All bold, great actions that are seen too near,
Look rash and foolish to unthinking eyes;
But at a distance they at once appear
In their true grandeur: so let us be wise,
And not too soon our neighbor's deed malign,
Lest what seems crude should prove to be divine.
In Athens, when all learning center'd there,
Men reared a column of surpassing height
In honor of Minerva, wise and fair;
And on the top, which dwindled to the sight,
A statue of the goddess was to stand,
That wisdom might be known to all the land.
And he who, with the beauty in his heart,
Seeking in faultless work immortal youth,
Would mold this statue with the finest art,
Making the wintry marble glow with truth,
Should gain the prize: two sculptors sought the fame--
The prize they craved was an enduring name.
Alcamenes soon carved his little best;
But Phidias, beneath a dazzling thought
That like a bright sun in a cloudless west
Lighted his wide, great soul, with pure love wrought
A statue, and its changeless face of stone
With calm, far-sighted wisdom towered and shone.
Then to be judged the labors were unveiled;
But, at the marble thought, that by degrees
Of hardship Phidias cut, the people railed.
"The lines are coarse, the form too large," said these;
"And he who sends this rough result of haste
Sends scorn, and offers insult to our taste."
Alcamenes' praised work was lifted high
Upon the column, ready for the prize;
But it appeared too small against the sky,
And lacked proportion to uplooking eyes;
So it was quickly lowered and put aside,
And the scorned thought was mounted to be tried.
Surprise swept o'er the faces of the crowd,
And changed them as a sudden breeze may change
A field of fickle grass, and long and loud
The mingled shouts to see a sight so strange.
The statue stood completed in its place,
Each coarse line melted to a line of grace.