Epistle

A poem by Henry Newbolt

TO COLONEL FRANCIS EDWARD YOUNGHUSBAND

Across the Western World, the Arabian Sea,
The Hundred Kingdoms and the Rivers Three,
Beyond the rampart of Himalayan snows,
And up the road that only Rumour knows,
Unchecked, old friend, from Devon to Thibet,
Friendship and Memory dog your footsteps yet.

Let not the scornful ask me what avails
So small a pack to follow mighty trails:
Long since I saw what difference must be
Between a stream like you, a ditch like me.
This drains a garden and a homely field
Which scarce at times a living current yield;
The other from the high lands of his birth
Plunges through rocks and spurns the pastoral earth,
Then settling silent to his deeper course
Draws in his fellows to augment his force,
Becomes a name, and broadening as he goes,
Gives power and purity where'er he flows,
Till, great enough for any commerce grown,
He links all nations while he serves his own.

Soldier, explorer, statesman, what in truth
Have you in common with homekeeping youth?
"Youth" comes your answer like an echo faint;
And youth it was that made us first acquaint.
Do you remember when the Downs were white
With the March dust from highways glaring bright,
How you and I, like yachts that toss the foam,
From Penpole Fields came stride and stride for home?
One grimly leading, one intent to pass,
Mile after mile we measured road and grass,
Twin silent shadows, till the hour was done,
The shadows parted and the stouter won.
Since then I know one thing beyond appeal--
How runs from stem to stern a trimbuilt keel.
Another day--but that's not mine to tell,
The man in front does not observe so well;
Though, spite of all these five-and-twenty years,
As clear as life our schoolday scene appears.
The guarded course, the barriers and the rope;
The runners, stripped of all but shivering hope;
The starter's good grey head; the sudden hush;
The stern white line; the half-unconscious rush;
The deadly bend, the pivot of our fate;
The rope again; the long green level straight;
The lane of heads, the cheering half unheard;
The dying spurt, the tape, the judge's word.

You, too, I doubt not, from your Lama's hall
Can see the Stand above the worn old wall,

Where then they clamoured as our race we sped,
Where now they number our heroic dead.*
As clear as life you, too, can hear the sound
Of voices once for all by "lock-up" bound,
And see the flash of eyes still nobly bright
But in the "Bigside scrimmage" lost to sight.

Old loves, old rivalries, old happy times,
These well may move your memory and my rhymes;
These are the Past; but there is that, my friend,
Between us two, that has nor time nor end.
Though wide apart the lines our fate has traced
Since those far shadows of our boyhood raced,
In the dim region all men must explore--
The mind's Thibet, where none has gone before--
Rounding some shoulder of the lonely trail
We met once more, and raised a lusty hail.

"Forward!" cried one, "for us no beaten track,
No city continuing, no turning back:
The past we love not for its being past,
But for its hope and ardour forward cast:
The victories of our youth we count for gain
Only because they steeled our hearts to pain,
And hold no longer even Clifton great
Save as she schooled our wills to serve the State.

Nay, England's self, whose thousand-year-old name
Burns in our blood like ever-smouldering flame,
Whose Titan shoulders as the world are wide
And her great pulses like the Ocean tide,
Lives but to bear the hopes we shall not see--
Dear mortal Mother of the race to be."

Thereto you answered, "Forward! in God's name;
I own no lesser law, no narrower claim.
A freeman's Reason well might think it scorn
To toil for those who may be never born,
But for some Cause not wholly out of ken,
Some all-directing Will that works with men,
Some Universal under which may fall
The minor premiss of our effort small;
In Whose unending purpose, though we cease,
We find our impulse and our only peace."

So passed our greeting, till we turned once more,
I to my desk and you to rule Indore.
To meet again--ah! when? Yet once we met,
And to one dawn our faces still are set.

EXETER,
September 10, 1904.

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