The Great War

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

A Quatercentenary Ode*

ETERNITY is throned upon thy spires:

Upon Eternity thy towers rest:

Thou wert conceived in the eternal fires

Of the sun's womb: upon the sun's white breast

Wert carried ere the souls of men were made--

Nay, in the nebula the seed was sown

Of every stone,

And by the stars were thy foundations laid.

The fire-mist held thee ere the sun it bore;

The sun had presage of thee ere she hurled

From her wild heart the world;

And the hot world enwrapped thee at its core,

In lava and in lightning, to await

The slow, fastidious finishing of Fate.

Then the round earth grew furrowed and grew frore,

And the encircling steam,

Condensing in a stream,

Hissed, boiling, bubbling on a barren shore,

Till the Word spake, and then

There blossomed flowers, and beasts, and souls of men;

And lo, in man's magnificent desires

And high imaginations, wilful, warm,

Thy polished pinnacles, and frosty spires,

Took shape and form,

Till all this growth of granite towers,

And pediments and columns round,

Like spikelets of colossal flowers,

Came burning through the ground.

Eternity was author of thy plan;

The fire-mist, and the sun, and earth, and man

Joined in thy making. Yea, by fire and thought

The gracious granite miracle was wrought.

And now thou art full-grown,

Full-leaved, full-blown--

An encrinite,

Stately and white,

A lily made of stone--

A torch that flares across the night

Of the Unknown--

The spindle and the loom of light--

An altar and a throne--

A temple where the feet of Truth may fare--

A peak where wisdom may be set on high,

Under a cloudless sky,

In Alpine air.

Yet what of Truth and Wisdom can we share,--

We who have seen Eternities prepare

The granite there,

"The polisht stones and squair,"

We who have watched worlds blossom and worlds die,

Who find beneath the silt of ancient seas,

Antediluvian cosmogonies?

How can we guess at things so far away?

How read the Mind who shapes the feathery snows

Then knits a glacier to knead the clay

That makes a rose,

Who sends the cataracts with heavy feet,

And white tumultuous toil,

To grind the rocks to make a meadow sweet

Giving the daisies soil?

How can we Know? What knowledge can we win?

The spindles flash: the mighty Destinies spin--

We know not whence we came, or whither we go.

What can we know?

How can we mete the masonry of God?

Our spirits are His trowel and His hod.

We guess a part: He pre-ordains the whole.

We lay a stone: He labours at a soul.

How can we see with His all-seeing sight

Issues so broad,

Meanings so infinite?

How can we know? How can we understand?

Who build a house of Truth upon the sand

Knowing the corner stone to be a lie,

Knowing the roof

Not lightning-proof,

A travesty and mockery of the sky.

How can we know, who know our truth is based

On finite facts by infinity effaced,

On parallels that meet in space behind,

On matter that is force, unconscious, blind?

How can we know whose knowledge is so small?

Why should we know? Why should we live at all?

Why all this toil and strife?

How did the Chaos burgeon into life?

Did it imagine, when the toil begun,

'Twould blossom into star, and moon, and sun

Rolling to rhythmic music? Toil seemed vain.

Mistily, vaguely, dizzily it spun

Racked with strange pain,

In fiery rain,

Through black abysses, while the cosmic power

Compelled it into bird, and beast, and flower,

And this grey temple's pinnacle and tower.

Truth is eternities away,

And we but climb,

In the dark of Time,

To the dawn of day.

What if the truth we do not see?

What matters truth.

To love and youth.

Who labour for eternity?

What if an error or a flaw

Life's beauty mars?

We are hammered to eternal law,

On love's high stithy by the stars.

The hands that made these spires were held

By the strong hand that holds the seas,

And every pillar was compelled,

By mighty cosmic energies.

And what we have not rightly wrought

In stone or thought

Will not endure; yet even so

Out of the false the true will grow.

And in this temple by the Northern Sea


Will surge and seethe the fire-mist of the mind

Fettered and free,

Radiant and blind--

Will bud and blossom nebulæ of soul,

Till bright, and true, and round, and whole,

Love's planets in their orbits roll,

And wandering Wills their Centre find.