Verse > Anthologies > Jessie B. Rittenhouse, ed. > The Little Book of Modern Verse
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Jessie B. Rittenhouse, ed. (1869–1948).  The Little Book of Modern Verse.  1917.
 
81. The Only Way
 
By Louis V. Ledoux
 
 
I
MEMPHIS and Karnak, Luxor, Thebes, the Nile:
  Of these your letters told; and I who read
  Saw room on dim horizons Egypt’s dead
In march across the desert, mile on mile,
A ghostly caravan in slow defile        5
  Between the sand and stars; and at their head
  From unmapped darkness into darkness fled
The gods that Egypt feared a little while.
 
There black against the night I saw them loom
  With captive kings and armies in array        10
Remembered only by their sculptured doom,
  And thought: What Egypt was are we to-day.
Then rose obscure against the rearward gloom
  The march of Empires yet to pass away.
 
II
I looked in vision down the centuries
        15
  And saw how Athens stood a sunlit while
  A sovereign city free from greed and guile,
The half-embodied dream of Pericles.
Then saw I one of smooth words, swift to please,
  At laggard virtue mock with shrug and smile;        20
  With Cleon’s creed rang court and peristyle,
Then sank the sun in far Sicilian seas.
 
From brows ignoble fell the violet crown.
  Again the warning sounds; the hosts engage:
  In Cleon’s face we fling our battle gage,        25
We win as foes of Cleon loud renown;
  But while we think to build the coming age
The laurel on our brows is turning brown.
 
III
We top the poisonous blooms that choke the state,
  At flower and fruit our flashing strokes are made,        30
  The whetted scythe on stalk and stein is laid,
But deeper must we strike to extirpate
The rooted evil that within our gate
  Will sprout again and flourish, branch and blade,
  For only from within can ill be stayed        35
While Adam’s seed is unregenerate.
 
With zeal redoubled let our strength be strained
  To cut the rooted causes where they hold,
  Nor spend our sinews on the fungus mold
When all the breeding marshes must be drained.        40
  Be this our aim; and let our youth be trained
  To honor virtue more than place and gold.
 
IV
A hundred cities sapped by slow decay,
  A hundred codes and systems proven vain
  Lie hearsed in sand upon the heaving plain.        45
Memorial ruins mounded, still and gray;
And we who plod the barren waste to-day
  Another code evolving, think to gain
  Surcease of man’s inheritance of pain
And mold a state immune from evil’s sway.        50
 
Not laws; but virtue in the soul we need,
  The old Socratic justice in the heart,
The golden rule become the people’s creed
  When years of training have performed their part
  For thus alone in home and church and mart        55
Can evil perish and the race be freed.
 

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