Canto II


More light. Another step, and still more light
Opening ahead. It swilled with soft excess,
His eyes yet quivering from the dregs of night,
And it was nowhere more and nowhere less:
In it no shadows were. He could not guess
Its fountain. Wondering round around he turned:
Still on each side the level glory burned.


Far into the dome to where his gaze was lost
The deepening roof shone clear as stones that lie
In-shore beneath pure seas. The aisles, that crossed
Like forests of white stone their arms on high,
Past pillar after pillar dragged his eye
In unobscured perspective till the sight
Was weary. And there also was the light.


Look with my eyes. Conceive yourself above
And hanging in the dome: and thence through space
Look down. See Dymer, dwarfed and naked, move,
A white blot on the floor, at such a pace
As boats that hardly seem to have changed place
Once in an hour when from the cliffs we spy
The same ship always smoking towards the sky.


The shouting mood had withered from his heart;
The oppression of huge places wrapped him round.
A great misgiving sent its fluttering dart
Deep into him⁠—some fear of being found,
Some hope to find he knew not what. The sound
Of music, never ceasing, took the role
Of silence and like silence numbed his soul.


Till, as he turned a corner, his deep awe
Broke with a sudden start. For straight ahead,
Far off, a wild eyed, naked man he saw
That came to meet him: and beyond was spread
Yet further depth of light. With quickening tread
He leaped towards the shape. Then stooped and smiled
Before a mirror, wondering like a child.


Beside the glass, unguarded, for the claiming,
Like a great patch of flowers upon the wall
Hung every kind of clothes: silk, feathers flaming,
Leopard skin, furry mantles like the fall
Of deep mid-winter snows. Upon them all
Hung the faint smell of cedar, and the dyes
Were bright as blood and clear as morning skies.


He turned from the white spectre in the glass
And looked at these. Remember, he had worn
Thro’ winter slush, thro’ summer flowers and grass
One kind of solemn stuff since he was born,
With badge of year and rank. He laughed in score
And cried, “Here is no law, nor eye to see,
Nor leave of entry given. Why should there be?


“Have done with that⁠—you threw it all behind.
Henceforth I ask no licence where I need.
It’s on, on, on, though I go mad and blind,
Though knees ache and lungs labour and feet bleed,
Or else⁠—it’s home again: to sleep and feed,
And work, and hate them always and obey
And loathe the punctual rise of each new day.”


He made mad work among them as he dressed,
With motley choice and litter on the floor,
And each thing as he found it seemed the best.
He wondered that he had not known before
How fair a man he was. “I’ll creep no more
In secret,” Dymer said. “But I’ll go back
And drive them all to freedom on this track.”


He turned towards the glass. The space looked smaller
Behind him now. Himself in royal guise
Filled the whole frame⁠—a nobler shape and taller,
Till suddenly he started with surprise,
Catching, by chance, his own familiar eyes,
Fevered, yet still the same, without their share
Of bravery, undeceived and watching there.


Yet, as he turned, he cried, “The rest remain.⁠ ⁠…
If they rebelled⁠ ⁠… if they should find me here,
We’d pluck the whole taut fabric from the strain,
Hew down the city, let live earth appear!
—Old men and barren women whom through fear
We have suffered to be masters in our home,
Hide! hide! for we are angry and we come.”


Thus feeding on vain fancy, covering round
His hunger, his great loneliness arraying
In facile dreams until the qualm was drowned,
The boy went on. Through endless arches straying
With casual tread he sauntered, manly playing
At manhood lest more loss of faith betide him,
Till lo! he saw a table set beside him.


When Dymer saw this sight, he leaped for mirth,
He clapped his hands, his eye lit like a lover’s.
He had a hunger in him that was worth
Ten cities. Here was silver, glass and covers.
Cold peacock, prawns in aspic, eggs of plovers,
Raised pies that stood like castles, gleaming fishes
And bright fruit with broad leaves around the dishes.


If ever you have passed a café door
And lingered in the dusk of a June day,
Fresh from the road, sweat-sodden and foot-sore,
And heard the plates clink and the music play,
With laughter, with white tables far away,
With many lights⁠—conceive how Dymer ran
To table, looked once round him, and began.


That table seemed unending. Here and there
Were broken meats, bread crumbled, flowers defaced,
—A napkin, with white petals, on a chair,
—A glass already tasted, still to taste.
It seemed that a great host had fed in haste
And gone: yet left a thousand places more
Untouched, wherein no guest had sat before.


There in the lonely splendour Dymer ate,
As thieves eat, ever watching, half in fear.
He blamed his evil fortune. “I come late.
Whose board was this? What company sat here?
What women with wise mouths, what comrades dear
Who would have made me welcome as the one
Free-born of all my race and cried, ‘Well done!’ ”


Remember, yet again, he had grown up
On rations and on scientific food,
At common boards, with water in his cup,
One mess alike for every day and mood:
But here, at his right hand, a flagon stood.
He raised it, paused before he drank, and laughed.
“I’ll drown their Perfect City in this draught.”


He fingered the cold neck. He saw within,
Like a strange sky, some liquor that foamed blue
And murmured. Standing now with pointed chin
And head thrown back, he tasted. Rapture flew
Through every vein. That moment louder grew
The music and swelled forth a trumpet note.
He ceased and put one hand up to his throat.


Then heedlessly he let the flagon sink
In his right hand. His staring eyes were caught
In distance, as of one who tries to think
A thought that is still waiting to be thought.
There was a riot in his heart that brought
The loud blood to the temples. A great voice
Sprang to his lips unsummoned, with no choice.


“Ah! but the eyes are open, the dream is broken!
To sack the Perfect City?⁠ ⁠… a fool’s deed
For Dymer! Folly of follies I have spoken!
I am the wanderer, new born, newly freed⁠ ⁠…
A thousand times they have warned me of men’s greed
For joy, for the good that all desire, but never
Till now I knew the wild heat of the endeavour.


“Some day I will come back to break the City,
—Not now. Perhaps when age is white and bleak
—Not now. I am in haste. O God, the pity
Of all my life till this, groping and weak,
The shadow of itself! But now to seek
That true most ancient glory whose white glance
Was lost through the whole world by evil chance!


“I was a dull, cowed thing from the beginning.
Dymer the drudge, the blackleg who obeyed.
Desire shall teach me now. If this be sinning,
Good luck to it! O splendour long delayed,
Beautiful world of mine, O world arrayed
For bridal, flower and forest, wave and field,
I come to be your lover. Loveliest, yield!


“World, I will prove you. Lest it should be said
There was man who loved the earth: his heart
Was nothing but that love. With doing tread
He worshipt the loved grass: and every start
Of every bird from cover, the least part
Of every flower he held in awe. Yet earth
Gave him no joy between his death and birth.


“I know my good is hidden at your breast.
There is a sound of great good in my ear,
Like wings. And, oh! this moment is the best;
I shall not fail⁠—I taste it⁠—it comes near.
As men from a dark dungeon see the clear
Stars shining and the filled streams far away,
I hear your promise booming and obey.


“This forest lies a thousand miles, perhaps,
Beyond where I am come. And farther still
The rivers wander seaward with smooth lapse,
And there is cliff and cottage, tower and hill.
Somewhere, before the world’s end, I shall fill
My spirit at earth’s pap. For earth must hold
One rich thing sealed as Dymer’s from of old.


“One rich thing⁠—or, it may be, more than this⁠ ⁠…
Might I not reach the borders of a land
That ought to have been mine? And there, the bliss
Of free speech, there the eyes that understand,
The men free grown, not modelled by the hand
Of masters⁠—men that know, or men that seek,
—They will not gape and murmur when I speak.”


Then, as he ceased, amid the farther wall
He saw a curtained and low lintelled door;
—Dark curtains, sweepy fold, night-purple pall,
He thought he had not noticed it before.
Sudden desire for darkness overbore
His will, and drew him towards it. All was blind
Within. He passed. The curtains closed behind.


He entered a void. Night-scented flowers
Breathed there, but this was darker than the night
That is most black with beating thunder-showers,
—A disembodied world where depth and height
And distance were unmade. No seam of light
Showed through. It was a world not made for seeing,
One pure, one undivided sense of being.


Through darkness smooth as amber, warily, slowly
He moved. The floor was soft beneath his feet.
A cool smell that was holy and unholy,
Sharp like the very spring and roughly sweet,
Blew towards him: and he felt his fingers meet
Broad leaves and wiry stems that at his will
Unclosed before and closed behind him still.


With body intent he felt the foliage quiver
On breast and thighs. With groping arms he made
Wide passes in the air. A sacred shiver
Of joy from the heart’s centre oddly strayed
To every nerve. Deep sighing, much afraid,
Much wondering, he went on: then, stooping, found
A knee-depth of warm pillows on the ground.


And there it was sweet rapture to lie still,
Eyes open on the dark. A flowing health
Bathed him from head to foot and great goodwill
Rose springing in his heart and poured its wealth
Outwards. Then came a hand as if by stealth
Out of the dark and touched his hand: and after
The beating silence budded into laughter:


—A low grave laugh and rounded like a pearl,
Mysterious, filled with home. He opened wide
His arms. The breathing body of a girl
Slid into them. From the world’s end, with the stride
Of seven-leagued boots came passion to his side.
Then, meeting mouths, soft-falling hair, a cry,
Heart-shaken flank, sudden cool-folded thigh:


The same nights swelled the mushroom in earth’s lap
And silvered the wet fields: it drew the bud
From hiding and led on the rhythmic sap
And sent the young wolves thirsting after blood,
And, wheeling the big seas, made ebb and flood
Along the shores of earth: and held these two
In dead sleep till the time of morning dew.