Ascent of Man, The - Part 4

No longer Nature's thrall,
Man builds the city wall
That shall withstand her league of levelling storms;
He builds tremendous tombs
Where, hid in hoarded glooms,
His dead defy corruption with her worms:
High towers he rears and bulks of glowing stone,
Where the king rules upon a golden throne.

Creature of hopes and fears,
Of mirth and many tears,
He makes himself a thousand costly altars,
Whence smoke of sacrifice,
Fragrant with myrrh and spice,
Ascends to heaven as the flame leaps and falters;
Where, like a king above the Cloud control,
God sits enthroned and rules Man's subject soul.

Yet grievous here below
And manifold Man's woe;
Though he can stay the flood and bind the waters,
His hand he shall not stay
That bids him sack and slay
And turn the waving fields to fields of slaughters;
And, as he reaps War's harvest grim and gory,
Commits a thousand crimes and calls it glory.

Vast empires fall and rise,
As when in sunset skies
The monumental clouds lift flashing towers
With turrets, spires, and bars
Lit by confederate stars
Till the bright rack dissolves in flying showers:
Kingdoms on kingdoms have their fleeting day,
Dazzle the conquered world, and pass away.

In golden Morning lands
The blazing crowns change hands,
From mystic Ind to fleshly Babylon,
Assyria, Palestine
Armed with her book divine,
Dread Persia whose fleet chariots charged and won
Pale Continents where prostrate monarchs kneel
Before the flash of her resistless steel.

As one by one they start
With proudly beating heart
Fast in the furious, fierce-contested race,
Where neck to neck they strain
Deliriously to gain
The winning post of power, the meed of praise;
Some drop behind, fall, or are trampled down
While the proud victor grasps the laurel crown.

Not only great campaigns
Shall glorify their reigns,
But high-towered cities wondrous to behold,
With gardens poised in air
Like bowers of Eden fair,
With brazen gates and shrines of beaten gold,
And Palace courts whose constellated lights
Shine on black slaves and cringing satellites.

Eclipsing with her fate
Each power and rival state
With her unnumbered stretch of generations,
A sand-surrounded isle
Fed by the bounteous Nile,
Egypt confronts Sahara — sphinx of nations;
Taught by the floods that make or mar her shore,
She scans the stars and hoards mysterious lore.

Hers are imperial halls
With strangely scriptured walls
And long perspectives of memorial places,
Where the hushed daylight glows
On mute colossal rows
Of clawed wild beasts featured with female faces,
And realmless kings inane whose stony eyes
Have watched the hour-glass of the centuries.

There in the rainless sands
The toil of captive hands,
That aye must do as their taskmaster bids,
Through years of dusty days
Brick by slow brick shall raise
The incarnate pride of kings — the Pyramids —
Linked with some name synonymous with slaughter
Time has effaced like a name writ in water.

For ever with fateful shocks,
Roar as of hurtling rocks,
Start fresh embattled hosts with flags unfurled,
To meet on battle-fields
With clash of spears and shields,
Widowing the world of men to win the world:
The hissing air grows dark with iron rain,
And groans the earth beneath her sheaves of slain.

Triumphant o'er them all,
See crowns and sceptres fall
Before the arms of iron-soldered legions;
As Capitolian Rome
Across the salt sea foam
Orders her Caesars to remotest regions:
From silver Spain and Albion's clouded seas
To the fair shrines and marble mines of Greece.

Pallas unmatched in war,
To her triumphal car
Rome chains fallen despots and discrowned queens
With many a rampant beast,
Birds from the gorgeous East,
And wool-haired Nubians torn from tropic scenes;
There huge barbarians from Druidic woods
Tower ominous o'er the humming multitudes;

For still untamed and free
In loathed captivity,
Their spirits bend not to the conqueror's yoke,
Though for a Roman sight
They must in mimic fight
Give wounds in play and deal Death's mortal stroke,
While round the arena rings the fierce applause
Voluptuous, as their bubbling life-blood flows

In streams of purple rain
From hecatombs of slain
Saluting Caesar still with failing breath,
But in their dying souls
Undying hate, which rolls
From land to land the avalanche of Death,
That, gathering volume as it sweeps along,
Pours down the Alps throng on unnumbered throng.

From northern hills and plains
Storm-lashed by driving rains,
From moorland wastes and depths of desolate wood,
From many an icebound shore,
The human torrents pour,
Horde following upon horde as flood on flood,
Avengers of the slain they come, they come,
And break in thunder on the walls of Rome.

A trembling people waits
As, surging through its gates,
Break the fierce Goths with trumpet-blasts of doom;
And many a glorious shrine
Begins to flare and shine,
And many a palace flames up through the gloom,
Kindled like torches by relentless wrath
To light the Spoiler on destruction's path.

Yea, with Rome's ravished walls,
The old world tottering falls
And crumbles into ruin wide and vast;
The Empire seems to rock
As with an earthquake's shock,
And vassal provinces look on aghast;
As realms are split and nation rent from nation,
The globe seems drifting to annihilation.
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