Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

The Mirror - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

I
Where is all the beauty that hath been?
Where the bloom?
Dust on boundless wind? Grass dropt into fire?
Shall Earth boast at last of all her teeming womb,
All that suffered, all that triumphed to inspire
Life in perfect mould and speech, the proud mind's lamp serene--
Nothing? Space be starry in tremendous choir--
For whom?

In this deserted chamber, as the evening falls,
Silent curtains move no fold;
Long has ebbed the floor's pale gold;
Shadows deepen down the silent walls.
The air is mute as dreams beneath a sleeper's face,
Distant, undivined;
But every hovering shadow seems to hold
Want untold.
The look of things forsaken, each in its own place,
Memories without home in any mind,
Idle, rich neglect and perfume old--
Over these the glimmer of the twilight fades;
Infinite human solitude invades
Forms relinquished, hues resigned.

O little mirror, round and clear,
In solemn--coloured shadow lying
Cold as the moon, pale as a tear,
With spiritual silver beam replying,
Indifferently to all things as to one;
Beauty's relic and oblivion,
But void, void, void! Desolate as a cave
Abandoned even of the breaking wave,
A home of youth and mirth, when all its guests are gone!
As I touch thee in the silence here,
Where thou liest alone, apart,
Through the silence of my heart
Thou flashest elfin flames of fear.

Like a thought of lost delight,
Like love--sweetness, like despair,
Come faint spices of the night
Floating on the darkened air.
The air is tender with the sense of dew,
Is tranced, is dim, is heavy, as if there hung
Within the tinges of its shadowy hue
Ghosts of lost flowers, with all their petals young,
And the young beauty they made incense to.

O forlorn mirror, is there nothing thine?
The cup is emptied of its fragrant wine,
The dress is vacant of the breathing form,
And thou that gleam'st
All absence of what once moved gracious, white and warm
In thy clear wells, or luminously mused,
O little mirror long disused,
Laid in this empty bower's recess,
Thou thyself seem'st
The soul and mystery of emptiness.

Yet if I should raise thee now,
As once and oft, thou knowest how,
Hand and slim wrist, smooth as a flower--stem, raised
Thy silent radiance, and with intent brow
Eyes within thee gazed
Seeking thine oracle,
Shall not from these pellucid secrecies appear
Not I, nor any shape of this dim room,
But all that in thy cave of lambent gloom
Hath dwelt and still may dwell,
Ambushed like visions bound in sleeping memory's cell;
All that thy brightness buries as the sea
Tossed bones and crusted gold: had I the key,
Might'st thou not open depths, might'st thou not yield,
Wonder of wonders! what since time began
Was never yet revealed,
The unmapped, unmeasured, secret heart of man?
Half--shut eyes voluptuously
Lightening, as the bosom swells and glows;
Smile to smile flowering from an ardent thought:
O what moments didst thou deify
With the promise of life crushed to wine
Redder than the cheek's triumphant rose!
--But from deeper places hast thou brought
Nothing? Are not other answers thine?

Hast thou not heard, hast thou not seen,
Hast thou not shown, hast thou not found
Shames unwhispered, terrors bound,
Earthquake pangs of aghast surmise,
When with itself the heart has been
Face to face in an hour profound?
Out of thee what ghosts shall rise,
Shapes and gestures, and accusing eyes!
World--flattered faces in midnights of pain;
Faces defaced by tiger--lusts insane;
Faces appalled before a self unguessed;
Ashaming dawns on faces fallen and dispossessed!
O what glimpses hast thou flashed in dread,
With what hauntings wast thou visited,
Apparitions of a soul made bare
Shuddering at the thing it looked on there!
But thou art stainless, though the heart has bled,
Thou art silent as the air
Or the wave that closes smooth above the drowner's head.

No man hath seen his soul
Save for a glimpse in the night
Brief as an ember of coal
Blown for an instant bright.
To see his own soul as it is,
Eternity must enter him
With the torches of Seraphim
That have shone to the last abyss.
Mirror, couldst thou show the spirit this,
Then within this narrow room
Were the Judgment and the Doom.
For by so much as its own self it knew,
Searched by that burning vision through and through
To the innermost of where it crouched and hid
Amid the husks of the mean deeds it did,
Amid the shadow of all it shunned, the quest
It turned from, and in palterings acquiesced,
To the uttermost of what its eager passion
Caught of the glory springing to re--fashion
Hope and the world, and great with pity saw
Life darkly wrestling with the angel, Law--
By such a measure, molten in that fire,
Should the soul mete itself on God's desire,
Suffer at last all wisdom, and endure
The beam and vision of a thought all--pure.
O were not this to taste Heaven's dawn, or dwell,
Because of knowledge, in the pains of Hell?


II
Where is all the wailing, all the want
That sorrow tore
From Love's bleeding breast? Extinguished quite?
Shall the wide--winged glory of hope extravagant,
Shall the laughter, shall the song that sprang to soar
Fall, and no ear hearken, and their falling flight
Echoless waste walls of adamant
Ignore?

Draw wide the curtain! Fabulous, remote
Night is come.
Over Earth's lost bosom fragrant breathings float
Into glimmering heights of gloom,
But upon the solitary verge extreme
Steals a beam.
Hushed and sudden, ere the eye could note,
Lo, the moon is there!
Innocence of splendour, gazing bare,
Drenches leaves in quiet, thought in dream.

Is it Earth's pale mirror lifted lone
For an answer to her million sighs?
Can that far Tranquillity atone
In the gaze of those unnumbered eyes
For the pang and for the moan,
For the heart's dim burial and long dirge,
Luring, as she lures the mutinous sea--surge,
To her will of peace this human tide?
From a charmed shadow on the shorn hill--side
Hand--in--hand lovers through the trees emerge,
And pause; their very souls are glorified,
Their feet tread airy on immaterial ground,
With marvelling gaze they feel
That well of spiritual light o'erflow
The listening hush, and steal
Fear and trouble, as though
The world were one vast music of ethereal sound
And they a stillness in the midst of it.
Peace, peace and pity! pardon, pity, peace,
Passing all mortal wit!
O truth long--sought and magically found,
O wonder and release!
O secret of the world long--hidden in day's dust!
They bathe their hearts in that sweet dew, their hands
Thrill clasping in a touch that understands
Nothing magnificent but a divine surrender
Absolving and august.
To distances immersed and tender
Unfolds this vale of struggle hard and pent,
Region of unwon ravishment
In unadventured lands,
A place of leaves and lonely light and leafy scent
Storied like that old forest of the perilous Fleece.

Sorceress of million nights!
Hast thou charmed indeed the brew,
When the stealth of perverse rites--
Mouths that mutter, hands that strew,--
Love tormented and malign,
Flushed with terror like a maddening wine,
Sought another's rue?
Hecate of the cross--roads, hast thou hearkened
To the sailing witch's mew
And the felon raven's croak
When the shuddering winds were darkened
And the leaves rushed from the withered oak?
Ah, not these foul toys would I invoke!
O for some supreme enchanting spell,
Voice of a God crying aloud,
Felt and feared on Earth's heart--strings,
To conjure and to compel
Like a spectre from the shroud
Or like incense--dust that springs
Into fire and fragrant cloud,
Out of thy blind caves and cold recesses,
Out of that blank mirror's desert beam
All the unnumbered longings and wild prayers,
Infinite heart--broken tendernesses,
Indignations and despairs
That from man's long wound of passion stream,
Sucked like vapour, like a mist of tears
Into that imagined peace, that ecstasy!
O surely, surely, thou hast wrought thy part
In every secret and tempestuous heart,
Thou that hast gleamed on thousand battle--crimsoned spears,
Thou that wast radiant on Gethsemane!

She has seen not, she has heard not.
Hearts have leapt for her, but she has stirred not.
Pity she has made, but none has had,
Though her magic mingles with Earth's want
And the trouble of Earth's tender sons,
Thunder of the builded Babylons,
Music of the dreaming poet's chant,
Venture of the steering argosies,
With a light as of divine fulfilment clad
Breathing in for ever syllables of peace.
Peace, is it peace? Yet Earth, dark Earth,
Mother, O Mother, thou that nourishest
In the blind patience of thy teeming breast
Hope without end; who drivest life to birth,
Yet numberest not our dear and sacred dead,
Unheeding of our anguish and lost cries
So thou mayst build beyond us, in our stead,
A race enriched with all for which we bled,
Of haughtier stature and of kinglier eyes;
Thou of whose vast desire strong realms of old,
The dynasty of empires, were but waves
That towered and crashed into their splendid graves,
For thine unresting hunger to remould
Yet mightier, O insatiable! Doth fear
Not shake thee, Mother, seest thou not ev'n here
In that cold mirror's answer what shall steep
Thee also in oblivion? Thou shalt keep
Of all the fruit of thy most fiery spring,
Stored riches of thy sleepless trafficking,
And proud perfection thou hast travailed for,
Nothing! The beauty that thy body bore
Fresh and exulting (Mother, dost not weep?)
Laughter of streams, young flowers, and starry seas,
Pillar and palace, heaven--faced images
That man has wrought, his tossing heart to ease,
Nothing! To cloud shall vanish the deed done;
The bannered victory, the wrong borne alone,
Nothing! and thou be desolate and none
To feel thy desolation: emptiness,
Night within night, immense and issueless,
Till as a breath upon the mirror dies,
Fades the last smoke of thy long sacrifice.

Out of the deeps, trembling, the soul
Cries through night to the silent pole:
``I that am want, I that am grief,
I that am love, I that am mirth,
I that am fear, I that am fire,
Though thou clothe me in beauty brief,
Though I have worn thy sweet attire,
I, thy endless sorrow, Earth,
Dwell in the glory of God's desire,
That kneads for ever in the flesh
Of man, to make his spirit afresh,
A marvel more than all thy wandering seas,
And mightier than thy caverned mysteries,
Nor stays nor sleeps, but world on world transfuses
Melted ever to diviner uses,
Through infinite swift changes burning,
Itself the end, no end discerning,
Till all the universe be wrought
Into its far perfecting thought.
Then this mind of cloud and rue
Shall in eternal mind be new,
Mirror of God, pure and alone,
See and be seen, know and be known.''


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010



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