The Great War

from November: Poems in War Time, an electronic edition

Freedom's Fellowship


SEATED in the World's Playhouse, I beheld

The Great Piece playing. Often I rebelled

At watching, and was fain to disobey

The Voice that held me at that Passion Play

Of Man's Redemption, a spectator, far

Removed from the actual agonists of a war

Wherein myself was mixed. Till onlooking,

There woke within me the ├Žonian Thing

Displayed in all that action. I was 'ware

Of Him whom I beheld: the Actor there

Across the footlights, the Protagonist.

As one who had looked upon a glass and wist

Not that it was a mirror, nor whom he saw--

So gazing, suddenly, I knew with awe

It was no stranger, nor that Piece of Strife

Another than the substance of my life. . . .

Often on that Playhouse I'ld turn my back

To wander in the woods of Goodly Stack

And squirrel-haunted Squerryes. There, the trees

Showed me the sense of the ancient prophecies

That foretell a strange breaking-forth of power

Beautiful as the unfolding of that flower

Whose bud is this mysterious Earth, that keeps

The glory so enfolded in her deeps

No man, however nimble be his wit,

Guessing at its delight can image it.


AS a tall pine, grappling the rock below

To climb the unsubstantial air, will grow

On a hand's breadth of the hill-shoulder, so

On a mere span of space, therein set firm,

Shall rise that royal spirit that hath its term

In Godhood, will a man but give his whole

Passion and patience to become one sole

Substance for it, that he may stand sublime

Upon a shoulder of the Hill of Time

Witnessing to the Timeless;--may rise up

Erect, to dare the lightning with his top:

Wrestle with wanton tempests, and not break

In any of their capricious clutches: take

The sun's pitiless drouth, out of that fire

Fashioning fibres still to lift up higher

The challenging dark shadow of his crown.

Dizzily up he climbs, but he thrusts down

More than a pine into the secret place

Forbidden to the light, beneath the face

Of Earth that looks on Heaven. There is the fount

Of the ever-urgent impulse that doth mount

Up in the sap and out into the light,

Carrying the secret of that recondite

That enigmatic power, which is the mirth

Vibrant in all the Body of the Earth,

The gladness of Her being, whereof all

Things that are Hers partake. . .

High in the tall

Pine's upper fork, the kestrel hath his seat;

While up and down its shaft with clattering feet

The nut-brown squirrel scrambles: screams the jay:

The mild wood-pigeon all the livelong day

Flutes to his lady. But the unexpressed

Residue of delight within the breast

Of Mother Earth aches so for utterance

In man as to becloud the pure expanse

Above him, burdening the atmosphere

Wherever he is gathered, with the sheer

Anguish of her unbearable delay

Till he respond to her, and She can say

That without which her joy is yet unspoken,

That which without him must remain but broken

Fragments and enigmatic words. O when

That which already is half awake in men

Bewildering their days with impulses

Mysterious that they know not to appraise

And so seek to evade--when it shall gain

Them wholly, and they serve with might and main

Its divine purpose to bestow on Man

God's meaning, they shall utter, for they can,

That Life on whose appearing Earth attends,

That word of words that changes into friends

The foes that hear it, for before their birth

It cradled them within the heart of the Earth.

Then life's assembled hosts shall hear again

The fiat of creation, spoken plain

Among them all, and they shall understand.

Can you not feel the wonder close at hand!

The Earth is quick with it beneath my feet,

So nearly is the whole of life complete.


A ROOT was I, and burrowed down my way

Year after year through sorry coloured clay;

And it was liker death than life to me

Through all that miry age of misery.

My spirit with enduring patience bore

By some mere pebble to be thwarted, or

To be encouraged by the slimy ooze

To new blind patient toil: my spirit whose

Manhood was made expressly for the wide

Regions of the light, where it would open-eyed

Enter some little into God's design,

Echo his windy words, and even divine

The informing joy, clear, lucid, beautiful,

That lurks within all substance as a soul.

I strove, I sulked, I struggled for my breath

In that dark under-life that was like death,

So strange to any enfranchisement it seemed.

And I grew strong in the dark and stubborn-limbed

In that unkindness: yet withal I knew

My stubborn strength was of itself untrue

To something in me, though it was full-vigoured:

For, nourished on resistance and the niggard

Diet of strife, I could not tell the whole

Truth that was kept a secret in my soul.

Somewhere--but far beyond hearing or seeing--

Somewhere upon the utter brink of being,

There dwelt another me, in other fashion

Occupied, fed upon a generous ration

Of open light and free air. I had seen

The immortals, in a world of gold and green

And azure, that is only just beyond

The surface of the earth, free of its bond,

And floating all, as though upon a sea,

Buoyed up on their aerial liberty.

But stranger than to know them anchored there

Almost within my reach--should I but dare

Reach up a moment from my groping toil,

Lift myself but a little from the soil

Into the sun--a voice familiar bade

My heart leave off its striving and be glad

In the translucent blessedness above me:

For these bright presences were they that love me,

And I their kin, companion and compeer.

Inhabitant already of their sphere

Of iridescent light, was I, unknowing:

Groping below, my spirit had been growing

Upward into a leafy-headed tree

That floated even now upon that sea

Of windy light, and was companion with

Those earth-born joys that breathe immortal breath.

I lifted up my heart: I was lift up

So upon gladness that I could not stop

Uttering twiggy praises full of leaf

Into that wondrous light as though all grief

Of my long labour in the dark were over

And I had now no more to do but hover

Upon the air, crooning my happiness

Fond as a pigeon. Now the pitiless

Lonely urge of my blind will down and down

Pulsed up out of my trunk into a crown

Of heavenly leaves: my stubbornness became

Gentle with gladness: I shook off the shame

Of my frustrated will, frustrated now

No longer, but achieved in every bough.

Now I have franchise both of sun and earth,

Till my last root is merry with the mirth

Of March, and I outstretch my branches bold

To joy, in the stubborn strength of that root-hold.

I live in the earth: I am no flickering wraith

Of fancy but the embodiment of faith.


THERE are great spirits that stand up alone

As here and there an oak stands in a zone

Of corn and ample meadows: hero trees

Staunch in themselves against all enemies

And royal to small creatures in bad weather:

And there are spirits as great that stand together

In an inseparable fellowship.

Like the high pines on a hill-slope that's deep

In their long-fallen needles: spirits that are

As the high pines erect and columnar,

Because for many a lustre they have stood

Rank upon rank together in the wood,

Until each one is not so much a tree

As member of that great society

Of friends in whose association dwells

A presence I discover nowhere else.

And I have known a Quaker meeting when

The strangely still, intensely real men

And women ranked about me in the deep

Silence, were like a group of trees that keep

In their mysterious circle the untold

First and last secret of the manifold

Wonder of the world: a group of druid trees

Still haunted by the primal mysteries,

The elemental presences that are

Ever about us unfamiliar.

I was in a great grove of mighty thewed

Storm-challengers, that make a solitude

By their august companionship. Apart

Spaciously set with magisterial art

To entertain in mutuality

Those vast emotions that could never be

The guests, even of comrades, if they stood

Crowded together in a thicket wood.

I found a freedom in that company

Elsewhere I had not found. For to be free

You must be rooted in the rock, and keep

Your proper distance for the swing and sweep

Of the impassioning rhythm to vibrate through

Your being and make music out of you,--

One clear note of that full spontaneous speech

That no man sings alone, but many, each

Exulting in a wonder whereinto

Life pours the impetuous current of its blood

Pulsing from its one heart. Upwells the flood

Of joy in them out of its reservoir

Through every root that has gone groping far

Down through the soil to catch in the still deep

Bosom of the under-earth, that seems to sleep

Always, the secret thrilling of a life

Beyond the utmost reach of stormy strife,

Beyond exhaustion and beyond dispute.

Well may they stand splendid and resolute!

Out of the marrow of the world they draw

Their sustenance. The everlasting Law

Vibrating like a voice through all earth's frame

Vibrates in each, and every one of them

Shares its authority. Strangers to fear,

Most royally they give what is most dear

To them. Rooted in God and independent,

The ardour of their passion shines resplendent

As the moon's raiment when her beamy light

Clings round her dewily in the winter night.


WHO strays among them, let him have a care

With what companionship he enters there:

For there are hours in which you cannot hide

Aught from the Trees: when you must open-eyed

Behold the shapes of dream you carry about

The world with you--your dark or shining rout

Of dreaded or desired imagining.

To life about you leaps the Magic Ring

Your feet can never step out of, because

It is your self that the dark circle draws

Enclosing you in the curve of its occult

Desire, against whose logic you revolt

With half your will in vain. Darkling, it sweeps

Its compass, and within securely keeps

You prisoner of the line invisible

Traced by the rebel half of your own will:

Invisible, till in this solitude

Of Great Trees it become strangely indued

With substance, and confront you with your fate.

Ay, but the Wood is not confederate

Against you!--These are comrades among whom

The secret that is in your heart may come

Venturing forth out of its secrecy

Into the worship that they make with me--

A spacious living silence underneath

A spread of branches interwoven with

Slant sunbeams, in whose wide beneficence

Our spirits have no more need of defence:

A space of sunshine that dictates to none

The joy wherewith he shall be clothed upon,

But only bids him free his spirit wholly

Of chattering care and murderous melancholy,

And give it to delight: sunshine that quickens

That singing of the heart that flags and sickens

Where love's a prisoner and hath not yet

Climbed up on to the windy parapet

Of boundary cliff that gives upon the vast

Expanse of life, nor yet had heart to cast

Forth trusting to the waters of the sea

Of faith's incredible immensity.


I AM myself at last, with now no more

Fluttering against the pane, at the locked door

No more entreaty. Now with bitterness

I claim no more forgiveness or redress:

The battle-cries that echo about me cease

To nerve me or unnerve me: I have peace.

My spirit from his age-long strife arose:

He stood no more contending with his foes:

Flung down his sword and shield: put off his mask

Of warrior, and to his proper task

Turning with a quick gesture seemed no longer

The self I knew: wiser he was and younger.

I felt my body quicken with that might

Of mastery that is the soul's delight

When, from its secret chamber issuing,

Clad in the candour of a May-morning,

Comes the Almighty Fiat forth that changes

The aspect of the world in all its ranges

With a new rhythm, whereto all circumstance

Responds, and the eternal atoms dance.

Comes a new pattern, comes another norm

Into creation, and the subtle form

Of every creature answering to it, wins

Fresh meaning, and another age begins.

The peace I enter into is alive

With living life, that needs no longer strive

Because it is triumphant as a flower

Whereof the air admits the sovereign power,

The substance of whose delicacy carries

Magic that with the power creative marries

So that its ecstasy, and it alone,

Brings to the earth a hitherto unknown

Henceforth eternally recurrent joy.

When I assign my heart to this employ

It lifts me up that suddenly I dare

Find foothold on the skyey thoroughfare

To journey on my errands. Joy afresh

Sets her republic up within my flesh

With all its liberties of continence,

Where sullen moody disobedience

Answered the tyrant: for republican

Is the full-statured body of a man,

His freedom and delight are the good-health

Of that irradiated commonwealth

That is so capable of joy its cells

Conspire together against whatever else

Usurps its government, but all their will

Is Gladness, his commandments to fulfil.


O LARGE is life!--The life I come into

Stretches so large about me as I go

Upon my errands, that I seem to be

Already a dweller in that Liberty

That is itself the immortal blessedness

I sought, but dared not deem I could possess.

I move about in it as in the temple

Built by my spirit for its worship: ample

For it as the whole starry-raftered Night,

But not too lonely-wide for my delight

To fill it, as the worshipping fulfils

All some vast minster, when, crossing its sills,

You enter from the noisy stranger street

And on the instant are a part of it:

So, when out of the traffic I come in

To mine own freedom, once again I win

The great horizon of Reality--

To know in everything I hear and see

My fellowship, as it were all one life with me.

More than myself it is I: In It alone

I am the master of the fully-grown

Faculties of my spirit, incorporate

Only in its high purpose to create

A body for my joy, a consciousness

That my delight shall hold against distress

If but for an hour: only in it I know

The imperative command, that bade me go

Forth into birth and being, justified:

Only in it, immortal, I abide

Set in my place, as in the firmament

Of godhood, till its purpose be forspent.

For this my larger life is that wherein

I enter into Freedom, and begin

Participating in the power that flows

Through all the living fellowship of those

That are its members and embody it.

Though we be only simple folk that sit

Wrapped in its life together, one we are

With all the heavenly host that, star by star,

Declares God's Glory, filling up the span

Of worship, since the dark of death began,

With the inseparable company

Of them that enter into Liberty.


I AM among my comrades: my delight

Is all about me like a starry bright

Company. All the wonder in the air

Is actual communion that I share

With that great fellowship in whom I am

Enkindled from a coal into a flame.

Often when I am most alone that joy

Encircles me with friends: and they convoy

The ship of my desire safe through the shoal-

Waters into the open sea: my whole

Being is theirs because they set me free

Who catch me up into their company

And carry me out to the Open Sea.

When I am left with my defeated gladness,

And am beset about by sullen madness

That battens upon misery, and my numb

Spirit cries out for succour--then they come

Thronging about me, and I feel the anguish

That ate into my soul begin to languish

Because of them: I know again the strong

Arms of that joy whereunto I belong.

Anew each day with all my will I break

Out of the circle of these cares that make

A loneliness round the imprisoned heart.

For having once discovered myself part

Of the Great Life that only comrades know,

Something divine in me will not forgo

His birthright, but still challenges whatso

Arrogance of things seen would paralyse

The visionary power that makes me wise

To know my comrades of eternity

Sharing the moment of delight with me,

Respiring with me that immortal breath

That is one life beyond despair and death.


FELLOWSHIP is a grove of trees that stand

Taller than the thick wood on either hand

As heroes stand than men. The heart lifts higher

Entering here. It ventures to aspire

To its full manhood: rises up above

Its puerility to imagine love

And friendship as the god-like exercise

Of all the soul. It catches from the eyes

Of these companions glances that are strange

As sunbeams to the vulgar interchange

Of men and women: vaguely apprehends

As he enters here what is this world of friends

So new, so wide, so full of worship. Dread

Seizes him lest he let his thoughts instead

Of their clear thoughts ignorantly deceive

His soul, and he begin to disbelieve

In their heroic truth, convinced again

Of the obsequious truths that seem so plain.

It is not death but doubt that comes between

Spirits that for a golden hour have been

One spirit of delight. Faith can make one

Of many, but in doubt's dominion

There is no bond: love falls asunder: life

Is torn to pieces for the pack of strife

To feed on: God is argued into naught

By men who cannot hold the faithful thought

Of his transcendent purpose in the whole

World wonder. . . .

Entering, I bid my soul

Beseech in veriest humility

To become part of it like any tree

Of this great grove of aspiration planted

Together, by the breath of God enchanted.

I feel the grave humorous light caressing

The creatures of the wood: no dread oppressing

The stillness with solemnity to crush

Their mirthful life: but the half-audible hush

Is of some gracious God whose presence gives

A deeper meaning to each life that lives

In his presiding splendour, until each

Becomes a particle of the God's speech

To tell a truth it cannot comprehend,

Save that to that delight it loves to lend

Its heart. Now he begins to utter me

Among them. Now mine eyes begin to see

The meaning of the grove, begin to feel

The presence that these living forms reveal

In every gesture, every living line:

For now their comradeship is become mine,

And this that, all together, they concealed

From me, eagerly now to me they yield.

There is no onlooker may understand

The mystery embodied in that band

Of comrades. Final truth it is, and they

Only can know it. He that would betray

The secret that is freedom must declare

The divine wonder in his being--bare,

Body and soul, in that translucent air:

Must become parcel of that infinite,

There is no other way to utter it.

O the world's meaning is a bud, a splendour

Sealed-up, saving as, to some spirit tender

To his caress, Love may vouchsafe a proof

Of what is yet hid. She thenceforth aloof

A little from the press of men's affairs

Must stand. Strangely, and all at unawares

The vision was vouchsafed: the unconcealed

Delight of earth. Hers now the perfect wheeled

Glory of a hundred petals, still tight-packed

In its November sheath. O hers the Fact

That shall fulfil the world we sense and see

With its more intimate reality.