Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DISCOURAGEMENT, by JOHN LAWSON STODDARD

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DISCOURAGEMENT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Forward, comrades, ever forward!
Last Line: We are nothing but the spray.
Subject(s): Graves; Love; Mankind; Mercy; Tombs; Tombstones; Human Race

"Forward, comrades, ever forward"!
Shout the leaders in the fight;
"Scale the ramparts! Plant the standard
On the citadel of light!

"Break the chains of superstition!
Crush corruption! Free the slave!
Plant the flowers of love and mercy
On the past's ensanguined grave!

"Toward the strongholds of oppression
Lead again the hope forlorn!
See! the night is disappearing;
Lo! the coming of the morn"!
. . . . .

Bravely said; yet men have spoken
Just as bravely long ago,
When the hair had raven blackness
Which is now as white as snow;

And alas! how many thousands
Have responded to that call,
Whose forgotten corpses moulder
By the still beleaguered wall!

Forms have changed and words have altered,
But the things remain the same;
Still doth man enslave his brother, --
Always master, save in name.

Still are God's dumb creatures tortured,
Racial hatreds never cease,
And man's greatest self-delusion
Is the shibboleth of "Peace."

Hence, while youth, with hope and courage,
Loudly vents its noble rage;
Age, profoundly disillusioned,
Sad and silent leaves the stage.

Round the classic Inland Ocean,
Where the Roman world held sway,
Storied shores are iridescent
With the splendor of decay;

Persia, Syria, Egypt, Athens,
Proud Byzantium, Carthage, Spain, --
In their mournful desolation
Hear the old sea's sad refrain: --

"Rising, falling, waxing, waning,
Men and nations come and go;
Reaching glory, then declining,
As the ebb succeeds the flow.

"All florescence is but fleeting:
Each in turn enjoys its day,
Hath its seed-time, bud and flower,
And as surely fades away.

"Growth, maturity, decadence, --
Form mankind's unchanging role,
And the dead past's sombre ruins
Are prophetic of the whole."

"Nay," you cry in bitter protest,
"Shall man have no perfect end,
No millennial culmination,
Toward which all the ages tend?

"Must all races prove decadent?
Shall not one produce in time
Perfect types of men and women
In a world devoid of crime?"

Scan the lurid past, and tell us
On what ground you base your hopes!
Does an endless line of failures
Warrant brighter horoscopes?

Hath not every race and nation
Sunk from grandeur to decay?
What shall save us, then, from ruin?
Are we better men than they?

"Great inventors", say you? Granted;
Such material gifts are ours;
Every age hath some distinction,
Every race its special powers.

But the progress is not lasting,
And the special powers decline;
Man's advance is never constant
In one grand, unbroken line.

Nor is ground, once lost, recovered;
Greece and Rome are not replaced!
All the sites of pagan learning
Still lie desolate and waste.

What know we, -- except in physics --,
That the ancients did not know?
Are we wiser than the sages
Of two thousand years ago?

More devout than Hebrew prophets?
More upright than Antonine?
More accomplished than the Grecians,
Or than Buddha more divine?

And if such men could not hinder
Fate's resistless rise and fall,
How can we expect exemption
From the common lot of all?

Let us frankly face the prospect
That man's progress here may fail;
That the race may never triumph,
But again descend the scale,

Till the last surviving savage
To his glacial cave retires,
And earth's tragic drama closes,
As humanity expires!

And why not? All weaker species
To the stronger yield their place;
May the same law not be needed
Through the boundless realms of space?

By whatever beings peopled,
Worlds that fail to meet the test
May like fruitless blossoms perish;
God will winnow out the best.

Would you know our planet's value?
View the star-strewn dome of night!
In that shoreless sea of splendor
What is one faint wave of light?

Worlds by millions are revolving
Through that vast, unfathomed main;
Should our tiny orb make shipwreck,
Worlds by millions would remain;

Where perchance a real advancement
May prevail from pole to pole,
Without losses, without lapses,
Toward a final, perfect goal.

This at least can not be doubted, --
That our globe will one day roll
Cold and lifeless thro' its orbit,
Like a corpse without its soul.

Will mankind have reached perfection
Ere that epoch has begun,
Or grown bestial, as the heat-waves
Issue feebly from the sun?

None may know. Through blood-stained cycles
We have thus far made our way:
Of the unknown depths beneath us
We are nothing but the spray.

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