The Triumphs Of Time

A poem by John Clare

[From "The Champion"]

Emblazoned Vapour! Half-eternal Shade!
That gathers strength from ruin and decay;--
Emperor of empires! (for the world hath made
No substance that dare take thy shade away;)
Thy banners nought but victories display:
In undisturbed success thou'rt grown sublime:
Kings are thy subjects, and their sceptres lay
Round thy proud footstool: tyranny and crime
Thy serving vassals are. Then hail, victorious Time!

The elements that wreck the marble dome
Proud with the polish of the artisan--
Bolts that crash shivering through the humble home,
Traced with the insignificance of man--
Are architects of thine, and proudly plan
Rich monuments to show thy growing prime:
Earthquakes that rend the rocks with dreadful span,
Lightnings that write in characters sublime,
Inscribe their labours all unto the praise of Time.

Thy palaces are kingdoms lost to power;
The ruins of ten thousand thrones thy throne;
Thy crown and sceptre the dismantled tower,
A place of kings, yet left to be unknown,
Now with triumphing ivy overgrown--
Ivy oft plucked on Victory's brow to shine--
That fades in crowns of kings, preferring stone;
It only prospers where they most decline,
To flourish o'er their fate, and live alone in thine.

Thy dwellings are in ruins made sublime.
Impartial Monitor, no dream of fear,
No dread of treason for a royal crime,
Deters thee from thy purpose: everywhere
Thy power is shown: thou art arch-emperor here:
Thou soil'st the very crowns with stains and rust;
On royal robes thy havoc doth appear;
The little moth, to thy proud summons just,
Dares scarlet pomp to scorn, and eats it into dust.

Old shadows of magnificence, where now--
Where now and what your grandeur? Come and see
Busts broken and thrown down, with wreathless brow,
Walls stained with colours, not of paint, but thee.
Moss, lichens, ferns, and lonely elder tree;
That upon ruins gladly climb to bloom,
And add a beauty where't is vain to be,
Like to the soft moonlight in a prison's gloom,
Or lovely maid in youth death-smitten for the tomb.

Pride may build palaces and splendid halls;
Power may display its victories and be brave;
The eye finds weakest spots in strongest walls,
And meets no strength that can out-wear the grave.
Nature, thy handmaid and imperial slave,
The pomp of splendour's finery never heeds:
Kings reign and die: pride may no respite crave;
Nature in barrenness ne'er mourns thy deeds:
Graves, poor and rich alike, she overruns with weeds.

In thy proud eye, imperial Arbiter,
An insect small to prize appeareth man;
His pomp and honours have o'er thee no spell,
To win thy purpose from the little span
Allotted unto life in Nature's plan;
Trifles to him thy favour can engage;
High he looks up, and soon his race is run;
While the small daisy upon Nature's page,
On which he sets his foot, gains endless heritage.

Look at the farces played in every age
By puny empires, vaunting vain display,
And blush to read the historian's fulsome page,
Where kings are worshipped like to gods in clay.
Their pride the earth disdained and swept away,
By thee, a shadow, worsted of their all--
Legions of soldiers, battle's dread array--
Kings' speeches--golden bribes--nought saved their fall;
All 'neath thy feet are laid, thy robe their funeral pall.

How feeble and how vain, compared to thine,
The glittering pageantry of earthly kings,
Though in their little light they would outshine
Thy splendid sun: yet soon thy vengeance flings
Its gloom around their crowns, poor puny things.
What then remains of all that great hath been?
A tattered state, that as a mockery clings
To greatness, and concludes the idle scene--
In life how mighty thought, and found in death how mean.

Thus Athens lingers on, a nest of slaves,
And Babylon's an almost doubted name:
Thou with thy finger writ'st upon their graves,
On one obscurity, the other shame.
The richest greatness or the proudest fame
Thy sport concludeth as a farce at last:
They were and would be, but are not the same:
Tyrants, that made all subject where they passed,
Become a common jest for laughter at the last.

Here where I stand thy voice breathes from the ground
A buried tale of sixteen hundred years,
And many a Roman fragment, littered round,
In each new-rooted mole-hill reappears.
Ah! what is fame, that honour so reveres?
And what is Victory's laurel-crowned event
When thy unmasked intolerance interferes?
A Caesar's deeds are left to banishment,
Indebted e'en to moles to show us where he went.

A mighty poet them, and every line
Thy grand conception traces is sublime:
No language doth thy god-like works confine;
Thy voice is earth's grand polyglot, O Time!
Known of all tongues, and read in every clime,
Changes of language make no change in thee:
Thy works have worsted centuries of their prime,
Yet new editions every day we see--
Ruin thy moral theme, its end eternity.

A satirist, too, thy pen is deadly keen;
Thou turnest things that once did wonder claim
To jests ridiculous and memories mean;--
The Egyptian pyramids, without a name,
Stand monuments to chaos, not to fame--
Stone jests of kings which thou in sport did'st save,
As towering satires of pride's living shame--
Beacons to prove thy overbearing wave
Will make all fame at last become its owner's grave.

Mighty survivors! Thou shalt see the hour
When all the grandeur that the earth contains--
Its pomp, its splendour, and its hollow power--
Shall waste like water from its weakened veins,
And not a shadow or a myth remain--
When names and fames of which the earth is full,
And books, with all their knowledge urged in vain--
When dead and living shall be void and null,
And Nature's pillow be at last a human skull.

E'en temples raised to worship and to prayer,
Sacred from ruin in all eyes but thine,
Are laid as level, and are left as bare,
As spots with no pretensions to resign;
Nor lives one relic that was deemed divine.
By thee, great sacrilegious Shade, all, all
Are swept away, and common weeds enshrine
That place of tombs and memories prodigal--
Itself a tomb at last, the record of its fall.

All then shall mingle fellowship with one,
And earth be strewn with wrecks of human things,
When tombs are broken up and memory's gone
Of proud aspiring mortals, crowned as kings,
Mere insects, sporting upon waxen wings
That melt at thy all-mastering energy;
And, when there's nought to govern, thy fame springs
To new existence, conquered, yet to be
An uncrowned partner still of dread eternity.

'T is done, o'erpowering Vision! And no more
My simple numbers chronicle thy fame;
'T is gone: the spirit of my voice is o'er,
Adventuring praises to thy mighty name.
To thee an atom am I, and in shame
I shrink from these aspirings to my doom;
For all the world contains to praise or blame
Is but a garden hastening out of bloom
To fill up Nature's wreck-mere rubbish for the tomb.

Imperial Moralist! Thy every page,
Like grand prophetic visions, doth instal
Truth for all creeds. The savage, saint, and sage
In unison may answer to thy call.
Thy voice as universal, speaks to all;
It tells us what all were and are to be;
That evil deeds will evil hearts enthral,
And God the just maintain the grand decree,
That whoso righteous lives shall win eternity.

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