READ AT THE OPENING SESSION OF THE SUMMER SCHOOL OF PHILOSOPHY, CONCORD, JULY 11, 1881
No sandalled footsteps fall,
Tablet and coronal
From the Cephissian grove have vanished long,
Yet in the sacred dale
Still bides the nightingale
Easing his ancient heart-break still with song;
Or is there some dim audience
Viewless to all save his unclouded sense?
Revisit now those glades
The stately mantled shades
Whose lips so wear the inexorable spell?
Saying, with heads sunk low,
All that we sought, we know,—
We know, but not to mrtal ears may tell:
No answer unto man's desire
Shall thus be made, to quench his eager fire.
Under these orchard trees
Still pure and fresh the breeze
As where the plane-tree whispered to the elm;
The thrush and robin bring
A new-world offering
Of song,—nor are we banished from the realm
Of thought that as the wind is pure,
And converse deep, and memories that endure.
Some honey dropped as well,
Some dew of hydromel
From wilding meadow-bees, upon the lips
Of poet and sage who found,
Here on our own dear ground,
Light as of old; who let no dull eclipse
Obscure this modern sky, where first
Through perilous clouds the dawn of freedom burst.
Within this leafy haunt
Their service ministrant
Upheld the nobler freedom of the soul.
How was it hither came
The message and the flame
Anew? Make answer from thine aureole
O mother Nature, thou who best
Man's heart in all thy ways interpretest!
High thoughts of thee brought near
Unto our minstrel-seer
The antique calm, the Asian wisdom old,
Till in his verse we heard
Of blossom, bee, and bird,
Of mountain crag and pine, the manifold
Rich song,—and on the world his eyes
Dwelt penetrant with vision sweet and wise.
Whence came the silver tongue
To one forever young
Who spoke until our hearts within us burned?
This reverend one, who took
No palimpsest or book,
But read his soul with glances inward turned,
While (her rapt forehead like the dawn)
The Sibyl listened, by that music drawn,
And from her fearless mouth,
Where never speech had drouth,
Gave voice to some old chant of womanhood,—
Her own imaginings,
Like swift, resplendent things,
Flashing from eyes that knew to beam or brood.
What sought these shining ones? What thought
From preacher-saint have poet and teacher caught?
In scorn of meaner use,
Anon, the young recluse
Builded his hut beside the woodland lake,
And set the world far off,
Though with no will to scoff,
Thus from the Earth's near breast fresh life to take.
Against her bosom, heart to heart,
All Nature's sweets he ravished for his Art.
The soul's fine instrument,
Of pains and raptures blent,
Replied to these clear voices, tone for tone,
Their cadence answering
With tuneful sounds that wing
The upper air a few perchance have known,
The stormless empyrean, where
In strength and joy a few move unaware.
Ah, even thus the thrill
Of life beyond life's ill
To feel betimes our envious selves are fain,—
Seeing that, as birds in night
Wind-driven against the light
Whose unseen armor mocks their stress and pain,
Most men fall baffled in the surge
That to their cry responds but with a dirge.
Where broods the Absolute,
Or shuns our long pursuit
By fiery utmost pathways out of ken?
Fleeter than sunbeams, lo,
Our passionate spirits go,
And traverse immemorial space, and then
Look off, and look in vain, to find
The master-clew to all they left behind.
White orbs like angels pass
Before the triple glass,
That men may scan the record of each flame,—
Of spectral line and line
The legendry divine,—
Finding their mould the same, and aye the same,
The atoms that we knew before
Of which ourselves are made,—dust, and no more.
So let our defter art
Probe the warm brain, and part
Each convolution of the trembling shell:
But whither now has fled
The sense to matter wed
That murmured here? All silence, such as fell
When to the shrine beyond the Ark
The soldiers reached, and found it void and dark.
Seek elsewhere, and in vain
The wings of morning chain;
Their speed transmute to fire, and bring the Light,
The co-eternal beam
Of the blind minstrel's dream;
But think not that bright heat to know aright,
Nor how the trodden seed takes root,
Waked by its glow, and climbs to flower and fruit.
Behind each captured law
Weird shadows give us awe;
Press with your swords, the phantoms still evade;
Through our alertest host
Wanders at ease some ghost,
Now here, now there, by no enchantment laid,
And works upon our souls its will,
Leading us on to subtler mazes still.
We think, we feel, we are;
And light, as of a star,
Gropes through the mist,—a little light is given;
And aye from life and death
We strive, with indrawn breath,
To somehow wrest the truth, and long have striven,
Nor pause, though book and star and clod
Reply, Canst thou by searching find out God?
As from the hollow deep
The soul's strong tide must keep
Its purpose still. We rest not, though we hear
No voice from heaven let fall,
No chant antiphonal
Sounding through sunlit clefts that open near;
We look not outward, but within,
And think not quite to end as we begin.
For now the questioning age
Cries to each hermitage,
Cease not to ask,—or bring again the time
When the young world's belief
Made light the mourner's grief
And strong the sage's word, the poet's rhyme,—
Ere Knowledge thrust a spear-head through
The temple's veil that priests so closely drew.
From what our fate inurns—
Save that which music yearns
To speak, in ecstasy none understand,
And (Oh, how like to it!)
The half-formed rays that flit,
Like memories vague, above the further land—
Cry, as the star-led Magi cried,
We seek, we seek, we will not be denied!
Let the blind throng await
A healer at the gate;
Our hearts press on to see what yonder lies,
Knowing that arch on arch
Shall loom across the march
And over portals gained new strongholds rise.
The search itself a glory brings,
Though foiled so oft, that seeks the soul of things.
Some brave discovery,
Howbeit in vain we try
To clutch the shape that lures us evermore,
It shall be ours to make,—
As, where the waters break
Upon the margin of a pathless shore,
They find, who sought for gold alone,
The sudden wonders of a clime unknown.
Such treasure by the way
Your errantry shall pay,
Nor shall it aught against your hope prevail
That not to waking eyes
The golden clouds arise
Wherewith our visions clothe the mystic Grail,
When, in blithe halts upon the road,
We sleep where pilgrims earlier gone abode.
After the twelvemonth set
When as of old they met,
(A twelvemonth and a day, and kept their tryst),
And knight to pilgrim told,
Things given them to behold
What country found, what gained of all they wist,
(While ministering hands assign
To each a share of healing food and wine,)
So come,—when long grass waves
Above the holiest graves
Of them whose ripe adventure chides our own,—
Come where the great elms lean
Their quivering leaves and green
To shade the moss-clung roofs now sacred grown,
And where the bronze and granite tell
How Liberty was hailed with Life's farewell.
Here let your Academe
Be no ignoble dream,
But, consecrate with life and death and song,
Through the land's spaces spread
The trust inherited,
The hope which from your hands shall take no wrong,
And build an altar that may last
Till heads now young be laurelled with the Past.
- Aristophanes: Nubes, 995.