Arthur Davison Ficke

A Song of East and West (1908)

To America

Out of our streets a strange tale came to me
Of how a nation, glowing in young might,
Suddenly trembled, since from o’er that sea
Where sink the Day and Night
Strange aliens were coming to its shores—
Its shores long called the free—
And unknown peoples flocking at its doors
Filled it with terror lest its golden stores
Should at their mercy be.
And closing fast the gateways in its pride
My nation stood; and lo! I turned my eyes
To its unpeopled lands, empty and wide—
Its parching deserts that beneath the tide
Of labouring peoples might in fruitage rise,
Where now all blossom dies.

Into our streets I went; and passing there
I saw the heavy face, the matted hair,
The wild and sinister eyes of many a race.
From Baltic islands and from Ural hills,
From Polish plains and from Italian rills,
All here had come, and found abiding-place.
And one who moved these teeming throngs among,
A low-browed Russian, spake with savage tongue,
Lifting a brute-like visage shot with hate.
‘Shall yellow men befoul our wonted haunt?
No! Infidels! They are too ignorant.
We would not see always the yellow face.
No! dead alone shall they invade our gate. . . .’

Springing from Europe, westward like a flame
The high triumphant wave of thought has swept.
Across wide oceans, to new lands it came,
Changing, yet still the same,
To where the Western Sea its boundaries kept.
And there it tarried; while beyond, there slept
Old nations ’mid their dreams—
Dreams wonderful and rich with golden store
Of buried ages. Now the young light streams
In eager leaping beams
Out to those lotus-waters where the East sleeps on its shore.
Who shall bid stay, who hinder now that course
Which folds the whole world with its passionate flame,
Completing now the cycle to its source
More rich than when it came?

Behold! The East is red with flame
And incense of majestic thought.
Though Brahma be the sacred name,
Or Buddha Gaya he who taught,
What matter?—since their faiths are fraught
With bright imperishable things—
Things which the whole world needs to take.
Two races mutual toll have brought;
And wide the gate between them swings;
And West clasps East, for the world’s sake.

My thought drifts over sea to that low coast
Where temples rise amid the wooded hills.
I feel the peace that there the spirit fills;
I know that something we have strangely lost
In our onmoving life.
I know that in our strong gigantic strife,
The clamour of our cities, and the strain
Of restless intellect, we have passed by
Peace. And a heavy pain
Weighs down my heart, viewing our destiny.

The lonely priest beside the Inland Sea
Knows not the fever of our restlessness. . . .
His soul inherits from antiquity
Some clearer sight of peace and loveliness.
Heirloom is his of beauty and calm.
Oh, could we borrow half that staving balm
To still the fever of our whirl and stress!
The envoys of our faith go unto him:
Would that his envoys came to us in turn,
Bearing the light he has and we have not.
Would that we mingled in one common lot
What each has won from out the dim
Twilight of Being, where rare beacons burn.

The ways of the East are not the ways of the West.
Yet when two seekers in a single quest
Meet at an evening halt, shall they not part
Between them what each one may count as gain:
The paths of peace, the anodyne of pain,
And the profoundest secrets of the heart?
And shall not each from the other win some light
To aid him on his journey through the night?

The world is one; and all its aims are one,
Though varying outward aspects they must wear.
That which thou callest fair
May foul appear to men beneath a different sun.
Yet still the same each final goal
And the deep-rooted longings of each soul.

Lo! now the day of mingled life is come.
The high cathedral chimes, the temple drum,
The minster organ, the pagoda bells,
Unto each other shall no more be dumb.
And from deep-hidden wells
The secret life of parted races swells
To leap the accident of sundering foam.
No more is beauty prisoned in its home,
Nor truth confined within its native cells.
Over the earth one banner is unfurled
Of many races, who at last behold,
As mists of darkness part in dawn of gold,
A single quest for a united world.




‘A Song of East and West’ (BG2) appeared in The Earth Passion and Other Poems.

For an overview of Fickes relation to Japan see Arthur Davison Ficke and Japan in the Bibliography, and for a note about Fickes work in print see At Ise.


























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