The Question


This sea, deep furrowed as the face of Time,
Mirrors the ghost of the removed moon;
The peaks stand bristling round the waste lagoon;
While up the difficult summit steeply climb
Youth, Manhood, Age, one triple labouring mime;
And to the measure of some mystic rune
Hark how the restless waters importune
These echoing steps with chime and counter-chime.

What seek they? Lo, upreared against the rock
The Sphinx, Time's visible silence, frontleted
With Psyche wings, with eagle plumes arched o'er.
Ah, when those everlasting lips unlock
And the old riddle of the world is read,
What shall man find? or seeks he evermore?


Lo, the three seekers! Youth has sprung the first
To question the Unknown: but see! he sinks
Prone to the earth — becomes himself a sphinx, —
A riddle of early death no love may burst.
Sorely anhungered, heavily athirst
For knowledge, Manhood next to reach the Truth
Peers in those eyes; till haggard and uncouth
Weak Eld renews that question long rehearsed.

Oh! and what answer? From the sad sea brim
The eyes o' the Sphinx stare through the midnight spell,
Unwavering, — Man's eternal quest to quell:
While round the rock-steps of her throne doth swim
Through the wind-serried wave the moon's faint rim,
Some answer from the heaven invisible.
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