Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SAECLA FERARUM, by WILLIAM ELLERY LEONARD



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SAECLA FERARUM, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Twas when at last the million flags were stacked
Last Line: Familiar invitations in their cries.
Subject(s): Holidays; Veterans Day


I.

'Twas when at last the million flags were stacked
And all the hosts had signed the Great Peace Pact,
I saw before a winter's dawn the stars,
In skies as strange as if I saw from Mars:
The Dipper toppling on its handle-end,
Arcturus under, carrying out the bend;
Orion's Oblong tilted, twisted, slim,
With Sirius spurting fire atop of him;
The V of Taurus poised upon its point,
And moonless Dragon sprawling out of joint,
With Jupiter so bright, a fool had said
A comet's tail was arching from its head . . .
Aratus, when he sang his Catalogue,
Saw not the Shining Ones so far agog;
And no witch-woman with a Lybian cry
E'er charmed the Constellations so awry. . . .

II.

And then across the frozen marshes leapt
A train's fierce whistle while my townsmen slept;
And, as it died along the trailing smoke,
Upon the gap of starry silence broke
In jumbled yelps, threaded by wailings through,
The coyotes by the lake-side in the Zoo;
As if first startled in the prairie nest
By the first locomotive rolling west --
That line of moving lights they've ne'er forgot,
Behind the low stack flanging like a pot.

III.

So blew the whistles at the armistice . . .
The coyotes answered as they answered this. . . .
O never think that all of life is vain --
Though towns be built on dead men's bones in mud,
And fields, even when they best put forth their grain,
Be curst, as fertile but with dead men's blood --
Yes, though still issue from the Mountain Door
The unborn generations to be slain,
With unknown flags and engines for new war,
Till self-destroyed, on coast and hill and plain,
Mankind with town and harvest is no more! . . .
O never think that life thereby has ceased:
Eating and drinking and the will to strive
(And sleep by rock and rainbow after feast)
And the great thrill of being here alive,
Will yet remain in birth succeeding birth,
With trails still open from the north and east,
All up and down this goodly frame, the earth --
Will yet remain in fish and fowl and beast! . . .
And lo, the Beasts not only wake in Man
Hope for the Life-force still, beyond his span;
But offer him, before he sink and cease,
New life his own and intervals of peace . . .
Nay, more than Egypt's cult and India's Kine,
The Animals may vouch us the Divine;
And Man may yet outwit his doom forecast --
Even by becoming one with them at last! . . .

V.

Why were we all so self-absorbed in woe
Through those four years not very long ago?
We are not what we seem, and we have powers
That touch on deeper, other Life than ours:
Though path were lost that Christ and Buddha trod
Whereby the self may lose itself in God,
There yet remained to us the blest escape,
By sprawling trance in disencumbered hours
(With face and belly flattened to the sod),
Where self may lose itself in Ox or Ape.
But no man cropped the grass among the flowers!
And no man wound a tail about his nape!
Or felt the heat and rain, or saw the sky,
But with a human skin, a human eye! . . .

VI.

Yet all these years, whilst our one paltry race
Bustled with flame and sword from place to place
(So troubled lest man's great ideals die),
The old telluric Animals, I guess --
That sniff at hole, or stop with ears aprick,
Or cower forward from the young they lick,
Or with deep meditation prowl and pry,
Knowing their waters in the wilderness,
Knowing their seasons through the land and sky --
Repeated those vast worlds of consciousness
That furnish earth her answer to the moon
And to the sun and stars her reason why --
The Life-Force of her ancient night and noon:
From Arctic tundra to the pampas south,
By glen and glacier, on the seawardness,
Through belting forests to the river's mouth,
On shaggy mountains in the drench and drouth,
And down the air and ocean stream no less!
The paws, the wings, the fins, wherewith they pass,
And scaly bellies wriggling through the grass!
The fuzz, the fur, the feathers, and the chines,
And in the thickets bead-eyed balls of spines!
The spots, the stripes! The black, the white, the dun!
And stalking water-birds ablaze in sun!
Behind facades of motions, shapes, and hues,
Behind this moving veil, what news, what news?
When the Field Gray defiled through Brussels town,
What did the Bear devise on flopping down?
When Lusitania sank, was the Raccoon
Dreaming of fish in tree-top under moon?
When bayonets plunged (so skilfully withdrawn),
What felt the Tiger with his tooth in fawn?
When man's four limbs convolved in pain and hate,
What felt the Octopus through all his eight,
Cast on the beach by tidal wave at dawn?
What felt the Mole, the blind and blindly led,
Burrowing with paws and ridging earth with head?
What felt the Hawk, who, in the clouded night,
Swooped to the pinfold by the window-light?
Or Shark on back, with lower jaw agape --
That chinless jaw, on top and toothed for rape? . . .
What sense, where limbs stumped on without their toes,
As Caterpillar's feet on stem or rose? --
Where hands were claws and hooks (not made but born),
And lips were lengthened into beaks of horn? . . .
When lightning cried the slain from land to land,
What mused the Turtle rounding out the sand?
When boys and girls on Volga starved and Rhine,
What smelt Rhinoceros and Porcupine?
When the Four Sages under Mirrors sat,
What pow-wows were the Jackals, Buzzards, at? . . .
Huge as the monster Tank that lately rose
Like Dinosaur from mud of fen and flat,
The Elephant erects his trunk and blows:
Is it his joy in Man which causes that,
Or a straw tickling half-way up his nose? . . .
What secrets in the purring of a Cat?
The cooing of the Dove, the shriek of Jay?
Or scream of Sea-Lion, tumbling flapper-finned? --
The air is full of sounds, beside the wind. . . .

VII.

Have ye not heard how, as in womb ye grew
(So long before ye waxed to men and slew),
Ye bore from week to week trace merged in trace,
There in the silence, of your pristine race? --
The gills of fish, the two-valved heart of bird,
The simian's tail, the huddled body furred-
Well, then be comforted: for still we find
Body is ever correlate with mind,
And, whilst ye shared the frame of bird or fish,
Ye shared no less its feeling, fancy, wish.
And know: the heart, the tail, the fur, the gill,
However altered, are our portion still;
And so it follows: still the mind no less
Secretes some portion of their consciousness.
The Muse of Darwin! . . . Next the Muse of Freud:
We know that all we fancied, feared, enjoyed,
From babyhood upon these shores of light
Works still in us, most manifest at night,
Whence dreams, they say, and ghosts, and second-sight.
Why not the fancies and the fears and joys
We shared before our birth as girls and boys --
The animal sensations of our prime?
Are these not there? Shall they not have their time --
To link us, by probed memories within,
Unto the larger life, the vaster kin? . . .
Plotinus, Bergson, ye can gloss my rhyme!

VIII.

The stars ere dawn are twisted out of place!
Something is working in my brain, my face!
Lion and ferret, muskrat, eagle, deer,
Penguin and seal, porpoise and wolf and whale,
And horse and cow, and dog with wagging tail,
Are circling round me, near and yet more near:
From jungles, canyons, oceans, trees, and skies,
From crags, from coves, from river reeds, they peer, --
Earth's Animals, with old familiar Eyes . . .
Whilst, ever since the hush of guns, I hear
Familiar invitations in their cries.





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