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In the book-slums there is thunder;
Gunpowder, that sad wonder,
Intoxicates the knights and beggar-men.
The old grotesques of war begin again:
Devils, furies, fairies are set free.

Confucius hears a carol and a hum:
A picture sea-child whirs from off his fan
In one quick breath of peach-bloom fantasy,
And in an instant bows the reverent knee—
A full-grown sweetheart, chanting his renown.
And then she darts into the Yellow Sea,
Calling, calling:
“Sage with holy brow,
Say farewell to China now;
Live like the swine,
Leave off your scholar-gown!
This city of books is falling, falling,
The Empire of China is crumbling down.”
Confucius, Confucius, how great was Confucius—
The sunrise of Lu, and the master of Mencius?

Alexander fights the East. -
Just as the Indus turns him back
He hears of swarming lands beyond,
And sword-swept cities on the rack

With crowns outshining India's crown:
The Empire of China, crumbling down.
Later the Roman sibyls say:
“Egypt, Persia and Macedon,
Tyre and Carthage, passed away;
And the Empire of China is crumbling down.
Rome will never crumble down.”


See how the generations pass—
Like sand through Heaven's blue hour-glass.

Arthur waits on the British shore
One thankful day,
For Galahad sails back at last
To Camelot Bay. -
The pure knight lands and tells the tale:
“Far in the east
A sea-girl led us to a king,
The king to a feast,
In a land where poppies bloom for miles,
Where books are made like bricks and tiles.
I taught that king to love your name—
Brother and Christian he became.

“His Town of Thunder-Powder keeps
A giant hound that never sleeps,
A crocodile that sits and weeps.

“His Town of Cheese the mouse affrights
With fire-winged cats that light the nights.
They glorify the land of rust;
Their sneeze is music in the dust.

“All towns have one same miracle
With the Town of Silk, the capital—
Vast book-worms in the book-built walls.
Their creeping shakes the silver halls;
They look like cables, and they seem
Like writhing roots on trees of dream.
Their sticky cobwebs cross the street,
Catching scholars by the feet,
Who own the tribes, yet rule them not,
Bitten by book-worms till they rot.
Beggars and clowns rebel in might
Bitten by book-worms till they fight.”

Arthur calls his knights in rows:
“I will go if Merlin goes;
These rebels must be flayed and sliced—
Let us cut their throats for Christ.”
But Merlin whispers in his beard:
“China has witchcraft to be feared.”

Arthur stares at the sea-foam's rim
Amazed. The fan-girl beckons him!—
Her witch-ways all his senses drown.

She laughs in her wing, like the sleeve of a gown. She lifts a key of crimson stone: s “The Great Gunpowder-town you own.” She lifts a key with chains and rings: “I give the town where cats have wings.” She lifts a key as white as milk: “This unlocks the Town of Silk”— Throws forty keys at Arthur's feet: “These unlock the land complete.” –

Then, frightened by suspicious knights,
And Merlin's eyes like altar-lights,
And the Christian towers of Arthur's town,
She spreads blue fins—she whirs away;
Fleeing far across the bay,
Wailing through the gorgeous day:
“My sick king begs you save his crown
And his learnèd chiefs from the worm and clown—
The Empire of China is crumbling down.”

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Always the generations pass,
Like sand through Heaven's blue hour-glass/

The time the King of Rome is born—
Napoleon's son, that eaglet thing—
Bonaparte finds beside his throne
One evening, laughing in her wing,

A Chinese sea-child; and she cries,
Breaking his heart with emerald eyes
And fairy-bred unearthly grace:
“Master, take your destined place—
Across white foam and water blue
The streets of China call to you:
The Empire of China is crumbling down.”
Then he bends to kiss her mouth,
And gets but incense, dust and drouth.

In Tokio they cry: “O King,
China's way is a shameful thing.”
In hard Berlin they cry: “O King,
China's way is a shameful thing.”
And thus our song might call the roll
Of every land from pole to pole,
And every rumor known to time
Of China doddering—or sublime.


Slowly the generations pass—
Like sand through Heaven's blue hour-glass.

But let us find tomorrow now :
Our towns are gone;
Our books have passed; ten thousand years
Have thundered on.
The Sphinx looks far across the world

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