John Crowe Ransom
The School - Poem by John Crowe Ransom
I WAS not drowsy though the scholars droned.
Hearing the music that they made of Greek,
Whenever Helen's unforgotten face
Sent other young men whisking off to war;
Hearing much mention of the hecatombs,
And Pericles, and fishes that were purple,
Temples in white, and trees that they named olive;
And thinking always of proud Athens shining
Upon her hill, that slanted to her sea:
Equipped with Grecian thoughts, how could I live
Among my father's folk? My father's house
Was narrow and his fields were nauseous.
I kicked his clods for being common dirt,
Worthy a world which never could be Greek;
Cursed the paternity that planted me
One green leaf in a wilderness of autumn;
And wept, as fitting such a fruitful spirit
Sealed in a yellow tomb.
The Lord preserves his saints for Christian uses.
He sent a pair of providential eyes.
They would have sat in any witless head,
Although I deemed them deep as classic seas,
As strange as any woman written smiling,
And much more near; the merest modern eyes,
The first my Athens faced; and yet her lamp,
It flickered rather low.
Then he commanded me to scrutiny
As to a fingered thing of no great matter,
A circumstantial sorry little coin.
A friendly thing, I owned, to lie so warm
Against the side of any friendless man;
And in the hand--O if the happy hand
Accommodate the cunning rounded scepter,
Then is dominion seated in that palm,
And coveting is seated in men's eyes.
Make haste, my hands, about your own inclosures!
And what were dead Greek empires to me then?
Dishonored, by Apollo, and forgot.
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