‘Within yon world-wide cirque of war
What's hidden which they fight so for?’
My guide made answer, ‘Rich increase
Of virtue and use, which are by peace,
And peace by war. That inner ring
Are craftsmen, working many a thing
For use, and, these within, the wise
Explore the grass and read the skies.’
‘Can the stars’ motions give me peace,
Or the herbs' virtues mine increase?
Of all this triple shell,’ said I,
‘Would that I might the kernel spy!’
A narrower circle then I reach'd,
Where sang a few and many preach'd
Of life immortal. ‘But,’ I said,
‘The riddle yet I have not read.
Life I must know, that care I may
For life in me to last for aye.’
Then he, ‘Those voices are a charm
To keep yon dove-cot out of harm.’
In the centre, then, he show'd a tent
Where, laughing safe, a woman bent
Over her babe, and, her above,
Lean'd in his turn a graver love.
‘Behold the two idolatries
By which,’ cried he, ‘the world defies
Chaos and death, and for whose sake
All else must war and work and wake.’

More verses by Coventry Patmore

Advertisement