The Great War

from The Poems of Robert W. Sterling, an electronic edition

Oxford's Dawn

THERE was a day when valleys laugh'd aloud,

And Joy danc'd on the waters, and the world

With all its treasure, beast and tree and cloud,

Quiver'd with wisdom,--so the Fancy tells.

Not rarely then upon the earth were hurl'd

Sparks from the fountain-furnace of the sky;

But, as the sea yet roars in hollow shells

Forlorn, so clear from God an endless stream

Flow'd wild among his children from on high:

Who, ever gleefully,

Drank in full flush of innocence that Heav'nly beam.

Happy, oh, happy fled the rushing years,

Until alas! the wilful and the blind

Lost the rare glory in a mist of tears,

And the great Father hid his face and mourn'd:

But through the poisonous wrack the light behind

Came palely struggling, and to men return'd.

For some great souls with swords of true desire

Pierc'd the gross shroud, and gaining fitful gleams

Fashion'd anew the wisdom of the past;

And scatter'd to their fellows in the mire

The shining fabric of their gather'd dreams.

They grop'd to find the links that couple fast

All things within the Universe. They lit

The lamp of passionate Faith, and tended it

'Mid scorn and strife. They dipp'd the poet's pen

Into the rainbow, and in simile

Join'd fair to fair. They search'd the mystery

Of that old Eden long denied to men.

And thou, my Oxford, gracious citadel

Of these who follow'd Truth,--thou didst arise,

The hopeful darling of our western skies,

Sung into being by an antique spell:

Or whether, as the dim old fables tell,

Brut and his pilgrims from unhappy Troy

Built thee: or, servant of high destiny,

Fierce Mempric, red with slaughter of his foes

Cover'd dark evil with a deed of joy,

And hearing in the night a troubled cry--

'Dawn! Dawn!'--unknowing to the favour rose.