Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
 
764. The Reed
 
“Et Arundinem in Dextera Ejus”
 
By Henry Bernard Carpenter
 
 
BENEATH the Memnonian shadows of Memphis, it rose from the slime,
A reed of the river, self-hid, as though shunning the curse of its crime,
And it shook as it measured in whispers the lapses of tide and of time.
 
It shuddered, it stooped, and was dumb, when the kings of the earth passed along.
For what could this reed of the river in the race of the swift and the strong,—        5
Where the wolf met the bear and the panther, blood-bathed, at the banquets of wrong?
 
These loved the bright brass, the hard steel, and the gods that kill and condemn;
Yea, theirs was the robe silver-tissued, and theirs was the sun-colored gem;
If they touched thee, O reed, ’t was to wing with swift death thy sharp arrowy stem.
 
Then the strong took the corn and the wine, and the poor, who had scattered the seed,        10
Went forth to the wilderness weeping, and sought out a sign in their need,
And the gods laughed in rapturous thunder, and showed them the wind-shaken reed.
 
O dower of the poor and the helpless! O key to Thought’s palace unpriced!
When the strong mocked with cruel crimson and spat in the face of their Christ,
When the thorns were his crown—in his faint palm this reed for a sceptre sufficed;        15
 
This reed in whose fire-pith Prometheus brought life, and the arts began,
When Man, the god of time’s twilight, grew godlike by dying for Man,
Ere Redemption fell bound and bleeding, priest-carved to the priests’ poor plan.
 
Come hither, ye kings of the earth, and ye priests without pity, draw near:
Ye girded your loins for a curse, and ye builded dark temples to Fear;        20
Ye gathered from rune-scroll and symbol great syllables deathful and drear.
 
Then ye summoned mankind to your Idol, the many bowed down to the few,
As ye told in loud anthems how all things were framed for the saints and for you,—
“Lord, not on these sun-blistered rocks, but on Gideon’s fleece falls thy dew.”
 
Man was taken from prison to judgment; a bulrush he bent at your nod;        25
Ye stripped him of rights, his last garment, and bared his broad back for the rod,
And ye lisped, as he writhed down in anguish, “This woe is the sweet will of God.”
 
But lo! whilst ye braided the thorn-crown for Man and the children of men,
Whilst ye reft him of worship and wealth, and he stood mute and dazed in your den,
A reed-stalk remained for a sceptre; ye left in his hand the pen.        30
 
Sweet wooer, strong winner of kingship, above crown, crosier and sword,
By thee shall the mighty be broken, and the spoil which their might hath stored
Shall be stamped small as dust, and be wafted away by the breath of the Lord.
 
His decree is gone forth, it is planted, and these are the words which he spake,—
No smouldering flax of first fancy, no full flame of thought, will he slake,        35
No bruisëd reed of the writer shall the strength of eternities break.
 
Behold your sign and your sceptre. Arise, imperial reed,
Go forth to discrown king and captain and disinherit the creed;
O strike through the iron war-tower and cast out the murderer’s seed;
 
Go forth—like the swell of the spring-tide, sweep on in measureless away,        40
Till raised over each throned falsehood, in bright omnipresence like day,
Thou shalt bruise them with rod of iron, and break them like vessels of clay.
 

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