by Alfred Noyes

Alfred Noyes

In the Black Country, from a little window,
Before I slept, across the haggard wastes
Of dust and ashes, I saw Titanic shafts
Like shadowy columns of wan-hope arise
To waste, on the blear sky, their slow sad wreaths
Of smoke, their infinitely sad slow prayers.
Then, as night deepened, the blast-furnaces,
Red smears upon the sulphurous blackness, turned
All that sad region to a City of Dis,
Where naked, sweating giants all night long
Bowed their strong necks, melted flesh, blood and bone,
To brim the dry ducts of the gods of gloom
With terrible rivers, branches of living gold.
O, like some tragic gesture of great souls
In agony, those awful columns towered
Against the clouds, that city of ash and slag
Assumed the grandeur of some direr Thebes
Arising to the death-chant of those gods,
A dreadful Order climbing from the dark
Of Chaos and Corruption, threatening to take
Heaven with its vast slow storm.
I slept, and dreamed.
And like the slow beats of some Titan heart
Buried beneath immeasurable woes,
The forging-hammers thudded through the dream:
Huge on a fallen tree,
Lost in the darkness of primeval woods,
Enceladus, earth-born Enceladus,
The naked giant, brooded all alone.
Born of the lower earth, he knew not how,
Born of the mire and clay, he knew not when,
Brought forth in darkness, and he knew not why!
Thus, like a wind, went by a thousand years.
And hungered, yet no comrade of the wolf,
And cold, but with no power upon the sun,
A master of this world that mastered him!
Thus, like a cloud, went by a thousand years.
"Who" chained this other giant in his heart
That heaved and burned like Etna? Heavily
He bent his brows and wondered and was dumb.
And, like one wave, a thousand years went by.
He raised his matted head and scanned the stars.
He stood erect! He lifted his uncouth arms!
With inarticulate sounds his uncouth lips
Wrestled and strove- I am full-fed, and yet
I hunger!
Who set this fiercer famine in my maw?
Can I eat moons, gorge on the Milky Way,
Swill sunsets down, or sup the wash of the dawn
Out of the rolling swine-troughs of the sea?
Can I drink oceans, lie beneath the mountains,
And nuzzle their heavy boulders like a cub
Sucking the dark teats of the tigress? Who,
Who set this deeper hunger in my heart?
And the dark forest echoed- Who? Ah, who?
"I hunger!"
And the night-wind answered him,
"Hunt, then, for food."
"I hunger!"
And the sleek gorged lioness
Drew nigh him, dripping freshly from the kill,
Redder her lolling tongue, whiter her fangs,
And gazed with ignorant eyes of golden flame.
"I hunger!"
Like a breaking sea his cry
Swept through the night. Against his swarthy knees
She rubbed the red wet velvet of her ears
With mellow thunders of unweeting bliss,
Purring- Ah, seek, and you shall find.
Ah, seek, and you shall slaughter, gorge, ah seek,
Seek, seek, you shall feed full, ah seek, ah seek.
Enceladus, earth-born Enceladus,
Bewildered like a desert-pilgrim, saw
A rosy City, opening in the clouds,
The hunger-born mirage of his own heart,
Far, far above the world, a home of gods,
Where One, a goddess, veiled in the sleek waves
Of her deep hair, yet glimmering golden through,
Lifted, with radiant arms, ambrosial food
For hunger such as this! Up the dark hills,
He rushed, a thunder-cloud,
Urged by the famine of his heart. He stood
High on the topmost crags, he hailed the gods
In thunder, and the clouds re-echoed it!
He hailed the gods!
And like a sea of thunder round their thrones
Washing, a midnight sea, his earth-born voice
Besieged the halls of heaven! He hailed the gods!
They laughed, he heard them laugh!
With echo and re-echo, far and wide,
A golden sea of mockery, they laughed!
Enceladus, earth-born Enceladus,
Laid hold upon the rosy Gates of Heaven,
And shook them with gigantic sooty hands,
Asking he knew not what, but not for alms;
And the Gates, opened as in jest;
And, like a sooty jest, he stumbled in.
Round him the gods, the young and scornful gods,
Clustered and laughed to mark the ravaged face,
The brutal brows, the deep and dog-like eyes,
The blunt black nails, and back with burdens bowed.
And, when they laughed, he snarled with uncouth lips
And made them laugh again.
"Whence comest thou?"
He could not speak!
How should he speak whose heart within him heaved
And burned like Etna? Through his mouth there came
A sound of ice-bergs in a frozen sea
Of tears, a sullen region of black ice
Rending and breaking, very far away.
They laughed!
He stared at them, bewildered, and they laughed
Again, "Whence comest thou?"
He could not speak!
But through his mouth a moan of midnight woods,
Where wild beasts lay in wait to slaughter and gorge,
A moan of forest-caverns where the wolf
Brought forth her litter, a moan of the wild earth
In travail with strange shapes of mire and clay,
Creatures of clay, clay images of the gods,
That hungered like the gods, the most high gods,
But found no food, and perished like the beasts.
And the gods laughed,-
Art thou, then, such a god? And, like a leaf
Unfolding in dark woods, in his deep brain
A sudden memory woke; and like an ape
He nodded, and all heaven with laughter rocked,
While Artemis cried out with scornful lips,-
Perchance He is the Maker of you all!
Then, piteously outstretching calloused hands,
He sank upon his knees, his huge gnarled knees,
And echoed, falteringly, with slow harsh tongue,-
Perchance, perchance, the Maker of you all.
They wept with laughter! And Aphrodite, she,
With keener mockery than white Artemis
Who smiled aloof, drew nigh him unabashed
In all her blinding beauty. Carelessly,
As o'er the brute brows of a stallèd ox
Across that sooty muzzle and brawny breast,
Contemptuously, she swept her golden hair
In one deep wave, a many-millioned scourge
Intolerable and beautiful as fire;
Then turned and left him, reeling, gasping, dumb,
While heaven re-echoed and re-echoed, See,
Perchance, perchance, the Maker of us all!
Enceladus, earth-born Enceladus,
Rose to his feet, and with one terrible cry
"I hunger," rushed upon the scornful gods
And strove to seize and hold them with his hands,
And still the laughter deepened as they rolled
Their clouds around them, baffling him. But once,
Once with a shout, in his gigantic arms
He crushed a slippery splendour on his breast
And felt on his harsh skin the cool smooth peaks
Of Aphrodite's bosom. One black hand
Slid down the naked snow of her long side
And bruised it where he held her. Then, like snow
Vanishing in a furnace, out of his arms
The splendour suddenly melted, and a roll
Of thunder split the dream, and headlong down
He fell, from heaven to earth; while, overhead
The young and scornful gods- he heard them laugh!-
Toppled the crags down after him. He lay
Supine. They plucked up Etna by the roots
And buried him beneath it. His broad breast
Heaved, like that other giant in his heart,
And through the crater burst his fiery breath,
But could not burst his bonds. And so he lay
Breathing in agony thrice a thousand years.
Then came a Voice, he knew not whence, "Arise,
Enceladus!" And from his heart a crag
Fell, and one arm was free, and one thought free,
And suddenly he awoke, and stood upright,
Shaking the mountains from him like a dream;
And the tremendous light and awful truth
Smote, like the dawn, upon his blinded eyes,
That out of his first wonder at the world,
Out of his own heart's deep humility,
And simple worship, he had fashioned gods
Of cloud, and heaven out of a hollow shell.
And groping now no more in the empty space
Outward, but inward in his own deep heart,
He suddenly felt the secret gates of heaven
Open, and from the infinite heavens of hope
Inward, a voice, from the innermost courts of Love,
Rang- Thou shall have none other gods but Me.
Enceladus, the foul Enceladus,
When the clear light out of that inward heaven
Whose gates are only inward in the soul,
Showed him that one true Kingdom, said,
"I will stretch
My hands out once again. And, as the God
That made me is the Heart within my heart,
So shall my heart be to this dust and earth
A god and a creator. I will strive
With mountains, fires and seas, wrestle and strive,
Fashion and make, and that which I have made
In anguish I shall love as God loves me."
In the Black Country, from a little window,
Waking at dawn, I saw those giant Shafts
- O great dark word out of our elder speech,
Long since the poor man's kingly heritage-
The Shapings, the dim Sceptres of Creation,
The Shafts like columns of wan-hope arise
To waste, on the blear sky, their slow sad wreaths
Of smoke, their infinitely sad slow prayers.
Then, as the dawn crimsoned, the sordid clouds,
The puddling furnaces, the mounds of slag,
The cinders, and the sand-beds and the rows
Of wretched roofs, assumed a majesty
Beyond all majesties of earth or air;
Beauty beyond all beauty, as of a child
In rags, upraised thro' the still gold of heaven,
With wasted arms and hungering eyes, to bring
The armoured seraphim down upon their knees
And teach eternal God humility;
The solemn beauty of the unfulfilled
Moving towards fulfilment on a height
Beyond all heights; the dreadful beauty of hope;
The naked wrestler struggling from the rock
Under the sculptor's chisel; the rough mass
Of clay more glorious for the poor blind face
And bosom that half emerge into the light,
More glorious and august, even in defeat,
Than that too cold dominion God foreswore
To bear this passionate universal load,
This Calvary of Creation, with mankind.

Last updated August 18, 2022