Athletic Code

I hear a rumour and a shout,
A louder heart-throb pulses in the air.
Fling, Muse, thy lattice open, and beware
To keep the morning out.
Beckon into the chamber of thy care
The bird of healing wing
That trilleth there,
Blithe happy passion of the strong and fair.
Their wild heart singeth. Do thou also sing.
How vain, how vain
The feeble croaking of a reasoning tongue
That heals no pain
And prompts no bright deed worthy to be sung!
Too soon cold earth
Refuses flowers. Oh, greet their lovely birth!
Too soon dull death
Quiets the heaving of our doubtful breath.
Deem not its worth
Too high for honouring mirth;
Sing while the lyre is strung,
And let the heart beat, while the heart is young.

When the dank earth begins to thaw and yield
The early clover, didst thou never pass
Some balmy noon from field to sunny field
And press thy feet against the tufted grass?
So hadst thou seen
A spring palaestra on the tender green.
Here a tall stripling, with a woman's face,
Draws the spiked sandal on his upturned heel,
Sure-footed for the race;
Another hurls the quoit of heavy steel
And glories to be strong;
While yet another, lightest of the throng,
Crouching on tiptoe for the sudden bound,
Flies o'er the level race-course, like the hound,
And soon is lost afar;
Another jumps the bar,
For some god taught him easily to spring,
The legs drawn under, as a bird takes wing,
Till, tempting fortune farther than is meet,
At last he fails, and fails, and vainly tries,
And blushing, and ashamed to lift his eyes,
Shakes the light earth from his feet.
Him friendly plaudits greet
And pleasing to the unaccustomed ear.
Come then afield, come with the sporting year
And watch the youth at play,
For gentle is the strengthening sun, and sweet
The soul of boyhood and the breath of May.

And with the milder ray
Of the declining sun, when sky and shore,
In purple drest and misty silver-grey,
Hang curtains round the day,
Come list the beating of the plashing oar,
For grief in rhythmic labour glides away.
The glancing blades make circles where they dip,—
Now flash and drip
Cool wind-blown drops into the glassy river,
Now sink and cleave,
While the lithe rowers heave
And feel the boat beneath them leap and quiver.
The supple oars in time,
Shattering the mirror of the rippled water,
Fly, fly as poets climb,
Borne by the pliant promise of their rhyme,
Or as bewitched by Nereus' loveliest daughter
The painted dolphins, following along,
Leap to the measure of her liquid song.

But the blasts of late October,
Tempering summer's paling grief
With a russet glow and sober,
Bring of these sports the latest and the chief.
Then bursts the flame from many a smouldering ember,
And many an ardent boy
Woos harsher pleasures sweeter to remember,
Hugged with a sterner and a tenser joy.
Look where the rivals come:
Each little phalanx on its chosen ground
Strains for the sudden shock, and all around
The multitude is dumb.
Come, watch the stubborn fight
And doubtful, in the sight
Of wide-eyed beauty and unstinted love,
Ay, the wise gods above,
Attentive to this hot and generous fray,
Smile on its fortunes and its end prepare,
For play is also life, and far from care
Their own glad life is play.
Ye nymphs and fauns, to Bacchus dear,
That woke Cithaeron with your midnight rout,
Arise, arise and shout!
Your day returns, your haunt is here.
Shake off dull sleep and long despair;
There is intoxication in this air,
And frenzy in this yelping cheer.
How oft of old the enraptured Muses sung
Olympian victors' praise.
Lo! even in these days
The world is young.
Life like a torrent flung
For ever down
For ever wears a rainbow for a crown.
O idle sigh for loveliness outworn,
When the red flush of each unfailing morn
Floods every field and grove,
And no moon wanes but some one is in love.
O wasted tear,
A new soul wakes with each awakened year.
Beneath these rags, these blood-clots on the face,
The valiant soul is still the same, the same
The strength, the art, the inevitable grace,
The thirst unquenched for fame
Quenching base passion, the high will severe,
The long obedience, and the knightly flame
Of loyalty to honour and a name.

Give o'er, ye chords, your music ere ye tire,
Be sweetly mute, O lyre.
Words soon are cold, and life is warm for ever.
One half of honour is the strong endeavour,
Success the other, but when both conspire
Youth has her perfect crown, and age her old desire.
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