Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

A Reply To A Pessimist - Poem by Alfred Austin

O beautiful bright world! for ever young,
And now with Wisdom grafted on thy Spring,
Why do they slander thee with wailing tongue,
And lose the wealth of thy long harvesting?
Why do they say that thou art old and sad,
When, each fresh April, nightingales are glad,
And, each returning May, paired misselthrushes sing?

``Stripped of our dreams''! It is the sleeper then,
And not the shadowy corridors of night,
Fair visions have deserted. Hill and glen
As haunted are with wonder and delight
As when Endymion felt his eyelids kissed
By the moist moon, and through the morning mist
Foam-sandalled Venus flowered, immaculately white.

``No deities in sky, or sun, or moon!
No nymphs in grove or hill, in sea or stream''!
Why, I saw Artemis, this very noon,
Slip through the wood, a momentary gleam,
As satin as the sallow and as lithe,
And heard her eager sleuth-hounds baying blithe
Hard on the intruder's heels, then rent Actaeon's scream.

``Dead''! Hamadryads frisk in every wood,
In every pool elusive Naiads dwell;
Neptune's dread voice, deep as when Troy still stood,
Is stored for us in every murmuring shell.
List! you will hear. But look, and you will find
Iris in rainbow, Hermes in the wind,
Delphi's inspiring fount in every wayside well.

``No God! no Heaven''! The Gods you cannot kill,
Nor banish from their seats the sainted choirs.
The deep-toned organ is Cecilia's still,
Still lamb-like Agnes quencheth wanton fires;
Stephen still sanctifies the martyr's lot,
And many a maiden, though believing not,
Beholds Madonna's face, then chastens her desires.

O beautiful bright world! for ever young,
With gifts for ever fresh. The seasons bring
All that they ever brought, since flowers first sprung
To deck the blushing consciousness of Spring.
Summer still makes us glad that we were born,
Our musings mellow with the mellowing corn,
And to our fireside loves wise Winter bids us cling.

What is there we have lost while hearts still beat,
While thought still burns? You cannot Man dethrone,
Time's Heir-Apparent, from his sovran seat,
Assail his empire, or curtail its zone.
What though fledged Science fearlessly explore
New worlds of knowledge unsurmised of yore,
These fresh-found realms the Muse annexes to its own.

Thus have we Eld's delights, our own as well:
Science is but Imagination's slave;
Nor have ``the antique fables'' lost their spell,
Because we pierce the sky and plumb the wave.
For us the stars still sing, the moon still grieves,
The Fauns still rustle in the fallen leaves,
The Crucified is risen, and glorifies the grave.

Is Love less sweet because men loved of yore?
No, sweeter, stronger, with the ages' growth.
Love's long descent ennobles loving more,
And Helen's falsehood fortifies one's troth.
Bridging Time's stream with life's commanding span,
We stand upon the Present, and we scan
Future and Past, and seem to live along them both.

What have we lost?-we, who have gained so much:
The mind of man, familiar afar,
Hath upon sun, star, planet, laid its touch,
Lassoed the lightning, yoked it to his car.
Yet fear not lest that Knowledge should deflower
The awe that veils the inviolable Power,
Or that we e'er shall learn what, whence, and why we are.

'Tis Mystery lends a meaning unto Life,
Never quite guessed; and simple souls, mean-while,
Find Paradise in mother, sister, wife,
The far one's faithfulness, the near one's smile.
So long as valour wins and beauty charms,
And lovers throb into each other's arms,
How can you rail at life, reproach it and revile?

``Woe, agony, despair''! Woe, yes, there is,
Despair there need not be. Meek wisdom tries
To gain from grief an after-taste of bliss,
And sees a rainbow through its streaming eyes.
Nor, if I could, would I quite part with pain,
Lest pity die;-a loss, and not a gain.
'Tis Pride alone despairs. Be humble, and be wise.

We bear no ``burden of the bygone years.''
Their matter perishes, their soul survives,
Widening our hopes and narrowing our fears;
Shedding a shadowy charm athwart our lives,
Guiding our gropings, steadying our feet,
Like to an agëd nurse, that we may meet
The Future without dread, whatever rue arrives.

What if there were no Heaven? there is the Earth.
What if there were no goal? there is the race.
'Tis unfulfilled desire that staves off dearth,
Sustains the march and stimulates the pace.
Where is the ``prodigal waste of myriad lives''?
No life is wasted that loves, hopes, and strives,
And wears an eastward glow upon its fading face.

O beautiful bright world! Earth, Heaven, in one,
I thank thee for thy gifts: the gift of birth,
The unbought bounty of air, sky, sea, sun,
Seed-time and shower, harvest and mellow mirth;
For privilege to think, to feel, to strive;
I thank thee for the boon of being alive,
For Glory's deathless dream, and Virtue's matchless worth.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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