Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
A Woman Sold; and Other Poems (1867)
III. To and Fro
By Augusta Webster (1840–1894)
THERE is much shadow on this sunlit earth,
  And sorrow lingers deep in laughing eyes,
Sad echoes tremble mid glad peals of mirth,
  Low wailings whisper through rich melodies.
You cannot say of any one you know,        5
  “I see his life, I know him very blest.”
For would he tell you of the canker woe
  That preys upon his being unconfessed?
You cannot think in any festive place
  Of mirth and pastime and smiles flashed on all        10
There is no mimic weary of his face,
  No actor longing for the curtain’s fall.
Among the dancers cruel spectres float
  And chill their victims with a dull distress,
And, sighing through the measure’s clearest note,        15
  Weird voices murmur, full of bitterness.
Old sorrows fester on in aching hearts,
  New sorrows rack them with hot spasm pain;
Who knows? The ball-room actors play their parts,
  And we smile with them and discern no strain.        20
If one should say “This is a doubtful word,
  That men so sorrowing can cheat our sense”
Yet let him own when grief his soul has stirred
  He has been merry with gay eloquence.
And that is best. For what would it avail        25
  If he should say “Lo, I am very sad”
To idle hearers, though they heard his tale
  And ceased a little moment to be glad?
But each heart keeps its sorrow for its own
  Nor bares its wound to the chill general gaze;        30
Men laugh together … if they weep alone:
  But sorrow walks in all the wide world’s ways.
What, will you fly? her step is very fleet,
  Her freezing touch will seize you unawares.
Look on her, never grovel at her feet,        35
  For he is hers for ever who despairs.
Wait calmly; as she waits on that old plain,
  The stony smiler on the desert sand,
Smiling upon old pride’s long-cycled wane,
  Smiling unchanged upon a saddened land.        40
She saw the glories of the ancient days,
  She ever sees the tombs of buried kings,
She has not lost the quiet of her gaze
  Looking a silence deep with solemn things.
The great sand-surges press upon her close,        45
  She in eternal calm looks out above—
And who shall look upon a waste of woes
  With such grand patience which no change may move?
Yet wait; let the great desert clouds whirl by,
  And sunlight once more floods upon the plain.        50
Yet wait; the foolish leaf that flies the blast
  Grows never greenly on the bough again.
Yet wait; for sorrow’s self is not all sad:
  Put forth your hand and draw her veil aside;
Behold, what secret of masked smiles she had,        55
  What royal lovegifts in one cloked hand hide.
You will not say those were your saddest years,
  In which you sorrowed. Void is worse than pain.
And many a rich bloom grows because of tears;
  And we see Heaven’s lights more when our lights wane.        60
Ah! who knows what is ill from what is well?
  And we, who see no more than we are shown
Of others’ hearts, can we so much as tell
  If grief or joy be chiefest in our own?
For sunlight gleams upon this shadowed earth,        65
  Sunlight and shadow waver to and fro,
And sadness echoes in the voice of mirth,
  And music murmurs through the wail of woe.

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