Who Lasts Wins

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Who Lasts Wins  (1864) 
by Isabel Burton
Published in Fraser's Magazine in 1869, Richard republished it, crediting his wife, in Zanzibar; City, Island, and Coast in 1872.

The following lines were suggested to me in the studio of the late Mr Edgar George Papworth, of 36, Milton Street, Dorset Square, during the winter of 1864-5.

Captain Burton had recently returned from Africa. The annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science had just taken place at Bath, and poor Captain Speke's sudden death was still fresh in our memories. "We had been invited by the artist to look at Captain Speke's bust, upon which he was then employed. Mr Papworth said to Captain Burton, "I only took the cast after death, and never knew him alive ; but you who lived with him so long can surely give me some hints"

Captain Burton, who had learnt something of sculpturing when a boy in Italy, took the sculptor's pencil from Mr Papworth's hand, and with a few touches here and there made a perfect likeness and expression. As I stood by, I was very much impressed by this singular coincidence.'

A MOULDED mask at my feet I found,
With the drawn-down mouth and the deepen'd eye,
More lifeless still than the marbles 'round —
Very death amid dead life's mimicry ;
I raised it. and Thought fled afar from me
To the Afric land by the Zingian Sea.

'Twas a face, a shell, that had nought of brain.
And th' imbedding chalk showed a yellow thread
Which struck my glance with a sudden pain,
For this seemed alive when the rest was dead ;
And poor bygone raillery came to mind
Of the tragic masque and no head behind.

But behind there lay in the humblest shrine
A gem of the brightest, purest ray :
The gem was the human will divine ;
The shrine was the homeliest human clay.
Self-glory — but hush ! be the tale untold
To the pale ear thinned by yon plaster mould.

Shall the diamond gem lose her queenly worth,
Though pent in the dungeon of sandy stone
Say, is gold less gold, though in vilest earth
For long years it has lurked unprized, unknown ?
And the rose that blooms o'er the buried dead.
Hath its pinkness paled, hath its fragrance fled P

Thus the poet sang, 'Is the basil vile,
Though the beetle's foot o'er the basil crawl?'
And though Arachne hath webbed her toil.
Shall disgrace attach to the princely hall
And the pearl's clear drop from the oyster-shell,
Comes it not on the royal brow to dwell ?

On the Guarded Tablet was writ by Fate,
A double self for each man ere born,
Who shall love his love and shall hate his hate.
Who shall praise his praise and shall scorn his scorn.
Enduring, aye to the bitter end.
And man's other man shall be called a friend.

When the Spirits with radiance nude arrayed
In the presence stood of the One Supreme,
Soul looked unto soul, and the glance conveyed
A pledge of love which each must redeem ;
Nor may spirit enfleshed in the dust, forget
That high trysting-place, ere Time was not yet.

When the first great Sire, so the Legends say,
The four-rivered garden in Asia trod.
And 'neath perfumed shade, in the drouth of day,
Walked and talked with the Hebrew God,
Such friendsliip was as it first began;
And the first of friends were the God, the Man.

But we twain were not bound by such highborn ties ;
Our souls, our minds, and our thoughts were strange.
Our ways were not one, nor our sympathies,
We had severed aims, we had diverse range ;
In the stern drear Present his lot was cast,
While I hoped for the Future and loved the Past

'Twixt man and woman use oft hath bred
The habits that feebly affection feign,
While the common board and the genial bed
And Time's welding force links a length of chain ;
Till, where Love was not, it hath sometimes proved
This has loved and lived, that has lived and loved.

But 'twixt man and man it may not so hap ;
Each man is his own and his proper sphere ;
At some point, perchance, may the lines o'erlap ;
The far rest is far as the near is near —
Save when the orbs are of friend and friend
And the circles' limits perforce must blend.

But the one sole point at which he and I
Could touch, was the contact of vulgar minds ;
'Twas interest's forcible, feeble tie,
Which binds, but with lasting bonds ne'er binds ;
And our objects fated to disagree,
What way went I, and what way went he ?

And yet were we comrades for years and years,[1]
And endured in its troth our companionship
Through a life of chances, of hopes, and fears ;
Nor a word of harshness e'er passed the lip,
Nor a thought unkind dwelt in either heart,
Till we chanced — by what chance did it hap? — to part.

Where Fever, yellow-skinned, bony, gaunt,
With the long blue nails and lip livid white;
With the blood-stain'd orbs that could ever haunt
Our brains by day and our eyes by night ;
In her grave-clothes mouldy with graveyard taint
Came around our sleeping mats — came and went :

Where the crocodile glared with malignant stare,
And the horse of the river, with watery mane
That flash'd in the sun, from his oozy lair
Rose to gaze on the white and wondrous men ;
And the lion, with muzzle bent low to earth,
Mock'd the thunder-cloud with his cruel mirth :

Where the speckled fowls the Mimosa decked
Like blue-bells studded with opal dew ;
And giraffes, pard-spotted, deer-eyed, swan-necked,
Browsed down the base whence the tree-dome grew :
And the sentinel-antelope, aeried high.
With his frightened bound taught his friends to fly :

Where the lovely Coast is all rank with death,
That basks in the sun of the Zingian shore ;
Where the mountains, dank with the ocean's breath,
Bear the incense-tree and the sycamore ;
Where the grim fierce desert and stony hill
Breed the fiercest beasts, and men fiercer still :

Where the land of the Moon, with all blessings blest
Save one — save man — and with name that sped
To the farthest edge of the misty West
Since the Tyrian sailor his sail-sheet spread,
Loves to gaze on her planet whose loving ray
Fills her dells and fells with a rival day :

Where the Lake unnamed in the Afric wold
Its breast to the stranger eye lay bare ;
Where Isis, forced her veil to unfold —
To forget the boast of the days that were —
Stood in dusky charms with the crisp tire crowned,
On the hallowed bourne, on the Nile's last bound :

We toiled side by side, for the hope was sweet
To engrave our names on the Rock of Time ;
On the Holy Hill to implant our feet
Where enfaned sits Fame o'er the earth sublime;
And now rose the temple before our eyes,
We had paid the price, we had plucked the prize ;

When up stood the Shadow betwixt us twain —
Had the dusky goddess bequeathed her ban? —
And the ice of death through every vein
Of comradeship spread in briefest span;
The guerdon our toils and our pains had won,
Was too great for two, was enough for one;

And deeper and deeper grew the gloom
When the serpent tongue had power to sting,
While o'er one of us hung the untimely doom,
A winter's night to a day of spring ;
And heart from heart parting fell away
At the fiat of Fate by her iron sway.

It seems as though from a foamy[2] dream
I awake, and this pallid mask behold,
And I ask — Can this be the end supreme
Of the countless things of the days of old ?
This clay, is it all of what used to be
In the Afric land by the Zingian Sea?

Isabel Burton.


  1. Richard's 1872 publishing omits the leading "And"
  2. Traume sind Schaume