The Song of Labour
The Speaker, December 17, 1892
The Speaker, December 17, 1892
A light, a glimmer outlines the crest of the mountain walls,
Starlike it broadens and brightens, and day o'er the valley falls;
It waketh the prince to praise, and it waketh the fool to mirth,
And it waketh a man to his toil and his place on the ordered earth.
There are uplands cloudlet-shadowed and mountains thunder-brewed,
There are wastes of wood untravelled, and leagues of land unploughed,
Swamp-worlds heavy with poison, mist-worlds grey and chill,
And I go, a clearer and builder, the voice of the human will.
God has struck all into chaos, princes and priests down-hurled,
But He leaves the place of the toiler, the old estate of the world.
In a season of doubt and of wrangle, in the thick of a world's uproar,
With the new life dark in wrestle, with the ghost of a life that is o'er,
When the old Priest fades to a phantom, when the old King nods on his throne,
The old, old hand of Labour is mighty and holdeth its own.
Other leaders may rest upon words, wax proud, and neglect the hours,
But our work is real, and standeth, in leaf and in fruit and in flowers,
In roofs and farms and fences, in draining of mere and of fen,
In the endless going and coming in the homes of the children of men.
Through the blaze of the regal ages, through the wreck of the feudal strife,
We toiled unseen for ever at the roots of the racial life.
The earth brought forth in abundance at the stroke of the hind and the churl,
Till his roof was fired by the chieftain, his fields trodden down by the earl.
Stand to it silently, brothers, and watch for the hour and the day,
We have tramped and toiled for the idle, we have sorrowed and starved for the gay;
We have hewn out the road for the passers through thicket and mountain high—
Stand to it bravely, brothers, for the day and the hour are nigh.
Sorry and weary it is, our terrible army of toil—
With swart limbs bent to the tool, and dark brows turned to the soil,
We look not to heaven, nor pray; we see not the stars overhead,
But we stamp our stern evangel on the face of the earth we tread.
Sorry and weary it is, our army of labour and pain—
Its words are vague and frantic, its hopes are dark and vain;
Yet laugh not aloud, ye mighty, nor triumph, nor pass ye on,
For the High God heareth for ever the voice of the work we have done;
He knows who have striven with Nature, and claimed and conquered the earth,
He knows who have stood to a manhood where work is the title of worth,
He knows who are feeding the nations, are working at eve and at morn,
And He knows who have sneered and been idle, and struck them, and laughed them to scorn.
The poet may look into Nature for mirrors of passion and pain,
For the breadth of an isolation, the nurse of a black disdain;
The painter may look into Nature for shaping of sky and of land,
For blending of glorious hues and visions of fairyland:
But we who are dwelling with her can bend to her breast and hear
The roar of the endless purpose that grappleth sphere to sphere.
Therefore I go at the dawn to my work with a mighty mirth.
For the law of the earth is labour, and man is the dust of the earth.