Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

Two Visions - Poem by Alfred Austin

The curtains of the Night were folded
Over suspended sense;
So that the things I saw were moulded
I know not how nor whence.

Straight I beheld a marble city,
Built upon wayward slopes,
Along whose paths, as if for pity,
Ran tight-drawn golden ropes.

Withal, of many who ascended,
No one appeared to use
This help, allowed in days since mended,
When folks had frailer thews.

The men, all animal in vigour,
Strode stalwart and erect;
But on their brows, in placid rigour,
Watched sovereign Intellect.

Women brave-limbed, sound-lunged, full-breasted,
Walked at a rhythmic pace;
Yet not for that the less invested
With every female grace.

Unveiled and wholly unattended,
Strolled maidens to and fro:
Youths looked respect, but never bended
Obsequiously low.

And each with other, sans condition,
Held parley brief or long,
Without provoking rash suspicion
Of marriage or of wrong.

Distinction none of wooed or winning,
And no one made remark,
Till came they where the old were spinning,
As it was growing dark,

And saying-hushed untimely laughter-
`Henceforward we are one,'
Went homewards. Nor could ever after
Such Sanction be undone.

All were well clad, but none were better,
And gems beheld I none,
Save where there hung a jewelled fetter,
Symbolic, in the sun.

I found Cathedral none nor steeple,
Nor loud defiant choirs;
No martyr worshipped by the people,
On half-extinguished pyres.

But oft exclaimed they one to other,
Or as they passed or stood,
`Let us coöperate, my brother;
For God is very good.'

I saw a noble-looking maiden
Close Dante's solemn book,
Go, and return with linen laden,
And wash it in the brook.

Anon, a broad-browed poet dragging
Logs for his hearth along,
Without one single moment flagging
In shaping of his song.

Each one some handicraft attempted,
Or holp the willing soil:
None but the agëd were exempted
From communistic toil.

Yet 'twas nor long nor unremitting,
Since shared in by the whole;
But left to each one, as is fitting,
Full leisure for the Soul.

Was many a group in allocution
On problems that delight,
And lift, when e'en beyond solution,
Man to a nobler height.

And oftentimes was brave contention,
Such as beseems the wise;
But always courteous abstention
From over-swift replies.

And-I remarked-though whilst debating,
'Twas settled what they sought,
There was completest vindicating
Of unrestricted thought.

Age lorded not, nor rose the hectic
Up to the cheek of Youth;
But reigned throughout their dialectic
Sobriety of truth.

And if a long-held contest tended
To ill-defined result,
It was by calm consent suspended
As over-difficult:

And verse or music was demanded;
Then solitude of night:
By which all-potent Three expanded
Waxeth the Inner Sight.

So far the city. All around it
Olive or vine or corn;
Those having pressed or trod or ground it,
By these 'twas townwards borne,

And placed in halls unbarred and splendid,
With none to overlook,
But whither each at leisure wended,
And what he wanted took.

I saw no crippled forms nor meagre,
None smitten by disease:
Only the old, nor loth nor eager,
Dying by sweet degrees.

And when, without or pain or trouble,
These sank as sinks the sun,
`This is the sole Inevitable,'
All said; `His will be done!'

And went, with music ever swelling,
Where slopes o'erlook the sea,
Piled up the corse with herbs sweet-smelling,
Consumed, and so set free.

O'er ocean wave and mountain daisy
As curled the perfumed smoke,
The notes grew faint, the vision hazy-
Straining my sense, I woke.

Swift I arose. Soft winds were stirring
The curtains of the Morn,
Auguring day, by signs unerring,
Lovely as e'er was born.

No bluer, calmer sky surmounted
The city of my dream,
And what few trees could then be counted
Did full as gracious seem.

But here the pleasant likeness ended
Between the cities twain:
Level and straight these streets extended
Over an easy plain.

Withal, the people who thus early
Began the ways to throng,
With curving back and visage surly,
Toiled painfully along.

Groups of them met at yet closed portals,
And huddled round the gate,
Patient, as smit by the Immortals,
And helots as by Fate.

Right many a cross-crowned front and steeple
Clave the cerulean air:
As grew the concourse of the people,
They rang to rival prayer.

On their confronting walls were posted
Placards in glaring type,
Whereof there was not one but boasted
Truth full-grown, round, and ripe.

And, with this self-congratulation,
Each one the other banned,
With threats of durable damnation
From the Eternal Hand.

Hard by, were challenges to wrangle
On any themes, or all-
From the trisection of the angle
To what they termed the Fall.

Surmounting these were Forms forbidding
Some strife about the Flood;
Since in such points divine unthridding
Shed had been human blood.

From arch and alley sodden wretches
Crept out in half attire,
And groped for fetid husks and vetches
In heaps of tossed-out mire;

Until disturbed by horses' trample,
Bearing the homeward gay,
Who, sleek and warm, with ermines ample,
And glittering diamond spray.

That lightly flecked the classic ripple
Of their full-flowing hair-
For shivering child and leprous cripple
Had not a look to spare.

With garments which the morn ill mated,
Anon came youths along;
From side to side they oscillated,
And trolled a shameful song.

Fair as is fair a cankered lily,
A girl who late did lie
Beneath my window slumbrous-stilly,
Rose as these youths came nigh.

She seized the comeliest, and stroked him,
And plied each foul device;
And having to her flesh provoked him,
Then haggled for the price.

Hereat my heart-this long while throbbing,
And brimming by degrees-
O'erflowed; and, passionately sobbing,
I dropped upon my knees.

And made forgetful by the fluster
Of trouble's fierce extreme,
I cried, `O Thou, the great Adjuster,
God, realise my dream!'

Up came the sun, and straight were shining
Steeple and sill and roof:
To such rash prayer and bold repining
A visible reproof.

Rebuked, I rose from genuflexion,
And did no more blaspheme,
Closing mine eyes for retrospection
Of the departed dream,

Where men saluted one the other,
Or as they passed or stood,
`Let us coöperate, my brother;
For God is very good.'

And I resolved, by contrast smitten,
To live and strive by Law;
And first to write, as here are written,
The Visions Twain I saw.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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