A Quatercentenary Ode*
ETERNITY is throned upon thy spires:
Upon Eternity thy towers rest:
Thou wert conceived in the eternal fires
Of the sun's womb: upon the sun's white breast
Wert carried ere the souls of men were made--
Nay, in the nebula the seed was sown
Of every stone,
And by the stars were thy foundations laid.
The fire-mist held thee ere the sun it bore;
The sun had presage of thee ere she hurled
From her wild heart the world;
And the hot world enwrapped thee at its core,
In lava and in lightning, to await
The slow, fastidious finishing of Fate.
Then the round earth grew furrowed and grew frore,
And the encircling steam,
Condensing in a stream,
Hissed, boiling, bubbling on a barren shore,
Till the Word spake, and then
There blossomed flowers, and beasts, and souls of men;
And lo, in man's magnificent desires
And high imaginations, wilful, warm,
Thy polished pinnacles, and frosty spires,
Took shape and form,
Till all this growth of granite towers,
And pediments and columns round,
Like spikelets of colossal flowers,
Came burning through the ground.
Eternity was author of thy plan;
The fire-mist, and the sun, and earth, and man
Joined in thy making. Yea, by fire and thought
The gracious granite miracle was wrought.
And now thou art full-grown,
Stately and white,
A lily made of stone--
A torch that flares across the night
Of the Unknown--
The spindle and the loom of light--
An altar and a throne--
A temple where the feet of Truth may fare--
A peak where wisdom may be set on high,
Under a cloudless sky,
In Alpine air.
Yet what of Truth and Wisdom can we share,--
We who have seen Eternities prepare
The granite there,
"The polisht stones and squair,"
We who have watched worlds blossom and worlds die,
Who find beneath the silt of ancient seas,
How can we guess at things so far away?
How read the Mind who shapes the feathery snows
Then knits a glacier to knead the clay
That makes a rose,
Who sends the cataracts with heavy feet,
And white tumultuous toil,
To grind the rocks to make a meadow sweet
Giving the daisies soil?
How can we Know? What knowledge can we win?
The spindles flash: the mighty Destinies spin--
We know not whence we came, or whither we go.
What can we know?
How can we mete the masonry of God?
Our spirits are His trowel and His hod.
We guess a part: He pre-ordains the whole.
We lay a stone: He labours at a soul.
How can we see with His all-seeing sight
Issues so broad,
Meanings so infinite?
How can we know? How can we understand?
Who build a house of Truth upon the sand
Knowing the corner stone to be a lie,
Knowing the roof
A travesty and mockery of the sky.
How can we know, who know our truth is based
On finite facts by infinity effaced,
On parallels that meet in space behind,
On matter that is force, unconscious, blind?
How can we know whose knowledge is so small?
Why should we know? Why should we live at all?
Why all this toil and strife?
How did the Chaos burgeon into life?
Did it imagine, when the toil begun,
'Twould blossom into star, and moon, and sun
Rolling to rhythmic music? Toil seemed vain.
Mistily, vaguely, dizzily it spun
Racked with strange pain,
In fiery rain,
Through black abysses, while the cosmic power
Compelled it into bird, and beast, and flower,
And this grey temple's pinnacle and tower.
Truth is eternities away,
And we but climb,
In the dark of Time,
To the dawn of day.
What if the truth we do not see?
What matters truth.
To love and youth.
Who labour for eternity?
What if an error or a flaw
Life's beauty mars?
We are hammered to eternal law,
On love's high stithy by the stars.
The hands that made these spires were held
By the strong hand that holds the seas,
And every pillar was compelled,
By mighty cosmic energies.
And what we have not rightly wrought
In stone or thought
Will not endure; yet even so
Out of the false the true will grow.
And in this temple by the Northern Sea
Will surge and seethe the fire-mist of the mind
Fettered and free,
Radiant and blind--
Will bud and blossom nebulæ of soul,
Till bright, and true, and round, and whole,
Love's planets in their orbits roll,
And wandering Wills their Centre find.
Ronald Campbell Macfie, ed. War: an Ode And Other Poems. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1920.