The Great War

from A Crown of Amaranth, an electronic edition

To the Unknown Dead

I.

TO all the fallen, all the nameless

Host of the unremembered slain,

Who noteless fought and perished fameless,

Yet won the cross- the cross of pain,

Greeting I bring and requiem.

May light perpetual shine on them.

In Pére Lachaise among the marbles

I marked how human nature tires

To gather grapes of thorns, or garbles

Sorrow with insincerities.

Little I read but hope and praise

Inscribed for those in Pére Lachaise.

Yet flesh recoils and spirit falters

Before the secret of the pit.

Brave it who may, no glozing alters

That menace in the gloom of it.

'A child's dread of the darkness!' Well,

Is any fear more terrible ?

Auroral Lights of perished passion

'Their streamers on the night unfurl;

Or memory's wan moonbeams fashion

'Mid falling tears her arch of pearl;

And still the eternal silence saith:

Death is not otherwise than death.

-Even destruction's gulf, the lightless

Deep which is called the outer dark,

So void that thought itself is flightless,

So formless that no dream for ark

Floats on oblivion's flood to hive

Some lingering waifs of self alive.

Wherefore, as one who makes libation,

Between the living and the dead

I stand, and give you salutation,

Lords of the Terror. Who have said

Clear words of death? If any hear

My call, make answer! Rise! Appear!

II.

Lo ! Sphinx, the ancient wisdom, rises,

She who avers not nor denies.

All things she knows and all despises:

Beyond the streaming galaxies

Her eyes discern the end of things,

And her smile mocks it while she sings:-

"Why for the fruit forbidden

Of knowledge will ye forfeit life's illusion,

Seeing ye yourselves in Maya's veil are woven?

Seek ye the secret hidden?

Hope is a mocker; love, the heart's confusion;

And faith, unreasoning trust in things unproven."

"Thou for whom life seems over,

Whose spirit haunts the wastes of time departed,

Gaze in mine eyes which see the truth and show it.

Behold thy love, O lover,

-Thy long-lost love-grown sleek and sleepy-hearted.

Thou art forgot: be comforted to know it."

"And thou, whose day rejoices

In youth and riches and the love of woman,

Look in mine eyes. Yea, is thy pride abated,

Beholding fate who poises

Her scales which weigh the worth of all things human

Against a little dust, O heart elated?î

"Farewell. Thou canst not stay nor hasten

The flux of the eternal dream;

Nor 'scape the hour when death shall fasten

Upon thee in the kiss supreme,

As on thy lips my lips are pressed

Hard, and my talons in thy breast."

O singer of the hollow places

Where melancholy listless broods

Beside forsaken tasks or paces,

Forlorn, her echoing solitudes,

If that indeed thou speakest sooth,

Perish with thine ignoble truth

III.

Then to my mouth remembrance lifted

The cup which Thule's king of old

Was wont to drink from; and there drifted

The music of the Bowl of Gold

Aeolian o'er me, and I knew

That man's inveterate hope was true.

The silver cord is loosed, and broken

The golden bowl: again the dust

Returns to earth." What ruth unspoken

Wells upwards in the words august!

What swell of the heart's bitterness

Heaves underneath their tranquil stress!

O mourning voice, so vast and tender,

Draping thy requiem as a pall

Of hushed magnificence, a splendour

Dim on the common doom of all,

Thine is indeed a gentle word

For death--the loosened silver cord.

But for the dead thou hast no pan,

No laurel crown, no branch of palm,

Only a threnody lethean

Serene in all-surrendering calm;

And, like a bell that surges toll,

The burden of the Golden Bowl.

Yet rises up the old misgiving:

Is it song's sorcery that transmutes

To gold the pitcher-sherds which, living,

Were earthier of the earth than brutes ?

Can this be said of such as they,

Poor cruses of coarse-shapen clay?

Gold? So the phrase is, thus miscalling

That swarming life, obscure and null,

Rolled by the river ever falling

Into an ocean never full.

-Drift and drab ooze to floor the sea

Whose waters are eternity.

IV.

Before me rose austere, impassive,

A cliff-like scarp of limestone grey.

Lofty it stood, a barrier massive

Athwart the cypress-bordered way;

And on the face of it a gloom

Which seemed a cavern or a tomb.

And sculptured shapes of man and maiden

By that dark entrance I beheld.

One knelt in prayer; one, overladen

With the numb miseries of eld,

Submissive bowed. Another bent

Earthward her face. Some crouched or leant

Clinging together as the haven

Of nothingness they gathered nigh.

But under them these words engraven

Spake for the sculptor's imagery:

"They that in darkness sat have seen

Great light." And I descried between

The frowning walls two lovers sleeping

As though the Everlasting Arms

Indeed were under them and keeping

Far from their rest all needs and harms.

And light which seemed no light of day

Dwelt on them like the Shekinah.

The poppy of oblivion covers

The legend and the name of these.

Roses lie strewn by pilgrim-lovers

On Abélard and Héloise

Summer on summer, year by year,

But never a blossom withers here.

For to the weak, the world-defeated,

Bound on the Ixionian wheel

Of toil, or trodden down and treated

As dross that clogs our age of steel;

Ay, and when dead, like worthless dross

Whose bodies fill the common fosse,

The lives awry, the misbegotten,

Foredoomed to failure from their birth,

With stunted soul and body rotten,

The disinherited of earth,

This monument of limestone grey

Was carven by Bartholomé.

V.

Why tinsel truth to mimic glory,

Making pretence each valiant deed

And death shall live renowned in story

While men by generations bleed?

A list, a number and a name-

Such is the recompense of fame!

Fame! When through death's tremendous portal

The soul emerging fronts the Sea

Of Light, and skims on wings immortal

Its waves of shimmering melody,

What will she care if men below

Extol her earthly name or no?

The periods of the panegyric

May roll sonorous over them

Who had small praise in life; the lyric

May crown, as crowns a diadem

The empty catafalque. But they,

Who died for us, are far away

(The English Review)