Sagas of Vaster Britain: Poems of the Race, the Empire and the Divinity of Man

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

COMMEMORATION ODE

(CAMBRIDGE, JUNE 1905)


 

BROTHERS in action, aspiration, aim,
Co-heritors of that old breed, old blood,
That ancient speech, that ancient faith and song;—
Once more we stand in these memorial halls
And meet in kind communion, as of yore,
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Those sun-filled hours of youth's Hyperion morn,
When life's great future blinded eager eyes,
And ways of vague achievement lay before,
With golden roadways leading on to fame
Or other portals of Hope's azure vision
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Beyond the mists of aspiration's dream.

Once more we meet here with our tithe of lore,
Or dearly earned experience of this world,
And all its mystery of blinded ways;—
And here we face the future; nearer now

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That last dread culmination of our days,
That solemn gate of earth's departing scene,
Where love and patience lay their burdens down,
Here at life's midday milestone do we stand,
Knowing our vision greater than our act,
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Our possibility vaster than our dream.

Greater than all earth's woven creeds is that
Eternal possibility of man
To rise to nobler futures, loftier peaks
Of golden sunrise visions, climbing on

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To those vast vistas of the ideal man.
Learning is nature's kindred spirit. She
Holds up the torch to reason, seeking ever
That holy, immortal, changeless face of Truth.
Language may falter, palter, lose her old
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Plain utterance, simple, pure, and undefiled;—
But upward still is upward, straight is straight,
And narrow the way and hard the paths to God.

Not all the weight of vast material power,
The brazen frown, the iron hand of wealth,

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Can make the ill less evil; or the good
A part of evil. Still midway will stand
That sword of Eden flaming in between,
Whence man came naked, naked will return,
Clothed only in the truth of heart and brain.
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There is no complex where the spirit rules.
The truth is simple as the perfect curve
Of elemental beauty; life no lie,
Till man did build a fence to shut out God,
And hide with hideous tapestries the stars.
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Those endless, gobelin questionings shut in
Man's soul from the eternal. Out beyond,
Where night and vasts anticipate the dawn,
No muffled doubt goes groping, where those hosts
Immortal, radiant, wheel their mystic fires—
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Orion and the ancient Pleiades.

Think not because we lose the road that we
Are lost eternal. Still the road shines on
Through murky mists of this grim modern dream,
These smokes material shrouding His vast plan.

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And still a child-face teaches beauty's truth;
A wayside blossom still remains a flower;
And love, and hate of evil rule the world.
This shining roadway holds no cul-de-sac,
Though close the gorges seem to hem us in,
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With human finality, reason's narrow bounds,
Within these hopeless mountains of the mind.

And often ’mid the anguish and turmoil
Of all this fevered being, I have felt
A sudden flame of some large knowledge flashed,

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And then withdrawn from out my spirit's ken;
As though God opened His vast doors of light
And outward being. Then my soul hath felt
Some mystic glimpse of far infinity,
As though there flamed a world outside our world,
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Beyond this prison-house of all our tears,
This finite cell that we inhabit here.

And in that sudden light it seemed as if
This house of sadness, these grim narrow streets,
This blinded search from shriveled day to day,

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And all that past which memory intervenes,
This hourly round of earth’s experience,
This opening up of vistas of life’s days
And months and years, had all been lived before,
And this grim present but old dreams re-dreamed.
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So moves life’s mystery, as though fold in fold,
Of sense ’neath sense, like sleep which mantles dream,
Man’s gross heredity muffles in his soul
From somewhat larger, mightier, some far vast,
As mists material curtain out God’s stars.
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For life is greater than its mightiest deeds,
And we, than this environment, wherein we dwell,
This mansion vast of failure, where the winds
Of youth’s far longings haunt these banquet-halls
Of deeds unfinished, broken pillars of faith,
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And ruined stairways leading to the stars.

This, Brothers, is my message: Let us keep
The olden faith in glad sincerity,
Remembering ever, simplicity is the truth;
Religion reverence; wisdom but to keep

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Those dread eternal laws which guide the world:

Forgetting not our duty to the race
From which our sires and our great-grandsires sprang ;
That mighty stock, that iron heredity,
Uncompromising, stern, which planted deep

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The holy roots of that wide tree which bore
This blossom of liberty which we pluck to-day:

Which taught us what we all too soon forget,
No earthly generation stands alone,
But is the link in some vast mythic chain

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Extending downward from the ancient days;

Remembering that allegiance which we owe
The blood we bear, the tongue our fathers forged
From out the rude and barbarous dreams of those
Who gave us primal being. This our work,

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To build, to weld, replenish, and subdue.

Not like blind force which treads this earth like iron,
And makes the continents tremble; not by greed
Or grim political craft; but by that power,
That sad sincerity of the Perfect Man.

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Yea, this is my message ! Life is short and stern,
And ours at best a feeble, cabined will.
Our mind is finite:—But the soul of man,
Which hopes and trembles, suffers and aspires,
Rebukes his pettier moments; its vast dreams
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Proclaim our origin high, our destiny great,
And possibilities limitless like the sea.