« PreviousContinue »
Till, discouraged and desponding,
Sat he now in shadows deep, And the day's humiliation
Found oblivion in sleep.
Then a voice cried, “Rise, O Master;
From the burning brand of oak Shape the thought that stirs within thee !"
And the startled artist woke, Woke, and from the smoking embers
Seized and quenched the glowing wood; And therefrom he carved an image,
And he saw that it was good.
O thou sculptor, painter, poet !
Take this lesson to thy heart: That is best which lieth nearest;
Shape from that thy work of art
BIRDS OF PASSAGE.
Flight the first.
THE LADDER OF ST. AUGUSTINE. SAINT AUGUSTINE! well hast thou said,
That of our vices we can frame A ladder, if we will but tread
Beneath our feet each deed of shame!
All common things, each day's events,
That with the hour begin and end, Our pleasures and our discontents,
Are rounds by which we may ascend.
The low desire, the base design,
That makes another's virtues less; The revel of the ruddy wine,
And all occasions of excess;
The longing for ignoble things;
The strife for triumph more than truth; The hardening of the heart that brings
Irreverence for the dreams of youth;
All thoughts of ill; all evil deeds,
That have their roots in thoughts of ill; Whatever hinders or impedes
The action of the nobler will;-
Beneath our feet, if we would gain
The right of eminent domain.
But we have feet to scale and climb
The cloudy summits of our time. The mighty pyramids of stone
That wedge-like cleave the desert airs, When nearer seen, and better known,
Are but gigantic flights of stairs. The distant mountains, that uprear
Their solid bastions to the skies, Are crossed by pathways, that appear
As we to higher levels rise. The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight, But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night. Standing on what too long we bore
With shoulders bent and downcast eyes, We may discern-unseen before
A path to higher destinies. Nor deem the irrevocable Past,
As wholly wasted, wholly vain, If, rising on its wrecks, at last
To something nobler we attain.
On Olympus' shining bastions
Full of promptings and suggestions.
Of that flight through heavenly portals, The old classic superstition Of the theft and the transmission
of the fire of the Immortals ! First the deed of noble daring,
Born of heavenward aspiration, Then the fire with mortals sharing, Then the vulture,—the despairing
Cry of pain on crags Caucasian.
Of the Poet, Prophet, Seer;
Making nations nobler, freer.
In their triumph and their yearning,
The Promethean fire is burning.
All this toil for human culture ? Through the cloud-rack, dark and trailing, Must they see above them sailing
O'er life's barren crags the vulture ?
Such a fate as this was Dante's,
By defeat and exile maddened : Thus were Milton and Cervantes, Nature's priests and corybantes, .
By affliction touched and saddened.
But the glories so transcendent
That around their memories cluster,
With such gleams of inward lustre !
All the melodies mysterious,
Through the dreary darkness chanted;
Words that whispered, songs that haunted.
All the soul in rapt suspension,
All the quivering, palpitating Chords of life in utmost tension, With the fervour of invention,
With the rapture of creating!
Ah, Prometheus! heaven-scaling!
In such hours of exultation
Round the cloudy crags Caucasian!
Though to all there is not given
Strength for such sublime endeavour,
All the hearts of men for ever;