Prayer for Life
OH, let me not die young!
Full-hearted, yet without a tongue,—
Thy green earth stretched before my feet, untrod,—
Thy blue sky bending over,
As her most tender lover,
With infinite meaning in its starry eyes,
Full of thy silent majesty, O God!
And wild, weird whispers from the solemn deep
Of the Great Sea ascending, with the sweep
Of the Wind-angel's wings across the skies,
Burdened with hints of awful memories,
Whose half-guessed grandeur thrills us till we weep!—
I love thy marvellous world too well—
Its sunny nooks of hill and dell,
Its majesty of mountains, and the swell
Of volumed waters—for my heart to yearn
Away from the deep truth which veils its splendor
In beauty there less dazzling, but more tender.
With grave delight I turn
To all its glories, from the tiniest bloom
Whose hour-long life just sweetens its own tomb
As with funereal spices,
To the far stars which burn
And blossom in fire through their vast periods,—
Borne in thy palm,
Like the pale lotus in the hand of Isis,
When thronèd white, and calm,
In solemn conclave of the mythic gods.
Oh, let me not die young,
A brother unclaimed among
The countless millions of thy happy flock,
Whose deepest joy is to obey,
Whereby they feel the measured sway
Of thy life in them, their own living part,
Whether in centuried pulses of the rock
By slow disintegration
Ascending to its higher,
Or the quick fluttering of the Storm-god’s heart,—
An instant's palpitation
Through all its arteries of fire!
One common blood runs down life’s myriad veins,
From Archangelic Hierarchs who float
Broad-winged in the God-glory, to the mote
That trembles with a braided dance
In the warm sunset’s vivid glance;
And one great Heart that boundless flow sustains!
In all the creatures of thy hand divine
Thy love-light is a living guest,
Whether a petal's palm confine
Its glitter to a lily’s breast,
Or in unbounded space a starry line
Stretches, till flagging Thought must droop her wing to rest.
Oh, let me not die young,
A powerless child among
The ancient grandeurs of thy awful world!
I catch some fragment of the mighty song
Which, ere to darkness hurled,
My elder brothers in the eternal throng
Have caught before,—
Faint murmurs of the surge,
The deep, surrounding, everlasting roar
Of a life-ocean without port or shore,—
Ere I depart, compelled to urge
My fragile bark with trembling from the verge
Of this Earth-island, into that Unknown,
Where worlds, like souls forlorn, go wandering alone!
Oh, let me not die young,
With all that song unsung,
A swift and voiceless fugitive,
From darkness coming and in darkness lost,
Before thy solemn Pentecost,
Dawning within the soul, shall give
The burning utterance of its flaming tongue,—
The boon whereby to other souls we live!
Thy worlds are flashing with immortal splendor,
For human speech on heights of human song
Faintly to render,
And pour back along
Its mountain grandeur, the accumulate rain
Of star-light, dream-light, thoughts of joy and pain,
Of love, hate, right and wrong,
In floods of utterance sublime and strong,
In dewy effluence beautiful and tender.
The kindred darknesses
Of caverned earth and fathomless thought,
Of Life and Death, and their twin mysteries,
Before and After, on my spirit press
Tempting and awful, with high promise fraught,
And guardian terrors, whose out-flashing swords
Beleaguer Paradise and the holy Tree
Sciential. Step by step the way is fought
That leads from Darkness, through her miscreant hordes,
Back to the heavens of wise, and true, and free:
Minerva’s Gorgon, Ammon’s cyclic Asp,
And the fierce flame-sword of the Cherubim,
That flashed like hate across the pallid gasp
Of exiled Eve and Adam, flare, and glare,
And hiss venenate, round the steps of him
Who thirsts for heavenly Wisdom, if he dare
Climb to her bosom, or with artless grasp
Pluck the sweet fruits that hang around him, ripe and fair.
Oh! glorious Youth
Is the true age of prophecy, when Truth
Stands bared in beauty, and the young blood boils
To hurl us in her arms, before the blur
Of time makes dim her rounded form,
Or the cold blood recoils
From the polluted swarm
Of armed Chimeras that environ her.
But worthy Age to ripened fruit shall bring
The glorious blooming of its hopeful spring,
And pile the garners of immortal Truth
With sheaves of golden grain,
To sow the world again,
And fill the eager wants of the New Age’s youth.
A thousand flashes of uncertain light
Cleave the thick darkness, driving far athwart
The up-piled glooms, as lightnings plough their bright
Fire-furrows through the barren cloud
They sow with thunders. Thought on burning thought
Shatters the doubts and terrors which have bowed
Weak hearts on weaker leaning in a crowd
Self-crushing and self-fettering; gleams are caught
From some far centre set by God to keep
His brave world spinning, or some drifting isle
Of swift wildfire shot out by the wide sweep
Of wings demoniac,
Far winnowing and black,
Our cheated souls to ’wilder and beguile.
Only the years, the imperturbable,
Impassionate years, can sheave the scattered rays
Into one sun, these mingled arrows tell
Each to its quiver, the divine and fell,
And life’s lone meteors to their centre trace.
O Father, let me not die young!
Earth’s beauty asks a heart and tongue
To give true love and praises to her worth;
Her sins and judgment-sufferings call
For fearless martyrs to redeem thy Earth
From her disastrous fall.
For though her summer hills and vales might seem
The fair creation of a poet’s dream,—
Ay, of the Highest Poet,
Whose wordless rhythms are chanted by the gyres
Of constellate star-choirs,
That with deep melody flow and overflow it,—
The sweet Earth,—very sweet, despite
The rank grave-smell forever drifting in
Among the odors from her censers white
Of wave-swung lilies and of wind-swung roses,—
The Earth sad-sweet is deeply attaint with sin!
The pure air, which incloses
Her and her starry kin,
Still shudders with the unspent palpitating
Of a great Curse, that to its utmost shore
Thrills with a deadly shiver
Which has not ceased to quiver
Down all the ages, nathless the strong beating
Of Angel-wings, and the defiant roar
Of Earth's Titanic thunders.
Fair and sad,
In sin and beauty, our beloved Earth
Has need of all her sons to make her glad;
Has need of martyrs to re-fire the hearth
Of her quenched altars,—of heroic men
With Freedom’s sword, or Truth’s supernal pen,
To shape the worn-out mould of nobleness again.
And she has need of Poets who can string
Their harps with steel to catch the lightning’s fire,
And pour her thunders from the clanging wire,
To cheer the hero, mingling with his cheer,
Arouse the laggard in the battle’s rear,
Daunt the stern wicked, and from discord wring
Prevailing harmony, while the humblest soul
Who keeps the tune the warder angels sing
In golden choirs above,
And only wears, for crown and aureole,
The glow-worm light of lowliest human love,
Shall fill with low, sweet undertones the chasms
Of silence, ’twixt the booming thunder-spasms.
And Earth has need of Prophets fiery-lipped
And deep-souled, to announce the glorious dooms
Writ on the silent heavens in starry script,
And flashing fitfully from her shuddering tombs,—
Commissioned Angels of the new-born Faith,
To teach the immortality of Good,
The soul’s God-likeness, Sin’s coeval death,
And Man’s indissoluble Brotherhood.
Yet never an age, when God has need of him,
Shall want its Man, predestined by that need,
To pour his life in fiery word or deed,—
The strong Archangel of the Elohim!
Earth’s hollow want is prophet of his coming:
In the low murmur of her famished cry,
And heavy sobs breathed up despairingly,
Ye hear the near invisible humming
Of his wide wings that fan the lurid sky
Into cool ripples of new life and hope,
While far in its dissolving ether ope
Deeps beyond deeps, of sapphire calm, to cheer
With Sabbath gleams the troubled Now and Here.
Father! thy will be done,
Holy and righteous One!
Though the reluctant years
May never crown my throbbing brows with white,
Nor round my shoulders turn the golden light
Of my thick locks to wisdom's royal ermine:
Yet by the solitary tears,
Deeper than joy or sorrow,—by the thrill,
Higher than hope or terror, whose quick germen,
In those hot tears to sudden vigor sprung,
Sheds, even now, the fruits of graver age,—
By the long wrestle in which inward ill
Fell like a trampled viper to the ground.—
By all that lifts me o’er my outward peers
To that supernal stage
Where soul dissolves the bonds by Nature bound,—
Fall when I may, by pale disease unstrung,
Or by the hand of fratricidal rage,
I cannot now die young!