Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

Thunder On The Downs - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

Wide earth, wide heaven, and in the summer air
Silence! The summit of the Down is bare
Between the climbing crests of wood; but those
Great sea--winds, wont, when the wet South--West blows,
To rock tall beeches and strong oaks aloud
And strew torn leaves upon the streaming cloud,
To--day are idle, slumbering far aloof.
Under the solemn height and gorgeous roof
Of cloud--built sky, all earth is indolent.
Wandering hum of bees and thymy scent
Of the short turf enrich pure loneliness;
Scarcely an airy topmost--twining tress
Of bryony quivers where the thorn it wreathes;
Hot fragrance from the honeysuckle breathes,
And sweet the rose floats on the arching briar's
Green fountain, sprayed with delicate frail fires.
For clumps of thicket, dark beneath the blaze
Of the high westering sun, beset the ways
Of smooth grass narrowing where the slope runs steep
Down to green woods, and glowing shadows keep
A freshness round the mossy roots, and cool
The light that sleeps as in a chequered pool
Of golden air. O woods, I love you well,
I love the flowers you hide, your ferny smell;
But here is sweeter solitude, for here
My heart breathes heavenly space; the sky is near
To thought, with heights that fathomlessly glow;
And the eye wanders the wide land below.

And this is England! June's undarkened green
Gleams on far woods; and in the vales between
Gray hamlets, older than the trees that shade
Their ripening meadows, are in quiet laid,
Themselves a part of the warm, fruitful ground.
The little hills of England rise around;
The little streams that wander from them shine
And with their names remembered names entwine
Of old renown and honour, fields of blood
High causes fought on, stubborn hardihood
For freedom spent, and songs, our noblest pride,
That in the heart of England never died,
And burning still make splendour of our tongue.
Glories enacted, spoken, suffered, sung,
You lie emblazoned on this land now sleeping;
And southward, over leagues of forest sweeping
White on the verge glistens the famous sea,
That English wave, on which so haughtily
Towered her sails, and one sail homeward bore
Past capes of silently lamenting shore
Victory's dearest dead. O shores of home,
Since by the vanished watch--fire shields of Rome
Dinted this upland turf, what hearts have ached
To see you far away, what eyes have waked
Ere dawn to watch those cliffs of long desire
One after one rise in their voiceless choir
Out of the twilight over the rough blue
Like music!... But now heavy gleams imbrue
The inland air. Breathless the valleys hold
Their colours in a veil of sultry gold
With mingled shadows that have ceased to crawl;
For far in heaven is thunder! Over all
A single cloud in slow magnificence
Climbs like a mountain, gradual and immense,
With awful head unstirring, and moved on
Against the zenith, towers above the sun.
And still it thickens luminous fold on fold
Of fatal colour, ominously scrolled
And fleeced with fire; above the sun it towers
Like some vast thought quickening a world not ours
Remote in the waste blue, as if behind
Its rim were splendour that could smite us blind,
So doom--piled and intense it crests heaven's height
And mounting makes a menace of the light.
A menace! Yes, for when light comes, we fear.
Light that may touch, as the pure angel--spear,
Us to ourselves, make visible, make start
The apparition of the very heart
And mystery of our thoughts, awaked from under
The mask of cheating habit, and to thunder
Bare in a moment of white fire what we
Have feared and fled, our own reality.

And if a lightning now were loosed in flame
Out of the darkness of the cloud to claim
Thy heart, O England, how wouldst thou be known
In that hour? How to the quick core be shown
And seen? What cry should from thy very soul
Answer the judgment of that thunder--roll?

I hear a voice arraign thee. ``Where is now
The exaltation that once lit thy brow?
Thou countest all thy ocean--sundered lands,
Thou heapest up the labours of thy hands,
Thou seest all thy ships upon the seas.
But in thine own heart mean idolatries
Usurp devotion, choke thee and annul
Noble excess of spirit, and make dull
Thine eyes, enfleshed with much dominion.
Art thou so great and is the glory gone?
Do these bespeak thy freedom who deflower
Time, and make barren every senseless hour,
Who from themselves hurry, like men afraid
Lest what they are be to themselves betrayed?
Or those who in their huddled thousands sweat
To buy the sleep that helps them to forget?--
Life lies unused, life with its loveliness!
While the cry ravens still, ``Possess, Possess!''
And there is no possession. All the lust
Of gainful man is quieted in dust;
His faith, his fear, his joy, his doom he owns,
No more: the rest is parcelled with his bones,
Save what the imagination of his heart
Can to the labour of his hands impart,
Making stones serve his spirit's desire, and breathe.
But thou, what dost thou to the world bequeathe,
Who gatherest riches in a waste of mind
Unto what end, O confidently blind,
Forgetful of the things that grow not old
And alone live and are not bought or sold?''

Speaks that voice truth? Is it for this that great
And tender spirits suffered scorn and hate,
Loved to the utmost, poured themselves, gave all
Nor counted cost, spirits imperial?
Where are they now, they that our memory guard
Among the nations? Shall I say enstarred
And throned aloof? No, not from heavens of thought
Watching our muddied brief procession, not
Judges sublime above us, without share
In our thronged ways of struggle, hope, despair,
But in our blood, our dreams, our deeds they stir,
Strive on our lips for language, shame and spur
The sluggard in us, out of darkness come
Like summoned champions when the world is dumb;
Within our hearts they wait with all they gave:
Woe to us, woe, if we become their grave!
It shall not be. Darken thy pall, and trail,
Thunder of heaven, above the valleys pale!
Another England in my vision glows.
And she is armed within; at last she knows
Herself, and what to her own soul belongs.
Mid the world's irremediable wrongs
She keeps her faith; and nothing of her name
Or of her handiwork but doth proclaim
Her purpose. Her own soul hath made her free,
Not circumstance; she knows no victory
Save of the mind: in her is nothing done,
No wrong, no shame, no glory of any one,
But is the cause of all and each, a thing
Felt like a fire to kindle and to sting
The proud blood of a nation. On her brows
Is hope; her body doth her spirit house
Express and eloquent, not dumb and frore;
And her voice echoes over sea and shore,
And all the lands and isles that are her own
In choric interchange and antiphon
Answer, as fancy hears in yonder cloud
From vale to vale repeated low and loud
The still--suspended thunder. Hearts of Youth,
High--beating, ardent, quick in hope and ruth
And noble anger, O wherever now
You dedicate your uncorrupted vow
To be an energy of Light, a sword
Of the ever--living Will, amid abhorred
Din of the reeking street and populous den
Where under the great stars blind lusts of men
War on each other, or escaped to hills
Where peace the solitary evening fills,
Or far remote on other soils of earth
Keeping the dearness of your fathers' hearth
On vast plains of the West, or Austral strands
Of the warm under--world, or storied lands
Of the orient sun, or over ocean ways
Stemming the wave through blue or stormy days,
Wherever, as the circling light slopes round,
On human lips is heard an English sound,
O scattered, silent, hidden, and unknown,
Be lifted up, for you are not alone!
High--beating hearts, to your deep vows be true!
Live out your dreams, for England lives in you.

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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