Sea Spray and Smoke Drift


Adam Lindsay Gordon

THOU art moulded in marble impassive,
    False goddess, fair statue of strife,
Yet standest on pedestal massive,
    A symbol and token of life.
Thou art still, not with stillness of languor,
    And calm, not with calm boding rest;
For thine is all wrath and all anger
    That throbs far and near in the breast
    Of man, by thy presence possess’d.

With the brow of a fallen archangel,
    The lips of a beautiful fiend,
And locks that are snake-like to strangle,
    And eyes from whose depths may be glean’d
The presence of passions, that tremble
    Unbidden, yet shine as they may
Through features too proud to dissemble,
    Too cold and too calm to betray
    Their secrets to creatures of clay.

Thy breath stirreth faction and party,
    Men rise, and no voice can avail
To stay them—rose-tinted Astarte
    Herself at thy presence turns pale.
For deeper and richer the crimson
    That gathers behind thee throws forth
A halo thy raiment and limbs on,
    And leaves a red track in the path
    That flows from thy wine-press of wrath.

For behind thee red rivulets trickle,
    Men fall by thy hands swift and lithe,
As corn falleth down to the sickle,
    As grass falleth down to the scythe,
Thine arm, strong and cruel, and shapely,
    Lifts high the sharp, pitiless lance,
And rapine and ruin and rape lie
    Around thee. The Furies advance,
    And Ares awakes from his trance.

We, too, with our bodies thus weakly,
    With hearts hard and dangerous, thus
We owe thee—the saints suffered meekly
    Their wrongs—it is not so with us.
Some share of thy strength thou hast given
    To mortals refusing in vain
Thine aid. We have suffered and striven
    Till we have grown reckless of pain,
    Though feeble of heart and of brain.

Fair spirit, alluring if wicked,
    False deity, terribly real,
Our senses are trapp’d, our souls tricked
    By thee and thy hollow ideal.
The soldier who falls in his harness,
    And strikes his last stroke with slack hand,
On his dead face thy wrath and thy scorn is
    Imprinted. Oh! seeks he a land
    Where he shall escape thy command?

When the blood of thy victims lies red on
    That stricken field, fiercest and last,
In the sunset that gilds Armageddon
    With battle-drift still overcast—
When the smoke of thy hot conflagrations
    O’ershadows the earth as with wings,
Where nations have fought against nations,
    And kings have encounter’d with kings,
    When cometh the end of all things—

Then those who have patiently waited,
    And borne, unresisting, the pain
Of thy vengeance unglutted, unsated,
    Shall they be rewarded again?
Then those who, enticed by thy laurels,
    Or urged by thy promptings unblest,
Have striven and stricken in quarrels,
    Shall they, too, find pardon and rest?
We know not, yet hope for the best.

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