Ascent of Man, The - Part 5


" Peace on earth and good will unto Men! "
Came the tidings borne o'er wide dominions;
The glad tidings thrilled the world as when
Spring comes fluttering on the west wind's pinions,
When her voice is heard
Warbling through each bird,
And a new-born hope
Throbs through all things infinite in scope.

" Peace on earth and good will! " came the word
Of the Son of Man, the Man of Sorrow —
But the peace turned to a flaming sword,
Turned to woe and wailing on the morrow
When with gibes and scorns,
Growned with barren thorns,
Gashed and crucified,
On the Cross the tortured Jesus died.

And the world, once full of flower-hung shrines,
Now forsakes old altars for the new,
Zeus grows faint and Venus' star declines
As Jehovah glorifies the Jew,
He whom — lit with awe —
God-led Moses saw,
Graving with firm hand
In his people's heart his Lord's command.

Holding Hells and Heavens in either hand
Comes the priest and comes the wild-eyed prophet,
Tells the people of some happier land,
Terrifies them with a burning Tophet;
Gives them creeds for bread
And warm roof o'erhead,
Gives for life's delight
Passports-to the kingdom, spirit-bright.

And the people groaning everywhere
Hearken gladly to the wondrous story,
How beyond this life of toil and care
They shall lead a life of endless glory:
Where beyond the dim
Earth-mists Seraphim,
Love-illumined, wait —
Hierarchies of angels at heaven's gate.

Let them suffer while they live below,
Bear in silence weariness and pain;
For the heavier is their earthly woe,
Verily the heavenlier is their gain
In the mansions where
Sorrow and despair,
Yea, all moan shall cease
With the moan of immemorial seas.

And to save their threatened souls from sin,
Save them from the world, the flesh, the devil,
Men and Women break from bonds of kin
And in cloistered cell draw bar on evil,
Worship on their knees
Sacred Images,
And all Saints above,
The Madonna, mystic Rose of love.

Mystic Rose of Maiden Motherhood,
Moon of Hearts immaculately mild,
Beaming o'er the turbulent times and rude
With the promise of her blessed Child:
Whom pale Monks adore,
Pining evermore
For the heaven of love
Which their homesick lives are dying of.

But the flame of mystical desires
Turns to fury fiercer than a leopard's,
Holy fagots blaze with kindling fires
As the priests, the people's careful shepherds,
In Heaven's awful name,
Set the pile on flame
Where, for Conscience' sake,
Heretics burn chaunting at the stake.

Subterranean secrets of the prison,
Throbs of anguish in the crushing cell,
Torture-chambers of the Inquisition
Are the Church's antidotes to Hell.
Better rack them here,
Mutilate and sear,
Than their souls should go
To the place of everlasting woe.

And a lurid universal night,
Lit by quenchless fires for unquenched sages,
Thick with spectral broods that shun the light,
Looms impervious o'er the stifled ages
Where the blameless wise
Fall a sacrifice,
Fall as fell of old
The unspotted firstlings of the fold.

And the violent feud of clashing creeds
Shatters empires and breaks realms asunder;
Cities tremble, sceptres shake like reeds
At the swift bolts of the Papal thunder;
Yea, the bravest quail,
Cast from out the pale
Of all Christendom
By the dread anathemas of Rome.

And like one misled by marish gleams
When he hears the shrill cock's note of warning,
Europe, starting from its trance of dreams,
Sees the first streak of the clear-eyed morning
As it broadening stands
Over ravaged lands
Where mad nations are
Locked in grip of fratricidal war.

Castles burn upon the vine-clad knolls,
Huts glow smouldering in the trampled meadows;
And a hecatomb of martyred souls
Fills a queenly town with wail of widows
In those branded hours
When red-guttering showers
Splash by courts and stews
To the Bells of Saint Bartholomew's.

Seed that's sown upon the wanton wind
Shall be harvested in whirlwind rages,
For revenge and hate bring forth their kind,
And black crime must ever be the wages
Of a nation's crime
Time transmits to time,
Till the score of years
Is wiped out in floods of staunchless tears.

Yea, the anguish in a people's life
May have eaten out its heart of pity,
Bred in scenes of scarlet sin and strife,
Heartless splendours of a haughty city:
Dark with lowering fate,
At the massive gate
Of its kings it may
Stand and knock with tragic hand one day.

For the living tomb gives up its dead,
Bastilles yawn, and chains are rent asunder,
Little children now and hoary head,
Man and maiden, meet in joy and wonder;
Throng on radiant throng,
Brave and blithe and strong,
Gay with pine and palm,
Fill fair France with freedom's thunder-psalm.

Free and equal — rid of king and priest —
The rapt nation bids each neighbour nation
To partake the sacramental feast
And communion of the Federation:
And electrified
Masses, far and wide,
Thrill to hope and start
Vibrating as with one common heart.

From the perfumed South of amorous France
With her wreath of orange bloom and myrtle,
From old wizard woods of lost Romance
Soft with wail of wind and voice of turtle,
From the roaring sea
Of grey Normandy,
And the rich champaigns
Where the vine gads o'er Burgundian plains:

From the banks of the blue arrowy Rhone,
And from many a Western promontory,
From volcanic crags of cloven stone
Crowned with castles ivy-green in story;
From gay Gascon coasts
March fraternal hosts,
Equal hosts and free,
Pilgrims to the shrine of liberty.

But king calls on king in wild alarms,
Troops march threatening through the vales and passes,
Barefoot Faubourgs at the cry to arms
On the frontier hurl their desperate masses:
The deep tocsin's boom
Fills the streets with gloom,
And with iron hand
The red Terror guillotines the land.

For the Furies of the sanguine past
Chase fair Freedom, struggling torn and baffled,
Till infuriate — turned to bay at last —
Rolled promiscuous on the common scaffold,
Vengeful she shall smite
A Queen's head bleached white,
And a courtesan's
Whose light hands once held the reins of France.

She shall smite and spare not — yea, her own,
Her fair sons so pure from all pollution,
With their guiltless life-blood must atone
To the goddess of the Revolution;
Dying with a song
On their lips, her young
Ardent children end,
Meeting death even as one meets a friend.

And her daughter, in heroic shame,
Turned to Freedom's Moloch statue, crying:
" Liberty, what crimes done in thy name! "
Spake, and with her Freedom's self seemed dying
As she bleeding lay
'Neath Napoleon's sway;
Europe heard her knell
When on Waterloo the Empire fell.
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