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Man Possessed Post by :Billr Category :Poems Author :William Rose Benet Date :October 2011 Read :1929

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Man Possessed

Shaken, a thousand times shaken, with the millions that grieve,
Now at last I am overtaken. I will say I believe.
I ran with the pennons of morning astream over me.
On the precipice, scorning its warning, I ran to be free.
Still I love high winds and the great running and the steep verge,
But strength past my strength overtakes my cunning, and stars emerge
High over me, eternal, deathless, deep over deep,
And my head sways heavy as I run breathless, my eyelids droop with sleep.

Yet it is not this has shaken my soul in me,
Not the bounds of life have overtaken my will to be free,
But scent and sound past mete and bound, and a sign--a sign
That no other eyes can recognize, that is only mine.
I hardly know what I believe or what I mean
Save there is sweetness round my heart and the world a screen
Of interwoven mystery to a world unseen.

Can one drink the air, can one seize the sea, can one grasp the fire?
Even so intangible to me the answer to my desire.
The elements we feel and see shift and drift and suspire
And we therein behind the screen, with glimmering brains that tire.
That is all! Nor can I fall now in the race.
As a second breath to a runner comes my soul takes up the pace--
For I dreamed the world ran with me in a far and starry place.

Gray as sea-mist driven were the shapes that strove
With the strength of greed and hate and the greater strength of love.
I saw their eyes like phosphorus, blue fog about them wove.
I saw the limbs glimmer and I heard the sighing come
From this side and from that, as our host ran dumb
Over a silver shining plain, to some strange end, to some--
Was it goal or heaven or city?--some agonizing gleam
That broke the heart for pity and made the eyes stream.
Above the pallor of that race our spent breath rose like steam,
Yet our red hearts pulsed within us, as we ran, in my dream.

A glow below the ghostly surf that swirled and surged and turned
Came from human hearts visible that throbbed and beat and burned,
And like sand of human ashes was the soil our feet spurned.
All the stars above us thronged the dome of space,
Poised like javeliniers, with glinting spear or mace,
Watchful of our running and to spoil our race,
And all the souls that ran, ran with drawn and lifted face.

This too was the real. I ran with dogged heart.
I parched like a desert, tortured in every part.
I knew not what city--nor why the race should start.

Then a singing touched me, and the scent of a flower,
A child's laugh, and the crying of a woman in her hour,
And a comrade's courage--and a subtle power
Not of worldly schemes and ways crept along my veins,
And my heart went ablaze and consumed its many stains,
And my lips were touched with wine and my body felt no pains.
Then it passed--and yet again it came and it passed--
Yet again and yet again, till I toiled at last
In the old ironic torture, bound fast, bound fast.

But as I looked I saw how it came and went,
That touch, that communion, almost inevident,
Through the host of these my brothers who ran nigh spent.
When it came they ran like men with life and lung
And the wind went by them like a song bravely sung,
Their hearts spread wide radiance, their limbs glowed young.
It passed, and they were phantoms with phantom arms that swung.

Here and there a true form some spirit would endue
For moments, but we mortals were but ghosts I knew.
Then a light low down before us to a distant landscape grew.
The stars from heaven crowded down. I knew our race was through.
The stars from heaven crowded down intolerably bright
With dizzying brilliance, height above armored height.
Every star upcast a spear and hurled it down to smite.

There was one strange thought in me. It echoed through my head
As some titanic corridor echoes a giant tread,
Only a little thing that my love once had said.
Common daily speech, a comforting word
Tossed to me as lightly as crumbs to a bird,
But it lived in my heart, it broke to flame and stirred
My self to a purpose at last not self could mar,
And I cried "We are delivered!" and I heard it echo far
Up to the vault of heaven past star on shrinking star.

So then I was running through poppies that I knew
Above a blue sea basking--and you--and you
Were running on the headland in the world made anew.

I know some force is mighty, some force I cannot reach.
I know that words are said to me that are not said with speech.
My heart has learned a lesson that I can never teach.
Only this I know, that I am overtaken
By a swifter runner Whose breath is never shaken,
That I follow on His pace, and that round me, as I waken,
Are the headlands of home and the blue sea swinging
And the flowers of the valleys their fresh scents flinging
And the prophets and the poets, with their singing--with their singing!


(The end)
William Rose Benet's poem: Man Possessed

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