After the last burst, after the poisoned light,
The shredded forests and the envenomed lands,
When the thousands spared shovel into the street
Millions and lovers, children, civil defense:
Shall it be second chance, the crooked straight?
Between the fear and the trigger-finger’s pulse
The mind fails. When the dead words have been palmed
And rattle to shaking like a box of shells,
Then must a man cry Shoot! Shoot and be damned!
Feed me on fire and poison, not with hulls.
A blunt but cutting edge! And have not time
And space three hundred years and more grown keen
Whetted on intellect, whittling the mind
To a mess of slivers? Every don or dean
Can spread a map to show how far we are gone.
Then let them cry, ‘Cleave to the law of change!’
Bomb-burst, tumult in the genes, a tissue of scars.
Is it worse? better? Four centuries unhinge
The mind and tell us, “Victory is yours!
Cry forward-there! Over the farther range!’
All of it lies. And is he to blame who calls
‘Return, return. On the hither side our fathers
And virtues cling to sweetness; here light falls
As clean as childhood. Do not men’s wives wither,
The men fail in desire, over those hills?’
Folly to kill the heart, not lies but truth
Turned monstrous in the venom of its air.
What should we do? The cry comes, ‘Cleave to both:
Beyond the mountains both make one despair
Shining and rotten with the venom’s breath.’
Not by this sober light, not by this water
Shall totem or law cry worship. Here the mind
Must tell its losses. Most of its gains are litter
Of sound and sense sprawling along the sand,
And high is the heart that feels but feels no matter.
For hearts that would be humble, for those men
Who fire air and water, yet tread ground,
What hope? Cry to them Live, live for the end
In glory and guilt perplexed. Make us your stand
That from our bones joy in the morning burn.
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