Verse > Oscar Wilde > Poems

Oscar Wilde (1854–1900).  Poems.  1881.

61. Humanitad

IT is full Winter now: the trees are bare, 
  Save where the cattle huddle from the cold 
Beneath the pine, for it doth never wear 
  The Autumn’s gaudy livery whose gold 
Her jealous brother pilfers, but is true         5
To the green doublet; bitter is the wind, as though it blew 
From Saturn’s cave; a few thin wisps of hay 
  Lie on the sharp black hedges, where the wain 
Dragged the sweet pillage of a summer’s day 
  From the low meadows up the narrow lane;  10
Upon the half-thawed snow the bleating sheep 
Press close against the hurdles, and the shivering house-dogs creep 
From the shut stable to the frozen stream 
  And back again disconsolate, and miss 
The bawling shepherds and the noisy team;  15
  And overhead in circling listlessness 
The cawing rooks whirl round the frosted stack, 
Or crowd the dripping boughs; and in the fen the ice-pools crack 
Where the gaunt bittern stalks among the reeds 
  And flaps his wings, and stretches back his neck,  20
And hoots to see the moon; across the meads 
  Limps the poor frightened hare, a little speck; 
And a stray seamew with its fretful cry 
Flits like a sudden drift of snow against the dull grey sky. 
Full winter: and the lusty goodman brings  25
  His load of faggots from the chilly byre, 
And stamps his feet upon the hearth, and flings 
  The sappy billets on the waning fire, 
And laughs to see the sudden lightening scare 
His children at their play; and yet,—the Spring is in the air,  30
Already the slim crocus stirs the snow, 
  And soon yon blanchèd fields will bloom again 
With nodding cowslips for some lad to mow, 
  For with the first warm kisses of the rain 
The winter’s icy sorrow breaks to tears,  35
And the brown thrushes mate, and with bright eyes the rabbit peers 
From the dark warren where the fir-cones lie, 
  And treads one snowdrop under foot, and runs 
Over the mossy knoll, and blackbirds fly 
  Across our path at evening, and the suns  40
Stay longer with us; ah! how good to see 
Grass-girdled Spring in all her joy of laughing greenery 
Dance through the hedges till the early rose, 
  (That sweet repentance of the thorny briar!) 
Burst from its sheathèd emerald and disclose  45
  The little quivering disk of golden fire 
Which the bees know so well, for with it come 
Pale boys-love, sops-in-wine, and daffadillies all in bloom. 
Then up and down the field the sower goes, 
  While close behind the laughing younker scares  50
With shrilly whoop the black and thievish crows, 
  And then the chestnut-tree its glory wears, 
And on the grass the creamy blossom falls 
In odorous excess, and faint half-whispered madrigals 
Steal from the bluebells’ nodding carillons  55
  Each breezy morn, and then white jessamine, 
That star of its own heaven, snapdragons 
  With lolling crimson tongues, and eglantine 
In dusty velvets clad usurp the bed 
And woodland empery, and when the lingering rose hath shed  60
Red leaf by leaf its folded panoply, 
  And pansies closed their purple-lidded eyes, 
Chrysanthemums from gilded argosy 
  Unload their gaudy scentless merchandise, 
And violets getting overbold withdraw  65
From their shy nooks, and scarlet berries dot the leafless haw. 
O happy field! and O thrice happy tree! 
  Soon will your queen in daisy-flowered smock 
And crown of flowre-de-luce trip down the lea, 
  Soon will the lazy shepherds drive their flock  70
Back to the pasture by the pool, and soon 
Through the green leaves will float the hum of murmuring bees at noon. 
Soon will the glade be bright with bellamour, 
  The flower which wantons love, and those sweet nuns 
Vale-lilies in their snowy vestiture  75
  Will tell their beaded pearls, and carnations 
With mitred dusky leaves will scent the wind, 
And straggling traveller’s joy each hedge with yellow stars will bind. 
Dear Bride of Nature and most bounteous Spring! 
  That can’st give increase to the sweet-breath’d kine,  80
And to the kid its little horns, and bring 
  The soft and silky blossoms to the vine, 
Where is that old nepenthe which of yore 
Man got from poppy root and glossy-berried mandragore! 
There was a time when any common bird  85
  Could make me sing in unison, a time 
When all the strings of boyish life were stirred 
  To quick response or more melodious rhyme 
By every forest idyll;—do I change? 
Or rather doth some evil thing through thy fair pleasaunce range?  90
Nay, nay, thou art the same: ’tis I who seek 
  To vex with sighs thy simple solitude, 
And because fruitless tears bedew my cheek 
  Would have thee weep with me in brotherhood; 
Fool! shall each wronged and restless spirit dare  95
To taint such wine with the salt poison of his own despair! 
Thou art the same: ’tis I whose wretched soul 
  Takes discontent to be its paramour, 
And gives its kingdom to the rude control 
  Of what should be its servitor,—for sure 100
Wisdom is somewhere, though the stormy sea 
Contain it not, and the huge deep answer “’Tis not in me.” 
To burn with one clear flame, to stand erect 
  In natural honour, not to bend the knee 
In profitless prostrations whose effect 105
  Is by itself condemned, what alchemy 
Can teach me this? what herb Medea brewed 
Will bring the unexultant peace of essence not subdued? 
The minor chord which ends the harmony, 
  And for its answering brother waits in vain, 110
Sobbing for incompleted melody 
  Dies a Swan’s death; but I the heir of pain 
A silent Memnon with blank lidless eyes 
Wait for the light and music of those suns which never rise. 
The quenched-out torch, the lonely cypress-gloom, 115
  The little dust stored in the narrow urn, 
The gentle XAIPE of the Attic tomb,— 
  Were not these better far than to return 
To my old fitful restless malady, 
Or spend my days within the voiceless cave of misery? 120
Nay! for perchance that poppy-crownèd God 
  Is like the watcher by a sick man’s bed 
Who talks of sleep but gives it not; his rod 
  Hath lost its virtue, and, when all is said, 
Death is too rude, too obvious a key 125
To solve one single secret in a life’s philosophy. 
And Love! that noble madness, whose august 
  And inextinguishable might can slay 
The soul with honied drugs,—alas! I must 
  From such sweet ruin play the runaway, 130
Although too constant memory never can 
Forget the archèd splendour of those brows Olympian 
Which for a little season made my youth 
  So soft a swoon of exquisite indolence 
That all the chiding of more prudent Truth 135
  Seemed the thin voice of jealousy,—O Hence 
Thou huntress deadlier than Artemis! 
Go seek some other quarry! for of thy too perilous bliss 
My lips have drunk enough,—no more, no more,— 
  Though Love himself should turn his gilded prow 140
Back to the troubled waters of this shore 
  Where I am wrecked and stranded, even now 
The chariot wheels of passion sweep too near, 
Hence! Hence! I pass unto a life more barren, more austere. 
More barren—ay, those arms will never lean 145
  Down through the trellised vines and draw my soul 
In sweet reluctance through the tangled green; 
  Some other head must wear that aureole, 
For I am Hers who loves not any man 
Whose white and stainless bosom bears the sign Gorgonian. 150
Let Venus go and chuck her dainty page, 
  And kiss his mouth, and toss his curly hair, 
With net and spear and hunting equipage 
  Let young Adonis to his tryst repair, 
But me her fond and subtle-fashioned spell 155
Delights no more, though I could win her dearest citadel. 
Ay, though I were that laughing shepherd boy 
  Who from Mount Ida saw the little cloud 
Pass over Tenedos and lofty Troy 
  And knew the coming of the Queen, and bowed 160
In wonder at her feet, not for the sake 
Of a new Helen would I bid her hand the apple take. 
Then rise supreme Athena argent-limbed! 
  And, if my lips be musicless, inspire 
At least my life: was not thy glory hymned 165
  By One who gave to thee his sword and lyre 
Like Æschylus at well-fought Marathon, 
And died to show that Milton’s England still could bear a son! 
And yet I cannot tread the Portico 
  And live without desire, fear, and pain, 170
Or nurture that wise calm which long ago 
  The grave Athenian master taught to men, 
Self-poised, self-centred, and self-comforted, 
To watch the world’s vain phantasies go by with unbowed head. 
Alas! that serene brow, those eloquent lips, 175
  Those eyes that mirrored all eternity, 
Rest in their own Colonos, an eclipse 
  Hath come on Wisdom, and Mnemosyne 
Is childless; in the night which she had made 
For lofty secure flight Athena’s owl itself hath strayed. 180
Nor much with Science do I care to climb, 
  Although by strange and subtle witchery 
She draw the moon from heaven: the Muse of Time 
  Unrolls her gorgeous-coloured tapestry 
To no less eager eyes; often indeed 185
In the great epic of Polymnia’s scroll I love to read 
How Asia sent her myriad hosts to war 
  Against a little town, and panoplied 
In gilded mail with jewelled scimetar, 
  White-shielded, purple-crested, rode the Mede 190
Between the waving poplars and the sea 
Which men call Artemisium, till he saw Thermopylæ 
Its steep ravine spanned by a narrow wall, 
  And on the nearer side a little brood 
Of careless lions holding festival! 195
  And stood amazèd at such hardihood, 
And pitched his tent upon the reedy shore, 
And stayed two days to wonder, and then crept at midnight o’er 
Some unfrequented height, and coming down 
  The autumn forests treacherously slew 200
What Sparta held most dear and was the crown 
  Of far Eurotas, and passed on, nor knew 
How God had staked an evil net for him 
In the small bay of Salamis,—and yet, the page grows dim, 
Its cadenced Greek delights me not, I feel 205
  With such a goodly time too out of tune 
To love it much: for like the Dial’s wheel 
  That from its blinded darkness strikes the noon 
Yet never sees the sun, so do my eyes 
Restlessly follow that which from my cheated vision flies. 210
O for one grand unselfish simple life 
  To teach us what is Wisdom! speak ye hills 
Of lone Helvellyn, for this note of strife 
  Shunned your untroubled crags and crystal rills, 
Where is that Spirit which living blamelessly 215
Yet dared to kiss the smitten mouth of his own century! 
Speak ye Rydalian laurels! where is He 
  Whose gentle head ye sheltered, that pure soul 
Whose gracious days of uncrowned majesty 
  Through lowliest conduct touched the lofty goal 220
Where Love and Duty mingle! Him at least 
The most high Laws were glad of, he had sat at Wisdom’s feast, 
But we are Learning’s changelings, know by rote 
  The clarion watchword of each Grecian school 
And follow none, the flawless sword which smote 225
  The pagan Hydra is an effete tool 
Which we ourselves have blunted, what man now 
Shall scale the august ancient heights and to old Reverence bow? 
One such indeed I saw, but, Ichabod! 
  Gone is that last dear son of Italy, 230
Who being man died for the sake of God, 
  And whose unrisen bones sleep peacefully. 
O guard him, guard him well, my Giotto’s tower, 
Thou marble lily of the lily town! let not the lour 
Of the rude tempest vex his slumber, or 235
  The Arno with its tawny troubled gold 
O’erleap its marge, no mightier conqueror 
  Clomb the high Capitol in the days of old 
When Rome was indeed Rome, for Liberty 
Walked like a Bride beside him, at which sight pale Mystery 240
Fled shrieking to her farthest sombrest cell 
  With an old man who grabbled rusty keys, 
Fled shuddering for that immemorial knell 
  With which oblivion buries dynasties 
Swept like a wounded eagle on the blast, 245
As to the holy heart of Rome the great triumvir passed. 
He knew the holiest heart and heights of Rome, 
  He drave the base wolf from the lion’s lair, 
And now lies dead by that empyreal dome 
  Which overtops Valdarno hung in air 250
By Brunelleschi—O Melpomene 
Breathe through thy melancholy pipe thy sweetest threnody! 
Breathe through the tragic stops such melodies 
  That Joy’s self may grow jealous, and the Nine 
Forget a-while their discreet emperies, 255
  Mourning for him who on Rome’s lordliest shrine 
Lit for men’s lives the light of Marathon, 
And bare to sun-forgotten fields the fire of the sun! 
O guard him, guard him well, my Giotto’s tower, 
  Let some young Florentine each eventide 260
Bring coronals of that enchanted flower 
  Which the dim woods of Vallombrosa hide, 
And deck the marble tomb wherein he lies 
Whose soul is as some mighty orb unseen of mortal eyes. 
Some mighty orb whose cycled wanderings, 265
  Being tempest-driven to the farthest rim 
Where Chaos meets Creation and the wings 
  Of the eternal chanting Cherubim 
Are pavilioned on Nothing, passed away 
Into a moonless void,—and yet, though he is dust and clay, 270
He is not dead, the immemorial Fates 
  Forbid it, and the closing shears refrain, 
Lift up your heads ye everlasting gates! 
  Ye argent clarions sound a loftier strain! 
For the vile thing he hated lurks within 275
Its sombre house, alone with God and memories of sin. 
Still what avails it that she sought her cave 
  That murderous mother of red harlotries? 
At Munich on the marble architrave 
  The Grecian boys die smiling, but the seas 280
Which wash Ægina fret in loneliness 
Not mirroring their beauty, so our lives grow colourless 
For lack of our ideals, if one star 
  Flame torch-like in the heavens the unjust 
Swift daylight kills it, and no trump of war 285
  Can wake to passionate voice the silent dust 
Which was Mazzini once! rich Niobe 
For all her stony sorrows hath her sons, but Italy! 
What Easter Day shall make her children rise, 
  Who were not Gods yet suffered? what sure feet 290
Shall find their graveclothes folded? what clear eyes 
  Shall see them bodily? O it were meet 
To roll the stone from off the sepulchre 
And kiss the bleeding roses of their wounds, in love of Her 
Our Italy! our mother visible! 295
  Most blessed among nations and most sad, 
For whose dear sake the young Calabrian fell 
  That day at Aspromonte and was glad 
That in an age when God was bought and sold 
One man could die for Liberty! but we, burnt out and cold, 300
See Honour smitten on the cheek and gyves 
  Bind the sweet feet of Mercy: Poverty 
Creeps through our sunless lanes and with sharp knives 
  Cuts the warm throats of children stealthily, 
And no word said:—O we are wretched men 305
Unworthy of our great inheritance! where is the pen 
Of austere Milton? where the mighty sword 
  Which slew its master righteously? the years 
Have lost their ancient leader, and no word 
  Breaks from the voiceless tripod on our ears: 310
While as a ruined mother in some spasm 
Bears a base child and loathes it, so our best enthusiasm 
Genders unlawful children, Anarchy 
  Freedom’s own Judas, the vile prodigal 
Licence who steals the gold of Liberty 315
  And yet has nothing, Ignorance the real 
One Fratricide since Cain, Envy the asp 
That stings itself to anguish, Avarice whose palsied grasp 
Is in its extent stiffened, monied Greed 
  For whose dull appetite men waste away 320
Amid the whirr of wheels and are the seed 
  Of things which slay their sower, these each day 
Sees rife in England, and the gentle feet 
Of Beauty tread no more the stones of each unlovely street. 
What even Cromwell spared is desecrated 325
  By weed and worm, left to the stormy play 
Of wind and beating snow, or renovated 
  By more destructful hands: Time’s worst decay 
Will wreathe its ruins with some loveliness, 
But these new Vandals can but make a rainproof barrenness. 330
Where is that Art which bade the Angels sing 
  Through Lincoln’s lofty choir, till the air 
Seems from such marble harmonies to ring 
  With sweeter song than common lips can dare 
To draw from actual reed? ah! where is now 335
The cunning hand which made the flowering hawthorn branches bow 
For Southwell’s arch, and carved the House of One 
  Who loved the lilies of the field with all 
Our dearest English flowers? the same sun 
  Rises for us: the seasons natural 340
Weave the same tapestry of green and grey: 
The unchanged hills are with us: but that Spirit hath passed away. 
And yet perchance it may be better so, 
  For Tyranny is an incestuous Queen, 
Murder her brother is her bedfellow, 345
  And the Plague chambers with her: in obscene 
And bloody paths her treacherous feet are set; 
Better the empty desert and a soul inviolate! 
For gentle brotherhood, the harmony 
  Of living in the healthful air, the swift 350
Clean beauty of strong limbs when men are free 
  And women chaste, these are the things which lift 
Our souls up more than even Agnolo’s 
Gaunt blinded Sibyl poring o’er the scroll of human woes, 
Or Titian’s little maiden on the stair 355
  White as her own sweet lily and as tall, 
Or Mona Lisa smiling through her hair,— 
  Ah! somehow life is bigger after all 
Than any painted angel could we see 
The God that is within us! The old Greek serenity 360
Which curbs the passion of that level line 
  Of marble youths, who with untroubled eyes 
And chastened limbs ride round Athena’s shrine 
  And mirror her divine economies, 
And balanced symmetry of what in man 365
Would else wage ceaseless warfare,—this at least within the span 
Between our mother’s kisses and the grave 
  Might so inform our lives, that we could win 
Such mighty empires that from her cave 
  Temptation would grow hoarse, and pallid Sin 370
Would walk ashamed of his adulteries, 
And Passion creep from out the House of Lust with startled eyes. 
To make the Body and the Spirit one 
  With all right things, till no thing live in vain 
From morn to noon, but in sweet unison 375
  With every pulse of flesh and throb of brain 
The Soul in flawless essence high enthroned, 
Against all outer vain attack invincibly bastioned, 
Mark with serene impartiality 
  The strife of things, and yet be comforted, 380
Knowing that by the chain causality 
  All separate existences are wed 
Into one supreme whole, whose utterance 
Is joy, or holier praise! ah! surely this were governance 
Of Life in most august omnipresence, 385
  Through which the rational intellect would find 
In passion its expression, and mere sense, 
  Ignoble else, lend fire to the mind, 
And being joined with in harmony 
More mystical than that which binds the stars planetary, 390
Strike from their several tones one octave chord 
  Whose cadence being measureless would fly 
Through all the circling spheres, then to its Lord 
  Return refreshed with its new empery 
And more exultant power,—this indeed 395
Could we but reach it were to find the last, the perfect creed. 
Ah! it was easy when the world was young 
  To keep one’s life free and inviolate, 
From our sad lips another song is rung, 
  By our own hands our heads are desecrate, 400
Wanderers in drear exile, and dispossessed 
Of what should be our own, we can but feed on wild unrest. 
Somehow the grace, the bloom of things has flown, 
  And of all men we are most wretched who 
Must live each other’s lives and not our own 405
  For very pity’s sake and then undo 
All that we live for—it was otherwise 
When soul and body seemed to blend in mystic symphonies. 
But we have left those gentle haunts to pass 
  With weary feet to the new Calvary, 410
Where we behold, as one who in a glass 
  Sees his own face, self-slain Humanity, 
And in the dumb reproach of that sad gaze 
Learn what an awful phantom the red hand of man can raise. 
O smitten mouth! O forehead crowned with thorn! 415
  O chalice of all common miseries! 
Thou for our sakes that loved thee not hast borne 
  An agony of endless centuries, 
And we were vain and ignorant nor knew 
That when we stabbed thy heart it was our own real hearts we slew. 420
Being ourselves the sowers and the seeds, 
  The night that covers and the lights that fade, 
The spear that pierces and the side that bleeds, 
  The lips betraying and the life betrayed; 
The deep hath calm: the moon hath rest: but we 425
Lords of the natural world are yet our own dread enemy. 
Is this the end of all that primal force 
  Which, in its changes being still the same, 
From eyeless Chaos cleft its upward course, 
  Through ravenous seas and whirling rocks and flame, 430
Till the suns met in heaven and began 
Their cycles, and the morning stars sang, and the Word was Man! 
Nay, nay, we are but crucified and though 
  The bloody sweat falls from our brows like rain, 
Loosen the nails—we shall come down I know, 435
  Staunch the red wounds—we shall be whole again, 
No need have we of hyssop-laden rod, 
That which is purely human, that is Godlike, that is God. 



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