Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
Portraits (1870)
II. A Dilettante (A Selection)
By Augusta Webster (1840–1894)
 
SELFISH, you call me? callous? Hear a tale.
There was a little shallow brook that ran
between low banks, scarcely a child’s leap wide,
feeding a foot or two of bordering grass
and, here and there, some tufts of waterflowers        5
and cresses, and tall sedge, rushes and reeds;
and, where it bubbled past a poor man’s cot,
he and his household came and drank of it,
and all the children loved it for its flowers
and counted it a playmate made for them:        10
but, not far off, a sandy arid waste
where, when a winged seed rested, or a bird
would drop a grain in passing, and it grew,
it presently must droop and die athirst,
spread its scorched silent leagues to the fierce sun;        15
and once a learned man came by and saw,
and “lo,” said he, “what space for corn to grow,
could we send vivifying moistures here,
while look, this wanton misdirected brook
watering its useless weeds!” so had it turned,        20
and made a channel for it through the waste:
but its small waters could not feed that drought,
and, in the wide unshadowed plain, it lagged,
and shrank away, sucked upwards of the sun
and downwards of the sands; so the new bed        25
lay dry, and dry the old; and the parched reeds
grew brown and dwined, the stunted rushes drooped,
the cresses could not root in that slacked soil,
the blossoms and the sedges died away,
the greenness shrivelled from the dusty banks,        30
the children missed their playmate and the flowers,
and thirsted in hot noon-tides for the draught
grown over precious now their mother went
a half-mile to the well to fill her pails;
and not two ears of corn the more were green.        35
 
  Tell me, what should I do? I take my life
as I have found it, and the work it brings;
well, and the life is kind, the work is light,
shall I go fret and scorn myself for that?
and must I sally forth to hack and hew        40
at giants or at windmills, leave the post
I could have filled, the work I could have wrought,
for some magnificent mad enterprise,
some task to lift a mountain, drain a sea,
tread down a Titan, build a pyramid?        45
No, let me, like a bird bred in the cage,
that, singing its own self to gladness there,
makes some who hear it gladder, take what part
I have been born to, and make joy of it.
*        *        *        *        *
  Oh chiding friend, I am not of your kind,        50
you strenuous souls who cannot think you live
unless you feel your limbs, though ’twere by aches:
great boisterous winds you are, who must rush on
and sweep all on your way or drop and die,
but I am only a small fluttering breeze        55
to coax the roses open: let me be;
perhaps I have my use no less than you.
 
 
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