For other versions of this work, see A Pagan Reverie.
2498713The New Penelope — A Pagan ReverieFrances Fuller Victor



Tell me, mother Nature! tender yet stern mother!
In what nomenclature (fitlier than another)
Can I laud and praise thee, entreat and implore thee;
Ask thee what thy ways be, question yet adore thee.

Over me thy heaven bends its royal arches;
Through its vault the seven planets keep their marches:
Rising, shining, setting, with no change or turning;
Never once forgetting—wasted not with burning.

On and on, unceasing, move the constellations,
Lessening nor increasing since the birth of nations:
Sun and moon unfailing keep their times and seasons,—
But man, unavailing, pleads to thee for reasons.

Why the great dumb mountains, why the ocean hoary—
Even the babbling fountains, older are than story,
And his life's duration 's but a few short marches
Of the constellations through the heavenly arches!

Even the oaks of Mamre, and the palms of Kedar,
(Praising thee with psalmry) and the stately cedar,
Through the cycling ages, stinted not are growing,—
While the holiest sages have not time for knowing.

Mother whom we cherish, savage while so tender,
Do the lilies perish mourning their lost splendor?
Does the diamond shimmer brightlier that eternal
Time makes nothing dimmer of its light supernal?

Do the treasures hidden in earth's rocky bosom,
Cry to men unbidden that they come and loose them?
Is the dew of dawntide sad because the Summer
Kissed to death the fawn-eyed Spring, the earlier comer?

Would the golden vapors trooping over heaven,
Quench the starry tapers of the sunless even?
When the arrowy lightnings smite the rocks asunder,
Do they shrink with frightenings from the bellowing thunder?

Inconceivable Nature! these, thy inert creatures,
With their sphinx-like stature, are of man the teachers;
Silent, secret, passive, endless as the ages,
'Gainst their forces massive fruitlessly he rages.

Winds and waves misuse him, buffet and destroy him;
Thorns and pebbles bruise him, heat and cold annoy him;
Sting of insect maddens, snarl of beast affrights him;
Shade of forest saddens, breath of flowers delights him.

O thou great, mysterious mother of all mystery!
At thy lips imperious man entreats his history.—
Whence he came—and whither is his spirit fleeing:
Ere it wandered hither had it other being:

Will its subtile essence, passing through death's portal,
Put on nobler presence in a life immortal?
Or is man but matter, that a touch ungentle,
Back again may shatter to forms elemental?

Can mere atoms question how they feel sensation?
Or dust make suggestion of its own creation?
Yet if man were better than his base conditions,
Could things baser fetter his sublime ambitions?

What unknown conjunction of the pure etherial,
With the form and function of the gross material,
Gives the product mortal? whose immortal yearning
Brings him to the portal of celestial learning.

To the portal gleaming, where the waiting sphinxes,
Humoring his dreaming, give him what he thinks is
Key to the arcana—plausible equation
Of the problems many in his incarnation.

Pitiful delusion!—in no nomenclature—
Maugre its profusion—O ambiguous nature!
Can man find expression of his own relation
To the great procession of facts in creation?

Fruitless speculating! none may lift the curtain
From the antedating ages and uncertain
When what is was not, and tides of pristine being
Beat on shores forgot, and all, as now, unseeing.

Whence impelled or whither, or by what volition;
Borne now here, now thither, in blind inanition.
Out of this abysmal, nebulous dim distance,
Haunted by a dismal, phantomic existence,

Issued man?—a creature without inspiration,
Gross of form and feature, dull of inclination?
Or was his primordial self a something higher?
Fresh from test and ordeal of elemental fire.

Were these ages golden while the world was younger,
When the giants olden knew not toil nor hunger?
When no pain nor malice marred joy's full completeness,
And life's honeyed chalice rapt the soul with sweetness?

When the restless river of time loved to linger;
Ere flesh felt the quiver of death's dissolving finger;
When man's intuition led without deflection,
To a sure fruition, and a full perfection.

Individual man is ever new created:
What his being's plan is, loosely predicated
On the circumstances of his sole condition,
Colored by the fancies borrowed from tradition.

His creation gives him clue to nothing older:
Naked, life receives him—wondering beholder
Of the world about him—and ere aught is certain,
Time and mystery flout him; and death drops the curtain.

Man, the dreamer, groping after what he should be,
Cheers himself with hoping to be what he would be:
When he hopes no longer, with self-adulation,
Fancies he was stronger at his first creation:

Else—in him inhering powers of intellection—
Death, by interfering with his mind's perfection,
Itself gives security to restore life's treasure,
Freed from all impurity and in endless measure.

Thou, O Nature, knowest, yet no word is spoken.
Time, that ever flowest, presses on unbroken:
All in vain the sages toil with proof and question—
The immemorial ages give no least suggestion.