Vastness


i

Many a hearth upon our dark globe sighs
       after many a vanish'd face,
Many a planet by many a sun may roll with
       the dust of a vanish'd race.

ii

Raving politics, never at rest–as this poor
       earth's pale history runs–
What is it all but a trouble of ants in the
       gleam of a million million of suns?

iii

Lies upon this side, lies upon that side,
       truthless violence mourn'd by the Wise,
Thousands of voices drowning his own in
       a popular torrent of lies upon lies;

iv

Stately purposes, valour in battle, glorious
       annals of army and fleet,
Death for the right cause, death for the
       wrong cause, trumpets of victory, groans of defeat;

v

Innocence seethed in her mother's milk
       and Charity setting the martyr aflame;
Thraldom who walks with the banner of
       Freedom, and recks not to ruin a realm in her name.

vi

Faith at her zenith, or all but lost in the
       gloom of doubts that darken the schools;
Craft with a bunch of all-heal in her hand,
       follow'd up by her vassal legion of fools;

vii

Trade flying over a thousand seas with her
       spice and her vintage, her silk and her corn;
Desolate offing, sailorless harbours, famishing
       populace wharves forlorn;

viii

Star of the morning, Hope in the sunrise;
       gloom of the evening, Life at a close;
Pleasure who flaunts on her wide down-
       way with her flying robe and her poison'd rose;

ix

Pain, that has crawl'd from the corpse of
       Pleasure, a worm which writhes all day, and at night
Stirs up again in the heart of the sleeper,
       and stings hi back to the curse of the light;

x

Wealth with his wines and his wedded harlots;
       honest Poverty, bare to the bone;
Opulent Avarice, lean as Poverty; Flattery
       gilding the rift in a throne;

xi

Fame blowing out from her golden trumpet
       a jubilant challenge to Time and to Fate;
Slander, her shadow, sowing the nettle on
       all the laurel'd graves of the Great;

xii

Love for the maiden, crown'd with marriage,
       no regrets for aught that has been,
Household happiness, gracious children,
       debtless competence, golden mean;

xiii

National hatreds of whole generations, and
       pigmy spites of the village spire;
Vows that will last to the last death-ruckle,
       and vows that are snapt in a moment of fire;

xiv

He that has lived for the lust of the minute,
       and died in the doing it, flesh without mind;
He that has nail'd all flesh to the Cross, till
       Self died out in the love of his kind;

xv

Spring and Summer and Autumn and
       Winter, and all of these old revolutions of earth;
All new-old revolutions of Empire–
       change of the tide–what is all of it worth?

xvi

What the philosophies, all the sciences,
       poesy, varying voices of prayer?
All that is noblest, all that is basest, all that
       is filthy with all that is fair?

xvii

What is it all, if we all of us end but
       being our own corpse-coffins at last,
Swallow'd in Vastness, lost in Silence,
       drown'd in the deeps of a meaningless Past?

xviii

What but a murmur of gnats in the gloom
       or a moment's anger of bees in their hive?–

                    *             *               *

Peace, let it be! for I loved him, and love
       him for ever: the dead are not dead but alive.


Alfred, Lord Tennyson.