THE TWO AGES

On great cathedral windows I have seen
A summer sunset swoon and sink away
Lost in the splendors of immortal art.
Angels and saints and all the heavenly hosts,
With smiles undimmed by half a thousand years
From wall and niche have met my lifted gaze.
Sculpture and carving and illumined page,
And the fair, lofty dreams of architects,
That speak of beauty to the centuries--
All these have fed me with divine repasts.
Yet in my mouth is left a bitter taste,
The taste of blood that stained that age of art

Those glorious windows shine upon the black
And hideous structure of the guillotine:
Beside the haloed countenance of saints
There hangs the multiple and knotted lash.
The Christ of love, benign and beautiful,
Looks at the torture-rack, by hate conceived
And bigotry sustained.  The prison cell,
With blood-stained walls, where starving men went mad,
Lies under turrets matchless in their grace.

God, what an age!  How was it that you let
Colossal genius and colossal crime
Walk for a hundred years across the earth,
Like giant twins?  How was it then that men,
Conceiving such vast beauty for the world,
And such large hopes of heaven, could entertain
Such hellish projects for their fellow-men?
How could the hand that limned the luminous page,
Drop pen and brush, and seize the branding-rod
To scourge a brother for his differing faith?

Not great this age, in beauty or in art.
Nothing is wrought to-day that shall endure,
For earth's adornment, through long centuries.
Not ours the fervid worship of a God
That wastes its splendid opulence on glass,
Leaving but hate, to give its mortal kin.
Yet great this age: its mighty work is man
Knowing himself, the universal life.
And great our faith, which shows itself in works
For human freedom and for racial good.
The true religion lies in being kind.
No age is greater than its faith is broad.
Through liberty and love men climb to God.

By Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Cosmopolitan 43 (Oct. 1907): 603.


Back to Poem Index