The Tram (In The Midlands)


A grinding swerve, a hissing spurt,
And then a droning through the dirt!
The tram glides on its wonted way
Of everyday, of everyday.
Past every corner still the same
Squat houses huddle, meanly serried,
An image of the mute and maim
With life behind their windows buried;
Blank windows staring under slate
That presses on them desolate
As eyes bereft of brows, and drips
On puddled, flowerless garden strips.
Is it evening, noon or morn?
Is it Autumn, is it Spring?
Nothing tells but the forlorn
Rain that is over everything.
A rain that seems too slow to fall
And drifts, an immaterial pall
Of wetness in the air; it leaves
A dismal glistening on the eaves,
And grimed upon the pavement lies,
For the dirt is in the very skies.

Like without, and like within!
Dull bodies clatter out and in,
And the bell clangs, as they subside
On the long seat, and on we glide,
Defensive creatures, all askance
At one another! Small eyes lance
Suspicion; fingers tighten close
On baskets; thin lips will not lose
A word too much, and skirts draw shy
From any touch too neighbourly.
And now a bald–head, grossly quaking
And lurching round for elbow space,
Sets a black–beaded bonnet shaking
Above a pinched averted face
Or stiffly–bastioned heaving bust
That virtuously expands distrust.

And all the fluttered narrow looks
Appear like little painful books
Of soiled accounts, where bargains keep
Their cherished tale of capture cheap.
For life is all a cheapening,
And the rain is over everything,
And there is neither mirth nor woe.
Who made it so, who made it so?

As I muse, as I muse,
Numbed at heart, with eyelids leaden,
Stupefying senses lose
All but sounds and sights that deaden;
Glassy gaze and shuffled feet,
Humid glide of the endless street
Passing by with rank on rank
Of dripping roofs and windows blank,
Till one dull motion drones the brain
Out of meaning, out of time,
And the blood beats to a chime
As of bells with mouth inane.

And now a monstrous ark it seems
That’s hurried with the speed of dreams
Through streets of ages! On it drives
Among unnumbered years and lives.
And now the sound grows like a surging,
As if this speed a host were urging,
And in the sound are voices coming
Thick, and tumultuous music drumming;
And savage odours are astir
Of forest leaves and hidden fur,
And naked limbs of hunters glide
And warriors in the great sun ride,
And mutinous–nostrilled horses champing
With restless necks are strongly stamping.
The Roman purple passes proud
Like an eagle through a cloud.
Lo, knights–at–arms with pennons dancing
To death’s adventure gay advancing,
And here a queen that is a bride
Crimson–robed and lonely–eyed,
And there a pilgrim’s dusty feet
Faring to the heavenly city;
And now an idle beggar singing
How the sun and wind are sweet
A wayside song, a wanderer’s ditty:
And still around, out of the ground,
The armies of the dead are springing;
And with unearthly speed and number
Compelled like those that walk in slumber
They follow, follow! And at my ear
An imp that squats with demon leer
Is screaming, See the Triumph go!
See for whom the trumpets blow!
The prophesied, that goes before us!
This is he, Time’s crown and wonder
That has the very stars for plunder;
This is he, the Promethean,
(Hark the ever–rolling paean
With a wilderness of apes for chorus!)
Who fetched from heaven the stormy fire
To serve and toil for his desire,
And plumbed the globe, and spoiled old Earth
Of all the secrets of her birth;
See him, throned triumphant there,
Like a toad, with glassy stare;
Eyes, and sees not; ears, and hears not!
Heart, and hopes not; soul, and fears not!

A boy with a bunch of primroses!
He sits uneasy, flushed of cheek,
With wandering eyes and does not speak:
His hands are hot; the flowers are his.

But Spring, O Spring is in the world.
And to the woods my fancy flying
Sees all the little fronds uncurled,
Where still the dead brown bracken’s lying
And a thousand thousand shining drops
Are on the young leaves of the copse.
The spurge has all his green cups filled–
A gust will shake and brim them over–
From trembling oats the rain is spilled;
I smell the sweetness of the clover.
Long pods of tendrilled vetch are thirsting,
White flowers on the thorn are bursting;
Twigs redden on the sapling oaks
Above the grass that shoots and soaks;
The streams flow silent, full and fast;
The cuckoo’s cry is heard at last;
In forky boughs and leafy shade
There’s busyness for every wing;
And sweet through stalk and root and blade
Run juices of the wine of Spring.
But the primrose perfume, faint and rare
Is like a sigh of Spring forsaken.
O shy soft beauty, torn and taken!
O delicate bruised tissue fair!
You are like the eyes of an outcast fond,
Or a face seen at a prison–grate:
For Beauty’s but a vagabond
And knows no home and has no mate.
Alas! what dungeon walls we rear,
For our possession, round us here!
We make a castle of defence
Out of the dullness of our sense;
Possess our burrow like the mole;
And with the blundering hands of chance
Grow cruel in our ignorance.
What is another’s springing soul
That I should seek to force and bind it?
To catch my gain where it has tripped,
To thrust it down when it has slipped,
To stupefy and dumb and blind it,
Fortress my virtue with its failing,
And kindle courage at its quailing?
What is another’s thought, that I
Should wish it mine in effigy?
Ah! we that grasp and bind and tame,
It is ourselves, ourselves we maim;
We maim the world. The very Spring
Stops all mute and will not sing,
The sapless branches will not quicken,
The cells of secret honey sicken,
Giant brambles writhe and twist
About the trees in poisonous mist.
The spider fattens; flies oppress,
And the buds are blackened promises,
Nothing stirs, but the leaf is shed,
And all the world of wonder’s dead!
O for the touch that shall awake!
O for the word that shall renew!
And all this crust of sense shall break
And the world of wonder pierce us through;
The scales be fallen from a sight
Ravished with fountains of delight,
And the sad dullness of our scorn
Be like remembered night at morn:
Then we shall feel what we have made
Of one another, and be afraid.

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