Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
The Toad - Poem by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
O who shall tell us of the truth of things?
The day was ending blood--red in the West
After a storm. The sun had smelted down
As in a furnace all the clouds to gold.
Upon a cart track by a pool of rain,
Dumbly with calm eyes fixed upon the heavens,
A toad sat thinking. It was wretchedness
That gazed on majesty. Ah, who shall tell
The very truth of things, the hidden law
Of pain and ugliness? Byzantium bred
Growths of Augustuli, Great Rome her crimes,
As Earth breeds flowers, the firmament its suns,
And the toad too his crop of ulcerous sores.
The leaves turned purple on the vermeil trees;
The rain lay like a mirror in the ruts;
The dying sun shook his last banners out;
Birds sang in whispers, and the world grew dumb
With the hush of evening and forgetfulness.
Then too the toad forgot himself and all
His daylight shame, as he looked out bright--eyed
Into the sweet face of the coming night.
For who shall tell? He too the accursed one
Dreamt of a blessing. There is not a creature
On whom the infinite heaven hath not smiled
Wildly and tenderly; no thing impure
Monstrous deformed and hideous but he holds
The immensity of the starlight in his eyes.
A priest came by and saw the unholy thing,
And with his foot, even as his prayers he read,
Trod it aside and shuddered and went on.
A woman with a wild flower in her bosom
Came next and at the eye's light mirrored there
Aimed her umbrella point. Now he was old,
And she was beautiful. Then home from school
Ran four boys with young faces like the dawn.
``I was a child, was weak, was pitiless'':
Thus must each man relate who would begin
The true tale of his life. A child hath all,
Joy, laughter, mirth. He is drunk with life's delight.
Hope's day--star breaketh in his innocent eyes.
He hath a mother. He is just a boy,
A little man who breathes the untrammelled air
Clean--winded and clean--limbed, and he is free
And the world loves him. Why should he not then
For lack of sorrow strike the sorrowful?
The toad dragged down the deep track of the road.
It was the hour when from the hollows round
Blue mists steal creeping low upon the fields.
His wild heart sought the night. Just then the children
Came on the fugitive and all together
Cried ``Let us kill him. We will punish him
For being so ugly.'' And at the word they laughed.
(For children laugh when they do murder.) Then
They thrust at him with sticks and where the eye
Bulged from its socket made a ghastlier wound
Opening his sores. The passers by looked on,
And they too laughed. And then the night fell down
Black on the blackness of his martyrdom
Who was so dumb. And when the blood flowed out
It was horrible blood. And he was horrible.
That was his crime. And still along the lane
The creature sprawled. One foot had been shorn away
By a child's spade, and at each new blow aimed
Its jaws foamed blood, poor damnéd suffering thing,
Which even when the sun had soothed its hide
Had skulked in holes. And the children mocked the more:
``Wretch. Would you spit at us?'' O strange child's heart!
What rage is thine to pluck thus at the robe
Of misery and taunt it with its pain?
And so from clod to clod, from briar to briar,
But breathing still, in his dull fear he fled
Seeking a shelter from their tyrannous eyes.
So mean a thing, it seemed Death shrank from him
Refusing aid of his all pitying scythe.
And the children followed on with rushes noosed
To take him, but he slipped between their hands
And fell, so chanced it, where the rut gaped deepest,
Into a mire of mud; cool hiding place
It was and refuge for his mangled limbs,
And there he quaking lay. The anointing slime
Soothed his hurt body like a sacrament,
An extreme unction for his utter need.
Nor yet was safety won. The children's eyes,
Abominable eyes, were on him still
With their hard mirth. ``Is there no stone?'' they cried,
``To end him with? Here, Jeremiah, Jim,
Lend us a hand.'' And willing hands were lent.
Once more, O child of Man! I ask it. Say
What is the goal of thy desire? What aim
Is thine? What target wouldst thou hit? What win?
Say. Is it death or life? The stone was brought,
A ponderous mass, broad as a paving flag,
But light in his young hands that bore it in,
Pride giving strength to lift, and the lust to kill.
``You shall see what this will do,'' the young giant cried.
And all stood near expectant of the end.
And then a new thing happened, a new chance.
A coster's dray, drawn by an ancient ass,
Passed down the lane. With creaking wheels it came
And slow harsh jolts in the ruts. The ass was lean
And stiff with age, spavined, with foundered feet,
And dead to blows which rained on his dull hide.
Each step he stumbled. He was near his home,
After a long day's labour in the field,
And began to scent his stable, while the cart
Lagged in the ruts, or with shafts forward thrown
Pressed his galled sides and thrust its load on him,
At the downward slope where the lane left the hill,
More than his strength. A mist was in his eyes
And that dull stupor which foreshadows death.
Thus the cart moved, its driver cursing loud,
Its driven dumb, while the whip cracked in time.
The ass was in his dreams beyond our thought,
Plunged in those depths of soul where no man strays.
And the children heard the cart upon the road.
It gave them a new thought. And ``Stop,'' they cried,
``Let the stone be. We shall have better sport
Here with the wheels. This ass will do the thing.''
And they stood aside and watched what next should come.
And the cart drew near, its wheels sunk in the rut
Where the toad lay, the ass with his dull eyes
Fixed on the path before him, his head down
Nosing the ground in apathy of thought.
And the ass stopped. He, the sad slave of pain,
Had seen the vision of a sadder slave
Needing his pity, and being as it were the judge
To save or slay he had been moved to grace;
He had seen and understood. And, gathering up
In a single act supreme of his poor weakness
All that remained to him of combative pride,
He made the grand refusal, mastering
By his last strength the load which pressed on him
With terrible connivance of the hill,
And wrenched the cart wheel from its track of doom
Spite of his tyrant's voice of blasphemy
And its mad curses and his own huge pain,
And so, the victory won, passed on his road.
Then also was it that that child with the stone,
He who now tells this story, from his hands
Let the flag drop. A voice had cried to him
Too loud for denial: ``Fool. Be merciful.''
O, wisdom of the witless! Law of pity
Loud on the lips of pain! Nature's pure light
Lightening the darkness of Man's gulfs of crime!
Lessons of courage taught by coward hearts,
Of joy by the joyless! Eyes that cannot weep
Pleading with grief and pointing consolation!
The eloquent call of one poor damnéd soul
Preaching to souls elect, the beast to man!
Know this: hours are there, twilight hours of grace,
When, be he what he may, beast, bird or slave,
Each living thing gets glimpses of God's heaven
And knows himself own brother to the stars,
Being one with these in ancestry of love,
Kindred in kindness. Learn that this poor ass,
Facing his pain rather than add to pain,
Was master of his soul in verier deed
Than Socrates was saint, than Plato sage.
Who is the teacher here? O man of mind!
Wouldst thou touch truth? The true truth in thee lies,
Thy lack of light. Nay kneel, weep, pray, believe,
Grovel on the Earth. She shall thy teacher be.
A corner of their Heaven thou too shalt win
When thou art dust with these. Then shalt thou too
Get glimpses of their world's ingenuous dawn
And purchase back thy soul's lost purity,
The love that casts out fear and conquers pain,
The link which binds its weak ones with its strong
And equals all in one divine accord,
The unknowing ass with the all--knowing God.
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