Friday, September 3, 2010

My hand is upon the stones (conclusion)

Life triumphed over many-weaponed Death. 
Sorrow and toil and the wilderness 
thwarted their stout invasion; 
But with the ship that sailed again went no retreating soul! 
Stubborn, unvanquished, clinging to the skirts of Hope, 
They kept their narrow foothold on the land, 
And the ship sailed home for more. 
With yearlong striving they fought their way into the forest; 
Their axes echoed where I sit, 
a score of miles from the sea. 
Slowly, slowly the wilderness yielded 
To smiling grass-plots and clearings of yellow corn; 
And while the logs of their cabins were still moist 
With odorous sap, they set upon the hill 
The shrine of liberty for man's mind, 
And by it the shrine of liberty for man's soul, 
The school-house and the church.  
The apple-tree by the wall sheds its blossom about me
A shower of petals of light upon darkness. 
From Nature's brimming cup I drink a thousand scents; 
At noon the wizard sun stirs the hot soil under the pines. 
I take the top stone of the wall in my hands 
And the sun in my heart; 
I feel the rippling land extend to right and left, 
Bearing up a receptive surface to my uncertain feet; 
I clamber up the hill and beyond the grassy sweep; 
I encounter a chaos of tumbled rocks. 
Piles of shadow they seem, huddling close to the land. 
Here they are scattered like sheep, 
Or like great birds at rest, 
There a huge block juts from the giant wave of the hill. 
At the foot of the aged pines the maiden's moccasins 
Track the sod like the noiseless sandals of Spring. 
Out of chinks in the wall delicate grasses wave, 
As beauty grew out of the crannies of these hard souls. 
Joyously, gratefully, after their long wrestling 
With the bitter cold and the harsh white winter, 
They heard the step of Spring 
on the edge of melting snow-drifts; 
Gladly, with courage that flashed 
from their life-beaten souls, 
As the fire-sparks fly from the hammered stone, 
They hailed the fragrant arbutus; 
Its sweetness trailed beside the path that they cut through the  forest, 
And they gave it the name of their ship Mayflower.      

Beauty was at their feet, and their eyes beheld it; 
The earth cried out for labor, and they gave it. 

But ever as they saw the budding spring, 
Ever as they cleared the stubborn field, 
Ever as they piled the heavy stones, 
In mystic vision they saw, the eternal spring; 
They raised their hardened hands above the earth, 
And beheld the walls that are not built of stone, 
The portals opened by angels whose garments are of light; 
And beyond the radiant walls of living stones 
They dreamed vast meadows and hills of fadeless green.  
In the old house across the road 
With weather-beaten front, like the furrowed face of an old man, 
The lights are out forever, the windows are broken, 
And the oaken posts are warped; 
The storms beat into the rooms 
as the passion of the world 
Racked and buffeted those who once dwelt in them. 
The psalm and the morning prayer are silent. 
But the walls remain visible witnesses of faith 
That knew no wavering or shadow of turning. 
They have withstood sun and northern blast, 
They have outlasted the unceasing strife 
Of forces leagued to tear them down. 
Under the stars and the clouds, under the summer sun, 
Beaten by rain and wind, covered with tender vines, 
The walls stand symbols of a granite race, 
The measure and translation of olden times.  
In the rough epic of their life, their toil, their creeds, 
Their psalms, their prayers, what stirring tales 
Of days that were their past had they to tell 
Their children to keep the new faith burning? 


Sing of happier themes, O many-voiced epic, 
Sing how the ages, like thrifty husbandmen, 
winnow the creeds of  men, 
And leave only faith and love and truth. 
Sing of the Puritan's nobler nature, 
Fathomless as the forests he felled, 
Irresistible as the winds that blow. 
His trenchant conviction was but the somber bulwark 
Which guarded his pure ideal. 
Resolute by the communion board he stood, 
And after solemn prayer solemnly cancelled 
And abolished the divine right of kings 
And declared the holy rights of man. 
Prophet and toiler, yearning for other worlds, 
yet wise in this; 
Scornful of earthly empire and brooding on death, 
Yet wrestling life out of the wilderness 
And laying stone on stone the foundation 
of a temporal state! 
I see him standing at his cabin-door at eventide 
With dreaming, fearless eyes gazing at sunset hills; 
In his prophetic sight Liberty, like a bride, 
Hasteth to meet her lord, the westward-going man! 
Even as he saw the citadel of Heaven, 
He beheld an earthly state divinely fair and just. 
Mystic and statesman, maker of homes, 
Strengthened by the primal law of toil, 
And schooled by monarch-made injustices, 
He carried the covenant of liberty with fire and sword, 
And laid a rich state on frugality! 
Many republics have sprung into being, 
Full-grown, equipped with theories forged in reason; 
All, all have fallen in a single night; 
But to the wise, fire-hardened Puritan 
Democracy was not a blaze of glory 
To crackle for an hour and be quenched out 
By the first gust that blows across the world. 
I see him standing at his cabin-door, 
And all his dreams are true as when he dreamed them; 
But only shall they be fulfilled if we 
Are mindful of the toil that gave him power, 
Are brave to dare a wilderness of wrong; 
So long shall Nature nourish us and Spring 
Throw riches in the lap of man 
As we beget no wasteful, weak-handed generations, 
But bend us to the fruitful earth in toil. 
Beyond the wall a new-plowed field 
lies steaming in the sun, 
And down the road a merry group of children 
Run toward the village school.
 Hear, O hear!  In the historian walls 
Rises the beat and the tumult of the struggle for freedom. 
Sacred, blood-stained walls, your peaceful front 
Sheltered the fateful fires of Lexington; 
Builded to fence green fields 
and keep the herds at pasture, 
Ye became the frowning breastworks of stern battle; 
Lowly boundaries of the freeman's farm, 
Ye grew the rampart of a land at war; 
And still ye cross the centuries 
Between the ages of monarchs and the age 
When farmers in their fields are kings. 
From the Revolution the young Republic emerged, 
She mounted up as on the wings of the eagle, 
She ran and was not weary, 
and all the children of the world 
Joined her and followed her shining path. 
But ever as she ran, above her lifted head 
Darkened the monster cloud of slavery. 
Hark!  In the walls, amid voices of prayer and of triumph, 
I hear the clank of manacles and the ominous mutterings of bondsmen! 

At Gettysburg, our Golgotha, the sons of the fathers 
Poured their blood to wash out a nation's shame. 
Cleansed by tribulation and atonement, 
The broken nation rose from her knees, 
And with hope reborn in her heart set forth again 
Upon the open road to ideal democracy.  
Sing, walls, in lightning words that 
shall cause the world to  vibrate, 
Of the democracy to come, 
Of the swift, teeming, confident thing! 
We are part of it--the wonder and the terror and the glory! 
Fearless we rush forward to meet the years, 
The years that come flying towards us 
With wings outspread, agleam on the horizon of time!  
O eloquent, sane walls, instinct with a new faith, 
Ye are barbarous, in congruous, 
but great with the greatness of  reality. 
Walls wrought in unfaltering effort, 
Sing of our prosperity, the joyous harvest 
Of the labor of lusty toilers. 
Down through the years comes the ring of their victorious axes: 
"Ye are titans of the forest, but we are stronger; 
Ye are strong with the strength of mighty winds, 
But we strong with the unconquerable strength of souls!" 
Still the young race, unassailable, inviolate, 
Shakes the solitudes with the strokes of creation; 
Doubly strong we renew the valorous days, 
And like a measureless sea we overflow 
The fresh green, benevolent West, 
The buoyant, fruitful West that dares and sings! 
Pure, dew-dripping walls that guard 
The quiet, lovable, fertile fields, 
Sing praises to Him who from the mossy rocks 
Can bid the fountains leap in thirsty lands. 
I walk beside the stones through the young grain, 
Through waves of wheat that billow about my knees. 
The walls contest the onward march of the wheat; 
But the wheat is charged with the life of the world; 
Its force is irresistible; onward it sweeps, 
An engulfing tide, over all the land, 
Till hill and valley, field and plain 
Are flooded with its green felicity! 
Out of the moist earth it has sprung; 
In the gracious amplitudes of her bosom it was nurtured, 
And in it is wrought the miracle of life.  
Sing, prophetic, mystic walls, of the dreams of the builders
Sing in thundering tones that shall thrill us 
To try our dull discontent, our barren wisdom 
Against their propagating, 
unquenchable, questionless visions. 
Sing in renerving refrain of the resolute men, 
Each a Lincoln in his smoldering patience, 
Each a Luther in his fearless faith, 
Who made a breach in the wall of darkness 
And let the hosts of liberty march through.  
Calm, eternal walls, tranquil, mature, 
Which old voices, old songs, old kisses cover, 
As mosses and lichens cover your ancient stones, 
Teach me the secret of your serene repose; 
Tell of the greater things to be, 
When love and wisdom are the only creed, 
And law and right are one. 
Sing that the Lord cometh, the Lord cometh, 
The fountain-head and spring of life! 
Sing, steady, exultant walls, in strains hallowed 
and touched with  fire, 
Sing that the Lord shall build us all together. 
As living stones build us, cemented together. 
May He who knoweth every pleasant thing 
That our sires forewent to teach the peoples law and truth, 
Who counted every stone blessed 
by their consecrated hands, 
Grant that we remain liberty-loving, substantial, elemental, 
And that faith, the rock not fashioned of human hands, 
Be the stability of our triumphant, toiling days.

You may be surprised to learn that his poem, which is entitled 'The Song of the Stone Wall', was written by Helen Keller (1880-1968)  an amazing woman who succeeded in overcoming her total blindness and deafness going on to become a prominent American author, political activist, and lecturer, and whose story is perhaps most well known through the depictions of the play and film 'The Miracle Worker'.

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