Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A LEGEND OF THE MOON, by RICHARD EUGENE BURTON

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

A LEGEND OF THE MOON, by                     Poet's Biography
First Line: Nightlong I yearned so madly toward the moon
Last Line: Of moons and mortals and of olden days.
Subject(s): Cities; Death; Earth; Legends; Life; Mankind; Moon; Urban Life; Dead, The; World; Human Race

NIGHTLONG I yearned so madly toward the moon,
Meseemed she whispered low the ancient rune
Of her past history -- as strange a word
On life and death and doom as e'er I heard:
So wondrous strange it did my soul constrain
To tell the tale again.

A legend this of eld and other spheres:
In times before the dawn of human deeds
On earth, life swarmed upon the mystic moon,
Where now is stony silence, -- ages ere
Chaldeans probed the riddles of the sky,
Or swart Egyptians slumbered in their tombs.
The air was sweet for breathing: all the ways
Trembled with speech of folk or song of birds
Blithe-mooded -- cities clung along the slopes
Or darkened on the plains, the land teemed tilth;
Wide-yawing ships swept over seas whose names
Are immemorial; wars raged red, and Art
Thrust temples white where once the wild beast prowled,
And in her limbec poured men's grosser thoughts
Distilling dreams and subtle dews divine.

The moon-man is the sole possessor now
In those vast regions. He is known of all
The children from their birth-while: him you see
On cloud-clear nights (if you will patient peer)
Sitting upon a round of massy stone
Within a great gray desert where the light
Is ghostly wan. Upon his face is writ
Unuttered agonies of things long lost
Yet keen remembered: rugged is his brow,
And in his eyes a Horror blackly broods.
But how he came, and why he sits alone,
Behooves the telling -- hark, it happened thus:

Eons ago the gods had mind to make
(For pleasure of their august realms) a world
Of beings fleshed in bodies, but with souls
Whose spark was like their own. Whereon they glanced
About those primal heavens, and saw afar
A little globe that wheeled a constant course
Through space. And since it looked a seemly spot
To nourish life, they spoke the fiat -- then
A cry of young humanity was heard
Upon the moon. But ere the word was said
That gave this dubious gift of living, lo!
The gods did set a bound to lunar years,
To lives that dwell thereon: So long a time
(They swore) as human face should look on face
With faith and kindliness, might breath be drawn,
And no whit after, -- changeless the decree.
Herein was shown most meet desire that love
Be Lord of Life, that neither loveless crime
Nor lust should harden hearts until that men,
Wrapped up in self-hood, let their brothers go
To bliss or bane unnoted: hence the law.

Then ages fled and kingdoms waxed and waned
In that moon-country with the march of time.
But life, that first bloomed freshly, like a flower
Sweet-natured with the air and rain and sun,
Grew weed-like, noisome, foul. Thereon the gods
Sent plagues to scourge: -- the moon-folk heeded not.
Then certain of the cities most engorged
In fleshly ways, were smote; as afterwhile
The earth saw cities stricken in their pride:
Sodom, Gomorrah, wide-walled Babylon,
Whose monarch was anhungered with the kine.
The people paused, but soon, emboldened, turned
Unto their idol of the cloven hoof;
And over all the land men's eyes were glazed
Toward Love, and greedy but for sordid gain.
Now came the gods to council, and the law,
The ancient screed wherein was set the terms
Of habitation on the doomed orb,
Was gravely conned: and it was plain to see
That total, fell destruction must ensue,
If they would keep their word inviolate.
And so with ponderous, grim debate they chose
To send a rain of fire from heaven to scorch
The world of men and women on the moon:
Save only one, a hermit hoary, who
Had all his days lived wisely, sought the light
And loved his fellows. Leave him to his prayer,
And suffer him to make a gentler end
Whenso he wills, the mighty mandate read.
So it was done: one awful day and night
(Uncalendared within that dateless land)
The liquid flame licked down, and ceasing, left
Ashes and bones and formless waste, wherefrom
The some-time splendor of a world had been.
And he, the moon-man, whom the children know,
The childlike hermit of this elder race,
Was left alone.

And now a bleak despair
And sorrow nipped his blood, and he was fain
To perish by his cave. But erst at eve
He stood within a strange and windless plain
And with lack-luster gaze beheld where shone
Through trackless leagues of space the clustered lights
Of constellations, idly looked upon
Fixed stars of vibrant flickerings, did mark
The changeless glow of planets in their path,
Argent or gold or ruddy-faced like Mars:
And saw, or deemed he saw, or dreamed he saw,
A shape, that moved upon one orb, the earth,
A silver cirque that lit the nether sky.
Whereat a tremor shook his spirit lax,
And it grew tense: his soul was hung upon
That shifting thing, that blot against a star,
Until he knew it for a mortal man
And wept, and cried aloud, to think that he
Was less companionless.

Thereafter, though
His lot was gruesome and his sorrows lead
Against his heart, a kind of pensive calm
Settled within him as he watched our orb
Thro' years and sweeping cycles, e'en to Now.
Nor had he will to die, because of this
Weird watch and ward, this brooding over us.
Nay, once he even smiled a moment's space,
Beholding how a deed of charity
Was done a lonesome soul: and once his eyes
Looked dreamy in their sockets gaunt, because
An earth-poet's fancy dubbed yon yellow ball
An octoroon beside those slim white girls,
The stars. But most his mood set sorrowward,
And most his sighs were like the homeless wind
That moans about the gables in the night.
Sleep does not visit him from month to month:
Mandrake nor poppy may not lure his eyes
From earthward quest; awake and sad, he seems
To yearn within his poised and dizzy haunt
For easement of the warning in his mind
To us of earth, lest we let Love be lost
-- That crystal candle 'midst the bogs of hate
And guile and lack-of-Love and lusts untamed --
As did his kindred, so their sorry case
Be ours: remembering that the selfsame gods
Shaped him and us and all.
Be such his thoughts
Or not, he keeps his vigil, and his front
Looks dumbly down, -- while I upgaze at him
And wonder if his brain be not distraint
With horrid weight of memory. Shall he find
A final solace for a fate forlorn,
And meet with us upon some higher sphere
To commerce once again with humankind
By touch of hand and mouth and interchange
Of words, a long withholden boon to him?
So far the moon has whispered: here she stays
Her silver secrets, leaves me unappeased.

Along came Science in a surly mood
Of introspection, harked a while, nor spake,
Frowned ominously, and then at length found speech,
That made but tatters of my peopled moon,
The mid-air ship that bore my single fleece
Of story. It is false, quoth he, for never
Since chaos was there breath on yonder orb
Nor moving wight, nor sound of speech nor song
To make the mountains merry and the plains
Vital and thick with voices: None but babes
And sucklings can be fooled with such a myth.
Whereat mine answer: Men are children still,
And love their legends and their wonder-tales.
Moreover, came the record not from heaven,
From very heaven upon a cloudless night?
So, Science, leave me to my conjuring
Of moons and mortals and of olden days.

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