Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, OLD AND NEW; THE CENTURY ASSOCIATION, 1847-1897, by WILLIAM ALLEN BUTLER



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OLD AND NEW; THE CENTURY ASSOCIATION, 1847-1897, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Is that oft uttered adage true
Last Line: "no loss but only of the ship!"
Subject(s): Past; Time


IS that oft uttered adage true—
"The Old is better than the New"—
Old ways, old wines, old friends, old books,
The ancient haunts, the time-worn nooks
With Memory's twilight overcast,
Where visions of a vanished Past
Bring back, in all its mellow glow,
The Golden Age of long ago?

Or is it wiser to be told—
"The New is better than the Old"—
New schemes, new arts, new creeds, new men,
New themes for pencil, tongue, and pen,
New depths, new heights, where Thought explores,
Or Science delves, or Genius soars,
While the New Woman leads the van,
New crowned with all the rights of Man?

To-night our golden milestone stands
A mark between two border lands;
A point where parting ways divide,
With "Old" and "New" on either side;
The New with eager hope we grasp,
Yet keep the Old with tender clasp;
As some worn pilgrim in his quest
Stops by a wayside shrine to rest,
Before the sacred symbols bows,
And tells his beads and breathes his vows,
We pause to-night and linger here
To count our decades, year by year,
Till as the lengthened lines unfold
A full half century is told.

One longing, backward glance we cast,
A search-light through the midnight Past,
Revealing in its quickening rays
The friendships of departed days,
While Fancy's gleam and Memory's grace
Restore each once familiar face;
A silent multitude—and thus
No message comes from them to us,
Yet, like a tuneful requiem,
A greeting goes from us to them—
"Hail, Comrades all!" from lip to lip,
This pledge of old companionship,
From heart to heart, this whisper low,
Forth through the wintry night shall flow,
From star to star, from space to space,
To some diviner dwelling-place.

Foremost before my mental sight
Three noble forms appear to-night;
Chieftains of our Centurion band,
Like David's mightiest three they stand
(Those heroes without spot or stain
To whom the rest could not attain),
And of what time they ruled of old
Our Book of Chronicles has told.

And first, the grave and genial Sage
Whose judgments on the stately page
Of sovereign Law still rule to-day
And all unchallenged hold their sway;
Fit with the worthiest to stand
Of his ancestral Fatherland,
He loved with ours his life to blend,
In evening hours a fireside friend,
And gave the world, with patient toil,
Fresh flowers of thought from ancient soil,
Fair garlands which entwine his name,
In lasting bands, with Shakespear's fame.

And next, with aspect calm, severe,
Our Poet, Oracle and Seer,
Of whom to sing, my faltering lines
Should catch the breath of forest pines,
The music of the mountain rills,
And strength of the eternal hills;
Who taught, in loftiest speech and song,
The love of Right, the hate of Wrong,
Who stood, in all the storm and stress
Of evil days, for Righteousness;
Whose hand upheld the hand that gave
The gift of Freedom to the Slave;
Nor lost in his declining days
The Minstrel's skill, the prophet's gaze,
And tuned to breathe our Mother-tongue
The sounding harp that Homer strung.

Last of the three, and latest spared
In the long life which once he shared
With us, in manhood's fullest prime,
Undimmed by age, untouched by Time,
With insight keen and courage bold
The truth to seek and sift and hold,
The kindling eye, the thrilling tone,
The cordial grasp, were all his own;
Scholar and Statesman, on whose brow
A world-wide homage hovers now;
To him the Muse of History brought,
With brightening face, the task he wrought
To trace, beneath her guiding hand,
The annals of his native Land,
And in majestic outlines draw
The forms of Liberty and Law.

Nor shall these honored memories die
As days glide on and years go by;
As once from Athens' lofty crown
The sculptured gods of Greece looked down
To guard the mariners who gave
Their barks to the Ægean wave,
They watch us still as sailing on
We leave behind our Parthenon.
To-night we shape our course once more
Where Life's broad ocean spreads before;
Some with stanch keels for storms and blasts,
Some with rent sails and shattered masts;
Some with full-freighted argosies
And canvas spread for Fortune's breeze;
Some strained and bent and worn away
By Time's invisible decay;
Yet may it be for every one
As to that brave Centurion,
When to his wind-swept deck he clung
And to the waves the tackling flung,
In the wild hour of wreck to hear,
Above the storm, this word of cheer
From Faith's inspired, prophetic lip,
"No loss but only of the ship!"





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