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- Watchers of the Sky - 2/24 -


And, even now, some secret flaw--none knew Until to-morrow's test--might waste it all. Where was the gambler that would stake so much,-- Time, patience, treasure, on a single throw? The cost of it,--they'd not find that again, Either in gold or life-stuff! All their youth Was fuel to the flame of this one work. Once in a lifetime to the man of science, Despite what fools believe his ice-cooled blood, There comes this drama. If he fails, he fails Utterly. He at least will have no time For fresh beginnings. Other men, no doubt, Years hence, will use the footholes that he cut In those precipitous cliffs, and reach the height, But he will never see it." So for me, The light words of that letter seemed to hide The passion of a lifetime, and I shared The crowning moment of its hope and fear. Next day, through whispering aisles of palm we rode Up to the foot-hills, dreaming desert-hills That to assuage their own delicious drought Had set each tawny sun-kissed slope ablaze With peach and orange orchards. Up and up, Along the thin white trail that wound and climbed And zig-zagged through the grey-green mountain sage, The car went crawling, till the shining plain Below it, like an airman's map, unrolled. Houses and orchards dwindled to white specks In midget cubes and squares of tufted green. Once, as we rounded one steep curve, that made The head swim at the canyoned gulf below, We saw through thirty miles of lucid air Elvishly small, sharp as a crumpled petal Blown from the stem, a yard away, a sail Lazily drifting on the warm blue sea. Up for nine miles along that spiral trail Slowly we wound to reach the lucid height Above the clouds, where that white dome of shell, No wren's now, but an eagle's, took the flush Of dying day. The sage-brush all died out, And all the southern growths, and round us now, Firs of the north, and strong, storm-rooted pines Exhaled a keener fragrance; till, at last, Reversing all the laws of lesser hills, They towered like giants round us. Darkness fell Before we reached the mountain's naked height.

Over us, like some great cathedral dome, The observatory loomed against the sky; And the dark mountain with its headlong gulfs Had lost all memory of the world below; For all those cloudless throngs of glittering stars And all those glimmerings where the abyss of space Is powdered with a milky dust, each grain A burning sun, and every sun the lord Of its own darkling planets,--all those lights Met, in a darker deep, the lights of earth, Lights on the sea, lights of invisible towns, Trembling and indistinguishable from stars, In those black gulfs around the mountain's feet. Then, into the glimmering dome, with bated breath, We entered, and, above us, in the gloom Saw that majestic weapon of the light Uptowering like the shaft of some huge gun Through one arched rift of sky. Dark at its base With naked arms, the crew that all day long Had sweated to make ready for this night Waited their captain's word. The switchboard shone With elfin lamps of white and red, and keys Whence, at a finger's touch, that monstrous tube Moved like a creature dowered with life and will, To peer from deep to deep. Below it pulsed The clock-machine that slowly, throb by throb, Timed to the pace of the revolving earth, Drove the titanic muzzle on and on, Fixed to the chosen star that else would glide Out of its field of vision. So, set free Balanced against the wheel of time, it swung, Or rested, while, to find new realms of sky The dome that housed it, like a moon revolved, So smoothly that the watchers hardly knew They moved within; till, through the glimmering doors, They saw the dark procession of the pines Like Indian warriors, quietly stealing by.

Then, at a word, the mighty weapon dipped Its muzzle and aimed at one small point of light One seeming insignificant star. The chief, Mounting the ladder, while we held our breath, Looked through the eye-piece. Then we heard him laugh His thanks to God, and hide it in a jest. "A prominence on Jupiter!"-- They laughed, "What do you mean?"--"It's moving," cried the chief, They laughed again, and watched his glimmering face High overhead against that moving tower. "Come up and see, then!" One by one they went, And, though each laughed as he returned to earth, Their souls were in their eyes. Then I, too, looked, And saw that insignificant spark of light Touched with new meaning, beautifully reborn, A swimming world, a perfect rounded pearl, Poised in the violet sky; and, as I gazed, I saw a miracle,--right on its upmost edge A tiny mound of white that slowly rose, Then, like an exquisite seed-pearl, swung quite clear And swam in heaven above its parent world To greet its three bright sister-moons. A moon, Of Jupiter, no more, but clearer far Than mortal eyes had seen before from earth, O, beautiful and clear beyond all dreams Was that one silver phrase of the starry tune Which Galileo's "old discoverer" first Dimly revealed, dissolving into clouds The imagined fabric of our universe. _"Jupiter stands in heaven and will stand Though all the sycophants bark at him,"_ he cried, Hailing the truth before he, too, went down, Whelmed in the cloudy wreckage of that dream.

So one by one we looked, the men who served Urania, and the men from Vulcan's forge. A beautiful eagerness in the darkness lit The swarthy faces that too long had missed A meaning in the dull mechanic maze Of labour on this blind earth, but found it now. Though only a moment's wandering melody Hopelessly far above, it gave their toil Its only consecration and its joy. There, with dark-smouldering eyes and naked throats, Blue-dungareed, red-shirted, grimed and smeared With engine-grease and sweat, they gathered round The foot of that dim ladder; each muttering low As he came down, his wonder at what he saw To those who waited,--a picture for the brush Of Rembrandt, lighted only by the rift Above them, where the giant muzzle thrust Out through the dim arched roof, and slowly throbbed, Against the slowly moving wheel of the earth, Holding their chosen star. There, like an elf, Perched on the side of that dark slanting tower The Italian mechanician watched the moons, That Italy discovered. One by one, American, English, French, and Dutch, they climbed To see the wonder that their own blind hands Had helped to achieve. At midnight while they paused To adjust the clock-machine, I wandered out Alone, into the silence of the night. The silence? On that lonely height I heard Eternal voices; For, as I looked into the gulf beneath, Whence almost all the lights had vanished now, The whole dark mountain seemed to have lost its earth And to be sailing like a ship through heaven. All round it surged the mighty sea-like sound Of soughing pine-woods, one vast ebb and flow Of absolute peace, aloof from all earth's pain, So calm, so quiet, it seemed the cradle-song, The deep soft breathing of the universe Over its youngest child, the soul of man. And, as I listened, that Aeolian voice Became an invocation and a prayer: O you, that on your loftier mountain dwell And move like light in light among the thoughts Of heaven, translating our mortality Into immortal song, is there not one Among you that can turn to music now This long dark fight for truth? Not one to touch With beauty this long battle for the light, This little victory of the spirit of man Doomed to defeat--for what was all we saw To that which neither eyes nor soul could see?-- Doomed to defeat and yet unconquerable, Climbing its nine miles nearer to the stars. Wars we have sung. The blind, blood-boltered kings Move with an epic music to their thrones. Have you no song, then, of that nobler war? Of those who strove for light, but could not dream Even of this victory that they helped to win, Silent discoverers, lonely pioneers, Prisoners and exiles, martyrs of the truth Who handed on the fire, from age to age; Of those who, step by step, drove back the night And struggled, year on year, for one more glimpse Among the stars, of sovran law, their guide;


Watchers of the Sky - 2/24

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