For many seasons I have sat and pondered
the omens of this wonder-perilous time,
and most of all that image all have seen:
that globe, that cloud-veiled jewel of blue and green
upon the black and lifeless infinite,
caught in our far-sent instrumental eye.
This is that earth our ancestors called Great
and Mother, upon which they poured their offerings
of wine, the blood of sacrificial victims,
imploring sustenance of her large bounty,
into whose lap with song and prayer they sowed
the seed of harvests and the lifeless bodies
of those they mourned or hated; in whose depths
their fearful hope conjectured dim dominions,
the retreat of spirits banished from the light,
whose distant regions were the vacant canvas
for wild conjectures, now by fact effaced –
the Earth, which yielded us at last the metals,
the fuels, to thrust ourselves beyond its grip
to where it now appears to us, so small,
as if it fit a thumb and finger's compass.
We gaze on this and know it is a mirror
that shows our power and our alienness;
we read in this, as in a face, the fear
of all the devastation we can do –
we, who have not created yet one grassblade
of all that give the earthlight its green shimmer! –
and at the same time here we are, caught up,
as ever, in the illimitable web
woven by life, sustaining us and all,
and if we tear that from the earth, we perish.
We know, too, that this sight, these meditations,
come to impart not first, but final warning;
yet, like a blinded tragic hero dreamed
by some uneasy poet among the Greeks
that race whose thought, waking from nature's sleep,
began the calculations which have led
with an inevitable and quickening pace
to these our present straits pursue our course.
Our madness is methodical and armed:
it borrows for its all-destructive purpose
the scientist's brain, the manufacturer's greed,
the statesman's guile, the hates of creeds and nations;
our better reason, conscious of its ties
to all that lives, the partner of compassion,
whose inmost deep gleams with an intuition
of an eternal Being that desires
the life of our small world, and not its death,
sits feeble and disarmed in warring hearts,
confused with much that militates against it,
so that its scattered enterprises seem
like the last twitchings of a dying body,
and it prepares itself to be a nothing,
or if the spirit survives, to be a ghost
wandering the ruins of a lifeless planet.
It knows: not all the heavens man has dreamed
could compensate it for this world of matter
in which it hoped to be incorporate.
So much this eye has seen, this heart has heard,
with every eye and heart that wakes and fears
and scans the mind's field for some word or action,
groping with partial knowledge, partial light.
The greater mind that sees through all at once,
that sees the pattern from above, discerns
the path that leads out of the death-locked maze,
is not yet with us, and may never be;
and yet there is this impulse, this command
to try and think as if one were that mind,
thrust out from all particular entanglings
and viewing human life as it were whole.
Now, while the hand still grips the pen, the mind
has strength to sort the tangled skeins of thought,
I will attempt it: render my account,
though flawed and partial only, of the world,
all that I know of nature's laws, the laws
that shaped the human heart such that it seems
to war against the earth's and its own life;
and then what sources in it, or beyond,
still flow with wisdom and the encouragement
to harbor, even now, a hope of turning,
of some discovery or revelation
to free it from itself, and give it peace –
a wakeful peace. I seem to see from far
how it might be that, warned by a self-knowledge
exact as knowledge of the atom is
and nourished by a final recognition
of what is ours, and yet not wholly ours
seen not by outward gaze, but through our being
we could at last distinguish right from wrong
and, even while accepting death, choose life.
This we would call the Consciousness of Earth:
an outward knowledge, bent upon that object
of which we are a part, articulate;
an inward knowledge, flowing from our oneness
with all that is, and with that deeper Inward
by which alone Creation is sustained:
these two in One, a constant interaction
in an awareness not to be divided,
a common mind through which Creation thinks
thoughts self-deception shall not mar again,
and which may rule, as the brain rules the limbs,
the diverse forces of its myriad will.
And you, who turn these pages: do not wonder
that to the present urgency I speak
in measures molded by a quieter time,
that I compel my thoughts to keep this pace
which seems to check and trammel their unfolding.
Know, reader, what the elder poets knew
and what the distant disk of Earth now tells us:
that all things have their limit and their term
and in that term and limit is their form,
their beauty, and the laws which give them life,
shaping the energy which otherwise
would lose itself in boundless dissipation.
It is by this that they are what they are,
it is by this that they are part of all.
Who would not know the end can never know
the whole; but, knowing it, one's thoughts cohere,
memory and anticipation speak
through every present line, and form the ear
to catch, the understanding to retain,
the eye to recognize the thing, when met,
of which the word had spoken.
Thus the laws
of ancient times were handed down in verse
before we learned to trust the hand too much,
and the brain instrumental to the hand.
Bear, then, with me and with this simple measure,
the step of a pedestrian on earth's ways.
So without haste, trusting our strength as far
as it may go, and the divining thread
of our own consciousness, we now set forth.