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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Raban; or, Life Splinters (1880). Work and Spirit

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

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,

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

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.

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

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

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,

Or in the lichen spreading on the wall.