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Limitations

Siegfried Sassoon 1886 (Matfield) – 1967 (Heytesbury)



If you could crowd them into forty lines!
Yes; you can do it, once you get a start;
All that you want is waiting in your head,
For long-ago you’ve learnt it off by heart.

. . . .
Begin: your mind’s the room where you have slept,
(Don’t pause for rhymes), till twilight woke you early.
The window stands wide-open, as it stood
When tree-tops loomed enchanted for a child
Hearing the dawn’s first thrushes through the wood
Warbling (you know the words) serene and wild.

You’ve said it all before: you dreamed of Death,
A dim Apollo in the bird-voiced breeze
That drifts across the morning veiled with showers,
While golden weather shines among dark trees.

You’ve got your limitations; let them sing,
And all your life will waken with a cry:
Why should you halt when rapture’s on the wing
And you’ve no limit but the cloud-flocked sky?...

But some chap shouts, ‘Here, stop it; that’s been done!’—
As God might holloa to the rising sun,
And then relent, because the glorying rays
Remind Him of green-glinting Eden days,
And Adam’s trustful eyes as he looks up
From carving eagles on his beechwood cup.

Young Adam knew his job; he could condense
Life to an eagle from the unknown immense....
Go on, whoever you are; your lines can be
A whisper in the music from the weirs
Of song that plunge and tumble toward the sea
That is the uncharted mercy of our tears.

. . . .
I told you it was easy! ... Words are fools
Who follow blindly, once they get a lead.
But thoughts are kingfishers that haunt the pools
Of quiet; seldom-seen: and all you need
Is just that flash of joy above your dream.
So, when those forty platitudes are done,
You’ll hear a bird-note calling from the stream
That wandered through your childhood; and the sun
Will strike the old flaming wonder from the waters....
And there’ll be forty lines not yet begun.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, CBE, MC was an eminent English poet, writer, and soldier. Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he became one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry both described the horrors of the trenches, and satirised the patriotic pretensions of those who, in Sassoon's view, were responsible for a jingoism-fuelled war. He later won acclaim for his prose work, notably his three-volume fictionalised autobiography, collectively known as the "Sherston trilogy". more…

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