Verse > Anthologies > Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed. > The Book of New York Verse
Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed.  The Book of New York Verse.  1917.
The Towers of Manhattan
By Don Marquis
ON the middle arch of the bridge I stood
And mused, as the twilight failed;—
The bridge that swings and sings ’twixt tide and sky
Like a harp that the sea-winds sweep;—
Night flooded in from the bay        5
With billow on billow of shadow and beauty,
Wave upon wave of illusion and dusk,
And before me apparelled in splendor,
Banded with loops of light,
Clothed on with purple and magic,        10
Rose the tall towers of Manhattan,
Wonderful under the stars.
Whence has this miracle sprung
To challenge the skies?
From the plinth of this girdled island,        15
Guarded by sentinel waters,
How has this glory arisen?
Whence is the faith, and what is the creed, that has dowered
The dumb brute rock and the sullen iron
With a beauty so bold and vital,        20
A grace so vivid and real?
Whence the strong wings of this lyric that soars like a song in stone?
For the builders builded in blindness;
Little they thought of the ultimate
Uses of beauty!        25
Little they kenned and nothing they recked of the raptures
Of conscious and masterful art;
They builded blinder than they who raised
The naïvely blasphemous challenge of Babel;
For they wrought in the sordid humor        30
Of greed, and the lust of power;
They wrought in the heat of the bitter
Battle for gold;
And some of them ground men’s lives to mortar,
Taking the conqueror’s toll,        35
From the veins of the driven millions;
Of curses and tears they builded,
Cruelty and crime and sorrow—
And behold! by a baffling magic
The work of their hands transmuted        40
To temples and towers that are crowned
With a glamour transcendent
That lifts up the heart like the smile of a god!
The dust is the dust, and forever
Receiveth its own;        45
But the dreams of a man or a people
Forever survive;
These builders, their crimes and their curses,
Their greed and their sordid endeavor,
Lie in the dust,        50
Dead in the dust.
But the vision, the dream, and the glory
Triumphantly over all
Rises the secret hope,        55
Rises the baffled illusion,
Rises the broken dream
That hid in the heart of the conquered,
That dwelt in the conqueror’s breast;
By the side of each man as he labored,        60
Unseen and unknown,
Labored his dream;
Now, eminent, fronting the morning,
Mysterious, clothed with the night,
Rises the crushed aspiration,        65
The unconscious and scarcely articulate prayer,
Rises the faith forgotten,
Triumphs the spurned ideal,
Rises the god denied,
Conquers the creed betrayed,        70
Rises the baffled spirit
Flowering in visible durable marvel of stone and of steel,
Miraculous under the heavens,
Wonderful under the stars.
Nay, mock at the gods if you will,        75
Even forget their existence,
But always they labor in secret
To bring to a sudden and golden achievement
Their subtle intentions;
And lo! from the dung a lily!        80
A temple out of the clay!
A city out of the rabble!
And lo! the strong hands of Manhattan,
Mightily lifted up
To grasp at the gold of the sunset        85
For a crown for her head!

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