First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Uriconium - An Ode

URICONIUM by WILFRED OWEN

It lieth low near merry England's heart Like a long-buried sin; and Englishmen Forget that in its death their sires had part. And, like a sin, Time lays it bare again To tell of races wronged, And ancient glories suddenly overcast, And treasures flung to fire and rabble wrath. If thou hast ever longed To lift the gloomy curtain of Time Past, And spy the secret things that Hades hath, Here through this riven ground take such a view. The dust, that fell unnoted as a dew, Wrapped the dead city's face like mummy-cloth: All is as was: except for worm and moth.

Since Jove was worshipped under Wrekin's shade Or Latin phrase was writ in Shropshire stone, Since Druid chaunts desponded in this glade Or Tuscan general called that field his own, How long ago? How long? How long since wanderers in the Stretton Hills Met men of shaggy hair and savage jaw, With flint and copper prong, Aiming behind their dikes and thorny grilles? Ah! those were days before the axe and saw, Then were the nights when this mid-forest town Held breath to hear the wolves come yelping down, And ponderous bears 'long Severn lifted paw, And nuzzling boars ran grunting through the shaw.

Ah me! full fifteen hundred times the wheat Hath risen, and bowed, and fallen to human hunger Since those imperial days were made complete. The weary moon hath waxen old and younger These eighteen thousand times Without a shrine to greet her gentle ray. And other temples rose; to Power and Pelf, And chimed centurial chimes Until their very bells are worn away. While King by King lay cold on vaulted shelf And wars closed wars, and many a Marmion fell, And dearths and plagues holp sire and son to hell; And old age stiffened many a lively elf And many a poet's heart outdrained itself.

I had forgot that so remote an age Beyond the horizon of our little sight, Is far from us by no more spanless gauge Than day and night, succeeding day and night, Until I looked on Thee, Thou ghost of a dead city, or its husk! But even as we could walk by field and hedge Hence to the distant sea So, by the rote of common dawn and dusk, We travel back to history's utmost edge. Yea, when through thy old streets I took my way, And recked a thousand years as yesterday, Methought sage fancy wrought a sacrilege To steal for me such godly privilege!

For here lie remnants from a banquet table--- Oysters and marrow-bones, and seeds of grape--- The statement of whose age must sound a fable; And Samian jars, whose sheen and flawless shape Look fresh from potter's mould. Plasters with Roman finger-marks impressed; Bracelets, that from the warm Italian arm Might seem to be scarce cold; And spears---the same that pushed the Cymry west--- Unblunted yet; with tools of forge and farm Abandoned, as a man in sudden fear Drops what he holds to help his swift career: For sudden was Rome's flight, and wild the alarm. The Saxon shock was like Vesuvius' qualm.

O ye who prate of modern art and craft Mark well that Gaulish brooch, and test that screw! Art's fairest buds on antique stem are graft. Under the sun is nothing wholly new! At Viricon today The village anvil rests on Roman base And in a garden, may be seen a bower With pillars for its stay That anciently in basilic had place. The church's font is but a pagan dower: A Temple's column, hollowed into this. So is the glory of our artifice, Our pleasure and our worship, but the flower Of Roman custom and of Roman power.

O ye who laugh and, living as if Time Meant but the twelve hours ticking round your dial, Find it too short for thee, watch the sublime, Slow, epochal time-registers awhile, Which are Antiquities. O ye who weep and call all your life too long And moan: Was ever sorrow like to mine? Muse on the memories That sad sepulchral stones and ruins prolong. Here might men drink of wonder like strong wine And feel ephemeral troubles soothed and curbed. Yet farmers, wroth to have their laws disturbed, Are sooner roused for little loss to pine Than we are moved by mighty woes long sync.

Above this reverend ground, what traveller checks? Yet cities such as these one time would breed Apocalyptic visions of world-wrecks. Let Saxon men return to them, and heed! They slew and burnt, But after, prized what Rome had given away Out of her strength and her prosperity. Have they yet learnt The precious truth distilled from Rome's decay? Ruins! On England's heart press heavily! For Rome hath left us more than walls and words And better yet shall leave; and more than herds Or land or gold gave the Celts to us in fee; E'en Blood, which makes poets sing and prophets see.

When late I viewed the gardens of rich men, Where throve my darling blossoms plenteously, With others whose rare glories dazed my ken, I was not teased with envious misery. Enough for me to see and recognize; Then bear away sweet names upon my tongue, Scents in my breath, and colours in my eyes. Their owners watch them die: I keep them young. But when more spacious pleasances I trod, And saw their thousand buds, but might not kiss Though loving like a lover, sire, and God, Sad was the yearning of my avarice. The rich man gives his parting guest one bloom, But God hath vouchsafed my meek longing---whom?

Long ages past in Egypt thou wert worshipped And thou wert wrought from ivory and beryl. They brought thee jewels and they brought their slain, Thy feet were dark with blood of sacrifice. From dawn to midnight, O my painted idol, Thou satest smiling, and the noise of killing Was harp and timbrel in thy pale jade ears; The livid dead were given thee for toys. Thou wert a mad slave in a Persian palace, And the King loved thee for thy furious beauty, And all men heard thy ravings with a smile Because thy face was fairer than a flower. But with a little knife so wantonly Thou slewest women and thy pining lovers, And on thy lips the stain of crimson blood, And on thy brow the pallor of their death. Thou art the dream beheld by frenzied princes In smoke of opium. Thou art the last fulfilment Of all the wicked, and of all the beautiful. We hold thee as a poppy to our mouths, Finding with thee forgetfulness of God. Thou art the face reflected in a mirror Of wild desire, of pain, of bitter pleasure. The witches shout thy name beneath the moon, The fires of Hell have held thee in their fangs.

O World of many worlds, O life of lives, What centre hast thou? Where am I? O whither is it thy fierce onrush drives? Fight I, or drift; or stand; or fly? The loud machinery spins, points work in touch; Wheels whirl in systems, zone in zone. Myself, having sometime moved with such, Would strike a centre of mine own. Lend hand, O Fate, for I am down, am lost! Fainting by violence of the Dance ... Ah thanks, I stand---the floor is crossed, And I am where but few advance. I see men far below me where they swarm ... (Haply above me---be it so! Does space to compass-points conform, And can we say a star stands high or low?) Not more complex the millions of the stars Than are the hearts of mortal brothers; As far remote as Neptune from small Mars Is one man's nature from another's. But all hold course unalterably fixed; They follow destinies foreplanned: I envy not these lives their faith unmixed, I would not step with such a band. To be a meteor, fast, eccentric, lone, Lawless; in passage through all spheres, Warning the earth of wider ways unknown And rousing men with heavenly fears ... This is the track reserved for my endeavour; Spanless the erring way I wend. Blackness of darkness is my meed for ever? And barren plunging without end?

O glorious fear! Those other wandering souls High burning through that outer bourne Are lights unto themselves. Fair aureoles Self-radiated there are worn. And when in after times those stars return And strike once more earth's horizon, They gather many satellites astern, For they are greater than this system's Sun.

The time was acon; and the place all earth. The spectacle I saw was not a dream, But true resumption of experienced things. The scene meseemed one vast deformity, Made lovely by pervasion of a spirit. For as the morning sunshine sanctifies Even the ordure of a sordid town, So all this wreck was glamoured by some charm A mystery of music. For, a Presence there Created low, rich music, endlessly. The Place was called the World, and lo! the name Of him, the unapparent spirit, was An evil Angel's; and I learnt the name Of that strange, regnant Presence as the Flesh. It bore the naked likeness of a boy Flawlessly moulded, fine exceedingly, Beautiful unsurpassably---so much More portraiture were fond futility For even thought is not long possible, Becoming too soon passion: and meseemed His outline changed, from beauty unto beauty, As change the contours of slim, sleeping clouds. His skin, too, glowed, pale scarlet like the clouds Lit from the eastern underworld; which thing Bewondered me the more. But I remember The statue of his body standing so Against the huge disorder of the place Resembled a strong music; and it triumphed Even as the trend of one clear perfect air Across confusion of a thousand chords. Then watched I how there ran towards that way A multitude of railers, hot with hate, And maddened by the voice of a small Jew Who cried with a loud voice, saying 'Away! Away with him!' and 'Crucify him! Him, With the affections and the lusts thereof.'

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