Sir Lewis Morris

1833 - 1907 / Carmarthen, Carmarthenshire


ALL men are poets if they might but tell
The dim ineffable changes which the sight
Of natural beauty works on them : the charm
Of those first days of Spring, when life revives
And all the world is bloom : the whitefringed green
Ofsummer seas swirling around the base
Of overhanging cliffs ; the golden gleam
Seen from some breezy hill, where far and wide
The fields grow ripe for harvest ; or the storm
Smiting the leaden surf, or echoing
On nightly lakes and unsuspected hills,
Revealed in lurid light ; or first perceived,
High in mid-heaven, above the rosy clouds,
The everlasting snows.
And Art can move,
To higher minds, an influence as great
As Nature's self ; when the rapt gazer marks
The stainless mother folding arms divine
Around the Eternal Child, or pitying love
Nailed to the dreadful cross, or the white strength
Of happy heathen gods, or serpent coils
Binding the agonized limbs, till from their pain
Is born a thing of beauty for all time.

And more than Nature, more than Art can move
The awakened soul heroic soaring deeds ;
When the young champion falls in hopeless fight,
Striking for home ; or when, by truth constrained,
The martyr goes forth cheerful to his fate
The dungeon, or the torture, or, more hard,
The averted gaze of friends, the loss of love,
The loneliness of soul, which truth too oft
Gives to reward the faith which casts aside
All things for her ; or saintly lives obscure,
Spent in a sweet compassion, till they gain,
Living, some glow of heaven ; or passionate love,
Bathing our poor world in a mystic light,
Seen once, then lost for ever. These can stir
Life to its depths, till silence grows a load
Too hard to bear, and the rapt soul would fain
Speak with strange tongues which startle as they come,
Like the old saints who spake at Pentecost.

But we are dumb, we are dumb, and may not tell
What stirs within us, though the soul may throb
And tremble with its passion, though the heart
Dissolve in weeping : dumb. Nature may spread
Sublimest sights of beauty ; Art inspire
High thoughts and pure of God -like sacrifice ;
Yet no word comes. Heroic daring deeds
Thrill us, yet no word comes ; we are dumb, we are dumb,
Save that from finer souls at times may rise,
Once in an age, faint inarticulate sounds,
Low halting tones of wonder, such as come
From children looking on the stars, but still
With power to open to the listening ear
The Fair Divine Unknown, and to unseal
Heaven's inner gates before us evermore.

Ah, few and far between ! The earth grows green,
Art's glorious message speaks from year to year,
Great deeds and high are done from day to day,
But the voice comes not which has power to wake
The sleeping soul within, and animate
The beauty which informs them, lending speech
To what before was dumb. They come, they go,
Those sweet impressions spent on separate souls,
Like raindrops on the endless oceanplains,
Lost as they fall. The world rolls on ; lives spring,
Blossom, and fade ; the play of life is played
More vivid than of old a wider stage,
With more consummate actors ; yet the dull,
Cold deeps of sullen silence swallow up
The strain, and it is lost. But if we might
Paint all things as they are, find voice to speak
The thoughts now mute within us, let the soul
Trace on its sensitive surface vividly,
As does the sun our features, all the play
Of passion, all the changeful tides of thought,
The mystery, the beauty, the delight,
The fear, the horror, of our lives, our being
Would blaze up heavenward in a sudden flame,
Spend itself, and be lost.
Wherefore 'tis well
This narrow boundary that hedges in
The strong and weak alike. Thought could not live,
Nor speech, in that pure aether which girds round
Life's central dwelling-place. Only the dull
And grosser atmosphere of earth it is
Which vibrates to the sweet birds' song, and brings
Heaven to the wondering ear. Only the stress,
The pain, the hope, the longing, the constraint
Of limited faculties circling round and round
The grim circumference, and finding naught
Of outlet to the dread unknown beyond,
Can lend the poet voice. Only the weight,
The dulness of our senses, which makes dumb
And hushes half the finer utterance,
Makes possible the song, and modulates
The too exalted music, that it falls
So soft upon the listening soul, that life,
Not withered by the awful harmony, -
Nor drunk with too much sweetness,' nor struck blind
By the too vivid presence of the
Fulfils its round of duty elevated,
Not slain by too much splendour comforted,
Not thunder-smitten soothed, not laid asleep
And ever, through the devious maze of being,
Fares in slow narrowing cycles to the end.
251 Total read