Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
The Wisdom Of Merlyn - Poem by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
These are the time--words of Merlyn, the voice of his age recorded,
All his wisdom of life, the fruit of tears in his youth, of joy in his manhood hoarded,
All the wit of his years unsealed, to the witless alms awarded.
These are his time--gifts of song, his help to the heavy--laden,
Words of an expert of life, who has gathered its sins in his sack, its virtues to grieve and gladden,
Speaking aloud as one who is strong to the heart of man, wife and maiden.
For he is Merlyn of old, the once young, the still robed in glory,
Ancient of days though he be, with wisdom only for wealth and the crown of his locks grown hoary,
Yet with the rage of his soul untamed, the skill of his lips in story.
He dares not unhouselled die, who has seen, who has known, who has tasted
What of the splendours of Time, of the wise wild joys of the Earth, of the newness of pleasures quested,
All that is neither of then nor now, Truth's naked self clean--breasted,
Things of youth and of strength, the Earth with its infinite pity,
Glories of mountain and plain, of streams that wind from the hills to the insolent human city,
Dark with its traders of human woe enthroned in the seats of the mighty.
Fair things nobler than Man before the day of his ruling,
Free in their ancient peace, ere he came to change, to destroy, to hinder with his schooling,
Asking naught that was his to give save freedom from his fooling.
Beautiful, wonderful, wise, a consonant law--ruled heaven,
Garden ungardened yet, in need yet hardly of God to walk there noon or even,
Beast and bird and flower in its place, Earth's wonders more than seven.
Of these he would speak and confess, to the young who regard not their heirship,
Of beauty to boys who are blind, of might to the impotent strong, to the women who crowd Time's fair ship,
Of pearls deep hid in Love's Indian seas, the name of the God they worship.
Thus let it be with Merlyn before his daylight is ended,
One last psalm of his life, the light of it lipped with laughter, the might of it mixed and blended
Still with the subtle sweet need of tears than Pleasure's self more splendid,
Psalm and hymn of the Earth expounding what Time teaches,
Creed no longer of wrath, of silent issueless hopes, of a thing which beyond Man's reach is,
Hope deferred till the heart grows sick, while the preacher vainly preaches.
Nay but a logic of life, which needeth no deferring,
Life with its birthright love, the sun the wind and the rain in multiple pleasure stirring
Under the summer leaves at noon, with no sad doubt of erring,
No sad legend of sin, since his an innocent Eden
Is, and a garden of grace, its gateway clear of the sword, its alleys not angel--ridden,
Its tree of life at the lips of all and never a fruit forbidden.
Merlyn is no vain singer to vex men's ears in the street,
Nay, nor a maid's unbidden. He importuneth none with his song, be it never so wild and sweet.
She that hath ears to hear, let her hear; he will not follow her feet.
Merlyn makes no petition. He asketh of no man alms.
Prince and prophet is he, a monarch, a giver of gifts, a lord of the open plams,
Sueth he naught, not at God's own hand, though he laudeth the Lord in psalms.
Merlyn would speak his message only to hearts that are strong,
To him that hath courage to climb, who would gather time's samphire flowers, who would venture the crags among.
To her who would lesson her soul to fear, with love for sermon and song.
Merlyn hath arms of pity, the weak he would hold to his soul,
Make them partakers of truth, of the ancient weal of the Earth, of the life--throb from Pole to Pole.
He would hold them close; he would dry their tears; with a kiss he would make them whole.
Thus would he sing and to thee, thou child with the eyes of passion
Watching his face in the dark, in the silent light of the stars, while he in his godlike fashion
Maketh his mock at the fears of men, nor spareth to lay the lash on.
Thus would thy Merlyn devise, ere the days of his years be numbered,
Now at threescore and ten. He would leave his word to the world, his soul of its load uncumbered.
Then would he lay his ear to the grave, and sleep as his childhood slumbered.
What is the fruit of Wisdom? To learn the proportion of things;
To know the ant from the lion, the whale from the crest of the wave, the ditty the grasshopper sings
From the chaunt of the full--fledged Paradise bird as he shakes the dew from his wings.
There is one thing more than knowledge, a harvest garnered by few:
To tutor the heart to achieve, to fashion the act to the hand, to do and not yearn to do,
To say to the wish of the soul ``I will,'' to have gathered the flower where it grew.
I was young, and they told me ``Tarry. The rash in the nets are taken.
If there be doubt of thy deed, abstain, lest the day of danger behold thee by these forsaken,
Lest thou lie in the lion's den thou hast roused, with the eyes thou hast dared to waken.''
They spake, but I answered ``Nay, who waiteth shall take no quarry.
Pleasure is fleet as the roe; in the vales he feedeth to--day, but at nightwhen the eyes grow weary
Lo, he hath passed to the desolate hills; he is gone. Nay, he may not tarry.''
For Joy too needeth a net. He cometh tame to thy hand,
Asketh an alms of thy life, to serve thee, thy jubilant slave, if thou wouldst but understand.
Then is thy moment, O Man, for the noose, be it steel or a silken band.
Therefore, where doubt is, do! Thou shalt stumble in thine endeavour,
Ay, till thy knees be sore, thy back with the arrows of grief, and thou stand with an empty quiver.
Yet shall thy heart prevail through its pain, for pain is a mastering lever.
Wouldst thou be wise, O Man? At the knees of a woman begin.
Her eyes shall teach thee thy road, the worth of the thing called pleasure, the joy of the thing called sin.
Else shalt thou go to thy grave in pain for the folly that might have been.
For know, the knowledge of women the beginning of wisdom is.
Who had seven hundred wives and concubines hundreds three, as we read in the book of bliss?
Solomon, wisest of men and kings, and ``all of them princesses.''
Yet, be thou stronger than they. To be ruled of a woman is ill.
Life hath an hundred ways, beside the way of her arms, to give thee of joy thy fill.
Only is love of thy life the flower. Be thine the ultimate will.
A right way is to be happy, a wrong way too. Then beware.
Leave the colt in his stall, he shall grow to a thankless jade, be he never so fat and fair.
Sloth is a crime. Rise up, young fool, and grasp thy joy by the hair.
What is the motto of youth? There is only one. Be thou strong.
Do thy work and achieve, with thy brain, with thy hands, with thy heart, the deeds which to strength belong.
Strike each day thy blow for the right, or failing strike for the wrong.
He that would gain let him give. The shut hand hardly shall win.
Open thy palms to the poor, O thou of the indigent heart. There shall pleas ure be poured therein.
Use thy soul to the cord of joy. If thou sin must, strongly sin.
Cast thy whole heart away. The Earth, philosophers tell,
Leaps to a pebble thrown, be it never so little; it moved to the bidding of that which fell.
Throw thy heart! Thou shalt move the world, though thou fall on the floor of Hell.
Few have the courage of loving. Faint hearts! The loss is theirs.
Few of their idlest whims. ``I would win to Rome ere I die,'' one cried in his daily cares,
Yet plods on on 'Change to his grave, the slave of his stocks and shares.
Learn to appraise thy desires, to weigh the wares of thy heart.
If thou wouldst play with pleasure, avoid Love's passionate tides, its perilous Ocean chart,
Hug the shores of Love's inland seas, and buy thy joys in the mart.
Love lightly, but marry at leisure. Wild Love is a flower of the field
Waiting all hands to gather and ours. If we leave it another will win it and kneel where we kneeled.
Marriage is one tame garden rose in a garden fenced and sealed.
O thou who art sitting silent! Youth, with the eyelids of grief!
How shall I rouse thee to wit? Thou hast stolen the joy of our world. Thouscornest its vain relief.
Nay, she is here. Be thy tongue set free. Play up, thou eloquent thief.
Doubt not thy absolution, sinner, who darest to sin.
So thou prevail in the end, she shall hold thee guiltless of guile, a hero, a paladin.
The end in her eyes hath thee justified, whatever thy means have been.
Love is of body and body, the physical passion of joy;
The desire of the man for the maid, her nakedness strained to his own; the mother's who suckles her boy
With the passionate flow of her naked breast. All else is a fraudulent toy.
Of the house where Love is the master thy beauty may hold the key.
It shall open the hall--door wide, shout loud thy name to its lord. Yet, wouldst thou its full guest be,
Bring with thee other than beauty, wit. Then sit at the feast made free.
``To talk of love is to make love.'' Truly, a maxim of price.
Nathless the noblest soul, shouldst thou tell her of passionate things and fail to gaze in her eyes,
Shall hold thee cheap in her woman's pride, a clown for thy courtesies.
Love hath two mountain summits, the first where pleasure was born
Faint in the cloud--land of light, a vision of possible hope; the second a tempest--torn
Crag where passion is lord and king. Betwixt them what vales forlorn!
Happiness needs to be learned. In youth the ideal woman
Gazed at afar was a dream, a priceless untouchable prize, while she in your arms, too human,
Mocked you with love. 'Tis an art learned late; alas, and the whole by no man.
O! thou in the purple gendered. Thou needst pain for thy case.
Lose thy health or thy heart. Be bowed in thy soul's despond. Be whelmed in a world's disgrace.
So shall thy eyes be unsealed of pride and see Love face to face.
If thou wouldst win love, speak. She shall read the truth on thy lips.
Spoken vows shall prevail, the spell of thy eloquent hand, the flame of thy finger--tips.
Write? She is reading another's eyes while thy sad pen dips and dips.
Thou hast ventured a letter of passion, in ease of thy passionate heart?
Nay, be advised; there is fear, mischance in the written word, when lovers are far apart.
Pain is betrayed by the subtle pen where lips prevailed without art.
Love is a fire. In the lighting, it raiseth a treacherous smoke,
Telling its tale to the world; but anon, growing clear in its flame, may be hid by an old wife's cloak,
And the world learn nothing more and forget the knowledge its smouldering woke.
Comes there a trouble upon thee? Be silent, nor own the debt.
Friendship kicks at the goda; thy naked state is its shame; thou hast angered these with thy fret.
Wait. The world shall forgive thy sin. It asks but leave to forget.
The world is an indolent house--shrew. It scolds but cares not to know
Whether in fancy or fact. What it thinks we have done, that it scourges; the true thing we did it lets go.
What matter? We fare less ill than our act, ay, all of us; more be our woe!
There are days when wisdom is witless, when folly is noble, sublime.
Let us thank the dear gods for our madness, the rush of the blood in our veins, the exuberant pulsings of Time,
And pray, while we sin the forbidden sin, we be spared our penance of crime.
There are habits and customs of passion. Long loves are a tyrannous debt.
But to some there is custom of change, the desire of the untrodden ways, with sunshine of days that were wet,
Of the four fair wives of love's kindly law by licence of Mahomet.
Experience all is of use, save one, to have angered a friend.
Break thy heart for a maid; another shall love thee anon. The gold shall return thou didst spend,
Ay, and thy beaten back grow whole. But friendship's grave is the end.
Why do I love thee, brother? We have shared what things in our youth,
Battle and siege and triumph, together, always together, in wanderings North and South.
But one thing shared binds nearer than all, the kisses of one sweet mouth.
He that hath loved the mother shall love the daughter no less,
Sister the younger sister. There are tones how sweet to his ear, gestures that plead and press,
Echoes fraught with remembered things that cry in the silences.
Fly from thy friend in his fortune, his first days of wealth, of fame;
Or, if thou needest to meet him, do thou as the children of Noah, walk back wards and guard thee from blame.
He who saw found forgiveness none. With thee it were haply the same.
Bridegroom, thy pride is unseemly. Thou boastest abroad, with a smile,
Thou hast read our humanity's riddle. Nay, wait yet a year with thy bride; she shall lesson thee wiser the while.
Then shalt thou blush for thy words to--day, the shame of thy innocent guile.
The love of a girl is a taper lit on a windy night.
Awhile it lightens our darkness, consoles with its pure sudden flame, and the shadows around it grow white.
Anon with a rain--gust of tears it is gone, and we blink more blind for the light.
Sage, thou art proud of thy knowledge, what mountains and marvels seen!
Thou hast loved how madly, how often! hast known what wiles of the heart, what ways of maid, wife and quean!
Yet shalt thou still be betrayed by love, befooled like a boy on the green.
Oh, there is honour in all love. Have lips once kissed thee, be dumb,
Save in their only praise. To cheapen the thing thou hast loved is to bite at thyself thy thumb,
To shout thy own fool's fault to the world, and beat thy shame on a drum.
Who hath dared mock at thy beauty, Lady? Who deemeth thee old?
If he had seen thee anon in the tender light of thine eyes, as I saw thee, what tales had he told
Of ruined kingdoms and kings for one, of misers spending their gold!
Friendship or Love? You ask it: which binds with the stronger tether?
Friendship? Thy comrade of youth, who laughed with thee on thy road? What ailed him in that rough weather,
When to thy bosom Love's angel crept, twin tragedies locked together?
Friendship is fostered with gifts. Be it so; little presents? Yes.
Friendship! But ah, not Love, since love is itself Love's gift and it angereth him to have less.
Woe to the lover who dares to bring more wealth than his tenderness.
This to the woman: Forbear his gifts, the man's thou wouldst hold.
Cheerfully he shall give and thou nothing guess, yet anon he shall weigh thee in scales of his gold.
Woe to thee then if the charge be more than a heartache's cost all told.
Thou art tempted, a passion unworthy? Long struggle hath dulled thy brain?
How shalt thou save thee, poor soul? How buy back the peace of thy days? If of rest thou be fain,
Oft is there virtue in yielding all; thou shalt not be tempted again.
Sacrifice truly is noble. Yet, Lady, ponder thy fate.
Many a victory, won in tears by her who forbore, hath ruined her soul's estate.
Virtue's prize was too dear a whim, the price agreed to too great.
Virtue or vice? Which, think you, should need more veil for her face?
Virtue hath little fear; she goeth in unchaste guise; she ventureth all disgrace.
Poor Vice hid in her shame sits dumb while a stranger taketh her place.
Chastity? Who is unchaste? The church--wed wife, without blame
Yielding her body nightly, a lack--love indolent prize, to the lord of her legal shame?
Or she, the outlawed passionate soul? Their carnal act is the same.
In youth it is well thou lovest. The fire in thee burneth strong.
Choose whom thou wilt, it kindleth; a beggar--maid or a queen, she shall carry the flame along.
Only in age to be loved is best; her right shall repair thy wrong.
Lady, wouldst fly with thy lover? Alas, he loves thee to--day.
How shall it be to--morrow? He saw thee a bird in the air, a rose on its thorny spray.
He would take thee? What shalt thou be in his hand? A burden to bear alway.
Women love beauty in women, a thing to uphold, to adore,
To vaunt for all womanhood's fame, a seemly sweet fitness of body, adorned with all virtuous lore.
Beauty, but not of the kind men prize. On that they would set small store.
What is there cruel as fear? A falcon rending her prey
Showeth an evil eye, but to him she loveth is kind; her rage she shall put away.
But a frightened woman hath pity none. Though she love thee, yet shall she slay.
Show not thy sin to thy son. He shall judge thee harder than these.
All the servants of Noah beheld his shame in the house and loyally held their peace.
Ham alone at his father laughed, made jest of his nakedness.
Cast not loose thy religion, whether believing or no.
Heavy it is with its rule, a burden laid on thy back, a sombre mask at the show.
Yet shall it cloak thee in days of storm, a shield when life's whirlwinds blow.
As to the tree its ivy, so virtue is to the soul.
All the winter long it clothed us in leafage green, and the forest paid us its toll.
Now it is Spring and the rest rejoice while we stand drear in our dole.
Thy love of children is well. Yet a peril lurketh therein.
See lest thy sloth take excuse of thy fondness. Nay, coward art thou, and thine is the pestilent sin.
Shift wouldst thou thy burden of life, the blame of thy ``might have been.''
Courage we all find enough to bear the mischance of our friends.
How many tortured souls have gone to their self--made graves through wreck of their own mad ends:
But no man yet hath his weazand slit for his neighbour's pain in amends.
Fear not to change thy way, since change is of growth, life's sign.
The Child in his growing body, the Sage in his gathered lore, the Saint in his growths divine,
All find pleasure but Age which weeps the unchanging years' decline.
Whence is our fountain of tears? We weep in childhood for pain,
Anon for triumph in manhood, the sudden glory of praise, the giant mastered and slain.
Age weeps only for love renewed and pleasure come back again.
What is our personal self? A fading record of days
Held in our single brain, memory linked with memory back to our childhood's ways.
Beyond it what? A tradition blurred of gossip and nursemaid says.
Why dost thou plain of thine age, O thou with the beard that is thin?
Art thou alone in thy home? Is there none at thy side, not one, to deem thee a man among men?
Nay, thou art young while she holds thy hand, be thy years the threescore and ten.
The world is untimely contrived. It gives us our sunshine in summer,
Its laughing face in our youth, when we need it not to be gay, being each one his own best mummer.
All its frown is for life that goes, its smile for the last new comer.
Europe a horologe is, ill mounted and clogged with grime,
Asia a clock run down. Its hands on the dial are still; its hours are toldby no chime.
Nathless, twice in the twenty--four, it shall tell thee exactly the time.
What is the profit of knowledge? Ah none, though to know not is pain!
We grieve like a child in the dark; we grope for a chink at the door, for a way of escape from the chain;
We beat on life's lock with our bleeding hands, till it opens. And where is the gain?
I have tried all pleasures but one, the last and sweetest; it waits.
Childhood, the childhood of age, to totter again on the lawns, to have done with the loves and the hates,
To gather the daisies, and drop them, and sleep on the nursing knees of the Fates.
I asked of the wise man ``Tell me, what age is the age of pleasure?
Twenty years have I lived. I have spread my meshes in vain. I have taken a paltry treasure.
Where is the heart of the gold?'' And he, ``I will tell thee anon at leisure.''
I pleaded at thirty ``Listen. I have played, I have lost, I have won.
I have loved in joy and sorrow. My life is a burden grown with the thought of its sands outrun.
Where is the joy of our years? At forty?'' ``Say it is just begun.''
At forty I made love's mourning. I stood alone with my foes,
Foot to foot with my Fate, as a man at grips with a man, returning blows for blows.
In the joy of battle ``'Tis here'' I cried. But the wise man, ``Nay, who knows?''
At fifty I walked sedately. At sixty I took my rest.
I had learned the good with the evil. I troubled my soul no more, I had reached the Isles of the Blest.
The sage was dead who had warned my fears. I was wise, I too, with the best.
What do we know of Being? Our own? How short lived, how base!
That which is not our own? The eternal enrolment of stars, the voids and the silences!
The enormous might of the mindless globes whirling through infinite space!
The infinite Great overhead, the infinite Little beneath!
The turn of the cellular germ, the giddy evolving of life in the intricate struggle for breath,
The microbe, the mote alive in the blood, the eyeless atom of death!
Yet which is the greater Being? We have dreamed of a life--giving God,
Him, the mind of the Sun, the conscious brain--flower of Space, with a cosmic form and abode,
With thought and pity and power of will, Humanity's ethical code.
We have dreamed, but we do not believe. Be He here, be He not, 'tis as one.
His Godhead, how does it help? He is far. He is blind to our need. Nay, nay, He is less than the Sun,
Less than the least of the tremulous stars, than our old scorned idols of stone.
For He heareth not, nor seeth. As we to the motes in our blood,
So is He to our lives, a possible symbol of power, a formula half understood.
But the voice of Him, where? the hand grip, where? A child's cry lost in a wood.
Therefore is Matter monarch, the eternal the infinite Thing,
The ``I that am'' which reigneth, which showeth no shadow of change, while humanities wane and spring,
Which saith ``Make no vain Gods before me, who only am Lord and King.''
What then is Merlyn's message, his word to thee weary of pain,
Man, on thy desolate march, thy search for an adequate cause, for a thread, for a guiding rein,
Still in the maze of thy doubts and fears, to bring thee thy joy again?
Thou hast tried to climb to the sky; thou hast called it a firmament;
Thou hast found it a thing infirm, a heaven which is no haven, a bladder punctured and rent,
A mansion frail as the rainbow mist, as thy own soul impotent.
Thou hast clung to a dream in thy tears; thou hast stayed thy rage with a hope;
Thou hast anchored thy wreck to a reed, a cobweb spread for thy sail, with sand for thy salvage rope;
Thou hast made thy course with a compass marred, a toy for thy telescope.
What hast thou done with thy days? Bethink thee, Man, that alone,
Thou of all sentient things, hast learned to grieve in thy joy, hast earned thee the malison
Of going sad without cause of pain, a weeper and woebegone.
Why? For the dream of a dream of another than this fair life
Joyous to all but thee, by every creature beloved in its spring--time of passion rife,
By every creature but only thee, sad husband with sadder wife,
Scared at thought of the end, at the simple logic of death,
Scared at the old Earth's arms outstretched to hold thee again, thou child of an hour, of a breath,
Seeking refuge with all but her, the mother that comforteth.
Merlyn's message is this: he would bid thee have done with pride.
What has it brought thee but grief, thy parentage with the Gods, thy kinship with beasts denied?
What thy lore of a life to come in a cloud--world deified?
O thou child which art Man, distraught with a shadow of ill!
O thou fool of thy dreams, thou gatherer rarely of flowers but of fungi ofevil smell,
Posion growths of the autumn woods, rank mandrake and mort--morell!
Take thy joy with the rest, the bird, the beast of the field,
Each one wiser than thou, which frolic in no dismay, which seize what the seasons yield,
And lay thee down when thy day is done content with the unrevealed.
Take the thing which thou hast. Forget thy kingdom unseen.
Lean thy lips on the Earth; she shall bring new peace to thy eyes with her healing vesture green.
Drink once more at her fount of love, the one true hippocrene.
O thou child of thy fears! Nay, shame on thy childish part
Weeping when called to thy bed. Take cheer. When the shadows come, when the crowd is leaving the mart,
Then shalt thou learn that thou needest sleep, Death's kindly arms for thy heart.
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