Five Criticisms - IV.

A poem by Alfred Noyes

(On Certain Realists.)

You with the quick sardonic eye
For all the mockeries of life,
Beware, in this dark masque of things that seem,
Lest even that tragic irony,
Which you discern in this our mortal strife,
Trick you and trap you, also, with a dream.

Last night I saw a dead man borne along
The city streets, passing a boisterous throng
That never ceased to laugh and shout and dance:
And yet, and yet,
For all the poison bitter minds might brew
From themes like this, I knew
That the stern Truth would not permit her glance
Thus to be foiled by flying straws of chance,
For her keen eyes on deeper skies are set,
And laws that tragic ironists forget.

She saw the dead man's life, from birth to death,--
All that he knew of love and sin and pain,
Success and failure (not as this world sees),
His doubts, his passions, inner loss and gain,
And borne on darker tides of constant law
Beyond the margin of this life she saw
All that had left his body with the breath.
These things, to her, were still realities.

If any mourned for him unseen,
She saw them, too.
If none, she'd not pretend
His clay were colder, or his God less true,
Or that his grave, at length, would be less green.
She'd not deny
The boundless depths of her eternal sky
Brooding above a boundless universe,
Because he seemed to man's unseeing eye
Going a little further to fare worse;
Nor would she assume he lacked that unseen friend
Whom even the tragic ironists declare
Were better than the seen, in his last end.

Oh, then, beware, beware,
Lest in the strong name of "reality"
You mock yourselves anew with shapes of air,
Lest it be you, agnostics, who re-write
The fettering creeds of night,
Affirm you know your own Unknowable,
And lock the wing├ęd soul in a new hell;
Lest it be you, lip-worshippers of Truth,
Who break the heart of youth;
Lest it be you, the realists, who fight
With shadows, and forget your own pure light;
Lest it be you who, with a little shroud
Snatched from the sightless faces of the dead,
Hoodwink the world, and keep the mourner bowed
In dust, real dust, with stones, real stones, for bread;
Lest, as you look one eighth of an inch beneath
The yellow skin of death,
You dream yourselves discoverers of the skull
That old memento mori of our faith;
Lest it be you who hunt a flying wraith
Through this dissolving stuff of hill and cloud;
Lest it be you, who, at the last, annul
Your covenant with your kind;
Lest it be you who darken heart and mind,
Sell the strong soul in bondage to a dream,
And fetter us once more to things that seem.

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