Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CONFLICT BEFORE VICTORY, by RICHARD EUGENE BURTON



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CONFLICT BEFORE VICTORY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I stand at gaze upon an autumn knoll
Last Line: The mellow magic of october's moon.
Subject(s): Earth; Evil; God; Love; Mankind; Victory; War; World; Human Race


I STAND at gaze upon an autumn knoll,
Whose interwoven harmonies of green
And gold and russet red make music deep,
Somber, yet beautiful, and full of thought;
No tripping melody of spring, but rich,
Grave tones orchestral played by dreamful gods
Upon the season's resonant instruments
Of earth and air.
A mood of melody
Broods all along the hills and o'er the fields
And down the river reaches; and where now
The forests steal the sunset pageantries
A universal harvesting is spread,
With augury of winter's stored-up fruit.
October's oracle sounds in mine ear:

"My name is peace and plenty. Look afar,
And list, and take the lesson to your heart."

And I, obeying, let my vision roam
Beyond this scene of goodly garnering,
Over the lands, across the sundering seas,
And up and down the hell-tracks dug by hate
And horror; see the carrion pools of slain,
The anguished wriggle of the dying; hear
The shrieks, the oaths, the ravings; mark how sure
The beast in man, unleashed, springs up to kill.

And circling far beyond this central pit
Of frenzy and of lust there comes a moan
Vast, vague and terrible, filling the air,
From violated shrines of hearth and home
Where women wait and stretch out asking arms --
Mothers whose wails once brought those bodies forth,
Who prayed above their little, breathing ones,
So frail, so tender, come to such as this,
The mothers whose gray doom for birth and death
It is to suffer and to lose the loved.

But, soaring up above all other cries
Of battle, in my dazed ear there throbs
Deep-mouthed, reiterant, a sullen word,
The boom and boom of cannon, detonant,
That is war's antichrist and deadliest cry:
No, No, it seems to say, again the No,
With intervals of silence sent to mock
All hope of ceasing. Now it stabs the air,
For ever No and No, a muttering
Of devils kenneled in their smoke and smell.
The drab horizon pulses with that pain;
The great denial of man's will to turn
Away from hate to labor and to love;
The hideous negation of the guns. . . .

As if released from out a torturing trance
In some black night, lo, I awake to see
The fair, full sunlight flood about my feet,
October slumbers, smiles, and richly dreams
Her dream of wisdom, while sky amethysts
And opals blend to make the vault above
A miracle, the soul's own halcyon hour
Of reverie, a time to guess God's plan
For earth, and glimpse the meaning of the years.

"Surely," I said, the while the vision fades
Of hate and horror, and the autumn fields
Glow more benignant to mine eased eyes --
"Surely, Earth fought her way to scenes of tilth
And bounty and the fulness of the ear?
The spring's sharp labor pains bring in the ripe
Fruition and the reaping of the sown?
Surely, the grim long struggle up from dust
To meet divinity means only this:
Warfare eternal, strong subduing weak,
And weak a sacrifice unto the strong.
Might has been right from sod to throne of God?"

No answer from October; distantly
The sullen No still sounds. The air is cleft
With red reverberations masked in reek
That gives the lie to every dream of peace
And laughs at love.

Again I face the month
So mellow in her fruitage. "Say to me,
Oh, glamour of the hills, is it not so?
Shall not the Right be precious down the years
That linger at Time's portal? Shall not we
In after-days still strive to make it reign,
Opposing wrong with arms, our father's way,
And sanctified by blood their fathers shed?
For naught is precious but the Right; it shines
And shall for ever shine, God's luminous gem;
And man must always band himself against
The leaguered hordes of devildom. Of old
So stormed the angels epically, and drove
Dark Lucifer from out their boundaries,
And so saved heaven, and made him Lord of Hell."

A silence; then, behold, a wonder-thing!
For sudden looms against the purple leagues
Of harvest hill and mountain magicry
A figure, white-robed, eloquent of face,
With gracious majesty of mien, whose eyes
Seem all ayearn and sad beyond compare,
And in a voice more sweet than any bird's
That haunts the summer, spoke:

"Oh, foolish ones
The shows of earth bedazzle, who so blind
As they who will not see? The law of life
Begins in age-long struggle -- woe the years
Innumerous, the never-noted tears --
Before there blossoms from the slime of hate
And immemorial shocks of enmity
(Blind, blind the impulse, and the mystery strange)
A small, white flower that grows and waxes great
Until, where once red passion-growths were rife
And yellow flauntings of earth's sin, uprears
A stately lily, like a light from god,
To lead life onward, upward to the Good
That knows no law but this: Love lifted up
Aloft, and to be seen of all the lands;
The law of lust become the law of love
By high, supernal fiat; and the law
Of killing, that which shames the victor's way,
Become that law diviner named good-will,
Of which the soul is peace."
The tones thrilled through
The throb of autumn, but the Presence melted
Into the purple mists that crowned the hills
As with a coronal of grapes.

I cried,
Left lonely, and my doubts in-rushing swift:
"I can not see it!" All my soul was in
That cry of agony. "I can not see
How man shall ever cease from troubling man.
Wrath, lust of power, and pride, and love of gain
(Words, words, that only stand for selfhood), these
Will sway him, and his weapons be unsheathed
To challenge all who seek to stem his will.
Grant that he love: his foe who comes with hate
Must in that mood be met and beaten down
Into the better mood which in the end
Rounds into amity and soothfast hands.
Ah, how can endless eons alter this?"

So said I, and my soul yearned through the words.

Again the flute-like voice (how strange a flute
Can pierce the orchestra's assembled cries
As if it were alone -- that gentle voice!)
Enriched the air; the messenger returned:
"Faith is the evidence of things not seen,
And Love, beloved, ye of little faith,
The greatest is of these: great to endure,
To conquer, and to bring the benison
Of perfect concord. Then earth's coarse huzzas
Shall in the twinkling of an eye resolve
Into divine hosannas, and the lamb
Couch with the lion. This, the dream, can be
If only mortals, rousing from their swoon,
Love-wonder in their eyes, dare stoutly believe
Such strength is from on high; no battlements,
Or engines of destruction of defense,
But they shall crumble at one pleading strain
Piped by the Shepherd whose poor sheep ye are,
This long time gone astray."
Silence. And still
The golden pulse of Indian-summer-time,
Grape-purpled, winy-breathed, and drowsed in dream,
Throbbed sentiently along the vistas veiled
To where, unseen, incredible, yet true,
A world-war ravaged men.

My restless mind,
Awed by the semblance of this Shape divine,
Lulled by such silver speech, must question on.
"Is it not true," I said (the Shape seemed gone,
And once again I stood and gazed alone
On flushed October in that memoried mood
When Nature meets the spirit like a friend
For balm of kindly counsel) -- "surely, Life,
The highest, holiest, must be wrestled for,
Ever the wished-for goal be won by pain,
The step ahead be taken inch by inch
In the brow's sweat; and how be won at all,
Unless in conquering, the conqueror
Stands on the slain?
And shall not man wax weak,
And in a supine ease grow fat, unthewed,
If ne'er in crush of conflict he be roused
To martial doing and to deeds that blazon
The record brave? To lay down arms is well,
To take them up is well, when clear the call
To master evil, save our faith, or be
A friend in day of peril to a friend.
To fight is but to live; perpetual peace
Spells death."

Then through the autumn mists again
The form, the figure white, reshapes, the voice,
A strain of music, moves the vibrant air:
"Yea, man with man, shut in by years and spheres,
Must struggle; life, so long as earthlings are,
Issue in conflict that is sent to bring
Out of the atom-dance a wondrous pact,
Ancient antagonists made meek at last
Through ever-surer seeing.
So will come
The mist-hid summers of that fuller day
To be, if only ye have faith. The fight
Is but begun. No more ensanguined fields
And hecatombs of dead and stricken homes;
No more the sequent lack of bread, the maimed
And miserable leavings of the strife,
Nor shifted barriers to bicker o'er,
Sure cause for further parley: nay, instead,
No man shall seek to rend his fellow-man,
But each shall kill the evils in himself,
Combat undying, asking all his strength
And courage, never o'er till heaven and earth
Are as one home for all the tribes of men
Beneath the roof-tree of the universe,
Where gipsy-like they wander now.

For aye
The fight to make insensate Nature yours;
Harness the elements, uncover caverns
That hide the precious stones, make clouds and winds
The subject of your pleasure, and enchain
The mountains, and bring verdure to the deserts,
Making them smile.
And starry souls shall strive,
Forgetting cold and hunger and despair,
To reach the far earth-ends and leave a flag
On perilous peaks, and outposts ne'er attained
By earlier emprise. This battle-front
Shall never waver, nor one drop of blood
Shall soil its footsteps; all its paths are peace.
For ever also shall the fight be fought
To bring good tidings unto heathen hearts,
Heal wounds, and comfort them in darkness. God,
Great Captain of these hosts, His soldiery calls
To such endeavor; nor may any wight
Escape from shame if he be written down
Deserter.

Ever does the roll-call sound
In mighty cities, too, that harbor sin,
And so shall harbor till we take the van,
Fighters with God, to make the crooked straight,
Pour sunlight's cleansing into darkling dens
And sodden shambles, and in triumph set,
Where once was only brawl and devious deed,
And each man's hand was raised against his brother,
The undefeated flags of fellowship!
Yea, these good contests ne'er shall pass from earth;
They are the goads to prick earth toward heaven,
Whose very saints contend to please the King
In loving service. Heaven shows earth the way."
The voice, in ceasing, was like muted song.
But yet again I spoke the earthly view:

"How often man becomes more beautiful
By sacrifice, through hero deeds and love
Of kin and country; spirits valorous,
How they do hearten us and gleam, and sing
The steps of laggards into marching time!
A man, a people, find their better selves
Only when called to conquer."

Answer came:
"There is in evil things a strain of good,
And e'en war's murders sometimes sow a seed
To feed a soul anhungered; and the crop
Is not all wasted on the blood-bought fields.
But hero deeds and dauntless deaths, and strength
That consecrates an action to a cause,
May find full use, may blossom and grow fair
Without one blow against a brother; keep
The fighting fervor, let the blood-rage die;
Transform brute violence, that tears the flesh,
Into an heavenly anger, ardor of
A soul whose enemy is evil done.
Not men the foe, but all that ugly is
In men; and hence how foolish-fond the will
To kill the body, let the spirit live,
And grow to greater power because we mar
And maim and straight destroy the spirit's shell,
Piling up blows; whereas each act of grace, --
The cup of water held to alien lips,
The blow forborne, the trickery forgiven,
The kindness in the stead of cruelty, --
Flies up the blue, clear of the carnage smoke,
To join the others that go sailing there
Like airships manned of angels. For One said:
'And if ye do it to the least of these,
Ye do it unto me.' Treasure the words."

Deep meanings flowed along the river of
This discourse, as a flower might float upon
The buoyant current of some spring-urged stream;
Yet still my reason answered:
"Men are men
So long as time is time, and we must meet
The fashion of this world as those who dwell
Within the world. In other stars, who knows?
This earth-star teaches us to walk our ways
In earth's sad wisdom."
Once again the voice:
"Yea, men are men, and men are beasts, and men
Are angels in the making; dimly glimpsed
In Marcus, him the golden emperor
With words like honey dropping; or in him,
A Kempis, soul abrood; or Plato, who
Dreamt him a state for which men yearn to-day;
And, plainlier seen, and lovelier to our hope,
In Christ, who said, 'They know not what they do!'"

For the last time my brain-born question rose:
"How may we in this present state perform
These high behests and counsels? For, alack!
Stern is the call, and instant is the stress,
And Love now lies a-bleeding."
As the voice
Floated in flute-like cadence, lo! it seemed
Diminished, dimmer heard:

"Ye believe in love;
Ask any pair of lovers. Ye are bound
In ties of blood where household gods protect
The homes whose name is legion; and full oft
The bond of native land makes fealty
Not less than claims of kin; it sometimes haps
The hostile folk across hate's barriers
Suddenly smile, strike hands, and are at one,
Though momently. Oh, will ye see at last?
The magic of this love from out the sky
Shall blend all lesser loves -- the ties of kin
And country, and of lands which side by side
Seek the same freedom, worship the same shrines;
Till, rounding out its destiny, it find
But brother man wherever mortal breathes,
Made one by loving-kindness, blind no more;
The children of that love that spins the stars
In harmony down august lanes of air.

Such changes are in Nature, so in men,
E'en as the pomp and pageant of the fall
Gives way to winter, winter ushers in
The April raptures of the crescent year.
How can that dead womb blossom forth with life?"

And as the voice became a silence, where
The Shape had passed, a breath of fragrancy
Stirred in the trees and hovered o'er the grain.

* * * * * * * * *

Then hail, oh power beyond our pitiful
Earth-ken! Most potent of the gifts of God,
The love that is the heart of every song,
And opes the lily to release her scent;
This love that works through life, and bids the stars
Quiver, yet keep their orbits; the same love
That makes men die for men; this holy thing,
This love, must be the future's battle-cry
In some far land, in some unguessed-of place.
Oh, country dim but dear, truer than Time
Or any present seeming, recompense
For seeing darkly and for waiting long!
Oh, hoped-for land, bring in that day desired
And give us patience in this night of pain.

* * * * * * * * *

And if it be His will, be ours that land!
Saved by the sea from greed, with room for men
Of gentleness to grow in, and with hope
Of comrade joy to help our one great Chance!
Grant us to nurse the vision far and fair:
New dream of battle, bloodless, beautiful.
No lazy paradise of sinews slacked,
But a confederated brotherhood
Of work and worship, and of sun-topped heights
Because Life thrills with purpose, even death
(That old dark name we give the spirit's leap
Beyond the dark) turns radiant, rosy-lipped,
The while we brace us to go forward. Hark!
The morning trumpets cleave the clearing mists.
Not drum taps, but reveille is our mood,
The conquering mood that leaves the ultimate
To Him, the Great Commander; and we march
As soldiers in the ranks, soul-satisfied
But to obey, and trust beyond the guns
Are robin songs and rainbow promises;
Deep graven on each heart this word of fire:
"Love conquers all. Press on. God asks our aid." . . .

Day glimmers, wanes; more duskly broods the hour;
Now steals the twilight up the heaven; no sound
Of guns across the seas. But murmurously
Rises athwart the gloaming witcheries
The intersong of night. A vast content
Is on the land, and, look, above the line
Of warder hills a new-born splendor shines,
To turn the dun warm gold, -- low-hung and large,
The mellow magic of October's moon.





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