Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ARCHIMEDES LAST FORAY, by STEPHEN VINCENT BENET

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

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ARCHIMEDES LAST FORAY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: And...Having sought for a lever wherewith to move the world...He was slain...
Last Line: To be careful with the dust.
Subject(s): Archimedes (287-212 B.c.)

"And . . . having sought for a lever wherewith to move the world . . . he was
slain. . . ."
Seven strewn earths my bones confound,
Seven deep seas have seen me drowned,
Seven fires burnt every bone,
Seven whirlwinds raged and blown;
The final dust is fine and frail
As dust upon a butterfly's scale.
Atom, atom, impalpable,
How shall I arise from hell?
Atom, atom, infinite,
How may I these Is unite?
How from water and peachbloom-fuzz
Resurrect the thing I was?
Which is I and which is wind?
How many atoms make a mind?

Then the atoms spoke and stirred,
Each with a dim, invisible word,
"Even we are never whole,
Even we are not your soul.
If you search for Unity,
You must sever us -- even we."

And I saw, like things alive,
Strong electrons move and strive
In the atoms, till they too
Rent asunder, and were new
Pulses of unceasing forces,
Tiny men on tiny horses
Warring in a drop of water;
And the very soul of Matter
Soul no longer, self nor single,
But a battleground where mingle
Positive and Negative brother,
Each immortal as the other.
Each attracting, each repelling,
Even in their single celling
Till -- electrons, atom, dust --
There was nothing one could trust.
Till all Solid split apart
Like the fragments of a heart,
Every speck a child at nurse,
Every cell a universe.
There were glittering planets there
In a single pinch of air,
And a cosmos, bright and fierce,
Smaller than the eye could pierce.
Twenty thousand Christs were born
In a single grain of corn.
And Napoleons managed well
Their artillery of hell
In a cell so minified
Microscopes have never pried
To its bottom.

All was flux,
As before the "Fiat lux!",
And no god to mold the sphere
Till the fragments should cohere.
Utter night and utter light
Each its own great opposite,
Co-repealed yet co-existent,
Dead-alive, inert-persistent.

I was suns, a gleaming host,
Yet I was not even a ghost.
I was worlds, and yet in me
Not one living thing could be
As we think of life and death;
Yet I lived with every breath
That was drawn -- diffused, dispelled,
Myriad-heavened, myriad-helled,
And could never droop or cease
In a comfortable peace.

Then, ah then, I heard the cry,
Matter in its agony,
Nailed to Immortality.
And the cross it throbbed upon
Was itself -- and we were one.
Past and future merged somehow
In the Everlasting Now
That existed ere man wrought
Time, the lying clock of Thought.
That exists past Time and Space
In a vacant dwelling-place
Where extended parallels meet
And Dimension's obsolete.

And I felt upon me press
Dreadful weights of Nothingness,
Till I was not and I was
Without reason or because,
Only pulped, excruciate Force --

Then -- the clock resumed its course.
Slowly, slowly from that Void,
Uncreated, undestroyed,
Moved electron on electron,
Building up an atom-section,
And the atoms coalesced
In the shapes that served them best
Slow constructing, cell by cell,
Like a reef of coral-shell,
Visible flesh and blood and bone,
Grain on grain and stone by stone.
Till at last, the city whole
That the prophets call Mansoul,
Stood erect, a moving world,
With a life within it furled
Like a lily in the bud,
Supple flesh and racing blood.
And I felt my tongue unloosed,
And I felt my sinews juiced
With a new, immortal sap
Stolen from the thunderclap,
And I shouted,
"Oh my bones,
Though your ancestors were stones,
We have broken from the net,
And our pride is hardy yet.
Though there be no Space or Time,
You can make them with a rhyme.
Nothing Is, but while it Seems,
We can bridle it with dreams,
Fling the halter on the horn
Of the hunting-unicorn
That is Semblance -- and so ride
Out beyond the vacant-eyed
Ether that is All and Nought,
With the saddle of a Thought
And the stirrup of a Wish.
And can swim like silver fish
Up the Milky Way of Space,
Till the vacant dwelling-place
That no Being can escape
Shrouds us in an empty cape.
Let it shroud us!
While it Seems,
We have life and flesh and dreams."

So I spoke, brave words and free,
And was stalwart as a tree.
But -- I have not cared since then,
Much to talk to men of men.
And have vowed a solemn trust
To be careful with the dust.

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