The roamer and other poems/The Roamer/Book II


Book II

"Is the earth heavier for the corpse that lies,
Or lighter for the spirit flown away,
That she has fixed so deep the lust of life?"
The Roamer heard; and as from tides of night
Earth seemed emerging round him; the white moon
Lifted the low hills from the raven shade;
And like the eternal deluge petrified
In heaven-shouldering billows, the black Range
Bore up the snowy threshold of the stars;
His soul yet felt its dread, his heart its chill.
That one who had renewed his pain stood nigh
In the bright glitter of the mountain moon,
A youth thought-worn; the color of his face
Hovered between the bloom and bronze, nor yet
Had time renewed in him his twentieth May;
Upon his full brow moulded tenderly
The morning sorrow of our life sat throned;
In meditation lost he muttered on:
"To live—what is it? save with savage use
To slay the beast, and drink the battle-rage?
To strike with Nature compact the most foul,
And bloody league? or at the veins of gold
To suck, the vampire of the commonwealth,
Deal indirectly, safer than sword-play,
Do murder in a mask? and wherefore, wherefore?
To see the sun and moon and stars go round?
Nay, lust, ambition, avarice set aside,
The world put underfoot, what hope remains
To graft on Nature true nobility?
Nature refining still destroys herself;
Briefer the date, more frail the tenure is,
In that same measure as the soul ascends;
And death and madness crown the climax up;
But the coarse multitude she floods with power
To break the wise, to crucify the good,
And to the block bring true nobility;
And souls that will not commerce with her force
Are from the juices of our life cut off;
Cut at the root is true nobility;
Or if, though rare, it puts forth its green shoot
And glorifies the soul in which it grows,
And opes love's passion, deepening bloom in bloom,—
Divine desires innumerably born,
Insatiate, incessant, mystical,
From uncreated beauty procreant,
As in the inexhaustible far East
The eternal Daybreak from her rosy orb
Millions of mornings casts—O Ecstasy,
Lead me no more that way where reason faints,
Forever lost in visionary things!"
The white melodic motions of his throat
With rounding throbs of pain convulsing shook,
And down the dark head dropped with sighings low;
Then such a look he flung upon high heaven
As seemed to pluck his soul forth at his eyes;
And the heart heard him ere his quick lips moved:
"O Love divine, thou art our misery!
Our mortal make bears not the joy supreme
Save for an instant. Go, poor lonely fool,
Thy taste of heaven hath made a famine here
No sun of earth shall e'er replenish more!
Go, house henceforth with his less happy lot,
Not rare, whose true nobility was made
The snare to trap him; now strike hands with him
Whose high-wrought passion met the unguided blow
Of fatal circumstance, and warped aside
To make love do the bitter work of hate!
And shall we for the chance of temporal bliss,
The one in thousands, for some trivial thing,
Submit the conscious spirit to the shame,
Or cheat life's blossom of its bitter fruit,
And dying find the near way to the grave?
Eternal Vengeance! Who that hath a soul,
The match of knowledge, would not break the bond,
The base, base thraldom? who would tame his will,
That from heaven's justice takes its liberty,
To do the lecherous and bloody act
Of natural being? who would game and lie,
And shrink into a cruel selfish heart,
To lord it o'er this serf-society?
Great souls might conquer pain; loss nor mischance
Can touch their essence; but 't is evil fixed
In the creative root and lift of all
The massive constitution of the world
That bankrupts hope; and who that lives escapes?
God's pity! when obedience makes us slaves,
Rebellion is the badge of loyalty!
To keep free souls is true nobility.
Unburden, breath, and thou, fine frame, unlock!"
He struck his breast, and woke amazed, and looked
On the lone Roamer and the quiet stars.
But, soon recovered, wondering he spoke,
And gentle was his mien though hard his speech,
And eased with pity fell the words, half scorn:
"Deignest thou yet to wear the bloody doom,
That manacled in flesh thou comest here?
Strip off, strip off, and let the soul go free!"
The rich tones, haunted with unmating love,
Ceased; nearer now, o'er-bent, the fair young face,
As in clairvoyant Aprils of the boy,
With sudden wistful changes softening,
Sweetened with such a look as lights all years,
When soul on soul pours intimate its might,
And well the Roamer knew that great appeal.
O love-starved heart, how gnawed thy hunger then!
Fain was he to embrace him, found at last;
He would have sprung, and fallen upon his youth,
Breast upon breast, and head to head laid close,
So was he inly moved with sudden trust;
But in his soul he stayed, nor tore life's veil
Between them, answering, "Nature's mould I wear,
Nor yet of her dear motherhood bereft."
That other's eyes filled their blue deeps with fire,
And fair the spirit floated in his face
Brightly upraised; there life's mysterious throe
On every feature set its delicate seal.
"Her child!" with echoing lips, he seemed to say;
"Dear motherhood!" he sighed, half-heard; and, rapt,
Thought gathered in him from the speechless deeps;
Then broke the sounding wave: "O mother-might!
O passion of the child-heart streaming back
Upon the breasts of being! O first sweet throb,
When from the ocean-filling horn of morn,
And from the porphyry-clouded font of eve,
God poured on me the rose and amber light
Baptismal, and my soul's awakening was,
And all my boyhood was one altar-watch!
And when beneath the starry roof of years
My soul caught glimpses of this glowing frame,
This rock-ribbed base of earth, this broad-flung sky,
This seamless air, the realm and throne of light,
This blossoming pave inlaid with azure seas,
This carve of riven-cloven continents,
This fret of rainbows and the wingèd winds,
This blaze of stars, this infinite fair world,
The express will of God, the mould of law,
Passion welled in me, and hope wonderful
As heaven's leading to its own elect,
To know, to know, to know, only to know!
And knowledge came to me that comes to all
Ere manly years." Again he found the world,
And seemed as one who masters in himself
Pity for others and his own despair.
Then by that sudden sympathy compelled,
They drew, together, o'er the softened pine:
"Yes, knowledge comes; and joy it is at first
To be the confidant of Nature's heart,
To steal her memory, live her ages o'er;
Nor less than god-like shall he seem whose eye
Through Time's dark telescope doth stand at gaze
With light's first motions in the silenced prime;
He ranges the abyss, and home returns,
Nor from his instant moves,—without amaze,
Eternity shrunk to an hour of thought.
Hast thou not seen it, as 't were yester morn
And o'er thy father's fields that light went forth?
The kindle of the unforeseeing deep,
The sparkle of the multitudinous fire,
The glow and gather of the isles of flame,
Clusters along the measureless dim stream,
Star-budding power, whose infinite of light
Shall break and burst, snowing the million spheres,
White galaxies and rosy-girdled globes,
Firm-coursing lights and tresses comet-shook,
And planetary orbs whose sheathèd fires
The rock encrusts—the early firmament,
Sun, moon and stars; and now red morning shouts
Ethereal welcome to the sea and land,
The green and azure continents of light,
Built for the haunt of finer mystery.
Long was the labor, and sweet life has come;
Housed in the shell, scarfed with the serpent's skin,
It drifts upon the sea, it crawls the ooze;
It casts its films on slime and shale and sand;
It rises up—O miracle of change!
He comes, he comes, the spirit-visioned One,
The child of promise, earth's dear heavenly charge,
The heir of all that was, the prophecy
Of all that shall be, man, the crown of things.
Take him, O Nature, flower and seed divine!
With fragrant seasons harbor him, O Earth!
Bright heaven, with lucid balms his eyelids bathe!
Thou vital air, sustain him! our rich hope,
Our bliss on earth, our immortality
In heaven!-Mockery! mockery! look you there!—
O what a sight to blast an angel's eyes
It was! the den and lair of the red strife,
The slaughter gaping from ten thousand wounds,
While like a monster on the gory floor
Life sits and gorges, half-alive, half-dead,
On its own entrails slaking its fierce lust!
There is his hostelry and mortal lodge;
There must he sleep, and there must dream and wake,
And knead his being of the crimson spume.
Cursèd he was before he saw the sun.
'Thy life is murder,' Nature shrieks to him;
'O born of carnage and to havoc doomed,
My child thou art,' she cries, 'my prey to be;
Thy blood pollution is, thy breath decay;
Thee, too, my brute necessity compels;
Harken my wisdom, o'er all time that was,
As on the gates of life, my legend graved,
Thy body its incarnate victory:
Red is the eagle's claw, the lion's fang;
Red is thy father's sword, thy foeman's spear;
Kill, eat and die, for this my empire is.'
He heard; and sorrow with immortal birth,
First sorrow, cleft his brain; within him seethed
The working of old time and heavy fate,
Growing imbruted to the thing he is;
And evil filled him, and his heart was stone.
His generations lust and avarice were,
Since first the barbarous hordes from cave and fen
Issued with slanting foreheads, hanging lips,
Chippers of flint; new-weaponing their hate
With bronze and iron; clan and tribe and race
Hostile; and yoked beneath the deadliest arm
Conglomerate the Asian state rose up,
An army and a priesthood and a king.
Lie deep, white Death, on that hoar infamy!
Time turns his glass; far shines the Attic hill,
And sevenfold Rome o'er her dead marshes frowns,
And Carthage from her markets looks across!
Alas, the darling city barbarized;
Alas, the proud dominion's buried wrack;
Alas, the sand-blown desert tenantless!
Temples and palaces and war-girt forts,
Letters and arms and jewelled hoards of trade,
Far continents and undiscovered isles,
A hundred empires fall! nor deem thyself,
Proud age, excepted; still the reek of death
Breathes in thy nostrils; the black march begins
Wherewith the jealous nations sow revenge;
And peace in all thy borders whets a war
More fell, the mighty grapple joined world-wide,
The commonwealth a meaner mask of war,
This side for gold and lands, on that for bread;
The brawl is made a people's massacre.
For subtler arms they leave the spear and shield,
To overcome with fraud the slower mind,
With cunning to beguile the freer heart,
Purloining this man's substance, that one's hopes;
The myriads fall, the few rise eminent,
And death delaying limps as slavery,
One name of many shapes, or bond or free.
Children must eat, and women's tears be dried:
Toil on, O Worker, these are chains indeed,
And well the masters know to make them bite.
The curse be on them! men of barren greed,
Who in the sweet necessities of life
Forge the sharp axes of their fierce misrule;
Who loose the whips of hunger o'er the poor,
Themselves in plenty, fenced in sabred law,
Voracious mouths, and unrelaxing hands;
True slavers they, and traffic in their kind;
The plough, the loom, the engine,—that's the man,
And they the owners! O the ignominy!
'When? when?' the people cry, and troop to death.
The viperous knot, how hard they reach and strain!
O well may Nature trample on the brood,
And rot, a famine, where he sows the seed,
And pour, an inundation, o'er his fields,
And shake, an earthquake, underneath his towers,
And belch on city and plain volcanic fire,
Stoop in fierce lightnings, swarm in pestilence!
And he whose coming was the dawn divine,
The child in whom the morning cannot die,
Where shall he turn? what harbor, what escape?
O'erwhelmed within by fate he never forged,
The victim of primeval woe and wrong,
The sinful burden of all time his load,
'No child of hope thou art,' from all things here
Loud Nature thunders; 'the Destroyer thou,
The last and mightiest wielder of the curse,
Whose dark assault, disdaining mortal wreck,
On the eternal soul now plants the wound.'"
Then spoke the Roamer, lifting equal eyes,
Who could not stem that breathless eloquence:
"Deep is the mystery of our birth divine,
The fire from heaven that seizes on this clay
And moulds it to the spirit of a man;
Deeper the earth-taint and its mystery,
From what dark root its strong corruption grows
To eat into the soul's line element.
justice nor mercy never Nature knew;
Yet man she bore; and, howsoe'er he sin,
Justice and mercy to his heart are known;
And some, whose names are my idolatry,
Have risen; the words they spake can never die:
They outlive empire; they are made the seed
Of resurrection; heaven shall harvest them."
Almost that other believed what most he would.
Swift lights of love went o'er his stormy eyes,
And far within their fountains shone the soul,
Like some great spirit struggling to be born:
"And art thou of the bright world-savers? they
Who in the beauty of the Christ-flame die,
The last earth-fire ascending the lone skies,
In man's great God-dream risen wonderful,
The Star of noble nations"—his straight gaze
Swam warm and tender, piercingly he looked
Upon the Roamer's eyes, searching far in,
As if those orbs pale revelation held,
And he unconscious told what there he saw:
"Far on the track of time I see arisen
Ten thousand altars stained with innocence,
Nor herds and flocks and captives in their chains,
Nor men and women in their frenzied woe,
The common victims only; hither bring,
O Race of men, thy choicest; heaven cries 'Kill';
Shut, shut thy ears lest thou perchance should hear,
Above the dying sounds of time far-borne,
The awful accents roam the unbordered deep,
'My Father, why hast thou forsaken me!'
Crack in thy sphere, O Earth, and melt in flame!
'Heirs of the Christ, the lineage of heaven,
Whereto creation works,' great Nature laughs,
'Come, heap the altar of the sacrifice!
Would ye reverse my laws? then taste the doom!'"
"O spirit unfortunate," another spoke,
"Look for no welcome here save to despair;
I hope not, but I yet remember hope,
And do thy faith this reverence"; his voice,
Ceased, but its music lingered in his smile.
"A lover's pains is all I know of hope,"
The Roamer answered; "faithful be we found
Though lost; wherefore, if ever ye held dear
The virtue that, though starvèd in your lives,
May yet on memory's eternal branch
Put forth the green and living leaf, O speak!
So on your graves may my sad laurel lie."
"Italian by thy face," that other said,
"In whose dark eyes relics of hope abide,
Fair must thy story be; let this old wood,
That nightly sighs with sad and wandering tales,
Harbor our sorrows for one cherished hour,
And thou shalt tell us of thy history
And make in turn acquaintance with our woe;
So memory shall endear companionship;
To share another's grief oft heals our own.
Reginald was I,—to what end thou seest.
I strove to solve the mighty world in thought."
"Victor I am," the Italian straight began,
"And with the world tyrannic strove in song,
A voice among the spearmen, angel-clear,
Till the king's rifles rang against my throat
After the failure, if that failure was
Which to remember in the grave were heaven
And to relate even in this gloom is joy."
So sate they down, and Victor told his tale.
"Siena—still she sits upon her crags,
And on the slope the dark-stemmed Mangia springs,
And o'er the crest the Campanile towers;
My mother, and the mother of my soul!
For from her face I did not need to roam
To find my heaven; there every rock aspires.
There once I slept, and woke beneath the stars,
And found within my bosom a snow-white bird,
A waif unknown, and stroked and loved its plumes;
And ever after was I lightly named
The boy who bore the bird within his breast.
Blind eyes that babbled of the things of sense,
Of boy and bird, and missed the rhyme of life,
The voice of promise, echo of desire!
For heavenly grace that hath made all things twain,
Doth but divide them as the hand and lyre
To free the music of their harmony.
There's nought so lonely in the world of change
But 't is the prison of these concords sweet
When hearts shall find them; therefore to the boy
Trifles are often rich in miracle;
Doubt not his treasure; rather doubt thy own.
The finding of the bird was more to me
Than the rich coffer of the earth all gems,
Than Rome's tiara to the shaking brow,
Than continents of gold to voyaging kings;
My whisper of the yonder world, my thought
Of the far country and the over-seas—
'O whence? O whence?' I asked, and beautiful
It cleft the frowning walls, and entered light,
And came again, the warm sun on its wings,
And clasped with rosy feet my tender hands,
And shared my poverty and brought its heaven.
The months rolled on and swelled the young tree's girth;
The autumn blew and stripped the last year's vines;
The stars of winter dropped their shining strength;
The wild spring came; and as the mists of morn
Upon the azure marches far away
Build towers of vantage over distant lands,
So by the spirit's breath my thoughts were driven,
And on the soul's horizons, round and round,
Won on the shining borders of the world
Regions of vision; evermore the bird
Hung in the morning sky above my heart,
As if I too should follow and fly with it
To morrows without end; the still noon dreamt
And unseen armor on the ether clanged
Virgilian music; and the paths of sleep
Shone with white garments, gleamed with myrtle crowns
Of youth in triumph bearing boughs of spring;
Then darkened was the hollow cloud of dream,
And, angel-watched, a glory-lighted face
Shining on heaven through flowers of martyrdom
Filled my faint eyes with peace more sweet than joy;
And still the bird in every vision flew
As he would woo me to some world removed,
Forever breaking, lingering, biding nigh,
Till came the Word. 'T was by the marble brook
That jets neglected in the gray-walled cirque
Where slept the Wolf in stone and slept the law;
Silent, I gazed upon the mightier age
Tombed in those walls austere; the bird in air
Shadowed the fountain, and a monk passed by
Dark by those snowy wings; and all at once
The poppy-branch struck on my dream-drenched eyes,
And blackness rolled upon the solid world,
And drowned it; and there broke a yellow shaft
Like some great rift of sunset smiting through,
And on the mighty beam the bird, full flight,
Came singing out of heaven, songless till then,
A little cluster of rich-warbled notes,
Ever the same, one thrill, and o'er and o'er,
That fell upon my heart like dropping flames,
So strange, it seemed I knew not song before.
I woke; the music slept within my breast—
And over me the ancient walls leaned down
As with some statue's marble utterance;
'How fair he comes who brings his country peace!'
I heard, as plain as winds on olive groves.
'What peace?' I cried, and climbed the straitened ways
To where upon the City's sacred brow,
As to the breath of the Eternal Morn,
The mystic Rose of Christ unfolds its leaves,
The bower of his earthly memory;
And there I marked the priests go ever in,
Like flies and gnats; and on me came the Voice:
'Wouldst thou bring peace? Then haste thee; now, even now,
The eagles of the Christ fly forth to war!'
The bird was gone—a white and quivering point.
Breasting the blue, far, far beyond recall
He soared, and bathed in light his new-found song.
And I arose, and as the torrents pour
In April, and the water-courses rush
To brim the river that roars out to sea,
Desire from all the spirit's heights leaped down
In wild tumultuous thought and speed to find
The ways of action and the throng of deeds;
And as, when tempests blow, the winds will break
On flood and forest, and the gathering blast
Louder and longer swells one mighty note,
So, in that hour, one nature-cadenced word
Struck on my soul, and smote its music forth,
Wild as a poet's in his stormy youth;
And with the night calm fell; and with the calm
The bird came silent home. For what was I?
A youth distrusted, unallied, obscure,
In all things poor save that one heavenly gift,
The wingèd heart within my bosom hid;
And must I loose it to the flashing swords,
And rifle the sweet lodging of my breast,
And bid the bird go sing through Italy
That song of his? No other deed there was,
No other way but this to give my life!
'O bella Libertà!' I carolled out;
The bird took flight, the throngèd street stood still;
'O breath that wakes the hundred lyres of song,
O trump that fills the thousand fields of fame,
O hand of Hope, O seed of Memory,
Planting the future with the past sublime!
O voice that doth proclaim the glorious peace,
O hymn that lifts the jubilee of slaves—
The birth-cry of the nations, earth's new name,
The victory's blazon, Christ's eternal rouse!
Thy faintest whisper quakes beneath the throne,
And echoes in the people's mighty heart,
And gathers to the shout that gives God hail!
O rushing from the sun-struck mountain-tops,
O thunder-zoned, thou banisher of kings,
O sweet thy smile that brings the exile home!'
The pæan swelled—'O bella Libertà!'
I sent from hill to hill the singing word;
I cherished with my life the song I sang;
I poured it forth, free as the patriot's blood,
The all I was; and, lo, my chambered soul
Lived in a thousand nobler lives than mine;
For he who standeth in the whole world's hope
Is as a magnet; he shall draw all hearts
To be his shield, all arms to strike his blow.
So round my voice the globe of battle grew,
The war-clash 'gan to murmur, and my lips
Sang to the onset, and death flashing fell.
But evil, that doth cling to all things here,
O'ercame that triumph. Yet, come all again,
I'll say it o'er; the dearest word of men,
The first to seal the poet's virgin vow,
The last to wing the patriot's breath to heaven,
Is Liberty; it hath the heart's touch in it,
The pang of sacred deaths, the onward reach
Of old heroic lives; O, richly charged—
With virtue's spoils and dear-prized honor heaped,
And ventures of such make their precious worth
Should purchase heaven, if any ransom's weight
Levelled the beam of that great counterpoise
With even scales aloft; but 't is not so.
In time's dark field must mortal valor fight
And with the viewless future cope on earth.
Yet the good cause plants virtue in the act;
'T is blessed; and so, and most through liberty,
The peopled earth is made the place of souls;
And sooner shall the little life of man
Cease to be heaven's prologue than his lips
Shall be untreasured of the word of grace
That chased them half-divine. Such thoughts were mine
Though captived-chained unto the Roman wall,
Where none but priests are free. O, them I curse,
From blue-veined Venice to white Naples' flush,
Where'er across the square of sun they creep
Through filth of beggars to Christ's open door!
The hearts unransomed by the love of man,
The lips that lie for power and pray for gain,
The practised brains that plot the baser age,
Hunters of liberty the thousand years!
They scourge the nations with the holy Cross,
And poison in the wine the Sacred Wounds,
And of our great Redemption bondage forge!
Where lingers vengeance? On, ye sleepless hours!
And Thou, whose long age over them yet rolls—
Harvest this curse among the quiet spheres!
I know not where they died who loved my song;
I cannot suffer; joy is in my heart,
Joy of the far-flown bird, the empty breast.
I go, but him they could not cage for death,
The bird whom I had sent to fly and sing
From snowy Alp to Etna's rosy cloud;
He nests within the heart of Italy."
"A great song is a deed forever doing;"
Reginald broke the happy idyl's close;
"No poet every truly tasted death;
Yet in the world that is," low fell his voice,
Whose thoughtful eye in long perspectives sphered
The world of action, "dead thy comrades are,
Though long thy verse enshrine their hopes long dead.
Song-stroke or sword-stroke, action dies away;
Soon orbs the past, another dawn renews
The woundless tyrant, plated with dense mail,
And in the selfishness of all his realm
More panoplied than in his showy guards.
In song a land expires, it is not born;
And all the immortal glories of the lyre,
The blazon of eternal memory,
Are pæans of lost races worn away,
The death-chants of the nations whence they rose.
The pouring music of the mighty world
Rounds to new ages, and a cycle dies
In each proud epic; mute the foughten field,
Broken the chivalry, desolate the bower,
Sepulchred in the high-resounding verse.
All music is the requiem of the soul,
And breathes about the spirit's flight its dirge,
And sorrows in its track till heard no more."
He ended, lost in spaces far away.
But Victor followed where the Roamer marked
A lank form, blunted with a thought-starved face,
That, like a listening animal behind
Intent lay crouched; human it seemed, and was,
Dehumanized; all head, all eyes, all ears,
The brute made brain, the crime intelligent,
Time's last-born type of man; instant they saw
The black revolver pouring livid flame,
And heard the sullen, detonating bomb,
The dread of royal capitals; he laughed,
And thinly the fierce smile laid bare his teeth:
"An ugly shape, signore; not bred like yours,
Not from the gods of Greece and loins of Rome,
Nor Roncesvalles, Acre and Agincourt;
Spawned in the European gutter-slime;
Us Paris pours, when, sick and ravening,
The beast of blood upon her entrails gnaws,
And the state cries, 'To arms, they come, they come!'
As come they will until the shuddering bulk
Of government misused for misery
Reels and collapses in the social fall.
March on, march on, great Host! guerrillas we,
Isolate scouts stalking a sleepy world;
Nor think in horrid Muscovy alone
We range and prosper; fast we multiply
On every barren crag where freedom clings,
On Switzer-peak, in high Calabrian caves,
Rhine-cellars, and the Belgian, Spanish holes,
And where the English speech rears her vast orb
O'er half the world, sheltering forevermore
Free thought, free speech, free acts, that make free men.
Whene'er a king is crowned, our eyes are there;
Whene'er a workman dies, our eyes are there;
Our eyes behold the crime on whole lands wrought.
Berlin and Paris unto us are one,
And one to us are Emperor and Pope,
And one to us the working-host world-wide;
Race, country, faith, law, mercy we abhor.
O angel of the Garibaldian spears,
Your song we keep; nor only from it learned
To drive the dagger in the sides of kings;
Far lower they mine whose dynamite is thought,
Whose match, the burning heart! Wake, mighty world,
The tyranny of gold is doomed, is doomed!
On lips of outcasts is the judgment framed,
As once before, that shakes futurity;
Then comes the great millennium; but now
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!" he cried, and ran.
In Victor's eyes the glory of song was dead;
And gray the smouldering spark of hope went out
That shone, their orbèd life; the Roamer wept,
But he dull-eyed sat stark; and Reginald spoke,
Of thought's stern stuff compact: "Thy holy song
Sang time's evangel pure; not unto us,
Not unto us the issue of our words
Loosed from our lips in this chaotic world!"
And ere he ceased a voice rang hard behind:
"Ho, Reginald!" confusèd words he spoke,
Who seemed to front the stars with lifted hand,
Absorbed in passion, towering with rage,
And strode away; and Reginald shuddering turned:
"Cursed are they who deify the Curse;
But let us hence; too many such as these
Come hither, passing through the night. And thou,
Wide-wanderer, wherefore hast thou ventured here?"
"Serving the Christ," he said, "I seek the lost,
Who noble were, memory and hope my guides,
Through ways I know not of, obeying God."
"Who names the Christ?" another cried aloud,
Out of the shadows starting; "on earth 't was said,
He sent a sword, not peace. I was his Scourge;
Where is the hand that used me?" and he fled.
And Reginald rose, and drew them both away,
And Victor silent on the left side came;
"Not all are noble here," the leader said;
"Thousands there are who haunt the region's base;"
And moving on, "'t is best to look on them
From far, nor mingle with that multitude;"
And soon he brought them to a low-browed ridge.
Westward they thronged upon the neighboring plain,
Shut in the low, flat hills whose shallows rolled
To North and South, as marshes by the sea,
Weary horizons; dense the numerous camp
With torches flickered, and the blaze of fires
Flared on the surge of men and sank in smoke;
The sky was reddened with the swarthy glow.
Beneath, the motley multitude immense,
Whom frenzy tore or cowering fear alarmed,
Some feast engaged, the savagery of yore,
And drove them lost to many a loathèd rite.
What fierce idolatry was absent there?
What ritual of woe, what agony?
Wild was the sight and sharp the memory is:
Some, dancing, cut their flesh with knives and flints,
A hideous jubilee; some, further off,
In sullen rage or gibbering idiocy,
Did mutilate their members; boyhood there
In clusters clung, and bright the red fire-flash
Sprang from the bare, keen axes over them;
There mothers flung their infants from their breasts;
Maidens whose lashes could not veil their shame
To darkness went; them men like beasts pursued;
And every beast had there his carnival,—
The sea-cave's brood and reptiles of the slime,
The jungle's births and dragons of the steep
Who made a plash of gore where'er they trod;
And everywhere the adder and the asp
And all the poison-headed snaky swarm
Familiar through the host crawled undisturbed,
And many a stolèd priesthood gave them food.
There puffed the smoke and showered the drifting sparks
Like fiery scales; there geyser-like the spouts
Of random flame thrust up with forking tongues,
As that dark waste were some volcanic quake
And all the heathen race some fiendish crew.
Higher the rout, and still new horror spawned,
And lower bent the abject populace,
Defiled in body and deformed in soul,
Who served the worm with bloody covenants.
Omens and prodigies before them swam,
The shapeless imagery of earth's affright,
Worse worship urging and worse injury:
The fiery breath that from Assyria blew;
The lusts that haunt the buried mouths of Nile;
Shadows that ride the night, visages dire,
Afrites, and that vast airy troop that made
A spectral conquest of imperial Rome,
Thessalian terror; Druid witcheries;
Despairs and ecstasies and tortures maimed
That India tombs within her marble hills,
Or snowy Thibet in her caverns hides;
And whatsoever else on earth's scarred face,
On Lapland steppes, or Australasian isles,
Glares round the holocaust of mortal sin,
In horrid congregation gathered there.
O brutish souls! O sensual, brainless things!
O foul imagination and worse acts,
What night shall prison, what deep pit contain,
What justice equal that unrighteousness!
And, gazing there, the Roamer bowed in shame,
And sorrow's rush was as a throttling stream
Dragging him downward till it ebbed away
As if divine compulsion bade it die;
Once more the foul field of the lust of hell
Burnt on his eyes; but he was strong within;
And turning then to Reginald's bitter smile—
"My path lies here," he said; "God's peace be thine!"
"Thou wilt not try," cried Reginald, with swift speech;
"Here is no passage save for souls accursed,
Blind to the light of every glorious good;"
And wondering stopped, and fixed on him his gaze;
"Spirit of God!" he whispered, "what art thou,
That through thy mortal dark the soul doth shine
As if the gates of heaven had sent thee forth?"
And, going, the Roamer heard him murmur low—
"Keep him, O Shepherd of the ways of fire!"
And Victor blessed him with still grieving eyes;
And long they watched him where he made his way
Whom willingly he would have called his own,
Had love consented that their hearts should join.
Then, plunging in the darkness, first he knew
The miracle that dawned upon their eyes:
For light fell from him and in light he walked.
And as a star that rifts the drifting clouds
He passed within the roaring gulf profane;
The spectral rack swept o'er him, sin closed round;
And no man saw him; dark to them he was,
But to his sight their secrecy lay bare;
Nor legends of the ancient time alone,
Nor tales by travellers in far countries told,
Nor gods dethroned and cities of the dead,
Beheld he merely; many a wanton sect
Befouled Christ's name, and many a godless school
Blasphemed, miscalled by wisdom's golden name,
Philosophy; they cursed they knew not what.
He paused not where their meagre dogmas fell
No more than where the fool his orgies kept,
Yet heard and saw; the worst no lips can frame;
Nor now shall memory draw it from the mire.
Across the plain, beneath the burning sky,
He went, surveying all man's fell despair
Hour after hour: till faint the murmur grew
Of that great river hurrying to the gulf,
The flood and drift of all the evil world;
And on the further bank he saw how pure
Is heaven, how greatly it ennobles earth.