William Makepeace Thackeray

(1811-1863 / India)

May-Day Ode - Poem by William Makepeace Thackeray

But yesterday a naked sod
The dandies sneered from Rotten Row,
And cantered o'er it to and fro:
And see 'tis done!
As though 'twere by a wizard's rod
A blazing arch of lucid glass
Leaps like a fountain from the grass
To meet the sun!

A quiet green but few days since,
With cattle browsing in the shade:
And here are lines of bright arcade
In order raised!
A palace as for fairy Prince,
A rare pavilion, such as man
Saw never since mankind began,
And built and glazed!

A peaceful place it was but now,
And lo! within its shining streets
A multitude of nations meets;
A countless throng
I see beneath the crystal bow,
And Gaul and German, Russ and Turk,
Each with his native handiwork
And busy tongue.

I felt a thrill of love and awe
To mark the different garb of each,
The changing tongue, the various speech
Together blent:
A thrill, methinks, like His who saw
'All people dwelling upon earth
Praising our God with solemn mirth
And one consent.'

High Sovereign, in your Royal state,
Captains, and chiefs, and councillors,
Before the lofty palace doors
Are open set,—
Hush ere you pass the shining gate:
Hush! ere the heaving curtain draws,
And let the Royal pageant pause
A moment yet.

People and prince a silence keep!
Bow coronet and kingly crown.
Helmet and plume, bow lowly down,
The while the priest,
Before the splendid portal step,
(While still the wondrous banquet stays,)
From Heaven supreme a blessing prays
Upon the feast.

Then onwards let the triumph march;
Then let the loud artillery roll,
And trumpets ring, and joy-bells toll,
And pass the gate.
Pass underneath the shining arch,
'Neath which the leafy elms are green;
Ascend unto your throne, O Queen!
And take your state.

Behold her in her Royal place;
A gentle lady; and the hand
That sways the sceptre of this land,
How frail and weak!
Soft is the voice, and fair the face:
She breathes amen to prayer and hymn;
No wonder that her eyes are dim,
And pale her cheek.

This moment round her empire's shores
The winds of Austral winter sweep,
And thousands lie in midnight sleep
At rest to-day.
Oh! awful is that crown of yours,
Queen of innumerable realms
Sitting beneath the budding elms
Of English May!

A wondrous scepter 'tis to bear:
Strange mystery of God which set
Upon her brow yon coronet,—
The foremost crown
Of all the world, on one so fair!
That chose her to it from her birth,
And bade the sons of all the earth
To her bow down.

The representatives of man
Here from the far Antipodes,
And from the subject Indian seas,
In Congress meet;
From Afric and from Hindustan,
From Western continent and isle,
The envoys of her empire pile
Gifts at her feet;

Our brethren cross the Atlantic tides,
Loading the gallant decks which once
Roared a defiance to our guns,
With peaceful store;
Symbol of peace, their vessel rides!*
O'er English waves float Star and Stripe,
And firm their friendly anchors gripe
The father shore!

From Rhine and Danube, Rhone and Seine,
As rivers from their sources gush,
The swelling floods of nations rush,
And seaward pour:
From coast to coast in friendly chain,
With countless ships we bridge the straits,
And angry ocean separates
Europe no more.

From Mississippi and from Nile—
From Baltic, Ganges, Bosphorous,
In England's ark assembled thus
Are friend and guest.
Look down the mighty sunlit aisle,
And see the sumptuous banquet set,
The brotherhood of nations met.
Around the feast!

Along the dazzling colonnade,
Far as the straining eye can gaze,
Gleam cross and fountain, bell and vase,
In vistas bright;
And statues fair of nymph and maid,
And steeds and pards and Amazons,
Writhing and grappling in the bronze,
In endless fight.

To deck the glorious roof and dome,
To make the Queen a canopy,
The peaceful hosts of industry
Their standards bear.
Yon are the works of Brahmin loom;
On such a web of Persian thread
The desert Arab bows his head
And cries his prayer.

Look yonder where the engines toil:
These England's arms of conquest are,
The trophies of her bloodless war:
Brave weapons these.
Victorians over wave and soil,
With these she sails, she weaves, she tills,
Pierces the everlasting hills
And spans the seas.

The engine roars upon its race,
The shuttle whirs the woof,
The people hum from floor to roof,
With Babel tongue.
The fountain in the basin plays,
The chanting organ echoes clear,
An awful chorus 'tis to hear,
A wondrous song!

Swell, organ, swell your trumpet blast,
March, Queen and Royal pageant, march
By splendid aisle and springing arch
Of this fair Hall:
And see! above the fabric vast,
God's boundless Heaven is bending blue,
God's peaceful sunlight's beaming through,
And shines o'er all.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 7, 2010



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