Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, RETROGRESSION, by WILLIAM WATSON

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

RETROGRESSION, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: Our daughters flower in vernal grace
Last Line: Trailing the folds of gorgeous woe.
Alternate Author Name(s): Watson, John William
Subject(s): Dryden, John (1631-1700); Gray, Thomas (1716-1771); Milton, John (1608-1674)

OUR daughters flower in vernal grace;
In strength our striplings wax apace;
Our cities teem; our commerce rides
Sovereign upon the fawning tides.
But while, to this our stronghold -- where
The North Wind's wandering children fair,
Like wild birds from the waters sprung,
Built their wild nest and reared their young --
The fleets of peace for ever pour
Fruitage and vintage, gems and ore;
While here, within each ocean gate,
Long barricadoed against Fate,
We are served by all the alien seas,
And fed from the Antipodes,
Lo, everywhere the unplenished brain!
Everywhere, dire as bondman's chain,
Or laws that crush, or creeds that blind,
The leanness of the unnourished mind.

For few and fewer do they grow,
Who know, or ever cared to know,
The great things greatly said and sung
In this heroic English tongue,
This speech that is the rough-wrought key
To palaces of wizardry,
And many a fabric hung in air,
Our fathers' glory and our despair,
That firmer stands than boastful stone;
And many a tower of vigil lone,
Climbing whose stairway Wisdom viewed
The labyrinth of infinitude.

And shouldst thou have in thee to-day
Aught thou canst better sing than say,
Shun, if thou wouldst by men be heard,
The comely phrase, the wellborn word,
And use, as for their ears more meet,
The loose-lipped lingo of the street,
A language Milton's kin have long
Accounted good enough for song.
Or don that vesture doubly vile,
The beaded and bespangled style --
Diction o'erloaded and impure,
Thy thought lost in its garniture,
Thy Muse, ev'n to her raiment's hem,
Huddling uncostly gem on gem,
Striving her lax form to bestar
With all crude ornaments that are:
An empty and a dreary strife,
Vulgar in Letters as in Life.

Nor look for praise, save here and there
From a fast-dwindling remnant rare,
If thou beget with happy pain
The ordered and the governed strain
That peradventure had not shamed
Masters felicitously famed;
Dryden, the athlete large and strong,
Lord of the nerve and sinew of song;
A hewer and shaper who could see,
In adamant, plasticity;
Who tore from the entrails of the mine
The metal of his iron line,
And, born beside the haughty tomb
Of that rank time of overbloom
When poets vied in gathering each
Full-bosomed apple and buxom peach
That odorous in the orchard burned,
Had, from their purple surfeit, learned
The truth in Hellas seen so plain,
That the art of arts is to refrain; --
Or Gray, who on worn thoughts conferred
That second youth, the perfect word,
The elected and predestined phrase
That had lain bound, long nights and days,
To wear at last, when once set free,
Immortal pellucidity;
And who, in that most mighty Ode,
That like a pageant streamed and glowed,
Called up anew mid breathing things
The great ghosts of our tragic Kings,
With doom-dark brows to come and go,
Trailing the folds of gorgeous woe.

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