Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
 
To A. C.
By William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)
 
NOT to the staring Day,
For all the importunate questionings he pursues
In his big, violent voice,
Shall those mild things of bulk and multitude,
The Trees—God’s sentinels        5
Over His gift of live, life-giving air—
Yield of their huge, unutterable selves.
Midsummer-manifold, each one
Voluminous, a labyrinth of life,
They keep their greenest musings, and the dim dreams        10
That haunt their leaner privacies,
Dissembled, baffling the random gapeseed still
With blank full-faces, or the innocent guile
Of laughter flickering back from shine to shade,
And disappearances of homing birds,        15
And frolicsome freaks
Of little boughs that frisk with little boughs.
 
But at the word
Of the ancient, sacerdotal Night,
Night of the many secrets, whose effect—        20
Transfiguring, hierophantic, dread—
Themselves alone may fully apprehend,
They tremble and are changed.
In each, the uncouth individual soul
Looms forth and glooms        25
Essential, and, their bodily presences
Touched with inordinate significance,
Wearing the darkness like the livery
Of some mysterious and tremendous guild,
They brood—they menace—they appal;        30
Or the anguish of prophecy tears them, and they wring
Wild hands of warning in the face
Of some inevitable advance of doom;
Or, each to the other bending, beckoning, signing
As in some monstrous market-place,        35
They pass the news, these Gossips of the Prime,
In that old speech their forefathers
Learned on the lawns of Eden, ere they heard
The troubled voice of Eve
Naming the wondering folk of Paradise.        40
 
Your sense is sealed, or you should hear them tell
The tale of their dim life, with all
Its compost of experience: how the Sun
Spreads them their daily feast,
Sumptuous, of light, firing them as with wine;        45
Of the old Moon’s fitful solicitude
And those mild messages the Stars
Descend in silver silences and dews;
Or what the sweet-breathing West,
Wanton with wading in the swirl of the wheat,        50
Said, and their leafage laughed;
And how the wet-winged Angel of the Rain
Came whispering … whispering; and the gifts of the Year—
The sting of the stirring sap
Under the wizardry of the young-eyed Spring,        55
Their summer amplitudes of pomp,
Their rich autumnal melancholy, and the shrill,
Embittered housewifery
Of the lean Winter: all such things,
And with them all the goodness of the Master,        60
Whose right hand blesses with increase and life,
Whose left hand honours with decay and death.
 
Thus under the constraint of Night
These gross and simple creatures,
Each in his scores of rings, which rings are years,        65
A servant of the Will!
And God, the Craftsman, as He walks
The floor of His workshop; hearkens, full of cheer
In thus accomplishing
The aims of His miraculous artistry.        70
 
 
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