A Poetic Interlude.
Time, everywhere by grim oblivion
encircled, as when in the ring of flames
the scorpion does plunge into its breast
the fearsome barb: so Time does swallow up
its very potency,
and quaff the dusty glass of life;-
that from whose bitter pharmacy
we had so long abstained to seek
alleviance for all our ills in Death.
Befouled with earth's o'er-childed mass,
Time's the rat that nips at the heel of man
which Death drives out, when it does purge
the overrun sullage of generation
from which it feeds- and gives us peace.
Speak of the dead's justice, or their virtue,
for the living but drain their cup of life,
insensate, till the dregs consume;
their philosophy unmade in heaven,
their deepest moral but mere confession.
Immortal longings ingress upon the mortal heart,
to comprehension's failure; till life's ailing flood
bank at heaven's shores. Save for life and death,
all can be forgiven. The soul still further mounts,
it's but for this that life benignant proves,-
that all life's seeming seems to fly as we do seek
its current prodding ceaseless, thus to smooth
the pebble-soul of love and loss in quiet deep.
The fevered heart does anguished keep,
when pleasure's secret lies still undiscovered,
thus yearning immortal does itself beseech
the ever-pregnant thought of the eternal;
thus strange presage our soul makes ere we do sleep
with device of symbol, thus to announce,
amidst our youth, high case of love and crime-
and war, which age but does allegorize.
It is but in the muddied spring of death
that all the world's show is cast upon,
like trembling stars in the pale waters
whose light wavers with the dithering wind;
the whole plethory of man is list upon,
his passions vincible, and kingdom's pomp,
his love, all the glory of his raving tribe,
and bend all the more, the more gently urged
with the quiet thoughts of death.
Thus the beasts plod on, who upon their course
find neither love nor hope, and no remorse,
while man, in all-comprehending avarice complains
that fearsome war did not secure his name,
nor brazen monument did mark his progeny.
Alas, though full of grief, man's like that bird,
vitiated, and who, with broken wing,
calls out, and the more beautifully does sing,
for how solemn the work of life to us appears,
and all the world seems a living prayer,
hieratic chorus of immortal powers;
the stars, which in their lonely splendor hang,
over heraldic seas, which aver their light;
their light to baptize for our human eyes,
which cannot long bear to stare into the night.
So though of death I grieve, yet it is to death
I bend accordance; thus my part I play
in this life's supplication to unknown Gods;
and am Man, in whose soul the tired breath
of gathered creation thereby allays
of thought wandering, which onward plods
into the dim clime of high philosophy;
till' love and pain, hope, and ambition's lost,
amidst the wreck of time and sense,
for changed, they are what they were not.
For when man's balmed heart has quieted
the fire in which our passions had been tempered,
so love's tired pleasure love then steals away;
our love the thought of love therein divests
of the desire which this thought confounds,
while in our hope desire does recess;
and hope, most roving, like pain itself renounces. 1
Like the wintered grace of the arresting seas
all that's fair grows pale before it disappears
and empties into its native waters.
As life is death's greatest consolation,
so too is death life's most perfect solace;
for with the earth, thy sacrificial fire,
equally is prepared the first-born of man,
the high cast of the world's infancy;
the melancholy ocean, whose intimation
of mute age, and endless time do pierce
the brooding soul; statesmen just and mighty,
young beauty, with all her fledgling virtue;
the ruined column of the stony earth,
whose prized mountains crumble, the golden sun
and his companion stars, grown pale with time;
kings, princes, learned men and benefactor- all
without distinction perish thus to feed
that all-embracing fire, nor with pride
the nobler lot to shame the commoner,
but with the only justice known in heaven
or on earth, to bend and pass, that others 2
in their stead may do the same.
Till in the strange accent of recorded time
our favorite phantom cleaves the rounded way 3
to dusty death, into the long twilight 4
the murmuring steep of years rolls onward,
into that plaintive vale the living sweep
o'er like shadows. Till light dispel us;
the living, but the first born of the dead,
of clodden field, immense of empyrean,
and puissant sun. Thus we live;
the bitter will mock, while the somber weep,
while bud of Sephalica, or aliment
make of Lotus flower, the soft-hearted
shall glory in the temple of the flesh.
In what eloquence of natural beauty
we might list to the wind our own heart's compact
as children of the earth, 'longside those butterflies,
song-spun into leaves of gold and silver,
the whispered angels upon threads of dawn-
and that, until resolved to earth again,
we gently perish.
It is but our thoughts, that are the ages
of our life, by which we do measure out
passion horary, till action's stifled
that no moment but could be filled by it,
and the brim of life spills to indiscretion.
Life's but a nascent sun, that illumines 5
the shadowed dream; and this light we share,
the world, and but all we know of it,
till we pall of knowing. Then thy image
is undone, in the first morning of the world,
left nothing of its memory to the blear seas
as yawn wearily over their wasted kingdoms,
nor any of the houses, and darkness
only is the universe. 6
The margin of thy subtle frame is lost;
by a flower's root thy cast is broken,
and by a drop of rain thy human pride
discovered. Survey the earth, thy great tomb:
this dust in which you shall be laid
which itself once lived and breathed;
or suffered, rejoiced, and prayed,
yet no more weeps, or laughs, or bleeds.
So form but with thy human speech-
mere hissing sputum in thy chest,
a word to cast upon the coruscant sea;
search thy soul's deepest ecstasy,
and from thy mortal conceit thus confess,
to name all this choiring beauty
of the world- death. 7 For
all thy world is but a drop of rain,-
the moon-gilded tear of the yet un-dawned,
whose yearning were poised upon a flower;
though who could endure but that single tear,
if not to fall yielding upon the heart,
in what peerless bower of solitary witness?
Its beauty is its descent, and of the world
we do read the weight of things: all beauty
that cannot be endured kindly spares us
of the grief we feel, when we do know it,
and the sorrow- though to be spared
that drop of rain were unkindly.
1. An adaptation of Propertius.
2. "Favorite phantom" , Bryant, Thanatopsis.
4. Dusty Death, phrase in Macbeth.
5. Browne: We live by an invisible sun within us.
6. Byron: "... And darkness was the universe."
7. Pointed allusion to Yeats:
Crying amid the glittering sea,
Naming it with the ecstatic breath,
Because it had such dignity,
By the sweet name of Death.