Robert Laurence Binyon
The Burning Of The Leaves - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon
Now is the time for the burning of the leaves.
They go to the fire; the nostril pricks with smoke
Wandering slowly into a weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.
The last hollyhock's fallen tower is dust;
All the spices of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! The reddest rose is a ghost;
Sparks whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.
Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before:
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there;
Let them go to the fire, with never a look behind.
The world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.
They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.
Never was anything so deserted
As this dim theatre
Now, when in passive grayness the remote
Morning is here,
Daunting the wintry glitter of the pale,
Never was anything disenchanted
As this silence!
Gleams of soiled gilding on curved balconies
Dead crimson curtain, tasselled with its old
And staled pretence.
Nothing is heard but a shuffling and knocking
Of mop and mat,
Where dustily two charwomen exchange
Stretching and settling to voluptuous sleep
Curls a cat.
The voices are gone, the voices
That laughed and cried.
It is as if the whole marvel of the world
Had blankly died,
Exposed, inert as a drowned body left
By the ebb of the tide.
Beautiful as water, beautiful as fire,
The voices came,
Made the eyes to open and the ears to hear,
The hand to lie intent and motionless,
The heart to flame,
The radiance of reality was there,
Splendour and shame.
Slowly an arm dropped, and an empire fell.
We saw, we knew.
A head was lifted, and a soul was freed.
Abysses opened into heaven and hell.
We heard, we drew
Into our thrilled veins courage of the truth
That searched us through.
But the voices are all departed,
The vision dull.
Daylight disconsolately enters
Only to annul.
The vast space is hollow and empty
As a skull.
Cold springs among black ruins? Who shall say
Whither or whence they stream?
If it could be that such translated light
As comes about a dreamer when he dreams--
And he believes with a belief intense
What morning will deride--if such a light
Of neither night nor day
Nor moon nor sun
Shone here, it would accord with what it broods upon,--
Disjected fragments of magnificence!
A loneliness of light, without a sound,
Is shattered on wrecked tower and purpled wall
(Fire has been here!)
On arch and pillar and entablature,
As if arrested in the act to fall.
Where a home was, is a misshapen mound
Beneath nude rafters. Still,
Fluent and fresh and pure,
At their own will
Amid this lunar desolation glide
Those living springs, with interrupted gleam,
As if nothing had died:
But who will drink of them?
Stooping and feeble, leaning on a stick,
An old man with his vague feet stirs the dust,
Searching a strange world for he knows not what
Among haphazard stone and crumbled brick.
He cannot adjust
What his eyes see to memory's golden land,
Shut off by the iron curtain of to--day:
The past is all the present he has got.
Now, as he bends to peer
Into the rubble, he picks up in his hand
(Death has been here!)
Something defaced, naked and bruised: a doll,
A child's doll, blankly smiling with wide eyes
And oh, how human in its helplessness!
Pondered in weak fingers
He holds it puzzled: wondering, where is she
The small mother
Whose pleasure was to clothe it and caress,
Who hugged it with a motherhood foreknown,
Who ran to comfort its imagined cries
And gave it pretty sorrows for its own?
No one replies.
Beautiful, wearied head
Leant back against the arm upthrown behind,
Why are your eyes closed? Is it that they fear
Sight of these vast horizons shuddering red
And drawing near and near?
God--like shape, would you be blind
Rather than see the young leaves dropping dead
All round you in foul blasts of scorching wind,
As if the world, O disinherited,
That your own spirit willed
Since upon earth laughter and grief began
Should only in final mockery rebuild
A palace for the proudest ruin, Man?
Or are those eyes closed for the inward eye
To see, beyond the tortures of to--day,
The hills of hope, serene in liquid light
Of reappearing sky--
This black fume and miasma rolled away?
Yet oh how far thought speeds the onward sight!
The unforeshortened vision opens vast.
Hill beyond hill, year upon year amassed,
Age beyond age and still the hills ascend,
Height superseding height,
Though each had seemed (but only seemed) the last,
And still appears no end,
No end, but all an upward path to climb,
To conquer--at what cost!
Labouring on, to be lost
On the mountains of Time.
What are they burning, what are they burning,
Heaping and burning in a thunder--gloom?
Rubbish of the old world, dead things, merely names,
Truth, justice, love, beauty, the human smile,
All flung to the flames!
They are raging to destroy, but first defile;
Maddened, because no furnace will consume
What lives, still lives, impassioned to create.
Ah, your eyes open: open, and dilate.
Transfigured, you behold
The python that was coiled about your feet,
Muscle on muscle, in slow malignant fold,
Tauten and tower, impending opposite,--
A fury of greed, an ecstasy of hate,
Concentred in the small and angry eye.
Your hand leaps out in the action to defy,
And grips the unclean throat, to strangle it.
From shadow to shadow the waters are gliding, are gone,
They mirror the ruins a moment, the wounds and the void;
But theirs is the sweetness of silence in places apart:
They retain not a stain, in a moment they shine as they shone,
They stay not for bound or for bar, they have found out a way
Far from the gnawing of greed and the envious heart.
The freshness of leaves is from them, and the springing of grass,
The juice of the apple, the rustle of ripening corn;
They know not the lust of destruction, the frenzy of spite;
They give and pervade, and possess not, but silently pass;
They perish not, though they be broken; continuing streams,
The same in the cloud and the glory, the night and the light.
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