Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

The North Star - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

I was contented with the warm silence,
Sitting by the fire, book on knee;
And fancy uncentred, afloat and astray,
Idled from thought to thought
Like a child picking flowers and dropping them
In a meadow at play.
I was contented with the kind silence,
When there invaded me--
Not a sound, no, there was no sound,
But awareness of a menace
Creeping up round
The little island of my mind;
A creeping up of gradual waves out of a sea,
With storm coming behind;
Wave on pale wave, smile on inhuman smile,
Driven on by the black force of alien will
To drown my world, to be the burial
Of joy, beauty, and all
That seemed impossible to kill;
Even the secret home that hope inherited.
I sat in an unreal room alone.
Befriending and familiar shapes were gone:
And I was seized with dread.

Then I became restless,
As if in bonds that must at any cost be burst.
The very peace seemed to oppress:
I was imprisoned and athirst,
And rose, and crossed the floor,
Craving to front the naked outer night.
At the opened door
Stood a thin mist, ghostly and motionless.

Smell of the leaves rotting
Breathed through a cold vapour
Bitter to the nostril.
My feet stumbled;
In my heart was a cry:
O for some single point of certitude!
I lifted up my face, and saw the sky.

There where I stood
Low mist clung to the earth.
But above, pale and diminished,
Only the larger lights pierced the dim air.
I faced the North.
And far and faint over a shadowy pine
That rose out of the mist
I saw the North Star shine.

I remembered sailors of old
For whom unclouded night
Was stretched above the dark Mediterranean,
A blue tapestry pricked with powdery gold,
Where legendary presences shone bright,
Each with a memory and a name;
And under the luminous maze
Steering by the North Star
Ships to their harbour came.

And now through thick silence
On the stifled fog--possessed Atlantic
I was hearing, distant or near,
Muffled answer of horn to horn,
The rocking clang of the buoy--bell,--
Sound crossing sound, to warn
Steamers, that on their blinded motion still
Unfaltering over seas invisible
Held to a silent clue
Because with the assurance of that star
The needle points them true.

There was a voice whispered:
Ascend, ascend!
Out of the earthy vapour, out
Of the invading doubt,
Into deliverance, into bare
Heights of unmeasured air.
Utterly stilled I stood,
Climbing in dizzying thought without an end
To that magnetic light,
That affirmation of old certitude.
And pinnacled alone in the vast night
My thought was there.

Oh, earth is gone.
My earth is lost.
North Star, North Star,
Dost thou fail me?
Thou art not what thou wast,
And all I was is taken from my mind:
For there is neither path nor direction
For any thought to find,
No North, nor South, nor East, nor West,
But homelessness suspended out of time,
Where I had sought to climb.
North Star, it was no shroud
Of mist, nor glory of overflowing sun;
It was no blotting curtain of blank cloud,
But a thought in the mind that deposed thee.

Down, down I sink:
Earth again holds me.
Again, North Star, I see thee shine.
But from the naked night I will not shrink;
And privately I take
A courage for thy sake,
Because thou hast thy place and I have mine;
Because I still need thee;
Because thou need'st not me.

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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