Fragments From 'Genius Lost' - Poem by Charles Harpur
I SEE the boy-bard neath life’s morning skies,
While hope’s bright cohorts guess not of defeat,
And ardour lightens from his earnest eyes,
And faith’s cherubic wings around his being beat.
Loudly the echo of his soul repeats
Those deathless strains that witched the world of old;
While to the deeds, his high heart proudly beats,
Of names within them, treasured like heroic gold.
To love he lights the ode of vocal fire,
And yearns in song o’er freedom’s sacred throes,
Or pours a pious incense from his lyre,
Wherever o’er the grave a martyre-glory glows.
Or as he wanders waking dreams arise,
And paint new Edens on the future’s scroll,
While on the wings of rapture he outflies
The faltering mood that warns in his prophetic soul.
“All doubt away!” he cries in trustful mood;
“From Time’s unknown the perfect yet shall rise;
And this full heart attests how much of God
Might dwell with man beneath these purple-clouded skies!”
Thus holiest shapes inhabit his desire,
And love’s dream-turtles sing along his way;
Thus faith keeps mounting, like a skylark, higher,
As hope engoldens more the morning of his day.
But ah! Too high that harp-like heart is strung,
To bear the jar of this harsh world’s estate;
And ’tis betrayed by that too fervent tongue
How burns the fire within, that bodes a wayward fate.
Soon on the morning’s wings shall fancy flee,
And world-damps quench love’s spiritual flame,
And his wild powers, now as the wild waves free,
Be reef-bound by low wants and beaten down by shame.
Now mark him in the city’s weltering crowd
Haggard and pale; and yet, in his distress,
How quick to scorn the vile—defy the pround—
Grim, cold, and distant now—then seized with recklessness.
Yet oft what agony his pride assails,
When life’s first morning faith to thought appears
Lost in the shadowy past, and nought avails
Her calling to the lost—then blood is in his tears.
Henceforth must his sole comrade be despair,
Sole wanderer by his side in ways forlorn;
And as a root-wrenched vine no more may bear,
No more by this dry wood shall fruit be borne.
No more! And every care of life, in woe
And desperation, to the wind is hurled!
He thanks dull wondering pity with a blow,
And leaps, though into hell, out of the cruel world.
I, even when a child,
Had fondly brooded, with a glowing cheek
And asking heart, with lips apart, and breath
Hushed to such silence as the matron dove
Preserves while warming into life her young,
Over the secretely-disclosing hope
Of finding in the fulness of my youth
Some sweet, congenial one to love, to call
My own. And one has been whose soul
Felt to its depth the influence of mine,
Albeit between us the sweet name of Love
Passed never, to bring blooming to the check
Those rosy shames that burn it on the heart—
Symbol of heaven, sole synonym of God!—
Yet not the less a sympathy that heard,
Through many a whisper, Love’s sweet spirit-self,
Low breathing in the silence of our souls,
Knit us together with a still consent.
And she was beautiful in outward shape,
As lovely in her mind. Such eyes she had
As burn in the far depths of passionate thought,
While yet the visionary heart of youth
Is lonely in its hope! Cherries were ne’er
More ruby-rich, more delicately full,
Than were her lips; and, when her young heart would,
A smile, ineffably enchanting, played
The unwitting conqueress there.
Her light, round form
Had grace in every impulse, motions fair
As her life’s purity; her being all
Was as harmonious to the mind, as are
Most perfect strains of purest tones prolonged,
To music-loving ears.
But full of dole
Her mortal fate to me! Ere sixteen springs
Had bloomed about her being, a most fell
And secret malady did feel amid
The roses of her cheeks, her lips—but still,
Felon-like, shunned the lustre of her eyes,
That more replendent grew. And so, before
Those glowing orbs had turned their starry light
Upon one human face with other troth
Than a meek daughter or fond sister yields;
Ere her white arms and heaving bosom held
A nestling other than the weary head
Of sickness or a stranger babe, the grass
That whistled dry in the autumnal wind,
Was billowing round her grave.
And yet I live
Within a world that knoweth her no more.
. . . . .
’Tis well when misery’s harassed son
For shelter to the grave doth go,
As to his mountain-hold may run
The hunted roe.
Yet when, beneath benignant skies,
The angle Grace herself appears
But Death’s born bride, the stoniest eyes
Might break in tears.
Chorus of the Hours
Ah! That Death
Should ever, like a drear, untimely night,
Descent upon the loved, in Love’s despite!
Ah! That a little breath
Expiring from the world, should leave each scene,
Where its warm influence before hath been,
So empty to the heart in its despair
Of all but misery—misery everywhere!
Thus in the morning of my life have I
No happiness rooted in the earth, to hold
My spirit to the actual. All my hopes
Are blown away by adverse chilling winds,
Blown sheer away, out of the world, to seek
Such solace as may be derived from far
And lonely flights of faith. Yet even these
Only divert, not satisfy, my soul;
Still, when her wings refuse them, wearied out
By so wild-will’d an aeronaut as I,
Having no nearer comfort, even as now,
Their foregone influence do I meditate,
Tracing them upward in their heavenward track.
As through an ocean of uprolling mist
Amid the morning Alps, a morning bird
Keeps soaring, trustful of the risen sun—
Who then is turning all the mountain tops
To diamond islets washed by waves of gold,
That shatter as they surge—keeps soaring, till
It shoots at length into the cloudless light,
And gleams a bird of fire; so faith upmounts
Through the earth’s misty tribulations, up
Into the clear of the eternal world,
Unfainting, fervent, till, with happy wings
Outspreading full amid the rays of God
It glories, gleaming like the Alpine bird.
But wearying in her flight, even faith returns,
As does the bird—returns into the mist
That shutteth down all less adventurous life,
But stronger for the mighty vision left
And for the heavenly warmth upon her wings.
Once,—did I only stand in thought beside
The grave of one who had for freedom died,
Or on some spot made holy by the vow
Of tuneful love, though of an ancient day,—
My very life would thrill—and am I now
From that fraternal interest which cast
Around me then the feeling of the past?
I know not; but my heart no more will leap
Even to the trump of some Homeric lay:
Bad progress is it, if from that I keep
As the moaning wild waves ever
Fret around some lonely isle,
There are griefs that no endeavour
Stilleth even for a while,
Beating at my heart for ever,
Beating at it now,
Beating at my heart—and aching
Upward to my brow.
Like the wild clouds flying over
High above all human reach,
There are joys that I their lover
Cannot even scale in speech;
Flying o’er my head for ever
Flying o’er it now;
Flying o’er my head—and shading
With despair my brow.
Chorus of the Hours
Alas! The veriest human clod
Is happier than he,
On whom the majesty,
And the mystery
Of thought, had fallen like the fire of God!
Ah! Those by nature gifted to pursue
The beautiful and true
Have chiefly in dishonour trod
The regions they redeemed—as even yet they do!
And where are they, to gods upgrown,
Shall drive this darksome doom?
Ye suffering sons of Genius, you
Must dissipate the gloom
That clouds you even as of old
In its mist so deadly cold!
With your own injuries, let stern thought
Of the most desolate deathless of those
Who with the power of darkness fought,
(Each in his age, whereon his spirit rose,
As rises some peculiar star of night
To burn eternally apart,)
Yea, let stern thought of those
Now nerve you to re-urge the lengthened fight;
And for those others,
Your future brothers,
Now follow victory with unflinching heart!
Yes, it is well, in this our cold grim earth
To steal an hour for meditation free;
To die in body, and with all the mind
Thus freed, to bridge with might beams of thought
The depth of the Eternal. Even on me
Such mood sometimes descends, the precious gift
Of pitying Urania, then I fly,
Even as a stork mid evening’s purple clouds
In mid-Elysiums—Paradises fair
Perhaps in stars consummated, whereon
The once earth-treading votaries of Truth
In soul reside, until a period when
Knowledge, advancing them from height to height,
And Love, grown perfect, shall have nurtured forth
Angelic wings for heaven.
But by these
I mean not such as with sour faces boast;
Blind moles of fear, who deem thy honour God
By offering up on outraged human hearts,
As upon blood-stained altars, every gay
And happy feeling, every rose wish
That sweetens human souls: and who, convened
In their dull tabernacles, all at once
Behowl the Diety as dogs the moon,
Or deprecate his wrath with grovelling rites,
And boisterous groans, that from stentorian lungs
Are grunted, swine-like, forth! Oh no! For such
The paradise of fools full wide extends
Her dismal gates!
I speak not thus in scorn;
Scorn is not sweet to me; but when the rights
Of man are trampled on; when villains sit
In the high places of the land, and sport
With what the just hold sacred; when mere wealth
Can win its Nestor’s favour, and the sleek
Regard even of its saints, and when religion
Itself is ever in a bad extreme—
A bloated pomp of mystery and show,
Or a most crude and coarse perversity,
Vile as a beggar’s raiment—then the scorn
Of indignation, then the brave disgust
Of righteous shame and honest hate, put forth
In tones like God’s own thunder burst aboard,
Are things the thin-souled scoundrel never feels.
Enough. The good I deem leave vain disputes
On things that are, and must be from their kind,
Mainly unknown, and still with faithful heed
Have care of those God gave them light to see
Strewn round their daily being: and of such
Rightfully choosing, and to fitting ends
Well shaping all, upbuild with honest hands
A true and simple life; and in the jars
Of national factions they alway, despite
Of frowning kings and banning priests afford
Their aid to freedom.
Yet will there come a day, though not to me,
When excellence of being shall be sought
Not only thus in vision, but within
The actual round of this diurnal world,—
A day whose light shall chase the clouds that veil
Upon the mountain tops of old repute
The imaginary gods of wrongful power,
And pierce thence downward to the vales of toil,
Healing and blessing all men—the great day
Of knowledge. Then the accident of birth—
That empty imposition! Or the claim
Of wealth—that earthly and most gnomish cheat!
Shall neither arrogate to any, proud
Distinctions as of right, nor qualify
Any by its sole influence for power
Over his fellows, but all men shall stand
Proudly beneath the fair wide roof of heaven,
As God-created equals, each the sire
Of his own worth, and the joint sanctioner
Of all political pertainment, all
Moral and social honour.
Yea, for such
Is Freedom’s charter traced upon the heart
Of our humanity, whene’er ’tis rid
Of the foul scroff of vice, and on the brain
Built godlike, when disclouded by God’s light
Of a too old distemper’s fatal rout,
Of boastful hell-suggested superstitions
And customs born of Error. And let none
Despair of such an advent; for, as when
Some solemn wood’s familiar cadences,
Deepening and deepening all around, portend
The salutary storm, even so the wide
Pervading instinct of a sure revolt
Against the ancient tyrannies of the earth
Roams on before it in the living stress
Of knowledge, omening the unborn change
By harshening still to the fine ear of thought
The daily jar of customary wrongs.
And let none fear that earthly power, or aught
Less than Omnipotence, can still or stay
The solemn prelude that for ever thus
Keeps deepening round and onward in the front
Of that great victory over wrong, which time
Shall witness—wrong and its abettors, all
Whom lust of sway unsanctioned by the truth
Shall to the last disnature; for the spirit
It first evokes—a mighty will to think—
Doth thenceforth charge it with oracular tones
That may not be mistaken.
Yea, great thoughts
With great thoughts coalescing through the world,
Into the future of all progress pour
Sun-prophecies, there quickening what were else
Nascent too long.
Chorus of the Hours
O why is not this beauteous earth
The Eden men imagine—the fair seat
Of fruitful peace, pure love, and sunny mirth?
And why are its prime souls, though so complete
In apprehension of a Godlike state,
The subjects ever of fraternal hate—
Oppressing or oppressed,
That so the portion is of all, deceit
And fear, and anger, sorrow, and unrest?
There’s not one bright enduring thing
In this great round of nature that appears—
No shining stars, no river murmuring,
No morn-crowned hill, no golden evening scene,
That hath not glimmered and distorted been
Through the dim mist of tears—
Tears not as blood from some wrung human brain,
Throbbing and aching with unpitied pain!
There is not one green mound, existent long
In any region, nor old wayside stone,
On which some weary child of social wrong
Hath sat not—there, alone,
To bite his pallid lip and heave the unheeded groan!
And such hath been the state of man
Since first the race’s recreancy began;
And thus his piety is scared away
From earth, its proper home,
To seek vague heavens above the source of day;
Or out beyond the gorgeous gloom
Wherewith dusk evening curtains up the west;
There flying, like the psalmist’s dove, to rest
In sinless gardens of perpetual bloom
And islands of the blest.
Ah! My heart
Is like a core of fire within my breast,
And by this agony is all my mind
Shaken away from its tenacious hold
Of time and sensuous things. Now come, thou meek
Religious trust, that sometime to my soul
Fliest friendly, like a heaven-descended dove,
With wings that whisper of the peace of God!
Come, and assure it now, that all thus seen
Of evil, by the patience of the One
Almighty Master of the Universe,
Is but allowed, to dash our vain repose
On Time’s foundations, and all mad belief
In human consequence; that, finally,
Amid the death of expectations fond,—
Discoveries diurnal that the pomps
And pleasures of the world are but bright mists
Concealing, mid its heights of pomp and shame,
Its depths of degradation,—that all weal,
Beauty, and peace, even in their permanence,
Are but the florid riches of a soil
That crusts the cone of some yet masked volcano,
Whose darling fires but wait the dread command:
“Up, to the work appointed! ”—we at length,
Even thus admonished, thus in hope and heart
Subdued and chastened, might be so constrained
To look between the thunder-bearing clouds
That darken over this mysterious ball s
Blind face, for surer, better things beyond
Its flying scenes of doubtful good, commixed
With evident evil: yea, conclude at last
That wereso in the universe of God
Our better home may be, it is not here;
Then here why build we?
O! Then, farewell,
Fancy and Hope, twin angels of the past!
Thee, Fancy, chiefly of my younger life
The spiritual spouse, farewell! With all
Thy pictured equipage: the shapes sublime
Of universal liberty and right,
Dethroning tyrants and investing worth
Alone with power and honour; and with these
Fair visions that come shining to the heart
Like evening stars from a serener air
Of generosity, in rapture high
At rival excellence; of charity
Living in secret for her own sweet sake;
Of mercy lifting up a fallen foe;
Of pity yearning o’er the child of shame;
Unselfish love, and resolute friendship—all,
Even to common trust—farewell! These lights
May never burn in the grey dome of time
or constellate for me the world again!
No more! No, never more.
Here, only here
In the dark dwellings of this silent city
Is rest for the world-weary. Slander here,
Disease and poverty, forego their victim;
The fox of envy and the wolf of scorn
Snarl not within these gates. The enemy
Who comes to triumph o’er the powerless bones
That once he feared, still hates—even as he comes,
By the dismaying silence smitten, stops,
Listening for some far reproachful voice
Heard only through the mystery of his soul,
And, shuddering, asks forgiveness. Slept I here,
And should an enemy so plead, and might
My injured spirit, hovering over, hear—
The boon were granted. O that here, even now,
The sense were frozen to forgetfulness
That I, upon this populous star of God,
This earth that I was born to, and have loved,
Am utterly uncared-for and alone!
Alas! These thoughts are storming all my soul
With madness—yea, the madness of despair!
And though my reason lifting up its strength
As desperately confronts them, just as well
Might the poor castaway, who helpless stands
On some bleak rock in the mid ocean, preach
Obedience to the breakers surging round
That perilous point, as I (in this wild gloom)
Strive to o’ercome them—And why should I strive?
No, rather let them howl like midnight wolves
Within my failing brain, and gnaw and tug
At my sick heart, their bitter food, for they
Will help me to my one desire—death.
Be his rest who sleeps below,
Done to death by toil and woe,
Sound and sweet.
So much in fortune did he lack,
So little meet
Of kindness, as with bleeding feet
He journeyed life’s most barren track,
That only hate in its deceit,
Not love, not pity, would entreat
To have him back.
But he sleeps well where many a bloom
That might not grace his living home
Pranks the raised sod:
Tokening, perhaps, that one who here
Missed the world’s smile, hath met elsewhere
The smile of God.
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