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Watch kept from dusk: shall the Redeemer come?
Stood upon the sombre towers by beacons bright
To pass along the signal swiftly, warnings sung
By tongues of flame to lick the silent night
With burning anguish, whipped to cry in pain
Of torturous, half-forgotten truths, without remorse
The sentries, under order, thoughtlessly obey
And let the onward-rushing future sweep
Ever faster, tumbling on its course,

Uncontrolled and uncontrollable: rules
Of such a game as Man has mind to play.
Chequered, the darkened landscape, with blind jewels
Stalwart of intent, yet cold and grey
The watch-towers pinnacled upon the knolls
Placed breadth and width across the land,
Pinioned by fate, the bell-towers toll
The passing hours whilst blank eyes stare
And all else stilled but His great hand,

Lowering gently, as a dawn-spun mist
To cloak the stranger stealthily come
Barefoot through quarries where the cracked rocks kissed
Their lord in homage, thick-souled through tombèd
Forests, whence he hewed him a host
Of brave youth broom – enough to kindle torches
And feed the furnace of a thousand years past.
Now, on the frontier, sharp command are spoken
To break the calm sea, night, with sun-sped launches:

Anticipation's secret fears confirmed;
Into the waiting legions seeds of ripening doubt,
Sewn deep as daggers, now as spears are turned
Friend upon neighbour, for to cast the devil out
Each of his reflection – in such the mind doth see
Itself. What harvest this! What pious words,
Smote by the stallion breath they breed,
Straightways dissolve into a blanket voice
Which monotones the prophet curse:

"The hills on which your towers stand are shifting sands;
Your holy water, wild mares' milk;
Your corn-fields are with stubble wracked and spanned
Where farmers' eyes bleed fire; your silk
And smooth-skinned women sack-cloth wear
Impenitent; your children grin
And, glossy-eyed, do shear their heads of hair.
Snared by the lusty dance, all spin
In e'er-engrossing circles,
Lunatic, list around the lode,
Altar of hell, towards thraldom topple
Engulfed, and in their final throes
Remorseless, laugh."

Were Earth yet young, into this tale
My soul might breath a thousand lives,
Pour from my supper's sacred grail
Venomous wit, with words contest
Rime's tragic race, to bore chill tears
Icily deep into their mother's breast.
Stung by the strident serpent tongues
Of peiste, chafing at constraint –
Into the heaving waves they would be gone,
Time without trace – by chains of glass
Bound are we both, fragile fraternity,
The still-born future and the stone-cold past.

... But I, the teller, weary, break my staff.
Suffice to say the passing comes. At last.
dragon mosaic, Ravello, 1272
the hills on which your towers stand
your corn-fields
photos: Stephen Alsford

Created: November 17, 2014. Last modified: April 4, 2015 © Stephen Alsford