The Garden of Years and Other Poems/Derelict
In younger days, of idleness grown sick,
On this low bank I saw, as in a dream,
The fingers of the leaning willows prick
Long dimples in the slow, reluctant stream.
Watching the pilgrim leaves forsake the stem,
Impatient of the dull familiar cove,
And idle down the tide, I longed like them,
Untrammelled, homeless, free of heart, to rove.
I mind me that of these I noted one
That at the bend a wayward eddy turned
And drifted back, its journey just begun,
The secret of the wider stream unlearned.
It seemed a poor reward for one so bold,
Checked at the start, and beaten back, to find
So stale a death. I did not know, of old,
What seemed so hard could be in truth so kind!
I little thought that on a larger stream
I, too, one day should drift away at will
Toward the distant reaches of my dream
From the safe shelter where I lived so still.
I little thought that I should one day grow
Weary of endless pictures filing past,
Of idle life and idler love, and so
Come gladly to some little cove at last.
Kind eddy that has caught me from the tide,
Of drifting weary, tempest-torn and tost,
To find, from the swift current turned aside,
The simpler things I thought that I had lost!
What have they brought me, all the wasted years,
The river’s turns that opened with a smile
And ended in the bitterness of tears?
Kind God! How little were they worth the while!
Yet, here and there, around the sudden bends,
The opening reaches held some sweet surprise:—
My arm has linked and lingered in a friend’s,
My eyes have seen love swim in lovely eyes!
I have kissed pleasure—walked alone with pain;
And, if to life I was apprentice made,
My years of toil have brought the toiler’s gain—
By life equipped, of life I know the trade!
I have made foes, and so can keep a friend;
Learned of a friend how gently foes may score;
Played fast and loose with love, and in the end
Lost it, and, losing, learned to love the more!
Seeking for gifts, I found ’t is joy to give,
Searching for truth, was taught to know a lie;
Pursuing death, I learned ’t is good to live,
In quest of life, I learned it safe to die!
What were it better that the past should be
Than like that leaf, turned helplessly aside,
That drifted back beneath its mother-tree,
And at its root to purer purpose died?
Another year yet other leaves there sprung,
Fed by the mould of which it formed a part,
That subtly heard, mayhap, that voiceless tongue
And laid its lesson silently to heart.
From soil of pride the plant of meekness grows,
From labor’s mine comes gold of sweet surcease;
By sorrow’s showers is fed contentment’s rose,
And passion’s vultures build the nest of peace:
So from past weakness future strength I gain,
As poise of knowledge to my doubt succeeds,
And faith’s fresh flower, that long I sought in vain,
Blooms on the rubbish of my mouldered creeds.
Now at the end I see that it was well
To drain the cup down to the bitter lees;
To foretaste heaven—thread the paths of hell,
Else empty words and meaningless were these:
Else might I stand, as once I stood outside
My fast-locked heart, its best and worst unknown,
Till life’s firm hand flung the barred portals wide
And led me in, a stranger, to my own!