At midnight, death's and truth's unlocking time, When far within the spirit's hearing rolls The great soft rumble of the course of things -- A bulk of silence in a mask of sound, -- When darkness clears our vision that by day Is sun-blind, and the soul's a ravening owl For truth and flitteth here and there about Low-lying woody tracts of time and oft Is minded for to sit upon a bough, Dry-dead and sharp, of some long-stricken tree And muse in that gaunt place, -- 'twas then my heart, Deep in the meditative dark, cried out:
"Ye companies of governor-spirits grave, Bards, and old bringers-down of flaming news From steep-wall'd heavens, holy malcontents, Sweet seers, and stellar visionaries, all That brood about the skies of poesy, Full bright ye shine, insuperable stars; Yet, if a man look hard upon you, none With total lustre blazeth, no, not one But hath some heinous freckle of the flesh Upon his shining cheek, not one but winks His ray, opaqued with intermittent mist Of defect; yea, you masters all must ask Some sweet forgiveness, which we leap to give, We lovers of you, heavenly-glad to meet Your largesse so with love, and interplight Your geniuses with our mortalities.
Thus unto thee, O sweetest Shakespeare sole, A hundred hurts a day I do forgive ('Tis little, but, enchantment! 'tis for thee): Small curious quibble; Juliet's prurient pun In the poor, pale face of Romeo's fancied death; Cold rant of Richard; Henry's fustian roar Which frights away that sleep he invocates; Wronged Valentine's unnatural haste to yield; Too-silly shifts of maids that mask as men In faint disguises that could ne'er disguise -- Viola, Julia, Portia, Rosalind; Fatigues most drear, and needless overtax Of speech obscure that had as lief be plain; Last I forgive (with more delight, because 'Tis more to do) the labored-lewd discourse That e'en thy young invention's youngest heir Besmirched the world with.
Father Homer, thee, Thee also I forgive thy sandy wastes Of prose and catalogue, thy drear harangues That tease the patience of the centuries, Thy sleazy scrap of story, -- but a rogue's Rape of a light-o'-love, -- too soiled a patch To broider with the gods.
Thee, Socrates, Thou dear and very strong one, I forgive Thy year-worn cloak, thine iron stringencies That were but dandy upside-down, thy words Of truth that, mildlier spoke, had mainlier wrought.
So, Buddha, beautiful! I pardon thee That all the All thou hadst for needy man Was Nothing, and thy Best of being was But not to be.
Worn Dante, I forgive The implacable hates that in thy horrid hells Or burn or freeze thy fellows, never loosed By death, nor time, nor love.
And I forgive Thee, Milton, those thy comic-dreadful wars Where, armed with gross and inconclusive steel, Immortals smite immortals mortalwise And fill all heaven with folly.
Also thee, Brave Aeschylus, thee I forgive, for that Thine eye, by bare bright justice basilisked, Turned not, nor ever learned to look where Love Stands shining.
So, unto thee, Lucretius mine (For oh, what heart hath loved thee like to this That's now complaining?), freely I forgive Thy logic poor, thine error rich, thine earth Whose graves eat souls and all.
Yea, all you hearts Of beauty, and sweet righteous lovers large: Aurelius fine, oft superfine; mild Saint A Kempis, overmild; Epictetus, Whiles low in thought, still with old slavery tinct; Rapt Behmen, rapt too far; high Swedenborg, O'ertoppling; Langley, that with but a touch Of art hadst sung Piers Plowman to the top Of English songs, whereof 'tis dearest, now, And most adorable; Caedmon, in the morn A-calling angels with the cow-herd's call That late brought up the cattle; Emerson, Most wise, that yet, in finding Wisdom, lost Thy Self, sometimes; tense Keats, with angels' nerves Where men's were better; Tennyson, largest voice Since Milton, yet some register of wit Wanting; -- all, all, I pardon, ere 'tis asked, Your more or less, your little mole that marks You brother and your kinship seals to man.
But Thee, but Thee, O sovereign Seer of time, But Thee, O poets' Poet, Wisdom's Tongue, But Thee, O man's best Man, O love's best Love, O perfect life in perfect labor writ, O all men's Comrade, Servant, King, or Priest, -- What `if' or `yet', what mole, what flaw, what lapse, What least defect or shadow of defect, What rumor, tattled by an enemy, Of inference loose, what lack of grace Even in torture's grasp, or sleep's, or death's, -- Oh, what amiss may I forgive in Thee, Jesus, good Paragon, thou Crystal Christ?"