The Sword of Pain

George Essex Evans

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The Lights burn dim and make weird shadow-play,
The white walls of the ward are changed to grey,
Down the long aisle of beds, with tender grace,
Sleep smoothes the lines on many a weary face;
Yet there are those for whom no midnight brings
Solace and strength to face the day again,
And, over all, with wide majestic wings,
There broods the awful mystery of Pain.
Night wears apace, and now the silence breaks
As here and there some fitful slumberer wakes;
And Pain triumphant—Pain with burning grip—
Wrings grudging tribute from the tortured lip:
A strong man’s groan, a boy’s short sobbing cry,
Pierces the stillness with a sudden breath,
Or the low moan of long-drawn agony,
Asking not respite but the boon of Death.

Here, in the halls of suffering, eye to eye,
Men measure Death, and mark if he pass by;
Here, in the halls of suffering, swings the strife
Wherein man’s skill and Death contest for life;
Here woman moves in tenderest ministeries,
With gracious hands that calm the throbbing brain:
Skill and compassion facing fell disease,
And mercy watching by the bed of pain.

Ah! Night and day, in armour like the snow,
Patient and brave, the grey-robed nurses go,
With light swift steps, low voices, cheery smiles,
From bed to bed, adown those dolorous aisles—
Angels of Succour, girt with snowy mail,
As warriors donned of old their armour bright:
Serene, when danger bids the bravest quail,
Against the batteries of Death they fight.

Here, in the restless night, upon my bed,
Whilst bands of steel seem tight’ning round my head,
Strong tides are rushing through my heart and brain
The Goal of Life? The Mystery of Pain?
Now on the rising wind that roars without
Murmurs and discord mingle till it seems
The Voice of the World’s Wounded, and about
Me seem to be the dreams that are not dreams.

“Wherefore, Great Architect, whose power august
Buildeth the universe of very dust,
And that imperial Palace of the Mind
More stately than the stars; who dost not bind
Thought that can conquer Nature, and above
The power of Mind hast set the power of Love—
O Thou, who weavest through this web of strife
Strands of great agony and bloody rue—
Must we still search this labyrinth of Life
To perish groping blindly for the clue?”

Even as I cried the grey walls fell away,
The long ward vanished in the glare of day,
The broad world spread before me, and I saw
Thousands lie stretched in the red swathes of War,
In rigid wreck, like fields of storm-crushed corn—
Grey faces twisted to a horrid smile,
And limbs and piteous bodies wrenched and torn,
Mangled unspeakably, strewn pile on pile.

I turned to Peace amid her olive trees:
Great cities rose before me, villages,
The spacious mansion and the lonely cot—
There was no door that Pain had entered not.
I heard like sobbings of an unseen tide
Its keen fire run through all things, and I said:
“Peace masks a secret war on every side.
There is no rest from travail: God is dead.”

No more the solid earth my footsteps prest;
The wide sky caught me upward to its breast.
The living ether seemed a quick’ning sea,
Where thrilled unseen the germs of worlds to be.
At times I seemed to move upon the verge
Of some vast viewless current streaming far,
And my brain quivered, as, with mighty surge,
Strange thought-waves swept the gulfs from star to star.

In ordered majesty each System runs,
With mighty planets circling sovran suns,
And strange pale moons like ghosts that haunt the scene
Of their once living glory; and serene,
Slow dying stars, dreaming of days forgot,
Of silent worlds and ancient memories—
White mountain-crest, dense forest, secret grot,
Wide plains, wild shores, the crash of plunging seas.

Like a blown leaf, caught by the vagrant air
That still ascends, I mounted: Everywhere
Dead suns and satellites—a lightless train
In darkness rushing to be born again—
Hurled through the void, or, by fierce shock redeemed,
Blazed back to life, and flushed with splendour bright
Thronged spaces and dark rolling orbs that seemed
Millions of black motes in a sea of light.

There is a river whose imperial flow
Circles the mid-most heaven with broad’ning glow;
Its fiery waves are rays of suns supreme,
Crimson and gold its changing currents gleam,
And blue and purest white, and in its tide
Move worlds unnumbered and the starry dust
That builds new suns and powers that shall abide
To rule new regions with a sway august.

Within the airy isle its waters fold
Seven mighty suns circle in quiv’ring gold;
And, over all, uplift above the gire,
Shaped like a cross, a Sword of Living Fire!
Emerald and amber, opal, white and blue
Swift lights, keen tremors flash from point to hilt;
And now blood-red it throbs, as though it knew
The whole world’s agony, the whole world’s guilt.

It is The Cross, sublime, uplifted high;
Great flames break from it, floating down the sky;
As though the blood of Him who, undismayed,
Suffered our sins, dript from its burning blade—
As though the blood of all earth’s noblest ones,
Dreamers and heroes, fell in fiery rain
To temper worlds new-born, and mightier suns—
The Sword of Victory! The Sword of Pain!

Trembling, I spake before that awful sword:
“Where is the golden city of the Lord,
With gates of pearl, and on its crystal sea
Peace and the solace of Eternity?”
Then, like a flash, I knew the air around
Was living ether, and I felt the gaze
Of myriad eyes unseen, and heard the sound
As of vast music known in far-off days.

There fell a star across the ’brow of Night,
And a voice answered, echoing from the height:
“The gods ye fashion perish one by one,
The Living God endures when all are gone.
Fool, canst thou know Th’ Eternal in a day?
Can mortal judge The Immortal face to face,
Who of the star-dust buildeth as He may,
And takes for throne the regions of all Space?”

Eternal Spirit, immanent, apart,
Thou, in the living temple of the Heart,
Lightest thine altar-fires that souls may reign
O’er worlds not yet create, and makest pain
The discipline of Life, the seal of worth,
The test of courage, and the burning star
That leads through vales of darkness to re-birth,
To loftier life and victory afar!

Ah! Not in golden city nor crystal sea,
But in wide circles of Infinity,
Our work is set; and not from harps of gold,
But hearts of men, deep harmonies are rolled!
Vast powers stir around us, and our course may be
By other paths than those our fathers trod;
And Science, with her torch, unconsciously,
Through strange new realms may lead men back to God.

He knows not Life who hath not felt the breath
Nor gazed once in the mocking eyes of Death.
The purest springs, the waters without stain,
Well upward from the burning heart of Pain.
Behold I saw in purest air afar
A great light dawn and widen and increase,
With white flame crested like a perfect star,
Above the Sword of Pain—the Crown of Peace!

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