A VISION OF VICTORY.
LO! one whose back was sunward, caught the eye
Of one who faced some horror in the sky.
With panic sickened and with deathly dread,
'What seest thou? in God's name!' he stammerèd.
Then from the drawn lips of that seeing one,
Hoarsely and low, 'Look at that awful sun.'
So, scarcely daring, half he turned, and saw;
And knew all Being changed into a Flaw.
Some say these two had sinned; maybe 'tis true;
Yet others say 'twas only that they knew.
Some say, 'Black souls can e'en destroy the sun;'
Yet others, 'Light too deeply may be won.'
Who will, can hear; who can, will understand;
This truth may save his hope, and arm his hand.
Two things are evil in the universe--
Perfidy, and unpity. These I curse.
All else, not sin, but rebel incident
Good faith and pity live to circumvent.
Upon the middle plain of human life,
And at the middle hour of human noon,
The sun went black in the high midmost heaven,
And let the red up from the pit of hell
As beacon for the wandering of men.
And some there were who staid apart and died,
Rather than walk by luridness of glare;
These all were innocent. And some made mock,
And took to them young laughter and old lusts
And plunged into the glare; because that dark
Frightened them on the earth, and the new chill
Of God's extinguished noontide nipped their hearts.
And some of these were very glad of hell;
And some were sadder than all words can tell.
Yet Good and Evil sat, unmoved of all,
Each reigning o'er its band of following souls
Not by one soul diminished. But for hope,
It dived in hell-deeps; and, men said, there died.
Go to, fair spirits! checked and startled still
At oft-heard names of ne'er-imagined ill;
Go to, strong youth! white-hearted, eager-eyed;
Good faith, sweet pity, spare you for a tide.
Deafen your ears, enthusiastic lads!
Turn hence with veilèd faces, trusting maids!
Go, sift you by your soul-needs, and return,
As destiny shall drive you, here to learn.
Yet gather hither, souls whose brave despair
Refrains no less from perfidy than prayer,
Oh, haggard spirits of thought's storm-worn crew!
Would I might haven all your barks for you.
Pause in your wailings, poets of the night,
Pause in your revels, seekers of delight,--
Ye in imagination, ye in act,
Who face the fury, drink the dregs of fact,--
While I whose breath is passing, strive to tell
Of day-streaks shining through the floor of hell.
Heaven is o'erclouded. Yet the nether pit
Is wholly sounded: some have proof of it;
Lo, one went down to see, whose witnes is
For all its depth, hell is not bottomless.
Chinks at the fiend's own feet let through a light
For eyes to see that weeping has made bright;
The night of sin has reached its blackest noon,
And there are dawn-rays that shall widen soon,
First for the poet- and the prophet-band,
Who past through fire to find them; then for all
Who, hearkening, have the skill to understand,
And bravery to answer the call.
A soul had speech with Satan on his throne,--
A soul that knew of pride and lust and rage,
And all the book of error page by page,
And all the sorrow that to man is known.
It had upon its forehead as it went
One star that lit its uttermost descent,
Kindled at that dead sun once long before,
Yet, source-forgotten, alight for evermore.
The star, some mere sincerity, at best;--
'Conscience' men call it;--and upon its breast
There blew a frail, sweet flower that did not die,
When depth by depth the soul plunged recklessly;
Some little blossom of mere tenderness;--
Men call it 'Pity' and its fragrance bless.
Satan looked covetously on these twain,
Twin passports through the region of his reign;
He sat enthronèd on that horrid floor
That let thin day-streaks through as through a door,
He might not pass the level of his throne,
To find the new hope that is love's alone;--
Yet thrice in stupid wisdom, lo! he sought
To filch the powers that set all sin at nought.
'Yield me the star upon your forehead fair,
Yield me the flower you in your bosom bear,
So shall you soar again to earth and air.'
'Nor gods nor men withhold the twain from thee;
But thine own recklessness of cruelty,
And thine own impotence of perfidy.'
'Give them, and prove thy proverb by the test;
Give them, those trivial charms of brow and breast,
So shalt thou lightly mount to noonlight blest.'
'Nay! though to lose them gave me back the sun,
So were the light of heaven too dearly won;
Nor heaven nor hell shall see my heart undone.'
'Hist! Hug your fetters? fancies of an hour?
Your star of conscience and your pity's flower
Yielded, shall free your choice, and fit your power.'
Nay; as a free soul came I into hell,
Not as a bond soul will I go from hence;
These which have passed me scathless as I fell
Will pass me further with their sweet defence;
Will pass me onward into depths of blue,
Where blooms again fair life for conscience true,
And heart that knoweth mercy. Down through hell
Behold me driven as prophet; thence to tell
That, deeper than its depths, all, all is well.
But, turning from the king of all despair,
The searching soul beheld a cynic there;
A poor, dejected, clever, mocking thing,
Half genius, and half sinner, and all woe.
Who set the very hell-walls shivering,
He scoffed and hated and desponded so.
The thick earth-sighs had filled his dulling ear,
Remorse had gathered in an unshed tear,
And such fierce drop had dried upon his eyes
That glittered with hard scorn toward the skies,
Till all his love grew recklessness of hate,
And all his thought, stark, bald, and desolate.
And as the soul of search went by, he sang
Till gruesome echoes rang:--
'I laugh to hear you grieving
At the clearness of your ken,
At the loss of your believing,
O on earth ye million men!
On the altar of your knowledge,
On the altar of your truth,
Ye have laid your god, and slain him
In your strength of faithful youth.
What! ye loved him, and could lose him?
Break your hearts to make him die?
What! ye held it ill to use him
As the crown of virtue's lie?
Nay, if this his use were evil,
Brothers! brothers! what were good?
There shall stand grim truth among you
Where your lovely lying stood.
Ha! my brothers, ha! my brothers,
Will ye learn, who once forebore?
Then your souls shall grin and shrivel,
As mine own for evermore.
Truth is not the deepest whisper,
There is fact more deep than truth,
A strong thing, and a cold thing,
Making silent mock at youth;
A clear, keen fact, confusing
All your good and ill forsooth.
Ah! I view the coils about you
Of a deep, denied despair,
Ah! I see the crowds without you
Turn and win them peace in prayer;
And I'll show you what you're feeling
Though your word be never there:
There's an order for the dying,
There's a precept in the pall,
Yet there's bliss on bliss for living
Though the snake be in it all:
So saith silence when your hunger
Stares your conscience in the face;
So saith silence when your passion
Elbows thought to give it place.
Do ye wonder, shy and wistful,
Lest e'en virtue's plea must die?
Do ye find no prize for seeking
If on earth no sanctuary?
Ha! I cannot help you, brothers!
Life lies open to the core,
And bawls its cynic secret
Brazen-tongued at my heart's door;
And True from Good I swear to you
Is severed evermore.'
His head was up, his accent bitter clear,
There wandered by the soul of hope to hear
As he sent forth his cry, and broke anon
Its horrent deathliness of monotone
With cadence yet more hateful. None can tell
How drearier than all woes that ere befell
It is to laugh the shocking laugh of hell!
Whereat the soul of search looked straight at him,
So straight the brow-star grew a moment dim
At meeting, ray for ray, the chilly glare
Of soul-putrescence,--immanent despair.
One moment; then resplendent shone the star,
And lit the hell-hole softly, near and far;
While from the fadeless flower such perfume went,
The foul pit seemed frank, fresh, and innocent.
'O cynic! all whose lie is half a truth!
O cynic! all whose lying is for ruth!
For truth, and ruth, must I draw near to thee;
For truth, and ruth, do thou give heed to me.
Lie not, by all thy sorrow! Lo, the same
Thy quest and mine, which, each pursuing, we came
Here where no ill lies lower, and no shame.
Yet hast thou lost account of what thou art,
And needest one to show to thee thine heart;
A bud is pining on thy bosom now,
A weak star flickers palely on thy brow;
Thy hard tear is a tear because of ruth,
Hard and unshed it is because of truth;
See in mine eyes thy star reflected clear!
See how yon bud bespeaks thy loosened tear
To nourish forth its fragrant petals! Here,
O cynic, is my witness! Not alone
Art thou in hell--in knowledge. I have known.'
Hell's very echoes dared not mock that tone,
But threw it back right gently--'known--have known':--
A soul writhed in the saving, while there fell
Wavering and failing through the deep of hell,
'Known,' 'not alone,' and 'known.' When echo slept
Hell was no more; for oh! the cynic wept.
The poisonous floor sank viewlessly away;
Being's round concave,--filled all full of day,
Mysterious, and ineffable, and fair,--
Sphered as a centre that delivered pair.
These watched the dawn-light widen for a space,
Each with glad love-tears shining on the face,
Then hand in hand passed forth to make essay
In the frank, virgin paths of life's new way,
Where purgèd souls renew a wiser youth
In the great daytime of love's stainless truth.