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“The Dream Of Man” by William Watson
“The Dream Of Man” by William Watson

“The Dream Of Man” by William Watson

To the eye and the ear of the Dreamer This Dream out of darkness flew, Through the horn or the ivory portal, But he wist not which of the two. It was the Human Spirit, Of all men’s souls the Soul, Man the unwearied climber, That climbed to the unknown goal. And up the steps of the ages, The difficult steep ascent, Man the unwearied climber Pauseless and dauntless went. AEons rolled behind him With thunder of far retreat, And still as he strove he conquered And laid his foes at his feet. Inimical powers of nature, Tempest and flood and fire, The spleen of fickle seasons That loved to baulk his desire, The breath of hostile climates, The ravage of blight and dearth, The old unrest that vexes The heart of the moody earth, The genii swift and radiant Sabreing heaven with flame, He, with a keener weapon, The sword of his wit, overcame. Disease and her ravening offspring, Pain with the thousand teeth, He drave into night primeval, The nethermost worlds beneath, Till the Lord of Death, the undying, Ev’n Asrael the King, No more with Furies for heralds Came armed with scourge and sting, But gentle of voice and of visage, By calm Age ushered and led, A guest, serenely featured, Entering, woke no dread. And, as the rolling aeons Retreated with pomp of sound, Man’s spirit, grown too lordly For this mean orb to bound, By arts in his youth undreamed of His terrene fetters broke, With enterprise ethereal Spurning the natal yoke, And, stung with divine ambition, And fired with a glorious greed, He annexed the stars and the planets And peopled them with his seed.

Then said he, “The infinite Scripture I have read and interpreted clear, And searching all worlds I have found not My sovereign or my peer. In what room of the palace of nature Resides the invisible God? For all her doors I have opened, And all her floors I have trod. If greater than I be her tenant, Let him answer my challenging call: Till then I admit no rival, But crown myself master of all.” And forth as that word went bruited, By Man unto Man were raised Fanes of devout self-homage, Where he who praised was the praised; And from vast unto vast of creation The new evangel ran, And an odour of world-wide incense Went up from Man unto Man; Until, on a solemn feast-day, When the world’s usurping lord At a million impious altars His own proud image adored, God spake as He stept from His ambush: “O great in thine own conceit, I will show thee thy source, how humble, Thy goal, for a god how unmeet.” Thereat, by the word of the Maker The Spirit of Man was led To a mighty peak of vision, Where God to His creature said: “Look eastward toward time’s sunrise.” And, age upon age untold, The Spirit of Man saw clearly The Past as a chart out-rolled,– Beheld his base beginnings In the depths of time, and his strife, With beasts and crawling horrors For leave to live, when life Meant but to slay and to procreate, To feed and to sleep, among Mere mouths, voracities boundless, Blind lusts, desires without tongue, And ferocities vast, fulfilling Their being’s malignant law, While nature was one hunger, And one hate, all fangs and maw. With that, for a single moment, Abashed at his own descent, In humbleness Man’s Spirit At the feet of the Maker bent; But, swifter than light, he recovered The stature and pose of his pride, And, “Think not thus to shame me With my mean birth,” he cried. “This is my loftiest greatness, To have been born so low; Greater than Thou the ungrowing Am I that for ever grow.” And God forbore to rebuke him, But answered brief and stern, Bidding him toward time’s sunset His vision westward turn; And the Spirit of Man obeying Beheld as a chart out-rolled The likeness and form of the Future, Age upon age untold; Beheld his own meridian, And beheld his dark decline, His secular fall to nadir From summits of light divine, Till at last, amid worlds exhausted, And bankrupt of force and fire, ‘Twas his, in a torrent of darkness, Like a sputtering lamp to expire. Then a war of shame and anger Did the realm of his soul divide; “‘Tis false, ’tis a lying vision,” In the face of his God he cried. “Thou thinkest to daunt me with shadows; Not such as Thou feign’st is my doom: From glory to rise unto glory Is mine, who have risen from gloom. I doubt if Thou knew’st at my making How near to thy throne I should climb, O’er the mountainous slopes of the ages And the conquered peaks of time. Nor shall I look backward nor rest me Till the uttermost heights I have trod, And am equalled with Thee or above Thee, The mate or the master of God.” Ev’n thus Man turned from the Maker, With thundered defiance wild, And God with a terrible silence Reproved the speech of His child. And man returned to his labours, And stiffened the neck of his will; And the aeons still went rolling, And his power was crescent still. But yet there remained to conquer One foe, and the greatest–although Despoiled of his ancient terrors, At heart, as of old, a foe– Unmaker of all, and renewer, Who winnows the world with his wing, The Lord of Death, the undying, Ev’n Asrael the King. And lo, Man mustered his forces The war of wars to wage, And with storm and thunder of onset Did the foe of foes engage, And the Lord of Death, the undying, Was beset and harried sore, In his immemorial fastness At night’s aboriginal core. And during years a thousand Man leaguered his enemy’s hold, While nature was one deep tremor, And the heart of the world waxed cold, Till the phantom battlements wavered, And the ghostly fortress fell, And Man with shadowy fetters Bound fast great Asrael. So, to each star in the heavens, The exultant word was blown, The annunciation tremendous, _Death is overthrown!_ And Space in her ultimate borders Prolonging the jubilant tone, With hollow ingeminations, Sighed, _Death is overthrown!_ And God in His house of silence, Where He dwelleth aloof, alone, Paused in His tasks to hearken: _Death is overthrown!_ Then a solemn and high thanksgiving By Man unto Man was sung, In his temples of self-adoration, With his own multitudinous tongue; And he said to his Soul: “Rejoice thou For thy last great foe lies bound, Ev’n Asrael the Unmaker, Unmade, disarmed, discrowned.” And behold, his Soul rejoiced not, The breath of whose being was strife, For life with nothing to vanquish Seemed but the shadow of life. No goal invited and promised And divinely provocative shone; And Fear having fled, her sister, Blest Hope, in her train was gone; And the coping and crown of achievement Was hell than defeat more dire– The torment of all-things-compassed, The plague of nought-to-desire; And Man the invincible queller, Man with his foot on his foes, In boundless satiety hungred, Restless from utter repose, Victor of nature, victor Of the prince of the powers of the air, By mighty weariness vanquished, And crowned with august despair. Then, at his dreadful zenith, He cried unto God: “O Thou Whom of old in my days of striving Methought I needed not,–now, In this my abject glory, My hopeless and helpless might, Hearken and cheer and succour!” And God from His lonely height, From eternity’s passionless summits, On suppliant Man looked down, And His brow waxed human with pity, Belying its awful crown. “Thy richest possession,” He answered, “Blest Hope, will I restore, And the infinite wealth of weakness Which was thy strength of yore; And I will arouse from slumber, In his hold where bound he lies, Thine enemy most benefic;– O Asrael, hear and rise!” And a sound like the heart of nature Riven and cloven and torn, Announced, to the ear universal, Undying Death new-born. Sublime he rose in his fetters, And shook the chains aside Ev’n as some mortal sleeper ‘Mid forests in autumntide Rises and shakes off lightly The leaves that lightly fell On his limbs and his hair unheeded While as yet he slumbered well. And Deity paused and hearkened, Then turned to the undivine, Saying, “O Man, My creature, Thy lot was more blest than Mine. I taste not delight of seeking, Nor the boon of longing know. There is but one joy transcendent, And I hoard it not but bestow. I hoard it not nor have tasted, But freely I gave it to thee– The joy of most glorious striving, Which dieth in victory.” Thus, to the Soul of the Dreamer, This Dream out of darkness flew, Through the horn or the ivory portal, But he wist not which of the two.

Poem from ReadBookOnline.net. See also The Poems of William Watson (John Lane, The Bodley Head, London & New York, 1905), The Collected Poems of William Watson (John Lane, New York and London, 1899), and Lachrymae Musarum & Other Poems (MacMillan and Co., London and New York, 1892).

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