The Tribute


Squalor spreads its hideous length
through the carts and the asses' feet,
squalor coils and reopens
and creeps under barrow
and heap of refuse
and the broken sherds
of the market-place —
it lengthens and coils
and uncoils and draws back
and recoils
through the crooked streets.

Squalor blights and makes hideous
our lives — it has smothered
the beat of our songs,
and our hearts are spread out,
flowers — opened but to receive
the wheel of the cart,
the hoof of the ox,
to be trod of the sheep.

Squalor spreads its hideous length
through the carts and the asses' feet —
squalor has entered and taken our songs
and we haggle and cheat,
praise fabrics worn threadbare,
ring false coin for silver,
offer refuse for meat.


While we shouted our wares
with the swindler and beggar,
our cheap stuffs for the best,
while we cheated and haggled and bettered
each low trick
and railed with the rest —

In a trice squalor failed,
even squalor to cheat
for a voice
caught the sky in one sudden note,
spread grass at the horses' feet,
spread a carpet of scented thyme
and meadow-sweet
till the asses lifted their heads
to the air
with the stifled cattle and sheep

Ah, squalor was cheated at last
for a bright head flung back,
caught the ash-tree fringe
of the foot-hill,
the violet slope of the hill,
one bright head flung back
stilled the haggling,
one throat bared
and the shouting was still

Clear, clear —
till our heart's shell was reft
with the shrill notes,
our old hatreds were healed

Squalor spreads its hideous length
through the carts and the asses' feet,
squalor coils and draws back
and recoils
with no voice to rebuke —
for the boys have gone out of the city,
the songs withered black on their lips


And we turn from the market,
the haggling, the beggar, the cheat,
to cry to the gods of the city
in the open space
of the temple —
we enter the temple-space
to cry to the gods and forget
the clamour, the filth.

We turn to the old gods of the city,
of the city once blessed
with daemon and spirit of blitheness
and spirit of mirth,
we cry;
what god with shy laughter,
or with slender winged ankles is left?

What god, what bright spirit for us,
what daemon is left
of the many that crowded the porches
that haunted the streets,
what fair god
with bright sandal and belt?

Though we tried the old turns of the city
and searched the old streets,
though we cried to the gods of the city:
O spirits, turn back,
re-enter the gates of our city —
we met
but one god,
one tall god with a spear-shaft,
one bright god with a lance


They have sent the old gods from the city:
on the temple step
the people gather to cry for revenge,
to chant their hymns and to praise
the god of the lance.

They have banished the gods
and the half-gods
from the city streets,
they have turned from the god
of the cross roads,
the god of the hearth,
the god of the sunken well
and the fountain source,
they have chosen one,
to him only
they offer paean and chant.

Though but one god is left in the city,
shall we turn to his treacherous feet,
though but one god is left in the city,
can he lure us
with his clamour and shout,
can he snare our hearts in his net,
can he blind us
with the light of his lance?

Could he snare our spirit and flesh,
he would cast it in irons to lie
and rot in the sodden grass,
and we know his glamour is dross,
we know him a blackened light,
and his beauty withered and spent
beside one young life that is lost.


Though not one of the city turned,
not one girl but to glance
with contempt toward us
that our hearts were so faint
with despair and doubt,
contempt for us that our lips
could not sing to the god of the lance —

Though not one of the city turned
as we searched through the city streets,
though the maidens gathered their veils
and the women their robes
as we passed: —

Though not one of the city turned
as we paused at the city gate,
a few old men rose up
with eyes no fear or contempt
could harden — with lips worn frail
with no words of hate

A few old men rose up
with a few sad women to greet and to hail us,
a few lads crept to welcome
and comfort us, their white brows
set with hope
as light circles an olive-branch


With these we will cry to another
with these we will stand apart
to lure some god to our city,
to hail him:
return from your brake,
your copse or your forest haunt

O spirit still left to our city,
we call to your wooded haunt,
we cry:
O daemon of grasses,
O spirit of simples and roots,
O gods of the plants of the earth —

O god of the simples and grasses
we cry to you now from our hearts,
O heal us — bring balm for our sickness,
return and soothe us with bark
and hemlock and feverwort.

O god of the power to strike out
memory of terror past,
bring branch of heal-all and lufts,
of the sweet and the bitter grass,
bring shaft and flower of the reeds
and cresses and meadow plants

Return — look again on our city,
though the people cry through the streets,
though they hail another,
have pity — return to our gates,
with a love as great as theirs,
we entreat you
for our city's sake


As we lift the bright heads
of the wild flowers,
compare leaf to leaf,
as we touch the hemlock and poppy,
may our spirits released,
forget this despair and torture,
this terror and doubt

As we lift the bright heads
of the wild flowers,
may we know that our spirits are kept
as they are, folded and wrapped
apart in a sheltering leaf

We are veiled as the bud of the poppy
in the poppy-sheath,
and our hearts will break from their bondage
and spread as the poppy-leaf —
leaf by leaf, radiant and perfect
at last in the summer heat.

May we know that our spirits at last
will be cleansed of all bitterness —
that no one god may trample the earth,
but the others still dwell apart
in a high place
with our dead and our lost.


That the boys our city has lost
and the gods still dwell apart
in a city set fairer than this
with column and porch.

That the boys still dwell apart
and laugh in their gladness and shout
their challenges each to each
for the foot race or the wrestling match —

They stand in a circle and laugh
and challenge each other to meet
with jest that no shield or shape
of banner or helmet or dress —

That no banner or shield or shape
or colour of tunic or vest
can divide now or rend their hearts
as they leap toward the wrestling match
as they strip for the race —

That the boys of the cities keep
with the gods apart,
for our world was too base
for their youth,
our city too dark,
our thoughts were too dull for their thoughts,
our heart for their hearts


We will choose for each lad of the city,
a flower or a spray of grass —

For the lads who drew apart,
the scholar and poet we place
wind-flower or lily or wreath
of ivy and crocus shaft,
and the lads who went to slay
with passion and thirst,
we give roses and flowers of bay.

That the lads in that city apart
may know of our love and keep
remembrance and speak of us —
may lift their hands that the gods
revisit earth.

That the lads of the cities
may yet remember us,
we spread shaft of privet and sweet
lily from meadow and forest,
and the wild white lily,
and the wood-lily,
and the red shaft from the mountain-side.


And this we will say for remembrance,
speak this with their names:

Could beauty be done to death,
they had struck her dead
in ages and ages past,
could beauty be withered from earth
they had cast her forth,
root and stalk
scattered and flailed —

They had trod her to death with sneers,
they had bartered her
for a piece of thin money tossed up
to fall half alloy,
they had stripped her and sent her forth.

Could beauty be caught and hurt,
could beauty be rent with a thought,
for a thrust of a sword,
for a piece of thin money tossed up
then beauty were dead.

Long, long before we came to earth,
long, long before we rent our hearts
with this worship, this fear
and this dread.


Could beauty be done to death —
though the swirl of the thousands cross
and eddy and fall away,

though the crowd of the millions meet
to shout and slay,

though the host of the people pass
and famish in bitterness,
state by state, people by people,
and perish — we cry:

Could beauty be caught and hurt,
could beauty be rent with a thought,
could beauty be beaten out,
O gold, stray but alive
on the dead ash of our hearth —

Could beauty be caught and hurt
they had done her to death with their sneers
in ages and ages past,
could beauty be sacrificed
for a thrust of a sword,
for a piece of thin money
tossed up to fall half alloy —
then beauty were dead
long, long before we saw her face

Could beauty be beaten out, —
O youth the cities have sent
to strike at each other's strength,
it is you who have kept her alight.
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