THE FIELD OF FLAX
They sat and cursed the scorching dawn
Because their warring gods had gone
And left the vineyards bare —
Until some harsher than the rest
Rose from the dust, and pledged a quest
To see what favored realms there are —
However high, however far —
And seize the blue-eyed demon in his lair.
Devil or god, he was the same
Provider of the fire that came
Forth from a milky hand;
Hard-bitten by the urge to win
A banner of celestial skin,
They left the shade of smoke and steel
With all the rage that they could feel,
And hot eyes fixed upon the northern land.
No sense that terror can be sweet
Was borne by leaden, careless feet
Where pine cathedrals sighed;
The roaring of the flooded gorge,
The white spark struck from starry forge,
Were treasures lost within the need
To justify the gnaw of greed
Empty as aeons where stark awe has died.
They made no pause to loot the coins
Of tansy, where the summer joins
Autumn in honeyed haze;
But in an orchard, where they found
The early apples, ripe and round,
They set about their spumy task
As brisk as ring-tail and black-mask,
Stripping the branches in as wild a daze.
And when they crossed the last ravine,
Cracked rocks gave way to grass more green
Than envy's hungry eye;
The silver silo and the fold,
The trembling yield of corn that told
How few the workers for the field,
What gold the farmhouse walls concealed,
Under no witness but the crystal sky.
Yet all was still — the house was dark
As if some plague had found its mark
And left the worthless dead.
White jimson weed — the fatal grail —
Had bound the lilac to the nail
Above the empty panes that spoke
Refusal, by an absent folk
Who cast their titan shadows overhead!
On steps of ether, they started to climb,
Strong hearts broken and hands worn out,
Knowing (thanks to the fullness of time)
Why they were drawn by the trumpet-shout
To farmland where the sweep of the scythe
Overshadows the ease of the day,
Subject neither to tax nor to tithe;
No one can ever take it away.
And for their part — owed neither tithe nor tax —
Near the whirling sun, where the white clouds tower,
They bend to their work in a field of flax,
Blessing the source of Earth's one blue flower!
There, where the clouds are seeded with gold
And yield up coffers of holy oil,
They grasp and pull, for the roots take hold,
Like life's twin hallows of love and toil.
Then, in the hall of the hot blue dale
(White cakes, white linen, to bless that throng),
They drink full measure of harvest ale
(All the better when frothed with song)
While half-remembered, through veils of joy,
Far below, the abandoned farm
Withers and wanes to the size of a toy,
Chrysalis-like in its cloak of charm.
That was the haunt of the whirring bee,
Where the honeyed harvest of thought could wax
In every cell of a mind left free
To scan the stars as it guides the axe.
But now — in the yard, by the tire-swing,
In time with its effortless forth-and-back,
Howls and curses are echoing,
O for Over in ashen black
For minds new-shattered by blades of truth
That send white roots to the heart of a lie;
And they fall to rending with claw and tooth,
Talon for talon and eye for eye.
Thus to those who would strip the earth
Of the fairest flower of hearth and heath,
Comes the surety of what that crop was worth
In winter's welcome with white wolf-teeth!