John Reade (1837-1919)
Text from A Century of Canadian Sonnets.
Kings of Men
As hills seem Alps, when veiled in misty shroud,
Some men seem kings, through mists of ignorance;
Must we have darkness, then, and cloud on cloud,
To give our hills and pigmy kings a chance?
Must we conspire to curse the humbling light,
Lest some one, at whose feet our fathers bowed,
Should suddenly appear, full length, in sight,
Scaring to laughter the adoring crowd?
Oh, no! God send us light!--Who loses then?
The king of slaves and not the king of men.
True kings are kings for ever, crowned of God,
The King of kings--we need not fear for them.
'Tis only the usurper's diadem
That shakes at touch of light, revealing fraud.
God help the man who mortgages his life
For patriot dues! Henceforward he is safe
No more. His noblest virtues only chafe
The hydra that he serves to lust of strife.
His self-respect, his every social tie,
All that for which the world's best heroes fight
Must be surrendered, or, unless he die,
He is a slave--mayhap a despot slave,
Like Dionysius, fearful of the light,
Or Belisarius, begging to his grave
Through streets o'er which his conquering banners wave.
And his reward--to have poor poets sigh
Above his dust the requiem of the brave.
If Homer ne'er had sung; if Socrates
Had never lived in virtue's cause to die;
If the wild chorus of the circling seas
Had never echoed back poor Sappho's sigh;
If Sparta had not, with the purest blood,
Traced on all time the name "Thermopylæ";
If Greece, united through the surging flood
Of Persian pride, had not arisen free;
If nought of great, or wise, or brave, or good
Had proved thee, Hellas, what thou wast to be;
Save that thou didst create "Antigone"--
Thou still had'st in the van of nations stood.
Fallen are thy noblest temples, but above
Them all still stands thy shrine of Woman's Love.
The Wheat's Reward
Out of the ground I rose; the seed seemed dead,
But lo! a slim green arm pushed through the sod,
And by and by before my maker, God,
I stood full ripe. A voice cried: "Give us bread."
The wind of God went by; I bowed my head,
And one approached who held a curvéd knife,
And for the life of men he took my life,
And ever since by me are millions fed.
And then God spake these words: "O blessed weed,
The lowly sister of the lily proud,
Be thou my chosen messenger to shroud
The mystery of my Son, the Woman's seed.
Thou dreadest not the sacrificial knife--
Be thou to dying men the Bread of Life.
The Dark Ages
The years through which aught that hath life, O Sun,
Hath watched or felt thy rising, what are they
To those vast æons when, from night to day,
From dawn to dark, thy circuit thou didst run,
With none to greet thee or regret thee; none
To bless thy glowing harbinger of cloud,
Rose-tinted; none to sigh when, like a shroud,
The banner of Night proclaimed her victory won?
Yet, through that reign of seeming death, so long
To our imperfect ken, the marvellous force
Which means to ends adjusts in Nature's plan
Was bringing to the birth that eye of man,
Which now, O Sun, surveys thy farthest course--
A speck amid the countless starry throng.
The Heart of Man
Has aught been changed, or is there any more
To tell of what the human heart can feel?
Or is there any phase of woe or weal
That has not been a thousand times before?
We live the life our fathers lived of yore--
Our loves, our hates, our longings are the same;
Our creeds have little changed except in name,
And our wise books repeat the ancient lore.
The men who walked in Babylon's proud streets
Were just such men as walk our streets today;
And the fair maid who blushes as she meets
Her lover, such as she, far, far away,
Long, long ago (oft has the tale been told),
Was many a sweet fair maid who lived of old.