I had rather write one word upon the rock
Of ages than ten thousand in the sand.
The rock of ages! lo I cannot reach
Its lofty shoulders with my puny hand:
I can but touch the sands about its feet.
Yea, I have painted pictures for the blind,
And sung my sweetest songs to ears of stone.
What matter if the dust of ages drift
Five fathoms deep above my grave unknown,
For I have sung and loved the songs I sung.
Who sings for fame the Muses may disown;
Who sings for gold will sing an idle song;
But he who sings because sweet music springs
Unbidden from his heart and warbles long,
May haply touch another heart unknown.
There is sweeter poetry in the hearts of men
Than ever poet wrote or minstrel sung;
For words are clumsy wings for burning thought.
The full heart falters on the stammering tongue,
And silence is more eloquent than song
When tender souls are wrung by grief or shameful wrong.
The grandest poem is God's Universe:
In measured rhythm the planets whirl their course:
Rhythm swells and throbs in every sun and star,
In mighty ocean's organ-peals and roar,
In billows bounding on the harbor-bar,
In the blue surf that rolls upon the shore,
In the low zephyr's sigh, the tempest's sob,
In the rain's patter and the thunder's roar;
Aye, in the awful earthquake's shuddering throb,
When old Earth cracks her bones and trembles to her core.
I hear a piper piping on a reed
To listening flocks of sheep and bearded goats;
I hear the larks shrill-warbling o'er the mead
Their silver sonnets from their golden throats;
And in my boyhood's clover-fields I hear
The twittering swallows and the hum of bees.
Ah, sweeter to my heart and to my ear
Than any idyl poet ever sung,
The low, sweet music of their melodies;
Because I listened when my soul was young,
In those dear meadows under maple trees.
My heart they molded when its clay was moist,
And all my life the hum of honey-bees
Hath waked in me a spirit that rejoiced,
And touched the trembling chords of tenderest memories.
I hear loud voices and a clamorous throng
With braying bugles and with bragging drums
Bards and bardies laboring at a song.
One lifts his locks, above the rest preferred,
And to the buzzing flies of fashion thrums
A banjo. Lo him follow all the herd.
When Nero's wife put on her auburn wig,
And at the Coliseum showed her head,
The hair of every dame in Rome turned red;
When Nero fiddled all Rome danced a jig.
Novelty sets the gabbling geese agape,
And fickle fashion follows like an ape.
Aye, brass is plenty; gold is scarce and dear;
Crystals abound, but diamonds still are rare.
Is this the golden age, or the age of gold?
Lo by the page or column fame is sold.
Hear the big journal braying like an ass;
Behold the brazen statesmen as they pass;
See dapper poets hurrying for their dimes
With hasty verses hammered out in rhymes:
The Muses whisper '"Tis the age of brass."
Workmen are plenty, but the masters few
Fewer to-day than in the days of old.
Rare blue-eyed pansies peeping pearled with dew,
And lilies lifting up their heads of gold,
Among the gaudy cockscombs I behold,
And here and there a lotus in the shade;
And under English oaks a rose that ne'er will fade.
Fair barks that flutter in the sun your sails,
Piping anon to gay and tented shores
Sweet music and low laughter, it is well
Ye hug the haven when the tempest roars,
For only stalwart ships of oak or steel
May dare the deep and breast the billowy sea
When sweeps the thunder-voiced, dark hurricane,
And the mad ocean shakes his shaggy mane,
And roars through all his grim and vast immensity.
The stars of heaven shine not till it is dark.
Seven cities strove for Homer's bones, 'tis said,
"Through which the living Homer begged for bread."
When in their coffins they lay dumb and stark
Shakespeare began to live, Dante to sing,
And Poe's sweet lute began its werbelling.
Rear monuments of fame or flattery
Think ye their sleeping souls are made aware?
Heap o'er their heads sweet praise or calumny
Think ye their moldering ashes hear or care?
Nay, praise and fame are by the living sought;
But he is wise who scorns their flattery,
And who escapes the tongue of calumny
May count himself an angel or a naught:
Lo over Byron's grave a maggot writhes distraught.
Genius is patience, labor and good sense.
Steel and the mind grow bright by frequent use;
In rest they rust. A goodly recompense
Comes from hard toil, but not from its abuse.
The slave, the idler, are alike unblessed;
Aye, in loved labor only is there rest.
But he will read and range and rhyme in vain
Who hath no dust of diamonds in his brain;
And untaught genius is a gem undressed.
The life of man is short, but Art is long,
And labor is the lot of mortal man,
Ordained by God since human time began:
Day follows day and brings its toil and song.
Behind the western mountains sinks the moon,
The silver dawn steals in upon the dark,
Up from the dewy meadow wheels the lark
And trills his welcome to the rising sun,
And lo another day of labor is begun.
Poets are born, not made, some scribbler said,
And every rhymester thinks the saying true:
Better unborn than wanting labor's aid:
Aye, all great poets all great men are made
Between the hammer and the anvil. Few
Have the true metal, many have the fire.
No slave or savage ever proved a bard;
Men have their bent, but labor its reward,
And untaught fingers cannot tune the lyre.
The poet's brain with spirit-vision teems;
The voice of nature warbles in his heart;
A sage, a seer, he moves from men apart,
And walks among the shadows of his dreams;
He sees God's light that in all nature beams;
And when he touches with the hand of art
The song of nature welling from his heart,
And guides it forth in pure and limpid streams,
Truth sparkles in the song and like a diamond gleams.
Time and patience change the mulberry-leaf
To shining silk; the lapidary's skill
Makes the rough diamond sparkle at his will,
And cuts a gem from quartz or coral-reef.
Better a skillful cobbler at his last
Than unlearned poet twangling on the lyre;
Who sails on land and gallops on the blast,
And mounts the welkin on a braying ass,
Clattering a shattered cymbal bright with brass,
And slips his girth and tumbles in the mire.
All poetry must be, if it be true,
Like the keen arrows of the Grecian god
Apollo, that caught fire as they flew.
Ah, such was Byron's, but alas he trod
Ofttimes among the brambles and the rue,
And sometimes dived full deep and brought up mud.
But when he touched with tears, as only he
Could touch, the tender chords of sympathy,
His coldest critics warmed and marveled much,
And all old England's heart throbbed to his thrilling touch.
Truth is the touchstone of all genius Art,
In poet, painter, sculptor, is the same:
What cometh from the heart goes to the heart,
What comes from effort only is but tame.
Nature the only perfect artist is:
Who studies Nature may approach her skill;
Perfection hers, but never can be his,
Though her sweet voice his very marrow thrill;
The finest works of art are Nature's shadows still.
Look not for faultless men or faultless art;
Small faults are ever virtue's parasites:
As in a picture shadows show the lights,
So human foibles show a human heart.
O while I live and linger on the brink
Let the dear Muses be my company;
Their nectared goblets let my parched lips drink;
Ah, let me drink the soma of their lips!
As humming-bird the lily's nectar sips,
Or Houris sip the wine of Salsabil.
Aye, let me to their throbbing music thrill,
And let me never for one moment think,
Although no laurel crown my constancy,
Their gracious smiles are false, their dearest kiss a lie.