April Airs: A Book of New England Lyrics

by Bliss Carman


 

THE GIVERS OF LIFE


 

1.

 

WHO called us forth out of darkness and gave us the gift of life,
Who set our hands to the toiling, our feet in the field of strife?

Darkly they mused, predestined to knowledge of viewless things,
Sowing the seed of wisdom, guarding the living springs.

Little they reckoned privation, hunger or hardship or cold,

5
If only the life might prosper, and the joy that grows not old.

With sorceries subtler than music, with knowledge older than speech,
Gentle as wind in the wheat-field, strong as the tide on the beach

Out of their beauty and longing, out of their raptures and tears,
In patience and pride they bore us, to war with the warring years.

10

 

2.

 

Who looked on the world before them, and summoned and chose our sires,
Subduing the wayward impulse to the will of their deep desires?

Sovereigns of ultimate issues under the greater laws,
Theirs was the mistic mission of the eternal cause;

Confident, tender, courageous, leaving the low for the higher,

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Lifting the feet of the nations out of the dust and the mire;

Luring civilization on to the fair and new,
Given God’s bidding to follow, having God’s business to do.

 

3.

 

Who strengthened our souls with courage, and taught us the ways of Earth?
Who gave us our patterns of beauty, our standards of flawless worth?
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Mothers, unmilitant, lovely, moulding our manhood then,
Walked in their woman’s glory, swaying the might of men.

They schooled us to service and honor, modest and clean and fair,—
The code of their worth of living, taught with the sanction of prayer.

They were our sharers of sorrow, they were our makers of joy,

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Lighting the lamp of manhood in the heart of the lonely boy.

Haloed with love and with wonder, in sheltered ways they trod,
Seers of sublime divination, keeping the truce of God.

 

4.

 

Who called us from youth and dreaming, and set ambition alight,
And made us fit for the contest,—men, by their tender rite?
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Sweethearts above our merit, charming our strength and skill
To be the pride of their loving, to be the means of their will.

If we be the builders of beauty, if we be the masters of art,
Theirs were the gleaming ideals, theirs the uplift of the heart.

Truly they measure the lightness of trappings and ease and fame,

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For the teeming desire of their yearning is ever and ever the same:

To crown their lovers with gladness, to clothe their sons with delight,
And see the men of their making lords in the best man’s right.

Lavish of joy and labor, broken only by wrong,
These are the guardians of being, spirited, sentient and strong.

40

Theirs is the starry vision, theirs the inspiriting hope,
Since Night, the brooding enchantress, promised that day should ope.

 

5.

 

Lo, we have built and invented, reasoned, discovered and planned,
To rear us a palace of splendor, and make us a heaven by hand.

We are shaken with dark misgiving, as kingdoms rise and fall;

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But the women who went to found them are never counted at all.

Versed in the soul’s traditions, skilled in humanity’s lore,
They wait for their crown of rapture, and weep for the sins of war.

And behold they turn from our triumphs, as it was in the first of days,
For a little heaven of ardor and a little heartening of praise.

50

These are the rulers of kingdoms beyond the domains of state,
Martyrs of all men’s folly, over-rulers of fate.

These we will love and honor, these we will serve and defend,
Fulfilling the pride of nature, till nature shall have an end.

 

6.

 

This is the code unwritten, this is the creed we hold,
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Guarding the little and the lonely, gladdening the helpless and old,—

Apart from the brunt of the battle our wondrous women shall bide,
For the sake of a tranquil wisdom and the need of a spirit’s guide.

Come they into assembly, or keep they another door,
Our makers of life shall lighten the days as the years of yore.

60

The lure of their laughter shall lead us, the lilt of their words shall sway.
Though life and death should defeat us, their solace shall be our stay.

Veiled in mysterious beauty, vested in magical grace,
They have walked with angels at twilight and looked upon glory’s face.

Life we will give for their safety, care for their fruitful ease,

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Though we break at the toiling benches or go down in the smoky seas.

This is the gospel appointed to govern a world of men,
Till love has died, and the echoes have whispered the last Amen.