The Great War

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

To a Lady in the Reading-Room of the British Museum

WHAT are you doing there mid the dust,

You that are made of the sunlight and dew,

What are you doing?

Reading? Reviewing?

Wearing out eyes of impossible blue,

Wasting a heart that the world should be wooing,

Wasting a heart that is tender and true.

What are you doing?

Reading? Reviewing?

Japanese? Volpauk? Hebrew? Hindoo?

ii

What do you seek in that catacomb there,

Lined with a million of folios dead?

What are you finding

Hid in the binding,

You with the lips of geranium red?

What are you harvesting? What are you grinding?

What are you trying to put in your head?

What are you finding

Hid in the binding?

Were it not better to frivol instead?

iii

What are you studying? Science? Theology?

Botany? History? Cookery? Art?

Have you been choosing

Something amusing,

Fin de si├Ęcle, and piquant, and smart?

Are you a sermon or sonnet perusing?

Feed you your mind, or your soul, or your heart?

Have you been choosing

Something amusing?

Is it Corelli? Is it Descartes?

iv

Are you the Goddess Pallas Athena,

Goddess of Wisdom, stately and wise?

Have you, I wonder,

Lightning and thunder

Stored in your bosom and hid in your eyes?

Out of the brow of great Zeus cleft asunder,

Did you one morning with shouting arise?

Have you, I wonder,

Lightning and thunder

Brought from the arsenal vault of the skies?

v

Fair necromancer, with your warm beauty

You can awaken the dead and the dumb;

Fair necromancer,

Soldier and dancer

Step to your heart like the beat of a drum;

Emperor, prophet, singer, romancer

Talk till the dome and the galleries hum;

Fair necromancer,

Singer and dancer,

Poet and priest, at your beckoning come.

vi

By your warm wonder bewitched, and awakened,

All the dead hearts of the universe leap;

Lo, with a holloa,

Pan and Apollo

Come from Time's oubliette dusky and deep;

Odin, and Thor, and Eurydice follow;

Out of a cupboard the leprechaun peep;

Lo, with a holloa,

Pan and Apollo,

Odin, and Isis, arise from their sleep!

vii

Dozens of passionate amorous poets

Dance to your heart on the dusty old shelves!

Out of the pages,

Brown with the ages,

March mighty warriors gripping their helves,

Teachers, and preachers, and singers, and sages,

Commonplace people the same as ourselves.

Out of the pages,

Brown with the ages,

Flutter forth also the fairies and elves.

viii

Come all the dreams of the beautiful dreamers,

All the fair dreams that their dreamers outlast,

All the romances,

All the fair fancies,

Fairy-tale visions, and hopes of the past.

There on the desk Queen Titania dances,

Ariel, Oberon come from the Vast.

All the romances,

All the fair fancies,

All at your feet, like a garland are cast.

ix

O but they love you, prophet and poet,

Warrior, patriarch, fairy, and king,

Hero and hewer,

Dreamer and doer,

Come to your beauty, as flowers to the spring;

Every wise heart of the past is your wooer,

Suppliant round you they clamour and sing.

Hero and hewer,

Dreamer and doer,

Each to your beauty his homage would bring.

x

Lady, fair Lady, haply some morning,

As you bend over some wonderful scroll,

You will discover

Lips of a lover

Singing a ditty, and craving a dole

Haply some morning Cupid will hover,

Stringing his bow and demanding his toll,

You will discover

A beautiful lover

Kissing your lips and besieging your soul.