Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

Oxford In War—time - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

What alters you, familiar lawn and tower,
Arched alley, and garden green to the gray wall
With crumbling crevice and the old wine--red flower,
Solitary in summer sun? for all

Is like a dream: I tread on dreams! No stir
Of footsteps, voices, laughter! Even the chime
Of many--memoried bells is lonelier
In this neglected ghostliness of Time.

What stealing touch of separation numb
Absents you? Yet my heart springs up to adore
The shrining of your soul, that is become
Nearer and oh, far dearer than before.

It is as if I looked on the still face
Of a Mother, musing where she sits alone.
She is with her sons, she is not in this place;
She is gone out into far lands unknown.

Because that filled horizon occupies
Her heart with mute prayer and divining fear,
Therefore her hands so calm lie, and her eyes
See nothing; and men wonder at her here:

But far in France; on the torn Flanders plain;
By Sinai; in the Macedonian snows;
The fly--plagued sands of Tigris, heat and rain;
On wandering water, where the black squall blows

Less danger than the bright wave ambushes,
She bears it out. All the long day she bears
And the sudden hour of instant challenges
To act, that searches all men, no man spares.

She is with her sons, leaving a virtue gone
Out of her sacred places: what she bred
Lives other life than this, that sits alone,
Though still in dream starrily visited!

For O in youth she lives, not in her age!
Her soul is with the springtime and the young;
And she absents her from the learned page,
Studious of high histories yet unsung,

More passionately prized than wisdom's book
Because her own. Her faith is in those eyes
That clear into the gape of hell can look,
Putting to proof ancient philosophies

Such as the virgin Muses would rehearse
Beside the silvery, swallow--haunted stream,
Under the gray towers. But immortal verse
Is now exchanged for its immortal theme--

Victory; proud loss; and the enduring mind;
Youth, that has passed all praises, and has won
More than renown, being that which faith divined,
Reality more radiant than the sun.

She gave, she gives, more than all anchored days
Of dedicated lore, of storied art;
And she resigns her beauty to men's gaze
To mask the riches of her bleeding heart.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010



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