Grass of Parnassus - Andrew Lang - ebook

Andrew Lang, FBA was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, and contributor to the field of anthropology. He is best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales. The Andrew Lang lectures at the University of St Andrews are named after him.

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Grass of Parnassus

Andrew Lang



Pale star that by the lochs of Galloway,In wet green places 'twixt the depth and heightDost keep thine hour while Autumn ebbs away,When now the moors have doffed the heather bright,Grass of Parnassus, flower of my delight,How gladly with the unpermitted bay--Garlands not mine, and leaves that not decay--How gladly would I twine thee if I might!

The bays are out of reach! But far belowThe peaks forbidden of the Muses' Hill,Grass of Parnassus, thy returning snowBetween September and October chillDoth speak to me of Autumns long ago,And these kind faces that are with me still.


[Greek text]

To Colonel Ian Hamilton.

To you, who know the face of war,You, that for England wander far,You that have seen the Ghazis flyFrom English lads not sworn to die,You that have lain where, deadly chill,The mist crept o'er the Shameful Hill,You that have conquered, mile by mile,The currents of unfriendly Nile,And cheered the march, and eased the strainWhen Politics made valour vain,Ian, to you, from banks of Ken,We send our lays of Englishmen!


"Believe me, if that blissful, that beautiful place, were set on a hill visible to all the world, I should long ago have journeyed thither. . . But the number and variety of the ways! For you know, THERE IS BUT ONE ROAD THAT LEADS TO CORINTH."

HERMOTIMUS (Mr Pater's Version).

"The Poet says, DEAR CITY OF CECROPS, and wilt thou not say, DEAR CITY OF ZEUS?"


"TO CORINTH LEADS ONE ROAD," you say:Is there a Corinth, or a way?Each bland or blatant preacher hathHis painful or his primrose path,And not a soul of all of theseBut knows the city 'twixt the seas,Her fair unnumbered homes and allHer gleaming amethystine wall!

Blind are the guides who know the way,The guides who write, and preach, and pray,I watch their lives, and I divineThey differ not from yours and mine!

One man we knew, and only one,Whose seeking for a city's done,For what he greatly sought he found,A city girt with fire around,A city in an empty landBetween the wastes of sky and sand,A city on a river-side,Where by the folk he loved, he died. {1}

Alas! it is not ours to treadThat path wherein his life he led,Not ours his heart to dare and feel,Keen as the fragrant Syrian steel;Yet are we not quite city-less,Not wholly left in our distress--Is it not said by One of old,"Sheep have I of another fold?"Ah! faint of heart, and weak of will,For us there is a city still!

"Dear city of Zeus," the Stoic says, {2}The Voice from Rome's imperial days,In Thee meet all things, and disperse,In Thee, for Thee, O Universe!To me all's fruit thy seasons bring,Alike thy summer and thy spring;The winds that wail, the suns that burn,From Thee proceed, to Thee return.

"Dear city of Zeus," shall WE not say,Home to which none can lose the way!Born in that city's flaming bound,We do not find her, but are found.Within her wide and viewless wallThe Universe is girdled all.All joys and pains, all wealth and dearth,All things that travail on the earth,God's will they work, if God there be,If not, what is my life to me?

Seek we no further, but abideWithin this city great and wide,In her and for her living, weHave no less joy than to be free;Nor death nor grief can quite appalThe folk that dwell within her wall,Nor aught but with our will befall!


Vain is the dream! However Hope may rave,He perished with the folk he could not save,And though none surely told us he is dead,And though perchance another in his stead,Another, not less brave, when all was done,Had fled unto the southward and the sun,Had urged a way by force, or won by guileTo streams remotest of the secret Nile,Had raised an army of the Desert men,And, waiting for his hour, had turned againAnd fallen on that False Prophet, yet we knowGORDON is dead, and these things are not so!Nay, not for England's cause, nor to restoreHer trampled flag--for he loved Honour more--Nay, not for Life, Revenge, or Victory,Would he have fled, whose hour had dawned to die.He will not come again, whate'er our need,He will not come, who is happy, being freedFrom the deathly flesh and perishable things,And lies of statesmen and rewards of kings.Nay, somewhere by the sacred River's shoreHe sleeps like those who shall return no more,No more return for all the prayers of men--Arthur and Charles--they never come again!They shall not wake, though fair the vision seem: Whate'er sick Hope may whisper, vain the dream!


To-morrow is a year since Gordon died!A year ago to-night, the Desert stillCrouched on the spring, and panted for its fill Of lust and blood. Their old art statesmen plied,And paltered, and evaded, and denied;Guiltless as yet, except for feeble will,And craven heart, and calculated skillIn long delays, of their great homicide.

A year ago to-night 'twas not too late.The thought comes through our mirth, again, again;Methinks I hear the halting foot of FateApproaching and approaching us; and thenComes cackle of the House, and the Debate!Enough; he is forgotten amongst men.


On the offer of help from the Australians after the fall of Khartoum.

Sons of the giant Ocean isleIn sport our friendly foes for long,Well England loves you, and we smileWhen you outmatch us many a while,So fleet you are, so keen and strong.

You, like that fairy people setOf old in their enchanted seaFar off from men, might well forgetAn elder nation's toil and fret,Might heed not aught but game and glee.

But what your fathers were you areIn lands the fathers never knew,'Neath skies of alien sign and starYou rally to the English war;Your hearts are English, kind and true.

And now, when first on England fallsThe shadow of a darkening fate,You hear the Mother ere she calls,You leave your ocean-girdled walls,And face her foemen in the gate.


[Greek text]

Thou that on every field of earth and skyDidst hunt for Death, who seemed to flee and fear,How great and greatly fallen dost thou lieSlain in the Desert by some wandering spear:'Not here, alas!' may England say, 'not hereNor in this quarrel was it meet to die,But in that dreadful battle drawing nighTo thunder through the Afghan passes sheer:

Like Aias by the ships shouldst thou have stood,And in some glen have stayed the stream of flight,The bulwark of thy people and their shield,When Indus or when Helmund ran with blood,Till back into the Northland and the NightThe smitten Eagles scattered from the field.'