The Rope-Maker

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In his village grey
At foot of the dykes, that encompass him
With weary weaving of curves and lines
Toward the sea outstretching dim,
The rope-maker, visionary white.
Stepping backwards along the way,
Prudently 'twixt his hands combines
The distant threads, in their twisting play.
That come to him from the infinite.

When day is gone.
Through ardent, weary evenings, yon
The whirr of a wheel can yet be heard;
Something by unseen hands is stirred.
And parallel o'er the rakes, that trace
An even space
From point to point along all the way,
The flaxen hemp still plaits its chain
Ceaseless, for days and weeks amain.
With his poor, tired fingers, nimble still.
Fearing to break for want of skill
The fragments of gold that the gliding light
Threads through his toil so scantily--
Passing the walls and the houses by
The rope-maker, visionary white,
From depths of the evening's whirlpool dim,
Draws the horizons in to him.

Horizons that stretch back afar.
Where strife, regrets, hates, furies are:
Tears of the silence, and the tears
That find a voice: serenest years,
Or years convulsed with pang and throe:
Horizons of the long ago,
These gestures of the Past they shew.

Of old--as one in sleep, life, errant, strayed
Its wondrous morns and fabled evenings through;
When God's right hand toward far Canaan's blue
Traced golden paths, deep in the twilight shade.

Of old, 'twas life exasperate, huge and tense,
Swung savage at some stallion's mane--life, fleet.
With mighty lightnings flashing 'neath her feet,
Upreared immensely over space immense.

Of old, 'twas life evoking ardent will;
And hell's red cross and Heaven's cross of white
Each marched, with gleam of steely armours' light.
Through streams of blood, to heavens of victory still.

Of old--life, livid, foaming, came and went
'Mid strokes of tocsin and assassin's knife;
Proscribers, murderers, each with each at strife,
While, mad and splendid. Death above them bent.

'Twixt fields of flax and of osiers red.
On the road where nothing doth move or tread,
By houses and walls to left and right
The rope-maker, visionary white,
From depths of evening's treasury dim
Draws the horizons in to him.

Horizons that stretch yonder far.
Where work, strifes, ardours, science are;
Horizons that change--they pass and glide,
  And on their way
They shew in mirrors of eventide
The mourning image of dark To-day.

Here--writhing fires that never rest nor end.
Where, in one giant effort all employed,
Sages cast down the Gods, to change the void
Whither the flights of human science tend.

Here--'tis a room where thought, assertive, saith
That there are weights exact to gauge her by,
That inane ether, only, rounds the sky.
And that in phials of glass men breed up death.

Here--'tis a workship, where, all fiery bright,
Matter intense vibrates with fierce turmoil
In vaults where wonders new, 'mid stress and toil,
Are forged, that can absorb space, time and night.

--A palace--of an architecture grown
Effete, and weary 'neath its hundred years.
Whence voices vast invoke, instinct with fears,
The thunder in its flights toward the Unknown.

On the silent, even road--his eyes
Still fixed towards the waning light
That skirts the houses and walls as it dies--
The rope-maker, visionary white,
From depths of the evening's halo dim
Draws the horizons in to him.

Horizons that are there afar
Where light, hope, wakenings, strivings are;
Horizons that he sees defined
As hope for some future, far and kind.
Beyond those distant shores and faint
That evening on the clouds doth paint.

Yon--'mid that distance calm and musical
Twin stairs of gold suspend their steps of blue,
The sage doth climb them, and the seer too,
Starting from sides opposed toward one goal.

Yon--contradiction's lightning-shocks lose power.
Doubt's sullen hand unclenches to the light,
The eye sees in their essence laws unite
Rays scattered once 'mid doctrines of an hour.

Yon--keenest spirits pierce beyond the land
Of seeming and of death. The heart hath ease,
And one would say that Mildness held the keys
Of the colossal silence in her hand.

Up yon--the God each soul is, once again
Creates, expands, gives, finds himself in all;
And rises higher, the lowlier he doth fall
Before meek tenderness and sacred pain.

And there is ardent, living peace--its urns
Of even bliss ranged 'mid these twilights, where
--Embers of hope upon the ashen air--
Each great nocturnal planet steadfast burns.

In his village at foot of the dykes, that bend,
Sinuous, weary, about him and wend
Toward that distance of eddying light,
The rope-maker, visionary white.
Along by each house and each garden wall.
Absorbs in himself the horizons all.

© Emile Verhaeren