Forty Years After
COMRADE, yet a little further I would go before the night
Closes round and chills in darkness all the glorious sunset light –
Yet a little, by the cliff there, till the stately home I see
Of the man who once was with us, comrade once with you and me!
Nay, but leave me, pass alone there; stay awhile and gaze again
On the various-jewelled waters and the dreamy southern main,
For the evening breeze is sighing in the quiet of the hills,
Moving down in cliff and terrace to the singing sweet sea-rills,
While the river, silent-stealing, thro’ the copse and thro’ the lea
Winds her waveless way eternal to the welcome of the sea.
Yes, within that green-clad homestead, gardened grounds and velvet ease
Of a home where culture reigneth and the chambers whisper peace,
Is the Man, the Seer and Singer, who (ah, years and years away!)
Lifted up a face of gladness at the breaking of the day.
For the noontide’s desperate ardours that had seen the Roman town
Wrap the boy Keats, “by the hungry generations trodden down,”
In his death-shroud with the ashes of the fairy Child of Storm,
Fluttering skylark in the breakers, caught and smothered by the foam,
And had closed those eyes heroic, weary for the final peace,
Byron maimed and maddened, strangled in the anguish that was
For this noontide passed to darkness, brooding doubt and wild dismay,
Where the silly sparrows chirruped and the eagles swooped away,
Till once more the trampled Peoples and the murdered soul of Man
Raised a haggard face half-wondering where the new-born Day began,
Where the sign of Faith’s renewal, Faith’s and Hope’s, and Love’s,
In the golden sun arising; and we hailed it, we and you!
O you hailed it, and your heart beat, and your pretty woman’s lays,
In the fathomless vibration of our rapturous amaze,
Died for ever on your harpstrings, and you rose and struck a chord
High, full, clear, heroic, godlike, “for the glory of the Lord!”
Noble words you spoke; we listened; and we dreamed the day had come
When the faith of God and Christ should sound one cry with Man’s
When the men who stood beside us, eager with hell’s troops to cope,
Radiant, thrilled exultant, proud, with the magnificence of hope!
“Forward! forward!” ran our watchword. “Forward! forward!” by our
You gave back the glorious summons. Would that day that you had died!
Better lying fallen, death-struck, breathless, bleeding, on your face,
With your bright sword pointing onward, dying happy in your place!
Better to have passed in spirit from the battle-storm’s eclipse
With the great Cause in your heart and with the war-shout on your lips!
Better to have fallen charging, having known the nobler time,
In the fiery cheer and impulse of our serried battle-line –
Than to stand and watch your comrades, in the hail of fire and lead,
Up the slopes and thro’ the smoke-clouds, thro’ the dying and the dead,
Till the sun strikes through a moment, to our one victorious shout,
On our bayonets bristling brightly as we carry the redoubt!
O half-hearted, pusillanimous, faltering heart and fuddled brain
That remembered Egypt’s flesh-pots, and turned back and dreamed
Left the plain of blood and battle for the quiet of the hills,
And the sunny soft contentment that the woody homestead fills.
There you sat and sang of Egypt, of its sober solid graves,
(Pyramids, you call them, Sphinxes), mortared with the blood of slaves,
Houses, streets and stately palaces, the mart, the regal stew
Where freedom “broadens down” so slow it stops with lords and you!
O you mocked at our confusion, O you told us of our crimes,
Us ungentle, not like warriors of the sweet idyllic times,
Flowers of eunuch-hearted kings and courts where pretty poet knights
Tilted gaily, or slew stake-armed peasants, hundreds, in the fights?
O you drew the hideous picture of our bravest and our best,
Patient martyrs, desperate swordsmen, for the Cause that gives not
Men of science, “vivisectors!” democrats, the “rout of beasts” –
Writers, essayists and poets, “Belial’s prophets, Moloch’s priests!”
Coward, you have made the great refusal! you have won the gilded
Of the wringers of his heart’s-blood from the peasant’s sunless days,
Of the Lord and the Land-owner, of the Rich-man who has bound
Labour on the wheel to break him, strew his rent limbs on the ground,
With a vulture eye aglare on brothers, sisters that he had,
Crying “Troops and guns to shoot them, if the hunger drive them mad!”
Coward, faithless, unbelieving, that had courage but to take
What of pleasure and of beauty men have won for manhood’s sake,
Blustering long and loudest at the hideousness and pain
These you praise have brought upon us; blustering long and loud again
At our agony and anguish in this desperate fight of ours,
Grappling with anarch custom and the darkness and the powers!
O begone, then, from among us! Echo not, however faint,
Our great watch-word, our great war-shout, sweet and sickly poet saint!
Sit there dreaming in your gardens, looking out upon the sea,
Till the night-time closes round you and the wind is on the lea.
Enter then within your chambers in the rich and quiet light:
Never think of us who struggle in the tempest and the night.
Soothe your fancy with your visions; bend a gracious senile ear
To the praise your guests are murmuring in the tone you love to hear.
Honoured of your Queen, and honoured of the gentlest and the best,
Lord and commoner and rich-man, smirking tenant, shopman, priest,
All distinguished and respectable, the seamy sons of light,
O what, O what are these who call you coward in the night?
Ay, what are we who struggled for the cause of Science, say,
Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Haeckel, marshalling our stern array?
We who raised the cry for Culture, Goethe’s spirit leading on,
Marching gladly with our captains, Renan, Arnold, Emerson?
We, we are not tinkers, tinkers of the kettle cracked and broke,
Tailors squatted cross-legged, patching at the greasy, worn-out cloak!
We are those that faced mad Fortune, cried: “The Truth and only she!
Onward, upward! If we perish, we at least will perish free!”
We have lost our souls to win them, in the house and in the street
Falling stabbed and poisoned, making a victory of defeat.
We have lost life’s happy present, we have paid death’s heavy debt,
We have won, have won the Future, and its sons shall not forget!
Enter, then, within your chamber in the rich and quiet light:
Never think of us who struggle in the tempest and the night;
Spread your nostrils to the incense, hearken to the murmured hymn
Of the praising people, rising from the temple fair and dim.
Ah, but we here in the tempest, we here struggling in the night,
See the worshippers out-stealing; see the temple emptying quite;
See the godhead turning ghostlike; see the pride of name and fame
Paling slowly, sad and sickly, with forgetfulness and shame! . . .
Darker, darker grows the night now, louder, louder howls the wind;
I can hear the dash of breakers and the deep sea moves behind,
I can see the foam-capped phalanx rushing on the crumbling shore,
Slowly but surely shattering its rampart evermore.
Hark! my comrade’s voice is calling, and his solitary cry
On the great dark swift air-currents like Fate’s summons sweepeth by.
Farewell, then, whom once I loved so, whom a boy I thrilled to hear
Urging courage and reliance, loathing acquiescent fear.
I must leave you; I must wander to a strange and distant land,
Facing all that Fate shall give me with her hard unequal hand –
I once more anew must face them, toil and trouble and disease,
But these a man may face and conquer, for there waits him death and
And the freedom from dishonour and denial e’er confessed
Of what he knows is truest, what most beautiful and best!
O farewell, then! I must leave you. You have chosen. You are right.
You have made the great refusal; you have shunned the wind and night.
You have won your soul, and won it – No, not lost it as they tell –
Happy, blest of gods and monarchs, O a long, a long farewell!
Freshwater, Isle of Wight.
(Francis W L Adams)
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Based on Keywords: arnold, shopman, commoner, darwin, swooped, spencer, broadens, smirking, patching, reliance, senile