The Spirit of the Age

Original Text: 
The Bird and the Bell, with Other Poems (Boston: James R, Osgood, 1875): 106-08. Internet Archive
1A wondrous light is filling the air,
2And rimming the clouds of the old despair;
3And hopeful eyes look up to see
4Truth's mighty electricity, --
5Auroral shimmerings swift and bright,
6That wave and flash in the silent night, --
7Magnetic billows travelling fast,
8And flooding all the spaces vast
9From dim horizon to farthest cope
10Of heaven, in streams of gathering hope.
11Silent they mount and spread apace,
12And the watchers see old Europe's face
13Lit with expression new and strange, --
14The prophecy of coming change.
15Meantime, while thousands, wrapt in dreams,
16Sleep heedless of the electric gleams,
17Or ply their wonted work and strife,
18Or plot their pitiful games of life;
19While the emperor bows in his formal halls,
20And the clerk whirls on at the masking balls;
21While the lawyer sits at his dreary files,
22And the banker fingers his glittering piles,
23And the priest kneels down at his lighted shrine,
24And the fop flits by with his mistress fine, --
25The diplomat works at his telegraph wires:
26His back is turned to the heavenly fires.
27Over him flows the magnetic tide,
28And the candles are dimmed by the glow outside.
29Mysterious forces overawe,
30Absorb, suspend the usual law.
31The needle stood northward an hour ago;
32Now it veers like a weathercock to and fro.
33The message he sends flies not as once;
34The unwilling wires yield no response.
35Those iron veins that pulsed but late
36From a tyrant's will to a people's fate,
37Flowing and ebbing with feverish strength,
38Are seized by a Power whose breadth and length,
39Whose height and depth, defy all gauge
40Save the great spirit of the age.
41The mute machine is moved by a law
42That knows no accident or flaw,
43And the iron thrills to a different chime
44Than that which rang in the dead old time.
45For Heaven is taking the matter in hand,
46And baffling the tricks of the tyrant band.
47The sky above and the earth beneath
48Heave with a supermundane breath.
49Half-truths, for centuries kept and prized,
50By higher truths are polarized.
51Like gamesters on a railroad train,
52Careless of stoppage, sun or rain,
53We juggle, plot, combine, arrange,
54And are swept along by the rapid change.
55And some who from their windows mark
56The unwonted lights that flood the dark,
57Little by little, in slow surprise
58Lift into space their sleepy eyes;
59Little by little are made aware
60That a spirit of power is passing there, --
61That a spirit is passing, strong and free, --
62The soul of the nineteenth century.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: