Ada Cambridge

"This Enlightened Age"

 Next Poem          

A Meditation in the British Museum.

I say it to myself--in meekest awe
Of Progress, electricity and steam,
Of this almighty age--this liberal age,
That has no time to breathe, or think, or dream,--

I ask it of myself, with bated breath,
Casting a furtive glance about the hall,--
Our fathers, were their times so very dark?
Were they benighted heathens after all?

Had they not their Galileo--Newton too--
And men as great, though not a Stephenson?
Had they not passable scholars in fair Greece,
Who traced the paths we deign to walk upon
Had they not poets in those dismal days--
Homer and Shakespeare, and a few between?
Had they not rulers in their barbarous states,
Who scattered laws for our wise hands to glean?

Had they not painters, who knew how to paint--
Raphael, to take an instance--well as we,
With near four hundred years of light the less?
Is Phidias matched in our great century?

And architects? Sure Egypt, and old Rome,
And ruined Athens tell of fair reputes!
The Pyramids, and temples of the Greeks,
May vie with our town-halls and institutes.

Their marble Venice, with her dappled tints,
Their grey old minsters, strong as chiselled rocks,
Their Tyrolean castles, lifted high,
May outlast all our brick-and-mortar blocks.
And were there not refinements in those days,
And elegant luxuries of domestic life?
I read the answer in the precious things
Whereof these clustering cabinets are rife.

What can we show so beautiful in art?
What new of ours can match their wondrous old?--
This fragile porcelain--this Venetian glass--
This delicate necklace of Etruscan gold.

And was there not religion--when the Church
Was one--a common mother--loved and feared?
When haughty souls rejoiced to bear her yoke?
When all those grand monastic piles were reared?

And were there not some preachers--Chrysostoms,
Whose golden words still linger, like a chime
Of falling echoes in lone alpine glens,
Amongst the sonorous voices of our time?
And soldiers--heroes? Do we shame them much?
Have men more courage than in days of yore?
Are they more jealous for their manhood now?
Do they respect and honour women more?

Are they more noble than those good old knights,
Who scorned to strike a foe save in the face--
Who reckoned gold as dross to gallant deeds,
And counted death far happier than disgrace?

Is life more grand with us, who bask at ease,
And count that only excellent which pays,
Than 'twas to the stout hearts that wore the steel
In those dark, turbulent, fearless, fighting days?

*

O nineteenth century! God has given you light;
The morning has been spreading--that is all.
O liberal age! stoop your conceited head,
And gather up the crumbs that they let fall.

Next Poem 

 Back to
Ada Cambridge