I have promised to tell you the story of how I was left alone
Sick and wounded and sore, and why the woman is gone
That I deemed a part of my life. Tell me when all is told,
If you deem it fit that the earth, that the world of men should hold
My work and my weariness still; yet think of that other life,
The child of me and of her, and the years and the coming strife.
After I came out of prison our living was hard to earn
By the work of my hands, and of hers; to shifts we had to turn,
Such as the poor know well, and the rich cannot understand,
And just out of the gutter we stood, still loving and hand in hand.
Do you ask me if still amidst all I held the hunt in view,
And the hope of the morning of life, all the things I should do and undo?
Be easy, I am not a coward: nay little prudence I learned,
I spoke and I suffered for speaking, and my meat by my manhood was burned.
When the poor man thinks — and rebels, the whip lies ready anear;
But he who is rebel and rich may live safe for many a year,
While he warms his heart with pictures of all the glory to come.
There’s the storm of the press and the critics maybe, but sweet is his home,
There is meat in the morn and the even, and rest when the day is done,
All is fair and orderly there as the rising and setting sun —
And I know both the rich and the poor.
Well, I grew bitter they said;
’Tis not unlike that I did, for bitter indeed was my bread,
And surely the nursling plant shall smack of its nourishing soil.
And here was our life in short, pinching and worry and toil,
One petty fear thrust out by another come in its place,
Each scrap of life but a fear, and the sum of it wretched and base.
E’en so fare millions of men, where men for money are made,
Where the poor are dumb and deedless, where the rich are not afraid.
Ah, am I bitter again? Well, these are our breeding-stock,
The very base of order, and the state’s foundation rock;
Is it so good and so safe that their manhood should be outworn
By the struggle for anxious life, the dull pain dismally borne,
Till all that was man within them is dead and vanished away?
Were it not even better that all these should think on a day
As they look on each other’s sad faces, and see how many they are:
“What are these tales of old time of men who were mighty in war?
They fought for some city’s dominion, for the name of a forest or field;
They fell that no alien’s token should be blazoned on their shield;
And for this is their valour praised and dear is their renown,
And their names are beloved for ever and they wear the patriot’s crown;
And shall we then wait in the streets and this heap of misery,
Till their stones rise up to help us or the far heavens set us free?
For we, we shall fight for no name, no blazon on banner or shield;
But that man to man may hearken and the earth her increase yield;
That never again in the world may be sights like we have seen;
That never again in the world may be men like we have been,
That never again like ours may be manhood spoilt and blurred.”
Yea even so was I bitter, and this was my evilest word:
“Spend and be spent for our hope, and you at least shall be free,
Though you be rugged and coarse, as wasted and worn as you be.”
Well, “bitter” I was, and denounced, and scarcely at last might we stand
From out of the very gutter, as we wended hand in hand.
I had written before for the papers, but so “bitter” was I grown,
That none of them now would have me that could pay me half-a-crown,
And the worst seemed closing around us; when as it needs must chance,
I spoke at some Radical Club of the Great Revolution in France.
Indeed I said nothing new to those who had learned it all,
And yet as something strange on some of the folk did it fall.
It was late in the terrible war, and France to the end drew nigh,
And some of us stood agape to see how the war would die,
And what would spring from its ashes. So when the talk was o’er
And after the stir and excitement I felt the burden I bore
Heavier yet for it all, there came to speak to me
A serious well-dressed man, a “gentleman,” young I could see;
And we fell to talk together, and he shyly gave me praise,
And asked, though scarcely in words, of my past and my “better days.”
Well, there — I let it all out, and I flushed as I strode along,
(For we were walking by now) and bitterly spoke of the wrong.
Maybe I taught him something, but ready he was to learn,
And had come to our workmen meetings some knowledge of men to learn.
He kindled afresh at my words, although to try him I spake
More roughly than I was wont; but every word did he take
For what it was really worth, nor even laughter he spared,
As though he would look on life of its rags of habit bared.
Well, why should I be ashamed that he helped me at my need?
My wife and my child, must I kill them? And the man was a friend indeed,
And the work that he got me I did (it was writing, you understand)
As well as another might do it. To be short, he joined our band
Before many days were over, and we saw him everywhere
That we workmen met together, though I brought him not to my lair.
Eager he grew for the Cause, and we twain grew friend and friend:
He was dainty of mind and of body; most brave, as he showed in the end;
Merry despite of his sadness, quick-witted and speedy to see:
Like a perfect knight of old time as the poets would have them to be.
That was the friend that I won by my bitter speech at last.
He loved me; he grieved my soul: now the love and the grief are past;
He is gone with his eager learning, his sadness and his mirth,
His hope and his fond desire. There is no such thing on the earth.
He died not unbefriended — nor unbeloved maybe.
Betwixt my life and his longing there rolls a boundless sea.
And what are those memories now to all that I have to do,
The deeds to be done so many, the days of my life so few?
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11