuptials, and with impish wanton rage Shattered the walls. And thither, from beyond That congress of grave mountains, met like seers And bards august, though in a rivalry Of silence rather than of song—from where The vales are not so tranced with awe, nor yet So far below the hill tops as to feel Aching estrangement,—fortune one day brought A youth whoso very brow was a command. His name of Merlin had not clambered then To fearsome greatness, like a dusty star; Yet ev'n thus early his subduing eyes Seemed to have known all things in life but tears; And standing where wrecked hopes bestrewed the ground, He said to them whose toil was shards and dust: 'Search underneath. your tower's foundations; there Are the Unbuilders, busy while you build; The Undoers are there.' And every man obeyed. And digging deep, they found a hollow abysm, Where waters gnawed the ribs of the Earth, and sapped Her sinews, till her frame tottered infirm ; 'Where also monsters heaved their tumid bulk In ancient ambush, and with tremors vast Palsied those ramparts as they yearned to rise;' Blind dragon shapes, of blindest, darkness born, That save in darkness could not live an hour, And, touched by Light, made their dull moan, and died. Such is the tale, which one, who chronicled Old shadowy wars in sanctuaries of peace, Found amid crumbled pomps, the hushed domain Of mildew, and the empire of the moth, Nigh on eight hundred years ago. And now, Out of that land where Snowdon night by night Receives the confidences of lonesome stars, And where Carnarvon's ruthless battlements Magnificently oppress the daunted tide, There comes—no fabled Merlin, son of mist, And brother to the twilight, but a man Who in a time terrifically real Is real as the time; formed for the time;' Not. much .beholden to the munificent Past, In mind or spirit but frankly of this hour No faggot of perfections, angel or saint, Created faultless and intolerable; No meeting-place of all the heavenlinesses; But eminently a. man to stir and spur Men, to afflict them with benign alarm, Harass their sluggish and uneager blood, Till, like himself, they are hungry for the goal; A man with something of the cragginess Of his own mountains, something of the force That goads to their loud leap the mountain streams. And he too comes to bid the builders probe Deep underneath the Tower of Safety, lest A pit lie cavernous and covert there, A long baulked, ravening emptiness, a grave That famishes for its expected food. Nay, in his hands he takes the delver's spade, Lays bare the hollow, o'er which to build at all Were to build woe and ruin, and 'stablishes A mightier tower, bastioned so broad and firm, In life, in manhood, and in womanhood, Founded upon so massy a human rock, And with such living bulwarks against them Who first poured death from where the lark strews bliss, That when, at last, ours shall be Triumph, though Triumph perhaps too weary to rejoice, Save with a mournful jubilation—when Hate shall reel back from these embattled walls, And having spent so long its hurtling bolts With such' poor thrift, shall stand before the star? Bankrupt of thunder—then indeed shall Time Add yet another name to those the world Salutes with an obeisance of the soul: The name of him, the man of Celtic blood, Whom Powers Unknown, in a divine caprice, Chose and did make their instrument, wherewith To save the Saxon: the man all eye and hand, The man who saw, and grasped, and gripped, and held. Then shall each morrow with its yesterday Vie, in the honour of nobly honouring him, Who found us blindfold by the slippery .verge Of fathomless perdition and haled us back. And poets shall dawn in pearl and gold of speech, Crowning his deed with not less homage, here On English ground, than yonder whence he rose: Yonder where crash the cataracts through the chasms, And unto the dark tempests the dark hills Offer their stubborn sides all gered, but keep A heart invincible and impregnable; While with long arm and piercing spear the sea Thrusts far into the valleys, that of old Heard the twin raptures of the harp and sword, The heroic strife, and the heroic strings, Amid the battling torrents, and beneath The happier peaks, that, without strife, prevail.
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