[from Collected Works, T.E.Brown]
I SOMETIMES wonder of the Grecian men,
If all that was to them for life appears
Simple, full-orbed, they float across our ken,
And to their modern feres
Present the gathered light of all their years.
But was it all the utmost of their reach
That unto us the sedulous scribe has passed ?
To carve on marble-slabs of that great speech
Great thoughts, that so might last
Was that the single aim their copious souls forecast ?
On them, high-strung (for so it seems to us),
Did no kind god distil a wholesome ease ?
Laughed no fair child for good Herodotus ?
Looked there no maiden of the midland seas
Into thy clear gray eyes,Thucydides ?
One life, one work was this to them the all
God's purpose marked, and followed fair and true ?
Or were they slaves like us, whom doubts enthrall
A hesitant, futile crew,
Who know not what our Lord would have us do ?
Was mind supreme? Was animal craving nought?
Or that the essence ? this the accident ?
Did it suffice them to have nobly thought ?
And, the whole impulse spent,
Did the vexed waters meet in smoothness of content ?
They ate, they drank, they married in the prime,
And tied their souls with natural, homely needs,
They bowed before the beadles of the time,
And wore the common weeds,
And fed the priests, and ménagëd the creeds.
Or were they happier, breathing social free,
No smug respectability to pat
And soothe with pledges of equality,
The goodman glows through all his realms of fat ?
And was it possible for them to hold
A creed elastic in that lightsome air,
And let sweet fables droop in flexile fold
From off their shoulders bare,
Loose-fitting, jewel-clasped with fancies rare ?
For not as yet intense across the sea
Came the svart Hebrew with a fiery baste ;
In long brown arms entwined Euphrosyne,
And round her snowy waist
Fast bound the Nessus-robe, that may not be displaced.
Yes, this is true ; but the whole truth is more
This was not all the burning Orient gave ;
Through purple partings of her golden door
Carne gleams upon the wave,
Long shafts that search the souls of men who crave ;
And probings of the heart, and spirit-balm,
And to deep questionings the deep replies
That echo in the everlasting calm
All this from forth those skies,
Beside Gehenna fire and worm that never dies.
Yet, if the Greek went straighter to his aim,
If, knowing wholly what he meant to do,
He did it, given circumstance the same,
Or near the same, then must I hold it true
That from his different creed the vantage came,
Who, seizing one world where we balance two,
From its great secular heart the readier current drew.