Five Criticisms - V

A poem by Alfred Noyes

(An Answer)

[After reading an article in a leading London journal by an "intellectual" who attacked one of the noblest poets and greatest artists of a former century (or any century) on the ground that his high ethical standards were incompatible with the new lawlessness. This vicious lawlessness the writer described definitely, and he paid his tribute to dishonour as openly and brutally as any of the Bolsheviki could have done. I had always known that this was the real ground of the latter-day onslaught on some of the noblest literature of the past; but I had never seen it openly confessed before. The time has now surely come when, if our civilization is to make any fight at all against the new "red ruin and breaking up of laws," we must cease to belaud our slack-minded, latter-day "literature of rebellion" for its cleverness in making scraps of paper out of the plain laws of right and wrong. It has been doing this for more than twenty-five years, and the same has become fashionable among those who are too busy to read carefully or understand fully what pitfalls are being prepared for their own feet and the feet of their children.]


I

If this were true, England indeed were dead.
If the wild fashion of that poisonous hour
Wherein the new Salome, clothed with power,
Wriggled and hissed, with hands and feet so red,
Should even now demand that glorious head,
Whose every word was like an English flower,
Whose every song an English April shower,
Whose every thought immortal wine and bread;
If this were true, if England should prefer
Darkness, corruption, and the adulterous crew,
Shakespeare and Browning would cry shame on her,
And Milton would deny the land he knew;
And those who died in Flanders yesterday
Would thank their God they sleep in cleaner clay.


II

It is not true. Only these "rebel" wings,
These glittering clouds of "intellectual" flies
Out of the stagnant pools of midnight rise
From the old dead creeds, with carrion-poisoned stings
They strike at noble and ignoble things,
Immortal Love with the old world's out-worn lies,
But even now, a wind from clearer skies
Dissolves in smoke their coteries and wings.

See, their divorced idealist re-divorces
The wife he stole from his own stealing friend!
And these would pluck the high stars from their courses,
And mock the fools that praise them, till the end!
Well, let the whole world praise them. Truth can wait
Till our new England shall unlock the gate.


III

Yes. Let the fools go paint themselves with woad,
For we've a jest between us, Truth and I.
We know that those who live by fashion die
Also by fashion, and that mode kills mode.
We know the great new age is on the road,
And death is at the heart of every lie.
But we've a jest between us, Truth and I.
And we have locked the doors to our abode.

Yet if some great new "rebel" in his pride
Should pass that way and hear us laughing low
Like lovers, in the darkness, side by side,
He might catch this:--"The dullards do not know
That names are names. New 'rebel' is old 'thrall.'"
And we're the lonely dreamers after all.

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