Lines on His Twenty-Third Birthday

A poem by James Thomson (BV)

Last evening's huge lax clouds of turbid white
Grew dark and louring, burthened with the rain
Which that long wind monotonous all night
Swept clashing loud through Dreamland's still domain,

Until my spirit in fatigue's despite
Was driven to weary wakefulness again:
With such wild dirge and ceaseless streaming tears
Died out the last of all my ill-used years.

The morn his risen pure and fresh and keen;
Its perfect vault of bright blue heaven spreads bare
Above the earth's wide laughter twinkling green.
The sun, long climbing up with lurid glare
Athwart the storm-rack's rent and hurrying screen,
Leapt forth at dawn to breathe this stainless air;
The strong west wind still streams on full and high,
Inspiring fresher life through earth and sky.

Yon hazeless river flashes silver signs
Of where it flows; how delicate and clear
The distant hills curve far their grey-blue lines,
Steadfast amidst the rushing atmosphere,
With every blade distinct the green grass shines,
Untouched by frost; those old trees dark or sere,
Swaying and soughing in the lifeful dawn,
Have every leaf and twig distinctly drawn.

This day my own particular year has birth;
The general year is very old to-day:
Yet, with what healthful life o'er heaven and earth
The death-bound monarch holdeth steadfast sway!
Not too austere for much of hearty mirth
And energetic pleasure, nor so grey
But that he still can deck himself with flowers;
Would that like his could be my dying hours!

Still dew-pearled fuchsias shine like pendent gems,
While some lie purely on the deep-dark mould
Beneath their glossy leaves and ruddy stems;
The thick chrysanthemums range white and cold;
Of all its wealth of marvellous anadems,
That gleamed amidst their fruits of orange gold
Glowing red-hearted in the Autumn sun,
The passion-flower has still for me kept one.

I pace the garden in this genial morn,
And meditate the dirge of my dead year,-
With even less of grief than sharp self-scorn.
The retrospect in truth brings little cheer;
As if of one long-tired, who stares forlorn
Across flat marshland, barren, gloomy, drear;
Where fields, nor home, nor church, his vision greet
Which he has toiled through with unsteady feet.

He turns; before him, as behind, all round
The pathless waste outstretches flat and bare;
From sullen pools amidst the dark heath-ground
Frogs jar their croakings through the murky air,
Which up that vault of solid sky stone-bound
Heaves huge dense glooms to shut on his despair.
Let him crawl on as he has crawled all day,
Till Night comes down upon his homeless way.

My golden morning hours, which should have brought
Strength, wisdom, faith and love, or hope of all,
Have sunk and dribbled while I heeded not
Into the slush of sloth beyond recall.
O nerveless hands, 0 brain of aimless thought,
O slow dim eyes that never marked their fall
Absorbed in dreams both waking and asleep
Our golden hours for ever lost, now weep.

All lost for ever! and the hours to come,
Poor refuse! but our sole remaining wealth,
So much the likelier thence to share doom!
The brain unused to mark insidious stealth,
Short-sighted eyes long filled with mist and gloom,
Lax hands uncustomed to the grasp of health,
That lost the fight in their best youth, shall these
Victorious prove in languor and disease?

Oh, for the flushed excitement of keen strife!
For mountains, gulfs and torrents in my way,
With peril, anguish, fear and strugglings rife!
For friends and foes, for love and hate in fray,
And not this lone base flat of torpid life!
I fret 'neath gnat-stings, an ignoble prey,
While others with a sword-hilt in their grasp
Have warm rich blood to feed their latest gasp.

Wrathful and dangerous, restless, free, profound,
With fair green islands shining o'er its verge,
The Sea of Life there heaves and roars around.
To pierce its depths, to throb against its surge,
Breasting to gain the Happy Isles! if drowned,
The loser pays; he fought his game; no dirge!
But to be whelmed in torpor at the last,
As one with this dead crag which holds me fast!

Flushed grapes, full-charged with life's delirious wine,
Brush my wan temples, hanging thick about:
Chained fast I cannot reach them, while I pine
To press their very inmost rapture out,
Flooding with fire these dust-dry lips of mine;
Better, wild drunkenness than hectic drought:
And torture breeds new tortures, in the dread
That ere they fall my power to drink be dead.

The prisoner loses other years than yearn
Within the lifeless dungeon crusht and pent:
Late freedom frees dead ashes from their urn;
His torture has become his element.
This Bride of Life for whom I waiting burn
May grow a withered hag ere she relent,
Herself refused then; or our worn-out eld
In bridal chimings have its funeral kneeled.

O pure West wind, strong life-breath of the day,
Inspire my wasted heart with strength and hope!
Sweep thou its grievous doubts and fears away,
Who swept far-scattering down the eastern slope
The brooding rain-clouds massed in dense array
Till this green earth shone laughing to the cope
Of this pure heaven, whose naked form austere
Yet genial glows with sunshine warm and clear.

I hope, I feel that I can yet break free
From this accursed cage wherein I pine;
There comes a vision of the sounding sea,
The all-sustaining, all-intombing brine:
Through want and peril, wretchedness and glee,
Wrestling with lives more coarse and strong than mine,
I yet may woo its love and dare its strife;
By self-dependence earning careless life.

And so attaining strength! The crazy ship,
Frigate or bumboat, slaver, mission ark,
Shall surely in the first squall heel and dip;
The strong may hope to sail its voyage: and, mark,
What of the ends, means, issues of its trip
Knows holy vessel or Brazilian barque?
Through storm and calm it does its best to float;
For what? He knows who steers and rules the boat.

So much more strength, so much more life, I say;
So much more love and thought, more soul and sense: I
We pare our members bit by bit away,
Because they're damning us with foul offence:
Cowards! be strong and force them to obey!
Is virtue but a eunuch's continence?
Napoleon, ev'n, seems nobler than such saint
As eighteen centuries have learned to paint.

Thus Hope is born, pale birth of grim Despair.
Whether the Father Shall his child devour,
Or this poor Babe, maturing strong and fair,
Shall dispossess the parent of his power,
I know not: yet I think that I could dare
A death-stern struggle with the fiercest hour,
Would foolish Wisdom's whirls of dreary thought
But leave my doubt-vexed spirit undistraught.

Meanwhile, then, let me wait and hope, and learn
To curb with galling steel and ruthless hand
These strong and passionate impulses that burn
To sweep me from my post of self-command,
Into the battle raging thick and stern,
Into the desert's freedom vast and grand:
That horseman proves full strength, firm skill indeed,
Who holdeth statue-calm his savage steed.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Lines on His Twenty-Third Birthday' by James Thomson (BV)

comments powered by Disqus