Come Si Quando

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How thickly the far fields of heaven are strewn with stars !
Tho* the open eye of day shendeth them with its glare
yet, if no cloudy wind curtain them nor low mist
of earth blindfold us, soon as Night in grey mantle
wrappeth all else, they appear in their optimacy
from under the ocean or behind the high mountains
climbing in spacious ranks upon the stark-black void.
Ev'n so in our mind's night burn far beacons of thought
and the infinite architecture of our darkness,
the dim essence and being of our mortalities,
is sparkled with fair fire-flecks of eternity
whose measure we know not nor the wealth of their rays.
It happ'd to me sleeping in the Autumn night, what time
Sirius was uplifting his great lamp o'er the hills,
I saw him not my sight was astray, my wonder
held by the epiphany of a seraphic figure
that was walking on earth: in my visions it was
I saw one in the full form and delight of man,
the signature of godhead in his rnotion'd grace
and the aureole of his head was not dimm'd to my view;
the shekinah of azure floating o'er him in the air
seem'd the glow of a fire that burn'd steadfast within
prison'd to feed the radiance of his countenance:
as a lighthouse flasheth over broken waters
a far resistless beam from its strong tower: it was
as if Nature had deign'd to take back from man's hand
some work of her own as art had refashion'd it
when Giorgione (it might be) portraying the face
of one who had left no memory but that picture
and watching well the features at their play to find
some truth worthy of his skill, caught them for a moment
transfigured by a phantom visitation of spirit
which seizing he drew forth and fix'd on the canvas
as thence it hath gazed out for ever, and once on me.
Even such immanent beauty had that heroic face
and all that look'd on it loved and many worshipped.
For me, comfort possessed me, the intimate comfort
of Beauty that is the soul's familiar angel
who bringeth me alway such joy as a man feeleth
returning to the accustom'd homeliness of home
after long absence or exile among strange things,
and my heart in me was laughing for happiness
when I saw a great fear fell on the worshippers,
The fear of God: I saw its smoky shadow of dread;
and as a vast Plutonian mountain that burieth
its feet in molten lava and its high peak in heaven,
whenever it hath distrain'd some dark voyaging storm
to lave its granite shoulders, discharged! the flood
in a thousand torrents o'er its flanks to the plain
and all the land is vocal with the swirl and gush
of the hurrying waters, so suddenly in this folk
a flood of troublous passion arose and mock'd control.
Then I saw the light vanities and follies of man
put on dragonish faces and glour with Gorgon eyes
disowning Shame and Reason, and one poet I saw
who from the interdependence and rivalry of men
loathing his kind had fled into the wilderness
to wander among the beasts and make home of their caves:
like to those Asian hermits colour'd by their clime
who drank the infatuation of the wide torrid sand
the whelming tyranny of the lonely sun by day
the boundless nomadry of the stars by night, who sought
primeval brotherhood with things unbegotten;
who for ultimate comfort clothing them i* the skin
of nakedness wrapt nothingness closely about them
choosing want for wealth and shapeless terrors for friends
in the embrace of desolation and wearied silence
to lie babe-like on the bosom of unpitying power.
But he found not rest nor peace for his soul: I read
his turbulent passion, the blasphemy of his heart
as I stood among the rocks that chuckled the cry
wherewith he upcast reproach into the face of heaven.

"Unveil thine eyes, O THEMIS! Stand, unveil thine eyes!
from the high zenith hang thy balance in the skies !
In one scale set thy Codes of Justice Duty and Awe
thy penal interdicts the tables of thy Law
and in the other the postulant plea of Mercy and Love:
then thine unbandaged sight shall know thy cause how light
and see thy thankless pan fly back to thee above.

"Or wilt thou deeplier wager, an if thou hast the key
to unlock the cryptic storehouse of futurity,
fetch the mint-treasure forth, unpack the Final Cause
whose prime alweighty metal must give Reason pause;
or if 'tis of such stuff as man's wit cannot gauge
scale thou the seal'd deposit in its iron-bound cage
Nay, lengthen out the beam of the balance on thy side
unequal as thou wilt, so that on mine the pan
to hold the thoughts of man be deep enough and wide.

"What Providence is this that maketh sport with Chance
blindly staking against things of no ordinance?
Must the innocent dear birds that singing in the shaw
with motherly instinct wove their nest of twisted straw
see in some icy hail-gust their loved mansion drown'd
and all their callow nurselings batter'd on the ground?
Even so a many-generation'd city of men
the storied temple of their endeavour and amorous ken
is toss'd back into rubbish by a shudder of the earth's crust:
Nor even the eternal stars have any sanctionJd trust
that, like ships in dark night ill-fatedly on their course,
they shall not meet and crash together, and all their force
be churn'd back to the vapory magna whence they grew
agelong to plod henceforth their frustrate path anew.

"From this blind wreckage then hath Wisdom no escape
but limitless production of every living shape?
How shall man honour this Demiurge and yet keep
in due honour the gift that he rateth so cheap?
Myriad seeds perfected that one seed may survive
Millions of men, that Reason in a scant few may thrive
Multiplication alike of good bad strong and weak
and the overflow of life more wasteful than the leak.

"And what this treasure, of which, so prodigal of the whole
he granteth unto each pensioner in such niggard dole?
its short lease on such terms as only can be enjoy'd
against some equal title invaded or destroyed?
What is this banquet where the guests are served for meat?
What hospitality? What kind of host is he
the bill of whose purveyance is Killye each other and eat?

"Or why, if the excellence of conscient Reason is such,
the accomplishment so high, that it renounce all touch
of kindness with its kin and humbler parentage
building the slaughter-house beside the pasturage
Why must this last best most miraculous flower of all
be canker'd at the core, prey to the spawn and spawl
of meanest motes? must stoop from its divine degree
to learn the spire and spilth of every insensate filth
that swarmeth in the chaos of obscenity?

"And if the formless ferment of life's primal slime
bred without stint, and came through plant and beast in time
to elaborate the higher appurtenance of sex
Why should this low-born urgency persist to vex
man's growth in grace? for sure the procreant multitude
would riot to outcrowd the earth wer't not for lack of food,
and thus the common welfare serveth but to swell
the common woe, whereat the starvelings nure rebel.
See, never hungry horde of savage raiders slipp'd
from Tartary's parching steppes so for destruction equipp'd
as midst our crowded luxury now the sneakir^ swarm
that pilfereth intelligence from Science to storm
Civilization in her well-order'd citadel.
Thus Culture doeth herself to death reinforcing hell
and seeth no hope but this, that what she hath wrought in vain
since it was wrought before, may yet be wrought again
and fall to a like destruction again and evermore.

"And what Man's Mind? since even without this foul offence
it breedeth its own poison of its own excellence:
it riseth but to fall deeper, it cannot endure.
Attainment stayeth pursuit and being itself impure
dispiriteth the soul. All power engendered! pride
and poor vainglory seeing its image magnified
upon the ignoble mirror of common thought, will trust
the enticements of self-love and the flattery thereof
and call on fame to enthrone ambition and mortal lust.
"Wherefore, since Reason assureth neither final term
nor substantive foundations impeccable and firm
as brutish instincts are and Virtue in default
goeth down before the passions crowding to the assault;
Nothing being justified all things are ill or well
are justifiable alike or unjustifiable
till, whether in mocking laughter or mere melancholy
Philosophy will turn to vindicate folly:
and if thro' thought it came that man first learnt his woe,
his Memory accumulating the recorded sum
his Prescience anticipating fresh ills to come,
How could it be otherwise? Why should it not be so?

"And last, O worst! for surely all wrongs had else been nought
had never Imagination exalted human thought
with spiritual affecti 3n of tenderness intense
beyond all finest delicacy of bodily sense;
so that the gift of tears, that is the fount of song
maketh intolerable agony of Nature's wrong.
Ask her that taught man filial love, what she hath done
the mother of all mothers, she unto her own dear son?
him innocently desirous to love her well
by unmotherly cruelty she hath driven to rebel,
hath cast out in the night homeless and to his last cry
for guidance on his way hath deign'd him no reply.

"And thou that in symbolic mockery feign'st to seal
thine eyes from horrors that thou hast no heart to feel,
Thou, THEMIS, wilt suspect not the celestial weight
of the small parcels that I now pile on the plate.
These are love's bereavements and the blightings of bloom
the tears of mourners inconsolable at the tomb
of promise wither'd and fond hope blasted in prime:
These, the torrential commiserations of all time
These, the crime-shrieks of war plague-groans and famine-cries
These, the slow-standing tears in children's questioning eyes
These, profuse tears of fools, These, coy tears of the wise
in solitude bewailing and in sad silence
the perishing .record of hard-won experience
Ruin of accomplishment that no toil can restore
Heroic Will ehain'd down on Fate's cold dungeon-floor.
See here the tears of prophets, the confessors of faith
the tears of beauty-lovers, merchants of the unpriced
in calumny and reproach, in want, wanhope and death
persecuted betray'd imprison'd sacrificed;
All tears from Adam's tears unto the tears of Christ.
"Look to thy balance, THEMIS; Should thy scale descend
bind up thine eyes again, I shall no more contend;
for if the Final Cause vindicate Nature's laws
her universal plan giveth no heed to man
No place; for him Confusion is his Final Cause."

Thus threw he to the wilderness and silent sky
his outrageous despair the self-pity of mankind
and the disburdenment of his great heaviness
left his heart suddenly so shaken and unsteadied
he seem'd like one who fording a rapid river
and poising on his head a huge stone that its weight
may plant his footing firmly and stiffen his body upright
against the rushing water, hath midway let it fall
and with his burden hath lost his balance, and staggering
into the bubbling eddy is borne helpless away.
Even so a stream of natural feeling o'erwhelm'd him
whether of home maybe and childhood or of lovers' eyes
of fond friendship and service, or perchance he felt
himself a rebel untaught who had pilfer'd Wisdom's arms
to work disorder and havoc in the city of God:
For suddenly he was dumbstruck and with humbled step
of unwitting repentance he stole back to his cave
and wrapping his poor rags about him took his way
again to his own people and the city whence he had fled.
There in the market-place a wild haggard figure
I saw him anon where high above a surging crowd
he stood waving his hands like some prophet of old
dream-sent to warn God's people; but them the strong words
of his chasten'd humanity inflame but the more;
forwhy they cannot suffer mention of holiness
nor the sound of the names that convince them of sin
If there be any virtue, if there be any praise
'tis not for them to hear of or think on those things.
I saw what he spake to them tho' I heard it not
only at the sting thereof the loud wrath that arose.
As a wild herd of cattle on the prairie pasturing
if they are aware of one amongst them sick or maim'd
or in some part freak-hued differently from themselves
will be moved by instinct of danger and set on him
and bowing all their heads drive him out with their horns
as enemy to their selfwilPd community;
even such brutish instinct impelPd that human herd
and some had stoop'd to gather loose stones from the ground
and were hurling at him: he crouch'd with both his arms
covering his head and would have hid himself from them
in fear more of their crime than of his own peril.
Then with a plunge of terror he turn'd and fled for life
and they in wild joy of the chase with hue and cry
broke after him and away and bent on sport to kill
hunted their startled game before them down the streets.
Awhile he escaped and ran apart, but soon I saw
the leaders closing on him 1 was hiding my eyes
lest I should see him taken and torn in blood, when, lo !
the street whereon they ran was block'd across his way
by a whiterobed throng that came moving with solemn pace
waving banners and incense and high chant on the air,
and bearing 'neath a rich canopy of reverence
their object of devotion as oft in papal Rome
was seen vying with pomps of earthly majesty
or now on Corpus Christ! day thro' Westminster
in babylonish exile paradeth our roads
and as I looked in wonder on the apparition, I saw
the hunted man into their midst dash'd wildly and fell.
*Twas lik^ as when a fox that long with speed and guile
hath resolutely outstay'd the yelling murderous pack
if when at last his limbs fail him and he knoweth
the hounds hot on his trail and himself quite outworn
will in desperation forgo his native fear
and run for refuge into some hamlet of men
and there will enter a cotter's confined cabin and plead
panting with half-closed eyes to the heart of his foe,
altho* he knoweth nought of the Divinity
of that Nature to whom he pleadeth, nor knoweth
ev'n that he pleadeth, yet he pleadeth not in vain
so great is Nature for the good wife rrnh pity,
will suffer him to hide there under settle or bed
until the hunt be pass'd, will cheer him and give him
milk of her children's share until he be restored
when she will let him forth to his roguish freedom again
So now this choral convoy of heavenly pasture
gave ready succour and harbour to the hunted man
and silencing their music broke their bright-robed ranks
to admit him and again closed round him where foredone
he fell down in their midst: and hands I saw outstretch*d
to upraise him, but when he neither rose up nor stirr'd
they knelt aghast, and one who in solemn haste came up
and by the splendour of his apparel an elder seem'd,
bent over him there and whisper'd sacred words whereat
he motion'd and gave sign, and offering his dumb mouth
took from the priestly ringers such food as is dealt
unto the dying, and when the priest stood up I knew
for his gesture and silence that the man was dead.
Then feet and head his body in fair linen winding
they raised and bore along with dirge and shriving prayer
such as they use when one of their own brotherhood
after mortal probation has enter'd into rest
and they will bury his bones where Christ at his coming
shall bid them all arise from their tombs in the church
Whereto their long procession now went filing back
Threading the streets, and dwarfed beneath the bright fagade
crept with its head to climb the wide steps to the porch
whereunder, as ever there they arrived, the dark doorway
swallowed them out of sight: and still the train came on
with lurching bannerets and tottering canopy
threading the streets and mounting to the shadowy porch
arriving entering disappearing without end
when I awoke, the dirge still sounding in my ears
the night wind blowing thro' the open window upon me
as I lay marvelling at the riddle of my strange dream.

© Robert Seymour Bridges