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- Watchers of the Sky - 4/24 -


To God's own Son, would shrink from following these To His eternal throne? This at the least We know, the soul of man can soar through heaven. It is our own wild wings that dwarf the world To nothingness beneath us. Let the soul Take courage, then. If its own thought be true, Not all the immensities of little minds Can ever quench its own celestial fire. No. This new night was needed, that the soul Might conquer its own kingdom and arise To its full stature. So, in face of death, I saw that I must speak the truth I knew.

Have they not brought it? What delays my book? I am afraid. Tell me the truth, my friends. At this last hour, the Church may yet withhold Her sanction. Not the Church, but those who think A little darkness helps her. Were this true, They would do well. If the poor light we win Confuse or blind us, to the Light of lights, Let all our wisdom perish. I affirm A greater Darkness, where the one true Church Shall after all her agonies of loss And many an age of doubt, perhaps, to come, See this processional host of splendours burn Like tapers round her altar. So I speak Not for myself, but for the age unborn. I caught the fire from those who went before, The bearers of the torch who could not see The goal to which they strained. I caught their fire, And carried it, only a little way beyond; But there are those that wait for it, I know, Those who will carry it on to victory. I dare not fail them. Looking back, I see Those others,--fallen, with their arms outstretched Dead, pointing to the future. Far, far back, Before the Egyptians built their pyramids With those dark funnels pointing to the north, Through which the Pharaohs from their desert tombs Gaze all night long upon the Polar Star, Some wandering Arab crept from death to life Led by the Plough across those wastes of pearl....

Long, long ago--have they not brought it yet? My book?--I finished it one summer's night, And felt my blood all beating into song. I meant to print those verses in my book, A prelude, hinting at that deeper night Which darkens all our knowledge. Then I thought The measure moved too lightly. Do you recall Those verses, Elsa? They would pass the time. How happy I was the night I wrote that song!" Then, one of those bowed shadows raised her head And, like a mother crooning to her child, Murmured the words he wrote, so long ago.

In old Cathay, in far Cathay, Before the western world began, They saw the moving fount of day Eclipsed, as by a shadowy fan; They stood upon their Chinese wall. They saw his fire to ashes fade, And felt the deeper slumber fall On domes of pearl and towers of jade.

With slim brown hands, in Araby, They traced, upon the desert sand, Their Rams and Scorpions of the sky, And strove--and failed--to understand. Before their footprints were effaced The shifting sand forgot their rune; Their hieroglyphs were all erased, Their desert naked to the moon.

In Bagdad of the purple nights, Haroun Al Raschid built a tower, Where sages watched a thousand lights And read their legends, for an hour. The tower is down, the Caliph dead, Their astrolabes are wrecked with rust. Orion glitters overhead, Aladdin's lamp is in the dust.

In Babylon, in Babylon, They baked their tablets of the clay; And, year by year, inscribed thereon The dark eclipses of their day; They saw the moving finger write Its _Mene, Mene_, on their sun. A mightier shadow cloaks their light, And clay is clay in Babylon.

A shadow moved towards him from the door. Copernicus, with a cry, upraised his head. "The book, I cannot see it, let me feel The lettering on the cover. It is here! Put out the lamp, now. Draw those curtains back, And let me die with starlight on my face. An angel's hand in mine . . . yes; I can say My _nunc dimittis_ now . . . light, and more light In that pure realm whose darkness is our peace."

II

TYCHO BRAKE

I

They thought him a magician, Tycho Brahe, Who lived on that strange island in the Sound, Nine miles from Elsinore. His legend reached The Mermaid Inn the year that Shakespeare died. Fynes Moryson had brought his travellers' tales Of Wheen, the heart-shaped isle where Tycho made His great discoveries, and, with Jeppe, his dwarf, And flaxen-haired Christine, the peasant girl, Dreamed his great dreams for five-and-twenty years. For there he lit that lanthorn of the law, Uraniborg; that fortress of the truth, With Pegasus flying above its loftiest tower, While, in its roofs, like wide enchanted eyes Watching, the brightest windows in the world, Opened upon the stars.

Nine miles from Elsinore, with all those ghosts, There's magic enough in that! But white-cliffed Wheen, Six miles in girth, with crowds of hunchback waves Crawling all round it, and those moonstruck windows, Held its own magic, too; for Tycho Brahe By his mysterious alchemy of dreams Had so enriched the soil, that when the king Of England wished to buy it, Denmark asked A price too great for any king on earth. "Give us," they said, "in scarlet cardinal's cloth Enough to cover it, and, at every corner, Of every piece, a right rose-noble too; Then all that kings can buy of Wheen is yours. Only," said they, "a merchant bought it once; And, when he came to claim it, goblins flocked All round him, from its forty goblin farms, And mocked him, bidding him take away the stones That he had bought, for nothing else was his." These things were fables. They were also true. They thought him a magician, Tycho Brahe, The astrologer, who wore the mask of gold. Perhaps he was. There's magic in the truth; And only those who find and follow its laws Can work its miracles. Tycho sought the truth From that strange year in boyhood when he heard The great eclipse foretold; and, on the day Appointed, at the very minute even, Beheld the weirdly punctual shadow creep Across the sun, bewildering all the birds With thoughts of evening. Picture him, on that day, The boy at Copenhagen, with his mane Of thick red hair, thrusting his freckled face Out of his upper window, holding the piece Of glass he blackened above his candle-flame To watch that orange ember in the sky Wane into smouldering ash. He whispered there, "So it is true. By searching in the heavens, Men can foretell the future." In the street Below him, throngs were babbling of the plague That might or might not follow. He resolved To make himself the master of that deep art And know what might be known. He bought the books Of Stadius, with his tables of the stars. Night after night, among the gabled roofs, Climbing and creeping through a world unknown Save to the roosting stork, he learned to find The constellations, Cassiopeia's throne, The Plough still pointing to the Polar Star, The sword-belt of Orion. There he watched The movements of the planets, hours on hours, And wondered at the mystery of it all. All this he did in secret, for his birth Was noble, and such wonderings were a sign Of low estate, when Tycho Brahe was young; And all his kinsmen hoped that Tycho Brahe Would live, serene as they, among his dogs And horses; or, if honour must be won, Let the superfluous glory flow from fields


Watchers of the Sky - 4/24

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