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Poem by Lewis Morris
I MAY not scorn, I cannot prize Those whose quick-coming fancies rise Only in quaint disguise Some trick of speech, or mien, or dress, Some obsolete uncomeliness, Some ancient wickedness. Strange words antique for tilings not strange, Like broken tower and mould'ring grange, Made fair through time and change. Legends of knight, and squire, and dame, With this our common life the same In glory and in shame. Mean lives and narrow aims which owe The glamour and the charm they show To that strange 'Long ago;' Nay, meaner, lower than our own, Because To-day is wider grown, Knows deeper, and is known. I doubt if anything there be Which best thro' mask of chivalry, Reveals myself to me ; Myself, its yearnings and desires, Its glimpses of supernal fires, The something which aspires ; Myself, the thing of blot and stain, Which fallen, rises, falls again, A mystery of pain ; Myself, the toiler slow to earn, The thinker sowing words that burn, The sensuous in turn, The vanquished, the disgraced, the saint, Now free as air, now bound and faint, By everyday constraint. Or, if too near the present lies For common brains and common eyes To probe its mysteries. If feeble fancy fails to tear The outer husk of fact, and bare The seed to vital air, But too extended, too immense, Life's orb a vast circumference Stretches for mortal sense ; If simpler shows the past, more fair, Set in a pure and luminous air, Not dimmed by mists of care, Seeming to breathe a lighter strain Of lutes and lyres where none complain With undertones of pain ; If haply there we seem to view Ourselves, behind a veil, yet true The germ from which we grew ; Not less our duty and our pride Forbid to leave unsought, untried, The glories at our side. What ? shall the limner only paint Blue hills with adumbrations faint, Or misty aureoled saint, And scorn to ponder flower or tree, Ripe fields, child-faces, summer sea, And all fair things that be ; Nor care thro' passion's endless play, Our living brethren to portray, Who fare to doom to-day, When the sun's finger deigns to trace Each line and feature of man's face, Its beauty and disgrace ? Or shall the skilled musician dare Only to sound some jocund air Arcadian, free from care, Round whom in strains that scorn control The mighty diapasons roll, That speak from soul to soul ; Our mystical modern music deep, Not piped by shepherds to their sheep, But wrung from souls that weep ; Where seldom melody is heard, Nor simple woodland note of bird, So deep a depth is stirred, Such blended harmonies divine Across the core of sweetness twine As round the grape the vine ? Or shall some false cold dream of art Corrupt the voice and chill the heart, And turn us from our part, Blot out the precious lesson won From all the ages past and done, That bard and seer are one ? Dull creed of earthy souls ! who tell That, be the song of heaven or hell, Who truly sings, sings well, And with the same encomiums greet The satyr baring brutish feet, And pure child-angels sweet ; Whose praise in equal meed can share The Mcenad with distempered hair, The cold Madonna fair. Great singers of the past ! whose song Still streams down earthward pure and strong, Free from all stain of wron'. Whose lives were chequered, but whose verse The generations still rehearse ; Yet never soul grew worse. What is it that these would ? shall I, Born late in time, consent to lie In the old misery ? I who have learnt that flesh is dust, What gulfs dissever love from lust, The wrongful from the just- Put on again the rags of sense, A Pagan without innocence, A Christian in offence ? Perish the thought ! I am to-day What God and Time have made me; they Have ordered, I obey. And day by day the labouring earth Whirls on glad mysteries of birth, Sad death throes, sorrow, mirth, Youth's flower just bursting into bloom, Wan age, a sun which sets in gloom, The cradle, and the tomb ; These are around me hope and fear, Not fables, but alive and near, Fresh smile and scarce-dried tear ; These are around me, these I sing, These, these of every thought and thing, My verse shall heavenward wing. The sun but seems to kiss the hill, And all the vast eternal Will Is moving, working, still God is, Truth lives, and overhead Behold a visible glory spread ; Only the past is dead. Courage ! arise ; if hard it seem To sing the present, yet we deem 'Tis worthier than a dream. Awake, arise, for to the bold The seeming desert comes to hold Blossoms of white and gold. * * * * Shall I then choose to take my side With those who love their thoughts to hide In vague abstractions wide ? Whose dim verse struggles to recall The hopes, the fears that rise and fall Deep in the souls of all. Who fitly choose a fitting theme. Not things which neither are nor seem, No visionary dream, But the great psalm of life, the long Harmonious confluence of song, Thro' all the ages strong, But grown to wider scale to-day, And sweeping fuller chords than they Knew who have passed away. A worthy theme for worthy bard But all too often blurred and marred By intonations hard. So that the common eye and ear Can dimly see and faintly hear What should be bright and clear. Who wing the fiery thought so high, An arrow shot into the sky, Its failing forces die, And all the straining eye discerns Is but a spark which feebly burns, Then quenched to earth returns, Or with a borrowed lyre devote Hoarse accent and untuneful throat To sound a difficult note, By currents of conflicting thought, And counter themes which rise unsought, And jangling chords distraught. Not song, but science, sign not sound, Not soaring to high heaven, but bound Fast to the common ground. Who with a pitiless skill dissect What secret sources, vexed and checked, Surge upward in effect, And trace in endless struggling rhyme How hearts forlorn of love and time Have rotted into crime. Or those who, baffled and opprest By life's incessant fierce unrest, Where naught that is seems best, Assail the tyrant, lash the wrong, Till but a wild invective long, Is left in lieu of song. Most precious all, yet this is sure, The song which longest shall endure Is simple, sweet, and pure. Not psychologic riddles fine, Not keen analysis, combine In verse we feel divine. Nor fierce o'erbalanced rage alone, Which mars the rhyme, and dulls the tone They may not sing who groan ; But a sweet cadence, wanting much Of depth, perhaps, and fire, but such As finer souls can touch, To finer issues ; such as come To him who far afield must roam, Thinking old thoughts of home. Or who in Sabbath twilights hears His children lisp a hymn, and fears Lest they should see his tears. Wherefore, my soul, if song be thine, If any gleam of things divine Thro' thee may dimly shine, If ever any faintest note Of far-off sweetness swell thy throat, True echo tho' remote, This is my task, to sing To-day, Not dead years past and fled away, But this alone To-day. Or if I pause a little space Striving, across the gulf, to trace Some fine, forgotten face Some monarch of the race whose name Still lives upon the lips of fame, Touched by no stain ofshame ; Some sweet old love-tale, ever young, Which of old time the burning tongue Of god -like bard has sung ; Some meed of effort nobly won, Some more than human task begun, Precious though left undone ; Some awful story, strong to show How passions unrestricted flow Into a sea of woe ; Not less my powers I strive to bend, Not less my song aspires to tend To one unchanging end, By lofty aspirations, stirred Thro' homely music, daily heard, Trite phrase and common word, Simple, but holding at the core Thoughts which strange speech and varied lore Have hid from men before. To lift how little howsoe'er The hearts of toilers struggling here, In joyless lives and sere. To make a little lighter yet Their lives by daily ills beset, Whom men and laws forget. To sing, if sing I must, of love As a pure spell, with power to move Dull hearts to things above. But choosing rather to portray The warring tides of thought which stray Thro' doubting souls to-day. Or if at times, with straining eye And voice, I dwell on things which lie Hidden in Futurity, And strive to tell in halting rhyme The glorious dawn, the golden prime, The victories of Time, The race transfigured, wrong redressed, None worn with labour, nor oppressed, But peace for all and rest, And knowledge throwing wide the shrine From whose broad doorways seems to shine An effluence Divine ; If of these visions fain to dream, Not less I hold, whate'er may seem, The Present for my theme, The vain regret remembering, Which lost occasion knows to bring, Afraid, yet bound, to sing.
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