Ascent of Man, The - Part 2

II.

L O , moving o'er chaotic waters,
Love dawned upon the seething waste,
Transformed in ever new avatars
It moved without or pause or haste:
Like sap that moulds the leaves of May
It wrought within the ductile clay.

And vaguely in the pregnant deep,
Clasped by the glowing arms of light
From an eternity of sleep
Within unfathomed gulfs of night
A pulse stirred in the plastic slime
Responsive to the rhythm of Time.

Enkindled in the mystic dark
Life built herself a myriad forms,
And, flashing its electric spark
Through films and cells and pulps and worms,
Flew shuttlewise above, beneath,
Weaving the web of life and death.

And multiplying in the ocean,
Amorphous, rude, colossal things
Lolled on the ooze in lazy motion,
Armed with grim jaws or uncouth wings;
Helpless to lift their cumbering bulk
They lurch like some dismasted hulk.

And virgin forest, verdant plain,
The briny sea, the balmy air,
Each blade of grass and globe of rain,
And glimmering cave and gloomy lair
Began to swarm with beasts and birds,
With floating fish and fleet-foot herds.

The lust of life's delirious fires
Burned like a fever in their blood,
Now pricked them on with fierce desires,
Now drove them famishing for food,
To seize coy females in the fray,
Or hotly hunted hunt for prey.

And amorously urged them on
In wood or wild to court their mate,
Proudly displaying in the sun
With antics strange and looks elate,
The vigour of their mighty thews
Or charm of million-coloured hues.

There crouching 'mid the scarlet bloom,
Voluptuously the leopard lies,
And through the tropic forest gloom
The flaming of his feline eyes
Stirs with intoxicating stress
The pulses of the leopardess.

Or two swart bulls of self-same age
Meet furiously with thunderous roar,
And lash together, blind with rage,
And clanging horns that fain would gore
Their rival, and so win the prize
Of those impassive female eyes.

Or in the nuptial days of spring,
When April kindles bush and brier,
Like rainbows that have taken wing,
Or palpitating gems of fire,
Bright butterflies in one brief day
Live but to love and pass away.

And herds of horses scour the plains,
The thickets scream with bird and beast
The love of life burns in their veins,
And from the mightiest to the least
Each preys upon the other's life
In inextinguishable strife.

War rages on the teeming earth;
The hot and sanguinary fight
Begins with each new creature's birth:
A dreadful war where might is right;
Where still the strongest slay and win,
Where weakness is the only sin.

There is no truce to this drawn battle,
Which ends but to begin again;
The drip of blood, the hoarse death-rattle,
The roar of rage, the shriek of pain,
Are rife in fairest grove and dell,
Turning earth's flowery haunts to hell.

A hell of hunger, hatred, lust,
Which goads all creatures here below,
Or blindworm wriggling in the dust,
Or penguin in the Polar snow:
A hell where there is none to save,
Where life is life's insatiate grave.

And in the long portentous strife,
Where types are tried even as by fire,
Where life is whetted upon life
And step by panting step mounts higher,
Apes lifting hairy arms now stand
And free the wonder-working hand.

They raise a light, airial house
On shafts of widely branching trees,
Where, harboured warily, each spouse
May feed her little ape in peace,
Green cradled in his heaven-roofed bed,
Leaves rustling lullabies o'erhead.

And lo, 'mid reeking swarms of earth
Grim struggling in the primal wood,
A new strange creature hath its birth:
Wild — stammering — nameless — shameless — nude;
Spurred on by want, held in by fear,
He hides his head in caverns drear.

Most unprotected of earth's kin,
His fight for life that seems so vain
Sharpens his senses, till within
The twilight mazes of his brain,
Like embryos within the womb,
Thought pushes feelers through the gloom.

And slowly in the fateful race
It grows unconscious, till at length
The helpless savage dares to face
The cave-bear in his grisly strength;
For stronger than its bulky thews
He feels a force that grows with use.

From age to dumb unnumbered age,
By dim gradations long and slow,
He reaches on from stage to stage,
Through fear and famine, weal and woe
And, compassed round with danger, still
Prolongs his life by craft and skill.

With cunning hand he shapes the flint,
He carves the horn with strange device,
He splits the rebel block by dint
Of effort — till one day there flies
A spark of fire from out the stone:
Fire which shall make the world his own.
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