In Retreat (Poem by Edwin John Dove Pratt)

Beautiful Poem


In Retreat
By Edwin John Dove Pratt


Now like a fugitive, who, on the desert sand,
A moment broods upon the life he spilt.
And, with averted gaze,
Circling the dusky ruin of his hand,
Surveys
The Arab measure of his guilt
Before a Presence standing there that calls
His name; in cloud and shadow and in whirlwind reads
The inviolate scripture of the fates;
Then full across the desert speeds,
Until he falls,
Caught by the Avenger near the City Gates; — 
So underneath the heavens' lighted scroll,
Ablaze with cryptic tokens of the slain,
Headlong to shore thy spiral waters roll
Swept by the besom of the winds; by rain
And thunder driven in flight
Along the galleries of the night,
Until upon the surge-line locked in strife
With reef and breaker thou art shattered, soon
In fang and sinew to be strewn
Around the cliffs that guard the ports of life.

O wild, tumultuous sea!
Thy waters mock our liturgy,
For thou dost take the threads of faith apart.
Wherewith the cables of our life are spun,
Strand upon strand unravelling; — thou dost hear,
Recited from a tide-wet shore,
Our creeds. Each hope and fear
Filtered from life's confessions — one by one,
Out of the dumb confusions of the heart,
Are spread before thy sight — thou Arch-Inquisitor!
How in a ruthless moment dost thou strip
The veilings from our eyes, and bid us cast
Our glances on a labyrinthine past,
Stirred by a flash that on a wave's white lip
Gleams for an instant, or by some dark sign
Within thy fearful hollows where night flings
Her crape of shadow on a tossing line
Of jetsam, will our years turn back,
To gather from a weed-grown track
A bitter tale of dimmed rememberings.

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