I saw by looking in his eyes That they remembered everything; And this was how I came to know That he was here, still wandering. For though the figure and the scene Were never to be reconciled, I knew the man as I had known His image when I was a child.
With evidence at every turn, I should have held it safe to guess That all the newness of New York Had nothing new in loneliness; Yet here was one who might be Noah, Or Nathan, or Abimelech, Or Lamech, out of ages lost,â€” Or, more than all, Melchizedek.
Assured that he was none of these, I gave them back their names again, To scan once more those endless eyes Where all my questions ended then. I found in them what they revealed That I shall not live to forget, And wondered if they found in mine Compassion that I might regret.
Pity, I learned, was not the least Of timeâ€™s offending benefits That had now for so long impugned The conservation of his wits: Rather it was that I should yield, Alone, the fealty that presents The tribute of a tempered ear To an untempered eloquence.
Before I pondered long enough On whence he came and who he was, I trembled at his ringing wealth Of manifold anathemas; I wondered, while he seared the world, What new defection ailed the race, And if it mattered how remote Our fathers were from such a place.
Before there was an hour for me To contemplate with less concern The crumbling realm awaiting us Than his that was beyond return, A dawning on the dust of years Had shaped with an elusive light Mirages of remembered scenes That were no longer for the sight.
For now the gloom that hid the man Became a daylight on his wrath, And one wherein my fancy viewed New lions ramping in his path. The old were dead and had no fangs, Wherefore he loved themâ€”seeing not They were the same that in their time Had eaten everything they caught.
The world around him was a gift Of anguish to his eyes and ears, And one that he had long reviled As fit for devils, not for seers. Where, then, was there a place for him That on this other side of death Saw nothing good, as he had seen No good come out of Nazareth?
Yet here there was a reticence, And I believe his only one, That hushed him as if he beheld A Presence that would not be gone. In such a silence he confessed How much there was to be denied; And he would look at me and live, As others might have looked and died.
As if at last he knew again That he had always known, his eyes Were like to those of one who gazed On those of One who never dies. For such a moment he revealed What life has in it to be lost; And I could ask if what I saw, Before me there, was man or ghost.
He may have died so many times That all there was of him to see Was pride, that kept itself alive As too rebellious to be free; He may have told, when more than once Humility seemed imminent, How many a lonely time in vain The Second Coming came and went.
Whether he still defies or not The failure of an angry task That relegates him out of time To chaos, I can only ask. But as I knew him, so he was; And somewhere among men to-day Those old, unyielding eyes may flash, And flinchâ€”and look the other way.