The Implicit Promise of Immortality.

A Poem.

Or questi che dall’ infima lacuna
Dell’ universo insin qui ha vedute
Le vite spiritali ad una ad una,
Supplica a te per grazia di virtute
Tanto che possa con gli occhi levarsi
Più alto verso l’ultima salute.”
Dante, Par. xxxiii. 22—23.
Friend, and it little matters if with thee1
In shadowed vales and night’s solemnity2
Heart has met heart, and soul with soul has known3
A deathless kinship and one hope alone ;—4
Or if thy dear voice by mine ears unheard5
Has never spoken me one winged word,6
Nor mine eyes seen thee, nor my spirit guessed7
The answering spirit hidden in thy breast ;—8
Known or unknown, seen once and loved for long,9
Or only reached by this faint breath of song,10
In thine imagined ears I pour again11
A faltering message from the man in men,—12
Thoughts that are born with summer, but abide13
Past summer into sad Allhallowtide.14
The world without, men say, the needs within,15
Which clash and make what we call sorrow and sin,16
Tend to adjustment evermore, until17
The individual and the cosmic will18
Shall coincide, and man content and free19
Assume at last his endless empery,20
Seeking his Eden and his Heaven no more21
By fabled streams behind him or before,22
But feeling Pison with Euphrates roll23
Round the great garden of his kingly soul.24
I answer that, so far, the type that springs25
Seems like a race of strangers, not of kings,26
Less fit for earth, not more so ; rather say27
Grown like the dog who when musicians play28
Feels each false note and howls, while yet the true29
With doubtful pleasure tremulous thrill him through,30
Since man’s atrange thoughts confuse him, and destroy31
With half-guessed raptures his ancestral joy.32
So in the race of man a change as great33
As from the fourfoot to the man’s estate34
Begins unmarked, nor can our wisest say35
To what new type slow Nature leads the way,36
Since in their nascent stage such changes seem37
Like a disease sometimes, sometimes a dream ;38
Who feel them hide; so hard it is to see39
That the real marvel, real disease, would be,40
If while all forms of matter upward strive41
Man were the one unchanging type alive.42
Meantime dim wonder on the untravelled way43
Holds our best hearts, and palsies all our day ;44
One looks on God, and then with eyes struck blind45
Brings a confusing rumour to mankind ;46
And others listen, and no work can do47
Till they have got that God defined anew ;48
And in the darkness some have fallen, as fell49
To baser gods the folk of Israel,50
When with Jehovah’s thunders heard too nigh51
They wantoned in the shade of Sinai.52
Take any of the sons our Age has nursed,53
Fed with her food and taught her best and worst ;54
Suppose no great disaster ; look not nigh55
On hidden times of his extremity ;56
But watch him like the flickering magnet stirred57
By each imponderable look and word,58
And think how firm a courago every day59
He needs to bear him on life’s common way,60
Since even at the best his spirit moves61
Thro’ such a tourney of conflicting loves,—62
Unwisely sought, untruly called untrue,63
Beloved, and hated, and beloved anew ;64
Till in the changing whirl of praise and blame65
He feels himself the same and not the same,66
And often, overworn and overwon,67
Knows all a dream and wishes all were done.68
I know it, such an one these eyes have seen69
About the world with his unworldly mien,70
And often idly hopeless, often bent71
On some tumultuous deed and vehement,72
Because his spirit he can nowise fit73
To the world’s ways and settled rule of it,74
But thro’ contented thousands travels on75
Like a sad heir in disinherison,76
And rarely by great thought or brave emprise77
Comes out above his life’s perplexities,78
Looks thro’ the rifted cloudland, and sees clear79
Fate at his feet and the high God anear.80
Ah let him tarry on those heights, nor dream81
Of other founts than that Aonian stream !82
Since short and fierce, then hated, drowned, and dim83
Shall most men’s chosen pleasures come to him,—84
Not made for such things, nor for long content85
With the poor toys of this imprisonment,86
Ay, should he sit one afternoon beguiled87
By some such joy as makes the wise man wild,88
Yet if at twilight to his ears shall come89
A distant music thro’ the city’s hum,90
So slight a thing as this will wake again91
The incommunicable homeless pain,92
Until his soul so yearns to reunite93
With her Prime Source, her Master and Delight,94
As if some loadstone drew her, and brain and limb95
Ached with her struggle to get through to Him.96
And is this then delusion ? can it be97
That like the rest high heaven is phantasy ?98
Can God’s implicit promise be but one99
Among so many visions all undone ?100
Nay, if on earth two souls thro’ sundering fate101
Can save their sisterhood inviolate,102
If dimness and deferment, time and pain,103
Have no more lasting power upon those twain104
Than stormy thunderclouds which, spent and done,105
Leave grateful earth still gazing on the sun,—106
If their divine hope gladly can forgo107
Such nearness as this wretched flesh can know,108
While, spite of all that even themselves may do,109
Each by her own truth feels the other true :—110
Faithful no less is God, who having won111
Our spirits to His endless unison112
Betrays not our dependence, nor can break113
The oath unuttered which His silence spake.114
Therefore I will not think, as some men say,115
That all these multitudes who love and pray116
Perish no less, unanswered, each alone,117
Joyless, created for a cornerstone,118
That our sons’ sons may lead a life more fair,119
Taught and refined by our foregone despair.120
Oh dreadful thought, that all our sires and we121
Are but foundations of a race to be,—122
Stones which one thrusts in earth, and builds thereon123
A white delight, a Parian Parthenon,124
And thither, long thereafter, youth and maid125
Seek with glad brows tho alabaster shade,126
And in processions’ pomp together bent127
Still interchange their sweet words innocent,—128
Not caring that those mighty columns rest129
Each on the ruin of a human breast,—130
That to the shrine the victor’s chariot rolls131
Across the anguish of ten thousand souls.132
Well was it that our fathers suffered thus,”133
I hear them say, “that all might end in us ;134
Well was it here and there a bard should feel135
Pains premature and hurt that none could heal ;136
These were their preludes, thus the race began ;137
So hard a matter was the birth of Man.”138
And yet these too shall pass and fade and flee,139
And in their death shall be as vile as we,140
Nor much shall profit with their perfect powers141
To have lived a so much sweeter life than ours,142
When at the last, with all their bliss gone by,143
Like us those glorious creatures come to die,144
With far worse woe, far more rebellious strife145
Those mighty spirits drink the dregs of life.146
Nay, by no cumulative changeful years,147
For all our bitter harvesting of tears,148
Shalt thou tame man, nor in his breast destroy149
The longing for his home which deadens joy ;150
He cannot mate here, and his cage controls151
Safe bodies, separate and sterile souls ;152
And wouldst thou bless the captives, thou must show153
The wild green woods which they again shall know.154
Therefore have we, while night serenely fell,155
Imparadised in twilight’s cenomel,156
Beheld the empyrean, star on star157
Perfecting solemn change and secular,158
Each with slow roll and pauseless period159
Writing the solitary thoughts of God.160
Not blindly in such moments, not in vain,161
The open secret flashes on the brain,162
As if one almost guessed it, almost knew163
Whence we have sailed and voyage whereunto ;164
Not vainly, for albeit that hour goes by,165
And the strange letters perish from the sky,166
Yet learn we that a life to us is given167
One with the cosmic spectacles of heaven,—168
Feel the still soul, for all her questionings,169
Parcel and part of sempiternal things ;170
For us, for all, one overarching dome,171
One law the order, and one God the home.172
Ah, but who knows in what thin form and strange,173
Through what appalled perplexities of change,174
Wakes the sad soul, which having once forgone175
This earth familiar and her friends thereon176
In interstellar void becomes a chill177
Outlying fragment of the Master Will ;178
So severed, so forgetting, shall not she179
Lament, immortal, immortality ?180
If thou wouldst have high God thy soul assure181
That she herself shall as herself endure,182
Shall in no alien semblance, thine and wise,183
Fulfil her and be young in Paradise,184
One way I know ; forget, forswear, disdain185
Thine own best hopes, thine utmost loss and gain,186
Till when at last thou scarce rememberest now187
If on the earth be such a man as thou,188
Nor hast one thought of self-surrender,—no,189
For self is none remaining to forgo,190
If ever, then shall strong persuasion fall191
That in thy giving thou hast gained thine all,192
Given the poor present, gained the boundless scope,193
And kept thee virgin for the further hope.194
This is the hero’s temper, and to some195
With battle-trumpetings that hour has come,196
With guns that thunder and with winds that fall,197
With closing fleets and voices augural ;—198
For some, methinks, in no less noble wise199
Divine prevision kindles in the eyes,200
When all base thoughts like frighted harpies flown,201
In her own beauty leave the soul alone ;202
When Love,—not rosy-flushed as he began,203
But Love, still Love, the prisoned God in man,—204
Shows his face glorious, shakes his banner free,205
Cries like a captain for Eternity :—206
O halcyon air across the storms of youth,207
O trust him, he is true, he is one with Truth !208
Nay, is he Christ ?  I know not ; no man knows209
The right name of the heavenly Anterôs,—210
But here is God, whatever God may be,211
And whomsoe’er we worship, this is He.212
Ah, friend, I have not said it : who shall tell213
In wavering words the hope unspeakable ?214
Which he who once has known will labour long215
To set forth sweetly in persuasive song,216
Yea, many hours with hopeless art will try217
To save the fair thing that it shall not die,218
Then after all despairs, and leaves to-day219
A hidden meaning in a nameless lay.220