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

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

THE QUESTION


 

I

 

HAVE we come to the outermost wall
Of this terrible temple of time,
To find it but iron after all,
A horrible gaol of the soul,
A prison whose walls are a shard
5
Of cold, implacable fact;
Where, through the dim centuries gone,
The poor, weak eons of men
Have circled in bubbles of joy,
To find but a shroud of despair,
10
Cabined and crushed at the last?

 

II

 

And this: Is this but the end?
Have we fathomed the secret in vain?
Was man but a last blind coil
Of the brute evolution of time,
15
Unwinding itself in the dark?
Or the full-blown rose of a race
Whose scent and whose petals are gone?
Was the law: Aspire till ye die,
For ye die when ye cease to aspire?
20
Is it true we have fathomed the dark,
Probed the deeps to the edge of the black
Till the fiat goes forth, Ye are done?
Is it all? And beyond it, what next?
Doth there glimmer the thread of a dawn?
25

 

III

 

God!
We utter the sound of a word,
And power dissolves into naught,
And vanity crumbles in dust;
We, who have reached the bare wall,
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Have fathomed his prison of dark,
Stand naked in awe of a name.
We, who have balanced the ‘all,’
Weighed the dreams of the past in a scale
And found them but vanishing dust,
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Here, in the end of the days,
In this last high poise of a stair
Built out the quarries of Thought,
Wrought slow in the workhouse of Truth,
Our knowledge and wisdom all gone,
40
Like children all frighted and shamed,
Stand in awe at the sound of a name;
As hosts that, huddled at night
From the rude cruel riot of rout,
Stay, fearful and doubting, dismayed,
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‘Mid the grim, unknowable dark,
For the glad, kind trumpet that calls
From the far, white comfort of dawn.

So we, who dreamed that we scaled
The high white mountains of Thought,

50
From our ruined Babel of pride
In the knowledge of self and of God,
Turn back from the jargon of tongues,
That scoff and clamour and cry,
To the wonder and awe of the child;
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And plead in our weakness and doubt
At the barriers, muffled, of dark
That reach through the spaces of Thought
To the far-off vastness of God.

 

III

 

To the end? Have we really begun?
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Have we yet even entered that gate,
That one wicket-gate of the soul,
Which leads to the city of life?
That we say we have come to the wall;
That we grope, like the blind, in the dark
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For the slow closing in of the walls
Of this grim torture-prison of life,
Where casement on casement fades out,
Till the last narrow pane disappears
On the coffined despair of the soul,
70
And the narrow iron shard echoes back
The unseen executioner’s stroke?

Is this but the end and the all,
The blind, grim climax of time?
Is God but necessities’ will,

75
Where chance for an eon pursues
The rhythmic returns of a force?
Or a flame that flickers one way?
Or a huge grim hammer that beats
All out, till the echoes repeat
80
Each caverned black edge of the void?

And this trembling flame of the soul,
In its hollow-built shard of the skull,
That flashes, then flickers and dies?

What of it? So fickle, so dim,

85
A candle-dip spark in the space;
That it measures the infinite void,
That it yearns to fill all with its hope,
Its love, its desire, and its dream,
That would grow to the stature of God?
90

What is it? So mystically small;
So infinite, vast in its aim;
So great in its yearning and growth;
It would leap to the light of the stars,
Would sound the abysses of space,
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And measure the span of the worlds?

Those magical windows it throws
Open wide to the wonders of life,
That sympathy subtler than thought,
This subconscious dreaming that doubts

100
If waking be nightmare to sleep,
That leads to the real hidden world,
That world whose wonder pursues
Even here in this prison of time,
When the walls of this earth crumble down,
105
And the veils of the senses grow thin,
That shut from the realms beyond.

This hearing so delicate, fine,
This exquisite sense of the chords
Beaten out from the fibres of sound.

110

The magical world of the eye,
That catches all colours, all blends
Of mystical morning and night.

Weird memory, wove of all hints
Of the marvellous dreams of the past.

115
Strange thought, that probes ocean and land,
Man’s soul, and the infinite void,
Builds the future, illumines the past,
Measures, weighs, judges, pardons, and damns.
Governs hearing, sight, memory, all;
120
Lord-Seer of all gates of delight;
Standing out on the mountains of dream.

Then, greater than all, even love,
That yearns through the eons of time,
That throbs through the hates and despairs,

125
Built out of the passion of men;
Yea, this above all leavens all,
Filters down through the roots of the world
To the dry, hidden heart of all things,
Waters all deserts of drought,
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Spears million meadows with green,
Up-burgeons all blossom and fruit.