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Poem by Edward Dowden

La Révélation par le Désert

    Toujours le désert se montre à lhorizon, quand vous
          prononcez le nom de Jéhovah.
                            EDGAR QUINET.

    Beyond the places haunted by the feet
    Of thoughts and swift desires, and where the eyes
    Of wingd imaginings are wild, and dreams
    Glide by on noiseless plumes, beyond the dim
    Veiled sisterhood of ever-circling mists,
    Who dip their urns in those enchanted meres
    Where all thought fails, and every ardour dies,
    And through the vapour dead looms a low moon,
    Beyond the fountains of the dawn, beyond
    The white home of the morning star, lies spread
    A desert lifeless, bright, illimitable,
    The worlds confine, oer which no sighing goes
    From weary winds of Time.

                              I sat me down
    Upon a red stone flung on the red sand,
    In length as great as some sarcophagus
    Which holds a king, but scribbled with no runes,
    Bald, and unstained by lichen or grey moss.
    Save me no living thing in that red land
    Showed under heaven; no furtive lizard slipped,
    No desert weed pushed upward the tough spine
    Or hairy lump, no slow bird was a spot
    Of moving black on the deserted air,
    Or stationary shrilled his tuneless cry;
    No shadow stirrd, nor luminous haze uprose,
    Quivering against the blanched blue of the marge.
    I sat unbonneted, and my throat baked,
    And my tongue lolld dogwise. Red sand below,
    And one unlidded eye above--mere God
    Blazing from marge to marge. I did not pray,
    My heart was as a cinder in my breast,
    And with both hands I held my head which throbbed.
    I, who had sought for God, had followed God
    Through the fair world which stings with sharp desire
    For him of whom its hints and whisperings are,
    Its gleams and tingling moments of the night,
    I, who in flower, and wave, and mountain-wind,
    And song of bird, and mans diviner heart
    Had owned the present Deity, yet strove
    For naked access to his inmost shrine,--
    Now found God doubtless, for he filled the heaven
    Like brass, he breathed upon the air like fire.
    But I, a speck twixt the strown sand and sky,
    Being yet an atom of pure and living will,
    And perdurable as any God of brass,
    With all my soul, with all my mind and strength
    Hated this God. O, for a little cloud
    No bigger than a mans hand on the rim,
    To rise with rain and thunder in its womb,
    And blot God out! But no such cloud would come.
    I felt my brain on fire, heard each pulse tick;
    It was a God to make a man stark mad;
    I rose with neck out-thrust, and nodding head,
    While with dry chaps I could not choose but laugh;
    Ha, ha, ha, ha, across the air it rang,
    No sweeter than the barking of a dog,
    Hard as the echo from an iron cliff;
    It must have buffeted the heaven; I ceased,
    I looked to see from the mid sky an arm,
    And one sweep of the scimitar; I stood;
    And when the minute passed with no event,
    No doomsmans stroke, no sundering soul and flesh,
    When silence dropt its heavy fold on fold,
    And God lay yet inert in heaven, or scornd
    His rebel antic-sized, grotesque,--I swooned.

    Now when the sense returned my lips were wet,
    And cheeks and chin were wet, with a dank dew,
    Acrid and icy, and one shadow huge
    Hung over me blue-black, while all around
    The fierce light glared. O joy, a living thing,
    Emperor of this red domain of sand,
    A giant snake! One fold, one massy wreath
    Arched over me; a mans expanded arms
    Could not embrace the girth of this great lord
    In his least part, and low upon the sand
    His small head lay, wrinkled, a flaccid bag,
    Set with two jewels of green fire, the eyes
    That had not slept since making of the world.
    Whence grew I bold to gaze into such eyes?
    Thus gazing each conceived the others thought,
    Aware how each read each; the Serpent mused,
    Are all the giants dead, a long time dead,
    Born of the broad-hipped women, grave and tall,
    In whom Gods sons poured a celestial seed?
    A long time dead, whose great deeds filled the earth
    With clamour as of beaten shields, all dead,
    And Cush and Canaan, Mizraim and Phut,
    And the boy Nimrod storming through large lands
    Like earthquake through towerd cities, these depart,
    And what remains? Behold, the elvish thing
    We raised from out his swoon, this now is man.
    The pretty vermin! helpless to conceive
    Of great, pure, simple sin, and vast revolt;
    The world escapes from deluge these new days,
    We build no Babels with the Shinar slime;
    What would this thin-legged grasshopper with us,
    The Dread Ones? Rather let him skip, and chirp
    Hymns in his smooth grass to his novel God,
    The Father; here no bland paternity
    He meets, but visible Might blocks the broad sky,
    My great Co-mate, the Ancient. Hence! avoid!
    What wouldst thou prying on our solitude?
    For thee my sly small cousin may suffice,
    And sly small bites about the heart and groin;
    Hence to his haunt! Yet ere thou dost depart
    I mark thee with my sign.

                               A vibrant tongue
    Had in a moment pricked upon my brow
    The mystic mark of brotherhood, Cains brand,
    But when I read within his eyes the words
    Hence and avoid, dim horror seized on me,
    And rising, with both arms stretched forth, and head
    Bowed earthward, and not turning once I ran;
    And what things saw me as I raced by them,
    What hands plucked at my dress, what light wings brushed
    My face, what waters in my hearing seethed,
    I know not, till I reached familiar lands,
    And saw grey clouds slow gathering for the night,
    Above sweet fields, whence the June mowers strolled
    Homewards with girls who chatted down the lane.

    Is this the secret lying round the world?
    A Dread One watching with unlidded eye
    Slow century after century from his heaven,
    And that great lord, the worm of the red plain,
    Cold in mid sun, strenuous, untameable,
    Coiling his solitary strength along
    Slow century after century, conscious each
    How in the life of his Arch-enemy
    He lives, how ruin of one confounds the pair,--
    Is this the eternal dual mystery?
    One Source of being, Light, or Love, or Lord,
    Whose shadow is the brightness of the world,
    Still let thy dawns and twilights glimmer pure
    In flow perpetual from hill to hill,
    Still bathe us in thy tides of day and night;
    Wash me at will a weed in thy free wave,
    Drenched in the sun and air and surge of Thee.

Edward Dowden

Edward Dowden's other poems:
  1. In the Galleries
  2. On the Heights
  3. The Wanderer
  4. The Morning Star
  5. A Childs Noonday Sleep

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