Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
Youth goes forth
Youth goes forth
The Argument: A Youth goes out to meet the broader experiences
of a less sheltered life than the one he has known, he is
offered advice and help of three different kinds. The first
is spiritual advice, the second is love and faith, and the
third is the warning and the counsel of experience.
Bright shone the summer sun on Malot's walls
And rounded towers, that lifted from the trees,
And pile on stony pile, pointed to heaven.
Red gleamed the roofs, and gold the windows
Where the. sunlight caught the glass. All gray
The great cathedral stood amidst the pile
Of Castle Malot. Gray to the highest point
Its slender bell-tower stood among the shafts
of windowed stone about. Before the church
The wind snapped scarlet pennons o'er the yard,
Where glinted sun on countless spears and shields.
Flaring, the horns sang out their silver cry.
The youngest knight of all went forth that day.
The knights in armor, rank on double rank
Sat motionless, and watched the church's door
From which the youngest knight would issue forth.
Within the dim cathedral where the sun
Fused softly into colors, knelt the youth
Before the altar, Where he bowed, a ray
Of light struck o'er his face so that it shone
Like a young saint's.
Blessing being given
The young knight moved sway. There came to him
Where light streamed down from gorgeous windows
Behind a massy pillar, near the door,
An old man, called the sage, who spoke to him
And drew him back. The young knight, courteous,
And knowing the wisdom of this aged man,
Gave careful heed and heard these earnest words,
"Eager and young thou art, but the long years
Will whiten that golden head and bend that back,
And will wither those ruddy cheeks of thine.
Great fighter thou mayst become, yet one day
That strong young arm will lift no more a sword,
And the hard years take from thee what thou hast
Leaving thee empty-handed, gray, alone--
But if thy blazoned shield still learn as now
And thy life shine like that glittering steel,
And if men still count on thy promised word
That never has failed them yet, then if wealth
And lands and youth and power--all these, are gone,
What matter all, if honor still remains?
Gold is illusion, power all is vain.
Virtue and honor count at last. Naught else."
And the young knight, heeding all, knelt down
To receive the old man's gentle blessing.
And the long dim shaft of light fell softly
Over his golden head and fair young face.
Rising, he moved from the transept's holy hush
To the door, and the organ's heavy roll
Shook all the place-- whirled glorious clouds
Of sound to the high-arched roof.
And poured down in a silver flood. The boy
Stood forth and it seamed as though the sound
Had born him outward, it seemed that he stood
In the sun, thence ushered by a burst
Of music, even as swimmers are born
To high and distant shores. And then he saw
Across the fragrant garden on a bench
A young and lovely maiden whom he knew
And half had hoped to see before he went.
She waited, bright as any garden flower.
All downcast eyes and proper modesty
She watched him cross the garden. As he came
She rose, and shyly met him. All around
The low wind in the trees set countless leaves
A-whisper, and the murmurous music
Of the fountains filled all the air about.
He stood before her and the maiden spoke
Saying farewell, wishing him all success,
And thus, the gentle lady said to him,
Mine are poor words to speed a parting knight
To bless him or give strength unto his heart,
But these are the simple words I give you:
This is success using the talents you had from God
With utmost skill, and all your days.
Only in failing this you fail."
The young knight bowed his golden head,
Half-understanding-half inspired. And then
She proffered him a colored scarf to wear
Upon his arm, as symbol of her love.
The young knight pressed to his lips the scarf,
And tying the bit on his arm, he said,
Thinking on thee, and on my world-wide quest
I made from my heart this song," and he sang,
Whate'er I do, whenever I may go
Abroad, or yet at home abide,
All safe and sure I am. I have
My unseen Lady by my side.
She makes me gladly see the world,
Holds me to do high honor's part,
Be gentle, brave, and strong as she,
The lady deep within my heart
A moment he held her hand and looked deep
In her eyes, and then turned, and bore away
The memory of her tremulous brave smile.
Impatient the knights in the courtyard grew
And the horses stamped, and the hoofs rang out,
And all eyes were turned to the postern door.
Presently there the tall young knight appeared.
All down the line a long low murmur grew
And the bright swords flashed up in quick salute.
The knights in shining armor, stern lips set
Behind their helmets, thought of their brave youth,
And envied the boy his quest in the world.
Last of the line, the oldest knight drew up
By the young knight's side, dropped his iron helm,
And thus the grim knight spoke,
"With thee, my son
Go forth our hopes and prayers to keep thee safe.
I give thee more. I give thee my keen-edged sword,
That has swung in many a battle now.
No more the bloody fields will know my shout.
My life is lived and done. It is for thee
To carry on the fight. Take from my hand
The hilt, and never draw, but for the right.
Thine the young strength to wield again this blade,
Thine the strong heart to bear against the foe.
I give thee a motto. Blazon it bright,
My son, 'Fight the good fight and keep the faith."
Twas said in days long gone and still is strong.
Go now, my son, and bear this still in mind,
Fight the good fight and ever keep the faith."
And then the youth held high the shining sword,
And a great cry broke out from many throats.
Now the time was come, He turned to the gate.
The iron clanged loud on the ringing stone,
The ports swung open to the summer day.
Trumpets flared, and the crimson banners waved.,Beyond, Youth saw the long road stretch away.