Augusta Davies Webster
A Dilettante - Poem by Augusta Davies Webster
Good friend, be patient: goes the world awry?
well, can you groove it straight with all your pains?
and, sigh or scold, and, argue or intreat,
what have you done but waste your part of life
on impotent fool's battles with the winds,
that will blow as they list in spite of you?
Fie, I am weary of your pettish griefs
against the world that's given, like a child
who whines and pules because his bread's not cake,
because the roses have those ugly thorns
that prick if he's not careful of his hands.
Oh foolish spite: what talk you of the world,
and mean the men and women and the sin?
Oh friend, these all pass by, and God remains:
and God has made a world that pleases Him,
and when He wills then He will better it;
let it suffice us as he wills it now.
Nay, hush and look and listen. For this noon,
this summer noon, replies "but be content,"
speaking in voices of a hundred joys.
For lo, we, lying on this mossy knoll,
tasting the vivid musk of sheltering pines,
and balm of odorous flowers and sweet warm air;
feeling the uncadenced music of slow leaves,
and ripples in the brook athwart its stones,
and birds that call each other in the brakes
with sudden questions and smooth long replies,
the gossip of the incessant grasshoppers,
and the contented hum of laden bees;
we, knowing (with the easy restful eye
that, whichsoever way it turns, is filled
with unexacting beauty) this smooth sky,
blue with our English placid silvery blue,
mottled with little lazy clouds, this stretch
of dappled wealds and green and saffron slopes,
and near us these gnarled elm-trunks barred with gold,
and ruddy pine-boles, where the slumbrous beams
have slipped through the translucent leafy net
to break the shimmering dimness of the wood;
we, who, like licensed truants from light tasks
which lightly can be banished out of mind,
have all ourselves to give to idleness,
were more unreasoning, if we make moan
of miseries and toils and barrenness,
than if we sitting at a feast told tales
of famines and for the pity of them starved.
Oh, life is good when, on such summer days,
we linger in the dreamful paradise
that lies at every door where so much space
is left to garner in the languid air
as grass may grow in and some verdurous tree,
and some few yards of blueness and of clouds
may stretch above, making immensity;
when, lost out of our petty unit selves,
the heart grows large in the grave trance of peace,
and all things breathing, growing, are its kin,
and all the fair and blossoming earth is home.
And beauty is our lesson: for, look there,
that exquisite curve and cluster of rich leaves,
emerald and shadow, in that patch of sun,
what is it but a nettle? And that knoll
of woven green, where all fantastic grace
of shaggy stems and lush and trailing shoots
and all a thousand delicate varied tints,
are mingled in a wanton symmetry,
what is it but a thorn and bramble copse?
And that far plain, on which, through all the day,
change still grows lovelier and every cloud
makes different softer dimness, every light
an other-coloured glory, what is it?
a desolate barren waste, marshland and moor.
And in some other moment, when the rain
spurts greyly downwards on the soddening fields,
or the dank, autumn fog veils leaden skies,
or the keen baleful east winds nip the bloom
of frightened spring with bleak and parching chills,
the waste, the thorns, the nettle, each would seem
cursed with the unloveliness of evil things.
So beauty comes and goes: yet beauty is
a message out of Heaven; can it speak
from evil things? I know not; but I know
that waste and thorns and nettle are to-day
teachers of Love, a prospect not to change,
for use, against a fifty miles of corn.
Can we tell good from evil you and I?
Oh, if the men and women of to-day
seem ill or good to us, why, what know we?
to-morrow they, or those who follow them,
will seem another way; and are they changed,
or are the eyes that see them? Let them be;
are we divine that we should judge and rule?
And they are not the world by several selves
but in a gathered whole, and if that whole
drift heavenward or hellward God can see,
not we, who, ants hived in our colonies,
count the world loam or gravel, stocked with flowers
or weeds or cabbages, as we shall find
within our own small ranges, and (being wise
and full of care for all the universe),
wonder, and blame, and theorize, and plan,
by the broad guide of our experiences!
'Twere a neat world if levelled by the ants;
no ridges, no rough gaps, all fined and soft.
But I will rather use my antish wits
in smoothing just my cell and at my doors
than join in such heroic enterprise.
Selfish, you call me? callous? Hear a tale.
There was a little shallow brook that ran
between low banks, scarcely a child's leap wide,
feeding a foot or two of bordering grass
and, here and there, some tufts of waterflowers
and cresses, and tall sedge, rushes and reeds;
and, where it bubbled past a poor man's cot,
he and his household came and drank of it,
and all the children loved it for its flowers
and counted it a playmate made for them:
but, not far off, a sandy arid waste
where, when a winged seed rested, or a bird
would drop a grain in passing, and it grew,
it presently must droop and die athirst,
spread its scorched silent leagues to the fierce sun:
and once a learned man came by and saw,
and "lo," said he, "what space for corn to grow,
could we send vivifying moistures here,
while look, this wanton misdirected brook
watering its useless weeds!" so had it turned,
and made a channel for it through the waste:
but its small waters could not feed that drought,
and, in the wide unshadowed plain, it lagged,
and shrank away, sucked upwards of the sun
and downwards of the sands; so the new bed
lay dry, and dry the old; and the parched reeds
grew brown and dwined, the stunted rushes drooped,
the cresses could not root in that slacked soil,
the blossoms and the sedges died away,
the greenness shrivelled from the dusty banks,
the children missed their playmate and the flowers,
and thirsted in hot noon-tides for the draught
grown over precious now their mother went
a half-mile to the well to fill her pails;
and not two ears of corn the more were green.
Tell me, what should I do? I take my life
as I have found it, and the work it brings;
well, and the life is kind, the work is light,
shall I go fret and scorn myself for that?
and must I sally forth to hack and hew
at giants or at windmills, leave the post
I could have filled, the work I could have wrought,
for some magnificent mad enterprise,
some task to lift a mountain, drain a sea,
tread down a Titan, build a pyramid?
No, let me, like a bird bred in the cage,
that, singing its own self to gladness there,
makes some who hear it gladder, take what part
I have been born to, and make joy of it.
Grumbler, what are you muttering in your beard?
"You've a bird-likeness too, to shew me in;
I take life, as a sea-gull takes the sea,
mere skimmingly." I say no otherwise;
'tis a wise bird the sea-gull, does but taste
the hale and briny freshness of the spray:
what would you have me do? plunge in and drown?
Oh chiding friend, I am not of your kind,
you strenuous souls who cannot think you live
unless you feel your limbs, though 'twere by aches:
great boisterous winds you are, who must rush on
and sweep all on your way or drop and die,
but I am only a small fluttering breeze
to coax the roses open: let me be;
perhaps I have my use no less than you.
Ah well! How strange that you and I, who tread
so same a path, perceive it so unlike.
And which sees justly? Maybe both of us:
or maybe one of us is colour-blind,
and sees the tintings blurred, or sees them false,
or does not see, so misses what they shew.
Or likelier each of us is colour-blind,
and sees the world his own way, fit for him:
doubtless we afterwards shall understand
the beauty and the pain are more alike.
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