From the Book of the Eagle

A poem by George William Russell

--[St. John, i. 1-33]


In the mighty Mother's bosom was the Wise
With the mystic Father in aeonian night;
Aye, for ever one with them though it arise
Going forth to sound its hymn of light.

At its incantation rose the starry fane;
At its magic thronged the myriad race of men;
Life awoke that in the womb so long had lain
To its cyclic labours once again.

'Tis the soul of fire within the heart of life;
From its fiery fountain spring the will and thought;
All the strength of man for deeds of love or strife,
Though the darkness comprehend it not.

In the mystery written here
John is but the life, the seer;
Outcast from the life of light,
Inly with reverted sight
Still he scans with eager eyes
The celestial mysteries.
Poet of all far-seen things
At his word the soul has wings,
Revelations, symbols, dreams
Of the inmost light which gleams.

The winds, the stars, and the skies though wrought
By the one Fire-Self still know it not;
And man who moves in the twilight dim
Feels not the love that encircles him,
Though in heart, on bosom, and eyelids press
Lips of an infinite tenderness,
He turns away through the dark to roam
Nor heeds the fire in his hearth and home.

They whose wisdom everywhere
Sees as through a crystal air
The lamp by which the world is lit,
And themselves as one with it;
In whom the eye of vision swells,
Who have in entranced hours
Caught the word whose might compels
All the elemental powers;
They arise as Gods from men
Like the morning stars again.
They who seek the place of rest
Quench the blood-heat of the breast,
Grow ascetic, inward turning
Trample down the lust from burning,
Silence in the self the will
For a power diviner still;
To the fire-born Self alone
The ancestral spheres are known.

Unto the poor dead shadows came
Wisdom mantled about with flame;
We had eyes that could see the light
Born of the mystic Father's might.
Glory radiant with powers untold
And the breath of God around it rolled.

Life that moved in the deeps below
Felt the fire in its bosom glow;
Life awoke with the Light allied,
Grew divinely stirred, and cried:
"This is the Ancient of Days within,
Light that is ere our days begin.

"Every power in the spirit's ken
Springs anew in our lives again.
We had but dreams of the heart's desire
Beauty thrilled with the mystic fire.
The white-fire breath whence springs the power
Flows alone in the spirit's hour."

Man arose the earth he trod,
Grew divine as he gazed on God:
Light in a fiery whirlwind broke
Out of the dark divine and spoke:
Man went forth through the vast to tread
By the spirit of wisdom charioted.

There came the learned of the schools
Who measure heavenly things by rules,
The sceptic, doubter, the logician,
Who in all sacred things precision,
Would mark the limit, fix the scope,
"Art thou the Christ for whom we hope?
Art thou a magian, or in thee
Has the divine eye power to see?"
He answered low to those who came,
"Not this, nor this, nor this I claim.
More than the yearning of the heart
I have no wisdom to impart.
I am the voice that cries in him
Whose heart is dead, whose eyes are dim,
'Make pure the paths where through may run
The light-streams from that golden one,
The Self who lives within the sun.'
As spake the seer of ancient days."
The voices from the earthly ways
Questioned him still: "What dost thou here,
If neither prophet, king nor seer?
What power is kindled by they might?"
"I flow before the feet of Light:
I am the purifying stream.
But One of whom ye have no dream,
Whose footsteps move among you still,
Though dark, divine, invisible.
Impelled by Him, before His ways
I journey, though I dare not raise
Even from the ground these eyes so dim
Or look upon the feet of Him."

When the dead or dreamy hours
Like a mantle fall away,
Wakes the eye of gnostic powers
To the light of hidden day,

And the yearning heart within
Seeks the true, the only friend,
He who burdened with our sin
Loves and loves unto the end.

Ah, the martyr of the world,
With a face of steadfast peace
Round whose brow the light is curled:
'Tis the Lamb with golden fleece.

So they called of old the shining,
Such a face the sons of men
See, and all its life divining
Wake primeval fires again.

Such a face and such a glory
Passed before the eyes of John,
With a breath of olden story
Blown from ages long agone

Who would know the God in man.
Deeper still must be his glance.
Veil on veil his eye must scan
For the mystic signs which tell
If the fire electric fell
On the seer in his trance:
As his way he upward wings
From all time-encircled things,
Flames the glory round his head
Like a bird with wings outspread.
Gold and silver plumes at rest:
Such a shadowy shining crest
Round the hero's head reveals him
To the soul that would adore,
As the master-power that heals him
And the fount of secret lore.
Nature such a diadem
Places on her royal line,
Every eye that looks on them
Knows the Sons of the Divine.

--April 15, 1896

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