Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
Raban; or, Life Splinters (1880).
Work and Spirit
By Walter Chalmers Smith (1824–1908)
IS it the work that makes life great and true?
  Or the true soul that, working as it can,
Does faithfully the task it has to do,
  And keepeth faith alike with God and man?
Ah! well; the work is something; the same gold        5
  Or brass is fashioned now into a coin,
Now into fairest chalice that shall hold
  To panting lips the sacramental wine:
Here the same marble forms a cattle-trough
  For brutes by the wayside to quench their thirst,        10
And there a god emerges from the rough
  Unshapely block—yet they were twins at first.
One pool of metal in the melting pot
  A sordid, or a sacred thought inspires;
And of twin marbles from the quarry brought        15
  One serves the earth, one glows with altar-fires.
There’s something in high purpose of the soul
  To do the highest service to its kind;
There’s something in the art that can unroll
  Secrets of beauty shaping in the mind.        20
Yet he who takes the lower room, and tries
  To make his cattle-trough with honest heart,
And could not frame the god with gleaming eyes,
  As nobly plays the more ignoble part.
And maybe, as the higher light breaks in        25
  And shows the meaner task he has to do,
He is the greater that he strives to win
  Only the praise of being just and true.
For who can do no thing of sovran worth
  Which men shall praise, a higher task may find        30
Plodding his dull round on the common earth,
  But conquering envies rising in the mind.
And God works in the little as the great
  A perfect work, and glorious over all—
Or in the stars that choir with joy elate,        35
  Or in the lichen spreading on the wall.

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