Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

Angkor - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

I
Out of the Forest into a terrible splendour
Of noon, the pinnacles of the temple--portals,
Stone Faces, immense in carven ruin
Above the trembling of giant trees emerge.

Stone Faces, of secret and eternal smile,
Ruined Faces, perilously towering
Over the waving of the wilderness, a fourfold
Gaze, opposing the slow strength of Time;

Visible afar, stony serenity, crown
Of the builders' labour of imagination,
Last and loftiest thought of a little dust,
That once, robed in authority, moved commanding,

When overseeing his busy--handed companies
Of workmen, and elephants hoisting obedient,
A King magnificent, satiate of victory,
Builded his vision of the eternal Peace;

Have you not heard, alone in your abandonment
Since the last echoing vibrations vanished
Of tremulous fame diminishing, have you not
'Mid the resplendent silence of the noon

Heard the cry of the little seed in the earth
Prisoned and crying to the mighty Sun in heaven
With his strong beams to find and to deliver her?
Through million miles of air is heard her cry;

The cry of Desire, that aches with a blind throbbing,
Ignorant of all but the aching of its desire,
Desire inappeasable, cruel as a desert thirst,
Desire born of desire, breeding desire?

In lust of light it springs from the little seed,
Climbing out of the hot suffocation of darkness,
Multiplying, bursting, swelling to burst afresh,
Writhing and wrestling to mount into the light.

And up from the furnaces of its own corruption
As with a trample of triumph, to the imperious
Sting of the Sun and the prodigally spending
Wanton rain, surges the sap in answer.

As if it were red blood boiling in the suddenness
Of panther's sinewy and ungovernable spring;
As if it were an invisible conflagration
Glorying up into a momentary splendour,

The sap presses, stronger than spirting fountains,
Reasonless, wild as the doubled strength of madmen;
Invisible and unheard, it races into
The boughs, and the boughs stream out into the leaves.

Roots thrust downward into the black heat of earth;
Boughs descend, thicken, and root themselves afresh;
The builded fabric is seized and is enfolded
In the tightening of those fibres, passive as a victim.

Supplanting the jamb, a root upholds the lintel;
Cracking the rounded column and delicately--carved
Frieze, with slow muscle the serpent--folds
Fasten increasing, crush or twist awry;

Invented order and scruple of willed proportion,
The strong square, all the lineaments of reason,
Lost in the green extravagance, the strangling
Young embraces of a pitiless desire.

Vast blocks, upheaved as by an elephant's
Shouldering force, are incredibly suspended
By vast stems, that swelling slow like pythons
Capture a purchase for their upward towering.

The ancient meditation of the Gods is prisoned
As in the clasp of heavy and voluptuous arms.
The still presence of Peace is broken in fragments:
Ruined and fabulous is the eternal smile.

The Stone Faces look from a lost battle
Over the ascending wilderness, the nearing
Waves of Time re--conquering Eternity,
As a beaten rock left on a crumbling strand.


II
Images people the shadows and throng the sun--soaked
Porches; demon forms, and the armed striding
Of warriors; frowns of scorn and limbs of anger;
And 'mid their conflict, shapes of young delight.

Ah, Heavenly Dancer, motioned by an ecstasy
Breathed into stone, O time--delivered vision,
Image of celestial joy everlasting
Sung by the body to the Spirit's flute!

Now like a shipwreckt remnant of security
Drifted to shore by the negligent ocean--streams,
Thou hidest, shaped into the image of humanity,
As lips hide speech, the Spirit's profound desire.

In a trance the eye can behold the hands that formed thee,
Supple hands, chiselling the stone's resistance
To a thought in the fingers' pressure and smooth relentings
Transfiguring ancient stone to breathing mind

Like as the distant gaze and sky--divining
Will of the helmsman, with touches light as breath
Shape the speed of a winged keel to union
With the firm wind's invisible inspiration.

The hand traces; the blood thinks and pauses;
Fingers marry and divide; perfecting motions,
Delicately measuring, shape into significance
Dreams: But hands have purpose, these have none,

These strong fibres, strong as the whole body
Of a wrestler locked in an obstinate tenacity
Of effort, clutch of innumerable tendrils,
Never relaxing their terrible embrace!

Live, Live! they cry, as they mount exuberant--
Whither? O whither the seething, savage ardour
Craving, and riotous in its own destruction?
Answers only the silence of the Sun.

The silence of the Sun possesses the still cranny.
Smooth lizards flicker across the abraded wall.
High amid molten splendour in topmost trees
The indolent gibbon swings from branch to branch;

Song of birds, rippling an airy and strange chime,
And shrilled unceasing chorus of cicalas
Crown the ruined history of proud peoples.
The Forest burns in the crucible of the Sun.


III
Out of the moulder of Time and great oblivion
Shines the remoteness of legendary majesties,
Willed to remain high over farthest sundown,
Now in a memory melting insubstantial.

Solomon the King built a temple in Jerusalem
For the glory of the Lord to inhabit for eternity.
Lebanon from her forests gave him cedar and cypress;
These became pillar and beam and coffered ceiling

Carved with lily and gourd and palm and pomegranate;
And all overlaid was the house within with gold.
Stone was the foundation; in the midmost was the oracle:
There Solomon ascended to the secrecy of the Lord.

It was told to Solomon: There is a queen in Saba,
In Saba of sweet valleys, of spices and precious stones.
Young she is and comely; and she seeks after wisdom.
Great pity it is that she worshippeth the Sun.

Balkis the queen had grave men for her counsellors,
Warriors stood before her to execute her bidding.
She was wise in her body's secret wisdom of beauty:
But none knew her wisdom; it flowed not from her lips.

It was told in the ears of Balkis: Solomon the King
Is wiser than all men, even the sages of Egypt.
Also he has riches beyond computation;
Armies he has and navies, and seven hundred wives.

Learned is he in the tongues of beast and bird,
In the hearts of the fishes and of all creeping things.
And Balkis was seized with a marvelling curiosity:
I will see this Solomon, said Balkis, and arose,

And with heavy--laden camels she journeyed to Jerusalem.
And Solomon accepted her Arabian spice: he showed her
The splendour of his house, his servants and all his horsemen,
And the temple founded to be the Lord's for ever.

Solomon and Balkis sat upon lofty thrones
Together; the bright birds of the air thronged round them,
Many--coloured plumage; and the King knew their voices,
The lion in the desert also he heard afar.

Solomon spoke not of his own magnificence
And the things he had shown her, surpassing belief and rumour,
Till her heart was faint; he had shown her all these marvels,
And not a question asked he had not answered.

But he spoke of the Temple wherein he had newly housed
The glory of the invisible God, creator
Of all men, even of Solomon and his wisdom;
The temple built to endure for everlasting.

Then were they silent. Evening descended on them;
And the low sun smote that high place in Jerusalem
Over against all the splendour of the Temple
That seemed eternity flaming before their eyes.

In the gaze of Solomon was a great contentment
With all he had willed and all he had performed.
But still in the unreasonable memory of Balkis
Was the cry of the seed to the glory of the Sun.


IV
Lips imperious, bosom superb! Eyes
Smiling with all persuasion to all adventure!
Veins that leap in the lightning of ecstasy! Spirit
Of splendour and storm, peril of Caesar and sage!

Whether to charm the eagle mind from form its solitude
And wondrously to enter the secret and strange places
Of wisdom, passionately importuning that ultimate
Possession, satiate of all else beside;

Or with subtle tendrils of pleasure serpentining
About the strength of the stony will, and weaving
Nets invisible, merciless, inescapable,
Softly to master the mastery of the strong;

Or stung by profounder hunger of satisfaction,
Incarnate Flame, to tower a rapturous moment
Over an empire fallen in ashes, exulting
To vanish in legend, having destroyed a world;

From what seed sown in the ignorant immensity
Of existence, ascend you into agonies and furies,
Not joy, not pain, but necessity of deliverance,
To enchant, to burn into victory and perish?

These dead doorways, black squares of emptiness,
Framed in vivid stone that scorches the hand
And dazzles the sight, are not so hollow
As the sockets that housed the brilliance of your eyes;

And this palsy of twisted and whitened fibre,
Dangling inert athwart the interior blackness,
Is not so wasted as the suppleness of arms
Moulded to be chains about the necks of conquerors.

All that interior triumph of the throbbing heart
Throbbing through wall and pillar and through the hardness
Of men, dissolving fortresses, is quieter
Than dust in the corner; earth from you has peace.

O Stone Faces, was it a far--off vision
Of Peace that the builder imagined when he shaped you,
That shadowy King, to endure beyond his memory
And awe with eternal mask the children of Time?

Surely in his heart was a vision of Life the Destroyer
Dancing the dance of Desire, the all--creating
All--destroying; Power from Power proceeding,
Or Death from Death issuing, who shall know,

Or who distinguish the inconceivable riches
From the inconceivable ruin, the victory crowned with
Annihilation? Afraid of his own vision,
He lent it human lineaments of Peace.


V
Here in the forest, under a roof of mats,
Cross--legged sitting, with a bowl beside him,
Waited the Hermit in his still persistence,
Motionless contemplating the eternal motion.

Come back, thou Hermit, here in the fierce forest
To thine own station--whether from a handful
Of dust remoulded, or from the wandered worlds
Of air, an essence into Time resumed!

Still as a flame is still in a windless place,
Seeking thy far and invisible affinity,
I see thee, careless of emperors and captains
As of the tree--tops towering above thee;

Hearing not clash of arms, nor the resounding
Triumph, nor cry of the vanquished, but with senses
Unfeasted, sure of that foreknown subsiding
Into the silence where thy thought is native.

Round thy ribs slowly fasten the serpent--roots;
Over thee meshes that insatiate voracity
As with mouths thirsting for life's fierce savour,
As with limbs lusting for the pleasures of the Sun.

Still art thou there, like the emptiness a whirlpool
Furiously encompasses, O indestructible
Emptiness! Only the communion of silence
Fills thee, and light that the evening dims not.

O naked Hermit, seated in thy mystery
Of patience, gazing down the ruin of Time,
Thou to the ravaging forest that rejoices
To teem and perish, perish and teem again,

Thou art no more than a fallen fragment of stone
Only to be seized by the implacable fibres,
Lifeless, without share in the green upsurging
That streams about thee and climbs above thy head.

But to thee, dipt into a central stillness,
All this enormity of violent abundance,
All the strength of the serpent--roots, and the wild
Energy leaping into boughs and leaves,

Are but obstructing shadow and apparition,
Vapours ascending from vain desires of Time,
Drawn as a mist is drawn from the wandering rivers,
The stream into the cloud, and the cloud into the stream.

But from what desire, O Solitary, dost thou come?
From what seed sown in the abysses of the stars
Was the strong engendering of the passion of thy stillness,
Desire surpassing all the desires of mortals,

Secret in the anchored body's immense surrender,
A strange, transforming vision, a strange excess,
Prisoned in the heart's beat, and out of its prison
Crying to the glory of the Universal Sun?


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010



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