I thought of the many years that I had wandered in the plain,
of all the days that had passed into the distance –
of the days when I had come to know what lay within
its cities, and its armies, and its people;
how, there, I had once gazed into eyes that were those of an angel,
and yet paid homage to despoiling lips;
how I had drifted in processions of those who offered up
their waxen prayers and barren thanks to heaven,
and sat in the company of those who spat their blasphemies
and laughed as savage men condemned might laugh in Hell;
how I had courted, blind that I was, the pretences that are
liberty and progress.
I recalled those days, too, when I thought I had the strength
to quell that raging world,
but found instead that love and fear and greed and governance
and gods made playthings of us all.
And because of this it was that even in the red hours when men
were cowed, and bowed and ate their bitter bread
I took delight in jesting at that madhouse of a world.
But I looked back, too, and it was with fondest wonder, at the
memorable hues of other seasons past,
when green fields beckoned to a boy in springtime, when his house
rang out with hymns on winter’s evenings,
and with care and joy conjoined, held close the knowledge that the lives
of all his kindred that had gone before,
and each received a share of soil, dwelt yet within him . . .
and that the stars were witness to it all.
It was then that I smiled, and climbed into the untended hills,
on winding tracks, by hawthorn-brakes and crumbled walls.
Far up into the sunlight and heather I stopped, and turned,
and looked upon the sleeping leagues below – on all the natal earth,
and on great clouds which hurried now across a changeful sky.
The light wavered on the heights as I went on, past rock and thorn,
a pale light in which I could not fathom whether I walked by
dawn or dusk.
And at a moment when the sun stood balanced on the crest
I stopped again,
and saw that within a cleft of the rock close by above a man stood,
and he was watching me.
So still he stood; so still. And in each hand – his arms struck
straight out from his sides – he held a staff,
the ends firm-planted in the rock so that it seemed he opened up
a gate into the hill.
He spoke to me. “What have you done?” he said, and, irked
at his challenge,
‘Nothing!’ I replied, and there was sternness in my voice, for I knew
I had not trespassed.
Then I was nigh upon his side, to pass him by with hurried steps, when
gentler it seemed this time, he asked again:
‘What have you done?‘ And as his eyes found mine I trembled,
for what light remained diffracted there as it would along a half-drawn blade,
or upon a gem brought forth too sudden from the darkness of a purse,
and as they looked I saw in them a hidden, latent past that was
my own – but a past that I had not discerned in all my wandering years
upon the plain;
and in that single moment I came to know that the love I thought I had given
to that one, that angel, whom I had loved unto the point of worship
and beyond had, for that very reason, not been love at all.
And as he looked, his question burned there still, until – just gods! –
I must ask myself ‘What have I done?‘ – and straight upon the asking
became aware, with fearful grief,
not of anything that I had ever done throughout my days, but of all,
all that was left undone…
and I bowed my head, and could not trust myself to speak.
I brushed my sleeve across my eyes, and after, with an unwilled,
placed hands about the staff he offered me. And the words caught
in my throat
as finally I answered, weak and in a whisper now, what I knew to be
‘Nothing… ‘ I sobbed. ‘I have done nothing’. And I followed him.
From ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’