There are moments when, as missions,
God reveals to us strange visions;
When, within their separate stations,
We may see the Centuries,
Like revolving constellations
Shaping out Earth's destinies.
I have gazed in Time's abysses,
Where no smallest thing Earth misses
That was hers once. 'Mid her chattels,
There the Past's gigantic ghost
Sits and dreams of thrones and battles
In the night of ages lost.
Far before her eyes, unholy
Mist was spread; that darkly, slowly
Rolled aside, like some huge curtain
Hung above the land and sea;
And beneath it, wild, uncertain,
Rose the wraiths of memory.
First I saw colossal spectres
Of dead cities: Troy once Hector's
Pride; then Babylon and Tyre;
Karnac, Carthage, and the gray
Walls of Thebes, Apollo's lyre
Built; and Rome and Nineveh.
Empires followed: first, in seeming,
Old Chaldea lost in dreaming;
Egypt next, a bulk Memnonian
Staring from her pyramids;
Then Assyria, Babylonian
Night beneath her hell-lit lids.
Greece, in classic white, sidereal
Armored; Rome, in dark, imperial
Purple, crowned with blood and fire,
Down the deeps barbaric strode;
Gaul and Britain stalking by her,
Skin-clad and tattooed with woad.
All around them, rent and scattered,
Lay their gods with features battered,
Brute and human, stone and iron,
Caked with gems and gnarled with gold;
Temples, that did once environ
These, in wreck around them rolled.
While I stood and gazed and waited,
Slowly night obliterated
All; and other phantoms drifted
Out of darkness pale as stars;
Shapes that tyrant faces lifted,
Sultans, kings, and emperors.
Man and steed in ponderous metal
Panoplied, they seemed to settle,
Condors gaunt of devastation,
On the world: behind their march
Loomed before them with her torch.
Helmets flamed like fearful flowers;
Chariots rose and moving towers;
Captains passed; each fierce commander
With his gauntlet on his sword:
Cæsar, each led on his horde.
Huns and Vandals; wild invaders:
Goths and Arabs; stern Crusaders:
Each, like some terrific torrent,
Rolled above a ruined world;
Till a cataract abhorrent
Seemed the swarming spears uphurled.
Banners and escutcheons, kindled
By the light of slaughter, dwindled
Died in darkness; the chimera
Of the Past was laid at last.
But, behold, another era
From her corpse rose, vague and vast.
Demogorgon of the Present!
Who in one hand raised a Crescent,
In the other, with submissive
Fingers, lifted up a Cross;
Reverent and yet derisive
Seemed she, robed in gold and dross.
In her skeptic eyes professions
Of great faith I saw; expressions,
Christian and humanitarian,
Played around her cynic lip;
Still I knew her a barbarian
By the sword upon her hip.
And she cherished strange eidolons,
Pagan shadows Platos, Solons
From whose teachings she indentured
Forms of law and sophistry;
Seeking still for truth she ventured
Just so far as these could see.
When she vanished, I uplifting
Eyes to where the dawn was rifting
Darkness, lo! beheld a shadow
Towering on Earth's utmost peaks;
'Round whom morning's eldorado
Rivered gold in blinding streaks.
On her brow I saw the stigma
Still of death; and life's enigma
Filled her eyes: around her shimmered
Folds of silence; and afar,
Faint above her forehead, glimmered
Lone the light of one pale star.
Then a voice, above or under
Earth, against her seemed to thunder
Questions, wherein was repeated,
"Christ or Cain?" and"God or beast?"
And the Future, shadowy-sheeted,
Turning, pointed towards the East.