This is a long one by Masefield, whom we last (internal ink) looked at in the very descriptive Night is on the Downland.
The Passing Strange at first appears to be more “we are only dust in the wind” type stuff. There is in fact a line that reads we are like “dust blown through the streets of Rome,” never-the-less, some well turned bits here and there.
Oh, pause here. Rhyming “blown” with “Rome” in the same sentence is quite nice.
Masefield was Britain’s Poet Laureate from 1930 to 1967, a fine run indeed.
The Passing Strange
by John Masefield (1878- 1967)
Out of the earth to rest or range
Perpetual in perpetual change,
The unknown passing through the strange.
Water and saltness held together
To tread the dust and stand the weather,
And plough the field and stretch the tether,
To pass the wine-cup and be witty,
Water the sands and build the city,
Slaughter like devils and have pity,
Be red with rage and pale with lust,
Make beauty come, make peace, make trust,
Water and saltness mixed with dust;
Drive over earth, swim under sea,
Fly in the eagle’s secrecy,
Guess where the hidden comets be;
Know all the deathy seeds that still
Queen Helen’s beauty, Caesar’s will,
And slay them even as they kill;
Fashion an altar for a rood,
Defile a continent with blood,
And watch a brother starve for food:
Love like a madman, shaking, blind,
Till self is burnt into a kind
Possession of another mind;
Brood upon beauty, till the grace
Of beauty with the holy face
Brings peace into the bitter place;
Prove in the lifeless granites, scan
The stars for hope, for guide, for plan;
Live as a woman or a man;
Fasten to lover or to friend,
Until the heart break at the end:
The break of death that cannot mend;
Then to lie useless, helpless, still,
Down in the earth, in dark, to fill
The roots of grass or daffodil.
Down in the earth, in dark, alone,
A mockery of the ghost in bone,
The strangeness, passing the unknown.
Time will go by, that outlasts clocks,
Dawn in the thorps will rouse the cocks,
Sunset be glory on the rocks:
But it, the thing, will never heed
Even the rootling from the seed
Thrusting to suck it for its need.
Since moons decay and suns decline,
How else should end this life of mine?
Water and saltness are not wine.
But in the darkest hour of night,
When even the foxes peer for sight,
The byre-cock crows; he feels the light.
So, in this water mixed with dust,
The byre-cock spirit crows from trust
That death will change because it must;
For all things change, the darkness changes,
The wandering spirits change their ranges,
The corn is gathered to the granges.
The corn is sown again, it grows;
The stars burn out, the darkness goes;
The rhythms change, they do not close.
They change, and we, who pass like foam,
Like dust blown through the streets of Rome,
Change ever, too; we have no home,
Only a beauty, only a power,
Sad in the fruit, bright in the flower,
Endlessly erring for its hour,
But gathering, as we stray, a sense
Of Life, so lovely and intense,
It lingers when we wander hence,
That those who follow feel behind
Their backs, when all before is blind,
Our joy, a rampart to the mind.