Two Poems by Lionel Johnson
These two poems of Lionel Johnson, included by his friend William Butler Yeats in a little volume of 20 Poems of Lionel Johnson, attest to Johnson’s deep sense of the sacred. Best known for his beautiful poem on the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross, Johnson was a Catholic convert who survives into postmodernity, only by the cruel depiction of his death by Ezra Pound. If you find the phrase "without them..." in "Lucretius puzzling, remember that without can mean outside, in contrast with within.
King of men, that are
No more they think, than men:
Who, past the flaming walls afar,
Find nought within their ken:
The cruel draught , that wildered thee,
And drove thee upon sleep,
Was kinder than Philosophy,
Who would not let thee weep.
Thou knowest now, that life and death
Are wondrous intervals:
The fortunes of a fitful breath,
Within the flaming walls.
Without them, an eternal plan,
Which life and death obey:
Divinity, that fashions man,
Its high, immortal way.
Or was he right, thy past compare,
Thy one true voice of Greece
Then, whirled about the unconscious air,
Thou hast a vehement peace.
No calms of light, no purple lands,
No sanctuaries sublime:
Like storms of snow, like quaking sands,
Thine atoms drift through time.
THE CHURCH OF A DREAM
Sadly the dead leaves rustle in the whistling wind,
Around the weather-worn, gray church,l ow down the vale: The Saints in golden vesture shake before the gale;
The glorious windows shake, where still they dwell enshrined;
Old Saints, by long dead, shrivelled hands, long since designed: There still, although the world autumnal be, and pale,
Still in their golden vesture the old saints prevail;
Alone with Christ, desolate else, left by mankind.
Only one ancient Priest offers the Sacrifice,
Murmuring holy Latin immemorial:
Swaying with tremulous hands the old censer full of spice,
In gray, sweet incense clouds ; blue , sweet clouds mystical:
To him, in place of men, for he is old, suffice
Melancholy remembrances and vesperal.