YE bards, ye prophets, ye sages,
Read to me if ye can,
That which hath been the riddle of ages,
Read me the riddle of MAN.
Then came the bard with his lyre,
And the sage with his pen and scroll,
And the prophet with his eye of fire,
To unriddle a human soul.
But the soul stood up in its might;
Its stature they could not scan;
And it rayed out a dazzling mystic light,
And shamed their wisest plan.
Yet sweetly the bard did sing,
And learnedly talked the sage,
And the seer flashed by with his lightning wing,
Soaring beyond his age.
Of life-fire snatched from Jove;
Of a forfeited age of gold;
Of providence and deathless love
The chaunting minstrel told.
The sage of wisdom spoke,
Of doctrines, books and schools,
And how when they broke from learning’s yoke,
All men were turned to fools.
And the prophet told of heaven,
And the golden age to come—
“Ye must follow the sun through the gates of even,
And he will lead you home.”
Many a dream they saw,
And many a creed did build,
Each in its turn was truth and law,
While they who sought were filled.
But the soul stood up still freed
From the prison of each plan;
He was a riddle they could not read,
This simple-seeming Man.
He stood in his mystery still,
Of ever-changing light;
Many, yet one, he baffled their skill,
And put their dreams to flight.
His feet on the earth were planted,
His head o’er the stars rose dim,
And ever unto himself he chaunted
A half-articulate hymn.
In words confused and broken
He chaunted his mystic dream;
And but half of the half his lips had spoken,
Floated on time’s dull stream.
They who heard of the song which he
Sang on from time to time,
Gave it the name Philosophy,
And echoed the olden rhyme.
But their systems all are vain,
And the o’erflowing soul
Sweeps lyre and song to the dark inane,
And blots the old sage’s scroll.
And Man the great riddle is still
Unread to the dreamer’s eye—
We are ever afloat, as we ply our skill
On the sea of mystery.
All Sub-Works of Poems (1844):
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