The Carver in Stone

He was a man with wide and patient eyes,

Grey, like the drift of twitch-fires blown in June,

That, without fearing, searched if any wrong

Might threaten from your heart. Grey eyes he had

Under a brow was drawn because he knew

So many seasons to so many pass

Of upright service, loyal, unabased

Before the world seducing, and so, barren

Of good words praising and thought that mated his.

He carved in stone. Out of his quiet life

He watched as any faithful seaman charged

With tidings of the myriad faring sea,

And thoughts and premonitions through his mind

Sailing as ships from strange and storied lands

His hungry spirit held, till all they were

Found living witness in the chiselled stone.

Slowly out of the dark confusion, spread

By life's innumerable venturings

Over his brain, he would triumph into the light

Of one clear mood, unblemished of the blind

Legions of errant thought that cried about

His rapt seclusion: as a pearl unsoiled,

Nay, rather washed to lonelier chastity,

In gritty mud. And then would come a bird,

A flower, or the wind moving upon a flower,

A beast at pasture, or a clustered fruit,

A peasant face as were the saints of old,

The leer of custom, or the bow of the moon

Swung in miraculous poise -- some stray from the world

Of things created by the eternal mind

In joy articulate. And his perfect mood

Would dwell about the token of God's mood,

Until in bird or flower or moving wind

Or flock or shepherd or the troops of heaven

It sprang in one fierce moment of desire

To visible form.

Then would his chisel work among the stone,

Persuading it of petal or of limb

Or starry curve, till risen anew there sang

Shape out of chaos, and again the vision

Of one mind single from the world was pressed

Upon the daily custom of the sky

Or field or the body of man.

                         His people

Had many gods for worship. The tiger-god,

The owl, the dewlapped bull, the running pard,

The camel, and the lizard of the slime,

The ram with quivering fleece and fluted horn,

The crested eagle and the doming bat

Were sacred. And the king and his high priests

Decreed a temple, wide on columns huge,

Should top the cornlands to the sky's far line.

They bade the carvers carve along the walls

Images of their gods, each one to carve

As he desired, his choice to name his god. . . .

And many came; and he among them, glad

Of three leagues' travel through the singing air

Of dawn among the boughs yet bare of green,

The eager flight of the spring leading his blood

Into swift lofty channels of the air,

Proud as an eagle riding to the sun. . . .

An eagle, clean of pinion -- there's his choice.

Daylong they worked under the growing roof,

One at his leapard, one the staring ram,

And he winning his eagle from the stone,

Until each man had carved one image out,

Arow beyond the portal of the house.

They stood arow, the company of gods,

Camel and bat, lizard and bull and ram,

The pard and owl, dead figures on the wall,

Figures of habit driven on the stone

By chisels governed by no heat of the brain

But drudges of hands that moved by easy rule.

Proudly recorded mood was none, no thought

Plucked from the dark battalions of the mind

And throned in everlasting sight. But one

God of them all was witness of belief

And large adventure dared. His eagle spread

Wide pinions on the cloudless ground of heaven,

Glad with the heart's high courage of that dawn

Moving upon the ploughlands newly sown,

Dead stone the rest. He looked, and knew it so.

Then came the king with prists and counsellors

And many chosen of the people, wise

With words weary of custom, and eyes askew

That watched their neighbour face for any news

Of the best way of judgment, till, each sure

None would determine with authority,

All spoke in prudent praise. One liked the owl

Because an owl blinked on the beam of his barn.

One, hoarse with crying gospels in the street,

Priased most the ram, because the common folk

Wore breeches made of ram's wool. One declared

the tiger pleased him best, -- the man who carved

The tiger-god was halt out of th womb --

A man to praise, being so pitiful.

And one, whose eyes dwelt in a distant void,

With spell and omen pat upon his lips,

And a purse for any crystal prophet ripe,

A zealot of the mist, gazed at the bull --

A lean ill-shapen bull of meagre lines

That scarce the steel had graved upon the stone --

Saying that here was very mystery

And truth, did men but know. And one there was

Who priased his eagle, but remembering

The lither pinion of the swift, the curve

That liked him better of the mirrored swan.

And they who carved the tiger-god and ram,

The camel and the pard, the owl and bull,

And lizard, listened greedily, and made

Humble denial of their worthiness,

And when the king his royal judgement gave

That all had fashioned well, and bade that each

Re-shape his chosen god along the walls

Till all the temple boasted of their skill,

The bowed themselves in token that as this

Never had carvers been so fortunate.

Only the man with wide and patient eyes

Made no denial, neither bowed his head.

Already while they spoke his thoughts had gone

Far from his eagle, leaving it for a sign

Loyally wrought of one deep breath of life,

And played about the image of a toad

That crawled among his ivy leaves. A queer

Puff-bellied toad, with eyes that always stared

Sidelong at heaven and saw no heaven there,

Weak-hammed, and with a throttle somehow twisted

Beyond full wholesome draughts of air, and skin

Of wrinkled lips, the only zest or will

The little flashing tongue searching the leaves.

The king and priest, chosen and counsellor,

Babbling out of their thin and jealous brains,

Seemed strangely one; a queer enormous toad

Panting under giant leaves of dark,

Sunk in the loins, peering into the day.

Their judgment wry he counted not for wrong

More than the fabled poison of the toad

Striking at simple wits; how should their thought

Or word in praise or blame come near the peace

That shone in seasonable hours above

The patience of his spirit's husbandry?

They foolish and not seeing, how should he

Spend anger there or fear -- great ceremonies

Equal for none save great antagonists?

The grave indifference of his heart before them

Was moved by laughter innocent of hate,

Chastising clean of spite, that moulded them

Into the antic likeness of his toad

Bidding for laughter underneath the leaves.

He bowed not, nor disputed, but saw

Those ill-created joyless gods, and loathed,

And saw them creeping, creeping round the walls,

Death breeding death, wile witnessing to wile,

And sickened at the dull iniquity

Should be rewarded, and for ever breathe

Contagion on the folk gathered in prayer.

His truth should not be doomed to march among

This falsehood to the ages. He was called,

And he must labour there; if so the king

Would grant it, where the pillars bore the roof

A galleried way of meditation nursed

Secluded time, with wall of ready stone

In panels for the carver set between

The windows -- there his chisel should be set, --

It was his plea. And the king spoke of him,

Scorning, as one lack-fettle, among all these

Eager to take the riches of renown;

One fearful of the light of knowing nothing

Of light's dimension, a witling who would thro

Honour aside and priase spoken aloud

All men of heart should covet. Let him go

Grubbing out of the sight of those who knew

The worth of subtance; there was his proper trade.

A squat and curious toad indeed. . . . The eyes,

Patient and grey, were dumb as were the lips,

That, fixed and governed, hoarded from them all

The larger laughter lifting in his heart.

Straightway about his gallery he moved,

Measured the windows and the virgin stone,

Til all was weighed and patterned in his brain.

Then first where most the shadows struck the wall,

Under the sills, and centre of the base,

From floor to sill out of the stone was wooed

Memorial folly, as from the chisel leapt

His chastening laughter searching priest and king --

A huge and wrinkled toak, with legs asplay,

And belly loaded, leering with great eyes

Busily fixed upon the void.

                              All days

His chisel was the first to ring across

The temple's quiet; and at fall of dusk

Passing among the carvers homeward, they

Would speak of him as mad, or weak against

The challenge of the world, and let him go

Lonely, as was his will, under the night

Of stars or cloud or summer's folded sun,

Through crop and wood and pastureland to sleep.

None took the narrow stair as wondering

How did his chisel prosper in the stone,

Unvisited his labour and forgot.

And times when he would lean out of his height

And watch the gods growing along the walls,

The row of carvers in their linen coats

Took in his vision a virtue that alone

Carving they had not nor the thing they carved.

Knowing the health that flowed about his close

Imagining, the daily quiet won

From process of his clean and supple craft,

Those carvers there, far on the floor below,

Would haply be transfigured in his thought

Into a gallant company of men

Glad of the strict and loyal reckoning

That proved in the just presence of the brain

Each chisel-stroke. How surely would he prosper

In pleasant talk at easy hours with men

So fashioned if it might be -- and his eyes

Would pass again to those dead gods that grew

In spreading evil round the temple walls;

And, one dead pressure made, the carvers moved

Along the wall to mould and mould again

The self-same god, their chisels on the stone

Tapping in dull precision as before,

And he would turn, back to his lonely truth.

He carved apace. And first his people's gods,

About the toad, out of their sterile time,

Under his hand thrilled and were recreate.

The bull, the pard, the camel and the ram,

Tiger and owl and bat -- all were the signs

Visibly made body on the stone

Of sightless thought adventuring the host

That is mere spirit; these the bloom achieved

By secret labour in the flowing wood

Of rain and air and wind and continent sun. . . .

His tiger, lithe, immobile in the stone,

A swift destruction for a moment leashed,

Sprang crying from the jealous stealth of men

Opposed in cunning watch, with engines hid

Of torment and calamitous desire.

His leapard, swift on lean and paltry limbs,

Was fear in flight before accusing faith.

His bull, with eyes that often in the dusk

Would lift from the sweet meadow grass to watch

Him homeward passing, bore on massy beam

The burden of the patient of the earth.

His camel bore the burden of the damned,

Being gaunt, with eyes aslant along the nose.

He had a friend, who hammered bronze and iron

And cupped the moonstone on a silver ring,

One constant like himself, would come at night

Or bid him as a guest, when they would make

Their poets touch a starrier height, or search

Together with an unparsimonious mind

The crowded harbours of mortality.

And there were jests, wholesome as harvest ale,

Of homely habit, bred of hearts that dared

Judgment of laughter under the eternal eye:

This frolic wisdom was his carven owl.

His ram was lordship on the lonely hills,

Alert and fleet, content only to know

The wind mightily pouring on his fleece,

With yesterday and all unrisen suns

Poorer than disinherited ghosts. His bat

Was ancient envy made a mockery,

Cowering below the newer eagle carved

Above the arches with wide pinion spread,

His faith's dominion of that happy dawn.

And so he wrought the gods upon the wall,

Living and crying out of his desire,

Out of his patient incorruptible thought,

Wrought them in joy was wages to his faith.

And other than the gods he made. The stalks

Of bluebells heavy with the news of spring,

The vine loaded with plenty of the year,

And swallows, merely tenderness of thought

Bidding the stone to small and fragile flight;

Leaves, the thin relics of autumnal boughs,

Or massed in June. . . .

All from their native pressure bloomed and sprang

Under his shaping hand into a proud

And governed image of the central man, --

And all were deftly ordered, duly set

Between the windows, underneath the sills,

And roofward, as a motion rightly planned,

Till on the wall, out of the sullen stone,

A glory blazed, his vision manifest,

His wonder captive. And he was content.

And when the builders and the carvers knew

Their labours done, and high the temple stood

Over the cornlands, king and counsellor

And prist and chosen of the people came

Among a ceremonial multitude

To dedication. And, below the thrones

Where king and archpriest ruled above the throng,

Highest among the ranked artificers

The carvers stood. And when, the temple vowed

To holy use, tribute and choral praise

Given as was ordained, the king looked down

Upon the gathered folk, and bade them see

The comely gods fashioned about the walls,

And keep in honour men whose precious skill

Could so adorn the sessions of their worship,

Gravely the carvers bowed them to the ground.

Only the man with wide and patient eyes

Stood not among them; nor did any come

To count his labour, where he watched alone

Above the coloured throng. He heard, and looked

Again upon his work, and knew it good,

Smiled on his toad, passed down the stair unseen,

And sang across the teeming meadow home.


                                                                        [John Drinkwater]


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