A Contrast and a Question.
IN lordly chamber lies a new-born child,
And on his advent kindly Fate has smiled,
For loving hopes and tender anxious care
Dwell round his cradle and his way prepare.
A noble father looks on him with pride,
And prays for strength those tender feet to guide;
And while he lies in first earth-sleep of rest
Sweet woman’s kisses on his brow are press’d;
Or if he wakes with the world-troubled cry
The tenderest hands those first-grief tears will dry.
And yet a babe he seems – nor less nor more
Than any human child of lowliest poor;
A simple child, undower’d, save by Fate,
Wherefore on him should many hands thus wait?
But now the nurses robe in dainty clothes,
And then his high-born rank the baby shows;
For though the simply-contour’d childish face
As yet could scarcely prove one noble trace,
And rounded limbs tell of no ancient race,
The grand surroundings goldenly proclaim
The scion of a race, the rich man’s heir,
The first-born darling of a mother fair.
The boy grows up in luxury’s peaceful halls,
His childhood guarded by love’s sheltering walls.
By gentle mother first sweet lessons taught,
The germs of good are in his nature wrought,
And faith and love unconsciously are sown
By heritance and teaching made his own.
He does no ill, for he scarce knows of sin,
Save that which lies his human breast within;
And this unwaked, uncall’d forth by life’s light,
As yet lies almost slumbering out of sight.
Then while the soul lies like a pure white sheet
With writing, yet invisible, replete,
(And daily traced and scored with unseen ink
That still into its substance deep will sink),
The brain with care is exercised and proved,
While sluggish powers to activeness are moved;
And teachers skill’d are brought from far and wide
The boy’s young faculties to train and guide.
So art, and love, and circumstance combine
His opening mind to elevate, refine.
Amid this golden glow life’s morning breaks –
The youth to manhood’s hopes and powers awakes.
Before him lie the fields of honour wide,
And flowers of pleasure bloom on every side;
Caress’d and flatter’d, owning many friends,
Along a broad smooth road his way he wends.
Yielding to youthful fire and restless will,
Perhaps he strays awhile in paths of ill,
But striving back, with scarce a care or pain,
Quickly the rich man can his place regain;
For him the world its judgment harsh will wave,
And so he enters life unweighted, brave.
A leader now, by right of power and birth,
The lord becomes a ruler on the earth;
Makes laws for others, bears an honour’d name,
And lightly rises to the height of fame.
By kindliest fortune eminently placed,
With easy virtues all his life is graced;
And though temptation’s darts will enter, yet
By shield of cultured power they may be met;
With deep wrought good, and principles instill’d
From earliest youth, the great man’s soul is fill’d –
Transmitted pride, and codes of honour high
Balance temptation and its strength defy;
And though the heart may gloom all dark within
The outward life seems innocent of sin.
The man is just a Christian, nothing more –
To holier heights he may, or may not, soar;
Yet he is still respectable and great,
Oft not by choice, but by decree of fate.
Child the Second.
IN attic dark another infant lies,
With piteous wailing hungrily it cries,
As cover’d with some rags, thin, scant, and old,
Its tiny limbs, so blue and pinch’d with cold,
Are laid upon a wretched pallet bed,
While from the air all life and light seem fled.
No loving hopes illume his new-born life:
He enters on a world of sin and strife,
An unbless’d heritage of woeful need,
And dower’d with instincts dark and crimeful seed,
Which, nurtured in a too congenial soil,
The germs of good will overgrow and foil.
Ah, o’er this babe bends no fond mother fair,
But a sad woman, aged and sear’d with care,
Who bears in redden’d eyes and dead-pale face
The signs of drink, that mars all woman’s grace.
The father, too, feels no soft glow of pride;
To his low depths he soon the boy will guide.
To him a child is but a child, no more –
A mouth to feed where food was scarce before –
Another soldier for the ranks of sin,
Who by dark deeds his daily bread must win.
And so the babe is born ‘mid scenes of woe,
In dark foul air he e’en must live and grow;
In thievish den, unlit by love or hope,
His bleach’d and blighted life-buds slowly ope.
God-planted soul-flowers strive to bloom, but die,
While Satan’s weeds grow thick and rank and high.
No careless play or childish sport he knows,
His education but consists of blows
And hateful oaths, in drunken fury shower’d,
And by dark lessons his young mind is lower’d,
Till he learns patience, aye, and cunning, too,
His fellow-men and parents to out-do.
Then is it strange that ‘mid such scenes as this
The boy the road of right and truth should miss?
He has ne’er known God’s holy law and name,
Save in dark blasphemy or mocking game;
No knowledge, principle, in him is wrought,
No self-control or good has he been taught –
How should he know the evil to refuse?
What wonder then the man should early choose
All unresisting to contented dwell
Amid the paths he knows so sadly well?
Ever and ever in temptation led –
Fraud, thieving, are to him his daily bread;
He knows no joys or aspirations high,
To drink alone for pleasure he can fly.
Ah, shall we dare to trace his downward course,
By steps so gradual, easy, that remorse
His conscience blind for blackest deeds scarce knows,
So used to night his darken’d soul’s eye grows.
Across his path may fall a saving ray,
Some loving hand may show a better way,
Perhaps God’s love may reach him at the last,
Repentant, he his sins away may cast,
Though hard it is the upward way to win
From such low depths and dwelling-place of sin.
But, likelier still, a felon he may die,
His mind too gross to catch the light from high;
And men, good men, in judgment harsh, condign,
His soul to endless fire, in thought, consign.
Sad, saddest end, too sad – if ’twere the end!
Will a good God that soul to torture send?
A chanceless life he led, and will he still
A hopeless round of misery yet fulfil?
Ah, he was once as pure and sweet a child
As the great man on whom all beings smiled!
Had circumstance allowed, might he not e’en
A fuller Christian, nobler man, have been?
Yes; he, a felon now, might he not then
Have led the right-born leaders among men?
Great sinners oft are saints who miss’d the way,
Or never saw the Heavenward guiding ray.
Why should they thus be set in darken’d ways,
While others safely walk in light’s full blaze?
And shall blind wanderers be for ever lost,
Because no star their troublous path has cross’d?
Deep questions, strange; what answer can we give,
Save, This is NOT the end: again we live!
Before us lies a nobler, juster world,
Where Fate’s mysterious scroll shall be unfurl’d,
And we shall surely see that life on earth
Is but a prelude to the higher birth,
Or e’en, perchance, but part of the great scheme –
(Though all important at the time it seem).
A small, small part, not e’en the first or last,
And insignificant when once ’tis past,
Save as a portion fitting in the whole,
A few steps on the journey to the goal.
Well said St. Paul, through glass we darkly see,
Like children guessing at the great “To be!”
We know not how, we cannot tell the way,
But still we feel that in some far-off day
The saddest still will know some joyous hours,
All men will yet work out earth-blighted powers,
And compensating bliss will then enhance
The joy of those who fail’d through lack of chance;
That naught but dust is buried in the ground,
So what was lost on earth shall yet be found,
And men will work out in a nobler sphere
The thoughts, the aims, that seem’d to perish here,
While, rising by gradations long and slow,
The soul at last to purest heights may grow;
That vanquish’d in the end by loving grace,
Evil and sin may vanish from all space.
The universe from taint will then be pure,
The world-disease will find an endless cure,
And, like the peace which follows after pain,
The ministry of earth may prove a gain,
And throw up by its darksome sad relief
The glory of a world where love is chief –
That in millenniums of eternity
A thousand million worlds, then one, shall see
Like men awaken’d from a darksome dream,
Their several places past in the great scheme,
And gather’d in, by means we know not now,
In one great sinless union deep shall bow,
Before the fount of joy and mercy seat,
Where conquering love and ransom’d justice meet.
And is this doctrine then to many hard?
Will any say, “Then good has no reward;
Has sin no penance undeserved or just?
Is there no ‘will’ nor ‘ought,’ but only ‘must?’
Do fate and circumstance then rule the soul?
Are we but parts of a resistless whole?”
Nay, nay, a mighty power but shapes our ends,
Each several present act on will depends.
For those who knew the good and did not choose,
Hard purifying stripes their souls shall bruise;
But gentler punishment, and stripes but few,
Shall fall upon the souls that scarcely knew
The good from ill – whose adverse circumstance
Darken’d their free will, and obscured their chance.
How this shall be wrought out we cannot know,
The where, the how-much, of post-mortal woe,
Or whether sin shall prove its own deep hell:
But still we feel that a good God so pure,
No endless ill or misery could endure;
And therefore, at the last, all evil slain,
The God of Love o’er blissful realms shall reign.
© Emily Manning