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    James Stephens

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    In the Poppy Field

      Mad Patsy said, he said to me,
      That every morning he could see
      An angel walking on the sky;
      Across the sunny skies of morn
      He threw great handfuls far and nigh
      Of poppy seed among the corn;
      And then, he said, the angels run
      To see the poppies in the sun.

      A poppy is a devil weed,
      I said to him -- he disagreed;
      He said the devil had no hand
      In spreading flowers tall and fair
      Through corn and rye and meadow land,
      By garth and barrow everywhere:
      The devil has not any flower,
      But only money in his power.

      And then he stretched out in the sun
      And rolled upon his back for fun:
      He kicked his legs and roared for joy
      Because the sun was shining down,
      He said he was a little boy
      And would not work for any clown:
      He ran and laughed behind a bee,
      And danced for very ecstasy.

    In the Cool of the Evening

      I thought I heard Him calling. Did you hear
      A sound, a little sound? My curious ear
      Is dinned with flying noises, and the tree
      Goes -- whisper, whisper, whisper silently
      Till all its whispers spread into the sound
      Of a dull roar. Lie closer to the ground,
      The shade is deep and He may pass us by.
      We are so very small, and His great eye,
      Customed to starry majesties, may gaze
      Too wide to spy us hiding in the maze;
      Ah, misery! the sun has not yet gone
      And we are naked: He will look upon
      Our crouching shame, may make us stand upright
      Burning in terror -- O that it were night!
      He may not come . . . what! listen, list now --
      He is here! lie closer . . . Adam, where art thou?

    The Lonely God

      So Eden was deserted, and at eve
      Into the quiet place God came to grieve.
      His face was sad, His hands hung slackly down
      Along his robe; too sorrowful to frown
      He paced along the grassy paths and through
      The silent trees, and where the flowers grew
      Tended by Adam. All the birds had gone
      Out to the world, and singing was not one
      To cheer the lonely God out of His grief --
      The silence broken only when a leaf
      Tapt lightly on a leaf, or when the wind,
      Slow-handed, swayed the bushes to its mind.

      And so along the base of a round hill,
      Rolling in fern, He bent His way until
      He neared the little hut which Adam made,
      And saw its dusky rooftree overlaid
      With greenest leaves. Here Adam and his spouse
      Were wont to nestle in their little house
      Snug at the dew-time: here He, standing sad,
      Sighed with the wind, nor any pleasure had
      In heavenly knowledge, for His darlings twain
      Had gone from Him to learn the feel of pain,
      And what was meant by sorrow and despair, --
      Drear knowledge for a Father to prepare.

      There he looked sadly on the little place;
      A beehive round it was, without a trace
      Of occupant or owner; standing dim
      Among the gloomy trees it seemed to Him
      A final desolation, the last word
      Wherewith the lips of silence had been stirred.
      Chaste and remote, so tiny and so shy,
      So new withal, so lost to any eye,
      So pac't of memories all innocent
      Of days and nights that in it had been spent
      In blithe communion, Adam, Eve, and He,
      Afar from Heaven and its gaudery;
      And now no more! He still must be the God
      But not the friend; a Father with a rod
      Whose voice was fear, whose countenance a threat,
      Whose coming terror, and whose going wet
      With penitential tears; not evermore
      Would they run forth to meet Him as before
      With careless laughter, striving each to be
      First to His hand and dancing in their glee
      To see Him coming -- they would hide instead
      At His approach, or stand and hang the head,
      Speaking in whispers, and would learn to pray
      Instead of asking, 'Father, if we may.'

      Never again to Eden would He haste
      At cool of evening, when the sun had paced
      Back from the tree-tops, slanting from the rim
      Of a low cloud, what time the twilight dim
      Knit tree to tree in shadow, gathering slow
      Till all had met and vanished in the flow
      Of dusky silence, and a brooding star
      Stared at the growing darkness from afar,
      While haply now and then some nested bird
      Would lift upon the air a sleepy word
      Most musical, or swing its airy bed
      To the high moon that drifted overhead.

      'Twas good to quit at evening His great throne,
      To lay His crown aside, and all alone
      Down through the quiet air to stoop and glide
      Unkenned by angels: silently to hide
      In the green fields, by dappled shades, where brooks
      Through leafy solitudes and quiet nooks
      Flowed far from heavenly majesty and pride,
      From light astounding and the wheeling tide
      Of roaring stars. Thus does it ever seem
      Good to the best to stay aside and dream
      In narrow places, where the hand can feel
      Something beside, and know that it is real.
      His angels! silly creatures who could sing
      And sing again, and delicately fling
      The smoky censer, bow and stand aside
      All mute in adoration: thronging wide,
      Till nowhere could He look but soon He saw
      An angel bending humbly to the law
      Mechanic; knowing nothing more of pain,
      Than when they were forbid to sing again,
      Or swing anew the censer, or bow down
      In humble adoration of His frown.
      This was the thought in Eden as He trod --
      . . . It is a lonely thing to be a God.

      So long! afar through Time He bent His mind,
      For the beginning, which He could not find,
      Through endless centuries and backwards still
      Endless forever, till His 'stonied will
      Halted in circles, dizzied in the swing
      Of mazy nothingness. -- His mind could bring
      Not to subjection, grip or hold the theme
      Whose wide horizon melted like a dream
      To thinnest edges. Infinite behind
      The piling centuries were trodden blind
      In gulfs chaotic -- so He could not see
      When He was not who always had To Be.

      Not even godly fortitude can stare
      Into Eternity, nor easy bear
      The insolent vacuity of Time:
      It is too much, the mind can never climb
      Up to its meaning, for, without an end,
      Without beginning, plan, or scope, or trend
      To point a path, there nothing is to hold
      And steady surmise: so the mind is rolled
      And swayed and drowned in dull Immensity.
      Eternity outfaces even Me
      With its indifference, and the fruitless year
      Would swing as fruitless were I never there.

      And so for ever, day and night the same,
      Years flying swiftly nowhere, like a game
      Played random by a madman, without end
      Or any reasoned object but to spend
      What is unspendable -- Eternal Woe!
      O Weariness of Time that fast or slow
      Goes never further, never has in view
      An ending to the thing it seeks to do,
      And so does nothing: merely ebb and flow,
      From nowhere into nowhere, touching so
      The shores of many stars and passing on,
      Careless of what may come or what has gone.

      O solitude unspeakable! to be
      For ever with oneself! never see
      An equal face, or feel an equal hand,
      To sit in state and issue reprimand,
      Admonishment or glory, and to smile
      Disdaining what has happenèd the while!
      O to be breast to breast against a foe!
      Against a friend! to strive and not to know
      The laboured outcome: love nor be aware
      How much the other loved, and greatly care
      With passion for that happy love or hate,
      Nor know what joy or dole was hid in fate.
      For I have ranged the spacy width and gone
      Swift north and south, striving to look upon
      An ending somewhere. Many days I sped
      Hard to the west, a thousand years I fled
      Eastwards in fury, but I could not find
      The fringes of the Infinite. Behind
      And yet behind, and ever at the end
      Came new beginnings, paths that did not wend
      To anywhere were there: and ever vast
      And vaster spaces opened -- till at last
      Dizzied with distance, thrilling to a pain
      Unnameable, I turned to Heaven again.
      And there My angels were prepared to fling
      The cloudy incense, there prepared to sing
      My praise and glory -- O, in fury I
      Then roared them senseless, then threw down the sky
      And stamped upon it, buffeted a star
      With my great fist, and flung the sun afar:
      Shouted My anger till the mighty sound
      Rung to the width, frighting the furthest bound
      And scope of hearing: tumult vaster still,
      Throning the echo, dinned My ears, until
      I fled in silence, seeking out a place
      To hide Me from the very thought of Space.

      And so, He thought, in Mine own Image I
      Have made a man, remote from Heaven high
      And all its humble angels: I have poured
      My essence in his nostrils: I have cored
      His heart with My own spirit; part of Me,
      His mind with laboured growth unceasingly
      Must strive to equal Mine; must ever grow
      By virtue of My essence till he know
      Both good and evil through the solemn test
      Of sin and retribution, till, with zest,
      He feels his godhead, soars to challenge Me
      In Mine own Heaven for supremacy.

      Through savage beasts and still more savage clay,
      Invincible, I bid him fight a way
      To greater battles, crawling through defeat
      Into defeat again: ordained to meet
      Disaster in disaster; prone to fall,
      I prick him with My memory to call
      Defiance at his victor and arise
      With anguished fury to his greater size
      Through tribulation, terror, and despair.
      Astounded, he must fight to higher air,
      Climb battle into battle till he be
      Confronted with a flaming sword and Me.

      So growing age by age to greater strength,
      To greater beauty, skill and deep intent:
      With wisdom wrung from pain, with energy
      Nourished in sin and sorrow, he will be
      Strong, pure and proud an enemy to meet,
      Tremendous on a battle-field, or sweet
      To walk by as friend with candid mind.
      --Dear enemy or friend so hard to find,
      I yet shall find you, yet shall put My breast
      In enmity or love against your breast:
      Shall smite or clasp with equal ecstasy
      The enemy or friend who grows to Me.

      The topmost blossom of his growing I
      Shall take unto Me, cherish and lift high
      Beside myself upon My holy throne: --
      It is not good for God to be alone.
      The perfect woman of his perfect race
      Shall sit beside Me in the highest place
      And be my Goddess, Queen, Companion, Wife,
      The rounder of My majesty, the life
      Of My ambition. She will smile to see
      Me bending down to worship at her knee
      Who never bent before, and she will say,
      'Dear God, who was it taught Thee how to pray?"

      And through eternity, adown the slope
      Of never-ending time, compact of hope,
      Of zest and young enjoyment, I and She
      Will walk together, sowing jollity
      Among the raving stars, and laughter through
      The vacancies of Heaven, till the blue
      Vast amplitudes of space lift up a song,
      The echo of our presence, rolled along
      And ever rolling where the planets sing
      The majesty and glory of the King.
      Then conquered, thou, Eternity, shalt lie
      Under My hand as little as a fly.

      I am the Master: I the mighty God
      And you My workshop. Your pavilions trod
      By Me and Mine shall never cease to be,
      For you are but the magnitude of Me,
      The width of My extension, the surround
      Of My dense splendour. Rolling, rolling round,
      To steeped infinity, and out beyond
      My own strong comprehension, you are bond
      And servile to My doings. Let you swing
      More wide and ever wide, you do but fling
      Around the instant Me, and measure still
      The breadth and proportion of My Will.

      Then stooping to the hut -- a beehive round --
      God entered in and saw upon the ground
      The dusty garland, Adam, (learned to weave)
      Had loving placed upon the head of Eve
      Before the terror came, when joyous they
      Could look for God at closing of the day
      Profound and happy. So the Mighty Guest
      Rent, took, and placed the blossoms in His breast.
      'This,' said He gently, 'I shall show My queen
      When she hath grown to Me in space serene,
      And say "'twas worn by Eve."' So, smiling fair,
      He spread abroad His wings upon the air.

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