Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MIDNIGHT FIRES, by GORDON BOTTOMLEY



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MIDNIGHT FIRES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The narrow wings of sunset spread and sank
Last Line: Our lights burn low; and so send out their light.
Subject(s): Great Britain; Patriotism


THE narrow wings of sunset spread and sank
Like a last rosy day-moth floating down
To settle on the dark flower of the world:
The evening star in stillness now descends
Toward the down of light that lies and dies
On mountain crests and hard-backed equal clouds,
As though a drop of dew in the near sky
Suspended should there fill with the first ray
Of a hid moon, large, liquid, low.

Night and its old obscurity at last
Seem to be rising from the firm-felt ground.
Upon this lonely height dim shapes of men
Gather as to a hosting, as men drew
Together when the mountain-beacons broke
The midnight to wild flame and danger cried.
These now are peaceful shapes who murmur and wait
Beneath the bare and unaccustomed night
That like a dim, enclosing, builded vault
Imposes awe; yet now they move together
As by one breath when far, and far, and far,
The lofty nipples of the earth shine out
In pullulation as of bright pale buds
On a sky-filling bough of some great tree,
Urged by a sap in surge with victory.

There is a dawn now breaking in the North
Above huge Skiddaw in its rocky herd;
Helvellyn is alight, and Coniston Man;
Yoke shines on Kentmere; Harter Fell is kindled;
Now fire is out at Shap, and Benson Knott
Speaks up for Kendal where Englishmen have waited
Such flaming news of war or war-won peace
A thousand years; now Barbon Fell comes out;
Now Ingleborough lights up a coronal
Of brightness and of number and amazement;
And out across the great bay's night-filled waters
John O'Gaunt's town remembers and thrusts up
Its flaming brand, too, on the accustomed height;
While our home beacon leaps on Warton Crag
Among primeval forts of Britain and nigh
The stones where the unknown Three Brothers sleep
After some battle early on in time.

But see: beside this burning traffic on high,
The mind of Britain is shining from the earth,
Gentle and still and steadfast. Here a million
Low lamps too clear to sparkle fill the grass
And demonstrate the serviceable earth;
The kindred of the glow-worms is awake
Intent upon its purpose, the elder Britons
Who kept their lights undimmed when foreign feet
Were thick among them, and shone changelessly
When the hard Roman beasts let go their hold
Upon our land, and when the nobler Danes
And Norsemen were cast out, and when the Normans
Were changed upon their victory to men
Not other than Britons, and when the Spaniards
And Frenchmen threatened and failed upon the waters.
These are aware of Britain, only of Britain;
They know that foemen cannot alter it,
That only Britons can diminish it,
And that it must be what it is until
Our lights burn low; and so send out their light.




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