“The Dark Ages”, Abraham Lincoln

Men call you “dark.” What factory then blurred the light
Of golden suns, when nothing blacker than the shades
Of coming rain climbed up the heather-mantled height?
While the air
Breathed all the scents of all untrodden flowers,
And brooks poured silver through the glimmering glades,
Then sweetly wound through virgin ground.
Must all that beauty pass?
And must our pleasure trains
Like foul eruptions belch upon the mountain head?
Must we perforce build vulgar villa lanes,
And on sweet fields of grass
The canting scutcheons of a cheating commerce spread?

Men call you “dark.” Did that faith see with cobwebbed eyes,
That built the airy octagon on Ely’s hill,
And Gloucester’s Eastern wall that woos the topaz skies,
Where the hymn
Angelic “Glory be to God on high,
And peace on earth to men who feel good will,”
Might softly sound God’s throne around?
Is that a perfect faith
Which pew-filled chapels rears,
Where Gothic fronts of stone mask backs of ill-baked bricks,
And where the frothy fighting preacher fears,
As peasants fear a wraith,
His deacon’s frown or some just change in politics?

Men call you “dark.” Was Chaucer’s speech a muddy stream,
The language born of Norman sun and Saxon snow?
Was Langland’s verse or Wyclif’s prose mere glow-worm’s gleam?
And the tales
Of Arthur’s sword and of the holy Grail,
And Avalon, the isle where no storms blow:
From such romance did no light glance?
Have we not heard a tongue,
Whose words the Saxon thralls
Would scorn to speak above their muck-rake and their fork,
The speech of barrack-rooms and music-halls,
Where every fool has flung
The rotten refuse of Calcutta and New York?

Men call you “dark.” But chivalry and honour stand
As words that you, not we, did fashion, when the need
Of food beyond the price of gold awoke our land.
For you taught
Inconstancy is like a standard lost;
And we who prove untrue in love or deed
Will doubly shame an ancient name.
Your robes were not all white,
Your soul was not a sea
Where all the crystal rivulets of God found room:
But we must often to your lessons flee,
Our truth with yours unite,
Before we meet the holy dayspring of the doom.

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