Sarpedon

By Edwin Markham

In memory of George Sterling, citizen of the Far West, poet of the seas and stars, prophet of Social Democracy

Sarpedon, a native of Lycia and a son of Jove, was the founder of a line of heroes in his land. His story is told in the Iliad. While a comrade of the illustrious Hector in the Trojan War, Sarpedon confronted Patroclus, who clad in the terrifying armor of Achilles, was driving the frightened Trojans before him. The dauntless Sarpedon ventured battle with the armored Patroclus; and Jove, the high Olympian, looked down with sorrow on his imperiled son, and longed to snatch him from his fate. Sarpedon fell with a fatal spear-wound in this breast; whereupon there was a wild struggle between the opposing warriors for his body. Apollo snatched him from the midst of the roaring combatants, and committed him to the care of the twin brothers, Death and Sleep, who carried him tenderly in airy flight to Lycia—to his own friends, to his own home, to his own land.

Shall I strew on thee rose or rue or laurel,
Brother, on this that was the veil of thee?—

                                         Ave atque Vale
                 I.
O poet of the Carmel promontories,
  With genius stormy as the stormy seas,
  The cliffs will miss you and the tortured trees,
Twisted and stoopt where the long torn shore is
  Tormented by the waves that never rest,
  Surges that seem on some eternal quest—
Reminders of your passion and your grief.
  Your high strange song rusht like this billow-flight
  That swings from other lands, to break at night
In splendor when long leagues of shore and reef
  Burst into terrible light.

You turned and left it all for the husted Hereafter
  Great poet and great dreamer of the dreams—
  Turned to the land lighted with misty beams:
I saw you, who had longed for love and laughter,
  Borne over the dim voids to a castle-keep,
  Sarpedon, carried high by Death and Sleep,
Wearing the scars of your battle and your pain,
  Your struggle with the fortunes of our star
  And with this dust that is our mortal bar.
These things are cryptic: they will not be plain
  Even where the Immortals are.

Life is too deep for any probe of reason,
  Life is too veiled for any mortal ken—
  Too deep, too veiled for these bewildered men:
Life is a lure, and yet her deeds are treason
  Against the Love disheartened by the wrong—
  Against the Justice baffled by the strong—
Against the Dreams forever dying, yet
  Refusing ever utterly to die,
  And ever crying to a silent sky—
High Dreams we cannot utterly forget,
  And yet we know not why.

You did not choose to hold to "the Great Blunder",
  And yet it had been better had you held,
  Held as the heroes of the days of eld—
As Shelley held against life's trampling thunder,
  And lifted for all time the Comrade Theme,
  Lighting the darkness with a mighty Dream—
As Hugo held, Hugo the Godlike one,
  Who could not be disheartened nor betrayed,
  Who held his place, unwearied, unafraid,
Who hurled his songs, like thunders of the sun,
  Against the hell man-made.

We know not all the weight you had to carry,
  Sarpedon, nor the fear upon your brain:
  We know not in what dungeon and what chain
You fought the fiend all night with lunge and parry.
  Braver you were perhaps—yes, braver far—
  Than we who battle and show no fatal scar—
We who came safe because we had no load—
  We who came safe because we had no foe,
  Had no blind wrestle with the Gulf below,
Out on the tempting, lone, tempestuous road
  The sons of genius go.

Let no man judge you, friend, and bard and brother—
  No man till he has stood within your place,
  Lifted your burden, worn your stricken face.
No man but him shall judge you—no, none other;
  And he will judge you not, but lift a hand
  To ease your steps over the broken land—
Yes, help you as we all must be some day
  Helpt on life's road which none can go alone,
  The long road strewn with pitfall and with stone;
For 'tis dangerous and a darkened way,
  Into the old Unknown.

Ah, the wild question, Is there One who watches?
  If so, who set these snares on every hand,
  And whose dark spirit cried the dark command?
What blind Thing, bungling at the mortal, botches?
  This question is unanswered, and will be
  When the last thunder tramples the last sea.
Still there is one thing that is left us, friend—
  To keep the high heart, face the foeman, cry
  For strength to fight the battle and to die,
To fight the battle bravely to the end—
  Then to another sky!

                     II.
What else can I say here where the ways dissever,
  Here by the sacred mystery of death,
  Here by the grave where mortals bate the breath,
Where all the foot-prints seem to fade forever?
  Do all things crumble at the last of earth?
  No, 'tis another chance, another birth!
This I dare cry above the old mistrust.
  The dead depart, but wild hopes follow after;
  So when the house falls, beam and roof and rafter,
I dare stand calmly and dispute the dust,
  Defy the Skull's last laughter.

The heart has other questions: we must ponder
  On the strange world that waits us on ahead,
  The goal of all these pilgrims to the dead—
The world you entered in the hidden Yonder—
  The land we see not, yet the land that lures—
  The land that seems all shadow, yet endures—
The land the poets in their wistful hours
  Have turned to in the daring of their songs,
  And whither our wild hopes hurry in dim throngs—
The land we people with imperious Powers,
  With strength to right all wrongs.

How can I call you back, O stormy lover,
  Since you have turned and dropt the mask of time?
  I have no power, none but this flying rime
And these wild tears; but these can not recover
  That look of light, that step of gallant grace,
  That lyric laugh, that old-young wistful face.
We cannot call you back to us, but we
  Can follow you with shouts of comrade cheer,
  Wafting your power, and this will drawn you near.
There is between us, then, no sundering sea,
  No gray estranging Fear.

Nothing can part us twain, O friend and frater:
  Nothing can part—not life nor death nor Hell,
  Not Maleboldge, not the Stygian Well:
I can even follow the flutes of your dancing satyr,
Look on Diana naked in the stream,
  Or dare some plunging Aeschylean theme.
We're one in the love of love, the hate of hate—
  One in the high hope of that Coming Hour
  When men will build on earth the comrade power,
Build for tired souls the glad Fraternal State,
  A shelter and a tower.

What have you found there where the new heavens heighten?
  Have you the old, the dear familiar things—
  Flutes on the hill and cattle at the springs?
And do the old knots of life still tug and tighten?
  What secrets are let out by death, what one
  Soars high above the others like a sun?
I hear you answer from your castle-keep:
    "Brief is the cryptic wisdom of the dead:
  Each man forever mixes his own bread:
Still as men sow they do forever reap:
  They choose their roads ahead."

How did She greet you there, our mighty Mother?
  What did She do to ease your heart of tears,
  What gift bestow for all your singing years?
Surely She sent to you some elder brother,
  Some one who also had the darkness trod,
  Some one to cheer you with a smile of God—
Byron perhaps or Poe or Dante, one
  Who knows the burden of the dust we wear,
  Who knows the danger of the upper air,
Who traveled the shadow of Hell to reach the sun,
  Who took life's awful dare.

He has cried welcoming, with lips a-quiver:
  He will cry courage, he will speak you peace,
  Will lead to secret paths where sorrows cease,
Under the pines that shade the secret river—
  Find you wild apples and the robin's  nest,
  Show sea-birds on their wide-spread wings at rest.
He will bring mystic bread that will restore
 The sacred strength we squander on the earth;
  Then in some moment of the second birth,
A face will shine, the God we both adore,
  The God of Song and Mirth.

After the vigils and the pains of pardon,
  Which all souls enter and all souls must know,
  Your soul will rise as one ordained to go;
And he will lead you to the lofty garden,
  Where heroes gather in the holy night,
  With souls alive with martyr-love, fire-white—
Men sworn to wear the honor of the King,
  Ready to lead the people in their joy
  And ready to bear the burdens that destroy—
Warriors who ride to battle as they sing—
  Higher than heroic Troy.

What can I pour now as a last libation,
  What scatter on your mortal dust, O friend?
  What thunder loosen at the road's last bend?
Let it be clarion, paean, exultation;
  For it must be thanksgiving for your song,
  Your laurelled head above the applauding throng,
Your  lyric voice the kingliest in our choir?
  The mightiest voice that ever shook the West.
  You ever held the Muse a heavenly guest:
Not once did you befoul her feet with mire,
  Not once besoil her breast.

                  III.
Sometimes your soul sang down the wind of vision,
  Lit by that dream of earth that never ends,
  The dreams of earth become a world of friends—
Sang on in spite of laughter and derision,
  Seeking a world where babes shall never be
  Born old at birth, in sorrows like the sea—
Where work-worn mothers, blasted in the womb,
  Shall not find sacred motherhood a curse—
  Where God will sing into his universe
And earth no longer wear the ancient doom.
  Your song rose tense and terse.

And so you soared with Shelley in his daring:
  You heard his Men of England, that wild cry,
  That judgment thunder from an angered sky:
You heard it and it saved you from despairing.
  And you will hear him now, the winged one,
  Sing paeans in the porches of the sun.
You will behold him in a sudden blaze
  Of Splendor, high above all mortal things:
  You will behold him, one of the Lyric Kings,
When you have shaken off the dust of days,
  And felt a touch of wings.

You loved the poets of all lands and ages—
  Leconte de Lisle who fought the ancient wrong,
  Swinburne, Carducci, all the sons of Song;
But most you loved them in their sacred rages
  When battling for the plundered slaves of earth,
  Fired by Apollo, who, in humble birth,
Appeared as Christus with the wounded hands.
  You loved them all and joined their holy quest,
  Their search for something that will give us rest—
The longing of the heroes in all lands,
  The cry in every breast.

So in these late hours when the Dream seems setting,
  We will not lose hope for the days ahead:
  You, you have helpt us fight against the dead,
And you will keep our tired hearts from forgetting.
  You will be watchman when we camp at night,
  Your song be fire upon the front of fight.
You will be there, alive with noble pride,
  To cry us courage when the foe appears,
  And will go with us down the battling years;
And all will hear—when victory is cried—
  Your voice among the cheers.

The Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, Nov 1927, Volume LXXXV, Number 11, Pg. 325.