Robert Laurence Binyon
In Hospital - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon
Nothing of itself is in the still'd mind, only
A still submission to each exterior image,
Still as a pool, accepting trees and sky,
A candid mirror that never a breath disturbs
Nor drifted leaf,--as if of a single substance
With every shape and colour that it encloses,--
When, alone and lost in the morning's white silence,
Drowsily drowsing eyes, empty of thought,
Accept the blank breadth of the opposite wall.
Lying in my bed, motionless, hardly emerged
From clouds of sleep,--a solitary cloud
Is not more vague in the placeless blue of ether
Than I, with unapportioned and unadjusted
Senses, that put off trouble of understanding,
Even the stirring of wonder, and acquiesce.
The early light brims over the filled silence.
Memory stirs not a wave or a shadow within me.
Only the wall is the world; there stops my sight.
If he should bend his bow, that great Archer
There before me, if tautened and all erect
Slowly he should draw the arrow back to his ear,
Suddenly I should see the curve of his tense body
Alter, and O at the leap of the sighted arrow
The arms descend, shoulder and hip relax.
But hidden in his face, hidden the bow behind him.
I see the square of the buckle that clasps embossed
The belt girding the slenderness of his loins,
The smooth and idle energy of his arms,
And under the mould of breast and flank I feel
The invisible veins and warm blood pulsing through them.
But why is his face hidden? And why does my heart
Beat with a fear that he may be all disclosed
Terrible in calm, terrible in beauty and power?
For his eyes must surely be filled with the far mountains,
Rivers and great plains be his eyes' possession;
And full in the centre of his concentred vision
Stands his victim, he who is soon to be stricken,
Soon to fall, with the arrow pouncing upon him,
The arrow that carries the light and scorn of his eyes.
Why do you hide your face, glorious Archer?
If I could see you, then though the arrow pierced me
Gazing upon you, it were a glory to fall.
Will you at last, seizing the bow, bend it?
Now, as I gaze? A thrilling of fear rushes
Blind in my veins: fear? is it fear, or hope?
As if all my gaze were fixt on a drop of water
Suspended, about to fall and still not falling,
A liquid jewel of slowly increasing splendour
As the rain retreats and the shadow of cloud is lifted
And all light comes to enclose itself in the circle
Of a single drop, so is this suspended moment.
The stillness moves. Tripping of feet; shadows;
Voices. The hospital wakes to its ritual round.
The moment breaks; the drop, the bright drop falls.
A sponge has prest its coldness over my spirit.
Shape and colour abandon their apparition,
Subside into place in the order of usual things.
And another mind returns with the day's returning,
Weaving its soft invisible meshes around me.
This is the daylight, bald on the plain wall.
Cracks in the paint, a trickle of random lines,
A trailing scrawl that a child might trace with a stick
As he runs idly about the ebb--tide sands--
Is it out of these I supposed a towering image
There on the blankness? Are you gone, my Archer,
You who were living more than the millions waking?
No, you are there still! It was I released you
Out of the secret world wherein you are hidden.
You are there, there; and the arrow is flying, flying....
And yet patient, as if nothing were endangered,
We do small things and keep the little commandments,--
We and our doings a scribble upon the wall.
Thunder in the night! Vague, ghostly, remote
It rolls. The world sleeps. Suddenly splitting the air,
Stumbles a crash: and a million sleepers awake,
Each in his silence menaced, and all aware.
The aroused and secret spirit in each listens,
Companioned by an invisible listening host,
And sees the blackness gashed with quaking light,
Surrendered then to sounds of a world lost
In a heart--shaking convulsion of senseless force,
Wandering and warring blasts of a monstrous breath,
Legendary Chaos throned in heaven and dealing
Purposeless darts, and the air vivid with death.
But we, we are men, that walk upright in the sun,
That judge, question, remember, and foresee.
What have we to do with blind demons of air?
We choose and act; aim, reason, and are free.
Thunder in the night! As stupefying and sudden,
The stumbling crash of the nations into flame
Woke us aghast! We looked, we heard; we knew
That from us men the inhuman chaos came.
From reason, frenzy; from knowledge, blindness; from pity,
Cruelty! Trapped in Necessity's iron net,
To be free, to be free, we battled, and hoped the dawn,
Nor counted cost, if flesh could pay the debt.
O beauty broken! O glory of thought exiled!
O flowers in a furnace tossed! O joy defaced!
O sense and soul grown used in the fire, assenting
To brute futility, torture, and waste, waste!
The Spirit of Man in anguish amid the cloud
And the antiphons of thunder, and earth upheaved,
Beheld amazed the deeds of its body, and rose
In them to a splendour strange and unconceived.
They who simply heard the call of their own land,
The fields, the hills, the hamlets that they knew,
Hurt and in peril, and questioned not, but went,
To a fibre deep in the very body true;
They who high in hope of youth and flame of faith
Streamed to the storm with a beating heart of pride
Because that threat towered black against the sun,
Who fell, and made a radiance where they died;
They who would not for their soul's sake stand apart,
They who took upon themselves the world's red stain,
Who saw, who loathed, yet would not bear to watch
The struggle of others in unpartner'd pain;
They who still, when the mind sickened, and faith darkened,
And falsehood clung as the mud clung, and the cloud
Confused, and horror gnawed, endured to death,
Still seeing the star to which their course was vowed;
Them we name over, them we recall to--day,
Whose dear bodies in foreign earth are laid.
Ours is the light to breathe, and a world to mould:
But over them all is sleep; their hands are stayed.
Have we only remembering tears, and flowers to strew?
They are crying to us with the cry of the unfulfilled,
Like the earth aching for spring, when frosts are late.
Are we the answer? Or shall they twice be killed?
Their pain is upon us, pain of hope imperilled.
They are crying to us with the spirit's untold desires.
Heart, brain, and hand, the will and the vision--all,
And more than all, the Cause of Man requires.
We stumble and plod; by little and little we gain.
Old folly tempts, old habit about us twines.
But to--day our eyes are lifted, and hearts with them;
And near, as the stillness falls, the Vision shines.
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