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"City and Village"

Alexander Anderson

from Songs of the Rail (1878)

Anderson likens sorrow to "the huge unshapen monster [who] glared in on pale Frankenstein."

"City and Village"

Once again within the city, 'mid its multitudinous din,
   Stand I, while, as sinks a leaf when left by the uncertain wind,
So the daily village quiet, and the calm I had within,
   Shrinks before the magic contact of the ever-shaping mind.

In the village life is sluggish, waking up but for a space,
   As the engines shriek and whistle down by hill and wooded glen;
But here a mightier striving stamps itself upon my race --
   Here are all the active ages, and the tramp of busy men.

Then away with daily labour, thoughts of books or weary rhyme,
   Let me plunge into this whirlpool rolling on in mad unrest --
Let me, Faust-like, have the weal of men in all the coming time,
   That its triumph may strike vigour through the soul within my breast.

Hush! we spoke not of the sorrow that upon their joys will peer,
   As the huge unshapen monster glared in on pale Frankenstein,
Edging life's uncertain smile with all the drapery of a tear,
   And placing in the cup the drop that dulls and drugs the wine.

But heed not this, and think that, in the rolling on of years,
   The slow whirlpool of sure change will lift this life still higher up,
Till it leave behind its apehood, and its daily load of fears,
   And drink existence gladly as if angels held the cup.

Far apocalyptic touches that unveil the years to be,
   Show this in ecstatic glimpses, as when mists upon a hill
Lift their trailing arms of whiteness, till, as in a dream, we see
   A summer gush of glory lying hid behind them still.

Is the pencil of broad Hogarth still to keep its biting truth,
   And for ever flash its satire on the world's sweat-blinded sight?
Are we still to stumble onward on a pathway all unsmooth,
   Like a Cyclops in his cavern smitten with the loss of light?

Ay, the time will come, my brothers, though it lies behind far hope,
   Yet faint flashes rise up from it, like the northern lights we see;
Then, while all the ages come to widen out the mighty scope,
   Let us lap ourselves in dreams of what our fellow-men will be.

Look not back with idle murmur lying fretting on thy lips,
   That which lies behind is but the crude world's shadow in dull light;
Look thou forward where the sunshine from a kindlier heaven slips,
   Cheering on thy kind to wider vantage-grounds for truth and right.

The far ages bristling upward, waiting for their unborn men,
   Have in them the golden blossom of the seed we sow in fear;
Wider growths of thought and ripeness, nobler tasks for brain and pen,
   Fuller brotherhood in all that perfects us to manhood here.

Heart! to see our future fellows standing on our present gain,
   Which we wrench'd from the stern centuries, and Samson-like made ours,
Shaping, with a larger forethought and a finer grasp of brain,
   Pathways to the purer use of life and all our human powers.

Theirs shall be our slow improvement rising up to perfect bloom,
   Through the centuries niggard of it, like the aloe with its bud;
It shall bring new modes of thinking that shall all the old entomb,
   Building up a higher channel for the rushing on of good.

For our fellows striving onward, though they wear the stain of toil,
   Ever yearn to shape out goals to which their better natures tend;
And their good within shoots upward, like a plant within the soil,
   To the higher, grander freedom, to the nobler godlike end.

Then let change come striking outward, with soft touch or sudden shock,
   Let the years glide by, if we can feel that in the lapse of time,
As a leaping mountain torrent through decades can smooth the rock,
   We are growing better, wiser, surer of the foot to climb.

For the struggle in the climbing will be hard and ill to bear;
   Each one, like the souls in Dante, wearing cloaks and hoods of lead;
But for ever as we struggle, with half breath to breathe a prayer,
   From above we hear the echo of another brother's tread.

For the selfless souls amongst us, hearted with the heart of Christ,
   Ever turn and beckon onward that their strength may be our own;
And we hear their potent watchwords, which, if we could still resist,
   It were shame upon our foreheads burning to the very bone.

All their lives and thoughts are with us, and the strong world's future weal
   Will be shaped by what they fought for, though it may be ere it form
(For it will not take their semblance as soft wax takes on the seal),
   Cycles may rise up, and set in cloudless calm or sudden storm.

But it will be: higher comfort as we labour scarce can be;
   Mists may rise and wrap it from us, but the mighty darting sun
Will strike heat throughout the shadows till like phantom shapes they flee,
   Leaving all the good we strove for, and the better laurels won.

Thanks, then, toiling, restless city, that my heart should leap and fill
   With such thoughts to help me onward in my own rough life and toil,
That I see through all this hurry one ennobling purpose still;
   Dim as yet, but growing brighter, like the mists that leave the soil.

And that purpose still turns brighter at the touch on either hand
   Of my fellow-kind who, with me, hold the same high hope of this,
Each one sets it to that music reaching him where he may stand;
   But it still keeps ring and measure to the far-off coming bliss.

Teach, then, poet, prophet, priest, with hands stretch'd out to that desire;
   Ring it forth to toiling men, and waft it over land and sea,
As the rugged Hebrew prophet, while his eyeballs swam in fire,
   Sent down through his vatic brotherhood the Christ that was to be.

Far behind me lies the city, with its ebb and flow of men,
   But the thoughts that came within it are for ever in my breast;
And they leap up as the engines thunder down by hill and glen,
   Or in my walks at night-time when the village is at rest.