I strode above the stricken,
The rampart ’ranged against the skies,
“Up, I say, build and slay;
Fight face foremost, force a way,
Unloose, unfetter, and unbind;
Be men and free!”
Dumbly they shrank,
Muttering they pointed toward that peak,
Than vastness vaster,
Whereon a darkness brooded,
“Who shall look and live,” they sighed;
And I sensed
The folding and unfolding of almighty wings.
Yet did we build of iron,
bricks, and blood;
We built a day, a year, a thousand years,
Blood was the mortar,—blood and tears,
And, ah, the Thing, the Thing of wings,
The winged, folding Wing of Things
Did furnish much mad mortar
For that tower.
Slow and ever slower rose
the towering task,
And with it rose the sun,
Until at last on one wild day,
Wind-whirled, cloud-swept and terrible
I stood beneath the burning shadow
Of the peak,
Beneath the whirring of almighty wings,
While downward from my feet
Streamed the long line of dusky faces
And the wail of little children sobbing under earth.
I saw through firmaments on high
The drama of Almighty God,
With all its flaming suns and stars.
“Freedom!” I cried.
“Freedom!” cried heaven, earth, and stars;
And a Voice near-far,
Amid the folding and unfolding of almighty wings,
Answered, “I am Freedom—
Who sees my face is free—
He and his.”
I dared not look;
Downward I glanced on deep-bowed heads and closed eyes,
Outward I gazed on flecked and flaming blue—
But ever onward, upward flew
The sobbing of small voices,—
Down, down, far down into the night.
Slowly I lifted livid limbs
Upward I strove: the face! the face!
Onward I reeled: the face! the face!
To beauty wonderful as sudden death,
Or horror horrible as endless life—
Up! Up! the blood-built way;
(Shadow grow vaster!
Terror come faster!)
Up! Up! to the blazing blackness
Of one veiled face.
And endless folding and unfolding,
Rolling and unrolling of almighty wings.
The last step stood!
The last dim cry of pain
Fluttered across the stars,
Wings, wings, triumphant wings,
Lifting and lowering, waxing and waning,
Swinging and swaying, twirling and whirling,
Whispering and screaming, streaming and gleaming,
Spreading and sweeping and shading and flaming—
Wings, wings, eternal wings,
’Til the hot, red blood,
Flood fleeing flood,
Thundered through heaven and mine ears,
While all across a purple sky,
The last vast pinion.
Trembled to unfold.