Ode for the Keats Centenary
The Muse is stern unto her favoured sons, Giving to some the keys of all the joy Of the green earth, but holding even that joy Back from their life; Bidding them feed on hope, A plant of bitter growth, Deep-rooted in the past; Truth, ’tis a doubtful art To make Hope sweeten Time as it flows; For no man knows Until the very last, Whether it be a sovereign herb that he has eaten, Or his own heart. O stern, implacable Muse, Giving to Keats so richly dowered, Only the thought that he should be Among the English poets after death; Letting him fade with that expectancy, All powerless to unfold the future! What boots it that our age has snatched him free From thy too harsh embrace, Has given his fame the certainty Of comradeship with Shakespeare’s? He lies alone Beneath the frown of the old Roman stone And the cold Roman violets; And not our wildest incantation Of his most sacred lines, Nor all the praise that sets Towards his pale grave, Like oceans towards the moon, Will move the Shadow with the pensive brow To break his dream, And give unto him now One word! -- When the young master reasoned That our puissant England Reared her great poets by neglect, Trampling them down in the by-paths of Life And fostering them with glory after death, Did any flame of triumph from his own fame Fall swift upon his mind; the glow Cast back upon the bleak and aching air Blown around his days -- ? Happily so! But he, whose soul was mighty as the soul Of Milton, who held the vision of the world As an irradiant orb self-filled with light, Who schooled his heart with passionate control To compass knowledge, to unravel the dense Web of this tangled life, he would weigh slight As thistledown blown from his most fairy fancy That pale self-glory, against the mystery, The wonder of the various world, the power Of ”seeing great things in loneliness.” Where bloodroot in the clearing dwells Along the edge of snow; Where, trembling all their trailing bells, The sensitive twinflowers blow; Where, searching through the ferny breaks, The moose-fawns find the springs; Where the loon laughs and diving takes Her young beneath her wings; Where flash the fields of arctic moss With myriad golden light; Where no dream-shadows ever cross The lidless eyes of night; Where, cleaving a mountain storm, the proud Eagles, the clear sky won, Mount the thin air between the loud Slow thunder and the sun; Where, to the high tarn tranced and still No eye has ever seen, Comes the first star its flame to chill In the cool deeps of green; -- Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy wings, Far from the toil and press, Teach us by these pure-hearted things, Beauty in loneliness. Where, in the realm of thought, dwell those Who oft in pain and penury Work in the void, Searching the infinite dark between the stars, The infinite little of the atom, Gathering the tears and terrors of this life, Distilling them to a medicine for the soul; (And hated for their thought Die for it calmly; For not their fears, Nor the cold scorn of men, Fright them who hold to truth:) They brood alone in the intense serene Air of their passion, Until on some chill dawn Breaks the immortal form foreshadowed in their dream, And the distracted world and men Are no more what they were. Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy deathless wings, Far from the wayward toil, the vain excess, Teach us by such soul-haunting things Beauty in loneliness. The minds of men grow numb, their vision narrows, The clogs of Empire and the dust of ages, The lust of power that fogs the fairest pages, Of the romance that eager life would write, These war on Beauty with their spears and arrows. But still is Beauty and of constant power; Even in the whirl of Time’s most sordid hour, Banished from the great highways, Afflighted by the tramp of insolent feet, She hangs her garlands in the by-ways; Lissome and sweet Bending her head to hearken and learn Melody shadowed with melody, Softer than shadow of sea-fern, In the green-shadowed sea: Then, nourished by quietude, And if the world’s mood Change, she may return Even lovelier than before. -- The white reflection in the mountain lake Falls from the white stream Silent in the high distance; The mirrored mountains guard The profile of the goddess of the height, Floating in water with a curve of crystal light; When the air, envious of the loveliness, Rushes downward to surprise, Confusion plays in the contact, The picture is overdrawn With ardent ripples, But when the breeze, warned of intrusion, Draws breathless upward in flight, The vision reassembles in tranquillity, Reforming with a gesture of delight, Reborn with the rebirth of calm. Spirit of Keats, lend us thy voice, Breaking like surge in some enchanted cave On a dream-sea-coast, To summon Beauty to her desolate world. For Beauty has taken refuge from our life That grew too loud and wounding; Beauty withdraws beyond the bitter strife, Beauty is gone, (Oh where?) To dwell within a precinct of pure air Where moments turn to months of solitude; To live on roots of fern and tips of fern, On tender berries flushed with the earth’s blood. Beauty shall stain her feet with moss And dye her cheek with deep nut-juices, Laving her hands in the pure sluices Where rainbows are dissolved. Beauty shall view herself in pools of amber sheen Dappled with peacock-tints from the green screen That mingles liquid light with liquid shadow. Beauty shall breathe the fairy hush With the chill orchids in their cells of shade, And hear the invocation of the thrush That calls the stars into their heaven, And after even Beauty shall take the night into her soul. When the thrill voice goes crying through the wood, (Oh, Beauty, Beauty!) Troubling the solitude With echoes from the lonely world, Beauty will tremble like a cloistered thing That hears temptation in the outlands singing, Will steel her dedicated heart and breathe Into her inner ear to firm her vow: -- ”Let me restore the soul that ye have marred. O mortals, cry no more on Beauty, Leave me alone, lone mortals, Until my shaken soul comes to its own, Lone mortals, leave me alone!” (Oh Beauty, Beauty, Beauty!) All the dim wood is silent as a dream That dreams of silence.
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