The Moondial

A poem by William Bliss Carman

Iron and granite and rust,
In a crumbling garden old,
Where the roses are paler than dust
And the lilies are green with gold,

Under the racing moon,
Inconscious of war or crime,
In a strange and ghostly noon,
It marks the oblivion of time.

The shadow steals through its arc,
Still as a frosted breath,
Fitful, gleaming, and dark
As the cold frustration of death.

But where the shadow may fall,
Whether to hurry or stay,
It matters little at all
To those who come that way.

For this is the dial of them
That have forgotten the world,
No more through the mad day-dream
Of striving and reason hurled.

Their heart as a little child
Only remembers the worth
Of beauty and love and the wild
Dark peace of the elder earth.

It registers the morrows
Of lovers and winds and streams,
And the face of a thousand sorrows
At the postern gate of dreams.

When the first low laughter smote
Through Lilith, the mother of joy,
And died and revived from the throat
Of Helen, the harpstring of Troy,

And wandering on through the years,
From the sobbing rain and the sea,
Caught sound of the world's gray tears
Or sense of the sun's gold glee,

Whenever the wild control
Burned out to a mortal kiss,
And the shuddering storm-swept soul
Climbed to its acme of bliss,

The green-gold light of the dead
Stood still in purple space,
And a record blind and dread
Was graved on the dial's face.

And once in a thousand years
Some youth who loved so well
The gods had loosed him from fears
In a vision of blameless hell,

Has gone to the dial to read
Those signs in the outland tongue,
Written beyond the need
Of the simple and the young.

For immortal life, they say,
Were his who, loving so,
Could explain the writing away
As a legend written in snow.

But always his innocent eyes
Were frozen into the stone.
From that awful first surprise
His soul must return alone.

In the morning there he lay
Dead in the sun's warm gold.
And no man knows to this day
What the dim moondial told.

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