by George Sterling (1869–1926)
The stranger in my gates—lo! that am I,
And what my land of birth I do not know,
Nor yet the hidden land to which I go.
One may be lord of many ere he die,
And tell of many sorrows in one sigh,
But know himself he shall not, nor his woe,
Nor to what sea the tears of wisdom flow;
Nor why one star is taken from the sky.
An urging is upon him evermore,
And though he bide, his soul is wanderer,
Scanning the shadows with a sense of haste
Where fade the tracks of all who went before—
A dim and solitary traveller
On ways that end in evening and the waste.
How dumb the vanished billions who have died!
With backward gaze conjectural we wait,
And ere the invading Shadow penetrate,
The echo from a mighty heart that cried
Is made a sole memorial to pride.
From out that night’s inscrutable estate
A few cold voices wander, desolate
With all that love has lost or grief has sighed.
Slaves, seamen, captains, councillors and kings,
Gone utterly, save for those echoes far!
As they before, I tread a forfeit land
Till the supreme and ancient silence flings
Its pall between the dreamer and the star.
O desert wide! O little grain of sand!
As one that knew not of the sea might come
From slender sources of a mountain stream,
And, wending where the sandy shallows gleam
And boulder-strewn the stumbling waters hum
And white with haste the falling torrents drum,
Might stand in darkness at the land’s extreme,
And stare in doubt, where, ghostly and supreme,
Muffled in mist and night, the sea lay dumb,—
So shalt thou follow life, a downward rill
A-babble as with question and surmise,
To wait at last where no star beaconeth,
And find the midnight desolate and chill,
And face below its indecisive skies
The Consummation, mystery and death.
Sterling, George. Beyond the Breakers and Other Poems. (San Francisco: A. M. Robertson, 1914).
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