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    John Drinkwater

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    The Fires of God

                                      I
      Time gathers to my name;
      Along the ways wheredown my feet have passed
      I see the years with little triumph crowned,
      Exulting not for perils dared, downcast
      And weary-eyed and desolate for shame
      Of having been unstirred of all the sound
      Of the deep music of the men that move
      Through the world's days in suffering and love.

      Poor barren years that brooded over-much
      On your own burden, pale and stricken years --
      Go down to your oblivion, we part
      With no reproach or ceremonial tears.
      Henceforth my hands are lifted to the touch
      Of hands that labour with me, and my heart
      Hereafter to the world's heart shall be set
      And its own pain forget.
      Time gathers to my name --
      Days dead are dark; the days to be, a flame
      Of wonder and of promise, and great cries
      Of travelling people reach me -- I must rise.

                                      II
      Was I not man? Could I not rise alone
      Above the shifting of the things that be,
      Rise to the crest of all the stars and see
      The ways of all the world as from a throne?
      Was I not man, with proud imperial will
      To cancel all the secrets of high heaven?
      Should not my sole unbridled purpose fill
      All hidden paths with light when once was riven
      God's veil by my indomitable will?

      So dreamt I, little man of little vision,
      Great only in unconsecrated pride;
      Man's pity grew from pity to derision,
      And still I thought, 'Albeit they deride,
      Yet is it mine uncharted ways to dare
      Unknown to these,
      And they shall stumble darkly, unaware
      Of solemn mysteries
      Whereof the key is mine alone to bear.'

      So I forgot my God, and I forgot
      The holy sweet communion of men,
      And moved in desolate places, where are not
      Meek hands held out with patient healing when
      The hours are heavy with uncharitable pain;
      No company but vain
      And arrogant thoughts were with me at my side.
      And ever to myself I lied,
      Saying, 'Apart from all men thus I go
      To know the things that they may never know.'

                                      III
      Then a great change befell:
      Long time I stood
      In witless hardihood
      With eyes on one sole changeless vision set --
      The deep disturbèd fret
      Of men who made brief tarrying in hell
      On their earth-travelling.
      It was as though the lives of men should be
      Set circle-wise, whereof one little span
      Through which all passed was blackened with the wing
      Of perilous evil, bateless misery.
      But all beyond, making the whole complete
      O'er which the travelling feet
      Of every man
      Made way or ever he might come to death,
      Was odorous with the breath
      Of honey-laden flowers, and alive
      With sacrificial ministrations sweet
      Of man to man, and swift and holy loves,
      And large heroic hopes, whereby should thrive
      Man's spirit as he moves
      From dawn of life to the great dawn of death.
      It was as though mine eyes were set alone
      Upon that woeful passage of despair,
      Until I held that life had never known
      Dominion but in this most troubled place
      Where many a ruined grace
      And many a friendless care
      Ran to and fro in sorrowful unrest.
      Still in my hand I pressed
      Hope's fragile chalice, whence I drew deep draughts
      Shaping belief that even yet should grow
      Out of this dread confusion, as of broken crafts
      Driven along ungovernable seas,
      Some threads of order, and that I should know
      After long vigil all the mysteries
      Of human wonder and of human fate.
      O fool, O only great
      In pride unhallowed, O most blind of heart!
      Confusion but more dark confusion bred,
      Grief nurtured grief, I cried aloud and said,
      'Through trackless ways the soul of man is hurled,
      No sign upon the forehead of the skies,
      No beacon, and no chart
      Are given to him, and the inscrutable world
      But mocks his scars and fills his mouth with dust.

      And lies bore lies,
      And lust bore lust,
      And the world was heavy with flowerless rods,
      And pride outran
      The strength of man
      Who had set himself in the place of gods.

                                      IV
      Soon was I then to gather bitter shame
      Of spirit, I had been most wildly proud --
      Yet in my pride had been
      Some little courage, formless as a cloud,
      Unpiloted save by the vagrant wind,
      But still an earnest of the bonds that tame
      The legionary hates, of sacred loves that lean
      From the high soul of man towards his kind.
      And all my grief
      Had been for those I watched go to and fro.
      In uncompassioned woe
      Along that little span my unbelief
      Had fashioned in my vision as all life.
      Now even this so little virtue waned,
      For I became caught up into the strife
      That I had pitied, and my soul was stained
      At last by that most venomous despair,
      Self-pity.
           I no longer was aware
      Of any will to heal the world's unrest,
      I suffered as it suffered, and I grew
      Troubled in all my daily trafficking,
      Not with the large heroic trouble known
      By proud adventurous men who would atone
      With their own passionate pity for the sting
      And anguish of a world of peril and snares;
      It was the trouble of a soul in thrall
      To mean despair,
      Driven about a waste where neither fall
      Of words from lips of love, nor consolation
      Of grave eyes comforting, nor ministration
      Of hand or heart could pierce the deadly wall
      Of self -- of self, -- I was a living shame --
      A broken promise. I had stood apart
      With pride rebellious and defiant heart,
      And now my pride had perished in the flame.
      I cried for succour as a little child
      Might supplicate whose days are undefiled --
      For tutored pride and innocence are one.

      To the gloom has won
      A gleam of the sun
      And into the barren desolate ways
      A scent is blown
      As of meadows mown
      By cooling rivers in clover days.

                                      V
      I turned me from that place in humble wise,
      And fingers soft were laid upon mine eyes,
      And I beheld the fruitful earth, with store
      Of odorous treasure, full and golden grain,
      Ripe orchard bounty, slender stalks that bore
      Their flowered beauty with a meek content,
      The prosperous leaves that loved ths sun and rain,
      Shy creatures unreproved that came and went
      In garrulous joy among the fostering green.
      And, over all, the changes of the day
      And ordered year their mutable glory laid --
      Expectant winter soberly arrayed,
      The prudent diligent spring whose eyes have seen
      The beauty of the roses uncreate,
      Imperial June, magnificent, elate
      Beholding all the ripening loves that stray
      Among her blossoms, and the golden time
      Of the full ear and bounty of the boughs, --
      And the great hills and solemn chanting seas
      And prodigal meadows, answering to the chime
      Of God's good year, and bearing on their brows
      The glory of processional mysteries
      From dawn to dawn, the woven shadow and shine
      Of the high moon, the twilight secrecies,
      And the inscrutable wonder of the stars
      Flung out along the reaches of the night.

      And the ancient might
      Of the binding bars
      Waned as I woke to a new desire
      For the choric song
      Of exultant, strong
      Earth-passionate menwith souls of fire.

                                      VI
      'Twas given me to hear. As I beheld --
      With a new wisdom, tranquil, asking not
      For mystic revelation -- this glory long forgot,
      This re-discovered triumph of the earth
      In high creative will and beauty's pride
      Establshèd beyond the assaulting years,
      It came to me, a music that compelled
      Surrender of all tributary fears,
      Full-throated, fierce and rhythmic with the wide
      Beat of the pilgrim winds and labouring seas,
      Sent up from all the harbouring ways of earth
      Wherein the travelling feet of men have trod,
      Mounting the firmamental silences
      And challenging the golden gates of God.

      We bear the burden of the years
      Clean-limbed, clear-hearted, open-browed;
      Albeit sacramental tears
      Have dimmed our eyes, we know the proud
      Content of men who sweep unbowed
      Before the legionary fears;
      In sorrow we have grown to be
      The masters of adversity.

      Long ere from immanent silence leapt
      Obedient hands and fashioning will,
      The giant god within us slept,
      And dreamt of seasons to fulfil
      The shaping of our souls that still
      Expectant earthward vigil kept;
      Our wisdom grew from secrets drawn
      From that far-off dim-memoried dawn.

      Wise of the storied ages we,
      Of perils dared and crosses borne,
      Of heroes bound by no decree
      Of laws defiled or faiths outworn,
      Of poets who have held in scorn
      All mean and tyrannous things that be;
      We prophesy with lips that sped
      The songs of the prophetic dead.

      Wise of the brief belovèd span
      Of this our glad earth-travelling,
      Of beauty's bloom and ordered plan,
      Of love and love's compassioning,
      Of all the dear delights that spring
      From man's communion with man;
      We cherish every hour that strays
      Adown the cataract of the days.

      We see the clear untroubled skies,
      We see the glory of the rose,
      And laugh, nor grieve that clouds will rise
      And wax with every wind that blows,
      Nor that the blossoming time will close,
      For beauty seen of humble eyes
      Immortal habitation has
      Though beauty's form may pale and pass.

      Wise of the great unshapen age,
      To which we move with measured tread
      All girt with passionate truth to wage
      High battle for the word unsaid,
      The song unsung, the cause unled,
      The freedom that no hope can gauge;
      Strong-armed, sure-footed, iron-willed
      We sift and weave, we break and build.

      Into one hour we gather all
      The years gone down, the years unwrought,
      Upon our ears brave measures fall
      Across uncharted spaces brought,
      Upon our lips the words are caught
      Wherewith the dead the unborn call;
      From love to love, from height to height
      We press and none may curb our might.

                                      VII
      O blessèd voices, O compassionate hands,
      Calling and healing, O great-hearted brothers!
      I come to you. Ring out across the lands
      Your benediction, and I too will sing
      With you, and haply kindle in another's
      Dark desolate hour the flame you stirred in me.
      O bountiful earth, in adoration meet
      I bow to you; O glory of years to be,
      I too will labour to your fashioning.
      Go down, go down, unweariable feet,
      Together we will march towards the ways
      Wherein the marshalled hosts of morning wait
      In sleepless watch, with banners wide unfurled
      Across the skies in ceremonial state,
      To greet the men who lived triumphant days,
      And stormed the secret beauty of the world.


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