Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, WORKS AND DAYS, by SAMUEL VALENTINE COLE



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WORKS AND DAYS, by            
First Line: Dare I this task? Ah! Mightier hands than / mine
Last Line: "as stars do in the fulness of the day!"
Subject(s): Anniversaries; Bowdoin College; Death; Prayer; Teaching & Teachers; Dead, The; Educators; Professors


Read at Bowdoin College at the public exercises commemorative of the one
hundredth anniversary of the opening of that institution

Dare I this task? Ah! mightier hands than mine
Have wrought the song here by a right divine,
Then passed, and left the memory of their grace
And of their art forever in this place!
Again I see him as he stands; I hear
The voice that has been silent many a year;
I give him reverence whom all men know
As Bowdoin's sweetest singer. Ay, although
I dare the task, 'tis but as one might dare
Who lifts an instrument with tenderest care
And, knowing well the difference, tries to play
A little, when the master is away.
Better and better does he understand
That what he needs, the miracle to command,
Is more than instrument: he needs the hand.

I

O VENERABLE walls and hallowed plain,
And immemorial pines, whose soft refrain
Of inarticulate voices overhead
Sings round the white encampment of the dead;
O faces, that forever to and fro
Flash through the present from the long ago;
Splendors of sunset flooding grove and hall,
And thou, blue firmament, o'erarching all,—
What do ye say to us? What say ye not!
Visions and voices, haunting every spot,
Come thronging round me till I almost seem
To walk to-day as in a realm of dream,
And scarce may tell, while year flows into year,
Which is the substance, which the shadow, here!
The scenes and aspirations of our youth,
The teachers and the comrades,—these in truth
Abide, and mould us, and become a part
Of all we ever are in mind or heart!

II

A hundred years! What marvels have they wrought
For truth and freedom and man's happier lot!
As if the doors, long bolted, in some vast
And inexhaustible treasure-house at last
Flew suddenly open, and upon us rolled
The great beginnings of the Age of Gold!
And hast thou not, through these momentous years,
Given of thy sons as leaders, pioneers,
True workmen, who have wrested from the strife
Something of true and good for human life?
Have they not grappled manfully with the world?
Where duty called was not their flag unfurled?
When flashed the swords a million patriots drew
On roaring fields, were not thy sons there too?
And tell me, is it only chance or fate
That makes them mighty counselors in the state?
Search the wide land, and unto whom belong
But thee its princes in romance and song,—
Hawthorne and Longfellow! Rememberest now
Like the Greek mother in the fable thou
Thy Castor and Pollux, who ride here no more
Their milk-white steeds, but on the farther shore,
And still shine back, thy great Twin Stars, to keep
The faithful vigil o'er life's lonely deep.
The time would fail me should I try to name
The whole long list of honor or of fame;
Nor can I wonder if, with such a cloud
Of witnesses, thyself art waxing proud!

III

It was indeed a memorable hour
That lifted on the plain this beacon tower
For truth to shine from; have not eyes afar
Beheld and wondered at the golden star
Hung in the orient of our mighty land?
Large-minded and far-visioned men, they planned
Not for a day, who these foundations broad

Established in the love and fear of God:
They built for immortality; they drew
Upon the future which by faith they knew,
Believing, when they could not see or hear,
The sure fulfillment of the far-off year.

Nor on this high occasion be forgot
Those other builders from whose word and thought
And life itself streamed the mysterious power
That moulds the man and shapes the coming hour.
Of simple ways, of grave and gracious looks,
Such teachers, they were better than the books
They made and taught from; they were life and fire
To make alive, and kindle, and inspire.

IV

But all the past is past, its glories dead,
Its victories forgotten—Ah! what have I said?
There is no past that is not present still;
No present but the future will fulfill;
Some Power amid these changes ever stays,
And binds together all our works and days;
And sunset passes into sunrise; we
Face the large light of years that are to be.
Lo, the untraveled future, with its dreams
And possibilities, how vast it seems!
How far its chartless distances recede,
Filled with the signs we have no power to read;
With shadowy forms, which life nor death yet claims,
And visionary faces without names!
What giants there will magic Science find,
In caverns of the earth or air, and bind
To service for the welfare of mankind?
And waits there yonder, with new treasures fraught,
Some undiscovered continent of thought?
Another Tennyson? And Shakespeare's peer,
Or greater one, in some far golden year?
The triumphs rolling from our English speech
Will be—who knows!—to what we now can reach
As billows are to ripples on the beach.
And what and where will be the thrones of power?
The Great Republic—will it in that hour
Of larger things and nobler still seem great?
And will it fill God's measure for the state?
Will all the great and little peoples dwell
In peace together? Let the future tell!
I know not what it holds of good or ill;
I only know the unthwarted Purpose still
Will rule, and overrule, and shape, and blend
All things as always toward one happy end.
I know there will be doubtings, burning words,
The right at war with wrong, the clash of swords;
Songs will be sung, prayers said, and more and more
Come sacrifice and victory,—before
The world, that hears now only the first chimes
Of dawn, can reach the noonday of the times.
I know there will be need of self-control,
Strong will, clear mind, brave heart, heroic soul,
As long as truth survives and seasons roll.
And thou shalt hear, again and yet again,
The great voice crying hither, "Give me men!"

V

Strong Mother, give them; 'tis thy pledge to make
The boy into the man; teach him to take
The motto of the old Bohemian king,
"I serve," and follow it as a living thing;
Tell him the laws of life and his own soul,
What duty is, and which way lies the goal.
Work deep into his being's inmost springs
The spirit and power of elemental things,—
The truth that nature's every process fills,
The strength and iron firmness of the hills,
The gentleness and sunshine of the plain,
The river's longing, as it seeks the main,
The courage of the tide against the bars,
The purity and patience of the stars,
The quick obedience which all things pay
The Hand that guides Arcturus on his way.
Kindle thy children at the altar-fire
Of noble purposes, till they desire
Above all else what in itself has worth;
Then send them to the ends of all the earth!

VI

O you, who dream of victories and to-day,
With morning in your faces, march away,
Behold, the letters blazoned across your sky
Make one word only,—OPPORTUNITY.
But 'tis enough; 'tis all that brave men ask;
The man himself, he must fulfill the task;
Nor fate, nor chance, nor any star commands
Success and failure—nought but your own hands.
To fail, and fail again, and none the less
Keep faith and heart, that also is success;
To gather gold or fame and be not true
To truth and self, oh, that is failure too!

Go, therefore, not as seekers after ease,
Or place, or glory, or of things like these,
But rather as men who think, and work, who bear
Burdens, and in the world's great labors share;
Yea, like great-hearted gentlemen of God,
Able to tread where noblest feet have trod,
And, shoulders square, eyes forward, to advance,
Winning the mastery of circumstance,
Till the glad earth, though dull of vision, see
The men whom God intended you to be!

The world is all before you; all the ways
And words and blessings of unrisen days;
Faint, through the unfolding shadow, breaks the glow
Of friendly figures ye will some day know;
And many a hand that beckons, many a voice
That calls to bid you welcome and rejoice.

And there are voices from behind that cry
After you, half regret, half prophecy,
Saying, "Oh, take to your strong hands the sign
Which ours have carried in life's battle line;
Yours be the valorous deeds we meant to do;
The hope we missed fulfill itself in you;
The word that faltered on our tongue, ring clear
And trumpet-toned from yours to lift and cheer;
The truth we caught but dimly, break in light
Full-orbed at last upon your happier sight;
The richer meaning of man's brotherhood
We almost grasped, by you be understood."

VII

And still they cry, so human, so divine,
These voices; cry to all that eager line
Whose feet will cross these thresholds, and whose eyes,
While the new century rounds into the skies,
Will greet the dawn of many a glad surprise.

Also to thee, dear Mother, do they cry;
And all thy sons cry with them; gloriously
Making one voice, that, mingling with the sound
Of pine and river, foldeth thee around,
And crieth: "Keep life's high ideal alway
Burnished and bright; send thou thy golden ray
Far down the aisles and avenues of time
To where all lights end in one light sublime,
As stars do in the fulness of the day!"





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