The Earthwork: The Devil's Dyke at Ely

THE tawny grass climbs to a width of sky
Calmly, whitely impending; none go by
Save lovers with arms lightly linked together
And floating over centuries like a feather,
Over the earthwork and its triple rings,
Into the sky, the nothingness of things —
Or so it seems; for the huge hilltop stands
Like the last rampart of the last of lands,
Or the last barrier of a perished world
Already old when man’s first smoke upcurled.
Its trebly mutilated face and dread
Scowls with the undying anger of the dead
Who perished scowling, and its fosses grin
Like the deep hate lines scooped and grooved therein.
That face, that blackening frown against the sky,
The tawny mane of grass, the mystery —
All these were heartheats, pictures in the brain
Centuries long for races that have lain
Centuries as long, and yet it still abides.
Brython and Celt, Saxon and Roman tides
One superimposed on other, leave no trace;
Their dust is blown about their dwelling place.
Their crowds and cries, thunderings and slaughterings,
Loyalties of legions, loves of clowns or kings,
Are less than frailest harebells now in flower,
Or the fine trembling beauty of an hour
To which their days distilled for lovers here —
They too shall pass, as now they disappear
Over the ridge, into the void of white,
Compactest dots with longing infinite —
And wherefore? from the heavens there comes no sign.
Only as old as earliest battle line
The horn’d hill sheep to sound of wether bells,
Marshaled from wing to wing by barks and yells
Of lithe-limbed sheep dogs, crowd and crouch
Descending fosse by fosse, and then debouch,
Slow, immemorial as flocks in dream;
Along the plain, sheeny as clots of cream
Stiff-flowing from a tilted vessel’s mouth,
They widen into distances to south. . . .
Then the hill wears its heedlessness once more,
Its robe of silence worn so long before;
No foot, no sound, disturbs the sleepers there,
Not even the plumage of the grasses, where
The rooks, and crowds of sea gulls come from sea,
Silent, seem feeding through Eternity.
Like pawns of some arrested game of chess,
Or riddle older than the dead could guess,
Whose mighty players are removed, they lie
Without a caw or scream to wake the sky.