Ada Cambridge (1844-1926)

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Me let the world disparage and despise --
As one unfettered with its gilded chains,
As one untempted by its sordid gains,
Its pleasant vice, its profitable lies;
Let Justice, blind and halt and maimed, chastise
The rebel spirit surging in my veins,
Let the Law deal me penalties and pains
And make me hideous in my neighbours' eyes.

But let me fall not in mine own esteem,
By poor deceit or selfish greed debased.
Let me be clean from secret stain and shame,
Know myself true, though false as hell I seem --
Know myself worthy, howsoe'er disgraced --
Know myself right, though every tongue should blame.


Alone! Alone! No beacon, far or near!
No chart, no compass, and no anchor stay!
Like melting fog the mirage melts away
In all-surrounding darkness, void and clear.
Drifting, I spread vain hands, and vainly peer
And vainly call for pilot, -- weep and pray;
Beyond these limits not the faintest ray
Shows distant coast whereto the lost may steer.

O what is life, if we must hold it thus
As wind-blown sparks hold momentary fire?
What are these gifts without the larger boon?
O what is art, or wealth, or fame to us
Who scarce have time to know what we desire?
O what is love, if we must part so soon?


And is the great cause lost beyond recall?
Have all the hopes of ages come to naught?
Is life no more with noble meaning fraught?
Is life but death, and love its funeral pall?
Maybe. And still on bended knees I fall,
Filled with a faith no preacher ever taught.
O God -- MY God -- by no false prophet wrought --
I believe still, in despite of it all!

Let go the myths and creeds of groping men.
This clay knows naught -- the Potter understands.
I own that Power divine beyond my ken,
And still can leave me in His shaping hands.
But, O my God, that madest me to feel,
Forgive the anguish of the turning wheel!

(Texts from An Anthology of Australian Verse (1907?) from Project Gutenberg.)