Address - The Opening of the California Theatre, San Francisco, January 19, 1870

A poem by Francis Bret Harte

Brief words, when actions wait, are well:
The prompter’s hand is on his bell;
The coming heroes, lovers, kings,
Are idly lounging at the wings;
Behind the curtain’s mystic fold
The glowing future lies unrolled;
And yet, one moment for the Past,
One retrospect, the first and last.

“The world’s a stage,” the Master said.
To-night a mightier truth is read:
Not in the shifting canvas screen,
The flash of gas or tinsel sheen;
Not in the skill whose signal calls
From empty boards baronial halls;
But, fronting sea and curving bay,
Behold the players and the play.

Ah, friends! beneath your real skies
The actor’s short-lived triumph dies:
On that broad stage of empire won,
Whose footlights were the setting sun,
Whose flats a distant background rose
In trackless peaks of endless snows;
Here genius bows, and talent waits
To copy that but One creates.

Your shifting scenes: the league of sand,
An avenue by ocean spanned;
The narrow beach of straggling tents,
A mile of stately monuments;
Your standard, lo! a flag unfurled,
Whose clinging folds clasp half the world,
This is your drama, built on facts,
With “twenty years between the acts.”

One moment more: if here we raise
The oft-sung hymn of local praise,
Before the curtain facts must sway;
Here waits the moral of your play.
Glassed in the poet’s thought, you view
What money can, yet cannot do;
The faith that soars, the deeds that shine,
Above the gold that builds the shrine.

And oh! when others take our place,
And Earth’s green curtain hides our face,
Ere on the stage, so silent now,
The last new hero makes his bow:
So may our deeds, recalled once more
In Memory’s sweet but brief encore,
Down all the circling ages run,
With the world’s plaudit of “Well done!”

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