When I first met this poem at the age of fourteen I thought that along with Yeats’s ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ it was the most magical thing I had ever read, and I walked the local woods in a dream muttering it to myself over and over. And now… well, tastes do change with age, usually in the direction of the spare and essential, and Flecker is too romantic for me to rate the lines as highly now as I did then, but even if we are not true to our first attachments we should still be grateful to them. And it does even now bring back the taste of that time, an April evening, the sweet confused melancholy of young love, a world of boundless hope and romance waiting beyond the horizon…
Prologue from ‘The Golden Journey To Samarkand’
We who with songs beguile your pilgrimage
And swear that Beauty lives though lilies die
We poets of the proud old lineage
Who sing to find your hearts, we know not why.
What shall we tell you? Tales, marvellous tales
Of ships and stars and isles where good men rest,
Where nevermore the rose of sunset pales,
And winds and shadows fall towards the west,
And there the world’s first huge white-bearded kings
In dim glades sleeping, murmur in their sleep,
And closer round their breasts the ivy clings
Cutting its pathway slow and red and deep.
And how beguile you? Death has no repose
Warmer and deeper than that Orient sand
Which hides the beauty and bright faith of those
Who made the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
And now they wait and whiten peaceably,
Those conquerors, those poets, those so fair:
They know time comes, not only you and I,
But the whole world shall whiten here and there;
When the long caravans that cross the plain
With dauntless feet and sound of silver bells
Put forth no more for glory or for gain,
Take no more solace from the palm-girt wells.
When the great markets by the sea shut fast
All that calm Sunday that goes on and on
When even lovers find their peace at last,
And earth is but a star, that once had shone.
James Elroy Flecker
‘The Gates of Damascus’ still keeps giving more.