The Goat

It dwelt upon the very edge of things,
Civilization's limit - where the wings
Of that wild creature, which is spirit,
Brush the bowed heads of such as do inherit
The five-barred prison of the flesh
and thought's tight mesh.

Only a twisted rope of straw
Kept it tethered to man's law,
And it had tasted everything
That grew within that narrow ring
And still,
The soul within it cried
For something it had known - it knew not when -
But something far away from men,
And high and wide
And splendid as the hill.

One day
Its rope of twisted straw
Snapped, and it passed away
Forever from the circle of man's law,
Up to the tameless hills to be untamed as they.

Buttress on buttress, scarp on scarp,
Sheer and sharp,
Covered with time's worn hieroglyphs,
The cliffs
From the white cloud to the white surf

They were a temple where the sea
Sang eternally
The anthems of its fear;
They were a citadel where the old gods and blind
Still defied
The pride
And prowess of mankind;
They were an amphitheatre
Where the storm drove his chariot of swift cloud,
And crag on crag, aloud,
Hailed, shouting with their vast applause,
The savage charioteer.
Escaped forever from man's laws,
The goat and the wild thing within him found
Asylum for his spirit and a home.
Here he would roam,
Close friends with danger and the mate of death,
Upon the strips of broken ground
Where the green turf
Found life itself and gave its life for his.

Six hundred feet beneath
The lips of the white surf
Murmured to him and offered him their kiss;
And, like a wild-eyed maiden of the Sidhei
The sea
Flung up faint arms of mist embracing him -
Until his brain grew dim,
And, for a moment, even he
The awful lure of the abyss,
Nevertheless, he dwelt
Year after year
Upon the world's last barren edge.
The ledge
Gave him a lodging, and the splintered rock
A shelter from the shock
Of the gigantic
Winds that raved
Over the leagues of black Atlantic.
Hardly he clung to the thin strip of life,
Never knew comfort, and lay down at night
With hazard and awoke again
To hunger and to strife.

But he had saved
The little spark of the eternal light
That smouldered in the lantern of his brain
From utter death - he knew
The original enterprise that drew
Life upward from the sleep of time;
And when he stood on the sharp shelf,
Free from all twisted ropes of straw
That bound his soul to any law,
Elate and master of himself,
He heard above him the clear cry
Of some unfettered destiny
That, like a seagull from the sky,
Called down to him, sublime.

-John Redwood Anderson

i. Pronounced as "she"