Slowly we gather and with pain
From many toils a scanty gain;
We strive to know, but scant our powers,
And short the time and strait the bounds,
And ever-unsurmounted towers
The mortal barrier that surrounds
Our being; and the body still,
Imperious slave, betrays the will.
Slowly we gather and with pain, —
But quick the scattering again;
Whether it chance the failing brain
Lets slip the treasure it hath won
Through weary days, or sudden blow
Lays the unshattered fabric low,
And all our doing is undone.
Slowly a nation builds its life
From barbarous chaos into law
And kindly social ties and awe
Of powers divine. For civil strife
Still opens wide within the walls
The yawning gulf that will not close
Until the noblest victim falls;
Or, fierce without, the shock of foes
In one wild hour of blood o'erthrows
The labor of the patient years;
And when at last the work appears
Complete in stately strength to stand,
Riot with parricidal blow,
Or mad ambition’s traitor hand,
Fierce clutching at the tyrant’s crown,
In headlong ruin lays it low,
Or brute battalions tread it down,
Or ease and luxury and sin,
Fell cankers sown of peace, devour,
Till trappings of imperial power
Hide but the living death within.
But doubtless growth repairs decay,
And still the great world grows to more,
Though men and nations pass away.
But what if at the source of day
Some cosmic change exhaust the store
Which feeds the myriad forms of life?
What if some unimagined strife
Should raise so high the solar fire,
That all this solid earthly frame
Should in as brief a space expire
As raindrops in a furnace-flame?
Yet, if our faith is not the scheme
Of priestly cunning, nor a dream
Which with some fair illusion caught
Our ungrown manhood’s childish thought;
If Christmas tells us true, "To-day
The Child Divine in Bethlehem lay;"
If He is Man who, past the ken
Of Science in her widest range,
Orders the law of ceaseless change,
Content we know that lives of men
Pass as the leaves of spring away, —
That time will bring its final day
To the great world itself, secure
The Eternal Manhood shall endure.