Self and Life


Changeful comrade, Life of mine,
Before we two must part,
I will tell thee, thou shalt say,
What thou hast been and art.
Ere I lose my hold of thee
Justify thyself to me.

I was thy warmth upon thy mother's knee
When light and love within her eyes were one;
We laughed together by the laurel-tree,
Culling warm daisies 'neath the sloping sun;
We heard the chickens' lazy croon,
Where the trellised woodbines grew,
And all the summer afternoon
Mystic gladness o'er thee threw.
Was it person? Was it thing?
Was it touch or whispering?
It was bliss and it was I:
Bliss was what thou knew'st me by.

Soon I knew thee more by Fear
And sense of what was not,
Haunting all I held most dear
I had a double lot:
Ardour, cheated with alloy,
Wept the more for dreams of joy.

Remember how thy ardour's magic sense
Made poor things rich to thee and small things great;
How hearth and garden, field and bushy fence,
Were thy own eager love incorporate;
And how the solemn, splendid Past
O'er thy early widened earth
Made grandeur, as on sunset cast
Dark elms near take mighty girth.
Hands and feet were tiny still
When we knew the historic thrill,
Breathed deep breath in heroes dead,
Tasted the immortals' bread.

Seeing what I might have been
Reproved the thing I was,
Smoke on heaven's clearest sheen,
The speck within the rose.
By revered ones' frailties stung
Reverence was with anguish wrung.

But all thy anguish and thy discontent
Was growth of mine, the elemental strife
Towards feeling manifold with vision blent
To wider thought: I was no vulgar life
That, like the water-mirrored ape,
Not discerns the thing it sees,
Nor knows its own in others' shape,
Railing, scorning, at its ease.
Half man's truth must hidden lie
If unlit by Sorrow's eye.
I by Sorrow wrought in thee
Willing pain of ministry.

Slowly was the lesson taught
Through passion, error, care;
Insight was with loathing fraught
And effort with despair.
Written on the wall I saw
'Bow! ' I knew, not loved, the law.

But then I brought a love that wrote within
The law of gratitude, and made thy heart
Beat to the heavenly tune of seraphin
Whose only joy in having is, to impart:
Till thou, poor Self — despite thy ire,
Wrestling 'gainst my mingled share,
Thy faults, hard falls, and vain desire
Still to be what others were —
Filled, o'erflowed with tenderness
Seeming more as thou wert less,
Knew me through that anguish past
As a fellowship more vast.

Yea, I embrace thee, changeful Life!
Far-sent, unchosen mate!
Self and thou, no more at strife,
Shall wed in hallowed state.
Willing spousals now shall prove
Life is justified by love.

by George Eliot

Comments (2)

This is a great poem. I read it several times. I am new to this site and yours was one of the first I read.
This poem, I think, is your best one. keep up the good writing.