INTO THE WILDERNESS.
[WHAT THE STARVING SCHOLAR SAID TO HIS BRIDE.]
WIFE, we have waited and prayed; we have struggled hard; we have failed;
Let us not try to disguise it, as we too often have tried;
So, love, I must carry thee hence, where thou hast wasted and paled, -
Hence to some home in the wilderness, where we our sorrows may hide.
What have we to do with the City? – the City polished and bland
To the strong man who fights and subdues it; to the heirling whose fortune is fair;
The City – that never to penury lendeth a helping hand : -
That chilleth Want’s suppliant soul with its cold and contemptuous stare.
We have clung to its skirts too abjectly; - it spurns us; it asts us out;
The gorged Epicurean denies us a morsel of meat;
Its vestments of purple and scarlet our outworn habiliments flout; -
Let us render it scorn for scorn; let us shake off its dust from our feet.
Because its Master is Mammon
, it worships the man who succeeds;
‘Tis the cardinal law of its life that the man who fails is a fool
Yet I see one man fail through forgetting himself in his generous deeds;
And one prosper because he’s a tyrant; another, because he’s a tool.
Why should I war with its maxims! – they may be grounded in truth,
Or they may be the basest and blackest device of the Father of Lies;
But if it must be that I sink – unfriended, unsuccour’d – in sooth
What matters it whether the oracles call me foolish or wise!
But I’m weary: I long to go forth to some region secluded and strange,
Where no hideous social disparity slumbering envy disturbs;
Where through Earth’s unsequestered domains we may fearlessly range,
And, secure from “the proud man’s contumely,” eat our “dinner of herbs.”
Little care I for wealth’s trappings, its luxury, prestige, or power;
I know that to serve is the doom of the mass; to govern, the lot of the few;
I ask nothing nobler than toil for my duty, and love for my dower –
Content that my life should be made up of work, self-denial – and YOU!
But to starve in this comfortless garret, to creep to it nightly by stealth,
Afraid to encounter the friends who daily grow fewer and fewer;
And to lie down and perish forlorn ‘mid the tokens of fabulous wealth. –
Oh! torment of Tantalus
! this I cannot, I cannot endure.
And – misery keenest of all! – to see thee, love, cling to my side,
Thy delicate beauty eclipsed by these garments faded and old;
Stripped of each personal trinket so dear to womanly pride –
Sold – to satisfy nature’s imperious necessities sold.
Thou, who at the altar so naively, so bravely beside me did’st stand,
With boundless belief in my genius and fortunes! Oh! vision of bliss! –
When , growing more bold in your trust, I, too saw my future expand
Into some wondrous achievement - oh! God! – and now it has come to this!
Sweet! can you forgive me? – you can! – your arms encircle my neck,
And your tears – but not of regret – flow down and mingle with mine;
And I bless God that one precious jewel remains from the terrible wreck,
One gem that shall light up my darkest existence with glory divine.
For Nature is kinder than Man – she will yield us the little we seek;
The avenues unto her favour no barriers of privilege fence.
Like the sea on an island of granite, our surging sympathies break
On the stormy heart of the City. – Let us arise, and go hence!
Blackburn, January, 1863. W.A. ABRAM.