Verse > Anthologies > Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. > Yale Book of American Verse
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.  1912.
 
James Russell Lowell. 1819–1891
 
136. Credidimus Jovem Regnare
 
O DAYS endeared to every Muse, 
When nobody had any Views, 
Nor, while the cloudscape of his mind 
By every breeze was new designed, 
Insisted all the world should see         5
Camels or whales where none there be! 
O happy days, when men received 
From sire to son what all believed, 
And left the other world in bliss, 
Too busy with bedevilling this!  10
Beset by doubts of every breed 
In the last bastion of my creed, 
With shot and shell for Sabbath-chime, 
I watch the storming-party climb, 
Panting (their prey in easy reach),  15
To pour triumphant through the breach 
In wall that shed like snowflakes tons 
Of missiles from old-fashioned guns, 
But crumble 'neath the storm that pours 
All day and night from bigger bores.  20
There, as I hopeless watch and wait 
The last life-crushing coil of Fate, 
Despair finds solace in the praise 
Of those serene dawn-rosy days 
Ere microscopes had made us heirs  25
To large estates of doubts and snares, 
By proving that the title-deeds, 
Once all-sufficient for men's needs, 
Are palimpsests that scarce disguise 
The tracings of still earlier lies,  30
Themselves as surely written o'er 
An older fib erased before. 
  
So from these days I fly to those 
That in the landlocked Past repose, 
Where no rude wind of doctrine shakes  35
From bloom-flushed boughs untimely flakes; 
Where morning's eyes see nothing strange, 
No crude perplexity of change, 
And morrows trip along their ways 
Secure as happy yesterdays.  40
Then there were rulers who could trace 
Through heroes up to gods their race, 
Pledged to fair fame and noble use 
By veins from Odin filled or Zeus, 
And under bonds to keep divine  45
The praise of a celestial line. 
Then priests could pile the altar's sods, 
With whom gods spake as they with gods, 
And everywhere from haunted earth 
Broke springs of wonder, that had birth  50
In depths divine beyond the ken 
And fatal scrutiny of men; 
Then hills and groves and streams and seas 
Thrilled with immortal presences, 
Not too ethereal for the scope  55
Of human passion's dream or hope. 
  
Now Pan at last is surely dead, 
And King No-Credit reigns instead, 
Whose officers, morosely strict, 
Poor Fancy's tenantry evict,  60
Chase the last Genius from the door, 
And nothing dances any more. 
Nothing? Ah, yes, our tables do, 
Drumming the Old One's own tattoo, 
And, if the oracles are dumb,  65
Have we not mediums? Why be glum? 
Fly thither? Why, the very air 
Is full of hindrance and despair! 
Fly thither? But I cannot fly; 
My doubts enmesh me if I try,—  70
Each lilliputian, but, combined, 
Potent a giant's limbs to bind. 
This world and that are growing dark; 
A huge interrogation mark, 
The Devil's crook episcopal,  75
Still borne before him since the Fall, 
Blackens with its ill-omened sign 
The old blue heaven of faith benign. 
  
Whence? Whither? Wherefore? How? Which? Why? 
All ask at once, all wait reply.  80
Men feel old systems cracking under 'em; 
Life saddens to a mere conundrum 
Which once Religion solved, but she 
Has lost—has Science found?—the key. 
  
What was snow-bearded Odin, trow,  85
The mighty hunter long ago, 
Whose horn and hounds the peasant hears 
Still when the Northlights shake their spears? 
Science hath answers twain, I 've heard; 
Choose which you will, nor hope a third;  90
Whichever box the truth be stowed in, 
There 's not a sliver left of Odin. 
Either he was a pinchbrowed thing, 
With scarcely wit a stone to fling, 
A creature both in size and shape  95
Nearer than we are to the ape, 
Who hung sublime with brat and spouse 
By tail prehensile from the boughs, 
And, happier than his maimed descendants, 
The culture-curtailed independents, 100
Could pluck his cherries with both paws, 
And stuff with both his big-boned jaws; 
Or else the core his name enveloped 
Was from a solar myth developed, 
Which, hunted to its primal shoot, 105
Takes refuge in a Sanskrit root, 
Thereby to instant death explaining 
The little poetry remaining. 
  
Try it with Zeus, 't is just the same; 
The thing evades, we hug a name; 110
Nay, scarcely that,—perhaps a vapor 
Born of some atmospheric caper. 
All Lempriere's fables blur together 
In cloudy symbols of the weather, 
And Aphrodite rose from frothy seas 115
But to illustrate such hypotheses. 
With years enough behind his back, 
Lincoln will take the selfsame track, 
And prove, hulled fairly to the cob, 
A mere vagary of Old Prob. 120
Give the right man a solar myth, 
And he 'll confute the sun therewith. 
They make things admirably plain, 
But one hard question will remain: 
If one hypothesis you lose, 125
Another in its place you choose, 
But, your faith gone, O man and brother, 
Whose shop shall furnish you another? 
One that will wash, I mean, and wear, 
And wrap us warmly from despair? 130
While they are clearing up our puzzles, 
And clapping prophylactic muzzles 
On the Actæon's hounds that sniff 
Our devious track through But and If, 
Would they 'd explain away the Devil 135
And other facts that won't keep level, 
But rise beneath our feet or fail, 
A reeling ship's deck in a gale! 
God vanished long ago, iwis, 
A mere subjective synthesis; 140
A doll, stuffed out with hopes and fears, 
Too homely for us pretty dears, 
Who want one that conviction carries, 
Last make of London or of Paris. 
He gone, I felt a moment's spasm, 145
But calmed myself with Protoplasm, 
A finer name, and, what is more, 
As enigmatic as before; 
Greek, too, and sure to fill with ease 
Minds caught in the Symplegades 150
Of soul and sense, life's two conditions, 
Each baffled with its own omniscience. 
The men who labor to revise 
Our Bibles will, I hope, be wise, 
And print it without foolish qualms 155
Instead of God in David's psalms: 
Noll had been more effective far 
Could he have shouted at Dunbar, 
"Rise, Protoplasm!" No dourest Scot 
Had waited for another shot. 160
  
And yet I frankly must confess 
A secret unforgivingness, 
And shudder at the saving chrism 
Whose best New Birth is Pessimism; 
My soul—I mean the bit of phosphorus 165
That fills the place of what that was for us— 
Can't bid its inward bores defiance 
With the new nursery-tales of science. 
What profits me, though doubt by doubt, 
As nail by nail, be driven out, 170
When every new one, like the last, 
Still holds my coffin-lid as fast? 
Would I find thought a moment's truce, 
Give me the young world's Mother Goose 
With life and joy in every limb, 175
The chimney-corner tales of Grimm! 
  
Our dear and admirable Huxley 
Cannot explain to me why ducks lay, 
Or, rather, how into their eggs 
Blunder potential wings and legs 180
With will to move them and decide 
Whether in air or lymph to glide. 
Who gets a hair's-breadth on by showing 
That Something Else set all agoing? 
Farther and farther back we push 185
From Moses and his burning bush; 
Cry, "Art Thou there?" Above, below, 
All Nature mutters yes and no! 
'T is the old answer: we 're agreed 
Being from Being must proceed, 190
Life be Life's source. I might as well 
Obey the meeting-house's bell, 
And listen while Old Hundred pours 
Forth through the summer-opened doors, 
From old and young. I hear it yet, 195
Swelled by bass-viol and clarinet, 
While the gray minister, with face 
Radiant, let loose his noble bass. 
  
If Heaven it reached not, yet its roll 
Waked all the echoes of the soul, 200
And in it many a life found wings 
To soar away from sordid things. 
Church gone and singers too, the song 
Sings to me voiceless all night long, 
Till my soul beckons me afar, 205
Glowing and trembling like a star. 
Will any scientific touch 
With my worn strings achieve as much? 
I don't object, not I, to know 
My sires were monkeys, if 't was so; 210
I touch my ear's collusive tip 
And own the poor-relationship. 
That apes of various shapes and sizes 
Contained their germs that all the prizes 
Of senate, pulpit, camp, and bar win 215
May give us hopes that sweeten Darwin. 
Who knows but from our loins may spring 
(Long hence) some winged sweet-throated thing 
As much superior to us 
As we to Cynocephalus? 220
  
This is consoling, but, alas, 
It wipes no dimness from the glass 
Where I am flattening my poor nose, 
In hope to see beyond my toes. 
Though I accept my pedigree, 225
Yet where, pray tell me, is the key 
That should unlock a private door 
To the Great Mystery, such no more? 
Each offers his, but one nor all 
Are much persuasive with the wall 230
That rises now, as long ago, 
Between I wonder and I know, 
Nor will vouchsafe a pin-hole peep 
At the veiled Isis in its keep. 
Where is no door, I but produce 235
My key to find it of no use. 
Yet better keep it, after all, 
Since Nature 's economical, 
And who can tell but some fine day 
(If it occur to her) she may, 240
In her good-will to you and me, 
Make door and lock to match the key? 
 
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