The Two Ages

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by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

   On a great cathedral window I have seen
   A Summer sunset swoon and sink away,
   Lost in the splendours of immortal art.
   Angels and saints and all the heavenly hosts,
   With smiles undimmed by half a thousand years,
   From wall and niche have met my lifted gale.
   Sculpture and carving and illumined page,
   And the fair, lofty dreams of architects,
   That speak of beauty to the centuries—
   All these have fed me with divine repasts.
   Yet in my mouth is left a bitter taste,
   The taste of blood that stained that age of art.

   Those glorious windows shine upon the black
   And hideous structure of the guillotine;
   Beside the haloed countenance of saints
   There hangs the multiple and knotted lash.
   The Christ of love, benign and beautiful,
   Looks at the torture-rack, by hate conceived
   And bigotry sustained. The prison cell,
   With blood-stained walls, where starving men went mad,
   Lies under turrets matchless in their grace.

   God, what an age! How was it that You let
   Colossal genius and colossal crime
   Walk for a hundred years across the earth,
   Like giant twins? How was it then that men,
   Conceiving such vast beauty for the world,
   And such large hopes of heaven, could entertain
   Such hellish projects for their human kin?
   How could the hand that, with consummate skill
   And loving patience, limned the luminous page,
   Drop pen and brush, and seize the branding-rod,
   To scourge a brother for his differing faith?

   Not great this age in beauty or in art;
   Nothing is wrought to-day that shall endure
   For earth’s adornment, through long centuries;
   Not ours the fervid worship of a God
   That wastes its splendid opulence on glass,
   Leaving but hate for hungry human hearts.
   Yet great this age; its mighty work is man
   Knowing himself the universal life.
   And great our faith, which shows itself in works
   For human freedom and for racial good.
   The true religion lies in being kind.
   No age is greater than its faith is broad.
   Through liberty and love men climb to God.

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