The Chiefs of the Air

A poem by George William Russell

Their wise little heads with scorning
They laid the covers between:
"Do they think we stay here till morning?"
Said Rory and Aileen.

When out their bright eyes came peeping
The room was no longer there,
And they fled from the dark world creeping
Up a twilight cave of air.

They wore each one a gay dress,
In sleep, if you understand,
When earth puts off its grey dress
To robe it in faeryland.

Then loud o'erhead was a humming
As clear as the wood wind rings;
And here were the air-boats coming
And here the airy kings.

The magic barks were gleaming
And swift as the feathered throng:
With wonder-lights out-streaming
They blew themselves along.

And up on the night-wind swimming,
With pose and dart and rise,
Away went the air fleet skimming
Through a haze of jewel skies.

One boat above them drifted
Apart from the flying bands,
And an air-chief bent and lifted
The children with mighty hands.

The children wondered greatly,
Three air-chiefs met them there,
They were tall and grave and stately
With bodies of purple air.

A pearl light with misty shimmer
Went dancing about them all,
As the dyes of the moonbow glimmer
On a trembling waterfall.

The trail of the fleet to the far lands
Was wavy along the night,
And on through the sapphire starlands
They followed the wake of light.

"Look down, Aileen," said Rory,
"The earth's as thin as a dream."
It was lit by a sun-fire glory
Outraying gleam on gleam.

They saw through the dream-world under
Its heart of rainbow flame
Where the starry people wander;
Like gods they went and came.

The children looked without talking
Till Roray spoke again,
"Are those our folk who are walking
Like little shadow men?

"They don't see what is about them,
They look like pigmies small,
The world would be full without them
And they think themselves so tall!"

The magic bark went fleeting
Like an eagle on and on;
Till over its prow came beating
The foam-light of the dawn.

The children's dream grew fainter,
Three air-chiefs still were there,
But the sun the shadow painter
Drew five on the misty air.

The dream-light whirled bewild'ring,
An air-chief said, "You know.
You are living now, my children,
Ten thousand years ago."

They looked at themselves in the old light,
And mourned the days of the new
Where naught is but darkness or cold light,
Till a bell came striking through.

"We must go," said the wise young sages:
It was five at dawn by the chimes,
And they ran through a thousand ages
From the old De Danaan Times.

--August 15, 1896

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