To The Heavenly Power

A poem by John Frederick Freeman

When this burning flesh
Burns down in Time's slow fire to a glowing ash;
When these lips have uttered
The last word, and the ears' last echoes fluttered;
And crumbled these firm bones
As in the chemic air soft blackened stones;
When all that was mortal made
Owns its mortality, proud yet afraid;

Then when I stumble in
The broad light, from this twilight weak and thin,
What of me will change,
What of that brightness will be new and strange?
Shall I indeed endure
New solitude in that high air and pure,
Aching for these fingers
On which my assurèd hand now shuts and lingers?

Now when I look back
On manhood's and on childhood's far-stretched track,
I see but a little child
In a green sunny world-home; there enisled
By another, cloudy world
Of unsailed waters all around him curled,
And he at home content
With the small sky of wonders over him bent:--

Lonely, yet not alone
Since all was friendly being all unknown;
To-day yesterday forgetting,
And never with to-morrow's sorrow fretting;
Not seeing good from ill
Since but to breathe and run and sleep was well;
Asking nor fearing nought
Since the body's nerves and veins held all his thought....

Such a child again shall I
Stray in some valley of infinity,
Where infinite finite seems
And nothing more immortal than my dreams?
Where earthly seasons play
Still with their snows and blossoms and night and day,
And no unsetting sun
Brightens the white cloud and awakes the moon?

In such half-life's half-light
To cloak with mortal an immortal sight?
With uninformed desire,
Shorn passion, gentle mind, contented fire,
Ignorant love; to run
But with the little journeys of the sun,
And at evening sleep
With birds and beasts, and stars rocked in the deep?

But maybe this man's mind
Will leave not its maturity behind,
And nothing will forget
Of all that teased or eased it here, while yet
A mortal dress it wore;
And these quick-darting thoughts and probings sore
More sharply then will turn;
And lonelier and yet hungrier the heart burn.

O, I would not forget
Earth is too rich, too dark, too sour, too sweet:--
Nor be divorcèd quite
From the late tingling of the nerves' delight.
Less I would never be
Than the deep-graving years have made of me--
A memory, pulse, mind,
Seed and harvest, a reaper and sower blind.

I shall no more be I
If I forget the world's joy and agony;
If I forget how strong
Is the assault of scarce-rebukèd wrong.
I shall no more be I
If my ears hear not earth's embittered cry
Perpetual; and forget
The unrighteous shackles on man's ankle set;

If no more my heart beat
Quicker because on earth is something sweet;
I shall no more be I
If the ancestral voices no more sigh
Familiar in my brain,
And leave me to cold silence and its pain,
And the bewildered stare
On an unhomely land in biting air:

If the blood no more vex
The heart with the importunities of sex,
If indeed marriage bind
No more body to body, mind to mind,
And love be powerless, cold,
That once by love's strength only was controlled,
And that chief spiritual force
Be dam'd back and stretch frozen to its source....

To the Heavenly Power I cry,
Foiled by these dreams of immortality,
"Let all be as Thou wilt,
And the foundations in Thy dark mind built;
Even infinity
Be but imagination's dream of Thee;
And let thought still, still
Vainly its waves on night's cliff break and spill.

"But, Heavenly Power," I'd cry,
Knowing how, near or far, He still is nigh,
"When this burning flesh
Is burnt away to a little driven ash,
What thing soever shall rise
From that cold ash unseen to unseen skies,
Grant that so much of me
Shall rise as may remember Thy world, and Thee."

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