“Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain;
escape to the mountain lest thou be consumed.
And Lot said unto them: Oh, not so, my Lord. . . .”
Fleeing its childhood havens And spent with fast,
The heart will beg its bread, at last,
At the beaks of ravens.
It asks no sign,
Invokes no grace save grief,
But grappling the angels of its unbelief,
Gluts its long hunger on the venomous weed And the strengthless vine,
Treads the tart berry in the hollow sheaf,
And sucks repose according to its need.
It comes to me now, more than ever purely,
How, fleeing the fabulous cities, one looked back,
To see, beyond the shafts of sulphurous rain,
The roofs of Sodom blazing red and black,
And shadowing the plain,
The hand of God laid over, like a stain:
Where shall the heart find sanctuary
From the hard query
That looks forever toward the burning city And the mortal fault,
Probing the ashes of its wrath and pity,
Freezing the mind to salt?
How shall the hurt be healed, or the strayed, restored?
Pity alone shall not renew the vision,
Nor wrath avail to thaw the astringent cell
Whose winter seals the fountains of decision
And stays the freshet from the unreplenished well.
Shall love suffice us then,
Our elder overlord—
The mild messiah and the gentle shepherd
With shadowy sword,
Folding the mole with the serpent, the raven with the wren,
The lamb with the leopard,
And man with men?
Not so, not so, my Lord! Cherish this disbelief
For final truth, although the end be grief.
Reject the frail pretense,
The vexed surmise, the wistful inference,
And reckon as you can
The gordian equation of the doubt
That struck the godhead out
And found no fruitful integer in man.
Now it were valor to unbend the flesh,
Burst the bright harness of dissembling sense,
The fine and fivefold mesh,
And loose the inward wound to bleed afresh.
Look for no respite of the ravening part,
Nor dream of quarter there:
Thriftless as time, prodigal as air,
Deep in the laboring heart,
The wakeful blood, unbridled like a spring,
By devious streams is gathering
To spend its furious overflow again
Like fire, like foam, like equatorial rain. . . .
Let the heart accept this thing And bend to bear:
The mind, though it delay, was long aware.