John Masefield.

The poems and plays of John Masefield (Volume 1) online

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So, like a marvel in a marvel set,

I answer to the vast, as wave by wave

The sea of air goes over, dry or wet,

Or the full moon comes swimming from her cave,

Or the great sun comes north, this myriad I

Tingles, not knowing how, yet wondering why.

If I could get within this changing I,
This ever altering thing which yet persists,
Keeping the features it is reckoned by,
While each component atom breaks or twists,
If, wandering past strange groups of shifting forms,
Cells at their hidden marvels hard at work,
Pale from much toil, or red from sudden storms,
I might attain to where the Rulers lurk.
If, pressing past the guards in those grey gates,
The brain's most folded intertwisted shell,
I might attain to that which alters fates,
The King, the supreme self, the Master Cell,
[411]



SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS

Then, on Man's earthly peak, I might behold
The unearthly self beyond, unguessed, untold.

What is this atom which contains the whole,

This miracle which needs adjuncts so strange,

This, which imagined God and is the soul,

The steady star persisting amid change?

What waste, that smallness of such power should need

Such clumsy tools so easy to destroy,

Such wasteful servants difficult to feed,

Such indirect dark avenues to joy.

Why, if its business is not mainly earth,

Should it demand such heavy chains to sense?

A heavenly thing demands a swifter birth,

A quicker hand to act intelligence.

An earthly thing were better like the rose

At peace with clay from which its beauty grows.

Ah, we are neither heaven nor earth, but men;
Something that uses and despises both,
That takes its earth's contentment in the pen,
Then sees the world's injustice and is wroth,
And flinging off youth's happy promise, flies
Up to some breach, despising earthly things,
And, in contempt of hell and heaven, dies,
Rather than bear some yoke of priests or kings.
Our joys are not of heaven nor earth, but man's,
A woman's beauty or a child's delight,
The trembling blood when the discoverer scans
The sought-for world, the guessed-at satellite;
The ringing scene, the stone at point to blush
For unborn men to look at and say "Hush."



SONNETS

Roses are beauty, but I never see

Those blood drops from the burning heart of June

Glowing like thought upon the living tree,

Without a pity that they die so soon,

Die into petals, like those roses old,

Those women, who were summer in men's hearts

Before the smile upon the Sphinx was cold,

Or sand had hid the Syrian and his arts.

O myriad dust of beauty that lies thick

Under our feet that not a single grain

But stirred and moved in beauty and was quick

For one brief moon and died nor lived again;

But when the moon rose lay upon the grass

Pasture to living beauty, life that was.

Over the church's door they moved a stone

And there, unguessed, forgotten, mortared up,

Lay the priest's cell where he had lived alone;

There was his ashy hearth, his drinking cup;

There was the window whence he saw the host,

The god whose beauty quickened bread and wine,

The skeleton of a religion lost,

The ghostless bones of what had been divine.

O many a time the dusty masons come,

Knocking their trowels in the stony brain,

To cells where perished priests had once a home,

Or where devout brows pressed the window pane,

Watching the thing made God, the god whose bones

Bind underground our soul's foundation stones.




SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS

Without the thought "This living beauty here
Is earth's remembrance of a beauty dead.
Surely where all this glory is displayed
Love has been quick, like fire, to high ends,
Here, in this grass, an altar has been made
For some white joy, some sacrifice of friends;
Here, where I stand, some leap of human brains
Has touched immortal things and left its trace,
The earth is happy here, the gleam remains;
Beauty is here, the spirit of the place,
I touch the faith which nothing can destroy,
The earth, the living church of ancient joy."

Out of the clouds come torrents, from the earth
Fire and quakings, from the shrieking air
Tempests that harry half the planet's girth.
Death's unseen seeds are scattered everywhere.
Yet in his iron cage the mind of man
Measures and braves the terrors of all these,
The blindest fury and the subtlest plan
He turns, or tames, or shows in their degrees.
Yet it himself are forces of like power,
Untamed, unreckoned; seeds that brain to brain
Pass across oceans bringing thought to flower,
New worlds, new selves, where he can live again,
Eternal beauty's everlasting rose
Which casts this world as shadow as it goes.

O little self, within whose smallness lies
All that man was, and is, and will become,
Atom unseen that comprehends the skies
[414]



SONNETS

And tells the tracks by which the planets roam.
That, without moving, knows the joys of wings,
The tiger's strength, the eagle's secrecy,
And in the hovel can consort with kings,
Or clothe a god with his own mystery.
O with what darkness do we cloak thy light,
What dusty folly gather thee for food,
Thou who alone art knowledge and delight,
The heavenly bread, the beautiful, the good.

living self, O god, O morning star,
Give us thy light, forgive us what we are.

1 went into the fields, but you were there
Waiting for me, so all the summer flowers
Were only glimpses of your starry powers,
Beautiful and inspired dust they were.

I went down by the waters, and a bird

Sang with your voice in all the unknown tones

Of all that self of you I have not heard,

So that my being felt you to the bones.

I went into my house, and shut the door

To be alone, but you were there with me;

All beauty in a little room may be

Though the roof lean and muddy be the floor.

Then in my bed I bound my tired eyes

To make a darkness for my weary brain,

But like a presence you were there again,

Being and real, beautiful and wise,

So that I could not sleep and cried aloud,

"You strange grave thing, what is it you would say?"

The redness of your dear lips dimmed to grey,

The waters ebbed, the moon hid in a cloud.



SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS

There are two forms of life, of which one moves,

Seeking its meat in many forms of Death,

On scales, on wings, on all the myriad hooves

Which stamp earth's exultation in quick breath.

It rustles through the reeds in shivering fowl,

Cries over moors in curlew, glitters green

In the lynx' eye, is fearful in the howl

Of winter-bitten wolves whose flanks are lean.

It takes dumb joy in cattle, it is fierce,

It torts the tiger's loin, the eagle's wings,

Its tools are claws to smite and teeth to pierce,

Arms to destroy, and coils, and poison stings;

Wherever earth is quick and life runs red

Its mark is death, its meat is something dead.

Restless and hungry, still it moves and slays

Feeding its beauty on dead beauty's bones,

Most merciless in all its million ways,

Its breath for singing bought by dying groans,

Roving so far with such a zest to kill

(Its strongness adding hunger) that at last

Its cells attain beyond the cruel skill

To where life's earliest impulses are past.

Then this creation of the linked lusts,

To move and eat, still under their control,

Hunts for his prey in thought, his thinking thrusts

Through the untrodden jungle of the soul,

Through slip and quag, morasses dripping green,

Seeking the thing supposed but never seen.

How many ways, how many different times
The tiger Mind has clutched at what it sought,
[416]



SONNETS

Only to prove supposed virtues crimes,
The imagined godhead but a form of thought.
How many restless brains have wrought and schemed,
Padding their cage, or built, or brought to law,
Made in outlasting brass the something dreamed,
Only to prove themselves the things of awe,
Yet, in the happy moment's lightning blink,
Comes scent, or track, or trace, the game goes by,
Some leopard thought is pawing at the brink,
Chaos below, and, up above, the sky.
Then the keen nostrils scent, about, about,
To prove the Thing Within a Thing Without.

The other form of Living does not stir;

Where the seed chances there it roots and grows,

To suck what makes the lily or the fir

Out of the earth and from the air that blows.

Great power of Will that little thing the seed

Has, all alone in earth, to plan the tree,

And, though the mud oppresses, to succeed,

And put out branches where the birds may be.

Then the wind blows it, but the bending boughs

Exult like billows, and their million green

Drink the all-living sunlight in carouse,

Like dainty harts where forest wells are clean.

While it, the central plant, which looks o'er miles,

Draws milk from the earth's breast, and sways, and smiles.

Is there a great green commonwealth of Thought
Which ranks the yearly pageant, and decides
How Summer's royal progress shall be wrought,
By secret stir which in each plant abides?

1 4i7l



SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS

Does rocking daffodil consent that she,

The snowdrop of wet winters, shall be first?

Does spotted cowslip with the grass agree

To hold her pride before the rattle burst?

And in the hedge what quick agreement goes,

When hawthorn blossoms redden to decay,

That Summer's pride shall come, the Summer's rose,

Before the flower be on the bramble spray?

Or is it, as with us, unresting strife,

And each consent a lucky gasp for life?

Beauty, let be; I cannot see your face,
I shall not know you now, nor touch your feet,
Only within me tremble to your grace
Tasting this crumb vouchsafed which is so sweet.
Even when the full-leaved Summer bore no fruit,
You give me this, this apple of man's tree;
This planet sings when other spheres were mute,
This light begins when darkness covered me.
Now, though I know that I shall never know
All, through my fault, nor blazon with my pen
That path prepared where only I could go,
Still, I have this, not given to other men.
Beauty, this grace, this spring, this given bread,
This life, this dawn, this wakening from the dead.

Here, where we stood together, we three men,
Before the war had swept us to the East
Three thousand miles away, I stand again
And hear the bells, and breathe, and go to feast.
We trod the same path, to the self-same place,
Yet here I stand, having beheld their graves,
[418]



SONNETS

Skyros whose shadows the great seas erase,
And Seddul Bahr that ever more blood craves.
So, since we communed here, our bones have been
Nearer, perhaps, than they again will be,
Earth and the world-wide battle lie between,
Death lies between, and friend-destroying sea.
Yet here, a year ago, we talked and stood
As I stand now, with pulses beating blood.

I saw her like a shadow on the sky

In the last light, a blur upon the sea,

Then the gale's darkness put the shadow by,

But from one grave that island talked to me;

And, in the midnight, in the breaking storm,

I saw its blackness and a blinking light,

And thought, "So death obscures your gentle form,

So memory strives to make the darkness bright;

And, in that heap of rocks, your body lies,

Part of the island till the planet ends,

My gentle comrade, beautiful and wise,

Part of this crag this bitter surge offends,

While I, who pass, a little obscure thing,

War with this force, and breathe, and am its king."

Not that the stars are all gone mad in heaven
Plucking the unseen reins upon men's souls,
Not that the law that bound the planets seven
Is discord now; man probes for new controls.
He bends no longer to the circling stars,
New moon and full moon and the living sun,
Love-making Venus, Jove and bloody Mars
Pass from their thrones, their rule of him is done.
[419]



SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS

And paler gods, made liker men, are past,
Like their sick eras to their funeral urns,
They cannot stand the fire blown by the blast
In which man's soul that measures heaven burns.
Man in his cage of many millioned pain
Burns all to ash to prove if God remain.

There is no God, as I was taught in youth,
Though each, according to his stature, builds
Some covered shrine for what he thinks the truth,
Which day by day his reddest heart-blood gilds.
There is no God; but death, the clasping sea,
In which we move like fish, deep over deep
Made of men's souls that bodies have set free,
Floods to a Justice though it seems asleep.
There is no God, but still, behind the veil,
The hurt thing works, out of its agony.
Still, like a touching of a brimming Grail,
Return the pennies given to passers by.
There is no God, but we, who breathe the air,
Are God ourselves and touch God everywhere.

Beauty retires; the blood out of the earth
Shrinks, the stalk dries, lifeless November still
Drops the brown husk of April's greenest birth.
Through the thinned beech clump I can see the hill.
So withers man, and though his life renews
In Aprils of the soul, an autumn comes
Which gives an end, not respite, to the thews
That bore his soul through the world's martyrdoms.
Then all the beauty will be out of mind,
Part of man's store, that lies outside his brain,



SONNETS

Touch to the dead and vision to the blind,
Drink in the desert, bread, eternal grain;
Part of the untilled field that beauty sows
With flowers untold, where quickened spirit goes.

Wherever beauty has been quick in clay

Some effluence of it lives, a spirit dwells,

Beauty that death can never take away,

Mixed with the air that shakes the flower bells;

So that by waters where the apples fall,

Or in lone glens, or valleys full of flowers,

Or in the streets where bloody tidings call,

The haunting waits the mood that makes it ours.

Then at a turn, a word, an act, a thought,

Such difference comes, the spirit apprehends

That place's glory, for where beauty fought

Under the veil the glory never ends,

But the still grass, the leaves, the trembling flower,

Keep, through dead time, that everlasting hour.

You are more beautiful than women are,
Wiser than men, stronger than ribbed death,
Juster than Time, more constant than the star,
Dearer than love, more intimate than breath;
Having all art, all science, all control
Over the still unsmithied, even as Time
Cradles the generations of man's soul,
You are the light to guide, the way to climb.
So, having followed beauty, having bowed
To wisdom and to death, to law, to power,
I like a blind man stumble from the crowd
Into the darkness of a deeper hour,



SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS

Where in the lonely silence I may wait

The prayed-for gleam your hand upon the gate.

Out of the barracks to the castle yard

Those Roman soldiers came, buckling their gear;

The word was passed that they were prison guard;

The sergeant proved their dressing with his spear.

Then, as the prisoner came, a wretch who bled

Holding a cross, those nearest cursed his soul:

He might have died some other time, they said,

Not at high noon: the sergeant called the roll.

Then, sloping spears, the files passed from the court

Into the alleys, thrusting back the crowd,

They cursed the bleeding man for stepping short;

The drums beat time: the sergeant hummed aloud;

The rabble closed behind: the soldiers cursed

The prisoner's soul, the flies, their packs, their thirst.

Not for the anguish suffered is the slur,
Not for the women's mocks, the taunts of men,
No, but because you never welcomed her,
Her of whose beauty I am only the pen.
There was a dog, dog-minded, with dog's eyes,
Damned by a dog's brute-nature to be true,
Something within her made his spirit wise,
He licked her hand, he knew her, not so you.
When all adulterate beauty has gone by,
When all inanimate matter has gone down,
We will arise and walk, that dog and I,
The only two who knew her in the town,
We'll range the pleasant mountains side by side,
Seeking the blood-stained flowers where Christs have died.

[422!



SONNETS

Beauty was with me once, but now, grown old,

I cannot hear nor see her: thus a king

In the high turret kept him from the cold

Over the fire with his magic ring

Which, as he wrought, made pictures come and go

Of men and times, past, present, and to be,

Now like a smoke, now flame-like, now a glow,

Now dead, now bright, but always fantasy.

While, on the stair without, a faithful slave

Stabbed to the death, crawled bleeding, whispering "Sir,

They come to kill you, fly: I come to save;

O you great gods, have pity, let him hear."

Then, with his last strength tapped and muttered, "Sire,"

While the king smiled and drowsed above the fire.

So beauty comes, so with a failing hand

She knocks and cries, and fails to make me hear,

She who tells futures in the falling sand

And still, by signs, makes hidden meanings clear;

She, who behind this many peopled smoke,

Moves in the light and struggles to direct,

Through the deaf ear and by the bafHed stroke,

The wicked man, the honored architect.

Yet at a dawn before the birds begin,

In dreams, as the horse stamps and the hound stirs,

Sleep slips the bolt and beauty enters in

Crying aloud those hurried words of hers,

And I awake and, in the birded dawn,

Know her for Queen and own myself a pawn.

If Beauty be at all, if, beyond sense,
There be a wisdom piercing into brains,

[423]



SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS

Why should the glory wait on impotence,
Biding its time till blood is in the veins?
There is no beauty, but when thought is quick,
Out of the noisy sickroom of ourselves,
Some flattery comes to try to cheat the sick,
Some drowsy drug is groped for on the shelves,
And, for the rest, we play upon a scene
Beautiful with the blood of living things;
We move and speak and wonder and have been,
Upon the dust as dust, not queens and kings;
We know no beauty, nor does beauty care
For us, this dust, that men make everywhere.

Each greedy self, by consecrating lust,

Desire pricking into sacrifice,

Adds, in his way, some glory to the dust,

Brings, to the light, some haze of Paradise,

Hungers and thirsts for beauty; like the hound

Snaps it, to eat alone; in secret keeps

His miser's patch of consecrated ground

Where beauty's coins are dug down to the deeps.

So when disturbing death digs up our lives,

Some little gleam among the broken soil

May witness for us as the shovel rives

The dirty heap of all our tiny toil;

Some gleam of you may make the digger hold,

Touched for an instant with the thought of gold.

Time being an instant in eternity,
Beauty above man's million years must see
The heaped corrupted mass that had to die,
The husk of man that set the glitter free;



SONNETS

Now, from those million bodies in the dark,

Forgotten, rotten, part of fields or roads,

The million gleam united makes a spark

Which Beauty sees among her star abodes.

And, from the bodies, comes a sigh, "Alas,

We hated, fought and killed, as separate men;

Now all is merged and we are in the grass,

Our efforts merged, would we had known it then.

All our lives' battle, all our spirits' dream,

Nought in themselves, a clash which made a gleam."

You will remember me in days to come

With love, or pride, or pity, or contempt;

So will my friends (not many friends, yet some)

When this my life will be a dream out-dreamt;

And one, remembering friendship by the fire,

And one, remembering love time in the dark,

And one, remembering unfulfilled desire,

Will sigh, perhaps, yet be beside the mark;

For this my body with its wandering ghost

Is nothing solely but an empty grange,

Dark in a night that owls inhabit most,

Yet when the king rides by there comes a change;

The windows gleam, the cresset's fiery hair

Blasts the blown branch and beauty lodges there.

They took the bloody body from the cross,
They laid it in its niche and rolled the stone.
One said, "Our blessed Master," one "His loss
Ends us companions, we are left alone."
And one, "I thought that Pilate would acquit
Right to the last;" and one, "The sergeant took
[425]



SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS

The trenching mall and drove the nails with it."
One who was weeping went apart and shook.
Then one, "He promised that in three short days
He would return, oh God; but He is dead."
And one, "What was it that He meant to raise?
The Temple? No? What was it that He said?
He said that He would build? That He would rise?"
"No," answered one, "but come from Paradise.

"Come to us fiery with the saints of God

To judge the world and take His power and reign."

Then one. "This was the very road we trod

That April day, would it could come again;

The day they flung the flowers." "Let be," said one,

"He was a lovely soul, but what He meant

Passes our wit, for none among us, none,

Had brains enough to fathom His intent.

His mother did not, nor could one of us,

But while He spoke I felt I understood."

And one, "He knew that it would finish thus.

Let His thought be, I know that He was good.

There is the orchard see, the very same

Where we were sleeping when the soldiers came."

So from the cruel cross they buried God;
So, in their desolation, as they went
They dug him deeper with each step they trod,
Their lightless minds distorting what He meant.
Lamenting Him, their leader, who had died,
They heaped the stones, they rolled the heavy door;
They said, "Our glory has been crucified,
Unless He rise our glory will be o'er "
[426]



SONNETS

While in the grave the spirit left the corpse
Broken by torture, slowly, line by line,
And saw the dawn come on the eastern thorpes,
And shook his wings and sang in the divine,
Crying "I told the truth, even unto death,
Though I was earth and now am only breath."

If all be governed by the moving stars,

If passing planets bring events to be,

Searing the face of Time with bloody scars,

Drawing men's souls even as the moon the sea;

If as they pass they make a current pass

Across man's life and heap it to a tide,

We are but pawns, ignobler than the grass

Cropped by the beast and crunched and tossed aside.

Is all this beauty that does inhabit heaven

Trail of a planet's fire? Is all this lust

A chymic means by warring stars contriven

To bring the violets out of Caesar's dust ?

Better be grass, or in some hedge unknown

The spilling rose whose beauty is its own.

In emptiest furthest heaven where no stars are
Perhaps some planet of our master sun
Still rolls an unguessed orbit round its star
Unthought, unseen, unknown of any one.
Roving dead space according to its law
Casting our light on burnt-out suns and blind
Singing in the frozen void its word of awe
One wandering thought in all that idiot mind.
And, in some span of many a thousand year,
Passing through heaven, its influence may arouse



SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS

Beauty unguessed in those who habit here,
And men may rise with glory on their brows,
And feel new life like fire, and see the old
Fall from them dead, the bronze's broken mould.

Perhaps in chasms of the wasted past,
That planet wandered within hail of ours,
And plucked men's souls to loveliness and cast
The old, that was, away, like husks of flowers;
And made them stand erect and bade them build
Nobler than hovels plaited in the mire,
Gave them an altar and a god to gild,
Bridled the brooks for them and fettered fire;
And, in another coming, forged the steel
Which, on life's scarlet wax, forever set
Longing for beauty bitten as a seal
That blood not clogs nor centuries forget,
That built Atlantis, and, in time will raise
That grander thing whose image haunts our days.

For, like an outcast from the city, I
Wander the desert strewn with traveller's bones,
Having no comrade but the starry sky
Where the tuned planets ride their floating thrones.
I pass old ruins where the kings caroused
In cups long shards from vines long since decayed,
I tread the broken brick where queens were housed
In beauty's time ere beauty was betrayed;
And in the ceaseless pitting of the sand
On monolith and pyle, I see the dawn,
Making those skeletons of beauty grand
By fire that comes as darkness is withdrawn;
[428]



SONNETS

And in that fire the art of men to come
Shines with such glow I bless my martyrdom.

Death lies in wait for you, you wild thing in the wood,
Shy-footed beauty dear, half-seen, half-understood,
Glimpsed in the beech wood dim, and in the dropping fir,
Shy like a fawn and sweet and beauty's minister.
Glimpsed as in flying clouds by night the little moon,
A wonder, a delight, a paleness passing soon.
Only a moment held, only an hour seen,
Only an instant known in all that life has been,
One instant in the sand to drink that gush of grace
The beauty of your way, the marvel of your face.
Death lies in wait for you, but few short hours he gives,


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Online LibraryJohn MasefieldThe poems and plays of John Masefield (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 25)