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A Reasonable Protestation




[To F., who complained of his vagueness and lack of dogmatic statement]
 
Not, I suppose, since I deny
Appearance is reality,
And doubt the substance of the earth
Does your remonstrance come to birth;
Not that at once I both affirm
'Tis not the skin that makes the worm
And every tactile thing with mass
Must find its symbol in the grass
And with a cool conviction say
Even a critic's more than clay
And every dog outlives his day.
This kind of vagueness suits your view,
You would not carp at it; for you
Did never stand with those who take
Their pleasures in a world opaque.
For you a tree would never be
Lovely were it but a tree,
And earthly splendours never splendid
If by transience unattended.
Your eyes are on a farther shore
Than any of earth; nor do adore
As godhead God's dead hieroglyph.
Nor would you be perturbed if
Some prophet with a voice of thunder
And avalanche arm should blast and founder
The logical pillars that maintain
This visible world which loads the brain,
Loads the brain and withers the heart
And holds man from his God apart.
 
But still with you remains the craving
For some more solid substance, having
Surface to touch, colour to see,
And form compact in symmetry.
You are not satisfied with these
Vague throbbings, nameless ecstasies,
Nor can your spirit find delight
In an amorphic great white light.
Not with such sickles can you reap;
If a dense earth you cannot keep
You want a dense heaven as substitute
With trees of plump celestial fruit,
Red apples, golden pomegranates,
And a river flowing by tall gates
Of topaz and of chrysolite
And walls of twenty cubits height.
 
Frank, you cry out against the age!
Nor you nor I can disengage
Ourselves from that in which we live
Nor seize on things God does not give.
Thirsty as you, perhaps, I long
For courtyards of eternal song,
Even as yours my feet would stray
In a city where 'tis always day
And a green spontaneous leafy garden
With God in the middle for a warden;
But though I hope with strengthening faith
To taste when I have traversed death
The unimaginable sweetness
Of certitude of such concreteness,
How should I draw the hue and scope
Of substances I only hope
Or blaze upon a paper screen
The evidence of things not seen?
This art of ours but grows and stirs
Experience when it registers,
And you know well as I know well
This autumn of time in which we dwell
Is not an age of revelations
Solid as once, but intimations
That touch us with warm misty fingers
Leaving a nameless sense that lingers
That sight is blind and Time's a snare
And earth less solid than the air
And deep below all seeming things
There sits a steady king of kings
A radiant ageless permanence,
A quenchless fount of virtue whence
We draw our life; a sense that makes
A staunch conviction nothing shakes
Of our own immortality.
And though, being man, with certain glee
I eat and drink, though I suffer pain,
And love and hate and love again
Well or in mode contemptible,
Thus shackled by the body's spell
I see through pupils of the beast
Though it be faint and blurred with mist
A Star that travels in the East.
I see what I can, not what I will.
In things that move, things that are still;
Thin motion, even cloudier rest,
I see the symbols God hath drest.
The moveless trees, the trees that wave
The clouds that heavenly highways have,
Horses that run, rocks that are fixt,
Streams that have rest and motion mixt,
The main with its abiding flux,
The wind that up my chimney sucks
A mounting waterfall of flame,
Sticks, straws, dust, beetles and that same
Old blazing sun the Psalmist saw
A testifier to the law:
Divinely to the heart they speak
Saying how they are but weak,
Wan will-o'-the-wisps on the crystal sea;
But stays that sea still dark to me.
 
Did I now glibly insolent
Chart the ulterior firmament,
Would you not know my words were lies,
Where not my testimonial eyes
Mortal or spiritual lodge,
Mere uncorroborated fudge?
Praise me, though praise I do not want,
Rather, that I have cast much cant,
That what I see and feel I write,
Read what I can in this dim light
Granted to me in nether night.
And though I am vague and shrink to guess
God's everlasting purposes,
And never save in perplext dream
Have caught the least clear-shapen gleam
Of the great kingdom and the throne
In the world that lies behind our own,
I have not lacked my certainties,
I have not haggard moaned the skies,
Nor waged unnecessary strife
Nor scorned nor overvalued life.
And though you say my attitude
Is questioning, concede my mood
Does never bring to tongue or pen
Accents of gloomy modern men
Who wail or hail the death of God
And weigh and measure man the clod,
Or say they draw reluctant breath
And musically mourn that Death
Is a queen omnipotent of woe
And Life her lean cicisbeo,
Abject and pale, whom vampire-like
She playeth with ere she shall strike,
And pose sad riddles to the Sphinx
With raven quills in purple inks,
Then send the boy to fetch more drinks.
 
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

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J. C. Squire

Sir John Collings Squire was a British poet, writer, historian, and influential literary editor of the post-World War I period. His writings mostly discuss common experiences. more…

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