The Great War

from War: an Ode And Other Poems, an electronic edition

The "Titanic"

(An Ode of Immortality)

i

O, RIBBED and riveted with iron and steel,

Cuirassed and byrnied, breathing smoke and flame.

Cleaving the billows with her monstrous keel,

A Titan challenging the gods she came!

The surf piled lilies round her eager prow,

The wind made music through her mighty spars.

Her hot heart thudded, thundered, and her brow

Had converse with the stars.

ii

What phantoms of what famous ships of old

Came to convoy

Her freight of joy,

Her beauty, and her splendour, o'er the main!

Here rocked the weather-beaten barques of Troy

Beside the ghostly galleons of Spain;

And there the Argo, with her fleece of gold,

Followed the Mayflower with her pilgrims bold;

And yonder, with her motley tattered crew,

Santa Maria o'er the surges flew

On buoyant wing

While Viking warriors, with eyes of blue,

Lay on their oars and wondered at the Thing,--

At the prodigious panoply of steel,

The pounding rods, the whirling blades, the invulnerable keel.

Natheless, old Charon, paddling in his boat,

Smiled, and the laughter rattled in his throat.

iii

Why does Death's laughter jangle in the dark?

What can he do against so brave a barque?

Louder than any laughter is her speech:

Ten thousand miles her utterance can reach:

And like ten thousand Argus eyes agaze

Her mast lights glimmer and her portholes blaze.

So mightily her turbines whirl and whir,

Great cables she can snap like gossamer,

And tempests move her, but as breathings stir

The branches of a forest. Who would seek

To grapple with the giant strength of her

Must have for battle-axe a mountain spur,

Must have a poniard like a mountain peak.

iv

Yea, but an icy mountain is unloosed:

Riding the sea, it cometh to the joust,

Reckless and ruthless, arrogant and proud,

Clad in white armour, visored with a cloud.

No bugles blow, no trumpets blare,

No oriflammes and pennons flare,

No heralds at the lists proclaim

The great grim Arctic giant's name;

But pitiless, and gaunt, and white,

It tilts in silence through the night.

O sea! O wind!

Can God be blind!

Crash! we can hear its great spear gride,

Gashing the vessel's iron side!

Ah! woe is me! A host of men must die,

A host of men must leave the April sky,

The lush green meadows, and the budding trees,

The little children climbing on their knees,

Glorious hopes, and golden memories.

And yet to great and good things seemed they born,

For every morn

The sun came through the gateways of the East

To lackey at their feast.

And they had made the tempests, and the waves,

And steel and steam,

And fire and dream,

Their feudatories, and their slaves.

Why should they lie now in such lonely graves?

Why did inexorable Fate ordain

That heart and brain

Should perish in this moaning pool of pain,

This weltering wailing maelstrom, where Despair

Gripped faith and Courage by the throat and hair.

O white cold faces, staring at the sky,

Did Love of God not hear you cry?

O poor blind faces pillowed on the ooze

Why did God choose

That you should tortured die?

Is the Power of God a Dream? Is the Love of God a Lie?

vi

We are but puppets of the mighty Powers

That round the planets, and that light the stars.

Time maketh dust of palaces and towers,

Of faces and of flowers;

Death all our loveliness and beauty mars.

The great fire-hearted world grows red and wroth,

And shrivels up a city like a moth;

It dribbles down its beard in dotard ire.

And buries half a nation in a mire;

It twitches with a palsy, and a town

Is shaken down.

Now from the Pole

The glaciers roll

And bray and grind the mountains into mud;

Now from the deep,

Where the oozes creep,

New mountains bud.

Change, change, for ever change, death, and decay;

All lovely things are born only to pass away.

vii

And yet the Soul in whom all beings are

Discerns so deep, foresees so far,

He plans the meadows of a star

├ćons before the star is made,

And in the fire

He moulds to his desire

The tiny blossom and the tender blade.

The deeper meaning of these woes

No mortal knows,

Yet in one web the universe is spun,

Out of the Infinite the finite grows,

Shadow and sun

Are woven in one,

And every star is needful for a rose.

viii

Behold! the hands of Fate,

Wise and deliberate,

Most exquisite in art, most prodigal of power,

Shaped to a strange device

The murderous bit of ice

Of a million starry flakes, each perfect as a flower,

Hammering flake to flake

Simply for Beauty's sake.

And if the berg was made with so much loving care,

The end was surely good, the purpose surely fair.

ix

And we have glimpsed a good,

A meaning issuing thence,

Half-seen, half-understood,

Immortal and immense,--

For we have seen poor mortals die

As only the immortal durst;

And we have heard the deathless cry--

"Women and children first!"

"Women and children first!" The whole world hears;

The cry reverberates adown the years

A trumpet blast, a trumpet call,

So vibrant that the prison-wall

That bars the vision of Humanity

Sags, totters to its fall,--

So brave and fearless that our spirits see

The Love behind it all.

Yea, in spite of glutted Death we feel

That mightier than the Titan's mighty keel,

Than whirling blade, and flashing piston-rod,

Is Courage leaning on the Love of God.

x

Nor are they dead who lie asleep

In the ocean's deep.

Their eyelids small as lily-leaves

Cannot conceal a single star,

For all the things the eye perceives

Behind the eyelid-curtain are.

No changes of the carnal sight

Can blind or blight

The living soul,

Which is the darkness, and the light,

And in itself contains the whole--

Both earth below,

And stars above,

And weal, and woe,

And hate, and love.

xi

What is life but a drop

In an infinite ocean?

E'en though the pulses may stop,

Yet, with unceasing motion,

From the Eternal Soul

The mightier currents roll;

Life is merely a passing phase of a great Immortal whole.

Meadows and trees,

Rivers and seas,

Health and disease,

Good and ill,

Are divers keys

In the harmonies

Of the Master Will,

And the beating heart

Plays its part

And sounds, and is still.

xii

But never can silent death,

Making their laughter mute,

Kissing away their breath,

Blighting blossom and fruit,--

Never can silent death

Mar, and destroy, and break,

Or silence the soul of love, if the soul of love awake.

Love, and the things of Love--Beauty, and Wisdom, and Peace,

Never grow dim and dumb, never darken and cease.

Even as Death's crooked hand

Twitches the chords of fear,

Our hearts shall understand

How every pain was planned,

Our souls shall hear

How harmonies control

At once the thunder's roll,

And the rounding of a tear.

xiii

Now is the carnate soul

Conscious of body and face,

Conscious of joy or disgrace;

Then shall its wider senses embrace

And compass the whole,

The rest and the riot,

The song and the quiet,

The hearing and seeing,

The infinite being,

The light and the music of measureless Space!