THEY lingered on the middle heights
Betwixt the brown earth and the heaven;
They whispered, 'We are not the night's,
But pallid children of the even.'
They muttered, 'We are not the day's,
For the old struggle and endeavour,
The rugged and unquiet ways
Are dead and driven past for ever.'
They dreamed upon the cricket's tune,
The winds that stirred the withered grasses:
But never saw the blood-red moon
That lit the spectre mountain-passes.
They sat and marked the brooklet steal
In smoke-mist o'er its silvered surges:
But marked not, with its peal on peal,
The storm that swept the granite gorges.
They dreamed the shimmer and the shade,
And sought in pools for haunted faces:
Nor heard again the cannonade
In dreams from earth's old battle-places.
They spake, 'The ages all are dead,
The strife, the struggle, and the glory;
We are the silences that wed
Betwixt the story and the story.
'We are the little winds that moan
Between the woodlands and the meadows;
We are the ghosted leaves, wind-blown
Across the gust-light and the shadows.'
Then came a soul across those lands
Whose face was all one glad, rapt wonder,
And spake: 'The skies are ribbed with bands
Of fire, and heaven all racked with thunder.
'Climb up and see the glory spread,
High over cliff and 'scarpment yawning:
The night is past, the dark is dead,
Behold the triumph of the dawning!'
Then laughed they with a wistful scorn,
'You are a ghost, a long-dead vision;
You passed by ages ere was born
This twilight of the days elysian.
'There is no hope, there is no strife,
But only haunted hearts that hunger
About a dead, scarce-dreamed-of life,
Old ages when the earth was younger.'
Then came by one in mad distress,
'Haste, haste below, where strong arms weaken,
The fighting ones grow less and less!
Great cities of the world are taken!
'Dread evil rolls by like a flood,
Men's bones beneath his surges whiten,
Go where the ages mark in blood
The footsteps that their days enlighten.'
Still they but heard, discordant mirth,
The thin winds through the dead stalks rattle,
While out from far-off haunts of earth
There smote the mighty sound of battle.
Now there was heard an awful cry,
Despair that rended heaven asunder,
White pauses when a cause would die,
Where love was lost and souls went under,
The while these feebly dreamed and talked
Betwixt the brown earth and the heaven,
Faint ghosts of men who breathed and walked,
But deader than the dead ones even.
And out there on the middle height
They sought in pools for haunted faces,
Nor heard the cry across the night
That swept from earth's dread battle-places.