Trefoil and Quatrefoil!
What shaped those destinied small silent leaves
Or numbered them under the soil?
I lift my dazzled sight
From grass to sky,
From humming and hot perfume
To scorching, quivering light,
Empty blue! — Why,
As I bury my face afresh
In a sunshot vivid gloom —
Minute infinity's mesh,
Where spearing side by side
Smooth stalk and furred uplift
Their luminous green secrets from the grass,
Tower to a bud and delicately divide —
Do I think of the things unthought
Before man was?
When there was none to explore
Your winding labyrinths occult,
None to delve your ore
Of strange virtue, or do
Your magical business, you
Were there, never old nor new,
Veined in the world and alive: —
Before the Planets, Seven;
Before these fingers, Five!
You that are globed and single,
Crystal virgins, and you that part,
Melt, and again mingle!
We have hoisted sail in the night
On the oceans that you chart:
Dark winds carry us onward, on;
But you are there before us, silent Answers,
Beyond the bounds of the sun.
You body yourselves in the stars, inscrutable dancers,
Native where we are none.
O inhuman Numbers!
All things change and glide,
Corrupt and crumble, suffer wreck and decay,
But, obstinate dark Integrities, you abide,
And obey but them who obey.
All things else are dyed
In the colours of man's desire:
But you no bribe nor prayer
Avails to soften or sway.
Nothing of me you share,
Yet I cannot think you away.
And if I seek to escape you, still you are there
Stronger than caging pillars of iron
Not to be passed, in an air
Where human wish and word
Fall like a frozen bird.
In pulses of sound, in the waves!
Hidden runes rubbed bright!
Dizzy ladders of thought in the night!
Are you masters or slaves —
Subtlest of man's slaves, —
In a vision I saw
Old vulture Time, feeding
On the flesh of the world; I saw
The home of our use undated —
Seasons of fruiting and seeding
Withered, and hunger and thirst
Dead, with all they fed on:
Till at last, when Time was sated,
Only you persisted,
Dædal Numbers, sole and same,
Invisible skeleton frame
Of the peopled earth we tread on —
Last, as first.
Because naught can avail
To wound or to tarnish you;
Because you are neither sold nor bought,
Because you have not the power to fail
But live beyond our furthest thought,
Strange Numbers, of infinite clue,
Beyond fear, beyond ruth,
You strengthen also me
To be in my own truth.
Robert Laurence Binyon, "Numbers".