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- Watchers of the Sky - 10/24 -


For though he always met me with a smile, Or jest upon his lips, he could not sleep Or work, and often unawares I caught Odd little whispered phrases on his lips As if he talked to himself, in a kind of dream. Yet I believe the clouds dispersed a little Around his death-bed, and with that strange joy Which comes in death, he saw the unchanging stars. Christine was there. She held him in her arms. I think, too, that he knew his work was safe. An hour before he died, he smiled at me, And whispered,--what he meant I hardly know-- Perhaps a broken echo from the past, A fragment of some old familiar thought, And yet I seemed to know. It haunts me still: _'Come then, swift-footed, let me see you stand, Waiting before me, crowned with youth and joy; This is the turning. Take it from my hand. For I am ready, ready now, to fall.'"_

III

KEPLER

John Kepler, from the chimney corner, watched His wife Susannah, with her sleeves rolled back Making a salad in a big blue bowl. The thick tufts of his black rebellious hair Brushed into sleek submission; his trim beard Snug as the soft round body of a thrush Between the white wings of his fan-shaped ruff (His best, with the fine lace border) spoke of guests Expected; and his quick grey humorous eyes, His firm red whimsical pleasure-loving mouth, And all those elvish twinklings of his face, Were lit with eagerness. Only between his brows, Perplexed beneath that subtle load of dreams, Two delicate shadows brooded. "What does it mean? Sir Henry Wotton's letter breathed a hint That Italy is prohibiting my book," He muttered. "Then, if Austria damns it too, Susannah mine, we may be forced to choose Between the truth and exile. When he comes, He'll tell me more. Ambassadors, I suppose, Can only write in cipher, while our world Is steered to heaven by murderers and thieves; But, if he'd wrapped his friendly warnings up In a verse or two, I might have done more work These last three days, eh, Sue?" "Look, John," said she, "What beautiful hearts of lettuce! Tell me now How shall I mix it? Will your English guest Turn up his nose at dandelion leaves As crisp and young as these? They've just the tang Of bitterness in their milk that gives a relish And makes all sweet; and that's philosophy, John. Now--these spring onions! Would his Excellency Like sugared rose-leaves better?" "He's a poet, Not an ambassador only, so I think He'll like a cottage salad." "A poet, John! I hate their arrogant little insect ways! I'll put a toadstool in." "Poets, dear heart, Can be divided into two clear kinds,-- One that, by virtue of a half-grown brain, Lives in a silly world of his own making, A bubble, blown by himself, in which he flits And dizzily bombinates, chanting 'I, I, I,' For there is nothing in the heavens above Or the earth, or hell beneath, but goes to swell His personal pronoun. Bring him some dreadful news His dearest friend is burned to death,--You'll see The monstrous insect strike an attitude And shape himself into one capital I, A rubric, with red eyes. You'll see him use The coffin for his pedestal, hear him mouth His 'I, I, I' instructing haggard grief Concerning his odd ego. Does he chirp Of love, it's 'I, I, I' Narcissus, love, Myself, Narcissus, imaged in those eyes; For all the love-notes that he sounds are made After the fashion of passionate grasshoppers, By grating one hind-leg across another. Nor does he learn to sound that mellower 'You,' Until his bubble bursts and leaves him drowned, An insect in a soap-sud. But there's another kind, whose mind still moves In vital concord with the soul of things; So that it thinks in music, and its thoughts Pulse into natural song. A separate voice, And yet caught up by the surrounding choirs, There, in the harmonies of the Universe, Losing himself, he saves his soul alive." "John, I'm afraid!"-- "Afraid of what, Susannah?"-- "Afraid to put those Ducklings on to roast. Your friend may miss his road; and, if he's late, My little part of the music will be spoiled."-- "He won't, Susannah. Bad poets are always late. Good poets, at times, delay a note or two; But all the great are punctual as the sun. What's that? He's early! That's his knock, I think!"-- "The Lord have mercy, John, there's nothing ready! Take him into your study and talk to him, Talk hard. He's come an hour before his time; And I've to change my dress. I'll into the kitchen!"

Then, in a moment, all the cottage rang With greetings; hand grasped hand; his Excellency Forgot the careful prologue he'd prepared, And made an end of mystery. He had brought A message from his wisdom-loving king Who, hearing of new menaces to the light In Europe, urged the illustrious Kepler now To make his home in England. There, his thought And speech would both be free. "My friend," said Wotton, "I have moved in those old strongholds of the night, And heard strange mutterings. It is not many years Since Bruno burned. There's trouble brewing too, For one you know, I think,--the Florentine Who made that curious optic tube."-- "You mean The man at Padua, Galileo?"-- "Yes." "They will not dare or need. Proof or disproof Rests with their eyes."-- "Kepler, have you not heard Of those who, fifteen hundred years ago, Had eyes and would not see? Eyes quickly close When souls prefer the dark."-- "So be it. Other and younger eyes will see. Perhaps that's why God gave the young a spice Of devilry. They'll go look, while elders gasp; And, when the Devil and Truth go hand in hand, God help their enemies. You will send my thanks, My grateful thanks, Sir Henry, to your king. To-day I cannot answer you. I must think. It would be very difficult My wife Would find it hard to leave her native land. Say nothing yet before her." Then, to hide Their secret from Susannah, Kepler poured His mind out, and the world's dead branches bloomed. For, when he talked, another spring began To which our May was winter; and, in the boughs Of his delicious thoughts, like feathered choirs, Bits of old rhyme, scraps from the Sabine farm, Celestial phrases from the Shepherd King, And fluttering morsels from Catullus sang. Much was fantastic. All was touched with light That only genius knows to steal from heaven. He spoke of poetry, as the "flowering time Of knowledge," called it "thought in passionate tune With those great rhythms that steer the moon and sun; Thought in such concord with the soul of things That it can only move, like tides and stars, And man's own beating heart, and the wings of birds, In law, whose service only sets them free." Therefore it often leaps to the truth we seek, Clasping it, as a lover clasps his bride In darkness, ere the sage can light his lamp. And so, in music, men might find the road To truth, at many a point, where sages grope. One day, a greater Plato would arise To write a new philosophy, he said, Showing how music is the golden clue To all the windings of the world's dark maze. Himself had used it, partly proved it, too, In his own book,--_the Harmonies of the World._ 'All that the years discover points one way To this great ordered harmony," he said, "Revealed on earth by music. Planets move In subtle accord like notes of one great song Audible only to the Artificer, The Eternal Artist. There's no grief, no pain, But music--follow it simply as a clue, A microcosmic pattern of the whole-- Can show you, somewhere in its golden scheme, The use of all such discords; and, at last, Their exquisite solution. Then darkness breaks Into diviner light, love's agony climbs Through death to life, and evil builds up heaven. Have you not heard, in some great symphony, Those golden mathematics making clear The victory of the soul? Have you not heard The very heavens opening? Do those fools Who thought me an infidel then, still smile at me For trying to read the stars in terms of song, Discern their orbits, measure their distances, By musical proportions? Let them smile, My folly at least revealed those three great laws;


Watchers of the Sky - 10/24

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