This precious bubble of the antique world,
As light as lifted foam, as frail as breath,
Endured when empires died a desperate death,
When heaven on earth, when tower on tower was hurled.
Hues of a beetle’s temporary wing
Have grown on this in centuries of slime;
Dials have told a rosary of time
For every nuance of this feeble thing.
Were it devised at first for costly balm,
The distillation of a summer’s fee,
To sweeten some “Ah sweet, I dote on thee,”
And over all there lies a common calm. . . .
No more, no more the heavy branches drip
Another fragrance to the tangled moss,
Translucent insects flamed and hummed across;
The sleep they soothed is grown eternal sleep.
It mocks indeed, it is not wholly dumb,
The insect’s fiery wing; and, listening well
Against the margin of this tell-tale shell,
There wakes the memory of a distant hum.
Drowse on, drowse on until I come again;
Or sleep, or sleep for ever, evermore;
We are like men who halt upon a shore,
Whose thoughts go forward and whose feet remain.
Gray, John. “A Phial.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 1, 1903, pp. 233-234. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2021. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021, https://1890s.ca/vv1-gray-phial