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The Four Winds

Dreamed early 1915? by E.M. Martin
Source: Dreams in War-Time by E.M. Martin (1915)


I have had, in the making of these verses, but little part, for they came to me in a dream, and when I awoke, I lighted a candle, in the grey dawn of a windy morning, and wrote down the first six lines, that I might not forget them. As I wrote them then, so they stand here now; for save in a dream, I could not have thought of 'talking heads', nor have seen the Four Winds met in solemn council to judge the sons of men. The rest of the verse ran on in my mind like some haunting half-remembered tune with here and there a bar missing; until I went out into the fields, high-hedged fields that hold the sunshine as in a cup, and there the wind blew the forgotten lines back to me again. I have taken nothing from them and added nothing to them, for I am all in sympathy with the words that came from North, South and East, though inclining to the more merciful judgment of the West.

"When these talking heads are dead"--
This is what the four winds said
When they stood in council meet
While the earth swung at their feet
Like a half-burned lamp, that dies
While the gods rub sleepy eyes:
"When these lying tongues are still,
Brothers, we can work our will."
Thus spake he men call the South,
With breath of honey in his mouth,
With glow of summer on his wings
That told of pleasant sun-kissed things,
Young leaves, young blades of ripening corn,
And moon-lit night, and rose-red morn,
The nurses of the teeming earth
That bring her harvest loads to birth.
"When these hurtful hands are cold,
Hands now growing over-bold
To pluck God's secrets from the sky
And learn how they may never die;"
(Thus spake he men call the East,
Cringing like some sullen beast
Waiting patient for his feast
Of flesh and bone;) "why then", said he,
"Kings of all the world we'll be.
Now they yoke us to their cars
To tame the moon and storm the stars,
To ride the seas and learn how small
The mysteries of the rise and fall
Of seasons, tides, and hidden caves
That hold the law of winds and waves.
When man has perished like a beast,
We shall be kings."--Thus spake the East.

"When the prying eyes are blind,
Brothers, we can show our mind
Each to other, without fear
That man shall see or man shall hear."
(Thus spake he men call the North,
Like some rude god striding forth
From his dim kingdom of dark cloud,
Calling out strange truths aloud.)
"Men have ruled the earth too long
Poets have ruled it with a song;
Kings with armies rode it down,
Yet the conqueror is a clown
Whose sceptre tumbles from his hand,
At lordly Death's swift, sharp command.
Brothers, let us sweep away
All this waste of living clay.
That we may be kings at last
When man's memory has past
Like a cloud of troubled smoke
When the altar priest awoke,
And damping down the censer's flame
Sent the fire to whence it came."
Then spake he men call the West
(The peaceful wind men love the best):
He came with softly-scented wings
That brought the breath of countless Springs;
With voice as soft as whispering leaves,
Or swallows nesting 'neath the eaves
Of ancient roofs: by ways of peace
He came to bid the clamour cease
Of those rude voices, that would still
Grind man to dust, to have their will:

"Brothers, it is nearly done,
The race of man is nearly run.
For how long have I heard in vain
Their sighs and cries from beds of pain;
For how long, written in the air,
Have traced the letters of their prayer
To God who made them? For how long
Have seen them weak, have seen them strong
Falling like leaves into the ground
As fast as came the seasons round?

"In vain they yoke us to their cars
To tame the moon and storm the stars,
For still beside them ever creeps
The Shadow grey, who into deeps
Of Nothingness must one day throw
The men who ruled as kings below;
Who held us captive, ages long.
With heedless talk and idle song;
But when they perish, as they must,
And mix with earth their living dust;
Though we may be conquerors then,
Shall we not regret these men?
Let then the talking heads talk on,
Let then the hurtful hands work on,
Let then the prying eyes still see,
Dimly into mystery:
Soon will man have had his day,
Soon be done this reign of clay,
And man have passed like mist away.

"When stars have fallen from their height
Into the unplumbed womb of night;
When suns have burned themselves away
In terror of the Judgment Day,
Then spirit triumphs over clay,
Then, Brothers, we shall have our way.
When God has learned His Work is vain,
His conquering winds shall still remain
To sound His Glory into space
And veil the sorrow of His Face."

Thus spake he men call the West
(The peaceful wind men love the best)
And every Brother bowed the head
In honour of the words he said.

--E.M. Martin


It's no masterpiece, but this poem holds the peculiar distinction of being the longest dream-generated poem I know; as a sheer feat of memory it earns a place here. How did EM do it? The four-part structure may have eased Martin's way; s/he could separately recall each Wind's voice, character and opinion about our extinction.

Why do all the Winds agree humanity's a failed species; why are three Winds so disgusted they'd like to hurry his demise? When Martin dreamed this, World War One was slaughtering millions. As Martin put it:

...we have gone back to a warfare as bloody, as merciless, as savage as any in the grey past of history, and when all is ended how can we hope to be the same as in the years of quiet?"
--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: dream poems - gods - nature spirits - air and wind - trials - war - extinction - memory - more E.M. Martin - Wayan finds a similar poem by Robinson Jeffers: "The Inquisitors" and begs the earth-gods to delay our die-back Just a Few More Years - three more feats of dream-poetry recall: Kubla Khan, The Goldene Booke of Venus, and Lines Composed in Sleep

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