WHEN first the Gods, whose Empire is eternal,
In Time’s deep chalice poured Life’s sacred wine,
Flashed all the crystal cup with fire supernal;
Then said they: “Shall the mortal be divine?
Shall man usurp the ways the Gods have trod?
Who quaffs this cup, himself should be a God!”
So tempered they the measure of their giving,
And mingled germs of evil with the good;
So mixed they death with the fierce fire of living,
And anguish with the joy of motherhood;
And with the balm of peace a weird unrest,
And an unformed desire in every breast.
So set they discord in the sweetest singing,
And a sharp thorn about the fairest rose;
And doubt around the cross where faith was clinging,
And fear to haunt the regions of repose;
And dimmed men’s eyes, so that they should not see,
Like Gods, the vistas of futurity.
They coloured failure with hope’s rainbow splendour,
And tinged the hour of triumph with regret;
Made strength subservient to the weak and tender,
And wisdom, folly-caught in beauty’s net;
Till unto man life’s wine was bitter-sweet—
Betwixt the perfect and the incomplete.
Then said the Gods—the Gods who live for ever—
“Let us shower gifts upon the soul of man,
That he may catch a glimpse of our endeavour,
And yet not solve the Universal Plan.
For, though Life’s deepest truths be near to find,
Man shall behold and see not, being blind!”
Thus, to the blessing of the Gods descending,
The universal curse and shadow clung;
The mystic evil with the glory blending
That mars the aeons since the world was young.
For upon all whom the High Gods had blest
There fell the quenchless fever of unrest.
Then rose a ferment and an exaltation,
And all men’s souls were thrilled and stirred within.
There came a prophet unto every nation
To teach new doctrines of the source of sin;
And men arose as Gods, and creeds began
To preach th’ Eternal Godhead one with man.
And ever, thro’ all lands, with waves sonorous,
Rolled on from age to age the stream of song
Which made low valleys sweet with rhythmic chorus,
And shook the rock-bound hills with music strong,
And flushed and fired men’s souls like fumes of wine—
Yet was but human! . . . not a song divine!
For, lo! thro’ all that seemeth inspiration
Enters the curse that blurs created things;
Beyond the barriers of our limitation
Not ever yet a soul has spread its wings!
Nor has been yet, nor ever shall there be,
A perfect song—a perfect harmony!
O music of the wind and of the ocean!—
O Power that sways the glory of the spheres!
O aching hearts that vibrate with emotion!
O mystery of Life! O human tears!
What light shall lead us thro’ the wilderness
From out the Egypt of our bitterness?
O Poets, round whose souls, since the beginning,
Strange echoes tremble and wild visions throng,
Ye all have heard the sweetness of the singing,
But no man knows the meaning of the song
That lifts our frail souls heavenwards with its strain—
Then flings us bleeding to the earth again!
Brothers, my soul has quickened with your gladness.
I, too, have sorrowed over human woe.
I, too, have felt the terror and the madness
That all who seek for truth and light must know.
My faint heart falters in the bitter strife—
The labyrinths of the mysteries of Life.
What hope—what comfort—in our desolation?
What ray to pierce the blackness of our night?
To weary hearts, what balm of consolation
That earth is finite, heaven is infinite?
What tho’ the hand of Faith still points the way—
The voice of Reason ever brings delay.
Nay! tho’ Life’s secret be beyond our dreaming,
And all the creeds that sway the world untrue,
A radiance creeps aslant the shadows gleaming
Whose golden arrows pierce the darkness thro’.
If all our errors hold one germ of right,
The paths that lead to truth are infinite!
Throughout all nature and throughout creation
A Power Supreme its manual sign has writ.
In pain and stress, thro’ aeons of gradation,
Shall the weak soul of man decipher it;
For, since the spirit is above the clay,
Man shall not know th’ Eternal in a day.
Yet, tho’ we know not their immortal places,
And tho’ their footsteps are not heard of man,
And tho’ with mystery they veil their faces
And bid us search the Universal Plan,
And tho’ to all there cometh with Life’s breath
Suffering, and doubt, and weariness, and death—
I sing Eternal Hope and Strong Endeavour,
Truth shining down a myriad aisles of thought;
I sing the deathless souls of men, for ever
By strange, wild paths to one vast triumph brought.
The God in Man—the hunger of the soul—
One with the Wisdom that inspires the Whole!