EVE SPEAKS, Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977)
AUSE, God, and ponder, ere Thou judgest me.
Though it be doomsday, and the trampling winds
Rush blindly through the stark and cowering skies,
Bearing Thy fearful mandate like a sword,
I do not tremble, . . . I am unafraid.
Though the red flame of wrath lick up the worlds,
And dizzy stars fall in a golden rain;
Though, in an agonizing fear of life,
The summoned spirits, torn from gentle graves,
Whirl at Thy feet or fly before a scornful breeze,
I do not fly, . . . my soul is unafraid.
Years have swept over me and in the wash
Of foaming centuries have been forgot.
Yet still my soul remembers Paradise,
That perfect echo of Thy gentler mood.
Wrapped in a drowsy luxury we lived,
Beauty our food and idleness our pillow.
Day after day, we walked beneath Thy smile;
And, as we wandered through the glittering hours,
Our souls unfolding with the friendly earth,
Eden grew lovelier to our eager eyes.
With every step a clump of trees, a star,
An undiscovered flower, a hill, a cry,
A new wild sunset or a wilder bird,
Entered our lives and grew a part of us.
Lord, there was naught but happiness — and yet,
Though Adam gloried in the world’s content,
And sunned himself in rich complacency,
The thought that there was something more than joy,
Beyond all beauty, greater than singing peace
And tranquil happiness, vexed all my hours.
Here in a garden, without taint or care,
We played like children, we who were not children.
Swaddled with ease, lulled with Thy softest dreams,
We lived in perfect calm — who were not perfect. . . .
Eden was made for angels — not for Man.
Often the thought of this would come to me
When Adam’s songs seemed empty of all mirth;
When he grew moody and the reckless fire
Leaped in his eyes and died; or when I saw
Him lying at my side, his brawny arms
Knotted with strength, his bosom deep and broad,
His hands tight-clenched, his mouth firm, even in sleep.
Here was a body made to build and dare;
Here was a brain designed to dream and mould–
To waste such energy on such a life!
I could not think it. Seeing him, I knew
Man made for Eden only — not for more —
Was made in vain. . . . I clamed my Adam, God;
Claimed him for fiercer things and lustier worlds,
Immoderate measures, insolent desires;
Claimed him for great and strengthening defeats.
He was but one of many things to Thee–
A cunning lump of clay, a sentient clod–
One of a universe of miracles.
Each day a fresh creation was to Thee;
Thou hadst infinity to shape and guard–
I only Adam.
Lying awake one night beneath the Tree,
I heard him sighing in a fitful sleep.
A cold, disdainful moon mocked my unrest,
A night-bird circled out beyond the wood.
Never did Eden seem so much a prison–
Past the great gates I glimpsed the unknown world,
Lying unfettered in majestic night.
I saw the broadening stream hold out its arms,
The proud hills called me and the lure
Of things unheard, unguessed at, caught my soul.
Adam was made for this — and this for him.
The peace of Eden grew intolerable.
Better the bold uncertainty of toil,
The granite scorn of the experienced world,
And failure upon failure; better these
Than this enforced and rotting indolence.
Adam should know his godhood; he should feel
The weariness of work, and pride of it;
The labor of creation, and its joy.
His hands should rear the dream, his sinews think;
And, in a rush of liberated power,
He should rend and tame, and wrest its secret from
The sweating, energetic earth; his frame should thrill
With every keen, courageous enterprise,
Until his rude and stumbling soul could grasp
Conquering and unconquerable joys.
So should his purpose tower to the stars;
Face, without fear, contemptuous centuries;
Meet the astonished heavens with a laugh,
And answer God with God’s own words and deeds.
One thing alone would give all this to him,
One thing would cleave the sealed and stubborn rocks,
Harness the winds, curb the unbridled seas–
Knowledge, the force and shaper of the world. . . .
And so I knew that we should eat — and learn.
Into the world we went, Adam and I,
Bound by a new and strange companionship.
For in the battle with a hostile earth
His were the victories, mine were all defeats.
His was the lust of doing — a furrow tilled;
A wily beast ensnared, a flint well turned;
A headlong chase, a hut or trap well built;
The joy of things accomplished Adam knew.
Was there a hunt — there was a feast for him;
Was there a harvest — there was rest thereafter;
Was Adam hurt — there was my soothing care;
Was Adam tired — there were my lips and arms.
Aye, Lord, though I cried out against this thing
That made me Adam’s servant, not his mate,
Yet was it just, for into endless strife
My will had plunged him; therefore all the years
I tended, comforted, encouraged him
With prayers and quickening passion, till he knew
The dazzling, harsh divinity of love. . . .
God, thou did’st make a creature out of dust,
But I created Man. . . . I was to him
A breast, soft shoulders, an impelling brain;
I was his spur, his shield, his stirrup-cup;
I was his child, his strumpet, and his wife.
A world of women have I been to him,
To him and all the myriad sons of Adam.
And all that they remember is my shame!
All times by all men have I been betrayed–
They have belittled and disgraced my deed
That made them seek until they found themselves;
Have turned my very purposes against me,
Knowing not that I help them unawares.
Yea, I have driven them — that they too might drive;
Have held their chains — that I might set them free;
Have ruled and urged them with a hardened hand,
That they might find the stony world less hard.
And what was my reward when they had won–
Freedom that I had bought with torturing bonds?
Faith that is stronger than the iron years?
Love with a warmth that heals as well as burns?
Or comradeship, the golden hour of love,
Clean as the candid gaze of stars and children?
Such things were not my portion. Gibes and taunts,
Mixed with the pity of a tolerant lord;
My name, turned to base uses, made to serve
A twisted symbol and a mockery.
Or I was given in some more amorous mood,
A brief endearment or an easy smile;
A jewel, perhaps an hour of casual love–
These were the precious coin in which they paid.
And thus, to either concubine or wife,
They eased their conscience — and their throbbing lust.
They stormed through countries brandishing their deeds,
Boasting their gross and transient mastery
To girls, who listened with indulgent ears
And laughing hearts. . . . Lord, they were ever blind–
Women have they known, but never Woman.
God, when the rosy world first learned to crawl
About the floor of heaven, wert Thou not proud!
Though Thou has planned a heaven of suns to swing
About Thy skies, like censers whirling praise;
Though Thou hast made immense and sterile space
Busy with life, a deathless miracle;
And now hast gathered up eternity,
Rolling it in the hollow of Thy hand,–
Was there one sudden thrill in all of time
As keen as that fierce tugging at Thy heart,
When first the new-born world was held by Thee
Close to Thy breast to feel its small heart beat?
Not all the fervor of ten million springs
Moved Thee so much, because it was so weak.
Errant and spoiled, untamed and contrary,
Thou sawest it grow, in fear no less than pride.
It was Thy dearest child, Thy favorite star.
God, so it was with Adam — he was mine.
Mine to protect, to nurture, to impel;
My lord and lover, yes, but first my child.
Man remains Man, but Woman is the Mother.
There is no mystery she dared not read;
No fearful fruit can grow but she must taste;
No secret knowledge can be held from her;
For she must learn all things that she may teach.
How wilt Thou judge me then, who am, like Thee,
Creator, shaper of men’s destinies?
Nay more, I made their purpose vaster still.
Thou would’st have left them in a torpid Eden–
I sent them out to grapple with the world!
I give Thee back Thy planet now, O God,
An earth made strong by disobedience;
Resplendent, built with fire and furious dreams.
A world no angel host could hope to shape;
Invulnerable, spacious, and erect.
Not a vast garden rich with futile charm;
But streaming continents and crowded seas,
Extravagant cities, marshalled mountain-chains,
And every windy corner of the air
Filled with the excellent enterprise of man.
A world both promise and fulfilment — see
Men’s thoughts translated into light and towers;
Visions uplifted into stone and steel;
Labor and life — a seething hymn of praise.
This is Thy clamorous and thundering clay;
This, Thy created, groping world — and mine.
Pause, God, and ponder ere Thou judgest me.