Marlborough and other poems/The Other Wise Man

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For works with similar titles, see The Story of the Other Wise Man.



(Scene: A valley with a wood on one side and a road running up to a distant hill: as it might be, the valley to the east of West Woods, that runs up to Oare Hill, only much larger. Time: Autumn. Four wise men are marching hillward along the road.)

One Wise Man

I wonder where the valley ends?
On, comrades, on.

Another Wise Man

The rain-red road,
Still shining sinuously, bends
Leagues upwards.

A Third Wise Man

To the hill, O friends,
To seek the star that once has glowed
Before us; turning not to right
Nor left, nor backward once looking.
Till we have clomb—and with the night
We see the King.

All the Wise Men

The King! The King!

The Third Wise Man

Long is the road but—

A Fourth Wise Man

Brother, see,
There, to the left, a very aisle
Composed of every sort of tree—

The First Wise Man

Still onward—

The Fourth Wise Man

Oak and beech and birch,
Like a church, but homelier than church,
The black trunks for its walls of tile;
Its roof, old leaves; its floor, beech nuts;
The squirrels its congregation—

The Second Wise Man

For still we journey—

The Fourth Wise Man

But the sun weaves
A water-web across the grass,
Binding their tops. You must not pass
The water cobweb.

The Third Wise Man

Hush! I say.
Onward and upward till the day—

The Fourth Wise Man

Brother, that tree has crimson leaves.
You'll never see its like again.
Don't miss it. Look, it's bright with rain—

The First Wise Man

O prating tongue. On, on.

The Fourth Wise Man

And there
A toad-stool, nay, a goblin stool.
No toad sat on a thing so fair.
Wait, while I pluck—and there's—and here's
A whole ring...what?...berries?

(The Fourth Wise Man drops behind, botanizing)

The Wisest of the remaining Three Wise Men

O fool!
Fool, fallen in this vale of tears.
His hand had touched the plough: his eyes
Looked back: no more with us, his peers,
He'll climb the hill and front the skies
And see the Star, the King, the Prize.
But we, the seekers, we who see
Beyond the mists of transiency—
Our feet down in the valley still
Are set, our eyes are on the hill.
Last night the star of God has shone,
And so we journey, up and on,
With courage clad, with swiftness shod,
All thoughts of earth behind us cast,
Until we see the lights of God,
—And what will be the crown at last?

All Three Wise Men

On, on.

(They pass on: it is already evening when the Other Wise Man limps along the road, still botanizing.)

The Other Wise Man

A vale of tears, they said!
A valley made of woes and fears,
To be passed by with muffled head
Quickly. I have not seen the tears,
Unless they take the rain for tears,
And certainly the place is wet.
Rain-laden leaves are ever licking
Your cheeks and hands... I can't get on.
There's a toad-stool that wants picking.
There, just there, a little up,
What strange things to look upon
With pink hood and orange cup!
And there are acorns, yellow—green...
They said the King was at the end.
They must have been
Wrong. For here, here, I intend
To search for him, for surely here
Are all the wares of the old year,
And all the beauty and bright prize,
And all God's colours meetly showed,
Green for the grass, blue for the skies,
Red for the rain upon the road;
And anything you like for trees,
But chiefly yellow, brown and gold,
Because the year is growing old
And loves to paint her children these.
I tried to follow... but, what do you think?
The mushrooms here are pink!
And there's old clover with black polls,
Black-headed clover, black as coals,
And toad-stools, sleek as ink!
And there are such heaps of little turns
Off the road, wet with old rain:
Each little vegetable lane
Of moss and old decaying ferns,
Beautiful in decay,
Snatching a beauty from whatever may
Be their lot, dark-red and luscious: till there pass'd
Over the many-coloured earth a grey
Film. It was evening coming down at last.
And all things hid their faces, covering up
Their peak or hood or bonnet or bright cup
In greyness, and the beauty faded fast,
With all the many-coloured coat of day.
Then I looked up, and lo! the sunset sky
Had taken the beauty from the autumn earth.
Such colour, O such colour, could not die.
The trees stood black against such revelry
Of lemon-gold and purple and crimson dye.
And even as the trees, so I
Stood still and worshipped, though by evening's birth
I should have capped the hills and seen the King.
The King? The King?
I must be miles away from my journey's end;
The others must be now nearing
The summit, glad. By now they wend
Their way far, far, ahead, no doubt.
I wonder if they've reached the end.
If they have, I have not heard them shout.

1 December 1913