To An English Skylark

Maurice Thompson

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How I long to go,
On a seaward-blowing breeze,
To the garden of the seas--
To brave King Arthur's land,
To that fair island Alfred made so free,
To the haunt of chivalry,
Where master-birds sang (in the days of song)
So long
And strong!
Oh let me dwell a space by Avon's tide,
Or hide
In some old grove, where still a note may linger
Of Herrick's flute,
Of Sidney's lute,
Or of some precious rondel voiced by a forgotten singer.

Even now I hear a lark,
The lark of England's ripe and mellow story,
The lark of England's fallow fields of glory,
Far and high in heaven's remotest blue,
His wings still cool with dew,
His voice (of which one song-god fair and young
A lyric of immortal fervor sung)
Still firm and true,
Still rich with exultation, rising higher,
And brimming with desire,
To fill ethereal vastness with its fire;
Forgetting love and sympathy and that law
Of human harmony
And rhythmic destiny,
Which darkly through a glass the seers and prophets saw!

O bird,
Whom gods and heroes heard
Sing in the far dim twilight hours of Time,
Whose rapture stirred
Through many a new sweet rhyme
Whilst thou didst rise
Into the skies
To purify thy song in empyrean fire!
Say where
In upper air
Dost hope to find fulfillment of thy dream?
On what far peak seest thou a morning-gleam?
Why shall the stars still blind thee unaware?
Why needst thou mount to sing?
Why seek the sun's fierce-tempered glow and glare?
Why shall a soulless impulse prompt thy wing?
Why are thy meadows and thy groves bereft
Of Freedom's inspiration, and so left
To silence in mid-spring?

O lark!
I mark,
Since Shelley died, thy wings have somewhat failed.
A precious note has faded from thy hymn,
Thy lyric fire has smouldered low and dim!
Nor ever have thy cloud-wrapt strains availed
Against the will of tyrants and the dark,
Strong doors of prisons grim,
And shackles manifold,
And dungeons cold,
Wherein sweet Freedom lies
With hopeless longing in her starry eyes
And lifeless languor on her splendid wings!
I hold
This truth as gold:
The grandest life is lowliest; he who sings
To fill the highest purpose need not soar
Above the lintel of the peasant's door,
And must not hunger for the praise of kings,
Or quench his thirst at too ethereal springs.

As for me
My life is liberty,
And close to earth's bloom-scented, fragrant floor
I gather more and more
The larger elements,
The fine suggestions of Time's last events;
I strive to know
Whither all currents flow;
I sing
On branches that the newest breezes swing;
I overreach
The limit of the present, day by day;
I teach
By shrewd anticipation, and foresay
What wider life is coming,
What joys are humming,
Like Hybla's bees, around the Future's comb;
My home
Is where all wind-tides and all perfumes meet;
Cool and clean and sweet
The young leaves rustle round my sensitive feet,
Whilst my enraptured tongue
Rolls under it
Morsels of all the songs the world's best bards have sung!

Lo! Homer's strength is mine,
And Sappho's fire divine.
And old Anacreon's flask of purple wine
Stains every note
Blown from the silvery labyrinth of my charm√ęd throat!
And yet the past
Has nothing in it glorious as the vast
Hope that the future holds,
Of life whose flame enfolds
The final focal thought--
The meed for which the grandest souls from
Time's first dawn have wrought.

Erewhile I lived
Where Liberty pined and grieved,
Under the sunniest of all sunny skies,
In a rich-fruited, dreamy, slumbrous paradise;
And slow
The tide of human sympathy did ebb and flow.
At length, one day,
I heard a bloodhound bay;
The swamps were Freedom's sanctuary then;
Year after year
I sang the slave to cheer,
And sang to fire the hearts of earnest, freeborn men,
Until the new day broke,
With the lifting of the yoke,
And in broad floods of sudden light divine,
I saw the slave to manhood's summit rise,
His vision set on farthest destinies,
And the slave cabin like a palace shine.
Oh, what a bliss
This love of Freedom is!
And what delight
To feel, by day and night,
Its ecstasy run deeper in my blood
While life's strong tide swells toward its highest flood!
Not in the sky
Where wastes of grandeur lie,
May genius find wherewith to slake its thirst;
The rainbow is not first
On Beauty's list,
Nor is the enchantment of heaven's highest mist
The master maker's aim!
The lowliest hearth-stone flame
Is worthier of worship than the sun!
The patter of bare brown feet that dance and run
With childish grace on the roughest cabin floor,
And the poor mother's happy smile, are more
Than starry hosts
And lofty ghosts
And awful phantoms born of overwrought
And soulless travail on the heights of thought!

Come down, O Lark, to earth,
And give a new song birth--
The song of life that grants its sweets to all,
In hut and lofty hall;
Forsake the sky,
And sky-born melody;
Fill thy meadow and thy grove
With a strain of human love--
With a wide strong pulse of music for the waiting ears of men,
Who, to be born again,
And live the life of freedom that I live,
More than their lives would give;
Would slay,
And heap vast hecatombs, and flood
The world with blood,
And jar
Heaven with the thunder,
And the wonder
And the awful weltering whirlwind of the storm of war!

Oh, ere it is too late,
Take heed, and contemplate
What tempests sleep,
That yet will wake and leap
Across thy starry fields and blot them out,
And drown thy voice in their uproarious shout!
Thou art too high;
No longing ear or eye
May follow thee, nor is thy sweetest note
Echoed by mortal throat;
But ever it goes forth with none to hear
And none to catch its cheer!
Come sit beside me now,
Here on my orange-bough;
Forsake the legendary lights,
Forget the old hereditary heights,
And we will pipe one lusty score together
Wing by wing,
In this land of spring,
While all the world comes out to feel the weather
Throb with the fire of Freedom as we sing!

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