Collected Poems, by Oscar Wilde

Humanitad

[1890]

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

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;

Upon the half-thawed snow the bleating sheep

Press close against the hurdles, and the shivering housedogs creep

From the shut stable to the frozen stream

 And back again disconsolate, and miss

The bawling shepherds and the noisy team;

 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,

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 gray sky.

Full winter: and a lusty goodman brings

 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 lightning scare

His children at their play; and yet — the Spring is in the air,

Already the slim crocus stirs the snow,

 And soon yon blanched 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,

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

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 sheathed emerald and disclose

 The little quivering disk of golden fire

Which the bees know so well, for with it come

Pale boy’s love, sops-in-wine, and daffodillies all in bloom.

Then up and down the field the sower goes,

 While close behind the laughing younker scares,

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

 Each breezy morn, and then white jessamine,

That star of its own heaven, snap-dragons

 With lolling crimson tongues, and eglantine

In dusty velvets clad usurp the bed

And woodland empery, and when the lingering rose hath shed

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

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 flower-de-luce trip down the lea,

 Soon will the lazy shepherds drive their flock

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

 Will tell their bearded 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,

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

 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?

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

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

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 honor, not to bend the knee

In profitless prostrations whose effect

 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,

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 quanched-out torch, the lonely cypress-gloom,

 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?

Nay! for perchance that poppy-crowned 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

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 honeyed drugs — alas! I must

 From such sweet ruin play the runaway,

Although too constant memory never can

Forget the arched splendor 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

 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

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

 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.

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

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

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

 By one who gave to thee his sword and lyre

Like Aeschylus 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,

Or nurture that wise calm which long ago

 The grave Athenian master taught to men,

Self-poised, self-centered, and self-comforted,

To watch the world’s vain phantasies go by with unbowed head.

Alas! that serene brow, those eloquent lips,

 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.

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-colored tapestry

To no less eager eyes; often indeed

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

Between the waving poplars and the sea

Which men call Artemisium, till he saw Thermopylae

Its steep ravine spanned by a narrow wall,

 And on the nearer side a little brood

Of careless lions holding festival!

 And stood amazed 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

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

 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.

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

Yet dared to kiss the smitten mouth of his own century!

Speak ye Ridalian 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

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, known by rote

 The clarion watchword of each Grecian school

And follow none, the flawless sword which smote

 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,

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 lower

Of the rude tempest vex his slumber, or

 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

Fled shrieking to her furthest somberest 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,

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

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,

 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

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,

 Being tempest-driven to the furthest 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,

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

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

Which wash Aegina 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

 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

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!

 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,

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

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;

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

License who steals the gold of Liberty

 And yet 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, moneyed Greed

 For whose dull appetite men waste away

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

 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.

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

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 season’s natural

Weave the same tapestry of green and gray:

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,

 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

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

 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

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

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

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

 With every pulse of flesh and throb of pain

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,

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,

 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 it in harmony

More mystical than that which binds the stars planetary

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

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,

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

 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,

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!

 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.

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

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,

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,

 Stanch 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.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wilde/oscar/w67p/chapter10.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30