As for the poet, he went on his way alone into the open country, and saw the peasants in the fields, reaping and gleaning and gathering fruit and corn, for it was harvest time. And he passed through many hamlets and villages, and sometimes he rested a night or two at an inn; and on Sundays he heard the parish parson say prayers and preach in some quaint little Norman or Saxon church.And at last he came to a brand-new town, where all the houses were Early English, and all the people dressed like ancient Greeks, and all the manners Renaissance, or, perhaps, Gothic. The poet thought they were Gothic, and probably he was right.In this town the talk was mostly about Art, and many fine things were said in regard to "sweetness and light." Everybody claimed to be an artist of some kind, whether painter, musician, novelist, dramatist, verse-maker, reciter, singer, or what not. But although they seemed so greatly devoted to the Graces and the Muses, it was but the images of the Parnassian Gods that they worshipped. For in the purlieus of this fine town, horrible cruelties and abuses were committed, yet none of the so-called poets lifted a cry of reform. Every morning, early, before daybreak, there came through the streets long and sad processions of meek-eyed oxen and bleating lambs, harried by brutal drovers, with shouts and blows,--terrible processions of innocent creatures going to die under the poleaxe and the knife in order to provide the "pleasures of the table" for dainty votaries of "sweetness and light." Before the fair faint dawn made rosy the eastern sky over the houses, you might have heard on every side the heavy thud of the poleaxe striking down the patient heifer on her knees,--the heifer whose eyes are like the eyes of Here, say the old Greek song-books, that were read and quoted all day in this town of Culture and of Art.And a little later, going down the byways of the town, you might have seen the gutters running with hot fresh blood, and have met carts laden with gory hides, and buckets filled with brains and blood, going to the factories and tanyards. Young lads spent all their days in the slaughter-houses, dealing violent deaths, witnessing tragedies of carnage, hearing incessant plaintive cries, walking about on clogs among pools of clotting or steamy blood, and breathing the fumes of it. And scarce a mile away from the scene of all these loathsome and degrading sights, sounds, and odors, you might have found fastidious and courtly gentlemen, and ladies all belaced and bejewelled, sentimentalising over their "aspic de foie gras," or their "cotelettes a la jardiniere," or some other euphemism for the dead flesh which could not, without pardonable breach of good breeding, be called by its plain true name in their presence.And when the poet reminded them of this truth, and spoke to them of the demoralisation to which, by their habits, they daily subjected many of their fellowmen; when he drew for them graphic pictures of the slaughteryard, and of all the scenes of suffering and tyranny that led up to it and ensued from it, they clapped their hands to their ears, and cried out that he was a shockingly coarse person, and quite too horribly indelicate for refined society. Because, indeed, they cared only about a surface and outside refinement, and not a whit for that which is inward and profound. For beauty of being--they had neither desire nor power of reverence; all their enthusiasm was spent over forms and words and appearances of beauty. In them the senses were quickened, but not the heart, nor the reason. Therefore the spirit of the Reformer was not in them, but the spirit of the Dilettante only.And the poet was grieved and angry with them, because every true poet is a Reformer; and he went forth and spoke aloud in their public places and rebuked the dwellers in that town. But except a few curiosity hunters and some idle folks who wanted higher wages and less work, and thought he might help them to get what they wished for, nobody listened to him. But they went in crowds to see a conjurer, and to hear a man who lectured on blue china, and another who made them a long oration about intricate and obscure texts in a certain old dramatic book. And I think that in those days, if it had not been for the sweet and gracious song of the fairy bird which he carried about always in his bosom, the poet would have become very heartsick and desponding indeed. I do not quite know what it was that the bird sang, but it was something about the certainty of the advent of wisdom, and of the coming of the perfect day; and the burden of the song was hope for all the nations of the earth. Because every beautiful and wise thought that any man conceives is the heritage of the whole race of men, and an earnest and foregleam of what all men will some day inviolably hold for true. And forasmuch as poets are the advanced guard of the marching army of humanity, therefore they are necessarily the first discoverers and proclaimers of the new landscapes and ranges of Duties and Rights that rise out of the horizon, point after point, and vista after vista, along the line of progress. For the sonnet of the poet today is to furnish the keynote of the morrow's speech in Parliament, as that which yesterday was song is today the current prose of the hustings, the pulpit, and the market. Wherefore, O poet, take heart for the world; thou, in whose utterance speaks the inevitable Future; who art thyself God's prophecy and covenant of what the race at large shall one day be! Sing thy songs, utter thine whole intent, recount thy vision; though today no one heed thee, thou hast nevertheless spoken, and the spoken word is not lost. Every true thought lives, because the Spirit of God is in it, and when time is ripe it will incarnate itself in action. Thou, thou art the creator, the man of thought; thou art the pioneer of the ages! Somewhat on this wise sang the fairy bird, and thereby the poet was comforted, and took courage, and lifted up his voice and his apocalypse. And though few people cared to hear, and many jeered, and some rebuked, he minded only that all he should say might be well said, and be as perfect and wise and worthy as he could make it. And when he had finished his testimony, he went forth from the gates of the town, and began once more to traverse the solitudes of moor and forest.But now the winter had set in over the land, and the wastes were bleak, and the trees stood like pallid ghosts, sheeted and shrouded in snow. And the north wind moaned across the open country, and the traveler grew cold and weary. Then he spoke to the bird and said, "Bird, when I and my companions set out on our journey from the land beyond the sunset, the Princess promised us each a guide, who should bring us back in safety if only we would faithfully heed his monitions. Where then is this guide? for hitherto I have walked alone, and have seen no leader.And the bird answered, "O poet, I, whom thou bearest about in thy bosom, am that guide and monitor! I am thy director, thine angel, and thine inward light. And to each of thy companions a like guide was vouchsafed, but the man of appetite drove away his monitor, and the man of intellect did even worse, for he gave over to death his friend and his better self. Gold against dross, the wisdom of the Gods against the knowledges of men! But thou, poet, art the child of the Gods, and thou alone shalt again behold with joy the land beyond the sunset, and the face of Her whose true servitor and knight thou art!"Then the traveler was right glad, and his heart was lifted up, and as he went he sang. But, for all that, the way grew steeper to his feet, and the icy air colder to his face; and on every hand there were no longer meadows and orchards full of laboring folk, but glittering snow-wreaths, and diamond-bright glaciers, shining hard and keen against the deeps of darkening space; and at times the roar of a distant avalanche shook the atmosphere about him, and then died away into the silence out of which the sound had come. Peak above peak of crystal-white mountain ranges rose upon his sight, massive, and still, and awful, terrible affirmations of the verity of the Ideal. For this world of colossal heights and fathomless gulfs, of blinding snows, of primeval silence, of infinite revelation, of splendid lights upon manifold summits of opal, topaz, and sardony, all seemed to him the witness and visible manifestation of his most secret and dreadful thoughts. He had seen these things in his visions, he had shaped them in his hidden reveries, he had dared to believe that such a region as this might be--nay, ought to be--if the universe were of Divine making. And now it burst upon him, an apocalypse of giant glories, an empire of absolute being, independent and careless of human presence, affirming itself eternally to its own immeasurable solitudes."I have reached the top and pinnacle of life," cried the poet; "this is the world wherein all things are made!"And now, indeed, save for the fairy bird, he trod his path alone. Now and then great clouds of mist swept down from the heights, or rose from the icy gorges, and wrapped him in their soft gray folds, hiding from his sight the glittering expanse around him, and making him afraid. Or, at times, he beheld his own shadow, a vast and portentous Self, projected on the nebulous air, and looming in his pathway, a solitary monster threatening him with doom. Or yet again, there arose before him, multiplied in bewildering eddies of fog-wreath, a hundred spectral selves, each above and behind the other, like images repeated in reverberating mirrors--his own form, his own mien, his own garb and aspect--appalling in their omnipresence, maddening in their grotesque immensity as the goblins of a fever dream. But when first the traveler beheld this sight, and shrank at it, feeling for his sword, the fairy bird at his breast sang to him, "Fear not, this is the Chimaera of whom the Princess spoke. You have passed unhurt the sirens, the ogres, and the hydra-headed brood of plain and lowland; now meet with courage this phantom of the heights. Even now thou standest on the confines of the land beyond the sunset; these are the dwellers on the border, the spectres who haunt the threshold of the farther world. They are but shadows of thyself, reflections cast upon the mists of the abyss, phantoms painted on the veil of the sanctuary. Out of the void they arise, the offspring of Unreason and of the Hadean Night."Then a strong wind came down from the peaks of the mountains like the breathing of a God; and it rent the clouds asunder, and scattered the fog wreaths, and blew the phantoms hither and thither like smoke; and like smoke they were extinguished and spent against the crags of the pass. And after that the poet cared no more for them, but went on his way with a bold heart, until he had left behind and below him the clouds and mists of the ravines among the hills, and stood on the topmost expanse of dazzling snow, and beheld once more the golden gate of the Land that lies beyond the Sun. But of his meeting with the Princess, and of the gladness and splendour of their espousals, and of all the joy that he had, is not for me to tell, for these things, which belong to the chronicles of that fairy country, no mortal hand in words of human speech is in any wise able to relate. All that I certainly know and can speak of with plainness is this, that he obtained the fulness of his heart's desire, and beyond all hope, or knowledge, or understanding of earth, was blessed for evermore.And now I have finished the story of a man who saw and followed his Ideal, who loved and prized it, and clave to it above and through all lesser mundane things. Of a man whom the senses could not allure, nor the craving for knowledge, nor the lust of power, nor the blast of spiritual vanity, shake from his perfect rectitude and service. Of a man who, seeing the good and the beautiful way, turned not aside from it, nor yielded a step to the enemy; in whose soul the voice of the inward Divinity no rebuke, nor derision, nor neglect could quench; who chose his part and abode by it, seeking no reconciliation with the world, not weakly repining because his faith in the justice of God distanced the sympathies of common men." Every poet has it in him to imagine, to comprehend, and desire such a life as this; he who lives it canonises his genius, and, to the topmost manhood of the Seer, adds the Divinity of Heroism.