Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

A Snow-White Lily - Poem by Alfred Austin

There was a snow-white lily
Grew by a cottage door:
Such a white and wonderful lily
Never was seen before.

The earth and the ether brought it
Sustenance, raiment, grace,
And the feet of the west wind sought it,
And smiled in its smiling face.

Tall were its leaves and slender,
Slender and tall its stem;
Purity, all its splendour,
Beauty, its diadem.

Still from the ground it sprouted,
Statelier year by year,
Till loveliness clung about it,
And was its atmosphere.

And the fame of this lily was bruited
'Mong men ever more and more;
They came, and they saw, and uprooted
Its life from the cottage door.

For they said, ``'Twere shame, 'twere pity,
It here should dwell half despised.
We must carry it off to the city,
Where lilies are loved and prized.''

The city was moved to wonder,
And burst into praise and song,
And the multitude parted asunder
To gaze on it borne along.

Along and aloft 'twas uplifted,
From palace to palace led;
Men vowed 'twas the lily most gifted
Of lilies living or dead.

And wisdom, and wealth, and power,
Bowed down to it more and more:-
Yet it never was quite the same flower
That bloomed by the cottage door.

For no longer the night-dews wrought it
Raiment, and food, and grace;
Nor the feet of the west wind sought it,
To dance in its dimpling face.

'Twas pursued by the frivolous rabble,
With poisonous lips and eyes;
They drenched it with prurient babble,
And fed it with fulsome lies.

Thus into the lily there entered
The taint of the tainted crew,
Till itself in itself grew centred,
And it flattery drank like dew.

Then tongues began words to bandy
As to whose might the lily be.
``'Tis mine,'' said the titled dandy;
Said the plutocrat, ``'tis for me.''

Thus over the lily they wrangled,
Making the beautiful base,
Till its purity seemed all mangled,
And its gracefulness half disgrace.

Next they who had first enthroned it,
And blatantly hymned its fame,
Now, curdling their smiles, disowned it,
And secretly schemed its shame.

The lily began to wither,
Since the world was no longer sweet;
And hands that had brought it thither,
Flung it into the street.

A sensitive soul and tender
The flung-away lily found:
He had seen it in hours of splendour,
So he lifted it from the ground.

He carried it back to the garden
Where in olden days it grew,
And he knelt, and prayed for it pardon
From the sun, and the breeze, and the dew.

Then the breeze, since it knows no malice,
And the sun that detesteth strife,
And the dew whose abode is the chalice,
Would have coaxed back the lily to life.

But the lily would not waken,
Nor ever will waken more;
And feet and fame have forsaken
Its place by the cottage door.


Comments about A Snow-White Lily by Alfred Austin

  • Sara Jovanovic (11/21/2015 4:37:00 AM)


    Such a beautiful poem! (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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