The Dread Voyage Poems

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

TO MIGHTY DEATH CONCERNING ROBERT BROWNING


 

GREAT Warder of those mists forever yawning,
      And whence no soul returns that wanders through
Into some muffled midnight or white dawning,
      Into strange peace no love hath proven true;
      Whom we know now no more than Homer knew,
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Or Plato’s master ere the hemlock drink
Charmed his great soul across thy shadowed brink.

O mighty Death, teach us of our great brother,
      Whose sight was deep and spirit strong like wine;
Long will it be before earth knows another

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      Like unto him who worked the heart’s deep mine,
      And chiselled from the chaos sparks divine:
Who delved so long beneath, he failed to care
How formed his crystal heaps in outer air.

Lord of all song but for the lack of caring,

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      When high in lyric flight his heart did lift,
No lesser brother pinioned where its faring
      Seemed reaching up to God through skyey rift;
      What demon chained his mighty soul to drift
In mystic visions, meaningless and long,
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Who might have piped the world’s youth back in song?

‘Twixt him and us deep silences are falling,
      For his is rest and ours awhile to moan;
We call through dark and still we keep on calling,
      And grope about our prison-hearts of stone;

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      And hear no voice but echo of our own;
We on, he back, beneath the spangled dark,
Like outbound bark that vanisheth from bark.

Where hath he fared, and what glad mystic vision
      Hath wrapt his soul? What mighty peace of night?

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What good knows he? What sweet, long-last elysian
      Doth he reclaim? What reveries of delight?
      In what far borders wings his strenuous flight?
This lore-wrapt seer, song’s mightiest, I trow,
Who knew so much, what wisdom hath he now?
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O great, kind Death, whom men call falsely cruel,
      Read us the riddle, life’s best, latest friend;
In what weird matrix formeth love’s bright jewel?
      In our beginning do we know our end?
      Hath he gone back with some old past to blend?
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Or doth he on to other regions fare,
Recrystallized in some diviner air?

Can he take up the songs he failed in singing?
      Can he make clear what here seemed meaningless?
Can his soul soar, nor ever tire of winging?

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      Or doth he feel our earth-born giddiness?
      For all old wounds hath he now love’s redress?
Or lost in dreamings, by thy weird love kissed,
Is his great soul still rounded by a mist?

There is a land where summer, spring, nor winter,

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      Nor noon, nor night, nor morning’s holy prime,
Nor love, nor hate, nor hope can ever enter,
      A dreamless land, beyond the date of time;
      A land of eld and age and hoary rime,
Of sleep’s long frosts, where sword and armour rust,
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And shackles fall from hands that turn to dust.

Here all may sleep, for no dread warder’s warning
      Can come with clang of care and garish day;
They sleep the sleep of night that knows no morning,
      No fierce noon-heats or chill at evening grey;

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      No sound of those who watch or weep or pray
May enter here to stir the long, long rest
Of those who slumber on oblivion’s breast.

Long weaned of life’s mad throe and time’s weird glory,
      Stilled hands on breast, sleep closely side by side,

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The hearts that read and those who told earth’s story,
      The necks that bent, the brows that rose in pride:
      But one event for all who here abide,
The wise, the fool, the despot and the slave,
One common dust in one great common grave.
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                        *       *       *       *       *
And he who met so calm thy salutation,
      When thou didst hail him softly, “Peace, be still!”
Forsaking men and toil and adulation,
      Smoothed his great brow and bowed him to thy will;
      And went with thee meet lordly place to fill,
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In the great minster walls where love doth keep
The genius of a nation in its sleep.

                        *       *       *       *       *
Forgive these winter songs, O great Life-Master,
      These halting rhymes, O strong and puissant Death:
Our sight is small, but thine is vast and vaster;

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      Thy knowledge lives, ours dwindles with a breath.
      Forgive these rhymes on him who slumbereth;
Who was too great for mine unworthy pen
To do him grace, King Singer of singing men.