Thursday, September 2, 2010

My hand is upon the stones (part two)





I understand the triumph and the truth
Wrought into these walls of rugged stone.
They are a miracle of patient hands,
They are a victory of suffering, a paean of pain;
All pangs of death, all cries of birth,
Are in the mute, moss-covered stones;
They are eloquent to my hands.


O beautiful, blind stones, inarticulate and dumb!
In the deep gloom of their hearts there is a gleam
Of the primeval sun which looked upon them
When they were begotten.
So in the heart of man shines forever
A beam from the everlasting sun of God.
Rude and unresponsive are the stones;
Yet in them divine things lie concealed;
I hear their imprisoned chant:--
"We are fragments of the universe,
Chips of the rock whereon
God laid the foundation of the world:
Out of immemorial chaos He wrought us.
Out of the sun, out of the tempest,
out of the travail of the earth we grew.
We are wonderfully mingled of life and death;
We serve as crypts for innumerable,
unnoticed, tiny forms.
We are manifestations of the Might
That rears the granite hills unto the clouds
And sows the tropic seas with coral isles.
We are shot through and through with hidden color;

A thousand hues are blended in our gray substance.
Sapphire, turquoise, ruby, opal,
Emerald, diamond, amethyst,
are our sisters from the beginning,
And our brothers are iron, lead, zinc,
Copper and silver and gold.

We are the dust of continents past and to come,
We are a deathless frieze carved with man's destiny;
In us is the record sibylline of far events.
We are as old as the world, our birth was before the hills.
We are the cup that holds the sea
And the framework of the peak that parts the sky.
When Chaos shall again return,
And endless Night shall spread her wings upon a rained world,
We alone shall stand up from the shattered earth,
Indestructible, invincible witnesses of God's eternal purpose."


In reflective mood by the wall I wander;
The hoary stones have set my heart astir;
My thoughts take shape and move beside me in the guise
Of the stern men who built the wall in early olden days.
One by one the melancholy phantoms go stepping from me,
And I follow them in and out among the stones.
I think of the days long gone,
Flown like birds beyond the ramparts of the world.
The patient, sturdy men who piled the stones
Have vanished, like the days, beyond the bounds
Of earth and mortal things.
From their humble, steadfast lives has sprung the greatness of my nation.
I am bone of their bone, breath of their breath,
Their courage is in my soul.
The wall is an Iliad of granite: it chants to me
Of pilgrims of the perilous deep,
Of fearless journeyings and old forgotten things.
The blood of grim ancestors warms the fingers
That trace the letters of their story;
My pulses beat in unison with pulses that are stilled;
The fire of their zeal inspires me
In my struggle with darkness and pain.
These embossed books, unobliterated by the tears and laughter of Time,
Are signed with the vital hands of undaunted men.
I love these monoliths, so crudely imprinted
With their stalwart, cleanly, frugal lives.
From my seat among the stones I stretch my hand and touch
My friend the elm, urnlike, lithesome, tall.
Far above the reach of my exploring fingers
Birds are singing and winging joyously
Through leafy billows of green.
The elm-tree's song is wondrous sweet;
The words are the ancientest language of trees--
They tell of how earth and air and light
Are wrought anew to beauty and to fruitfulness.
I feel the glad stirrings under her rough bark;
Her living sap mounts up to bring forth leaves;
Her great limbs thrill beneath the wand of spring.
This wall was builded in our fathers' days--
Valorous days when life was lusty and the land was new.
Resemble the walls the builders, buffeted, stern, and worn.
To us they left the law,
Order, simplicity, obedience,
And the wall is the bond they gave the nation
At its birth of courage and unflinching faith.
Before the epic here inscribed began,
They wrote their course upon a trackless sea.
O, tiny craft, bearing a nation's seed!
Frail shallop, quick with unborn states!
Autumn was mellow in the fatherland when they set sail,
And winter deepened as they neared the West.
Out of the desert sea they came at last,
And their hearts warmed to see that frozen land.
O, first gray dawn that filtered through the dark!
Bleak, glorious birth-hour of our northern states!
They stood upon the shore like new created men;
On barren solitudes of sand they stood,
The conquered sea behind, the unconquered wilderness before.
Some died that year beneath the cruel cold,
And some for heartsick longing and the pang
Of homes remembered and souls torn asunder.
That spring the new-plowed field for bread of life
Bordered the new-dug acre marked for death;
Beside the springing corn they laid in the sweet, dark earth
The young man, strong and free, the maiden fair and trustful,
The little child, and the uncomplaining mother.
Across the meadow, by the ancient pines,
Where I, the child of life that lived that spring,
Drink in the fragrances of the young year,
The field-wall meets one grimly squared and straight.
Beyond it rise the old tombs, gray and restful,
And the upright slates record the generations.
Stiffly aslant before the northern blasts,
Like the steadfast, angular beliefs
Of those whom they commemorate, the headstones stand,
Cemented deep with moss and invisible roots.
The rude inscriptions charged with faith and love,
Graceless as Death himself, yet sweet as Death,
Are half erased by the impartial storms.
As children lisping words which move to laughter
Are themselves poems of unconscious melody,
So the old gravestones with their crabbed muse
Are beautiful for their halting words of faith,
Their groping love that had no gift of song.
But all the broken tragedy of life
And all the yearning mystery of death
Are celebrated in sweet epitaphs of vines and violets.
Close by the wall a peristyle of pines
Sings requiem to all the dead that sleep.


Beyond the village churchyard, still and calm,
Steeped in the sweetness of eternal morn,
The wall runs down in crumbling cadence
Beside the brook which plays
Through the land like a silver harp.
A wind of ancient romance blows across the field,
A sweet disturbance thrills the air;
The silken skirts of Spring go rustling by,
And the earth is astir with joy.
Up the hill, romping and shaking their golden heads,
Come the little children of the wood.
From ecstasy to ecstasy the year mounts upward.
Up from the south come the odor-laden winds,
Angels and ministers of life,
Dropping seeds of fruitfulness Into the bosoms of flowers.
Elusive, alluring secrets hide in wood and hedge
Like the first thoughts of love In the breast of a maiden;
The witchery of love is in rock and tree.
Across the pasture, star-sown with daisies,
I see a young girl--the spirit of spring she seems,
Sister of the winds that run through the rippling daisies.
Sweet and clear her voice calls father and brother,
And one whose name her shy lips will not utter.
But a chorus of leaves and grasses speaks her heart
And tells his name: the birches flutter by the wall;
The wild cherry-tree shakes its plumy head
And whispers his name; the maple
Opens its rosy lips and murmurs his name;
The marsh-marigold sends the rumor
Down the winding stream, and the blue flag
Spread the gossip to the lilies in the lake:
All Nature's eyes and tongues conspire In the unfolding of the tale
That Adam and Eve beneath the blossoming rose-tree
Told each other in the Garden of Eden.
Once more the wind blows from the walls,
And I behold a fair young mother;
She stands at the lilac-shaded door
With her baby at her breast;
She looks across the twilit fields and smiles
And whispers to her child: "Thy father comes!"

(The conclusion to this poem will be posted tomorrow,
with the answer to who the author is.)

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