The Great War

from The Man Who Saw, an electronic edition

The Man Who Saw

THE master weavers at the enchanted loom

Of Legend, weaving long ago those tales

Through which there wanders the grey thread of truth,

Lost in the gorgeous arras of romance,

Tell how King Vortigern resolved to build

A Tower of Safety, mid the solitudes

That are the hem of the great druid robe

Of Snowdon, Mount of Eagles. So each day

The builders laboured, marrying stone to stone ;

But ever in the night an adversary

Invisible as malevolent cancelled those

Cold nuptials, and with impish wanton rage

Shattered the walls. And thither, from beyond

That congress of grave mountains, met like seers

And bards august, though in a rivalry

Of silence rather than of song--from where

The vales are not so tranced with awe, nor yet

So far below the hilltops as to feel

Aching estrangement--fortune one day brought

A youth whose very brow was a command.

His name of Merlin had not clambered then

To fearsome greatness, like a dusky star ;

Yet ev'n thus early his subduing eyes

Seemed to have known all things in life but tears ;

And standing where wrecked hopes bestrewed the ground,

He said to them whose toil was shards and dust:

" Go search beneath your tower's foundations ; there

Are the Unbuilders, busy while you build ;

The Undoers are there." And every man obeyed.

And digging deep, they found a hollow abysm,

Where waters gnawed the ribs of the Earth, and sapped

Her sinews, till her frame tottered infirm ;

Where also monsters heaved their tumid bulk

In ancient ambush, and with tremors vast

Palsied those ramparts as they yearned to rise :

Blind dragon shapes, of blindest darkness born,

That save in darkness could not live an hour,

And, touched by Light, made their dull moan, and died.

Such is the tale, which one, who chronicled

Old shadowy wars in sanctuaries of peace,

Found amid crumbled pomps, the hushed domain

Of mildew, and the empire of the moth,

Nigh on eight hundred years ago. And now,

Out of that land where Snowdon night by night

Receives the confidences of lonesome stars,

And where Carnarvon's ruthless battlements

Magnificently oppress the daunted tide,

There comes--no fabled Merlin, son of mist,

And brother to the twilight, but a man

Who in a time terrifically real

Is real as the time ; formed for the time ;

Not much beholden to the munificent Past,

In mind or spirit, but frankly of this hour;

No faggot of perfections, angel or saint,

Created faultless and intolerable;

No meeting-place of all the heavenlinesses;

But eminently a man to stir and spur

Men, to afflict them with benign alarm,

Harass their sluggish and uneager blood,

Till, like himself, they are hungry for the goal;

A man with something of the cragginess

Of his own mountains, something of the force

That goads to their loud leap the mountain streams.

And he too comes to bid the builders probe

Deep underneath the Tower of Safety, lest

A pit lie cavernous and covert there,

A long baulked, ravening emptiness, a grave

That famishes for its expected food.

Nay, in his hands he takes the delver's spade,

Lays bare the hollow, o'er which to build at all

Were to build woe and ruin, and 'stablishes

A mightier tower, bastioned so broad and firm,

In life, in manhood, and in womanhood,

Founded upon so massy a human rock,

And with such living bulwarks against them

Who first poured death from where the lark strews bliss,

That when, at last, ours shall be Triumph, though

Triumph perhaps too weary to rejoice,

Save with a mournful jubilation--when

Hate shall reel back from these embattled walls,

And having spent so long its hurtling bolts

With such poor thrift, shall stand before the stars

Bankrupt of thunder--then indeed shall Time

Add yet another name to those the world

Salutes with an obeisance of the soul:

The name of him, the man of Celtic blood,

Whom Powers Unknown, in a divine caprice,

Chose and did make their instrument, wherewith

To save the Saxon : the man all eye and hand,

The man who saw, and grasped, and gripped, and held.

Then shall each morrow with its yesterday

Vie, in the honour of nobly honouring him,

Who found us lulled and blindfold by the verge

Of fathomless perdition and haled us back.

And poets shall dawn in pearl and gold of speech,

Crowning his deed with not less homage, here

On English ground, than yonder whence he rose:

Yonder where crash the cataracts through the chasms,

And unto the dark tempests the dark hills

Offer their stubborn sides all gored, but keep

A heart invincible and impregnable;

While with long arm and piercing spear the sea

Thrusts far into the valleys, that of old

Heard the twin raptures of the harp and sword,

The heroic strife, and the heroic strings,

Amid the battling torrents, and beneath

The happier peaks, that without strife, prevail.