To E. Fitzgerald: Tiresias

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.   OLD FITZ, who from your suburb grange,
  Where once I tarried for a while,
  Glance at the wheeling orb of change,
  And greet it with a kindly smile;
  Whom yet I see as there you sit
  Beneath your sheltering garden-tree,
  And watch your doves about you flit,
  And plant on shoulder, hand, and knee,
  Or on your head their rosy feet,
  As if they knew your diet spares
  Whatever moved in that full sheet
  Let down to Peter at his prayers;
  Who live on milk and meal and grass;
  And once for ten long weeks I tried
  Your table of Pythagoras,
  - And seem'd at first "a thing enskied,"
  As Shakespeare has it, airy-light
  To float above the ways of men,
  Then fell from that half-spiritual height
  Chill'd, till I tasted flesh again
  One night when earth was winter-black,
  And all the heavens flash'd in frost;
  And on me, half-asleep, came back
  That wholesome heat the blood had lost,
  And set me climbing icy capes
  And glaciers, over which there roll'd
  To meet me long-arm'd vines with grapes
  Of Eshcol hugeness- for the cold
  Without, and warmth within me, wrought
  To mould the dream; but none can say
  That Lenten fare makes Lenten thought
  Who reads your golden Eastern lay,
  Than which I know no version done
  In English more divinely well;
  A planet equal to the sun
  Which cast it, that large infidel
  Your Omar, and your Omar drew
  Full-handed plaudits from our best
  In modern letters, and from two,
  Old friends outvaluing all the rest,
  Two voices heard on earth no more;
  But we old friends are still alive,
  And I am nearing seventy-four,
  While you have touch'd at seventy-five,
  And so I send a birthday line
  Of greeting; and my son, who dipt
  In some forgotten book of mine
  With sallow scraps of manuscript,
  And dating many a year ago,
  Has hit on this, which you will take,
  My Fitz, and welcome, as I know,
  Less for its own than for the sake
  Of one recalling gracious times,
  When, in our younger London days,
  You found some merit in my rhymes,
  And I more pleasure in your praise.


 I WISH I were as in the years of old
 While yet the blessed daylight made itself
 Ruddy thro' both the roofs of sight, and woke
 These eyes, now dull, but then so keen to seek
 The meanings ambush'd under all they saw,
 The flight of birds, the flame of sacrifice,
 What omens may foreshadow fate to man
 And woman, and the secret of the Gods.
 My son, the Gods, despite of human prayer,
 Are slower to forgive than human kings.
 The great God Ares burns in anger still

 Against the guiltless heirs of him from Tyre
 Our Cadmus, out of whom thou art, who found
 Beside the springs of Dirce, smote, and still'd
 Thro' all its folds the multitudinous beast
 The dragon, which our trembling fathers call'd
 The God's own son.
  A tale, that told to me,
 When but thine age, by age as winter-white
 As mine is now, amazed, but made me yearn
 For larger glimpses of that more than man
 Which rolls the heavens, and lifts and lays the deep,
 Yet loves and hates with mortal hates and loves,
 And moves unseen among the ways of men.
 Then, in my wanderings all the lands that lie
 Subjected to the Heliconian ridge
 Have heard this footstep fall, altho' my wont
 Was more to scale the highest of the heights
 With some strange hope to see the nearer God.
 One naked peak‹the sister of the Sun
 Would climb from out the dark, and linger there

 To silver all the valleys with her shafts‹
 There once, but long ago, five-fold thy term
 Of years, I lay; the winds were dead for heat-
 The noonday crag made the hand burn; and sick
 For shadow‹not one bush was near‹I rose
 Following a torrent till its myriad falls
 Found silence in the hollows underneath.
 There in a secret olive-glade I saw
 Pallas Athene climbing from the bath
 In anger; yet one glittering foot disturb'd
 The lucid well; one snowy knee was prest
 Against the margin flowers; a dreadful light
 Came from her golden hair, her golden helm
 And all her golden armor on the grass,
 And from her virgin breast, and virgin eyes
 Remaining fixt on mine, till mine grew dark
 For ever, and I heard a voice that said
 "Henceforth be blind, for thou hast seen too much,
 And speak the truth that no man may believe."
 Son, in the hidden world of sight that lives
 Behind this darkness, I behold her still
 Beyond all work of those who carve the stone
 Beyond all dreams of Godlike womanhood,
 Ineffable beauty, out of whom, at a glance
 And as it were, perforce, upon me flash'd
 The power of prophesying‹but to me
 No power so chain'd and coupled with the curse
 Of blindness and their unbelief who heard
 And heard not, when I spake of famine, plague
 Shrine-shattering earthquake, fire, flood, thunderbolt,
 And angers of the Gods for evil done
 And expiation lack'd‹no power on Fate
 Theirs, or mine own! for when the crowd would roar
 For blood, for war, whose issue was their doom,
 To cast wise words among the multitude
 Was flinging fruit to lions; nor, in hours
 Of civil outbreak, when I knew the twain
 Would each waste each, and bring on both the yoke
 Of stronger states, was mine the voice to curb
 The madness of our cities and their kings.
 Who ever turn'd upon his heel to hear
 My warning that the tyranny of one
 Was prelude to the tyranny of all?
 My counsel that the tyranny of all
 Led backward to the tyranny of one?
 This power hath work'd no good to aught that lives
 And these blind hands were useless in their wars.
 O. therefore, that the unfulfill'd desire,
 The grief for ever born from griefs to be
 The boundless yearning of the prophet's heart‹
 Could that stand forth, and like a statue, rear'd
 To some great citizen, whim all praise from all
 Who past it, saying, "That was he!"
  In vain!
 Virtue must shape itself in deed, and those
 Whom weakness or necessity have cramp'd
 Within themselves, immerging, each, his urn
 In his own well, draws solace as he may.
 Menceceus, thou hast eyes, and I can hear
 Too plainly what full tides of onset sap
 Our seven high gates, and what a weight of war
 Rides on those ringing axles jingle of bits,
 Shouts, arrows, tramp of the horn-footed horse
 That grind the glebe to powder! Stony showers
 Of that ear-stunning hail of Ares crash
 Along the sounding walls. Above, below
 Shock after shock, the song-built towers and gates
 Reel, bruised and butted with the shuddering
 War-thunder of iron rams; and from within
 The city comes a murmur void of joy,
 Lest she be taken captive‹maidens, wives,
 And mothers with their babblers of the dawn,
 And oldest age in shadow from the night,
 Falling about their shrines before their Gods,
 And wailing, "Save us."

 And they wail to thee!
 These eyeless eyes, that cannot see thine own,
 See this, that only in thy virtue lies
 The saving of our Thebes; for, yesternight,
 To me, the great God Ares, whose one bliss
 Is war and human sacrifice‹himself
 Blood-red from battle, spear and helmet tipt
 With stormy light as on a mast at sea,
 Stood out before a darkness, crying, "Thebes,
 Thy Thebes shall fall and perish, for I loathe
 The seed of Cadmus‹yet if one of these
 By his own hand‹if one of these‹"
 My son, No sound is breathed so potent to coerce,
 And to conciliate, as their names who dare
 For that sweet mother land which gave them birth
 Nobly to do, nobly to die. Their names,
 Graven on memorial columns, are a song
 Heard in the future; few, but more than wall
 And rampart, their examples reach a hand
 Far thro' all years, and everywhere they meet
 And kindle generous purpose, and the strength
 To mould it into action pure as theirs.
 Fairer thy fate than mine, if life's best end
 Be to end well! and thou refusing this,
 Unvenerable will thy memory be
 While men shall move the lips; but if thou dare‹
 Thou, one of these, the race of Cadmus‹then
 No stone is fitted in yon marble girth
 Whose echo shall not tongue thy glorious doom,
 Nor in this pavement but shall ring thy name
 To every hoof that clangs it, and the springs
 Of Dirce laving yonder battle-plain,
 Heard from the roofs by night, will murmur thee
 To thine own Thebes, while Thebes thro' thee shall stand
 Firm-based with all her Gods.
  The Dragon's cave
 Half hid, they tell me, now in flowing vines‹
 Where once he dwelt and whence he roll'd himself
 At dead of night‹thou knowest, and that smooth rock
 Before it, altar-fashion'd, where of late
 The woman-breasted Sphinx, with wings drawn back
 Folded her lion paws, and look'd to Thebes.
 There blanch the bones of whom she slew, and these
 Mixt with her own, because the fierce beast found
 A wiser than herself, and dash'd herself
 Dead in her rage; but thou art wise enough
 Tho' young, to love thy wiser, blunt the curse
 Of Pallas, bear, and tho' I speak the truth
 Believe I speak it, let thine own hand strike
 Thy youthful pulses into rest and quench
 The red God's anger, fearing not to plunge
 Thy torch of life in darkness, rather thou
 Rejoicing that the sun, the moon, the stars
 Send no such light upon the ways of men
 As one great deed.
  Thither, my son, and there
 Thou, that hast never known the embrace of love
 Offer thy maiden life.
  This useless hand!
 I felt one warm tear fall upon it. Gone!
 He will achieve his greatness.
 But for me I would that I were gather'd to my rest,
 And mingled with the famous kings of old
 On whom about their ocean-islets flash
 The faces of the Gods‹the wise man's word
 Here trampled by the populace underfoot
 There crown'd with worship and these eyes will find
 The men I knew, and watch the chariot whirl
 About the goal again, and hunters race
 The shadowy lion, and the warrior-kings
 In height and prowess more than human, strive
 Again for glory, while the golden lyre
 Is ever sounding in heroic ears
 Heroic hymns, and every way the vales
 Wind, clouded with the grateful incense-fume
 Of those who mix all odor to the Gods
 On one far height in one far-shining fire.


 "One height and one far-shining fire!"
 And while I fancied that my friend
 For this brief idyll would require
 A less diffuse and opulent end,
 And would defend his judgment well,
 If I should deem it over nice‹
 The tolling of his funeral bell
 Broke on my Pagan Paradise,
 And mixt the dream of classic times,
 And all the phantoms of the dream,
 With present grief, and made the rhymes,
 That miss'd his living welcome, seem
 Like would-be guests an hour too late,
 Who down the highway moving on
 With easy laughter find the gate
 Is bolted, and the master gone.
 Gone onto darkness, that full light
 Of friendship! past, in sleep, away
 By night, into the deeper night!
 The deeper night? A clearer day
 Than our poor twilight dawn on earth‹
 If night, what barren toil to be!
 What life, so maim'd by night, were worth
 Our living out? Not mine to me
 Remembering all the golden hours
 Now silent, and so many dead,
 And him the last; and laying flowers,
 This wreath, above his honor'd head,
 And praying that, when I from hence
 Shall fade with him into the unknown,
 My close of earth's experience
 May prove as peaceful as his own.

© Alfred Tennyson