THE Vision of a Woman comes to me,
As I am walking in the crowded street;
Of more than mortal mold she seems to be,
And bears the dust of empires on her feet!
Gathering below her generations meet,
And Time before her strict tribunal stands.
She sits, impartial, on the judgment seat,
And holds an iron tablet in her hands ;
Around her are the scribes who write what she commands.
Back to the dim beginnings of the race,
The far-off, primitive days, she turns her eyes;
She has but to will, and suddenly time and place
Are brought to doom before her. They arise
From unremembered graves, with bitter cries,
Because their evil deeds are known at last,
Their foul abominations, based on lies;
Ashes in vain upon their heads they cast:
We harden our hearts against the unpardonable Past!
Whence came, and when, the families of men
That sparsely peopled earth when she was young ?
Who can declare the immeasurable when,
The inconceivable, infinite whence they Sprung?
Much-knowing History answers not, and the tongue
Of her elder sister, Fable, charms no more:
Gone is the high descent to which they clung,
Children of gods whom mortal mothers bore;
They came not after their gods —but thousands of years before !
They left no history, but lived and died
Like the wild animals round them which they slew;
The woods and streams their ravenous wants supplied, —
To hunger and to thirst were all they knew.
The skins of beasts about their loins they drew,
And made themselves rude weapons out of stone,
Sharp arrow-heads and lances, to subdue
Their fellow savages, waylaid alone :
From these beginnings Man and War and Woe have grown !
By slow degrees their dull wits were aware
Of ways less dangerous: they somehow found
They need not track the wild beasts to their lair,
And slay them for their flesh, for in the ground
A power was that brought forth the grains around,
The taste whereof was good : they made them plows
Of flint and bone, which they to hurdles bound
With willow withes, and twigs of forest boughs;
Tame creatures they yoke thereto that break the sods they browse.
Others of these are shepherds, whose live wealth
Whitens the land for leagues, — a watchful band,
Near whom the gaunt wolves, baffled, prowl by stealth;
Their tents of skins, that summer suns have tanned,
Are pitched where rivers fertilize the land;
Young children part the curtains, and look out,
Or, gamboling where their tethered playmates stand,
The petted lambs, or kids, they laugh and shout:
Nomadic tribes are these, whom horsemen put to rout.
Before all these are Shadows, born of fear
And hope, that slowly put on Shapes unknown :
They seem to threaten, and they domineer, —
Huge, uncouth images of wood and stone,
Set up in te in pled places, groves that none
Dare violate, and few dare penetrate
Save those, austere, who wait on them alone, —
Gray-bearded, reverend men whose words are fate :
In the stead of their gods they judge the people at the gate !
The will of these high gods they all declare ;
What power behind each hideous symbol lies :
Their wrath must he appeased by priestly prayer,
Their mutable favor bought by sacrifice.
Lo ! where the smokes of their burnt offerings rise
Grateful to their craving palates ! — kindle more:
They scrutinize the world with sleepless eyes,
And hearken to the suppliants who implore ;
They punish those who scoff, but they bless those who adore!
If they have might, they do not put it forth
To succor their worshipers, nor heed their tears;
For still in every corner of the earth
Are swift, dark horsemen, armed with bows and spears,
Whose sudden war-cries ring in the startled ears
Of the shepherds and husbandmen whom they surround,
Harry and pillage, and enslave for years:
Happier are they whose life-blood stains the ground,
Than those they drag away —men, women, children — bound!
To guard against these woeful tribulations
Tribes band themselves together, one by one,
Until the growing multitudes are nations.
Then chiefs they choose, and kings : from sire to son
Their lordly lines in clear succession run.
The rustic tills his pastures as before,
And drives his herds home when the day is done;
The merchant, bolder, sails from shore to shore :
Protected, they forget the perilous days of yore !
Artificers come, and industries begin :
The potter turns his wheel, and molds his clay;
Matron and maid at whirring distaffs spin,
Twisting long threads of flax ; and all the day
The weaver plies his shuttle, and whiles away
The peaceful hours with songs of battles past;
Strong spear-heads and sharp swords, wherewith to slay,
And armor-plates, are hammered out or cast;
Tents lessen, structures rise, aud cities are at last !
If men are plundered when the tribes are small, —
Slaughtered, enslaved, given over to stripes and blows, —
Greater calamities on nations fall,
For hatred in the heart of greatness grows :
All powerful people are begotten foes;
Their kings suspect each other, but preteud
Credence of what their lying lips disclose;
Friendly a king may be, but not a friend,
For he seeks by forcible means to gain a peaceable end!
The whirlwind of a thousand battle - storms Bursts on my sight — interminable cloud
Over all ages, lands, where terrible forms —
Deep Darkness in the darkness — struggle and crowd;
Furrows below as though mankind were plowed ;
Great, armies grappling in the death-embrace,
To whom, unheard, the thunder calls aloud,
Under whom, unfelt, the earthquake rocks the base
the imperturbable Earth, which breeds this savage race !
The Vision of a Man — if he were Man —
Who such prodigious armies led to war,
Who Arabia, Libya, India overran,
And, flaming westward, like a baleful star,
Across the Asian table-lands his car
Drove to barbaric Thrace, where graven were his
Tremendous deeds on pillars seen afar:
The proud inscription underneath was this:
“ Sesostris, King of Kings, Belovèd of Ammon is ! ”
Glimpses of conquerors, imperious ghosts,
That once inhabited tenements of clay ;
Glimpses of soldiery, in serried hosts,
And of the encompassed cities where they lay;
Of sharp, incessant attacks, day after day;
Of stout resistance, and night-sallies out;
Of those who sullenly bear their dead away,
And hurriedly strip and bury them — Ah! that shout!
A desperate dash at gates — a stubborn rally — a rout!
Tumultuous ages follow, awful waves
Which the sea of time rolls shoreward more and more;
No longer men, but monsters, — soldiers and slaves, —
They labor, and fight, and cruel gods adore :
Deserts are where great cities were of yore;
They camp iu sight of their ruins, and know it not:
Other cities elsewhere bear the names they bore:
Forgot are old races, new ones are begot,
But there are mighty names that will not be forgot!
Out of the whirling tempest that overwhelms
Kingdoms and empires, ruinous conquerors glare;
The brows of some are bright with brazen helms,
Dinted with blows; their diadems others wear;
Purple their robes are, and their swords are bare, —
And all drip blood! They menace Man again!
Cambyses, Alexander, Cæsar dare
The world to arms against them; Tamerlane
Comes with his Tartar horde and thousands of captives slain !
And is this all ? These surgings to and fro
Of sanguinary forces, — are they all ?
Enormous rivers of doom they flow and flow
Luridly, darkened by terrors that appall:
Before their fury nations, races fall,
Swept on to annihilation, till at last
Sheer down the steeps of a mighty mountain wall
They plunge — and are no more ! Earth stares aghast!
Are these iniquities, then, the substance of the past ?
No ! In the Order of the Universe
They are only parts thereof, — the smallest part,
For they have blessed the world they meant to curse,
And have wrested away their sceptres that man’s heart
Might govern his lesser brain, and larger art
Than theirs have created, to themselves unknown :
Out of their fertile desolatious start
Fresh forms of life that are not overthrown, —
Benignant growths of Peace the hands of War had sown!
The would-be conquerors of the Earth were more
Than they conceived: behind their iron hands,
That smote so blindly at the hearts before,
The inscrutable Creator stood — and stands:
The everlasting Spirit of Good commands,
For lo ! the hands are folded that so late
Grappled and mangled the still-bleeding lands
Where Turk and Muscovite in deadly hate
Struggled to defend and to seize the longsought Golden Gate !
Where battle-pillars were planted cities rose,
And hid the spot where armies were interred ;
Above the graves where mouldering kings repose
The hum of busy multitudes is heard;
Sweet thoughts are whispered, happy hearts are stirred,
And hands are joined with holy marriage rites :
Invisible walls of Law the people gird,
Shutting injustice out; and Art invites
All that is divine in man to her diviner heights !
Four Shapes she hath. The first of these is Sound, —
The melody of voice and lute and lyre,
That makes the feet trip and the spirits bound;
A sister Shape sits near, but sits up higher,
Fulfilled, of solemn songs and portents dire,
With sudden and tragic endings, long foretold ;
Two others, lesser in the sacred quire,
But more esteemed of men, color and mold
Greatness and glory and grace that die not, and grow not old !
Slowly but surely in the shock of wars
The ample victories of Peace are wrought;
They bind up new-made wounds, and heal old scars;
They cherish letters, and encourage thought;
Old, dusty scrolls are to the daylight brought,
And copied by pious hands in convent cells;
Philosophy in learned schools is taught;
Religion summons with sonorous bells,
And up cathedral domes the pealing organ swells!
All this, and all that was, and is, the eyes
Of the Muse of History at a glance behold ;
Unshaken is she, whoever lives or dies,
Calm as a marble statue, and as cold ;
Ten thousand plausible lies to her are told, —
She neither hearkens nor heeds, but guides the pen
Whereby the truth is written from of old.
Austere Observer of the ways of men,
What dost thou think of us, and what wilt thou write — and when ?
We stand upon the threshold of great things;
Shall we cross it, and possess them ? Oh, shall we,
Who have not inherited the curse of kings,
Come under their rule hereafter ? Shall we be
Among the commonwealths that once were free,
But soon in empires sank ? Shall Man repeat
His old defeats in us ? Or History see
One race in whom all resolute virtues meet,
That will not stand condemned before her judgment seat ?
R. H. Stoddard.