Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BELISARIUS (1), by FREDERICK WILLIAM HENRY MYERS



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

BELISARIUS (1), by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Blind I am, and poor and aged, but my spirit holds its might
Last Line: For my fame shall live beyond me, and the recompense is nigh.
Alternate Author Name(s): Myers, Frederic
Subject(s): Belisarius (505-565); Constantinople; Generals; Istambul; Byzantium


I remember when I think
That my youth was half divine.
TENNYSON.

BLIND I am, and poor and aged, but my spirit holds its might,
Though my life, within me waning, flickers wildly into night:

Yet I fail as I remember all the days that I have seen,
As I live through all the honour, all the sorrow that has been.

Well it is remembrance leaves us record of our younger breath,
Else, bemazed with ancient sadness, should we stagger unto death;

Well that infant passion weakens as we near the voiceless tomb,
Else would pangs of slow deferment drench our days in restless gloom.

Yet I know in pristine gladness how my vision-hope was high,
As I scaled barbarian mountains, slowly nearer on the sky;

As I ranged barbarian forests when my step was firm and free,
Circled in a haze of glory, gazing through a fair To Be:

So I joyed in fresher summers, gentler winters, till at length,
When my flesh was formed in sinew, and my manhood reared in strength,

Then I left my father-valleys, plunging headlong into strife,
Pass'd through danger, pass'd through honour, all vicissitudes of life;

And my strong soul buoyed me onward, eager for the future chance,
And my life-way showed before me as a line of sure advance;

On from glory unto glory, jubilant through ringing years,
And acclaim of many nations thundered in my victor-ears.

So I leapt from high to higher, conqueror where'er I came,
Till the nations lapsed in slumber, shadowed by my hero-name:

Then, as one who up a mountain battling higher ever climbs,
So I stood before my people, master of the coming times.

And the traveller struggles onward, joying in the swifter change,
Over ridge and ridge of moorland, heav'd in slowly heightening range—

Gazing on the nearer heavens, or the lands beneath him spread,
Far from solitary summits, silent, wind inhabited;

Boasting in an ebriate fancy, "I am freed from man below,
And my proper will shall steer me in the way that I will go:"

But the storm-blast rushes on him, and the cloud is dense around,
And he buffets slowly downward, mazed, from unfamiliar ground;

And he courts unknown perdition, martyr to a blind device,
Staggering over slippery herbage, headlong down a precipice—

So I failed from out my splendour, shaken from a peerless fame,
Hurled from power into baseness, cast from glory into shame.

Women are our evil spirits since the hour when breath began,
When in pristine Paradise the first woman damned the man;

Springing from his side she wrought a trustful helpmate's endless ill,
And the wrong wherewith she wronged him tinges all our action still:

Heroes, through the crescent cycles, quailed before a woman's might,
And it was a woman drove me into penury and night.

Ever in the stream of life some swimmer gasps in frantic death,
Sudden through the upper waters, slow through denser gulphs beneath:

Swift another strikes triumphant, splashing through the breasted spray,
But the flood above him closing shuts him from the sight of day.

Once the lord of lordly nations, I, whose mandate none gainsaid,
Mulct with pain a baser people of the pittance of my bread:

Round me rush the eddying waters, on my face the sea-winds play,
And afar, from roseate summits, melts the solitary day.

What is that to him that founders, struggling with a quicksand chance,
What is all the life of nature to the fool of circumstance?

What is all the glory round it to an eye that cannot see?—
Not for me the snowy splendours, and the sunset not for me.

Phantoms people all my blackness, shadows of a wondrous Past
Gleam before me for an instant, ceding in a boundless Vast;

And a vision fades and brightens, the fair likeness of a form,
Faint sometimes in mystic distance, drenched sometimes in flaming storm;

Yet returning ever nearer, flashing from its lustrous eyes
Dreamful pleasure, dreamful sadness, till again in dark it dies.

Lo, as one in flickering embers finds a vision of his youth,
And entrancèd as he gazes, knows he sees the living Truth:

So I joy with ancient glories, so I throb with ancient strife,
Closing all the Past in Present, living through a by-gone life.

What if I had lived a peasant, cherishing my earlier home,
Stifling all my restless yearning, all my vague desire to roam,

To be lord of larger action, wider circles of my kind,
Nor to let its youthful vigour rot, unused, from out my mind.

Were it well to dull with labour all return of joy and pain?—
No—a bye-word of the nations, yet I have not lived in vain;

Not in vain have saved my nation, though it lapse in impotence,
For a power grows in using, grows a large self-confidence:

And my spirit broadens in me, crescent into perfect man,
For his name is fair for ever who has worked the work he can.

Slowly sinks my ancient nation, lost in luxury and crime,
And I sit in blind oblivion, but I note the pregnant time;

Onward all the ages circle, and the peoples rise and fail,
Leaving glory-paths behind them, as the shattered comet tail:

Each is nobler than the former, mistress of a larger space,
Till the lands be yoked in concert under one resultant race—

Not a race of nerveless women, clutching at the present good—
Wise in thought and swift in action, lords of iron hardihood,

One to other closer knitted, larger-hearted, stronger-souled,
Workers upon earth, and blameless as the great-named prince of old.

Oh that I might see their glory, and might linger on the earth
Till the dying nations travail, labouring into newer birth.

Then would desolation vanish, merged in wonder, merged in bliss;
I should know the mystic Future, I should feel the Truth that is.

But I roam through night eternal, and my spirit faints within
As the peoples stagger round me, drunk with folly, dead in sin.

Lord, how long the thankless evil? are men doomed to endless strife,
Dabbling ever, bloody-fingered, in the darkling stream of life?

For the devils hold dominion, and the good are crushed and poor,
And no heaven-sign can warn us that the Judge is at the door.

Where is Wisdom? far apart she habiteth untravelled lands,
And the peoples seek her blindly, stretching out unanswered hands:

Where is Truth? in viewless blackness, in the womb of the To Be,
For the seen we understand not, and the real we cannot see.

Yet a beacon-fire within me leads me through tumultuous night,
Every bosom owns a sparkle of the universal light;

And a day shall come—and, coming, cheer me—when my proper ray
Shall, with other rays convergent, broaden in eternal day.

What is Freedom? no man knows her, no man yet hath seen her face,
She is splendrous in the distance, mistress of a crowning race—

Of a race that shall not bluster when its strength has ebbed in sleep,
Charming not the rising lion to the level of the sheep.

What is Right? the blind commandment of a race of puny kings,
Heeding not the laws of nature nor the ordinance of things.

For the many tame the mighty, netted round with selfish rules,
And the strong in soul and body fear the multitude of fools.

Lo, as one who toils in patience slow through unfamiliar seas,
Bare of compass, bare of viand, driven by the drifting breeze,

Slowly cleaving shattered surges, bound for never-trodden shores,
Weary with the slow recurrence, the pulsation of his oars;

And he trusts to reach a haven, eager for the coming day,
Straining through the lowering cloud-banks, till he maddens with dismay;

Frantic first, but after quiet, drowsy with approaching death,
Silent under lonely splendours, perishes with rattling breath—

Such the life of man is ever, such his weary pilgrimage,
Hope in youth, despair in manhood, growing with his growing age;

Till he sinks in torpid stupor, stoic to the rising chance,
Numbed to pleasure, numbed to sorrow, all the round of circumstance.

What is Fame? the brilliant bubble throned upon the breaking wave,
And it trembles into nothing, ruined into a nameless grave;

Or from action's stirring furnace it ariseth like a spark,
And it brightens for a moment, and it glitters into dark.

What is Life? a dream, a nightmare, heavy on the labouring breast
Of a man that yearns, and yearns in vain, to enter into rest.

Shall I shake the nightmare headlong, shall I rid me of the woe?
No,—it were an evil passport to the realms where I shall go.

For I will not sleep in blackness, silent in the silent tomb,
All my spirit slowly struggles into plenitude to come.

I shall mix through timeless ages with the shadows of the great,
Joying in a perfect nature, joying in a perfect state:

There with all the strong Life-leaders, with the flower of all the Past,
I shall reap a larger honour, circling through the mellow Vast.

Yet methinks in riper cycles, when the Truth shall know her own,
When benign, long - lingering Wisdom, mounts a universal throne,

Then shall I be sung and storied, great among the sons of Time,
One who conquered in the battle, one who wrought his life sublime.

Surely, then, for such an honour it were not in vain to do,
Not in vain to play the hero, and to cleave life's riddle through;

Not in vain to mourn and struggle, not in vain in shame to die,
For my fame shall live beyond me, and the recompense is nigh.





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