The Poetry Corner

The Song Of Honour

By Ralph Hodgson

I climbed a hill as light fell short, And rooks came home in scramble sort, And filled the trees and flapped and fought And sang themselves to sleep; An owl from nowhere with no sound Swung by and soon was nowhere found, I heard him calling half-way round, Holloing loud and deep; A pair of stars, faint pins of light, Then many a star, sailed into sight, And all the stars, the flower of night, Were round me at a leap; To tell how still the valleys lay I heard a watchdog miles away ... And bells of distant sheep. I heard no more of bird or bell, The mastiff in a slumber fell, I stared into the sky, As wondering men have always done Since beauty and the stars were one, Though none so hard as I. It seemed, so still the valleys were, As if the whole world knelt at prayer, Save me and me alone; So pure and wide that silence was I feared to bend a blade of grass, And there I stood like stone. There, sharp and sudden, there I heard - 'Ah! some wild lovesick singing bird Woke singing in the trees?' 'The nightingale and babble-wren Were in the English greenwood then, And you heard one of these?' The babble-wren and nightingale Sang in the Abyssinian vale That season of the year! Yet, true enough, I heard them plain, I heard them both again, again, As sharp and sweet and clear As if the Abyssinian tree Had thrust a bough across the sea, Had thrust a bough across to me With music for my ear! I heard them both, and oh! I heard The song of every singing bird That sings beneath the sky, And with the song of lark and wren The song of mountains, moths and men And seas and rainbows vie! I heard the universal choir The Sons of Light exalt their Sire With universal song, Earth's lowliest and loudest notes, Her million times ten million throats Exalt Him loud and long, And lips and lungs and tongues of Grace From every part and every place Within the shining of His face, The universal throng. I heard the hymn of being sound From every well of honour found In human sense and soul: The song of poets when they write The testament of Beautysprite Upon a flying scroll, The song of painters when they take A burning brush for Beauty's sake And limn her features whole - The song of men divinely wise Who look and see in starry skies Not stars so much as robins' eyes, And when these pale away Hear flocks of shiny pleiades Among the plums and apple trees Sing in the summer day - The song of all both high and low To some blest vision true, The song of beggars when they throw The crust of pity all men owe To hungry sparrows in the snow, Old beggars hungry too - The song of kings of kingdoms when They rise above their fortune men, And crown themselves anew, - The song of courage, heart and will And gladness in a fight, Of men who face a hopeless hill With sparking and delight, The bells and bells of song that ring Round banners of a cause or king From armies bleeding white - The song of sailors every one When monstrous tide and tempest run At ships like bulls at red, When stately ships are twirled and spun Like whipping tops and help there's none And mighty ships ten thousand ton Go down like lumps of lead - And song of fighters stern as they At odds with fortune night and day, Crammed up in cities grim and grey As thick as bees in hives, Hosannas of a lowly throng Who sing unconscious of their song, Whose lips are in their lives - And song of some at holy war With spells and ghouls more dread by far Than deadly seas and cities are, Or hordes of quarrelling kings - - The song of fighters great and small, The song of pretty fighters all, And high heroic things - The song of lovers - who knows how Twitched up from place and time Upon a sigh, a blush, a vow, A curve or hue of cheek or brow, Borne up and off from here and now Into the void sublime! And crying loves and passions still In every key from soft to shrill And numbers never done, Dog-loyalties to faith and friend, And loves like Ruth's of old no end, And intermission none - And burst on burst for beauty and For numbers not behind, From men whose love of motherland Is like a dog's for one dear hand, Sole, selfless, boundless, blind - And song of some with hearts beside For men and sorrows far and wide, Who watch the world with pity and pride And warm to all mankind - And endless joyous music rise From children at their play, And endless soaring lullabies From happy, happy mothers' eyes, And answering crows and baby cries, How many who shall say! And many a song as wondrous well With pangs and sweets intolerable From lonely hearths too gray to tell, God knows how utter gray! And song from many a house of care When pain has forced a footing there And there's a Darkness on the stair Will not be turned away - And song - that song whose singers come With old kind tales of pity from The Great Compassion's lips, That makes the bells of Heaven to peal Round pillows frosty with the feel Of Death's cold finger tips - The song of men all sorts and kinds, As many tempers, moods and minds As leaves are on a tree, As many faiths and castes and creeds, As many human bloods and breeds As in the world may be; The song of each and all who gaze On Beauty in her naked blaze, Or see her dimly in a haze, Or get her light in fitful rays And tiniest needles even, The song of all not wholly dark, Not wholly sunk in stupor stark Too deep for groping Heaven - And alleluias sweet and clear And wild with beauty men mishear, From choirs of song as near and dear To Paradise as they, The everlasting pipe and flute Of wind and sea and bird and brute, And lips deaf men imagine mute In wood and stone and clay; The music of a lion strong That shakes a hill a whole night long, A hill as loud as he, The twitter of a mouse among Melodious greenery, The ruby's and the rainbow's song, The nightingale's - all three, The song of life that wells and flows From every leopard, lark and rose And everything that gleams or goes Lack-lustre in the sea. I heard it all, each, every note Of every lung and tongue and throat, Ay, every rhythm and rhyme Of everything that lives and loves And upward, ever upward moves From lowly to sublime! Earth's multitudinous Sons of Light, I heard them lift their lyric might With each and every chanting sprite That lit the sky that wondrous night As far as eye could climb! I heard it all, I heard the whole Harmonious hymn of being roll Up through the chapel of my soul And at the altar die, And in the awful quiet then Myself I heard, Amen, Amen, Amen I heard me cry! I heard it all, and then although I caught my flying senses, oh, A dizzy man was I! I stood and stared; the sky was lit, The sky was stars all over it, I stood, I knew not why, Without a wish, without a will, I stood upon that silent hill And stared into the sky until My eyes were blind with stars and still I stared into the sky.