Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

Red Night - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

Rolled in a smouldering mist, wrapt in an ardent cloud,
Over ridged roofs, over the buried roar
That comes and goes
Where shadowy London mutters at the core
Of meeting streets interminably ploughed
Through blackness built and steepled and immense
With felt, unfeatured, waste magnificence,
The night shudders and glows.
Ensanguined skies, that lower and lift and change
Each instant! sullen with a spectral rose
Upon the towered horizon; but more near
A lurid vapour, throbbing up the gloom,
Glares like a furnace fume;
Exhausted pallors hover faint and strange;
Dull fiery flushes melt and reappear;
While over all in lofty glimpses far
Spaces of silence and blue dream disclose
The still eye of a star.

Muffled in burning air, so dumb
Above this monstrous ever--trembling hum,
What hide you, heavens? What sombre presences,
What powers pass over? What dim--legioned host,
What peopled pageantries,
With gleam of arms and robes that crimsoned trail,
In silent triumph or huge mockery hail?
O, is it the tumultuous--memoried ghost
Of some lost city, fabulous and frail,
Stoops over London; Susa, Thebes, or Tyre,
Rebuilded out of mist and fire?
No, rather to its secret self revealed
The soul of London burning in the skies
Her desolations and her majesties!

There, there is all unsealed:
Terror and hope, ecstasy and despair
Their apparition yield,
While still through kindled street and shadowy square
The faces pass, the uncounted faces crowd,--
Rages, lamentings, joys, in masks of flesh concealed.

Down a grimed lane, around a bare--benched room,
Seven shapes of men are sunken, heads upon hands bowed.
--O spent and mad desires, lost in the fiery cloud,
What dungeon fled you from?
Across the river's glittering gloom,
Under the towered chimes, a youth steps, bright
With dream that all the future clothes,
Into this new, enchanted land.
Incessant stream the faces into light!
From his wife's hand
Behold a drunkard snatch the toil--earned pence,
And strike her on the patient face with oaths.
But over trees, upon a balcony,
To a young girl life murmurs up immense
Its strange delight,
And in her pulses to her spirit sings.
Along an alley thronged and flaring
A woman's loud self--loathing laughter rings.
The old prowler leers. Fierce cries a mob incense.
(Still the red Night her stormy heart is baring.)
A bent blind beggar taps along the stones.
The indifferent traffic roars and drones.
Blank under a high torch
Gapes a house--ruin, propped with beams; beneath
Some shadow--guarded and neglected porch
A girl and boy
(Whence flowered, O Night, yon soft and fearful rose?)
Press timid lips and breathe,
Speechless, their joy.
Hither and thither goes
The homeless outcast; students turn the page
By lamplight; the physician sentences;
Dull--eyed or jovial, tavern--loungers drink;
The applauded actor steps upon the stage;
Mothers with far thoughts watch upon their knees
Where children slumber; revellers stamp and shout;
Long--parted bosoms meet in sobbed embrace;
Hope, behind doors, ebbs from the waiting face;
Locked bodies sway and swell
With pain of unendurable farewell:
No instant, but some debt of terror's paid,
Some shame exacted, measureless love poured out,
Weak hearts are helped, strong men are torn,
Wild sorrow in dear arms is comforted,
The last peace dawns upon the newly dead,
And in hushed rooms is heard wail of the newly born.

What ferments rise and mingle,
Night, on your cloudy mirror! what young fire
Shoots, and what endless lassitudes expire!
Yet out of one flesh wrought,
None separate, none single!
Hater and hated, seeker and sought,
O restless, O innumerable shapes,
Kneaded by one all--urging thought,
That none diverts, that none escapes;
So thirsted for, if not in pride, in shame,
If not with tenderness, with railing curse,
If not with hands that cherish, hands that maim,
Life, how vast! Life, how brief!
Eternally wooed and wooing,
That some would stifle, and some hotly seize,
And some by cunning trap into their mesh,
Or plunder in the darkness like a thief;
And these from rapturous pangs of flesh
Would crush to maddening wine, and these
In still renunciation lure to their soul's ease.
Though never in a single heart contained,
Though depth of it no wisest seer may plumb,
Though height of it no hero wholly gained,
Heavenly and human, twined in all our throes
Of passion that in blind heat overflows
To charge the night with thick and shuddering fume,
And felt in every cry, in every deed
Defaced or freed,
Ah, spent at such a dear and cruel cost,--
Possessed a moment, and then, like yon height
Of stars, clouded in our own selves and lost,--
Lives the supreme
Reality, diviner than all dream.

Now all the heaven like a huge smithy glows,
Hollow and palpitating dusk and glare!
Ah, forge of God, where blows
The blast of an incredible flame, what might
Shapes to what uses there
Each obdurate iron or molten fiery part
Of the one infinite wrought human heart,
In tears, love, anger, beauty and despair
Throbbing for ever, under the red night?

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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