Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ST GEORGE'S DAY, by JOHN DAVIDSON



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ST GEORGE'S DAY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Herbert: I hear the lark and linnet sing
Last Line: Of england and the english spring!
Subject(s): Colonialism; England; Rites & Ceremonies; Spring; English


BASIL MENZIES PERCY BRIAN HERBERT SANDY

Herbert : I hear the lark and linnet sing;
I hear the whitethroat's alto ring.

Menzies : I hear the idle workmen sigh;
I hear his hungry children cry.

Sandy : Still sad and brooding over ill:
Why listen to discordant tones?

Herbert : We dream, we sing, we drive the quill
To keep the flesh upon our bones.
Therefore what trade have we with wrongs,
With ways and woes that spoil our songs?

Menzies : None, none! Alas, there lies the sting!
We see, we feel, but cannot aid;
We hide our foolish heads and sing:
We live, we die; and all is said.

Herbert : To wonder-worlds of old romance
Our aching thoughts for solace run.

Brian : And some have stolen fire from France.

Sandy : And some adore the Midnight sun.

Menzies : I, too, for light the world explore.
And trembling, tread where angels trod;
Devout at every shrine adore,
And follow after each new god.
But by the altar everywhere
I find the money-changer's stall;
And littering every temple-stair
The sick and sore like maggots crawl.

Basil : Your talk is vain; your voice is hoarse.

Menzies : I would they were as hoarse and vain
As their wide-weltering spring and source
Of helpless woe, of wrath insane.

Herbert : Why will you hug the coast of Hell?

Brian : Why antedate the Judgment Day?

Menzies : Nay, flout me not; you know me well.

Basil : Right, comrade! Give your fancy way.

Menzies : I cannot see the stars and flowers,
Nor hear the lark's soprano ring,
Because a ruddy darkness lowers
For ever, and the tempests sing.
I see the strong coerce the weak,
And labour overwrought rebel;
I hear the useless treadmill creak,
The prisoner, cursing in his cell;
I see the loafer-burnished wall;
I hear the rotting match-girl whine;
I see the unslept switchman fall;
I hear the explosion in the mine;
I see along the heedless street
The sandwichmen trudge through the mire;
I hear the tired quick tripping feet
Of sad, gay girls who ply for hire.

Basil : To brood on feeble woe at length
Must drive the sanest thinker mad;
Consider rather weal and strength.

Menzies : On what foundations do they stand?
I mark the sable ironclad
In every sea; in every land,
An army, idling on the chain
Of rusty peace that chafes and frets
Its seven-leagued limbs, and bristled mane
Of glittering bayonets;
The glowing blast, the fire-shot smoke
Where guns are forged and armour-plate;
The mammoth hammer's pounding stroke;
The din of our dread iron date.
And always divers undertones
Within the roaring tempest throb—
The chink of gold, the labourer's groans,
The infant's wall, the woman's sob.
Hoarsely they beg of Fate to give
A little lightening of their woe,
A little time to love, to live,
A little time to think and know.
I see where from the slums may rise
Some unexpected dreadful dawn—
The gleam of steeled and scowling eyes,
A flash of women's faces wan!

Basil : This is George's Day.
Menzies : St George? A wretched thief I vow.

Herbert : Nay, Menzies, you should rather say,
St George for Merry England, now!

Sandy : That surely is a phantom cry,
Hollow and vain for many years.

Menzies : I hear the idle workmen sigh;
I hear the drip of women's tears.

Herbert : I hear the lofty lark,
The lowly nightingale.

Basil : The present is a dungeon dark
Of social problems. Break the gaol!
Get out into the splendid Past
Or bid the splendid Future hail.

Menzies : Nor then, nor now, nor first, nor last,
I know. The slave of ruthless Law,
To me Time seems a dungeon vast
Where Life lies rotting in the straw.

Basil : I care not for your images
Of Life and Law. I want to sing
Of England and of Englishmen
Who made our country what it is.

Herbert : And I to praise the English Spring.

Percy : St George for Merry England, then!

Menzies : There is no England now, I fear.

Basil : No England, say you, and since when?

Menzies : Cockney and Celt and Scot are here,
And Democrats and 'ans' and 'ists'
In clubs and cliques and divers lists;
But now we have no Englishmen.

Basil : You utter what you never felt,
I know. By bog and mount and fen,
No Saxon, Norman, Scot, or Celt
I find, but only Englishmen.

Herbert : In all our hedges roses bud.

Basil : And thought and speech are more than blood.

Herbert : Away with spleen, and let us sing
The praises of the English Spring!

Basil : In weeds of gold and purple hues
Glad April bursts with piping news
Of swifts and swallows come again,
And of the tender pensive strain
The bulfinch sings from bush to bush.

Percy : And oh! the blackbird and the thrush
Interpret as no master may
The meaning of the night and day.

Sandy : They catch the whispers of the breeze
And weave them into melodies.

Brian : They utter for the hours that pass
The purpose of their moments bright.

Basil : They speak the passion of the grass,
That grows so stoutly day and night.

Herbert : St George for merry England then!
For we are all good Englishmen!

Percy : We stand as our forefathers stood
For Liberty's and Conscience' sake.

Herbert : We are the sons of Robin Hood,
The sons of Hereward the Wake.

Percy : The sons of yeomen, English-fed,
Ready to feast, or drink or fight.

Herbert : The sons of kings—of Hal and Ned,
Who kept their island right and tight.

Percy : The sons of Cromwell's Ironsides,
Who knew no king but God above.

Basil : We are the sons of English brides,
Who married Englishmen for love.

Sandy : Oh, now I see Fate's means and ends!
The Bruce and Wallace wight I ken,
Who saved old Scotland from its friends,
Were mighty northern Englishmen.

Brian : And Parnell, who so greatly fought
Against a wanton useless yoke,
With Fate inevitably wrought
That Irish should be English folk.

Basil : By bogland, highland, down, and fen,
All Englishmen, all Englishmen!

Menzies : There is no England now, I say—

Brian : No England now! My grief, my grief!

Menzies : We lie widespread, the dragon-prey
Of any Cappadocian thief.
In Arctic and Pacific seas
We lounge and loaf: and either pole
We reach with sprawling colonies—
Unwieldy limbs that lack a soul.

Basil : St George for Greater England, then!
The Boreal and the Austral men!
They reverence the heroic roll
Of Englishmen who sang and fought:
They have a soul, a mighty soul,
The soul of English speech and thought.

Sandy : And when the soul of England slept—

Basil : St George for foolish England, then!—

Sandy : Lo! Washington and Lincoln kept
America for Englishmen!

Basil : Hurrah! The English people reigns
Across the wide Atlantic flood!
It could not bind itself in chains!
For Yankee blood is English blood.

Herbert : And here the spring is queen
In robes of white and green.

Percy : In chestnut sconces opening wide
Tapers shall burn some fresh May morn.

Brian : And the elder brightens the highway side,
And the briony binds the thorn.

Sandy : White is the snow of the leafless sloe
The saxifrage by the sedge,
And white the lady-smocks a-row
And sauce-alone in the hedge.

Basil : England is in her Spring;
She only begins to be.
Oh! for an organ voice to sing
The summer I can see!
But the Past is there; and a mole may know,
And a bat may understand,
That we are the people wherever we go—
Kings by sea and land!

Herbert : And the spring is crowned and stoled
In purple and in gold.

Percy : Wherever light, wherever shade is,
Gold and purple may be seen.

Brian : Gold and purple lords-and-ladies
Tread a measure on the green.

Herbert : In deserts where the wild wind blows
Blossoms the magic hæmony.

Percy : Deep in the Chiltern woodland glows
The purple pasque anemone.

Basil : And England still grows great
And never shall grow old;
Within our hands we hold
The world's fate.

Menzies : We hold the world's fate?
The cry seems out of date.

Basil : Not while a single Englishman
Can work with English brains and bones!
Awaiting us since time began,
The swamps of ice, the wastes of flame!
In Boreal and Austral zones
Took life and meaning when we came.
The Sphinx that watches by the Nile
Has seen great empires pass away:
The mightiest lasted but a while;
Yet ours shall not decay.
Because, although red blood may flow,
And ocean shake with shot,
Not England's sword but England's Word
Undoes the Gordian Knot.
Bold tongue, stout heart, strong hand, brave brow
The world's four quarters win;
And patiently with axe and plough
We bring the deserts in.

Menzies : Whence comes this patriotic craze?
Spare us at least the hackneyed brag
About the famous English flag.

Basil : I'll spare no flourish of its praise.
Where'er our flag floats in the wind
Order and justice dawn and shine.
The dusky myriads of Ind,
The swarthy tribes far south the line,
And all who fight with lawless law,
And all with lawless men who cope
Look hitherward across the brine,
For we are the world's forlorn hope.

Menzies : That makes my heart leap up! Hurrah!
We are the world's forlorn hope!

Herbert : And with the merry birds we sing
The praises of the English Spring.

Percy : Iris and orchis now unfold.

Brian : The drooping-leaved laburnums ope
In thunder-showers of greenish gold.

Menzies : And we are the world's forlorn hope!

Sandy : The lilacs shake their dancing plumes
Of lavender, mauve, and heliotrope.

Herbert : The speedwell on the highway blooms.

Menzies : And we are the world's forlorn hope!

Sandy : Skeletons lurk in every street.

Herbert : We push and strike for air and scope.

Brian : The pulses of rebellion beat
Where want and hunger skulk and mope.

Menzies : But though we wander far astray
And oft in gloomy darkness grope,
Fearless we face the blackest day,
For we are the world's forlorn hope.

Sandy : St George for Merry England then!
For we are all good Englishmen!

Basil : St George for Greater England then!
The Boreal and the Austral men!

All : By bogland, highland, down, and fen,
All Englishmen, all Englishmen!
Who with their latest breath shall sing
Of England and the English Spring!





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