The Old Pole Star

- 1862-1937

Before the clepsydra had bound the days
Man tethered Change to his fixed star, and said:
"The elder races, that long since are dead,
Marched by that light; it swerves not from its base
Though all the worlds about it wax and fade."

When Egypt saw it, fast in reeling spheres,
Her Pyramids shaft-centred on its ray
She reared and said: "Long as this star holds sway
In uninvaded ether, shall the years
Revere my monuments—" and went her way.

The Pyramids abide; but through the shaft
That held the polar pivot, eye to eye,
Look now—blank nothingness! As though Change laughed
At man's presumption and his puny craft,
The star has slipped its leash and roams the sky.

Yet could the immemorial piles be swung
A skyey hair's-breadth from their rooted base,
Back to the central anchorage of space,
Ah, then again, as when the race was young,
Should they behold the beacon of the race!

Of old, men said: "The Truth is there: we rear
Our faith full-centred on it. It was known
Thus of the elders who foreran us here,
Mapped out its circuit in the shifting sphere,
And found it, 'mid mutation, fixed alone."

Change laughs again, again the sky is cold,
And down that fissure now no star-beam glides.
Yet they whose sweep of vision grows not old
Still at the central point of space behold
Another pole-star: for the Truth abides.

More by Edith Wharton

Life

Life, like a marble block, is given to all,
A blank, inchoate mass of years and days,
Whence one with ardent chisel swift essays
Some shape of strength or symmetry to call;
One shatters it in bits to mend a wall;
One in a craftier hand the chisel lays,
And one, to wake the mirth in Lesbia’s gaze,
Carves it apace in toys fantastical.

But least is he who, with enchanted eyes
Filled with high visions of fair shapes to be,
Muses which god he shall immortalize
In the proud Parian’s perpetuity,
Till twilight warns him from the punctual skies
That the night cometh wherein none shall see.

Belgium

Le Belgique ne regrette rien

Not with her ruined silver spires,
Not with her cities shamed and rent,
Perish the imperishable fires
That shape the homestead from the tent.

Wherever men are staunch and free,
There shall she keep her fearless state,
And homeless, to great nations be
The home of all that makes them great.

Chartres

I

Immense, august, like some Titanic bloom, 
   The mighty choir unfolds its lithic core, 
Petalled with panes of azure, gules and or, 
   Splendidly lambent in the Gothic gloom, 
And stamened with keen flamelets that illume 
   The pale high-altar. On the prayer-worn floor, 
By worshippers innumerous thronged of yore, 
   A few brown crones, familiars of the tomb, 
The stranded driftwood of Faith’s ebbing sea— 
   For these alone the finials fret the skies, 
The topmost bosses shake their blossoms free, 
   While from the triple portals, with grave eyes, 
Tranquil, and fixed upon eternity, 
   The cloud of witnesses still testifies. 
 

II 

The crimson panes like blood-drops stigmatise 
   The western floor. The aisles are mute and cold. 
A rigid fetich in her robe of gold, 
   The Virgin of the Pillar, with blank eyes, 
Enthroned beneath her votive canopies, 
   Gathers a meagre remnant to her fold. 
The rest is solitude; the church, grown old, 
   Stands stark and grey beneath the burning skies. 
Well-nigh again its mighty framework grows 
   To be a part of nature’s self, withdrawn 
From hot humanity’s impatient woes; 
   The floor is ridged like some rude mountain lawn, 
And in the east one giant window shows 
   The roseate coldness of an Alp at dawn.