A Minor Prophet

I have a friend, a vegetarian seer,

By name Elias Baptist Butterworth,

A harmless, bland, disinterested man,

Whose ancestors in Cromwell's day believed

The Second Advent certain in five years,

But when King Charles the Second came instead,

Revised their date and sought another world:

I mean — not heaven but — America.

A fervid stock, whose generous hope embraced

The fortunes of mankind, not stopping short

At rise of leather, or the fall of gold,

Nor listening to the voices of the time

As housewives listen to a cackling hen,

With wonder whether she has laid her egg

On their own nest-egg. Still they did insist

Somewhat too wearisomely on the joys

Of their Millennium, when coats and hats

Would all be of one pattern, books and songs

All fit for Sundays, and the casual talk

As good as sermons preached extempore.

And in Elias the ancestral zeal

Breathes strong as ever, only modified

By Transatlantic air and modern thought.

You could not pass him in the street and fail

To note his shoulders' long declivity,

Beard to the waist, swan-neck, and large pale eyes;

Or, when he lifts his hat, to mark his hair

Brushed back to show his great capacity —

A full grain's length at the angle of the brow

Proving him witty, while the shallower men

Only seem witty in their repartees.

Not that he's vain, but that his doctrine needs

The testimony of his frontal lobe.

On all points he adopts the latest views;

Takes for the key of universal Mind

The " levitation " of stout gentlemen;

Believes the Rappings are not spirits' work,

But the Thought-atmosphere's, a steam of brains

In correlated force of raps, as proved

By motion, heat, and science generally;

The spectrum, for example, which has shown

The self-same metals in the sun as here;

So the Thought-atmosphere is everywhere:

High truths that glimmered under other names

To ancient sages, whence good scholarship

Applied to Eleusinian mysteries —

The Vedas — Tripitaka — Vendidad —

Might furnish weaker proof for weaker minds

That Thought was rapping in the hoary past,

And might have edified the Greeks by raps

At the greater Dionysia, if their ears

Had not been filled with Sophoclean verse.

And when all Earth is vegetarian —

When, lacking butchers, quadrupeds die out,

And less Thought-atmosphere is reabsorbed

By nerves of insects parasitical,

Those higher truths, seized now by higher minds

But not expressed (the insects hindering)

Will either flash out into eloquence,

Or better still, be comprehensible

By rappings simply, without need of roots.

'Tis on this theme — the vegetarian world —

That good Elias willingly expands:

He loves to tell in mildly nasal tones

And vowels stretched to suit the widest views,

The future fortunes of our infant Earth —

When it will be too full of human kind

To have the room for wilder animals.

Saith he, Sahara will be populous

With families of gentlemen retired

From commerce in more Central Africa,

Who order coolness as we order coal,

And have a lobe anterior strong enough

To think away the sand-storms. Science thus

Will leave no spot on this terraqueous globe

Unfit to be inhabited by man,

The chief of animals: all meaner brutes

Will have been smoked and elbowed out of life.

No lions then shall lap Caffrarian pools,

Or shake the Atlas with their midnight roar:

Even the slow, slime-loving crocodile,

The last of animals to take a hint,

Will then retire for ever from a scene

Where public feeling strongly sets against him.

Fishes may lead carnivorous lives obscure,

But must not dream of culinary rank

Or being dished in good society.

Imagination in that distant age,

Aiming at fiction called historical,

Will vainly try to reconstruct the times

When it was men's preposterous delight

To sit astride live horses, which consumed

Materials for incalculable cakes;

When there were milkmaids who drew milk from cows

With udders kept abnormal for that end

Since the rude mythopoeic period

Of Aryan dairymen, who did not blush

To call their milkmaid and their daughter one —

Helplessly gazing at the Milky Way,

Nor dreaming of the astral cocoa-nuts

Quite at the service of posterity.

'Tis to be feared, though, that the duller boys,

Much given to anachronisms and nuts,

(Elias has confessed boys will be boys)

May write a jockey for a centaur, think

Europa's suitor was an Irish bull,

Æsop a journalist who wrote up Fox,

And Bruin a chief swindler upon 'Change.

Boys will be boys, but dogs will all be moral,

With longer alimentary canals

Suited to diet vegetarian.

The uglier breeds will fade from memory,

Or, being palaeontological,

Live but as portraits in large learned books,

Distasteful to the feelings of an age

Nourished on purest beauty. Earth will hold

No stupid brutes, no cheerful queernesses,

No naive cunning, grave absurdity.

Wart-pigs with tender and parental grunts,

Wombats much flattened as to their contour,

Perhaps from too much crushing in the ark,

But taking meekly that fatality;

The serious cranes, unstung by ridicule;

Long-headed, short-legged, solemn-looking curs,

(Wise, silent critics of a flippant age);

The silly straddling foals, the weak-brained geese

Hissing fallaciously at sound of wheels —

All these rude products will have disappeared

Along with every faulty human type.

By dint of diet vegetarian

All will be harmony of hue and line,

Bodies and minds all perfect, limbs well-turned,

And talk quite free from aught erroneous.

Thus far Elias in his seer's mantle:

But at this climax in his prophecy

My sinking spirits, fearing to be swamped,

Urge me to speak. " High prospects these, my friend,

Setting the weak carnivorous brain astretch;

We will resume the thread another day. "

" To-morrow, " cries Elias, " at this hour? "

" No, not to-morrow — I shall have a cold —

At least I feel some soreness — this endemic —

Good-bye. "

No tears are sadder than the smile

With which I quit Elias. Bitterly

I feel that every change upon this earth

Is bought with sacrifice. My yearnings fail

To reach that high apocalyptic mount

Which shows in bird's-eye view a perfect world,

Or enter warmly into other joys

Than those of faulty, struggling human kind.

That strain upon my soul's too feeble wing

Ends in ignoble floundering: I fall

Into short-sighted pity for the men

Who living in those perfect future times

Will not know half the dear imperfect things

That move my smiles and tears — will never know

The fine old incongruities that raise

My friendly laugh; the innocent conceits

That like a needless eyeglass or black patch

Give those who wear them harmless happiness;

The twists and cracks in our poor earthenware,

That touch me to more conscious fellowship

(I am not myself the finest Parian)

With my coevals. So poor Colin Clout,

To whom raw onion gives prospective zest,

Consoling hours of dampest wintry work,

Could hardly fancy any regal joys

Quite unimpregnate with the onion's scent:

Perhaps his highest hopes are not all clear

Of waftings from that energetic bulb:

'Tis well that onion is not heresy.

Speaking in parable, I am Colin Clout.

A clinging flavour penetrates my life —

My onion is imperfectness: I cleave

To nature's blunders, evanescent types

Which sages banish from Utopia.

" Not worship beauty? " say you. Patience, friend!

I worship in the temple with the rest;

But by my hearth I keep a sacred nook

For gnomes and dwarfs, duck-footed waddling elves

Who stitched and hammered for the weary man

In days of old. And in that piety

I clothe ungainly forms inherited

From toiling generations, daily bent

At desk, or plough, or loom, or in the mine,

In pioneering labours for the world.

Nay, I am apt when floundering confused

From too rash flight, to grasp at paradox,

And pity future men who will not know

A keen experience with pity blent,

The pathos exquisite of lovely minds

Hid in harsh forms — not penetrating them

Like fire divine within a common bush

Which glows transfigured by the heavenly guest,

So that men put their shoes off; but encaged

Like a sweet child within some thick-walled cell,

Who leaps and fails to hold the window-bars,

But having shown a little dimpled hand

Is visited thenceforth by tender hearts

Whose eyes keep watch about the prison walls.

A foolish, nay, a wicked paradox!

For purest pity is the eye of love

Melting at sight of sorrow; and to grieve

Because it sees no sorrow, shows a love

Warped from its truer nature, turned to love

Of merest habit, like the miser's greed.

But I am Colin still: my prejudice

Is for the flavour of my daily food.

Not that I doubt the world is growing still

As once it grew from Chaos and from Night;

Or have a soul too shrunken for the hope

Which dawned in human breasts, a double morn,

With earliest watchings of the rising light

Chasing the darkness; and through many an age

Has raised the vision of a future time

That stands an Angel with a face all mild

Spearing the demon. I too rest in faith

That man's perfection is the crowning flower,

Toward which the urgent sap in life's great tree

Is pressing, — seen in puny blossoms now,

But in the world's great morrows to expand

With broadest petal and with deepest glow.

Yet, see the patched and plodding citizen

Waiting upon the pavement with the throng

While some victorious world-hero makes

Triumphal entry, and the peal of shouts

And flash of faces 'neath uplifted hats

Run like a storm of joy along the streets!

He says, " God bless him! " almost with a sob,

As the great hero passes; he is glad

The world holds mighty men and mighty deeds;

The music stirs his pulses like strong wine,

The moving splendour touches him with awe —

'Tis glory shed around the common weal,

And he will pay his tribute willingly,

Though with the pennies earned by sordid toil.

Perhaps the hero's deeds have helped to bring

A time when every honest citizen

Shall wear a coat unpatched. And yet he feels

More easy fellowship with neighbours there

Who look on too; and he will soon relapse

From noticing the banners and the steeds

To think with pleasure there is just one bun

Left in his pocket, that may serve to tempt

The wide-eyed lad, whose weight is all too much

For that young mother's arms: and then he falls

To dreamy picturing of sunny days

When he himself was a small big-cheeked lad

In some far village where no heroes came,

And stood a listener 'twixt his father's legs

In the warm fire-light, while the old folk talked

And shook their heads and looked upon the floor;

And he was puzzled, thinking life was fine —

The bread and cheese so nice all through the year

And Christmas sure to come. Oh that good time!

He, could he choose, would have those days again

And see the dear old-fashioned things once more.

But soon the wheels and drums have all passed by

And tramping feet are heard like sudden rain:

The quiet startles our good citizen;

He feels the child upon his arms, and knows

He is with the people making holiday

Because of hopes for better days to come.

But Hope to him was like the brilliant west

Telling of sunrise in a world unknown,

And from that dazzling curtain of bright hues

He turned to the familiar face of fields

Lying all clear in the calm morning land.

Maybe 'tis wiser not to fix a lens

Too scrutinising on the glorious times

When Barbarossa shall arise and shake

His mountain, good King Arthur come again,

And all the heroes of such giant soul

That, living once to cheer mankind with hope,

They had to sleep until the time was ripe

For greater deeds to match their greater thought.

Yet no! the earth yields nothing more Divine

Than high prophetic vision — than the Seer

Who fasting from man's meaner joy beholds

The paths of beauteous order, and constructs

A fairer type, to shame our low content.

But prophecy is like potential sound

Which turned to music seems a voice sublime

From out the soul of light; but turns to noise

In scrannel pipes, and makes all ears averse.

The faith that life on earth is being shaped

To glorious ends, that order, justice, love

Mean man's completeness, mean effect as sure

As roundness in the dew-drop — that great faith

Is but the rushing and expanding stream

Of thought, of feeling, fed by all the past.

Our finest hope is finest memory,

As they who love in age think youth is blest

Because it has a life to fill with love.

Full souls are double mirrors, making still

An endless vista of fair things before

Repeating things behind: so faith is strong

Only when we are strong, shrinks when we shrink.

It comes when music stirs us, and the chords

Moving on some grand climax shake our souls

With influx new that makes new energies.

It comes in swellings of the heart and tears

That rise at noble and at gentle deeds —

At labours of the master-artist's hand

Which, trembling, touches to a finer end,

Trembling before an image seen within.

It comes in moments of heroic love,

Unjealous joy in joy not made for us —

In conscious triumph of the good within

Making us worship goodness that rebukes.

Even our failures are a prophecy,

Even our yearnings and our bitter tears

After that fair and true we cannot grasp;

As patriots who seem to die in vain

Make liberty more sacred by their pangs.

Presentiment of better things on earth

Sweeps in with every force that stirs our souls

To admiration, self-renouncing love,

Or thoughts, like light, that bind the world in one:

Sweeps like the sense of vastness, when at night

We hear the roll and dash of waves that break

Nearer and nearer with the rushing tide,

Which rises to the level of the cliff

Because the wide Atlantic rolls behind

Throbbing respondent to the far-off orbs.

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