"See How The Generations Pass"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The line "See how the generations pass" is used with variation throughout this fanciful, highly symbolic poem to support and add intensity to the theme–the inexplainable stability of China in ironic contrast to the fall of "stronger" empires. The roles of Confucius and the Spirit of Asia act as overtones partly explaining the intrinsic strength of the nation. With internal evidence of decay, the empire of China is reviewed in its relation to seemingly imperishable empires. The empires of Alexander, the Caesars, King Arthur, and Napoleon foresee the destruction of China before they themselves fall. Yet the fact becomes clear that while nation after nation predicts the fall of China, China alone endures. The Sphinx of the old empire of Egypt "sees all western nations spent/ Or on the rock," but "Eastward she sees one land she knew/ When from the stone/ Priests of the sunrise carved her out/ And left her lone." At last "Laughing Asia," the fanciful sea-child who co-ordinates the roles of the many empires in the story, hears from the courteous, deathless sea the prophecy that China will crumble down when the Alps and Andes, the sun and moon, crumble. The choral line introducing many of the verses begins typically:

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