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- Watchers of the Sky - 3/24 -


Of those who searching inward, saw the rocks Dissolving into a new abyss, and saw Those planetary systems far within, Atoms, electrons, whirling on their way To build and to unbuild our solid world; Of those who conquered, inch by difficult inch, The freedom of this realm of law for man; Dreamers of dreams, the builders of our hope, The healers and the binders up of wounds, Who, while the dynasts drenched the world with blood, Would in the still small circle of a lamp Wrestle with death like Heracles of old To save one stricken child. Is there no song To touch this moving universe of law With ultimate light, the glimmer of that great dawn Which over our ruined altars yet shall break In purer splendour, and restore mankind From darker dreams than even Lucretius knew To vision of that one Power which guides the world. How should men find it? Only through those doors Which, opening inward, in each separate soul Give each man access to that Soul of all Living within each life, not to be found Or known, till, looking inward, each alone Meets the unknowable and eternal God.

And there was one that moved like light in light Before me there,--Love, human and divine, That can exalt all weakness into power,-- Whispering, _Take this deathless torch of song_... Whispering, but with such faith, that even I Was humbled into thinking this might be Through love, though all the wisdom of the world Account it folly. Let my breast be bared To every shaft, then, so that Love be still My one celestial guide the while I sing Of those who caught the pure Promethean fire One from another, each crying as he went down To one that waited, crowned with youth and joy,-- _Take thou the splendour, carry it out of sight Into the great new age I must not know, Into the great new realm I must not tread_.

I

COPERNICUS

The neighbours gossiped idly at the door. Copernicus lay dying overhead. His little throng of friends, with startled eyes, Whispered together, in that dark house of dreams, From which by one dim crevice in the wall He used to watch the stars. "His book has come From Nuremberg at last; but who would dare To let him see it now?"-- "They have altered it! Though Rome approved in full, this preface, look, Declares that his discoveries are a dream!"-- "He has asked a thousand times if it has come; Could we tear out those pages?"-- "He'd suspect."-- "What shall be done, then?"-- "Hold it back awhile. That was the priest's voice in the room above. He may forget it. Those last sacraments May set his mind at rest, and bring him peace."-- Then, stealing quietly to that upper door, They opened it a little, and saw within The lean white deathbed of Copernicus Who made our world a world without an end. There, in that narrow room, they saw his face Grey, seamed with thought, lit by a single lamp; They saw those glorious eyes Closing, that once had looked beyond the spheres And seen our ancient firmaments dissolve Into a boundless night. Beside him knelt Two women, like bowed shadows. At his feet, An old physician watched him. At his head, The cowled Franciscan murmured, while the light Shone faintly on the chalice. All grew still. The fragrance of the wine was like faint flowers, The first breath of those far celestial fields....

Then, like a dying soldier, that must leave His last command to others, while the fight Is yet uncertain, and the victory far, Copernicus whispered, in a fevered dream, "Yes, it is Death. But you must hold him back, There, in the doorway, for a little while, Until I know the work is rightly done. Use all your weapons, doctor. I must live To see and touch one copy of my book. Have they not brought it yet? They promised me It should be here by nightfall. One of you go And hasten it. I can hold back Death till dawn.

Have they not brought it yet?--from Nuremberg. Do not deceive me. I must know it safe, Printed and safe, for other men to use. I could die then. My use would be fulfilled. What has delayed them? Will not some one go And tell them that my strength is running out? Tell them that book would be an angel's hand In mine, an easier pillow for my head, A little lantern in the engulfing dark. You see, I hid its struggling light so long Under too small a bushel, and I fear It may go out forever. In the noon Of life's brief day, I could not see the need As now I see it, when the night shuts down. I was afraid, perhaps, it might confuse The lights that guide us for the souls of men.

But now I see three stages in our life. At first, we bask contented in our sun And take what daylight shows us for the truth. Then we discover, in some midnight grief, How all day long the sunlight blinded us To depths beyond, where all our knowledge dies. That's where men shrink, and lose their way in doubt. Then, last, as death draws nearer, comes a night In whose majestic shadow men see God, Absolute Knowledge, reconciling all. So, all my life I pondered on that scheme Which makes this earth the centre of all worlds, Lighted and wheeled around by sun and moon And that great crystal sphere wherein men thought Myriads of lesser stars were fixed like lamps, Each in its place,--one mighty glittering wheel Revolving round this dark abode of man. Night after night, with even pace they moved. Year after year, not altering by one point, Their order, or their stations, those fixed stars In that revolving firmament. The Plough Still pointed to the Pole. Fixed in their sphere, How else explain that vast unchanging wheel? How, but by thinking all those lesser lights Were huger suns, divided from our earth By so immense a gulf that, if they moved Ten thousand leagues an hour among themselves, It would not seem one hair's-breadth to our eyes. Utterly inconceivable, I know; And yet we daily kneel to boundless Power And build our hope on that Infinitude.

This did not daunt me, then. Indeed, I saw Light upon chaos. Many discordant dreams Began to move in lucid music now. For what could be more baffling than the thought That those enormous heavens must circle earth Diurnally--a journey that would need Swiftness to which the lightning flash would seem A white slug creeping on the walls of night; While, if earth softly on her axle spun One quiet revolution answered all. It was our moving selves that made the sky Seem to revolve. Have not all ages seen A like illusion baffling half mankind In life, thought, art? Men think, at every turn Of their own souls, the very heavens have moved.

Light upon chaos, light, and yet more light; For--as I watched the planets--Venus, Mars, Appeared to wax and wane from month to month As though they moved, now near, now far, from earth. Earth could not be their centre. Was the sun Their sovran lord then, as Pythagoras held? Was this great earth, so 'stablished, so secure, A planet also? Did it also move Around the sun? If this were true, my friends, No revolution in this world's affairs, Not that blind maelstrom where imperial Rome Went down into the dark, could so engulf All that we thought we knew. We who believed In our own majesty, we who walked with gods As younger sons on this proud central stage, Round which the whole bright firmament revolved For our especial glory, must we creep Like ants upon our midget ball of dust Lost in immensity? I could not take That darkness lightly. I withheld my book For many a year, until I clearly saw, And Rome approved me--have they not brought it yet?-- That this tremendous music could not drown The still supernal music of the soul, Or quench the light that shone when Christ was born. For who, if one lost star could lead the kings


Watchers of the Sky - 3/24

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