December 19, 2004

The Turn of the Tide
by C.S. Lewis

Breathless was the air over Bethlehem.
Black and bare
Were the fields; hard as granite the clods;
Hedges stiff with ice; the sedge in the vice
Of the pool, like pointed iron rods.
And the deathly stillness spread from Bethlehem.
It was shed; wider each moment on the land;
Through rampart and wall into camp and into hall
Stole the hush; all tongues were at a stand.
At the Procurator's feast
The jocular freedman ceased
His story, and gaped. All were glum.
Travelers at their beer in a tavern turned to hear
The landlord; their oracle was dumb.
But the silence flowed forth to the islands
And the North
And smoothed the unquiet river bars
And leveled out the waves
From their reveling and paved
The sea with cold reflected stars.
Where Caesar on Palatine sat at ease to sign,
Without anger, signatures of death,
There stole into his room and on his soul a gloom,
And his pen faltered, and his breath.
Then to Carthage and the Gauls,
Past Parthia and the Falls
Of Nile and Mount Amara it crept;
The romp and war of beast
In swamp and jungle ceased,
The forest grew still as though it slept.
So it ran about the girth of the planet.
From the Earth
A signal, a warning, went out
And away behind the air.
Her neighbors were aware
Of change. They were troubled with a doubt.

Salamanders in the Sun that brandish as they run
Tails like the Americas in size
Were stunned by it and dazed;
Wondering they gazed
Up at earth, misgiving in their eyes.
In Houses and Signs Ousiarchs divine
Grew pale and questioned what it meant;
Great Galactal lords stood back to back with swords
Half-drawn, awaiting the event,
And a whisper among them passed,
'Is this perhaps the last
Of our story and the glories of our crown?
The entropy worked out? The central redoubt
Abandoned? The world-spring running down?'
Then they could speak no more.
Weakness overbore
Even them. They were as flies in a web,
In their lethargy stone-dumb.
The death had almost come;
The tide lay motionless at ebb.

Like a stab at that moment,
Over Crab and Bowman,
Over Maiden and Lion, came the shock
Of returning life,
The start and burning pang and heart,
Setting Galaxies to tingle and rock;
And the Lords dared to breathe,
And swords were sheathed
And a rustling, a relaxing began,
With a rumour and noise of the resuming of joys,
On the nerves of the universe it ran.
Then pulsing into space with delicate, dulcet pace
Came a music, infinitely small
And clear. But it swelled and drew nearer and held
All worlds in the sharpness of its call.
And now divinely deep, and louder, with the sweep
And quiver of inebriating sound,
The vibrant dithyramb shook Libra and the Ram,
The brains of Acquarius spun round;
Such a note
As neither Throne nor Potentate had known
Since the Word first founded the abyss,
But this time it was changed
In a mystery, estranged,
A paradox, an ambiguous bliss.

Heaven danced to it and burned.
Such answer was returned
To the hush, the Favete, the fear
That Earth had sent out; revel, mirth and shout
Descended to her, sphere below sphere.
Saturn laughed and lost his latter age's frost,
His beard, Niagara-like, unfroze;
Monsters in the Sun rejoiced;
The Inconstant One,
The unwedded Moon, forgot her woes.
A shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth
Went gliding. Her bonds were released.
Into broken light a breeze
Rippled and woke the seas,
In the forest it startled every beast.
Capripods fell to dance from Taproban to France,
Leprechauns from Down to Labrador,
In his green Asian dell the Phoenix from his shell
Burst forth and was the Phoenix once more.

So death lay in arrest. But at Bethlehem the blessed
Nothing greater could be heard
Than a dry wind in the thorn,
The cry of the One new-born
And cattle in stall as they stirred.

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