Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, GOETHALS OF PANAMA, by ROBERT UNDERWOOD JOHNSON



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GOETHALS OF PANAMA, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Servant of man, well done!
Last Line: Servant of god, well done!
Subject(s): Goethals, George Washington (1858-1928)


I

SERVANT of Man, well done!
Thy war of peace is won.
The dream of continents five and centuries four
Is dream no more.

Once, on a waiting "peak in Darien,"
Obscure till then,
But made immortal by a single line
Of verse divine,
Bold Balboa, following the lure
Of fell Adventure's backward-glancing eyes,
Found the new wonder that he sought.
What did he not endure
That still another watery realm
He thus might add as kingdom to the Spanish helm!
Oh, joy supreme of half-divined surprise! --
When, foremost climber, to his heart he caught
The virgin sight of that uplifted sea,
As new, as free,
As though it had but just begun to be.
Then, as he knelt, a second dream there came:
The "wild surmise"
His silent followers felt, but could not frame.
For who could see so near those oceans flow
But wish them mated -- nay, but see them so?
Did he not dream that, far beneath, some day,
The hungry waters would devour a way
To slip his caravels and shallops through
From Cadiz to the riches of Peru?
How could he guess that it would be mankind,
Not Nature, that would find
In that Herculean toil a labor to its mind;
And do with zest, ere infant grew to man,
What only geologic ages can;
That what in him was vague, prophetic fancy
Thy modern necromancy --
Thy will, thy wisdom, and the art
Of thy unconquerable heart,
With Love and Duty pure, --
Would make forever real and secure;
That Bounteous Fortune on that distant height,
Where Occident with Orient meets,
Her faith anew to all the world would plight,
Beckoning with either hand to myriad-masted fleets?
There let her statue crown a crowning tower
Like to the topmost flower
Upon a tropic tree,
For every ship of every land to see.
There some shall speak of Balboa, some of Keats
(For one must find and one must celebrate);
Others shall ponder long the fame and feats
Of him who forced the bars of that reluctant gate --
Contending whether he was great;
But all in perpetuity
Shall bless the names of Gorgas and of thee!
Servant of Man, well done!

II

SINCE that first dream how long, how weary-long
Crept the slow, lonely centuries, with no heed
Of the premonitory need
Of that forgotten and neglected land --
Years like to years as waves upon that sleepy strand.
Now, through thy sympathetic strife,
The dozing Tropic is no more;
The world is at its door.
At last it is adjoined to Life,
To Freedom, and the brood
Of Human Brotherhood.
This is the meed
Of richer triumph in thy deed, --
The nation's pride that soon shall be a pride without alloy:
That far beyond the Zone --
Ours only for the world to own,
Since that belongs to all that all alike enjoy --
By bond assured, not word of mouth,
We shall draw closer to the chivalrous South,
Reaching our hands in friendship, not in greed.
This is the leaping gladness in our song:
That, for the human throng
Who still, in every land, are slaves to ancient wrong,
Half realized, half understood,
Each sun may rise to greet a greater good.
There is a destiny in every need of man,
Though long, oh, weary-long
It wait in patience for the strong.
Who grasp it not may honor him who can:
Servant of Man, well done!

III

SOLDIER of Peace, all hail!
No longer by the Desperate Cape
Need the fagged mariner, within the maw
Of noonday darkness and the windy shape
Of winter gale,
Reef with his frozen hands the solid sail,
Praying, or cursing, as he thinks on pleached Panama.
More hopefully shall Commerce now let slip
Her homing pigeons, knowing every ship
Hath chance of fairer sky
Whether its course shall lie
From Oregon's dark forests to the cheer
Of proud Manhattan, bright and clear;
From London's sooty docks to many an isle of fear
That long has scarred the Western sea, but now shall quicklier rise
Through Love and Law an earthly Paradise.
No longer shall the bark illimitably roam
That follows half the globe from Java or Japan;
And they for lagging craft who gaze,
As only lovers can,
Shall count with blessing all the dwindling days
That bring the wandering heart the sooner home.
Now shall be saved not one mere month, but June!
Not three, but Love's long winter of delight!
Beauty of mountain, meadow slope and dune,
As grateful to the welcome traveler's sight
As the recaptured glory of a tune.
Now for a while shall he remain content,
As Life were meant
For fireside voyage or the Muses' flight --
High with Beethoven, or with Shakespeare far;
As if the lore of Fez or Zanzibar
Were that some curly-head
A little longer may delay the hour of bed,
Devouring tales in wonder, to be dreamed in dread.

IV

SINCE the world's turbulent prime
One war has never ceased -- the war with Time:
Our one right war of conquest, yielding spoil
Of years, of hours, of minutes. Why this toil
To be companion to the cloud,
To whisper with the Antipodes,
And, where no blade had ever plowed,
To carve a path for argosies?
Why should we win, at equal cost
Of take and give,
Of gained and lost,
Leisure for leisure, but more worthily to live?
Why agonize and struggle for repose,
Remote, uncertain, and unseen, --
If we impose
On every bud the fury to be rose;
Spy on the seed to witness if it grows;
Despoil the silver dawn of its serene;
Startle the quiet dusk; like Phaeton
Lashing the hours that draw the lagging sun?
Were it worth while the precious years to save
That we may madly gallop to the grave?
Oh, time, time, time! -- boon that we daily crave
And waste in craving, losing as we save.
Misers of all beside, our spendthrift strife
Flings to each passing wind time that alone is life.

Now have we need of days for nobler use
Than savage barter, or patrician food,
Or ease that only childish joys amuse,
Or lawless pleasure mixed with manners rude.
For while we ponder progress, half the world
Has turned volcano, and aside has hurled
All that long ages built upon its heights.
Not time but life is squandered; and the half
Of all the wheat is winnowed with the chaff.
From trusted harbors the familiar lights
By which we steered to safety have gone out
And left our laden hopes in drifting doubt.
Death, that was once God's servant, now is Man's
And at his bidding speeds his monstrous plans.
O marvel never sung to any lyre!
O certainty incredible and dire!
That one with anger thus could set his age on fire!
Of those who with cathedral-patience sought
Our liberty to buttress and uplift,
Who could have thought
The downward plunge to chaos was so swift?

Is life a false gem in our treasure store
Once richly prized, now richly prized no more,
And souls but sands beneath the waves of war?
Come, country of my heart, lest thy pure pledge
Of hope to the unborn be sodden sacrilege,
Cry, though the cannon echoes, "Peace, peace, peace!"
Summon thy hosts that kill not but increase:
Firm Justice, calm of Wisdom, fear of Wrong;
Courage of Science, constancy of Law;
The poise of Knowledge and the glow of Song;
Religion's solace, Doubt's still reverent awe;
Beauty, the smile of God, Music, His voice.
Oh, may these hold us sane and true,
Lift us from tears and teach us to rejoice,
Throw wide our prison doors
Self-built of jealousy and fear;
That ruined empires may through us renew
The long, slow march toward that millennial year
When men shall be of universal love the willing servitors.

V

O SOLDIER of our Peace,
If in this conflict thy great work shall be
Not thoroughfare of Honor and Amity,
But route of Conquest, avenue of Hate,
Way of Cupidity and road to Wrong,
Better those hills had never heard the din
Of steam and rivet, and the strong
And jubilant song
Of thy triumphant army, with one purpose kin.
Before it be too late
Adjourn the exultation of the State:
Let it await
An Age of Reason's more propitious date.
Borrow a lustrum to undo the toil,
Unhinge each mighty gate
And let it rust supine on desecrated soil.
Turn the robbed waters backward to the sea,
If in their magic mirror there shall be
No worthier vision of futurity.
The path to wonders, the alluring track,
Unto the jungle mournfully give back,
And let the lazy Isthmus creep
Again in misty silence to its sleep,
Until some sullen earthquake, like a god
Offended, where man's impious foot has trod,
Unwilling to be warder of his bones,
Indignantly regurgitates the cyclopean stones.

VI

SOLDIER of Peaceful War!
Forgive us if our doubt shall mar
Thy victory, that has neither blot nor scar:
'T is for the moment, when the Muse's gaze
Wanders from thee. Our country is so dear
Her lovers may indulge a lover's fear.
Forgive us, too, a final word of praise:
That in these troublous days
Thy hand has written for the world to learn
A symphony of Labor, where we may discern
Life as a grander music than before.
Up to the heights that hide the sun
We hear the chorded tumult soar,
The cheer of morning ardor well begun --
A hundred instruments that blend as one:
The dominant whistle and the whirring wheel;
The ringing peal
Of falling steel on steel;
The rhythmic hammer and the trilling chain,
With intervals as palpable as pain;
The pulsing engine, the insistent drill,
Treble of steam and bass of roaring train,
With Echo making fugue from hill to hill.
O loyal orchestra by great composer led!
Thy touch on every string and key
Has wrought this noble minstrelsy,
Giving a soul to brass and wood inert or dead,
Till all confusions were in beauty wed,
And in the players and the theme
One harmony arose supreme --
Ungrudging service sounding like a psalm.
For this the palm!
Soldier of Peace, well done!

VII

BROTHER of Man, all hail!
Through such as thee and those that with thee wrought
The world is daily saved -- ay, ever saved shall be.
Not by some magic alchemy
By bended sages through the centuries sought;
Not by some cloistered mystery of life;
But by the sheer necessity of strife,
The long, unsacred treadmill of routine.
Oh, more puissant than the authentic mien
Of sceptred king or queen,
The virtues of the humble, ages-old,
That, like the Milky Way, forever hold
Their darkest night within a net of gold:
A natural faith the bookman cannot daunt,
Work, patience, discipline, the comradeship of want,
And simple love assuaging sorrow gaunt.
Great is Invention! Do its annals mark
A single virtue newer than the Ark?
Praise, then, the staunch, the overpitied poor,
Who from their riches yet may save the rich,
And something dearer than the Koh-i-noor
Find for them in the mine or in the ditch.
Happy the hands that have but clinging soil
Of honest earth, unstained by blood or wrong,
That make a knighthood of their iron toil,
And even from a pittance save a song.
No overseer of Egyptian brood,
But comrade of their swarthy day, wert thou.
Of all that digged or hewed
None feared thy frown or for thy favor sued,
For lambent justice dwelt beneath thy brow.
Thy gentle strength, thy kindly calm,
Were for their bruises satisfying balm.
For this, to them and thee, the palm!

VIII

SERVANT of Man, well done!
Thy war of Peace is won.
The dream of continents five and centuries four
Is dream no more.

Now to new visions, than the old
More wonderful and bold.
Let sage and seer
Into the dark more confidently peer,
To find the boon in every shape of fear,
The cure that Nature holds for every hurt.
Now let some stripling, venturous and alert,
Trailing a wilder thought
Than Science yet has sought,
Startle shy Knowledge from her inner lair.
Our best, that first was but a castle in the air,
Let it be strong as fair.
Come true all happy tales to children told,
And cloth-of-frieze be turned to cloth-of-gold.
Let the imprisoned mind
But beat upon its bars, 't will find
The painted barriers made to break, not bind.
Man is Imagination's only heir:
His messengers of Dream and Dare
He launches from the teeming port of Night
To overtake the flight
Of fleet-winged Progress, laden with new might,
Which to the foremost she lets fall,
The prize of one, the wealth of all.

Who can foretell what blessing may not hap
From this one hair-breadth line upon the map?
What treasure have we was not first a dream?
Seeing the Future but in flash and gleam,
Doubt we To-morrow? On the once-veiled track
Of opulent Yesterday, look back!
The arsenal of our courage is the Past --
The unforgotten great that did not yield,
The unremembered many left upon the field,
Each loyal to his vision to the last.

IX

THEN come with pomp and joy of color-streaming ships,
With shouts of their unshotted iron lips,
With choral song and no unnoble speech,
The good of all eclipsing good of each,
And, while like incense is the smoke upcurled,
Let this our child be sponsored by the world.

Then dedicate to dreams this dream fulfilled:
To Hope, the dream on which all dreams we build,
To Honor, what in honor was conceived,
To Brotherhood, whereby it was achieved,
To Peace, that there no hostile gun may sound
And all the Earth at last be holy ground;
Ay, to that dream of dreams, most strangely wrought, --
To Man, the Almighty's most amazing thought.

O Soldier of the blameless sword!
Who serves mankind is servant of the Lord.
Servant of God, well done!





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