Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
 
974. The Death of Azron
 
By Alice Wellington Rollins
 
 
HE caught his chisel, hastened to his bench,
And, kneeling on one knee before one more
Pale page of uncarved marble, murmured fast,
“Here will I ask it! here in marble! here
Will I carve well the restless, patient sphinx,        5
With eyes that burn, though prisoned all the while
In dull, cold stone: what is Life for? what for?”
And he wrought well; but suddenly there came
A tremor and a chill through his right arm.
Turning his face, he saw beside him there        10
A woman like an angel, or perchance
An angel like a woman; so supreme
The look she bent upon him where she stood,
Silent, superb, and beautiful, that he,
Still holding fast his chisel, stammered forth,        15
“What art thou? art thou Love?—at last, for me?”
“Not Love,” she answered; “Azron, I am Death!”
“Nay,” and he grasped his chisel firmer still,
“I cannot die! See, I am young! not yet
Have I fulfilled all that is in my soul.        20
I ask not for dull life of plodding clods
That know not the divine; I ask not life
For a wild round of pleasure or mad deeds;
I ask not love, if it be not for me.
I ask but work! I would but finish this!        25
If all the thoughts burning within my brain—
Not foolish thoughts, but thoughts for which men wait—
Are to die now unuttered, if my strength
Of will and purpose, of proud energy,
Of eagerness to see but the divine,        30
And then reveal it to blind, waiting men,
Must perish unexpressed, what is it for?”
“Azron,” the angel answered him, “thy sphinx
Asks, but it answers also; what hast thou
Answered to those who ask of thine own work,        35
‘What is it for?’ Didst thou not say to them,
‘It matters not, so it be beautiful’?
Thy sphinx, with restless eyes that ask, would fain
Question, ‘What is Life for?’ but the proud mouth,
The patient sweetness of the even brows,        40
The perfect poise of changeless attitude,
The finely modelled cheek, the unparted lips,
Answer, ‘It matters not! it matters not!
If only it be beautiful!’ Nay, this,
Thy greater work, this glorious tomb of thine,        45
Not for a living woman, but for her,
The sphinx that asks and answers, is it not
A living answer to the living cry?
‘What is it for?’ they ask; and thou hast said,
‘It matters not, for it is beautiful.’        50
It may be I have secrets to reveal
When thou hast crossed the portal of the dead;
It may be, I have none: it matters not.
Lay each straight marble firm in its white place;
Choose well each burnished gem; let all be fair        55
And orderly; and then it matters not
What it is for, or when the chisel falls.
Despair not, Azron, thou hast builded well;
But now—ask me no more!—it matters not!”
And Azron’s head sank slowly on his breast,        60
The chisel fell.
 

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