The Great War

from Retrogression and Other Poems: Electronic Edition


WITH little learning—hardly more

Than bids me envy others' lore—

Great faith have I in laws of song,

In truths of lyric right and wrong,

As seen from the Acropolis!

As seen in times that unto this

Were what the woof of radiant air

Cephissus and Ilissus wear

Is to the marsh-bred murk unclean

That drapes the uncleaner Thames;—as seen

By those who knew how vain is mere

Delirious clutch at star and sphere,

And taught not that Intention high

Lifts Unachievement to the sky,

Or that to fail can e'er be great;

Who had scant tears for Marsyas' fate;

And wasted not their strength of wing

In desperately challenging

Battlements inaccessible

As the eyrie whence Hephaestus fell.

For the brave tourneys of the lyre

Are won by prowess, not desire,

And Art is capture, not pursuit,

Capture and conquest absolute,

Bliss of possession without bar,

And they the trophied hunters are

Who from their cloudless brows efface

The last motes of the dust of chase,

That Time may on their foreheads see

Nought of the strife save Victory.

The steeds of Helios will obey

None other than the lord of day.

They bear, delighted, the command

Of his inexorable hand;

But if a meddler take the reins,

They rear, they toss their flaming manes,

Crash backward, or break loose anon,

In boundless scorn of Phaethon.