Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BELISARIUS (2), by FREDERICK WILLIAM HENRY MYERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

BELISARIUS (2), by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A beggar begging in the public streets
Last Line: "my deeds—my deeds—shall ring through after time."
Alternate Author Name(s): Myers, Frederic
Subject(s): Belisarius (505-565); Constantinople; Generals; Istambul; Byzantium

And grief became
A solemn scorn of ills.

A BEGGAR begging in the public streets—
A blind man sitting in the market place—
Well; there are many beggars, many blind;
But one blind beggar, Belisarius.
Then said a young man to his fellow youth—
"Who is this beggar? tho' his state be mean,
His spirit seems above his misery;
And ever and anon he mumbles forth,
From the gapped circlet of his ruined teeth,
'I bide my time, I wait the latter days;
All men must perish, but I know the end.' "
To whom his comrades answered with a laugh:
"Oh! he is brimmed with stirring history,
Unequal conflicts, glorious victories,
And kings that quailed before his hero might
When the blind beggar was a general.
But ask himself, for he will tell you all."
Then asked the young man of the aged one,
"Old man, who art thou? tell me all thy tale,
And thy life-history."—And the old man smiled:
As some faint meteor in the pale-starred even
Gleams from the heavens on a joyless tract,—
A tract of wide waste lands, and solitary,
Save beasts that howl beneath a cloud-wrapt night,
And reddens for a moment, and is gone;
And the wind moans, and the far bittern booms,
And the reeds shiver, and the marsh-fed willows
Sway their lank arms awhile, and all is still:
So gleamed a smile across his haggard face,
A smile that only lit his desolation.
Smiling, he sighed: "So soon, so soon, forgot?
Yet not for ever, for I know the end.
But I will tell thee all things from the first—

"As erst the many fountain'd vaults of heaven
Burst open on a world of giant sin,
So from far frost-bound regions of the North
Rushed the barbarians on the Roman world.
Came wolfish Vandal, came cold-stunted Hun,
Came Alaric, scourge of God, scourging a land
Of Roman majesty and Roman crime:
And that great ancient Empire of the West
Fell—and the Eastern rocked upon its base—
Till I arose, a Saviour in the land,
A strong progenitor of nation-good,
Warrior by nature, peasant monarch-sought:
I saved my country—and I beg my bread.
Thrace was my birth-place—champaign heaven blest,
Rich in broad water, rich in swelling crag,
And lustrous bank of forest precipice.
Oft when in youth, on sunlit mountain lawns,
All eagle-eyed I pierced the boundless blue,
Or, tranced beside the ever roaring sea,
Gazed on the wind-borne sheets of ragged foam—
I felt my great soul struggle in my breast
And pulse me onward unto larger deeds,
And slowly shoot into the perfect man.
But when I read of heroes, Homer sung,
God-men, who far on plains of Pergamus
Strode, triple-armed in panoply all gold,
Nor feared to cope with warrior deities,
But drove them bleeding to the splendrous heights
Of many-peaked Olympus whence they came—
I too, I said, will be a warrior chief,
And marshal hosts to death or victory,
And will be great among the sons of men.

"So I arose, and girt myself for fight,
And was a soldier of the Emperor.
Then step and step I rose through great exploits,
Until men hailed me General of the East.
Then when on Dara rushed the Persian host,
Elate in pride of fancied victory,
I met them, warden of the city gates—
I fought, I conquered—I deserved my honor;
Not less than they who strove in days of old
Along far foam-girt Marathonian fields,
And checked the march of Eastern despotism,
And drove back Xerxes to his paradise,
And wrought themselves an everlasting name,
When all the corse-piled plain was pale with death—
Or they who, martyrs to their fatherland,
Champions of Europe, glory of old Greece,
Failed from the battle-shout at Salamis,
Sank in the shadows of Thermopylae.

"Then, when a strife arose in Africa,
And, red in battle first-fruits, leapt the war,
And great Justinian sent his choicest troops,
And me, his choicest General,—I went,
I fought, I conquered; I deserved my honor—
Not less than he who once upon a time,
In those dim years of the great-storied past,
Stept on the surge-struck Carthaginian shores,
And drew her soul from the Phoenician queen,
And left her weltering on a funeral pyre,
And rooted out the pristine Latian tribes,
And was the founder of a royal race;
A race whose deeds shall shiver through the vast,
While the sun flames and the great waters roll,
And the wind roars from unknown solitudes,
And the strong mountains on their base endure;
Or he who, lusty in the lusty prime
Of Roman valour, razed the city gates
And blotted Carthage from the nation-roll,
And wrought for Rome a priceless victory.

"I, conqueror on the throne of Africa,
Dealt victor-justice to a humbled race,
And crushed the yet rebelling Gelimer,
And sailed triumphant to Byzantium;
And I was great among the sons of men.
Consul—a year sole Consul—every land
Knew me, and cringed an all-submissive neck
To the god-might of Belisarius.
Then, when Italia lay a wilderness,
Bared by the hurricane of civil war,
I crossed in hope the Adriatic blue,
Where emerald isles, inlaid in sapphire sea,
Gleam on the mariner, beached with rippled sand.
I crossed in hope, and I returned in glory;
For under the walls of old Parthenope
I fought, and, heralded by victory,
I carved a way to sometime royal Rome,
And, marching glorious to the Capitol,
Gave her once more a place among the nations.
Pent in the city by the unanimous might
Of fierce barbarians, with my own right hand
I wrought deliverance, wrought victory,
As he who, joying in his youth divine,
Strode all victorious to the farthest Ind,
And made the peoples know his sovereignty,
And was the monarch of the ringing world.

"How shall I tell of her, my pilot star,
Glorious adulteress, vile as beautiful,
Who not alone in plenitude of peace
Love-softened all this rugged warrior-heart,
But, ministrant on clamorous battle-plains,
Sated my spirit with a strange delight.
She, leagued in love with the Empress-courtezan,
Who swayed the counsels of a glutted spouse,
Whelmed me in irredeemable disgrace,
And fouled the lustre of untarnished act,
And summoned me from conquest to despair.
Long years I crept through shame un-merited,
Humbled in peace, all glorious in war,—
And mighty only on the battlefield.
At last, when all barbarian multitudes
Rallied upon the Eastern capital,
Justinian called me forth from obloquy,
Like that crisp-pated Quintus from the plough,
And bade me save my country; and I went
And chased their armies to the wilderness,
And wrought a strong redemption for the land.
He crowned me with all-noble recompense—
He met slight merit with benign reward—
He blinded me, and cast me forth to beg—
Poor fool!—or little recking future fame.

"Though slowly staggering in the vale of years,
I shudder not at that all victor Death,
Nor quail at fathomless eternity.
No storied tomb, up-reared on hero-bones,
No great memorial of greater dead,
Shall signal ruined Belisarius.
Yet much I joy, seeing my backward years
Loom deep into the dead mist of the Past,
That I repent not aught which I have done.
I have not worked my fall, but Destiny
And that serene pre-eminence of God.
Yet this I know, and with calamity
Grows trust, and all unshaken confidence,
That though men hold me poor, and blind, and mean,
Cast down from honour, hopeless, desolate;
Yet, in those generations far to come,
When they that spurn me from their palaces
Shall slumber with the unremembered dead,
My fame shall broaden in the stream of time,
Wide-circling from my death-plunge, and a rumour,
And glorious memory of glorious deeds—
My deeds—my deeds—shall ring through after time."

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