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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Sonnets
By John Masefield (1878–1967)
 
From ‘Good Friday and Other Poems’

LONG ago when all the glittering earth
Was heaven itself, when drunkards in the street
Were like mazed kings shaking at giving birth
To acts of war that sickle men like wheat,
When the white clover opened Paradise        5
And God lived in a cottage up the brook,
Beauty, you lifted up my sleeping eyes
And filled my heart with longing with a look;
And all the day I searched and could not find
The beautiful dark-eyed who touched me there,        10
Delight in her made trouble in my mind,
She was within all Nature, everywhere,
The breath I breathed, the brook, the flower, the grass,
Were her, her word, her beauty, all she was.
 
Night came again, but now I could not sleep.        15
The owls were watching in the yew, the mice
Gnawed at the wainscot; the mid dark was deep,
The death-watch knocked the dead man’s summons thrice.
The cats upon the pointed housetops peered
About the chimneys, with lit eyes which saw        20
Things in the darkness, moving, which they feared.
The midnight filled the quiet house with awe.
So, creeping down the stair, I drew the bolt
And passed into the darkness, and I knew
That Beauty was brought near by my revolt.        25
Beauty was in the moonlight, in the dew,
But more within myself whose venturous tread
Walked the dark house where death ticks called the dead.
 
Even after all these years there comes the dream
Of lovelier life than this in some new earth,        30
In the full summer of that unearthly gleam
Which lights the spirit when the brain gives birth,
Of a perfected I, in happy hours,
Treading above the sea that trembles there,
A path through thickets of immortal flowers        35
That only grow where sorrows never were.
And, at a turn, of coming face to face
With Beauty’s self, that Beauty I have sought
In women’s hearts, in friends, in many a place,
In barren hours passed at grips with thought,        40
Beauty of woman, comrade, earth and sea,
Incarnate thought come face to face with me.
 
If I could come again to that dear place
Where once I came, where Beauty lived and moved,
Where, by the sea, I saw her face to face,        45
That soul alive by which the world has loved;
If, as I stood at gaze among the leaves,
She would appear again, as once before,
While the red herdsman gathered up his sheaves
And brimming waters trembled up the shore;        50
If, as I gazed, her Beauty that was dumb,
In that old time, before I learned to speak,
Would lean to me and revelation come,
Words to the lips and color to the cheek,
Joy with its searing-iron would burn me wise,        55
I should know all; all powers, all mysteries.
 
Let that which is to come be as it may,
Darkness, extinction, justice, life intense,
The flies are happy in the summer day,
Flies will be happy many summers hence.        60
Time with his antique breeds that built the Sphynx
Time with her men to come whose wings will tower,
Poured and will pour, not as the wise man thinks,
But with blind force, to each his little hour.
And when the hour has struck, comes death or change,        65
Which, whether good or ill, we cannot tell,
But the blind planet will wander through her range
Bearing men like us who will serve as well.
The sun will rise, the winds that ever move
Will blow our dust that once were men in love.        70
 
Flesh, I have knocked at many a dusty door,
Gone down full many a midnight lane,
Probed in old walls and felt along the floor,
Pressed in blind hope the window-pane.
But useless all, though sometimes, when the moon        75
Was full in heaven and the sea was full,
Along my body’s alleys came a tune
Played in the tavern by the Beautiful.
Then for an instant I have felt at point
To find and seize her, whosoe’er she be,        80
Whether some saint whose glory does anoint
Those whom she loves, or but a part of me,
Or something that the things not understood
Make for their uses out of flesh and blood.
 
 
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