How near to the goal are we now, and what shall we live to behold?
Will it come a day of surprise to the best of the hopeful and bold?
Shall the sun arise some morning and see men falling to work,
Smiling and loving their lives, not fearing the ill that may lurk
In every house on their road, in the very ground that they tread?
Shall the sun see famine slain, and the fear of children dead?
Shall he look adown on men set free from the burden of care,
And the earth grown like to himself, so comely, clean and fair?
Or else will it linger and loiter, till hope deferred hath spoiled
All bloom of the life of man — yea, the day for which we have toiled?
Till our hearts be turned to stone by the griefs that we have borne,
And our loving kindness seared by love from our anguish torn.
Till our hope grow a wrathful fire, and the light of the second birth
Be a flame to burn up the weeds from the lean impoverished earth.
What’s this? Meseems it was but a little while ago
When the merest sparkle of hope set all my heart aglow!
The hope of the day was enough; but now ’tis the very day
That wearies my hope with longing. What’s changed or gone away?
Or what is it drags at my heart-strings? — is it aught save the coward’s fear?
In this little room where I sit is all that I hold most dear —
My love, and the love we have fashioned, my wife and the little lad.
Yet the four walls look upon us with other eyes than they had,
For indeed a thing hath happened. Last week at my craft I worked,
Lest oft in the grey of the morning my heart should tell me I shirked;
But today I work for us three, lest he and she and I
In the mud of the street should draggle till we come to the workhouse or die.
Not long to tell is the story, for, as I told you before,
A lawyer paid me the money which came from my father’s store.
Well, now the lawyer is dead, and a curious tangle of theft,
It seems, is what he has lived by, and none of my money is left.
So I who have worked for my pleasure now work for utter need:
In “the noble army of labour” I now am a soldier indeed.
“You are young, you belong to the class that you love,” saith the rich man’s sneer;
“Work on with your class and be thankful.” All that I hearken to hear,
Nor heed the laughter much; have patience a little while,
I will tell you what’s in my heart, nor hide a jot by guile.
When I worked pretty much for my pleasure I really worked with a will,
It was well and workmanlike done, and my fellows knew my skill,
And deemed me one of themselves though they called me gentleman Dick,
Since they knew I had some money; but now that to work I must stick,
Or fall into utter ruin, there’s something gone, I find;
The work goes, cleared is the job, but there’s something left behind;
I take up fear with my chisel, fear lies ‘twixt me and my plane,
And I wake in the merry morning to a new unwonted pain.
That’s fear: I shall live it down — and many a thing besides
Till I win the poor dulled heart which the workman’s jacket hides.
Were it not for the Hope of Hopes I know my journey’s end,
And would wish I had ne’er been born the weary way to wend.
Now further, well you may think we have lived no gentleman’s life,
My wife is my servant, and I am the servant of my wife,
And we make no work for each other; but country folk we were,
And she sickened sore for the grass and the breath of the fragrant air
That had made her lovely and strong; and so up here we came
To the northern slopes of the town to live with a country dame,
Who can talk of the field-folks’ ways: not one of the newest the house,
The woodwork worn to the bone, its panels the land of the mouse,
Its windows rattling and loose, its floors all up and down;
But this at least it was, just a cottage left in the town.
There might you sit in our parlour in the Sunday afternoon
And watch the sun through the vine-leaves and fall to dreaming that soon
You would see the grey team passing, their fetlocks wet with the brook,
Or the shining mountainous straw-load: there the summer moon would look
Through the leaves on the lampless room, wherein we sat we twain,
All London vanished away; and the morn of the summer rain
Would waft us the scent of the hay; or the first faint yellow leaves
Would flutter adown before us and tell of the acres of sheaves.
All this hath our lawyer eaten, and tomorrow must we go
To a room near my master’s shop, in the purlieus of Soho.
No words of its shabby meanness! But that is our prison-cell
In the jail of weary London. Therein for us must dwell
The hope of the world that shall be, that rose a glimmering spark
As the last thin flame of our pleasure sank quavering in the dark.
Again the rich man jeereth: “The man is a coward, or worse —
He bewails his feeble pleasure; he quails before the curse
Which many a man endureth with calm and smiling face.”
Nay, the man is a man, by your leave! Or put yourself in his place,
And see if the tale reads better. The haven of rest destroyed,
And nothing left of the life that was once so well enjoyed
But leave to live and labour, and the glimmer of hope deferred.
Now know I the cry of the poor no more as a story heard,
But rather a wordless wail forced forth from the weary heart.
Now, now when hope ariseth I shall surely know my part.
There’s a little more to tell. When those last words were said,
At least I was yet a-working, and earning daily bread.
But now all that is changed, and meseems adown the stair
That leads to the nethermost pit, man, wife and child must fare.
When I joined the Communist folk, I did what in me lay
To learn the grounds of their faith. I read day after day
Whatever books I could handle, and heard about and about
What talk was going amongst them; and I burned up doubt after doubt,
Until it befel at last that to others I needs must speak
(Indeed, they pressed me to that while yet I was weaker than weak).
So I began the business, and in street-corners I spake
To knots of men. Indeed, that made my very heart ache,
So hopeless it seemed; for some stood by like men of wood;
And some, though fain to listen, but a few words understood;
And some but hooted and jeered: but whiles across some I came
Who were keen and eager to hear; as in dry flax the flame
So the quick thought flickered amongst them: and that indeed was a feast.
So about the streets I went, and the work on my hands increased;
And to say the very truth betwixt the smooth and the rough
It was work and hope went with it, and I liked it well enough:
Nor made I any secret of all that I was at
But daily talked in our shop and spoke of this and of that.
Then vanished my money away, and like a fool I told
Some one or two of the loss. Did that make the master bold?
Before I was one of his lot, and as queer as my head might be
I might do pretty much as I liked. Well now he sent for me
And spoke out in very words my thought of the rich man’s jeer:
“Well, sir, you have got your wish, as far as I can hear,
And are now no thief of labour, but an honest working man:
Now I’ll give you a word of warning: stay in it as long as you can,
This working lot that you like so: you’re pretty well off as you are.
So take another warning: I have thought you went too far,
And now I am quite sure of it; so make an end of your talk
At once and for ever henceforth, or out of my shop you walk;
There are plenty of men to be had who are quite as good as you.
And mind you, anywhere else you’ll scarce get work to do,
Unless you rule your tongue; — good morning; stick to your work.”
The hot blood rose to my eyes, somewhere a thought did lurk
To finish both him and the job: but I knew now what I was,
And out of the little office in helpless rage did I pass
And went to my work, a SLAVE, for the sake of my child and my sweet.
Did men look for the brand on my forehead that eve as I went through the street?
And what was the end after all? Why, one of my shopmates heard
My next night’s speech in the street, and passed on some bitter word,
And that week came a word with my money: “You needn’t come again.”
And the shame of my four days’ silence had been but grief in vain.
Well I see the days before me: this time we shall not die
Nor go to the workhouse at once: I shall get work by-and-by,
And shall work in fear at first, and at last forget my fear,
And drudge on from day to day, since it seems that I hold life dear.
’Tis the lot of many millions! Yet if half of those millions knew
The hope that my heart hath learned, we should find a deed to do,
And who or what should withstand us? And I, e’en I might live
To know the love of my fellows and the gifts that earth can give.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11