Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

The Antagonists - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

I
Caverns mouthed with blackness more than night,
Fever--jungle deep in strangling brier,
Venom--breeding slime that loathest light,
Who has plumbed your secret? who the blind desire
Hissing from the viper's lifted jaws,
Maddening the beast with scent of prey
Tracked through savage glooms on robber paws
Till the slaughter gluts him red and reeking? Nay,
Man, this breathing mystery, this intense
Body beautiful with thinking eyes,
Master of a spirit outsoaring sense,
Spirit of tears and laughter, who has measured all the skies,--
Is he also the lair
Of a lust, of a sting
That hides from the air
Yet is lurking to spring
From the nescient core
Of his fibre, alert
At the trumpet of war
And hungry to hurt,
When he hears from abysses of time
Aboriginal mutters, replying
To something he knew not within him,
And the Demon of Earth crying:

``I am the will of the Fire
That bursts into boundless fury;
I am my own implacable desire.

``I am the will of the Sea
That shoulders the ships and breaks them;
There is none other but me.''

Heavy forests bred them,
The race that dreamed.
In the bones of savage earth
Their dreams had birth:
Darkness fed them.
And the full brain grossly teemed
With thoughts compressed, with rages
Obstinate, stark, obscure--
Thirsts no time assuages,
But centuries immure.
As the sap of trees, behind
Crumpled bark of bossy boles,
Presses up its juices blind,
Buried within their souls
The dream insatiate still
Nursed its fierceness old
And violent will,
Haunted with twilight where the Gods drink full
Ere they renew their revelry of slaying,
And warriors leap like the lion on the bull,
And harsh horns in the northern mist are braying.
Tenebrous in them lay the dream
Like a fire that under ashes
Smoulders heavy--heaped and dim
Yet with spurted stealthy flashes
Sends a goblin shadow floating
Crooked on the rafters--then
Sudden from its den
Springs in splendour. So should burst
Destiny from dream, from thirst
Rapture gloating
On a vision of earth afar
Stretched for a prize and a prey;
And the secular might of the Gods re--risen
Savage and glorious, waiting its day,
Should shatter its ancient prison
And leap like the panther to slay,
Magnificent! Storm, then, and thunder
The haughty to crush with the tame,
For the world is the strong man's plunder
Whose coming is swifter than flame;
And the nations unready, decayed,
Unworthy of fate or afraid,
Shall be stricken and torn asunder
Or yield in shame.

The Dream is fulfilled.
Is it this that you willed,
O patient ones?
For this that you gave
Young to the grave
Your valiant sons?
For this that you wore
Brave faces, and bore
The burden heart--breaking--
Sublimely deceived,
You that bled and believed--
For the Dream? or the Waking?


II
No drum--beat, pulsing challenge and desire,
Sounded, no jubilant boast nor fierce alarm
Cried throbbing from enfevered throats afire
For glory, when from vineyard, forge, and farm,
From wharf and warehouse, foundry, shop, and school,
From the unreaped cornfield and the office--stool
France called her sons; but loth, but grave,
But silent, with their purpose proud and hard
Within them, as of men that go to guard
More than life, yet to dare
More than death: France, it was their France to save!
Nor now the fiery legend of old fames
And that imperial Eagle whose wide wings
Hovered from Vistula to Finistère,
Who plucked the crown from Kings,
Filled her; but France was arming in her mind:
The world unborn and helpless, not the past
Victorious with banners, called her on;
And she assembled not her sons alone
From city and hamlet, coast and heath and hill,
But deep within her bosom, deeper still
Than any fear could search, than any hope could blind,
Beyond all clamours of her recent day,
Hot smouldering of the faction and the fray,
She summoned her own soul. In the hour of night,
In the hush that felt the armed tread of her foes,
Like a star, silent out of seas, it rose.

Most human France! In those clear eyes of light
Was vision of the issue, and all the cost
To the last drop of generous blood, the last
Tears of the orphan and the widow; and yet
She shrank not from the terror of the debt,
Seeing what else were with the cause undone,
The very skies barred with an iron threat,
The very mind of freedom lost
Beneath that shadow bulked across the sun.
Therefore did she abstain
From all that had renowned her, all that won
The world's delight: thought--stilled
With deep reality to the heart she burned,
And took upon her all the load of pain
Foreknown; and her sons turned
From wife's and children's kiss
Simply, and steady--willed
With quiet eyes, with courage keen and clear,
Faced Eastward.--If an English voice she hear,
That has no speech worthy of her, let this
Be of that day remembered, with what pride
Our ancient island thrilled to the oceans wide,
And our hearts leapt to know that England then,
Equal in faith of free and loyal men,
Stept to her side.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010



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