(The first eight movements of an epic of
Man in the Northern Hemisphere)
Vision the sun and stars,
The gold-faced central sun,
Wandering like glittering Apollo
With the planet muses
Across the star-enamelled fields of space.
Spy out the tilting ice-tipped Earth,
Curving through nothingness,
Dogged by her blue void-shadow.
Look from the eyes in the astonished mask
Of the beardless and purse-mouthed moon
At the merging and melting of moods
On the face of the northern hemisphere.
The hand is in the glove,
Which is clasped by suns
And buttoned by the earth,
Yet the wrinkling of matter
Shows the working of fingers.
Shades of the seasons pass across the face of continents
Like cloud shadows over dun woodlands;
The Earth rocks with eleven-fold motion;
Storms gather; arrow-headed flocks of birds shoot from continent to continent;
The sea leaps over the dim shoal of Atlantis
Dark as an evil memory in the azure brain of ocean.
Twinkling beneath the chromatic kaleidoscope of sun, star, and moonlight,
In rays splashed from behind the plains of Nowhere,
The saw-toothed, ice-pinnacled arc of Earth
Sweeps titanically into the northern horizon.
Now the blueness of a six-months night
Occults its glittering bow, and now —
The snowfields glare a half-year day,
While as the sphere spins, murmurous with storms
And the complaining voice of islands
Chafed by ice-scummed seas,
The circle of the boreal aurora flickers into heaven,
Shaking its blue corona like the light from steel swords
Threatening the fixed stars and the planets.
Pressed into the blue slate
Is the five-toed sigil of a small dragon.
In the middle of your brain lies his third eye.
Come closer, Watcher in the High-skies,
That you may behold the expressions of time
Upon the face of the planet.
That faint trumpeting, which dies away
Like the lowing of monstrous star-cattle,
Marks the passing of the mastodon.
Now, the ice-fields melting northward,
Grass creeps upward like a green flame
Following the steaming moraine of the glacier.
Bison sweep across the tundras
Like patches of brown wingless flies.
Among the hills, from silver breasts of lakes,
Come glittering, one by one, small iridescent pin-points
Like red rat-eyes in the darkness,
Until the wide blue plains of the planet
Light up in mockery of the galaxy
With constellated tribal camp-fires of men.
Portentous secrets down there:
Sketching on the damp walls of caverns,
Patiently in a splash of lamplight,
Longheads trace the red-legged bison
Upon the walls of hill-caves.
Hands, no longer fumbling, carve the deer horns.
Flint flakes grow smoother and keener.
Crooked sticks disturb the Earth.
Dolmens point the sun path, —
And man tells stories about the sky-people.
Graven upon the horn of an extinct deer
Stands a mammoth with curly tusks
And a dot for an eye.
His etched hair droops disconsolately.
Spin, Top of the Ages, spin!
Sun-gilt upon your western and oriental rim;
Peer from your red-gold frame of dawn and sunset
With your gracious face of hooded-waters.
Gaze longingly upon the moon,
Like lover at the dead face of his darling.
Has not the moon died for desire of you,
Pursing cold lips up through the ages
For the kiss withheld by space?
Ah! What a heat if you could come together!
Circle, Moon, weave your deadly ovals
Till your tidal spell has drawn the Earth to sleep
And her still face will gaze across at yours.
But meantime, Earth, down whirling ages
Cast your cloak of shadow on your silent lover
While you spin, Planet, spin!
Winds weather down the granite mountains,
Nile abandons his terraces,
Zinc has married tin and copper in the glazing fire;
While gnome-like black folk seek the hill-hid caves,
And red-haired warriors, glistening blue with woad,
Dash through oak forests in small bell-hung chariots.
Altar-fires twinkle at Stonehenge;
Men burn in wicker cages at Mona;
Odin’s ravens commence to spy out the Earth.
Southward, pride solidifies in pyramids
Over the selfish sleep of Theban kings;
While Memnon wearies,
Singing of the mornings — mornings — mornings
Ever streaming from the east,
Like rows of shuttles dragging wefts of day
Across the sombre warp of purple nights;
Weaving the patient pattern of the years
And new things on sustaining webs of old,
The while the Star goes whirling, passing on
The web of life slow changed from bronze to iron.
On the front of a pylon,
Ochre against the stone,
The royal wife dines
In profile with pharaoh.
Under the obsidian linen
The lines of her limbs
Into her long, pointed shoes.
Spin, Planet, spin! Bellows of the minotaur
Die away beneath the flames of daedal palaces.
Lions quiver beneath the arrows of Sargon.
Croesus beholds his image on a disc.
White marble spots the grey-green hills of Greece.
Charmed by the music of the Asian grasshopper,
Soothed by the wash of lights upon the sea-near hills,
Greeks become friendly with the Earth,
And forgetting fear,
Under the long shadows of the peristyles,
Speak of the beautiful importance of themselves.
Worn by the rain of ages,
The faint fair body of the boy
Blooms in the ivory-weathered stone.
He stands before an altar,
Worthy to be shown the gods.
Like a drapery of music
The garments of his mother
Flow in the delicious melody
Of the chiseled breeze.
Who has heard the crack of Carthaginian whips
Upon the backs of frozen elephants,
The roar of war-horns in the Maritime Alps,
The snake-drums of Numidian cavalry?
Who has seen the Punic triremes walk the sea
Like water-spiders, to the yell of slaves? —
Or lamp-hung oxen charge the Apennines?
In vain, Great City by the sea!
Shot from the Roman catapult,
The head of Hasdrubal whizzes into the lap of Hannibal.
“Carthago… Delenda est Carthago! …”
In vain the shrieks of babes in Moloch fires,
Or twisted engine ropes of women’s hair.
The eagle advances;
Flames spout from the rock-hewn windows of the elephant barracks;
The ax of the proconsul leaps from its rods, —
And Carthage falls.
On the green surface of a bronze coin
A genial numidian lion
Smiles heraldically beneath a palm tree.
Hannibal struck him to pay his soldiers.
Now to the faint clink of swords
And wolfish snarling of the twisted tubas
Rome throws out white veins of roads to bleed the world.
Over the castled wall in Britain
Pea-sized rocks are tossed to crush
The ant-men in the furze.
Eagles over S. P. Q. R. change to crosses over I. H. S.
Then, as the city-heart withdraws its blood,
Towns flare into the midnight sky,
The flames of villas taste the stars,
Moonlight floods the empty cups of amphitheatres;
Hun fire glitters in the Parthenon;
And silence settles upon the northern hemisphere.
Oval script of giants
Punctuated by ruin,
Words of the ruined aqueduct
March in the letters of arches
Over the page of campagnia
Into the alban hills.
© Hervey Allen