Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

First Line: Once, when the scholar - in his book, you know
Last Line: God, in my hand, had written a new name.
Subject(s): Ancestors & Ancestry; Heritage; Heredity

ONCE, when the Scholar -- in his book, you know,
That talks of Ids and Biophors and so
Makes much rebellious dreaming come and go --
With that great nonchalance of his, my ease
Had interrupted; (Ids! Such things as these!)
I sought myself through earth and fire and seas;
And found it not - but many things beside;
Behemoth old, Leviathans that ride,
And protoplasm, and jellies of the tide.
Then wandering upward through the solid earth
With its dim sounds, potential rage and mirth,
I faced a dim Forefather of my birth,
And thus addressed Him: "All of you that lie
Safe in the dust or ride along the sky --
Lo, these and these and these! But where am I?
"Before the day that brought me forth had found me,
Your subtle raiment wrapped itself around me,
Even when I was not your faint hands had bound me.
"Thou silent minister of joy and pain,
Weaving a shroud more subtle than the rain
That lingers white along the fallen grain;
"Since thy hands made me -- but not fair, not fine! --
Then at the end some piteous look of thine
Must plead forgiveness for these sins of mine."
Thus did I speak, while that poor face arraigned me --
"'Twas thy frail spirit in my heart detained me.
Thy thought, wrought strangely in my own, constrained me."
For when She leaned to Him in the great bliss
(Oh I were wrong to tell their spirits this -- )
All my life's sweetness went to make that kiss!
Now, when I beg them, as my hunger must,
Laughing they lay into my hands of trust
The Dead Sea apple that is full of dust.
How they have bruised me! From this soul of mine
Danced out the vintage and drank up the wine.
For when the master bade them in to sup,
Between hot hands they snatched the golden cup,
Lo -- I was in it -- and they drank me up.
So I was spent, as wind is among sand,
In solemn splendors of the saraband.
Yet I, condemned by them to such vast leisure,
Can laugh to think of that great storm of pleasure, --
Those mad dead feet that danced so wild a measure.
Those pitying eyes! I will not let them see
How I go frail for want of strength in Thee.
I will not make them shed new tears for me.
Poor eyes that looked on love so many years,
Filled with desire thereof -- knowing no fears --
Looking through mine are blinded now with tears.
Poor feet, that once tumultuous would go,
Now wistfully in mine must creep so slow,
I could have run too, but ye said me no.
Poor lips that kissed so much, in such hot haste,
And left me nothing out of so much waste,
How have ye come now to the great distaste!
Rocked in the whirlwind of their son's desires,
Their bosoms blow upon a blast of fires.
Oh, wind of flame that through my melting bone
Blows the white faces of my burning sires.
For they that leave no sons are comforted,
So placidly their downward steps are led
To those vague nations moving in the dust,
Serene, secure, and being dead, are dead!
But these that bore a child shall never be
Delighted with the elements and free.
They make of body and soul their Heaven and Hell,
And they, being dead, shall live again in me.
Last night those melancholy pilgrims came.
Her tender feet were sandaled in a flame
And His soul's raiment was the cloth of shame.
"Feast thou, my son" -- but ye have eaten the bread!
"Dance thou, my son" -- Ye have broken the pipes, I said.
So through my heart in desolate array --
They pass and pass and are uncomforted.
How strangely woven of their pain and bliss
Is my soul's fabric. I was wrought of this --
Their exquisite and unforgivable kiss.
So of this dual breathing was I made,
Fragile, eternal, wonderful, afraid,
Rapturous, guilty, flaunting and dismayed.
While their thin laughter echoing in my bone
Reminds me that my flesh is not my own.
Hands off, hands off, and let my soul alone!
I cannot blame them for the deed they did,
Bearing in me the small satiric Id --
The reproachful secret in the pyramid.
But I am weary of the hoarded gold,
The woven garments, stained and manifold,
The shames, still scarlet, splendid yet and old.
In all the woven tissue of my doom
What thread is mine? What thread? Wrapped in a gloom
Strange hands have whirled the pattern from the loom.
And my young dreams of cloud and fire and star,
Of powers and splendors, shining from afar,
Fade from that web where those dim workers are.
A metal meant for God -- I know not when
My Lord refused me -- but the hands of men
Have marked me Caesar's. Let Caesar have me, then.
O Scribe, (that, writing with such bitter tears
Colors the page with his own atmospheres!)
Think not to hide that legend from the years.
The antique tale, erased yet faintly guessed,
Blurs the new writing on the palimpsest.
Heredity, that drives the weak and great,
With hostile lips I kiss thy robes of state.
Such homage wilt thou ask of me, O Fate!
Once when I spread the altar clean and white
And lit thereon a solitary light,
She brushed it out, and left me in the night.
When I would ease me with the wine and bread,
Her hands bestow it, and uncomforted
I ask for God, receiving her instead.
When did that silent priestess enter in,
Her secret ceremonials begin?
She officiates strangely, even unto sin.
Sometimes she turns on me a smiling face
And to my asking heart confers a grace.
How old it is and brought from what old place!
Touched by how many hands! With moods divine
Burnished how long, so wonderful to shine!
Now given to me -- but oh, not mine, not mine!
Strange savor of all virtue! Ancient worth!
How have we pilgrims brought out of the earth
Heirlooms of laughter and an antique mirth.
My heart cries out, amid their fashioning,
"Lord, I am weary! Give me some fresh thing,"
As the earth cries for newness in the spring.
Oh for some thunder that should rush through me!
Some rain to purge me utterly of Thee,
And leave me naked and small, barren and free.
Then I would drift and drive, splendidly bare,
Earnest and simple, choosing, all things fair,
Plain as the sunshine, supple as the air.
For what are we but such as they who go
With anxious footsteps hunting to and fro
For a dear comrade, lost amid the show?
I elbowed one that was an empty fool,
Touched a girl's hand, oh, beautiful and cool!
And talked with sage professors from a school.
There was a tent. I heard His voice inside.
So in I went -- but at the door espied
The pale snake-charmer, vague and heavy-eyed.
I saw His face afar -- oh, brow of flame!
Plain element of Heaven! but when I came
It was the flaunting clown with mouth of shame.
I saw His eyes -- but turning, in a cage
Beheld the boar amid the persiflage
Of the light crowd preserve his ancient rage.
I felt His breath -- but sullen from his lair
I saw the great vindictive lion stare
In all the solemn grandeurs of despair.
I saw a guise familiar by the gate.
He brings me some fair news," I cried. Too late!
There stood a sandwich vendor and I ate.
Into that tent, omnivorous and brown,
I saw the hurrying hordes of them drive down,
Until the huge thing murmured like a town.
Then I, who missed the One I sought for, went.
But as I wandered in bewilderment
My body hummed like that articulate tent.
While traveling with me, many a weary mile,
Amused, satiric, watchful all the while,
Moved the perpetual Scholar, with a smile.
For as I watched the caravan go by,
Strange, yet familiar, came the wonted cry,
" Yes! these and these and these! But where am I!"
Then spoke that rapt Philosopher, that bore
The little, restless, splendid Biophor.
"Thou art not, truly. Nay, what wouldst thou more?
"O fretful! foolish! thin and vague and high!
O Egotist! O Modern! With that cry,
Think you to startle time? I -- I -- I -- I!
"What dream hast thou of what thyself might be?
What star, what cloud, what flame is lit in thee?
Bright terrible delusion, fair to see
"For you that say, with vanity half hid,
'I willed and said and made and had and did' --
Look you, with curious eyes, upon the Id.
"That little Ark, that peopled with a brood
Of dreams, desires, portents, rides the flood,
Rocks on forever through thy wistful blood.
"Behold in it how many lives arrayed!
Wild, hostile, loving, exquisite, afraid,
All living things that God has ever made.
"Here is thy will, thy war, thy heavenly fire,
Thy dust, thy want, thy labor, and thy hire,
The dream, the anger, and the old desire.
"Through this small Id the old barbarians rove,
And ancient hierarchies slowly move --
And kings and clowns and slaves -- and hate and love.
"For what art Thou? Why nothing, friend, at all --
Except the echo of a reckless call
Or as a simple shadow on a wall.
"For as the fragile cloud accepts the air
Thy thoughts receive their thoughts, and everywhere
They blow thy dreams about. Thou art not there.
"What Dream hast thou?" Then through my soul there came
A light that burned through weariness and shame,
The virginal presence of the clean, first flame.
"What Dream hast thou? " Then with a heart of trust
I felt the sharp and exquisite swift thrust
Of swords of angels, flashing through the dust.
O fluttering fir! O little pale blue wreath!
O radiant substance, hovering over death!
This, then, is I, made of God's living breath.
And I am new and wonderful and fair!
"What star, what cloud, what flame?" The angels share
Even with my heart their breathing of first air!
Apart, above, beneath, beyond, within,
I laugh at this vast heritage of sin.
That God that made me armed my soul to win,
Slowly I feel the ancient custom fall
Like shattered rain from off a steady wall,
And great "I will" is stronger than them all.
For if those hordes that terribly must ride
Drive through my heart and leave their grief inside,
God also wanders there at eventide.
Man from the dust and woman from the bone, --
But oh, we were not wrought of these alone!
God, with His Heavenly spirit, breathed thereon.
Last night the old ancestral pageant came,
Bearing the ancient virtue and the shame.
God, in my hand, had written a New Name.

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