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Poem by Louisa Sarah Bevington


Man Versus Ascetic


(SIX SONNETS.)

I.

SOUL, who would'st prove and know thyself for strong,
Soul, who hast not a tyrant sin beside,
Masked at thine elbow struts the flatterer--Pride,
Whose whisper has befooled thine heart for long.
Lash thee at thine own shrine with shameful thong?
Soft-handed Nemesis between shall glide,
To balk the smart thou seekest to abide,--
Daring at self's behest that holiest wrong.

Lo! thy good sword that seldom smites in vain
One day shall fail thy pride lest thou be lost;--
Slip in thine hold, and slay thine idol, Pain,
Win for thee treasure who would pay but cost;
Sweet punishment be pride's reward at length,
And thy best weakness save thee; not thy strength.

II.

I mark thy clenchèd jaw, and murmured vow:
"Never--so help me Heaven!--will I be blest;
Never--so aid my will!--take any rest,
Nor common joy of lazier souls allow
My meritless endeavour. Rather, how
Most surely guard from recompense my quest
After the purely-high, mysterious Best;
And win it gladliest blood-sweat on my brow."

"O valiant to presumption!"--Nature cries,--
"This thraldom of self-will, I charge thee, break;
My children need thy bliss; and wilt thou take
At their discomfiture thy single prize?
Turn thee and dare be happy for their sake,
And smile up gratefully with childlike eyes."

III.

"Peace with the vulgar counsel!"--dost thou say?--
Trumpet no mandates from the throne of sense!
Garb not as duty pleasant indolence!
Ever the loneliest is the manliest way.
Ever the flowers implore my hand to stay
And pluck their sweetness; ever some pretence
Slides to my soul, and mocks its impotence
Of ardour, with some taunt of faltering clay.

To fail, and only be as others be?--
All else I bear, all sorrow court but this!
Mine own soul's victory I may not miss;
And who but I can choose my pains for me?"--
Saith homely love, betwixt a sob and kiss,--
"'Tis I will find thy sacrifice for thee."

IV.

"Nay"--yet again thou pleadest--"life is short;
Lovers are many, heroes few and rare;
Long years ago my one heart had its share
Of easy pleasure, and its evil wrought.
Leave me to my design, my single thought
Just to grow perfect, inwardly aware
Of victory than fairest bliss more fair;--
Shall my poor soul have freed herself for nought?"

"Thus much for thine own gladness. What for ours?"--
Plead the unborn thy sons should live to aid;
Pleads each most needy, noble thing unmade
That should reap heritage of thy won powers.
The Future pleads--"By all thy spirit can,
Be no mere saint for me, but loyal man."

V.

Truly there is no nobler on the earth!
Although such unemblazoned, simple lot
Thy heart despiseth and believeth not,
Misdoubting man's good faith and woman's worth.
Here is thy sacrifice: no more to roam,
Nor to seek out the soul's most barren spot
To shrine thy will in; but, thyself forgot,
Spend all to found and fence one faithful home.

And see thy stark Ideal die in pain,
And bear the throes it causeth thee to see;
And quench the fires of lawlessness in thee--
For childhood's sake, endure a tender chain;
Ay, on thy neck, in token thou art free,
Bear yoke of kinship e'en with lowlier men.

VI.

"Ha! shall the living Needy miss my hand,
Whom for my penitence I sought to bless,
Till there depended on me numberless
Souls that unaided scarce have strength to stand?
Not only for my penance had I planned
To succour these; I pitied their distress:
Shall I betray them to their helplessness
For that new task? Is this thy sad demand?"

Oh, strength of tenderness! 'tis here I pause:
I dare not answer; for to thee alone
The weight and shaping of that claim is known;
Lo, even Nature has her minor laws!
Yet fling thy will once down before her throne,--
Brave frankly her last verdict in the cause.



Louisa Sarah Bevington


Louisa Sarah Bevington's other poems:
  1. Merle Wood
  2. Her Worst and Best
  3. Steel or Gold?
  4. Not Ye Who Goad
  5. Egoisme a Deux


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