Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen

 

Many ingenious lovely things are gone

That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,

Protected from the circle of the moon

That pitches common things about. There stood

5Amid the ornamental bronze and stone

An ancient image made of olive wood -

And gone are Phidias' famous ivories

And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.

 

We too had many pretty toys when young;

10A law indifferent to blame or praise,

To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong

Melt down, as it were wax in the sun's rays;

Public opinion ripening for so long

We thought it would outlive all future days.

15O what fine thought we had because we thought

That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.

 

All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,

And a great army but a showy thing;

What matter that no cannon had been turned

20Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king

Thought that unless a little powder burned

The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting

And yet it lack all glory; and perchance

The guardsmen's drowsy chargers would not prance.

 

25Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare

Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery

Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,

To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;

The night can sweat with terror as before

30We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,

And planned to bring the world under a rule,

Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

 

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned

Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant

35From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,

Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent

On master-work of intellect or hand,

No honour leave its mighty monument,

Has but one comfort left: all triumph would

40But break upon his ghostly solitude.

 

But is there any comfort to be found?

Man is in love and loves what vanishes,

What more is there to say? That country round

None dared admit, if such a thought were his,

45Incendiary or bigot could be found

To burn that stump on the Acropolis,

Or break in bits the famous ivories

Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.

 

II 

When Loie Fuller's Chinese dancers enwound

50A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,

It seemed that a dragon of air

Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round

Or hurried them off on its own furious path;

So the Platonic Year

55Whirls out new right and wrong,

Whirls in the old instead;

All men are dancers and their tread

Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.

 

III 

Some moralist or mythological poet

60Compares the solitary soul to a swan;

I am satisfied with that,

Satisfied if a troubled mirror show it,

Before that brief gleam of its life be gone,

An image of its state;

65The wings half spread for flight,

The breast thrust out in pride

Whether to play, or to ride

Those winds that clamour of approaching night.

 

A man in his own secret meditation

70Is lost amid the labyrinth that he has made

In art or politics;

Some Platonist affirms that in the station

Where we should cast off body and trade

The ancient habit sticks,

75And that if our works could

But vanish with our breath

That were a lucky death,

For triumph can but mar our solitude.

 

The swan has leaped into the desolate heaven:

80That image can bring wildness, bring a rage

To end all things, to end

What my laborious life imagined, even

The half-imagined, the half-written page;

O but we dreamed to mend

85Whatever mischief seemed

To afflict mankind, but now

That winds of winter blow

Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed.

 

IV 

We, who seven years ago

90Talked of honour and of truth,

Shriek with pleasure if we show

The weasel's twist, the weasel's tooth.

 

Come let us mock at the great

That had such burdens on the mind

95And toiled so hard and late

To leave some monument behind,

Nor thought of the levelling wind.

 

Come let us mock at the wise;

With all those calendars whereon

100They fixed old aching eyes,

They never saw how seasons run,

And now but gape at the sun.

 

Come let us mock at the good

That fancied goodness might be gay,

105And sick of solitude

Might proclaim a holiday:

Wind shrieked — and where are they?

 

Mock mockers after that

That would not lift a hand maybe

110To help good, wise or great

To bar that foul storm out, for we

Traffic in mockery.

 

VI 

Violence upon the roads: violence of horses;

Some few have handsome riders, are garlanded

115On delicate sensitive ear or tossing mane,

But wearied running round and round in their courses

All break and vanish, and evil gathers head:

Herodias' daughters have returned again,

A sudden blast of dusty wind and after

120Thunder of feet, tumult of images,

Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind;

And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter

All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries,

According to the wind, for all are blind.

125But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon

There lurches past, his great eyes without thought

Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,

That insolent fiend Robert Artisson

To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought

130Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks.