Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ODE TO THE PAST, by WILLIAM EDMONSTOUNE AYTOUN

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

ODE TO THE PAST, by             Poem Explanation     Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Surely our path is darker than before
Last Line: O change the bridal song for funeral hymn.
Alternate Author Name(s): Bon Gaultier (with Theodore Martin)
Subject(s): Love; Past


SURELY our path is darker than before,
And we have little power to make new light,
There is a change upon this earthly shore:
Some growing stain, some dark and blasting blight
Has gather'd round our heads; for, when we look
Upon the past, there is an atmosphere,
Far richer, milder, happier, and more clear
Than ours is now -- How is it that we brook
This drear enchantment? Can it be that right
Is banish'd from the world, and sin and crime
Are now the ministers of hoary time?


To grieve is to be wise -- and yet we grieve,
And yet our wisdom cometh slowly on;
And yet we hope -- how vainly! -- to retrieve
That love, and light, and splendour that is gone. --
How can we? when our every thought is fixt
On objects which the wise of old despised;
Glory is dead, and sordidness is prized,
And even truth with lies is strangely mixt:
Now may we seek for love with piteous moan,
For love within the world existeth not,
And hope is sad, and fancy is forgot.


Our days are surely not the days of joy --
There are within this theatre of pain
Too many scenes of sadness and annoy
To cloud the forehead, and distract the brain; --
There are too many tasks the soul should spurn,
That it must bend to with disguised smile,
Mocking at happiness; and see the while
Its dearest visions buried in their urn,
And all their glorious promise reared in vain!
Doth it not anguish till despair is meek,
And even pride is wearied, worn, and weak?


Our sleep is not the sleep of quietness --
For it is haunted by imaginings,
That do excel all present happiness,
As far as fancy doth all human things;
They are the death-raised children of the past,
The spectral forms that whisper to the mind
Dark omen oracles, drear as the wind
Which o'er a lonely moor is forward cast,
When the old year unto its infant sings.
Alas! that time should have a power so dread
To make the living bow unto the dead!


We cannot tell when passion lives or dies,
Truth is so great a stranger to the heart;
Much have we done to purchase miseries,
And now we cannot force them to depart!
We seek for that which we shall never find;
We seek for joy that we have thrown away;
We sit like men who wait the dawn of day
For ever, and forget that they are blind.
O! world, cold world, how retrograde thou art,
When thou hast lost whate'er the soul desires,
And hast no light but heart-consuming fires!


Earth, mother earth, thou art the same no more!
The future is an ocean of no rest;
The past alone is an enchanted shore,
A solitary island of the blest --
A starry Cyclad, from whose beach our ship
Is ever distant, ever still in sight --
O'er which deep quiet and eternal light
Hang evermore, whilst the uncertain lip
Of time's rough wave is ever at our breast,
And the masts strain, and yield like yearling pines,
Until the heart is faint with fearful signs.


Thou Golden Age! when love did overshadow
Like a bright cloud the rich and glowing earth,
When on the mountain, field, and grassy meadow,
Creation revell'd in eternal birth --
Why hast thou gone so utterly? why fled
With all thy sweets? Ah sorrow! beauty must;
For man will ever trample in the dust
All chaplets of bright flowers, and in their stead
Comes blight and poison, pestilence and dearth,
And sorrow in its many coiled ways, --
Yea, let him build an altar in their praise!


Is there more beauty in the modern page,
Than lives within 'the songs of Grecian years'?
Is there more virtue in the modern sage,
To fledge the soul and flatter down its fears?
Have we as passion'd or as pure a love
As stray'd beside the old Arcadian rills?
Are not the forests of the western hills,
The only home of Peace, affrighted dove?
Have we more cause for laughter or for tears?
Is not the light of life waxed dark and dim?
O change the bridal song for funeral hymn.

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