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Poem by Lewis Morris


The Apology


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.



                      Lewis Morris


Lewis Morris's other poems:
  1. A Cynic's Day-Dream
  2. The Reply
  3. A Yorkshire River
  4. The Living Past
  5. To a Child of Fancy


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  • Ralph Emerson The Apology ("THINK me not unkind and rude")

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