Octaves

Original Text: 
Collected Poems, with an introduction by John Drinkwater (London: Cecil Palmer, 1922): 100-107. PS 3535 O25A17 1922 Robarts Library.
I
1We thrill too strangely at the master's touch;
2We shrink too sadly from the larger self
3Which for its own completeness agitates
4And undetermines us; we do not feel --
5We dare not feel it yet -- the splendid shame
6Of uncreated failure; we forget,
7The while we groan, that God's accomplishment
8Is always and unfailingly at hand.
II
9Tumultuously void of a clean scheme
10Whereon to build, whereof to formulate,
11The legion life that riots in mankind
12Goes ever plunging upward, up and down,
13Most like some crazy regiment at arms,
14Undisciplined of aught but Ignorance,
15And ever led resourcelessly along
16To brainless carnage by drunk trumpeters.
III
17To me the groaning of world-worshippers
18Rings like a lonely music played in hell
19By one with art enough to cleave the walls
20Of heaven with his cadence, but without
21The wisdom or the will to comprehend
22The strangeness of his own perversity,
23And all without the courage to deny
24The profit and the pride of his defeat.
IV
25While we are drilled in error, we are lost
26Alike to truth and usefulness. We think
27We are great warriors now, and we can brag
30We do not fight to-day, we only die;
31We are too proud of death, and too ashamed
32Of God, to know enough to be alive.
V
33There is one battle-field whereon we fall
34Triumphant and unconquered; but, alas!
35We are too fleshly fearful of ourselves
36To fight there till our days are whirled and blurred
37By sorrow, and the ministering wheels
38Of anguish take us eastward, where the clouds
39Of human gloom are lost against the gleam
40That shines on Thought's impenetrable mail.
VI
41When we shall hear no more the cradle-songs
42Of ages -- when the timeless hymns of Love
43Defeat them and outsound them -- we shall know
44The rapture of that large release which all
45Right science comprehends; and we shall read,
46With unoppressed and unoffended eyes,
47That record of All-Soul whereon God writes
VII
49The guerdon of new childhood is repose: --
50Once he has read the primer of right thought,
51A man may claim between two smithy strokes
52Beatitude enough to realize
53God's parallel completeness in the vague
54And incommensurable excellence
55That equitably uncreates itself
56And makes a whirlwind of the Universe.
VIII
57There is no loneliness: -- no matter where
58We go, nor whence we come, nor what good friends
59Forsake us in the seeming, we are all
60At one with a complete companionship;
61And though forlornly joyless be the ways
62We travel, the compensate spirit-gleams
63Of Wisdom shaft the darkness here and there,
64Like scattered lamps in unfrequented streets.
IX
65When one that you and I had all but sworn
66To be the purest thing God ever made
67Bewilders us until at last it seems
68An angel has come back restigmatized, --
69Faith wavers, and we wonder what there is
70On earth to make us faithful any more,
71But never are quite wise enough to know
72The wisdom that is in that wonderment.
X
73Where does a dead man go? -- The dead man dies;
74But the free life that would no longer feed
75On fagots of outburned and shattered flesh
76Wakes to a thrilled invisible advance,
77Unchained (or fettered else) of memory;
78And when the dead man goes it seems to me
79'T were better for us all to do away
80With weeping, and be glad that he is gone.
XI
81So through the dusk of dead, blank-legended,
82And unremunerative years we search
83To get where life begins, and still we groan
84Because we do not find the living spark
85Where no spark ever was; and thus we die,
86Still searching, like poor old astronomers
87Who totter off to bed and go to sleep,
88To dream of untriangulated stars.
XII
89With conscious eyes not yet sincere enough
90To pierce the glimmered cloud that fluctuates
91Between me and the glorifying light
92That screens itself with knowledge, I discern
93The searching rays of wisdom that reach through
94The mist of shame's infirm credulity,
95And infinitely wonder if hard words
96Like mine have any message for the dead.
XIII
97I grant you friendship is a royal thing,
98But none shall ever know that royalty
99For what it is till he has realized
100His best friend in himself. 'T is then, perforce,
101That man's unfettered faith indemnifies
102Of its own conscious freedom the old shame,
103And love's revealed infinitude supplants
104Of its own wealth and wisdom the old scorn.
XIV
105Though the sick beast infect us, we are fraught
106Forever with indissoluble Truth,
107Wherein redress reveals itself divine,
108Transitional, transcendent. Grief and loss,
109Disease and desolation, are the dreams
110Of wasted excellence; and every dream
111Has in it something of an ageless fact
112That flouts deformity and laughs at years.
XV
113We lack the courage to be where we are: --
114We love too much to travel on old roads,
115To triumph on old fields; we love too much
116To consecrate the magic of dead things,
117And yieldingly to linger by long walls
118Of ruin, where the ruinous moonlight
119That sheds a lying glory on old stones
120Befriends us with a wizard's enmity.
XVI
121Something as one with eyes that look below
122The battle-smoke to glimpse the foeman's charge,
123We through the dust of downward years may scan
124The onslaught that awaits this idiot world
125Where blood pays blood for nothing, and where life
126Pays life to madness, till at last the ports
127Of gilded helplessness be battered through
128By the still crash of salvatory steel.
XVII
129To you that sit with Sorrow like chained slaves,
130And wonder if the night will ever come,
131I would say this: The night will never come,
132And sorrow is not always. But my words
133Are not enough; your eyes are not enough;
134The soul itself must insulate the Real,
135Or ever you do cherish in this life --
136In this life or in any life -- repose.
XVIII
137Like a white wall whereon forever breaks
138Unsatisfied the tumult of green seas,
139Man's unconjectured godliness rebukes
140With its imperial silence the lost waves
141Of insufficient grief. This mortal surge
142That beats against us now is nothing else
144Nor wavers; but the world shakes, and we shriek.
XIX
145Nor jewelled phrase nor mere mellifluous rhyme
146Reverberates aright, or ever shall,
147One cadence of that infinite plain-song
148Which is itself all music. Stronger notes
149Than any that have ever touched the world
150Must ring to tell it -- ring like hammer-blows,
151Right-echoed of a chime primordial,
152On anvils, in the gleaming of God's forge.
XX
153The prophet of dead words defeats himself:
154Whoever would acknowledge and include
155The foregleam and the glory of the real,
156Must work with something else than pen and ink
157And painful preparation: he must work
158With unseen implements that have no names,
159And he must win withal, to do that work,
160Good fortitude, clean wisdom, and strong skill.
XXI
161To curse the chilled insistence of the dawn
162Because the free gleam lingers; to defraud
163The constant opportunity that lives
164Unchallenged in all sorrow; to forget
165For this large prodigality of gold
166That larger generosity of thought, --
167These are the fleshly clogs of human greed,
168The fundamental blunders of mankind.
170The master of the moment, the clean seer
171Of ages, too securely scans what is,
172Ever to be appalled at what is not;
173He sees beyond the groaning borough lines
174Of Hell, God's highways gleaming, and he knows
175That Love's complete communion is the end
176Of anguish to the liberated man.
XXIII
177Here by the windy docks I stand alone,
178But yet companioned. There the vessel goes,
179And there my friend goes with it; but the wake
180That melts and ebbs between that friend and me
181Love's earnest is of Life's all-purposeful
182And all-triumphant sailing, when the ships
183Of Wisdom loose their fretful chains and swing
184Forever from the crumbled wharves of Time.

Notes

28] Titans: giants defeated by the gods of Olympus. Back to Line
29] the fools of time: Shakespeare's sonnet 124, line 13. Back to Line
48] runes: the Germanic futhork, characters especially designed for inscribing on stone. Back to Line
143] plangent: plaintive sounding. Back to Line
169] Recreance: cowardice. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1890
Publication Notes: 
The Children of the Night (1890-97), pp. 91-115. Originally in 25 parts; nos. I and III were omitted in 1922
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.