Canto V


Through bearded cliffs a valley has driven thus deep
Its wedge into the mountain and no more.
The faint track of farthest-wandering sheep
Ends here, and the grey hollows at their core
Of silence feel the dulled continuous roar
Of higher streams. At every step the skies
Grow less and in their place black ridges rise.


Hither, long after noon, with plodding tread
And eyes on earth, grown dogged, Dymer came,
Who all the long day in the woods had fled
From the horror of those lips that screamed his name
And cursed him. Busy wonder and keen shame
Were driving him, and little thoughts like bees
Followed and pricked him on and left no ease.


Now, when he looked and saw this emptiness
Seven times enfolded in the idle hills,
There came a chilly pause to his distress,
A cloud of the deep world-despair that fills
A man’s heart like the incoming tide and kills
All pains except its own. In that broad sea
No hope, no change, and no regret can be.


He felt the eternal strength of the silly earth,
The unhastening circuit of the stars and sea,
The business of perpetual death and birth,
The meaningless precision. All must be
The same and still the same in each degree⁠—
Who cared now? And the smiled and could forgive,
Believing that for sure he would not live.


Then, where he saw a little water run
Beneath a bush, he slept. The chills of May
Came dropping and the stars peered one by one
Out of the deepening blue, while far away
The western brightness dulled to bars of grey.
Half-way to midnight, suddenly, from dreaming
He woke wide into present horror, screaming.


For he had dreamt of being in the arms
Of his beloved and in quiet places;
But all at once it filled with night alarms
And rapping guns: and men with splintered faces,
—No eyes, no nose, all red⁠—were running races
With worms along the floor. And he ran out
To find the girl and shouted: and that shout


Had carried him into the waking world.
There stood the concave, vast, unfriendly night,
And over him the scroll of stars unfurled.
Then wailing like a child he rose upright,
Heart-sick with desolation. The new blight
Of loss had nipt him sore, and sad self-pity
Thinking of her⁠—then thinking of the City.


For, in each moment’s thought, the deed of Bran,
The burning and the blood and his own shame,
Would tease him into madness till he ran
For refuge to the thought of her; whence came
Utter and endless loss⁠—no, not a name,
Not a word, nothing left⁠—himself alone
Crying amid that valley of old stone:


“How soon it all ran out! And I suppose
They, they up there, the old contriving powers,
They knew it all the time⁠—for someone knows
And waits and watches till we pluck the flowers,
Then leaps. So soon⁠—my store of happy hours
All gone before I knew. I have expended
My whole wealth in a day. It’s finished, ended.


“And nothing left. Can it be possible
That joy flows through and, when the course is run,
It leaves no change, no mark on us to tell
Its passing? And as poor as we’ve begun
We end the richest day? What we have won,
Can it all die like this?⁠ ⁠… Joy flickers on
The razor-edge of the present and is gone.


“What have I done to bear upon my name
The curse of Bran? I was not of his crew,
Nor any man’s. And Dymer has the blame⁠—
What have I done? Wronged whom? I never knew.
What’s Bran to me? I had my deed to do
And ran out by myself, alone and free,
—Why should earth sing with joy and not for me?


“Ah, but the earth never did sing for joy⁠ ⁠…
There is a glamour on the leaf and flower
And April comes and whistles to a boy
Over white fields: and, beauty has such power
Upon us, he believes her in that hour,
For who could not believe? Can it be false,
All that the blackbird says and the wind calls?


“What have I done? No living thing I made
Nor wished to suffer harm. I sought my good
Because the spring was gloriously arrayed
And the blue eyebright misted all the wood.
Yet to obey that springtime and my blood,
This was to be unarmed and off my guard
And gave God time to hit once and hit hard.


“The men built right who made that City of ours,
They knew their world. A man must crouch to face
Infinite malice, watching at all hours,
Shut Nature out⁠—give her no moment’s space
For entry. The first needs of all our race
Are walls, a den, a cover. Traitor I
Who first ran out beneath the open sky.


“Our fortress and fenced place I made to fail,
I slipt the sentries and let in the foe.
I have lost my brothers and my love and all.
Nothing is left but me. Now let me go.
I have seen the world stripped naked and I know.
Great God, take back your world. I will have none
Of all your glittering gauds but death alone.”


Meanwhile the earth swung round in hollow night.
Souls without number in all nations slept
Snug on her back, safe speeding towards the light;
Hours tolled, and in damp woods the night beast crept,
And over the long seas the watch was kept
In black ships, twinkling onward, green and red:
Always the ordered stars moved overhead.


And no one knew that Dymer in his scales
Had weighed all these and found them nothing worth.
Indifferently the dawn that never fails
Troubled the east of night with gradual birth,
Whispering a change of colours on cold earth,
And a bird woke, then two. The sunlight ran
Along the hills and yellow day began.


But stagnant gloom clung in the valley yet;
Hills crowded out a third part of the sky,
Black-looking, and the boulders dripped with wet:
No bird sang. Dymer, shivering, heaved a sigh
And yawned and said: “It’s cruel work to die
Of hunger”; and again, with cloudy breath
Blown between chattering teeth, “It’s a bad death.”


He crouched and clasped his hands about his knees
And hugged his own limbs for the pitiful sense
Of homeliness they had⁠—familiars these,
This body, at least, his own, his last defence
But soon his morning misery drove him thence,
Eating his heart, to wander as chance led
On, upward, to the narrowing gully’s head.


The cloud lay on the nearest mountain-top
As from a giant’s chimney smoking there,
But Dymer took no heed. Sometimes he’d stop,
Sometimes he hurried faster, as despair
Pricked deeper, and cried out: “Even now, somewhere,
Bran with his crew’s at work. They rack, they burn,
And there’s no help in me. I’ve served their turn.”


Meanwhile the furrowed fog rolled down ahead,
Long tatters of its vanguard smearing round
The bases of the crags. Like cobweb shed
Down the deep combes it dulled the tinkling sound
Of waters on the hills. The spongy ground
Faded three yards ahead: then nearer yet
Fell the cold wreaths, the white depth gleaming wet.


Then after a long time the path he trod
Led downward. Then all suddenly it dipped
Far steeper, and yet steeper, with smooth sod.
He was half running now. A stone that slipped
Beneath him, rattled headlong down: he tripped,
Stumbled and clutched⁠—then panic, and no hope
To stop himself, once lost upon that slope.


And faster, ever faster, and his eye
Caught tree-tops far below. The nightmare feeling
Had gripped him. He was screaming: and the sky
Seemed hanging upside down. Then struggling, reeling,
With effort beyond thought he hung half kneeling,
Halted one saving moment. With wild will
He clawed into the hillside and lay still,


Half hanging on both arms. His idle feet
Dangled and found no hold. The moor lay wet
Against him and he sweated with the heat
Of terror, all alive. His teeth were set.
“By God, I will not die,” said he; “not yet.”
Then slowly, slowly, with enormous strain,
He heaved himself an inch: then heaved again,


Till saved and spent he lay. He felt indeed
It was the big, round world beneath his breast,
The mother planet proven at this need.
The shame of glad surrender stood confessed,
He cared not for his boasts. This, this was best,
This giving up of all. He need not strive;
He panted, he lay still, he was alive.


And now his eyes were closed. Perhaps he slept,
Lapt in unearthly quiet⁠—never knew
How bit by bit the fog’s white rearguard crept
Over the crest and faded, and the blue
First brightening at the zenith trembled through,
And deepening shadows took a sharper form
Each moment, and the sandy earth grew warm.


Yet, dreaming of blue skies, in dream he heard
The pure voice of lark that seemed to send
Its song from heights beyond all height. That bird
Sang out heaven, “The world will never end,”
Sang from the gates of heavens, “Will never end.”
Sang till it seemed there was no other thing
But bright space and one voice set there to sing.


It seemed to be the murmur and the voice
Or beings beyond number, each and all
Singing I am. Each of itself made choice
And was: whence flows the justice that men call
Divine. She keeps the great worlds lest they fall
From hour to hour, and makes the hills renew
Their ancient youth and sweetens all things through.


It seemed to be the low voice of the world
Brooding alone beneath the strength of things,
Murmuring of days and nights and years unfurled
Forever, and the unwearied joy that brings
Out of old fields the flowers of unborn springs,
Out of old wars and cities burned with wrong,
A splendour in the dark, a tale, a song.


The dream ran thin towards waking, and he knew
It was but a bird’s piping with no sense.
He rolled round on his back. The sudden blue,
Quivering with light, heard, cloudless and intense,
Shone over him. The lark still sounded thence
And stirred him at the heart. Some spacious thought
Was passing by too gently to be caught.


With that he thrust the damp hair from his face
And sat upright. The perilous cliff dropped sheer
Before him, close at hand, and from his place
Listening in mountain silence he could hear
Birds crying far below. It was not fear
That took him, but strange glory, when his eye
Looked past he edge into surrounding sky.


He rose and stood. Then lo! the world beneath
—Wide pools that in the sun-splashed foothills lay,
Sheep-doted downs, soft-piled, and rolling heath,
River and shining weir and steeples grey
And the green waves of forest. Far away
Distance rose heaped on distance: nearer hand,
The white roads leading down to a new land.