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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.


By John Masefield (1878–1967)

From ‘Good Friday and Other Poems’

LONG ago when all the glittering earth

Was heaven itself, when drunkards in the street

Were like mazed kings shaking at giving birth

To acts of war that sickle men like wheat,

When the white clover opened Paradise

And God lived in a cottage up the brook,

Beauty, you lifted up my sleeping eyes

And filled my heart with longing with a look;

And all the day I searched and could not find

The beautiful dark-eyed who touched me there,

Delight in her made trouble in my mind,

She was within all Nature, everywhere,

The breath I breathed, the brook, the flower, the grass,

Were her, her word, her beauty, all she was.

Night came again, but now I could not sleep.

The owls were watching in the yew, the mice

Gnawed at the wainscot; the mid dark was deep,

The death-watch knocked the dead man’s summons thrice.

The cats upon the pointed housetops peered

About the chimneys, with lit eyes which saw

Things in the darkness, moving, which they feared.

The midnight filled the quiet house with awe.

So, creeping down the stair, I drew the bolt

And passed into the darkness, and I knew

That Beauty was brought near by my revolt.

Beauty was in the moonlight, in the dew,

But more within myself whose venturous tread

Walked the dark house where death ticks called the dead.

Even after all these years there comes the dream

Of lovelier life than this in some new earth,

In the full summer of that unearthly gleam

Which lights the spirit when the brain gives birth,

Of a perfected I, in happy hours,

Treading above the sea that trembles there,

A path through thickets of immortal flowers

That only grow where sorrows never were.

And, at a turn, of coming face to face

With Beauty’s self, that Beauty I have sought

In women’s hearts, in friends, in many a place,

In barren hours passed at grips with thought,

Beauty of woman, comrade, earth and sea,

Incarnate thought come face to face with me.

If I could come again to that dear place

Where once I came, where Beauty lived and moved,

Where, by the sea, I saw her face to face,

That soul alive by which the world has loved;

If, as I stood at gaze among the leaves,

She would appear again, as once before,

While the red herdsman gathered up his sheaves

And brimming waters trembled up the shore;

If, as I gazed, her Beauty that was dumb,

In that old time, before I learned to speak,

Would lean to me and revelation come,

Words to the lips and color to the cheek,

Joy with its searing-iron would burn me wise,

I should know all; all powers, all mysteries.

Let that which is to come be as it may,

Darkness, extinction, justice, life intense,

The flies are happy in the summer day,

Flies will be happy many summers hence.

Time with his antique breeds that built the Sphynx

Time with her men to come whose wings will tower,

Poured and will pour, not as the wise man thinks,

But with blind force, to each his little hour.

And when the hour has struck, comes death or change,

Which, whether good or ill, we cannot tell,

But the blind planet will wander through her range

Bearing men like us who will serve as well.

The sun will rise, the winds that ever move

Will blow our dust that once were men in love.

Flesh, I have knocked at many a dusty door,

Gone down full many a midnight lane,

Probed in old walls and felt along the floor,

Pressed in blind hope the window-pane.

But useless all, though sometimes, when the moon

Was full in heaven and the sea was full,

Along my body’s alleys came a tune

Played in the tavern by the Beautiful.

Then for an instant I have felt at point

To find and seize her, whosoe’er she be,

Whether some saint whose glory does anoint

Those whom she loves, or but a part of me,

Or something that the things not understood

Make for their uses out of flesh and blood.