Nathan Percy Graham portrait
Percy Graham, 1920,
a posthumous portrait
by Estella Graham

THE POEMS OF N. P. GRAHAM (1895-1920)

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–~–~– Resurgent Homines –~–~–
(A Song To The Elders)
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THE laurels are dead on the shrines when ye placed them,
And withered the flowers that ye lightly have laid;
There is dust where the dazzle of gold should have graced them.
The wreaths that ye wove them are dry and decayed.

Fair was the rose and the sunshine was golden,
Softer than sunshine the song that ye sang –
"To you, our dear heroes, our hearts are beholden" –
From aisles and from altars your reverence rang.

Ye have given them tears, ye have wet them with weeping,
Mourning and praying ye set them in stone.
And the vows that ye made them for breaking or keeping?
The sighs for their sorrows or only your own?

Ye have set up a cenotaph fringed round with phrases –
Sonorous words on a meaningless pile;
For hollow the tomb that is pillared on praises,
To be trampled in time, though it live for a while.

Will ye set up a hollow device for the living
Of gilt-lettered gratitude, barren as death?
Giving them praise when ye ought to be giving
Them freedom? For praise is as empty as breath!

If your prayers be not idle and writ on the waters
In letters of fire to be quenched ina shower,
If your hearts have gone out to their sons and their daughters
Your words must be lodestars, not lamps of an hour.

The altars of life ye are leaving unladen,
Wind-swept and desolate, empty of fruits,
Choked with neglect as the graves that ye prayed on,
Hedged in with hemlock and ridden with roots

Of poison and bitterness, hatred and rancour,
Pale blossoms of darkness that thrive on despair,
Fruits without fulness and crabbèd with canker;
These are their portion – do none of you care?

If ye honour the dead ye must cherish the living,
Enkindle the lamp that shall light their tired eyes,
And scatter with sunshine the mists of misgiving
That gather like ghosts round their sorrowful skies.

Like the ghosts of dead happiness, silent and dreary
Dim shadows of destiny shut out their dreams,
Enshrouding their daybreak, that worn and forweary
They heed not the sunrise, so mournful it seems.

So dismal the daybreak, so friendless the fighting.
Oh, have ye forsaken them, surely ye know?
Oh, ye too have felt the grim bitterness biting
Your heart-strings, forye too have tasted of woe.

In the days when the world seemed unfeeling and lightless,
And nights were a refuge if sleep could be lured
To a heart that was heavy, and eyes that were sightless
For tears and for sorrows the soul had endured.

Lethe is taunting the lips of the lover,
The mists of oblivion drift and divide,
Where the wraiths of dead memory mournfully hover,
And down the pale twilight forgather and glide.

And the world loses sunshine, the storm winds grow colder,
The black clouds of sorrow encircle the day,
The old wound lies bleeding, the spirit grows older –
Can ye not feel, who have suffered as they?

On the field of their glory the fallen are smiling,
And friend is with enemy, arms intertwined;
They have made end of blind hate and reviling,
They sorrow no more, for the darkness is kind.

Only in darkness their hands are unfettered,
Only in death are they able to see,
For be they book-learnèd or rude and unlettered,
They are brothers in wisdom where freedom is free.

They are brothers in wisdom and brothers in spirit,
Brothers in sorrow and brothers in light,
And shall there be hate in the world he inherit,
From those who are saving it out of its night?

The blood-seal of suffering bindeth together
Twain enemy hearts in a kinship of trust;
Yea, whether in day the embracing or whether
Away from all knowing and one with the dust.

Think ye they laughed when they heard the last thunder,
Hidden away in the bosom of death –
Laughed that the foemen were riven in sunder,
Scattered and broken and gasping for breath?

Think ye they cried out for blood and for killing,
Death to their enemies, hate without end?
They too have gone to the slaughter unwilling,
They too to fight for the tyrants who send.)

Tho' men here be misers and gold be their guerdon,
Toiling for tyrants and stamped on like slaves,
The flashlight of battle revealed them their burden,
And slaves became men by their fellow-men's graves.

And they have found love where the hating was strongest,
Manhood where murder and lust were unloosed;
They have fought light where the dark night was longest
And hope was a stranger, till silence seduced

With its cooling caresses that fanned the hot waiting
Along the last edge by the boundary-line,
At the edge of despairing, despising and hating,
The gates of the garden where roses entwine –

Till silence seduced the first fear of hereafter,
As sunshine in April drives winter away,
Till heartaches were hidden and tears became laughter
Along the last edge at the coming of day.

But ye, ye are crying for vengeance unending,
With your hollow-built tombs and your crocodile tears;
At the feet of the War God in thrall ye are bending,
And girding your sons for his charioteers.

Ye are bringing in homage more blood to his altars,
Blood of your enemies, blood of your sons:
"He is hungry," ye say (and your coward heart falters),
Your children must starve to find food for his guns!

Of your sons is the crop: are their fathers to reap it?
(Its roots in the soil that their slaughter made rich.)
Nay, for the sons of your sons ye shall keep it,
A year or a hundred, it matters not which.

Theirs is the harvest whose fathers have sown it,
Theirs is the aftermath, theirs is the fruit.
What if the winds of despair have o'erthrown it?
Remember! the harvest is red at the root!

For ye heal not the hurts of the men ye are mourning,
Ye that have given them, blood of your blood:
Do ye see not the light of the day that is dawning
Out of the darkness, out of the mud?

Out of the lives of the men ye have given,
Out of the hearts of the men ye forsake –
Those ye have cajoled and those ye have driven –
There groweth a fire that your tears shall not slake.

The earth shall be smitten from mountain to mountain,
The dead wastes of darkness shall sunder with fire
That shall shine down the world like a death-dealing fountain,
From ocean to river, from turret to spire.

An earthly archangel shall muster the legions
from prisons of cities made black with their slums,
From highlands and lowlands and desolate regions –
The Godhead of Freedom is arming. He comes!

On the winds of new knowledge set free by black sorrow
The coming is sounded; the beacons burn red!
But ye with your "Justice" are blind to the morrow,
For Justice is blind though the light is ahead.

Dash down the scales from the hand of blind Justice!
Oh, dash down the bandage and make her to see!
For the sword in her hand that is covered with rust is
The sword that has severed the bond from the free!

And the rust is of tears, though ye heard not the weeping,
But smiled when ye thought how the prostitute jade
Injustice, own daughter of Justice, was keeping
Her court in the kingdom her mother had made.

For ye sit in your councils and praise one another,
Bartering honour for ribbons and gold,
Paying that price with the blood of a brother,
And buying a crown when your honour is sold.

Yea, prating of justice and murdering honour,
Careless of mercy and heedless of ruth;
But the world is awake with her armour upon her,
And Freedom is leading the armies of Youth!


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–~–~– Resurgent Homines –~–~–
(A Song To The Elders)

next poem

Copyright Philip Graham & Janet (Graham) O'Meara, 2004. All rights reserved