April Airs: A Book of New England Lyrics

by Bliss Carman


 

PHI BETA KAPPA POEM

HARVARD, 1914


 

SIR, friends, and scholars, we are here to serve
A high occasion. Our New England wears
All her unrivalled beauty as of old;
And June, with scent of bayberry and rose
And song of orioles—as she only comes
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By Massachusetts Bay—is here once more,
Companioning our fête of fellowship.

The open trails, South, West, and North, lead back
From populous cities or from lonely plains,
Ranch, pulpit, office, factory, desk, or mill,

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To this fair tribunal of ambitious youth,
To the shadowy town beside the placid Charles,
Where Harvard waits us through the passing years,
Conserving and administering still
Her savor for the gladdening of the race.
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Yearly, of all the sons she has sent forth,
And men her admiration would adopt,
She summons whom she will back to her side
As if to ask, "How fares my cause of truth
In the great world beyond these studious walls?"
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Here, from their store of life experience,
They must make answer as grace is given them,
And their plain creed, in verity, declare.
Among the many, there is sometimes called
One who, like Arnold’s scholar gypsy poor,
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Is but a seeker on the dusky way,
"Still waiting for the spark from heaven to fall."

He must bethink him first of other days,
And that old scholar of the seraphic smile,
As we recall him in this very place

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With all the sweetest culture of his age,
His gentle courtesy and friendliness,
A chivalry of soul now strangely rare,
And that ironic wit which made him, too,
The unflinching critic and most dreaded foe
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Of all things mean, unlovely, and untrue.
What Mr. Norton said, with that slow smile,
Has put the fear of God in many a heart,
Even while his hand encouraged eager youth.

From such enheartening who would not dare to speak—

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Seeing no truth can be too small to serve,
And no word worthless that is born of love?
Within the noisy workshop of the world,
Where still the strife is upward out of gloom,
Men doubt the value of high teaching—cry,
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"What use is learning? Man must have his will!
The élan of life alone is paramount!
Away with old traditions! We are free!"
So folly mocks at truth in Freedom’s name.
Pale Anarchy leads on, with furious shriek,
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Her envious horde of reckless malcontents
And mad destroyers of the Commonwealth,
While Privilege with indifference grows corrupt,
Till the Republic stands in jeopardy
From following false idols and ideals,
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Though sane men cry for honesty once more,
Order and duty and self-sacrifice.

Our world and all it holds of good for us
Our fathers and unselfish mothers made,
With noble passion and enduring toil,

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Strenuous, frugal, reverent, and elate,
Caring above all else to guard and save
The ampler life of the intelligence
And the fine honor of a scrupulous code—
Ideals of manhood touched with the divine.
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For this they founded these great schools we serve,
Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale,
Amherst and Williams, trusting to our hands
The heritage of all they held most high,
Possessions of the spirit and the mind,
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Investments in the provinces of joy.
Vast provinces are these! And fortunate they
Who at their will may go adventuring there,
Exploring all the boundaries of Truth,
Learning the roads that run through Beauty’s realm,
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Sighting the pinnacles where Good meets God,
Encompassed by the eternal unknown sea!

Even for a little to o’erlook those lands,
The kingdoms of Religion, Science, Art,
Is to be made forever happier

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With blameless memories that shall bring content
And inspiration for all after days.
And fortunate they whom destiny allows
To rest within those provinces and serve
The dominion of ideals all their lives.
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For whoso will, putting dull greed aside,
And holding fond allegiance to the best,
May dwell there and find fortitude and joy.

In the free fellowship of kindred minds,
One band of scholar gypsies I have known,

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Whose purpose all unworldly was to find,
An answer to the riddle of the Earth—
A key that should unlock the book of life
And secrets of its sorceries reveal.

This, they discovered, had long since been found

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And laid aside forgotten and unused.
Our dark young poet who from Dartmouth came
Was told the secret by his gypsy bride,
Who had it from a master over seas,
And he it was first hinted to the band
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The magic of that universal lore,
Before the great Mysteriarch summoned him.
It was the doctrine of the threefold life,
The beginning of the end of all their doubt.

In that Victorian age it has become

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So much the fashion now to half despise,
Within the shadow of Cathedral walls
They had been schooled, and heard the mellow chimes
For Lenten litanies and daily prayers,
With a mild, eloquent, beloved voice
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Exhorting to all virtue and that peace
Surpassing understanding—casting there
That "last enchantment of the Middle Age,"
The spell of Oxford and her ritual.

So duteous youth was trained, until there grew

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Restive outreaching in men’s thought to find
Some certitude beyond the dusk of faith.
They cried on mysticism to be gone,
Mazed in the shadowy princedom of the soul.

Then as old creeds fell round them into dust,

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They reached through science to belief in law,
Made reason paramount in man, and guessed
At reigning mind within the universe.
Piecing the fragments of a fair design
With reverent patience and courageous skill,
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They saw the world from chaos step by step,
Under far-seeing guidance and restraint,
Emerge to order and to symmetry,
As logical and sure as music’s own.

With Spencer, Darwin, Tyndall, and the rest,

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Our band saw roads of knowledge open wide
Through the uncharted province of the truth,
As on they fared through that unfolding world.

Yet there they found no rest-house for the heart,
No wells sufficient for the spirit’s thirst,

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No shade nor glory for the senses starved. . . .
Turning—they fled by moonlit trails to seek
The magic prinipality of Art,
Where loveliness, not learning, rules supreme.
They stood intoxicated with delight before
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The poised unanxious splendor of the Greek;
They mused upon the Gothic minsters gray,
Where mystic spirit took on mighty form,
Until their prayers to lovely churches turned—
(Like a remembrance of the Middle Age
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They rose where Ralph or Bertram dreamed in stone);
Entranced they trod a painter’s paradise,
Where color wasted by the Scituate shore
Between the changing marshes and the sea;
They heard the golden voice of poesie
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Lulling the senses with its last caress
In Tennysonian accents pure and fine;
And all their laurels were for Beauty’s brow,
Though toiling Reason went ungarlanded.

Then poisonous weeds of artifice sprang up,

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Defiling Nature at her sacred source;
And there the questing World-soul could not stay,
Onward must journey with the changing time,
To come to this uncouth rebellious age,
Where not an ancient creed nor courtesy
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Is underided, and each demagogue
Cries some new nostrum for the cure of ills.
To-day the unreasoning iconoclast
Would scoff at science and abolish art,
To let untutored impulse rule the world.
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Let learning perish, and the race returns
To that first anarchy from which we came,
When spirit moved upon the deep and laid
The primal chaos under cosmic law.

And even now, in all our wilful might,

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The satiated being cannot bide,
But to that austere country turns again,
The little province of the saints of God,
Where lofty peaks rise upward to the stars
From the gray twilight of Gethsemane,
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And spirit dares to climb with wounded feet
Where justice, peace, and loving kindness are.
What says the lore of human power we hold
Through all these striving and tumultuous days?
"Why not accept each several bloom of good,
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Without discarding good already gained,
As one might weed a garden overgrown—
Save the new shoots, yet not destroy the old?
Only the fool would root up his whole patch
Of fragrant flowers, to plant the newer seed."
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Ah, softly, brothers! Have we not the key,
Whose first fine luminous use Plotinus gave,
Teaching that ecstasy must lead the man?
Three things, we see, men in this life require,
(As they are needed in the universe):
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First of all spirit, energy, or love,
The soul and mainspring of created things;
Next wisdom, knowledge, culture, discipline,
To guide impetuous spirit to its goal;
And lastly strength, the sound apt instrument,
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Adjusted and controlled to lawful needs.

The next world-teacher must be one whose word
Shall reaffirm the primacy of soul,
Hold scholarship in her high guiding place,
And recognize the body’s equal right

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To culture such as it has never known,
In power and beauty serving soul and mind.

Inheritors of this divine ideal,
With courage to be fine as well as strong,
Shall know what common manhood may become,

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Regain the gladness of the sons of morn,
The radiance of immortality.

Out of heroic wanderings of the past,
And all the wayward gropings of our time,
Unswerved by doubt, unconquered by despair,

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The messengers of such a hope must go;
As one who hears far off before the dawn,
On some lone trail among the hills,
The hermit thrushes in the paling dusk,
And at the omen lifts his eyes to see
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Above him, with its silent shafts of light,
The sunrise kindling all the peaks with fire.