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Ballads and Lyrics of Socialism 1883-1908 . Nesbit, E. (Edith), 1858–1924.
page: 12

Two Lives


  • ONE stood with his face to the light;
  • He held a sceptre of song
  • That ruled men’s souls till they strove to the right,
  • And set their feet on the wrong.
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  • ‘I am but a slave,’ he said,
  • ‘The servant of man am I,
  • To sing of the life that is more than bread,
  • And the deaths that are life to die.
  • ‘And the might of my song shall sway
  • The millions who sit in shame,
  • Till they cast their idols of gold away,
  • And worship the true God’s name.’
  • So he sang, and the nations heard
  • Through their drunken sleep of years,
  • And their limbs in their golden fetters stirred
  • As he sang to their drowsy ears.
  • Hope woke, in her spellbound bowers,
  • And gave heed to each clear keen word,
  • Till Love looked out from a net of flowers,
  • And called to his heart—and he heard.
  • And his song rose higher, more sweet,
  • As his dreams rose more sweet, more high:
  • ‘’Tis Love shall aid me, and shall complete
  • The spell I shall conquer by!
  • ‘We two to men’s souls will sing,
  • And the work shall be ours, be ours;
  • Together welcome the thorns that bring
  • More fruit than the sweetest flowers!’
  • But the woman he loved said ‘No!
  • To me all your soul is due,
  • Can I share with a world, whatever its woe,
  • My heart’s one treasure, you?
  • ‘There are plenty to sing of the right
  • And give their lives for the truth—
  • But you are mine, and shall sing delight,
  • And beauty, and love, and youth.
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  • ‘For these are the songs men love,
  • These stir their dull brains like wine.
  • They hate the songs you were proudest of
  • In the days when you were not mine.
  • ‘And if for the world you sing
  • It will pay you with fame and gold,
  • And the fame and the gold to me you shall bring
  • For my heart and my hands to hold.
  • ‘Besides—what steads it to try,
  • One man against all the rest?
  • Let the world and its rights and its wrongs go by,
  • And hide your eyes on my breast!’
  • Then the man bowed down his head
  • And she crowned him with roses sweet;
  • And he laboured for fame and bread,
  • And laid his wage at her feet.
  • And the millions who starve and sin,
  • He shut them out of his life
  • Where she was alone shut in—
  • His ruin, his prize, his wife.
  • And all that he might have been,
  • And all that he might have done,
  • These lie with the things that shall not be seen
  • For ever under the sun.
  • His children play round his knee,
  • But he sighs as they come and go—
  • For they speak of visions he cannot see,
  • In a tongue that he used to know.
  • He sings of love and of flowers,
  • And forgets what they used to mean,
  • For gold is lord of his empty hours,
  • And fame of his soul is queen.
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  • And the woman has long possessed
  • What she bade him win for her sake;
  • But she holds with the gold accurst unrest,
  • And the fame with a wild heart‐ache.
  • For the light in her eyes is dim,
  • Or dim are his eyes that gaze.
  • There is no light that can light for him
  • The gloom of his sordid days.
  • He will die, and his name be enrolled
  • Where marble makes mock of clay;
  • (Oh, the pitiful clay, made brave with gold!)
  • And there let it rot away!


  • One stood in the way of life
  • And said: ‘I will serve and strive
  • And never weary of strife
  • For just so long as I live.
  • ‘The sum of service I’m worth
  • I swear it, beyond recall,
  • To the mother of all, the earth,
  • To men, the brothers of all.
  • ‘I have no voice for a song,
  • No trumpet nor lyre is mine,
  • But my sword is sharp, and my arm is strong:
  • Liberty! these are thine!’
  • So he followed where high hopes led,
  • And he paused not for blame or praise,
  • But ever rejoiced to tread
  • The roughest and rightest ways.
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  • He scorned ambitions and powers,
  • Delight was to him but a word,
  • Till Love looked out from a brake a flowers
  • And called to his heart, and he heard.
  • Then the man’s whole soul cried sore:
  • ‘I am tired of patience and pain!
  • What if the lights that have gone before
  • Should be but visions and vain?
  • ‘Why should my youth be spent
  • In following a marsh‐light gleam?
  • Why should my manhood be content
  • With what may be but a dream?
  • ‘The sword I am used to wield
  • Is as much as my hands can hold,
  • I will turn aside from the battle‐field
  • To the fields where men gather gold.
  • ‘For while I carry the sword
  • I can hold neither gold nor you—
  • And the sword is heavy, and your least word
  • Is music my life sings to!’
  • But the woman who loved him spake,
  • She spake brave words with a sigh—
  • ‘Rather than drop the sword for my sake
  • Turn its point to your heart and die!
  • ‘It is better to die than live
  • If life means nothing but greed
  • To clutch the gifts that the world can give
  • And turn your back on its need.
  • ‘And I have my life‐work too,
  • A banner to bear have I;
  • Shall my flag be dragged in the dust by you,
  • Who should help me to hold it high?
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  • ‘Hard looks life’s every line
  • When the colours of love are effaced,
  • But death would be harder, O heart of mine,
  • After a life disgraced!
  • ‘And what though we never see
  • Sweet Love’s sweet fruit at its best;
  • My children’s play at your knee,
  • Your baby’s sleep at my breast?
  • ‘Only one life is ours—
  • Shall we die with no world’s work done,
  • Having covered our shame with flowers,
  • And shrunk from sight of the sun?
  • ‘No! Be the sword for him,
  • Banner of light for me—
  • Voice at the heart when the eyes grown dim,
  • “Liberty! This for thee!”’
  • Then he bowed him low at her knees,
  • And she gave him the thorny crown
  • Which whoso wears knows no rest nor ease
  • Till Death bids him lay it down.
  • And they turned, and they passed away
  • To parting, and longing, and tears,
  • To carry the sword and the flag away
  • Through the cold clean desolate years,
  • To work for the world, and to hear
  • When the long race nearly is run,
  • Like a voice in a dream, a voice most dear,
  • ‘Faithful and good, well done!’
  • And no man remembers his name,
  • Nor hers, who was never his wife.
  • Their names are written in letters of flame
  • In the book of eternal life.