by Augusta Davies Webster
I thought this time 'twas done at last,
the workings perfected, the life in it;
and there's the flaw again, the petty flaw,
the fretting small impossibility
that has to be made possible.
so many more months lost on a wrong tack;
and months and months may so be lost again,
who knows? until they swell a tale of years
counted by failures. No time to sit down
with folded arms to moan for the spent toil,
for on, on, glide the envious treacherous hours
that bring at last the night when none can work;
and I'll not die with my work unfulfilled.
It must perform my thought, it must awake,
this soulless whirring thing of springs and wheels,
and be a power among us. Aye, but how?
There it stands facing me, compact, precise,
the nice presentment of my long design,
and what is it? an accurate mockery,
and not my creature. Where's my secret hid,
the little easy secret which, once found,
will shew so palpable that the pleased world
shall presently believe it always knew?
Where is my secret? Oh, my aching brain!
Good God, have all the anxious ponderings,
all the laborious strain of hand and head,
all the night watches, all the stolen days
from fruitfuller tasks, all I have borne and done,
brought me no nearer solving?
yes, from the little ones and grave pale wife
who should have every hour of mine made coin
to buy them sunshine. Stolen; and they lack all
save the bare needs which only paupers lack:
stolen; and cheerlessly the mother sits
over her dismal blinding stitchery,
and no quick smile of welcome parts her lips,
seeing me come; and quiet at their play
the children crowd, cooped in the unlovely home,
and envy tattered urchins out of doors
their merry life and playground of the streets.
Oh, if it were but my one self to spend!
but to doom them too with me! Never a thought
dawns first into the world but is a curse
on the rash finder; part of heaven's fire
filched to bestow on men, and for your pay
the vulture at your heart.
What should one choose?
or is there choice? A madness comes on you,
whose name is revelation: who has power
to check the passion of it, who in the world?
A revelation, yes; 'tis but a name
for knowledge ... and there perishes free-will,
for every man is slave of what he knows;
it is the soul of him, could you quench that
you leave the mere mechanic animal--
a sentient creature, true, and reasoning,
(because the clockwork in it's made for that),
but, like my creature there, its purport lacked,
so but its own abortive counterfeit.
We have our several purports; some to pace
the accustomed roads and foot down rampant weeds,
bearing mute custom smoothly on her course;
some difficultly to force readier paths,
or hew out passes through the wilderness;
and some belike to find the snuggest place,
and purr beside the fire. Each of his kind;
but can you change your kind? the lion caged
is still a lion, pipes us no lark's trills;
drive forth the useful brood hen from the yard,
she'll never learn the falcon's soar and swoop.
We must abye our natures; if they fit
too crossly to our hap the worse for us,
but who would pray (say such a prayer could serve)
"Let me become some other, not myself"?
And yet, and yet--Oh, why am I assigned
to this long maiming battle? Why to me
this blasting gift, this lightning of the gods
scorching the hand that wields it? why to me?
A lonely man, or dandled in the lap
of comfortable fortune, might with joy
hug the strange serpent blessing; to the one
it has no tooth, for gilded hands make gold
of all they touch, the other ...... is alone,
and has the right to suffer. Not for them
is doubt or dread; but I--Oh little ones
whose unsuspecting eyes pierce me with smiles!
Oh sad and brooding wife whose silent hopes
are all rebukes to mine!
Come, think it out;
traitor to them or traitor to the world;
is that the choice? Why then, they are my own,
given in my hand, looking to me for all,
and, for my destined present to the world,
being what it is, some one some fortunate day
will find it, or achieve it; if the world wait...
well, it has waited. Yet 'twere pitiful
that still and still, while to a thousand souls
life's irrecoverable swift to-day
becomes the futile yesterday, the world
go beggared of a birthright unaware,
and, (as if one should slake his thirst with blood
pricked from his own red veins, while at his hand
lies the huge hairy nut from whose rough bowl
he might quaff juicy milk and knows it not),
spend out so great a wealth of wasted strength
man upon man given to the imperious
unnecessary labour. How were that,
having made my honest bargain with the world
to serve its easier and accepted needs
for the due praise and pudding, keeping it,
like a wise servant, not to lose my place,
to note the enduring loss, and, adding up
its various mischiefs, score them as the price
of my reposeful fortunes? Why, do this,
and each starved blockhead dribbling out his life
on the continued toil would be my drudge,
and not one farthest comer of our earth
where hurrying traffic plies but would have voice
to reach my ears and twit me guilty to it.
But then, the wife and children: must they pine
in the bleak shade of frosty poverty,
because the man that should have cared for them
discerned a way to double wealth with wealth
and glut the maw of rank prosperity?
Traitor to them or traitor to the world:
a downright question that, and sounds well put,
and one that begs its answer, since we count
the nearer duty first to every man;
but there's another pungent clause to note...
that's traitor to myself. Has any man
the right of that? God puts a gift in you--
to your own hurt, we'll say, but what of that?--
He puts a gift in you, a seed to grow
to His fulfilment, germinant with your life,
and may you crush it out? And, say you do,
what is your remnant life? an empty husk,
or balked and blighted stem past hope of bloom.
Well, make the seed develope otherwise
and grow to your fulfilment wiselier planned:
but will that prosper? may the thistle say
"Let me blow smooth white lilies," or the wheat
"Let me be purple with enticing grapes"?
God says "Be that I bade, or else be nought,"
and what thing were the man to make that choice?
For me I dare not, were it for their sake,
and, for their sake, I dare not; could their good
grow out of my undoing? they with me,
and I with them, we are so interknit
that taint in me must canker into them
and my upholding holds them from the mire:
and so, as there are higher things than ease,
we must bear on together they and I.
And it may be to bear is all our part.
I have outpast the first fantastic hopes
that fluttered round my project at its birth,
outgrown them as the learning child outgrows
the picture A's and B's that lured him on;
I have forgotten honours, wealth, renown,
I see no bribe before me but that one,
my work's fruition. Yes, as we all, who feel
the dawn of a creative thought, discern
in the beginning that perfected end
which haply shall not be, I saw the end;
and my untried presumptuous eyes, befooled,
saw it at hand. How round each forward step
locked the delusive and decoying dreams!
and I seemed, while I sowed, still hurrying on
to touch the sudden fruit, the ripe choice fruit
to be garnered for my dear ones, mine for them:
but long since I have learned, in weariness,
in failures, and in toil, to put by dreams,
to put by hopes, and work, as the bird sings,
because God planned me for it. For I look
undazzled on the future, see the clouds,
and see the sunbeams, several, not one glow:
I know that I shall find my secret yet
and make my creature here another power
to change a world's whole life; but, that achieved,
whom will the world thank for it? Me perhaps;
perhaps some other, who, with after touch,
shall make the springs run easier: I have read
the lives of men like me who have so sought,
so found, then been forgotten, while there came
an apter man, maybe but luckier,
to add or alter, gave another shape,
made or displayed it feasible and sure,
and then the thing was his ... as the rare gem
is not called his who dug it from the mines,
but his who cut and set it in a ring.
It will be as it will be: I dare count
no better fortunes mine than from first days
the finders met with, men who, howsoe'er,
seekers and teachers, bring the world new gifts,
too new for any value. Well, so be it:
and now--No, I am over weary now,
and out of heart too: idleness to-night;
to-morrow all shall be begun again.
That lever, now, if--
Am I out of heart?
to work at once then! I'll not go to rest
with the desponding cramp clutching my heart:
a new beginning blots the failure out,
and sets one's thoughts on what's to be achieved,
letting what's lost go by. Come, foolish toy,
that should have been so much, let's see at least
what help you have to give me. Bye and bye
we'll have another like you, with the soul.