First World War Poetry Digital Archive

To Poesy

TO POESY by WILFRED OWEN

A thousand suppliants stand around thy throne, Stricken with love for thee, O Poesy. I stand among them, and with them I groan, And stretch my arms for help. Oh, pity me! No man (save them thou gav'st the right to ascend And sit with thee, 'nointing with unction fine, Calling thyself their servant and their friend) Has loved thee with a purer love than mine. For, as thou yieldest thy fair self so free To Masters not a few, so wayward men Give half their adoration up to thee, Beseech another goddess guide their pen, And with another muse their pleasure take. Not so with me! I neither cease to love, Nor am content to love but for the sake Of passing pleasures caught from thee above. For some will listen to thy trembling voice Since in its mournful music warbling low, Or in its measured chants, or bubbling joys They hear beloved tunes of long ago. And some are but enamoured of thy grace And find it well to kneel to thee, and pray, Because there oft-times play upon thy face Smiles of an earthly maiden far away.

Before the eyes of all thou hast the power To spread Elysium. Gorgeous memories Of days far distant in the past can flower Afresh beneath thy touch; yet not for these Thy mighty spells I love and hymn thy name; Nor yet because thou know'st the unseen road Which leads unto the awful halls of Fame, Where, midst the heapèd honours, thine the load Most richly prized, of all the crowns the best! No! not for these I long to win thee, Sweet! No more is this my fervent, hopeless quest--- To stand among the great ones there, to meet The bards of old and greet them as my peers. O impious thought! O I am mad to ask E'en that their voice may ever reach my ears.

            Yet show thou me the task,

That shall, as years advance, give power and skill, Firm hands; an eye which takes all beauty in, That I may woo thee thus, if thus thy will. Ah, gladly would I on such task begin But that I know this learning must be bought With gold as well as toil, and gold I lack. What then? Dost bid me first seek out the Court Where this world's wretched god, the money-sack, Doles out his favours to the cringing herd, There slave for him awhile to earn his pelf?

E'en should I leave him soon, my heart is stirred With glorious fear and trembles in itself, When I look forth upon the vasty seas Of learning to be travelled o'er. I fain Would know the hills, the founts, the very trees, Where sang the Greeks of old. I would have plain Before my vision, heroes, poets, kings, Hear their clear accents; then observe where trod E'en mythic men; yea, next on Hermes' wings Would mount Olympus and discern each god.

All this to speed my suit with Poesy Meseems must do; and far, far more than this; In divers tongues my thoughts must flow out free; And, in my own tongue, with no word amiss, For all its writers must be known to me. My hand must wield the critic's weapons, too, To save myself, or strike an enemy. Oh grant that this long training ne'er undo My simple, ardent love! Throw early dews Of inspiration oft-times on my brow. Let them fall suddenly and darkly as thou choose, Uncertain, fitful as the thunder-drops Which sprinkle us then cease, to splash once more Rapidly round, still pausing for long stops, Not knowing if to vent their heavy store Upon the parching ground, or wait awhile Till hasty travelling winds bring increased worth. But as at last the concentrated pile Of seething vapours flings its might to earth In spurts of fire and rain, and to the ground Flashes its energy, yields up its very soul, So, midst long triumph-roars of awful sound, Flash thou thy soul to me at last, and roll Torrential streams of thought upon my brain, So give, yea give Thyself to me At last. We shall be happy, thou and I. In me Thou'lt find a jealous guardian of thy charms, A doting master, leaving all to be Ever with thee, ever in thine arms. Forget my youth, forget my ignorance, Spurn not my lowliness, and lack of friends Who might help on my progress and perchance Present me fearless at the throne where bends Full timidly my lonely being now. Friends' service would be naught if thine own hand Uplifted me; do not thine eyes endow Far brighter wealth than books, and far more grand? Then come! Come with a rushing impulse swift, Or draw near slowly, gently, so it be Never to part. Round us the world may drift, Some with scoffs and frowns, with laughter some: Their hateful mockery I shall not heed. How could I feel ashamed to stand with one Who deigns to stoop and be my life's high meed? Yet if I would not for its jeering shun The world, no more would I parade its courts To change those jeers to applause by showing men Thy power. Publicity but poorly sorts My sacred joy, if thou should'st guide my pen.

Loath would I be to show my exceeding bliss Even to closest friends. But all unseen, And far from men's gaze would I feel thy kiss; No witness save the speechless star-lamps keen When thou stoop'st over me. No eye But Cynthia's look on us, when through the night We sit alone, our faces pressing nigh, Quietly shining in her quiet light.

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