Laurence Binyon.

Porphyrion and other poems online

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That rises out of shapeless gloom, a form
Massy with dancing crest, threatening and huge,
And effortlessly irresistible
Bursts on the black rocks turbulently abroad,
Fallino;, and roarin», and re-echoins; far.
Se rushed that ordered fury of steeds and spears
Under an arch of arrows hailing dark
Against the stubborn foe : they from the slope
Swept onward opposite with clang as fierce :
Afar, pale women from the wall looked down.

Porphyrion saw : he was a spirit changed.
He hearkened not to memory, hope or fear,
But cast them from him violently, and swift
To fuse in this fierce impulse all regret,
To woo annihilation, or to plunge



PORPHYRION. 45

At least in fiery adlion his unused
Vain life, and in that burning furnace melt
The idle vessel and re-mould it new,
Spurred his horse on into the very midst.
And loud the streaming battle swallowed him.

Just on that instant when the meeting shock
Xumultuously clashed, and cries were mixt
With glitter of blades whirled like spirted spray,
He came : and as the thundering ranks recoiled,
They saw him, solitary, flushed and young,
A radiant ghost in the dead hero's arms.

Amazement smote them ; in that pause he rode
Forward ; and shouting Orophernes' name
Jubilant the swayed host came after him.
Iron on iron gnashed : Porphyrion smote
Unwearied ; the bright peril stilled his brain,
The terrible joy inspired him : by his side
Vaunting, young men over their ready graves
Were rushing glorious : many as they rushed
Drank violent draughts of darkness unawares.
And swiftly fell ; but he uninjured fought.
Easily as men conquer in a dream
He passed through splintered spears, opposing shields
And shouting faces, and wild cries, and blood ;
Till now a hedge of battle bristling sprang
All round him, and no way appeared, and dark
This way and that the rocking weight of war
Swung heavy, shields and lances interclasped.



46 PORPHYRION.

He in his heart felt hungrier the flame
Burning for desolation, and he flushed,
Sanguine of death ; the sudden starting blood
Inflamed him, drunk as with a mighty wine.
And on an instant terror from the air
Upon the foemen fell; from heart to heart
As in mysterious mirrors flashed ; afar
Triumphing cries rose all at once, and death
Shone dazzling in their eyes, and they were lost.

Then on them rushed the vidlors glorying.
Shaken abroad the battle fiercely flowed.
Wild-scattering sudden as quicksilver stream
Spilled in a thousand drops ; the electric air
Pulsed with the vehemence of strong bodies hurled
In mad pursuit, till yielding or in flight
Or fallen, the defeated armies ran
Broken, and on the wall the women wailed.

Then to their camp the vidtors came, and all
Followed Porphvrion wondering, and acclaimed
His triumph : he in an exultant dream
Still moved, and had no thought, but from the lips
Of bearded captains, as around their fires
That night they told of old heroic deeds,
Heard his own praise, and feasted, and afar
Drank, like an ocean wind, the air of fame.



PORPHYRION. 47



BOOK V.

Meanwhile in the surrendered city, night
Went heavy, not in feasting nor in sleep.
Proud in submission were those stubborn hearts,
And nursed through darkness thoughts of far revenge,
Mixt with the glory of their courage vain.
And now as the first beam revisited
Their sorrow, and to each his neighbour's face
Disclosed, they stood at leisure to perceive
How grimly famine on their limbs had wrought,
And on their wasted cheeks and temples worn ;
And from their eyes shone desolated fire,
Inflexible resolve unstrung in the end.
They saw the sentinels with haughty pace
Trample the thresholds of their homes, and watched
In melancholy indolence all day
Soldiers upon their errands come and go.

At evening afar off a bugle blew.

Sounding humiliation and despair

To them, but triumph to their conquering foes.

Who now in bright magnificence arrayed

Their hosts to enter the dejected walls.

Feigning indifference, each man to his door



48 PORPHYRION.

Came forth ; beneath the battlemented arch
Too soon detested ensign and proud plume
They saw ; the broad flag streaming to the air
Fresh flowered purples, like a summer field,
The trumpets blown, the thousand upright spears
Shining, and drums and ordered trampling feet.

But in the van of these battalions stern

All wondered to behold a single youth.

Riding unhelmeted with ardent mien.

And all about him casting his bright eyes.

Up through the thronged street triumphing he rode.

But as he passed, his radiant look, that seemed

From some far glory to have taken light,

Shining among dark faces, suffered change.

Nothing on either side but hate or woe.

Defiant or averted, sullen youth

And wasted age, all misery, smote his gaze.

As the sun's splendour leaves a mountain peak

Sinking into the west, and ashy pale

Leaves it, the sadder from that former glow,

So from Porphyrion's face the glory ebbed,

His eye grew dim, and pain altered his brow.

At last that conquering army, with the night,
Possessed the city ; and a hum arose
Like busy noise of settling bees ; and fires,
Kindled, shed broad into the gloom a blaze ;
And there were sounds of feasting and loud mirth,
And riot late, until by slow degrees



PORPHYRION. 49

Returned darkness and silence, and all slept.

Only Porphyrion slept not : on his bed,
Turning from lamentable thoughts in vain,
He lay. But in that stillest hour, when first
Stars fade, and mist arises, and air chills.
Quite wearied out with toil and war within,
Slumber at length fell on him ; but not peace.
Scarce had he wandered in the ways of sleep
Some moments, when before his feet appeared.
Solemn and in the bright attire of dreams.
She whom his waking soul so many days,
So many months, had followed still in vain,
His dearest unattainable desire.
But now she looked into his face, and saw
His grief, and met him with reproachful eyes.

What dost thou here, Porphyrion ? Her grave voice
Was musical with sorrow. Faintest thou
In seeking me, thy joy, tired of the way
Because the hour is not yet come to find ?
Dost thou forget what in thy desert cell
I warned thee to be perilous on thy path.
Luring of loud distraftion, and delay.
The vastness of the world and thy frail heart ?
Seek on, faint not, prove all things till thou find ;
And still take comfort ; where thou art, I am.

Her voice, that trembled in the dreamer's soul
From some celestial distance, like a breeze,
Ended : the brightness went, and he awoke.

£



50 PORPHYRION.

And lo, the placid colours of the dawn
Were stealing in : he rose, and came without.

Ah, now, sweet vision, O my perfefl light,
I come to thee, my love, my only truth !
It was not I, but some false clouding self
That fell bewildered in this erring way ;
Or an oblivion rose from underground
To blind me ; but this place of grief and blood
I leave, to follow thee for evermore.

Full of this fervent prayer, through the dim street

He went : the stillness hearkened at his heels.

Now as he passed, in chilly waftings fresh

He scented the far morning : the blue night

Thinned, and all pale things were disclosed ; and now

Even in his earnest pace he could not choose

But pause a moment j for all round he saw

Faces and forms lying in shadowy sleep

Within dark porches, and by sheltering walls,

And under giant temple-colonnades.

Utterly wearied. Some in armour lay

Dewy, with forehead upturned to the dawn ;

And some against a pillar leaned, with hands

Open and head thrown back ; an ancient pair

With fingers clasping slumbered, by whose side

A bearded warrior moved in his dark dream

Exclaiming fiercely ; and a mother pressed

Her baby closer, even in her sleep.

He gazed upon them by a charm detained.



PORPHYRION. 51

For heavy over all their slumber weighed j

And if one lifted voice or arm, it w^as

As plants that in deep virater idly stir

And then are still ; so these, bodies entranced,

Lay under soft oblivion deeply drowned.

But, as they slept, the light stole over them

By pale degrees, and each unconscious soul

Yielded his secret : with the hues of dawn

Into that calm of faces floated up

Out of their living and profound abyss

What thoughts, what dreams, what terrors, what dumb

wails !
What gleams of ever-burning funeral fires
On haunted deserts where delight had been !
Glories, and dying memories, and desires !
What sighs, that like a piercing odour rose
From the long pain of love, what beauty strange
Of joy, and sweetness unreleased, and strength
Fatally strong to bear immortal woe.
And anguish darkly sepulchred in peace.

Porphyrion gazed, and as he gazed, he wept.
For he beheld how in those spirits frail,
Slept also passions mightier than themselves,
Waiting to rend and toss them ; tiger thoughts,
Ecstasies, hungers, and disastrous loves.
Violent as storms that sleep under the wave.
Vast longings cruelly in flesh confined.
And wrecking winds of madness and of doom.
He trembled ; yet as knowledge, even of things



52 PORPHYRION.

Terrible, hath power to calm and to sustain,
His soul endured that truth, and to its depth
Feared not to plunge. Now he began to love,
And to be sorrowful with a new sorrow.

What have I done, he sighed, what have I lost,
My brothers, that I have no part in you ?
Yet am I of your flesh and you of mine.
Sleep for this hour hath separated you
From one another, but from me for ever.

that I could delay with you, and bear

Your lot ! or with enchanting wand have power
To raise you out of slumber into peace !
To be entwined and rooted in that life
Which brings you want of one another, pain
Borne not alone, and all that human joy,
How sweet it were to me ! O you of whom,
When you awaken, others will have need,

1 envy you those trusting eyes, and hands
Put forth for help : I envy all your grief.
But I am all made of untimeliness.
Necessity drives on my soul to pass
Another way ; my errand is not here.
Farewell, farewell, O happy, troubled hearts !

As a blind man who feels around him move
The blest, who see, and fancies them embraced
Or feasting in each other's joyous eyes ;
With such deep envy often he turned back,
Even as he went, to those unconscious forms



PORPHYRION. 53

That slumbered. But his spirit urged him on,
With kindled heart and quickened feet : and now
He neared the shadow of the city gate,
And saw the mountains rise beyond, far off.



With longing he drew in the freshened air.
But even at that moment he perceived,
Standing before a doorway in the dawn,
A solitary woman, motionless
As cloud at evening piled in the pale east
After retreating thunder : like the ash
Of a spent flame her cheek, and in her eyes
Deep-gazing, a great anguish lay becalmed.
Coldly she looked on him, and calmly spoke
In marble accent : Enter and behold
What thou hast done !

He would have passed due on.
Following his way resolved, but like a charm
Beautiful sorrow in this grave regard
Drew him aside. He entered and beheld.

Upon a bed, unstirring and supine.
Lay an old man, so old that the live breath
Seemed rather hovering over him, than warm
Within his placid limbs ; yet had he strapped
Ancient armour upon him, and unused
A heavy sword lay by him on the ground.
Dim was the room : a table in the midst
Stood empty ; in the whole house all was bare.



54 PORPHYRION.

Now when Porphyrion entered, and with him
The woman, the old man nothing perceived :
But at the sound a boy, that by the wall
Was leaning, opened wide his painful eyes.
Porphyrion with accusing heart beheld.
Then to the woman turning, of their story
He questioned : quietly she answered him.

We were four souls under a happy roof
Until your armies came. Then was our need
More cruel every day. When first our meat
Grew scarce, we sat with feigning eyes and each
The other shunned. I know not who thou art,
But if thou talcest pity upon pain,
I pray that no necessity bring thee
Hunger more dear than love. With me it was
So that I dared not look upon my child
Lest I should grudge him eat. To my old father,
Whom age makes helpless as a child, my breast
As to a child I gave : and I have stood
Under the trees and cursed them that so slow
They budded for our want : the buds we tore
Ere they could grow to leaf. So passed our days.
But worse the nights were, when sleep would not

come
For hunger, and the dreadful morn seemed sweet.
And if thou wonder that I weep not now
Recounting them, it is that I have borne
What carries beyond grief.

She in her tale



PORPHYRION. 55

Spoke nothing of her husband : he lay cold

Without the city fallen ; but as now

She ended, the returning thought of him

Absented her sad eyes. And suddenly

Her heart, of a strange tenderness aware,

Out of its heavy frost was melted : then

She bowed her head, and she let forth her tears.

You that have known that bitter wound, of all
The bitterest, since no courage brings it balm,
When silent all the misery of the world
Knocks at your door and you have empty hands.
You know what dart entered Porphyrion's breast.
As he beheld and heard.

But now the boy
Turning with restless body and parched lip
Sighed, Give me water ! I am so thirsty, mother,
I cannot fetch the breath into my throat.

Porphyrion filled a cup and gave to him.
Deeply he drank, closing his eyes, as bliss
Were in the cold fresh drops : unwillingly
His fingers from the cup relaxed ; and now
The mother spoke.

Yesterday on the walls
One of your arrows smote him, and the wound
Torments him. If thou wilt, make water warm,
I pray thee, and bind up his cruel hurt
Afresh j for my hand trembles, I am weak.



56 PORPHYRION.

So he made water warm, and washed the wound

With careful tender hands, and ointment soft

Laid on, and in sweet linen bound it up.

Comforted then the boy put round his neck

One arm, and sighing thanks, as a child will,

With faltering hand caressed him. That fond touch

Porphyrion endured not. Are men born

So apt to misery, thought he, that even this

Is worthy thanks ? Yet his wrought heart attained

Even in such slender spending of its love

A little ease.

Now, said he, I must go,
I must not longer tarry : for she calls.
Whom I am vowed to follow and to find.
But when he looked upon those three, they seemed
To need him in their helplessness ; the child
Divining, mutely prayed him : he resolved
For that day to remain and then to go.

So all that day he tended them and went
Abroad into the town, and brought them food,
Bartering his share of spoil for meat and bread.
And freshest fruit, and delicatest wine ;
Nor marked he as he went the frowning eyes
Of the stern soldiers, how they stood and watched
Murmuring together, sullen and askance.
As in a slumbering great city, snow
With gentle foot comes muffling empty ways.
Corners and alleys, and to the tardy dawn
Faint the murmur of toil ascends, and dumb



PORPHYRION. 57

The wheels roll, and the many feet go hushed,
So on his mind lay sorrow : hum of arms
And voices, all were soft to him and strange.

Day passed, and evening fell, and in that house

All slept ; and once again he would renew

His journey ; but once more his heart perplexed

Smote him, to leave them so : They have no friend,

He said, and who will tend them, if not I ?

The next day he abode, and with fond care

Ministered to their need, and still the next

Found him delaying and his own dim pain

Solacing sweetly ; for the old man now

By faint degrees returned to healthful warmth,

And grave with open eyes serenely looked

In a mild wonder on this unknown friend :

The mother, taxed no longer to endure

Even to her utmost strength, permitted calm

To her worn spirit, and her wasted limbs

Resigned into a happy weariness ;

And the child's hurt began to be appeased.

On the fourth morn Porphyrion arose,
And saw them all still laid in peaceful sleep.
Now, said he, will I go upon my quest.
Less troubled : they have need of me no more.
He turned to go, but in the early light
Still looked upon them, and his heart was full j
And softly he unbarred the door, and seemed
Within his soul to see the whole great world



58 PORPHYRION.

Await his coming, and its wounded breast
Disclose, and all life radiantly unroll
Her riches, opening to an endless end.

Filled with the power of that impassioned thought,
Into the silence of the morning sun
He came ; and on a sudden was aware
Of men about the entrance thronged ; they set
Their bright spears forward, and his path opposed.
Astonished, he looked on them, and perceived
The faces of those warriors he had brought
Thither exulting, and in viftory led ;
Yet on their faces he beheld his doom.
He stood in that great moment greatly calm,
Proudly confronting them, and cried aloud :

What murmur you against me ? I for you
Fought, and you triumphed. Have I asked of one
A single boon ? Soldiers, will you take arms
Against your captain ? Men, will you dare to strike
A man unarmed ? You answer not a word !
Put up your swords ; for now I will pass on
To my own work, and as I came will go.

There was a stillness as he ceased, and none

Answered, but none gave way. As when in heaven

Clouds curdle, and the heavy thunder holds

All things in stupor hushed, they stood constrained.

Menacing and mistrustful ; and their hearts

Grew cruel : the uncomprehended light.

That in Porphyrion shone and flushed his brow



PORPHYRION. 59

With radiance, like the bright ambassador
Come from an unknown power, tormented them ;
And dark enchanting terror drove them on.
Then one by stealth an arrow to his bow
Fitted, and strung, and drew it, and the shaft
Beside Porphyrion in the lintel stuck
Quivering : and at once they fiercely cried.
Like the loud drop that loosens the pent storm,
That loosened arrow drew tempestuous hail
From every bow : they lusted after blood,
And put far from them pity : and he fell
Before them. Yet astonished and dismayed.
Those sacrificers saw the viftim smile
Triumphing and incredulous of death.
Even in anguish : pang upon fresh pang
Rekindled the lost light, the perished bloom
Of memory, and he was lifted far
In exaltation above death ; he drank
Wine at the banquet, and the stormy thrill
Of battle caught him, and he knew again
The dart of love and the sweet wound of grief
In one transfigured instant, that illumed
And pierced him, as the arrows pierced his side.
Then, mingling all those bright beams into one
Full glory, dawned upon his dying sense
She whom his feet followed through all the world
Out of the waste, and over perilous paths,
Dearer than breath and lovelier than desire.
Like the first kiss of love recovered new
Was the undreamed-of joy, that he in death



6o PORPHYRION.

With the last ecstasy of living found,

Tasted and touched, as she embraced his soul.

Then the world perished : stretching forth his arms.

Into the unknown vastness eagerly

He went, and like a bridegroom to his bride.



LONDON VISIONS.



THE FIRE.

With beckoning fingers bright

In heaven uplifted, from the darkness wakes,

Upon a sudden, radiant Fire,

And out of slumber shakes

Her wild hair to the night ;

Bewitching all to run with hurried feet.

And stand, and gaze upon her beauty dire.

For her the shrinking gloom

Yields, and a place prepares ;

An ample scene and a majestic room :

Slowly the river bares

His bank ; above, in endless tier.

Glittering out of the night the windows come.

To that bright summons ; and at last appear.

Hovering, enkindled, and unearthly clear.

Steeple, and tower, and the suspended dome.

But whence are these that haste

So rapt ? what throngs along the street that press.

Raised by enchantment from the midnight waste.

That even now was sleeping echoless :

Men without number, lured from near and far

As by a world-portending star !



64 THE FIRE.

Lo, on the bright bank without interval

Faces in murmuring line,

With earnest eyes that shine,

Across the stream gaze ever ; on the w^all

Faces ; and dense along the bridge's side

Uncounted faces ; softly the w^heels glide

Approaching, lest they break the burning hush

Of all that multitude aflush

With secret strange desire.

Warm in the great light, as themselves afire,

Thousands are gazing, and all silently !

How to the throbbing glare their hearts reply,

As tossing upward a dim-sparkled plume,

The beautiful swift Fury scares the sky.

The stars look changed on high.

And red the steeples waver from the gloom.

Distantly clear over the water swells

The roar : the iron stanchions dribble bright,

And faltering with strong quiver to its fall,

Drops, slowly rushing, the great outer wall.

From lip to lip a wondering murmur goes.

As crouching a dark moment o'er its prey,

Swiftly again upleaps

The wild flame, and exulting madly glows ;

The city burns in an enchanted day.

Still the great throng impassioned silence keeps,

Like an adoring host in ecstasy.

Did ever vision of the opened sky

Entrance more deeply, or did ever voice

Of a just wrath more terribly rejoice ?



THE FIRE. 65

The houseless beggar gazing has forgot

His hunger : happy lovers' hands relax ;

They look no more into each other's eyes.

Wrapt in its mother's shawl

The fretting child no longer cries.

And that soul-piercing flame

Melts out like wax

The prosperous schemer's busy schemes :

The reveller like a visionary gleams.

An aged wandering pair lift up their heads

Out of old memories : to each, to all,

Time and the strong world are no more the same,

But threatened, perishable, trembling, brief.

Even as themselves, an instant might destroy,

With all the builded weight of years and grief,

All that old hope and pleasant usage dear.

Glories and dooms before their eyes appear ;

Upon their faces joy.

Within their bosoms fear !

Is it that even now

In all, O radiant Desolation, thou

Far off prefigurest

To each obscurely wounded breast

The dream of what shall be ?

And in their hearts they see

Rushing in ardent ruin out of sight

With all her splendour, with her streaming robe

Of seas, and her pale peoples, the vast globe

A sudden ember crumble into night ?

F



66 MARTHA.



MARTHA.

A WOMAN sat, with roses red

Upon her lap before her spread,

On that high bridge, whose parapet

Wide over turbulent Thames is set,

Between the dome's far glittering crest

And those famed towers that throng the west.

Negleftful of the summer air

That on her pale brow stirred the hair.

She sat with fond and troubled look,

And in her hand the roses shook.

Shy to her lips a bloom she laid,

Then shrank as suddenly afraid :

For from the breathing crimson leaf

The sweetness came to her like grief.

Dropping her hands, her eyes she raised.

And on the hurrying passers gazed.

Two children loitering along

Amid that swift and busy throng.

Their arms about each other's shoulder.

The younger clinging to the older.

Stopped, with their faces backward turned

To her : the heart within her yearned.

They were so young ! She looked away :



MARTHA. 67

O, the whole earth was young to-day !
The whole wide earth was laughing fair j
The flashing river, the soft air,
The horses proud, the voices clear
Of young men, frequent cry and cheer,
All these were beautiful and free.
Each with its joy : Alas, but she !
She started up, and bowed her head,
And gathering her roses fled.

Through dim, uncounted, silent days,
She had trod deep-secluded ways ;
Mid the fierce throng of jostling lives.
Whom unrelenting hunger drives,
Close to the wall had stolen by j
Yet could not shun Calamity.
Her painful thrift, her patient face.
Could not the world-old debt erase ;
Nor gentle lips, nor feet that glide,
Persuade the sudden blow aside.
This morn, when she arose, her store,
Trusted to others, was no more.
No more avail her years of care.
She must her bosom frail prepare,
Exposed in her defenceless age.
Against the world and fortune's rage.
For bread, for bread, what must be done ?
She stole forth in the morning sun.
I will sell flowers, she thought : this way
Seemed gentler to her first dismay.



68 MARTHA.

Soon to the great flower-market, fair

With watered leaves and scented air,

She came: her seeking, timorous gaze

Wandered about her in amaze.

The arches hummed with cheerful sound ;

Buyers and sellers thronged around :

Lilies in virgin slumber stirred

Hardly, the gold dust brightly blurred

Upon their rich illumined snow.

As the soft breezes come and go.

From her smooth sheath, with ardent wings.

Purple and gold, the iris springs ;

Deep-umbered wall-flowers, dusk between


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Online LibraryLaurence BinyonPorphyrion and other poems → online text (page 3 of 6)