The Dream of Man

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To the eye and the ear of the Dreamer
 This Dream out of darkness flew,
Through the horn or the ivory portal,
 But he wist not which of the two.

It was the Human Spirit,
 Of all men's souls the Soul,
Man the unwearied climber,
 That climbed to the unknown goal.
And up the steps of the ages,
 The difficult steep ascent,
Man the unwearied climber
 Pauseless and dauntless went.
Æons rolled behind him
 With thunder of far retreat,
And still as he strove he conquered
 And laid his foes at his feet.
Inimical powers of nature,
 Tempest and flood and fire,
The spleen of fickle seasons
 That loved to baulk his desire,
The breath of hostile climates,
 The ravage of blight and dearth,
The old unrest that vexes
 The heart of the moody earth,
The genii swift and radiant
 Sabreing heaven with flame,
He, with a keener weapon,
 The sword of his wit, overcame.
Disease and her ravening offspring,
 Pain with the thousand teeth,
He drave into night primeval,
 The nethermost worlds beneath,
Till the Lord of Death, the undying,
 Ev'n Asraël the King,
No more with Furies for heralds
 Came armed with scourge and sting,
But gentle of voice and of visage,
 By calm Age ushered and led,
A guest, serenely featured,
 Entering, woke no dread.
And, as the rolling æons
 Retreated with pomp of sound,
Man's spirit, grown too lordly
 For this mean orb to bound,
By arts in his youth undreamed of
 His terrene fetters broke,
With enterprise ethereal
 Spurning the natal yoke,
And, stung with divine ambition,
 And fired with a glorious greed,
He annexed the stars and the planets
 And peopled them with his seed.

Then said he, "The infinite Scripture
 I have read and interpreted clear,
And searching all worlds I have found not
 My sovereign or my peer.
In what room of the palace of nature
 Resides the invisible God?
For all her doors I have opened,
 And all her floors I have trod.
If greater than I be her tenant,
 Let him answer my challenging call:
Till then I admit no rival,
 But crown myself master of all."
And forth as that word went bruited,
 By Man unto Man were raised
Fanes of devout self-homage,
 Where he who praised was the praised;
And from vast unto vast of creation
 The new evangel ran,
And an odour of world-wide incense
 Went up from Man unto Man;
Until, on a solemn feast-day,
 When the world's usurping lord
At a million impious altars
 His own proud image adored,
God spake as He stept from His ambush:
 "O great in thine own conceit,
I will show thee thy source, how humble,
 Thy goal, for a god how unmeet."

Thereat, by the word of the Maker
 The Spirit of Man was led
To a mighty peak of vision,
 Where God to His creature said:
"Look eastward toward time's sunrise."
 And, age upon age untold,
The Spirit of Man saw clearly
 The Past as a chart out-rolled,-
Beheld his base beginnings
 In the depths of time, and his strife,
With beasts and crawling horrors
 For leave to live, when life
Meant but to slay and to procreate,
 To feed and to sleep, among
Mere mouths, voracities boundless,
 Blind lusts, desires without tongue,
And ferocities vast, fulfilling
 Their being's malignant law,
While nature was one hunger,
 And one hate, all fangs and maw.

With that, for a single moment,
 Abashed at his own descent,
In humbleness Man's Spirit
 At the feet of the Maker bent;
But, swifter than light, he recovered
 The stature and pose of his pride,
And, "Think not thus to shame me
 With my mean birth," he cried.
"This is my loftiest greatness,
 To have been born so low;
Greater than Thou the ungrowing
 Am I that for ever grow."
And God forbore to rebuke him,
 But answered brief and stern,
Bidding him toward time's sunset
 His vision westward turn;
And the Spirit of Man obeying
 Beheld as a chart out-rolled
The likeness and form of the Future,
 Age upon age untold;
Beheld his own meridian,
 And beheld his dark decline,
His secular fall to nadir
 From summits of light divine,
Till at last, amid worlds exhausted,
 And bankrupt of force and fire,
'Twas his, in a torrent of darkness,
 Like a sputtering lamp to expire.

Then a war of shame and anger
 Did the realm of his soul divide;
"'Tis false, 'tis a lying vision,"
 In the face of his God he cried.
"Thou thinkest to daunt me with shadows;
 Not such as Thou feign'st is my doom:
From glory to rise unto glory
 Is mine, who have risen from gloom.
I doubt if Thou knew'st at my making
 How near to thy throne I should climb,
O'er the mountainous slopes of the ages
 And the conquered peaks of time.
Nor shall I look backward nor rest me
 Till the uttermost heights I have trod,
And am equalled with Thee or above Thee,
 The mate or the master of God."

Ev'n thus Man turned from the Maker,
 With thundered defiance wild,
And God with a terrible silence
 Reproved the speech of His child.
And man returned to his labours,
 And stiffened the neck of his will;
And the æons still went rolling,
 And his power was crescent still.
But yet there remained to conquer
 One foe, and the greatest-although
Despoiled of his ancient terrors,
 At heart, as of old, a foe-
Unmaker of all, and renewer,
 Who winnows the world with his wing,
The Lord of Death, the undying,
 Ev'n Asraël the King.

And lo, Man mustered his forces
 The war of wars to wage,
And with storm and thunder of onset
 Did the foe of foes engage,
And the Lord of Death, the undying,
 Was beset and harried sore,
In his immemorial fastness
 At night's aboriginal core.
And during years a thousand
 Man leaguered his enemy's hold,
While nature was one deep tremor,
 And the heart of the world waxed cold,
Till the phantom battlements wavered,
 And the ghostly fortress fell,
And Man with shadowy fetters
 Bound fast great Asraël.

So, to each star in the heavens,
 The exultant word was blown,
The annunciation tremendous,
 Death is overthrown!
And Space in her ultimate borders
 Prolonging the jubilant tone,
With hollow ingeminations,
 Sighed, Death is overthrown!
And God in His house of silence,
 Where He dwelleth aloof, alone,
Paused in His tasks to hearken:
 Death is overthrown!

Then a solemn and high thanksgiving
 By Man unto Man was sung,
In his temples of self-adoration,
 With his own multitudinous tongue;
And he said to his Soul: "Rejoice thou
 For thy last great foe lies bound,
Ev'n Asraël the Unmaker,
 Unmade, disarmed, discrowned."

And behold, his Soul rejoiced not,
 The breath of whose being was strife,
For life with nothing to vanquish
 Seemed but the shadow of life.
No goal invited and promised
 And divinely provocative shone;
And Fear having fled, her sister,
 Blest Hope, in her train was gone;
And the coping and crown of achievement
 Was hell than defeat more dire-
The torment of all-things-compassed,
 The plague of nought-to-desire;
And Man the invincible queller,
 Man with his foot on his foes,
In boundless satiety hungred,
 Restless from utter repose,
Victor of nature, victor
 Of the prince of the powers of the air,
By mighty weariness vanquished,
 And crowned with august despair.

Then, at his dreadful zenith,
 He cried unto God: "O Thou
Whom of old in my days of striving
 Methought I needed not,-now,
In this my abject glory,
 My hopeless and helpless might,
Hearken and cheer and succour!"
 And God from His lonely height,
From eternity's passionless summits,
 On suppliant Man looked down,
And His brow waxed human with pity,
 Belying its awful crown.
"Thy richest possession," He answered,
 "Blest Hope, will I restore,
And the infinite wealth of weakness
 Which was thy strength of yore;
And I will arouse from slumber,
 In his hold where bound he lies,
Thine enemy most benefic;-
 O Asraël, hear and rise!"

And a sound like the heart of nature
 Riven and cloven and torn,
Announced, to the ear universal,
 Undying Death new-born.
Sublime he rose in his fetters,
 And shook the chains aside
Ev'n as some mortal sleeper
 'Mid forests in autumntide
Rises and shakes off lightly
 The leaves that lightly fell
On his limbs and his hair unheeded
 While as yet he slumbered well.

And Deity paused and hearkened,
 Then turned to the undivine,
Saying, "O Man, My creature,
 Thy lot was more blest than Mine.
I taste not delight of seeking,
 Nor the boon of longing know.
There is but one joy transcendent,
 And I hoard it not but bestow.
I hoard it not nor have tasted,
 But freely I gave it to thee-
The joy of most glorious striving,
 Which dieth in victory."
Thus, to the Soul of the Dreamer,
 This Dream out of darkness flew,
Through the horn or the ivory portal,
 But he wist not which of the two.

© William Watson