Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
By John Davidson (1857–1909)
LITHE and listen, gentlemen:
Other knight of sword or pen
Shall not, while the planets shine,
Spend a holiday like mine.
Fate and I, we play’d at dice:        5
  Thrice I won and lost the main;
Thrice I died the death, and thrice
  By my will I lived again.
First a woman broke my heart
  As a careless woman can,        10
Ere the aureoles depart
  From the woman and the man.
Dead of love, I found a tomb
  Anywhere: beneath, above,
Worms nor stars transpierced the gloom        15
  Of the sepulchre of love.
Wine-cups were the charnel-lights;
  Festal songs, the funeral dole;
Joyful ladies, gallant knights,
  Comrades of my buried soul.        20
Tired to death of lying dead
  In a common sepulchre,
On an Easter morn I sped
  Upward where the world ’s astir.
Soon I gather’d wealth and friends,        25
  Donn’d the livery of the hour,
And atoning diverse ends
  Bridged the gulf to place and power.
All the brilliances of Hell
  Crush’d by me, with honey’d breath        30
Fawn’d upon me till I fell,
  By pretenders done to death.
Buried in an outland tract,
  Long I rotted in the mould,
Though the virgin woodland lack’d        35
  Nothing of the age of gold.
Roses spiced the dews and damps,
  Nightly falling of decay;
Dawn and sunset lit the lamps
  Where entomb’d I deeply lay.        40
My companions of the grave
  Were the flowers, the growing grass;
Larks intoned a morning stave;
  Nightingales a midnight mass.
But at me, effete and dead,        45
  Did my spirit gibe and scoff:
Then the gravecloth from my head
  And my shroud—I shook them off.
Drawing strength and subtle craft
  Out of ruin’s husk and core,        50
Through the earth I ran a shaft
  Upward to the light once more.
Soon I made me wealth and friends,
  Donn’d the livery of the age;
And atoning many ends,        55
  Reign’d as sovereign, priest, and mage.
But my pomp and towering state,
  Puissance and supreme device,
Crumbled on the cast of Fate—
  Fate, that plays with loaded dice.        60
I whose arms had harried Hell
  Naked faced a heavenly host:
Carved with countless wounds I fell,
  Sadly yielding up the ghost.
In a burning mountain thrown        65
  (Titans such a tomb attain),
Many a grisly age had flown
  Ere I rose and lived again.
Parch’d and charr’d I lay; my cries
  Shook and rent the mountain-side;        70
Lustres, decades, centuries
  Fled while daily there I died.
But my essence and intent
  Ripen’d in the smelting fire;
Flame became my element,        75
  Agony my soul’s desire.
Twenty centuries of Pain
  Mightier than Love or Art,
Woke the meaning in my brain
  And the purpose of my heart.        80
Straightway then aloft I swam
  Through the mountain’s sulphurous sty:
Not eternal death could damn
  Such a hardy soul as I.
From the mountain’s burning crest        85
  Like a god I come again,
And with an immortal zest
  Challenge Fate to throw the main.

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