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Martin’s Puzzle

George Meredith 1828 (Portsmouth, Hampshire) – 1909 (Box Hill, Surrey)



I

There she goes up the street with her book in her hand,
And her Good morning, Martin! Ay, lass, how d'ye do?
Very well, thank you, Martin!-I can't understand!
I might just as well never have cobbled a shoe!
I can't understand it. She talks like a song;
Her voice takes your ear like the ring of a glass;
She seems to give gladness while limping along,
Yet sinner ne'er suffer'd like that little lass.

II

First, a fool of a boy ran her down with a cart.
Then, her fool of a father-a blacksmith by trade -
Why the deuce does he tell us it half broke his heart?
His heart!-where's the leg of the poor little maid!
Well, that's not enough; they must push her downstairs,
To make her go crooked: but why count the list?
If it's right to suppose that our human affairs
Are all order'd by heaven-there, bang goes my fist!

III

For if angels can look on such sights-never mind!
When you're next to blaspheming, it's best to be mum.
The parson declares that her woes weren't designed;
But, then, with the parson it's all kingdom-come.
Lose a leg, save a soul-a convenient text;
I call it Tea doctrine, not savouring of God.
When poor little Molly wants 'chastening,' why, next
The Archangel Michael might taste of the rod.

IV

But, to see the poor darling go limping for miles
To read books to sick people!-and just of an age
When girls learn the meaning of ribands and smiles!
Makes me feel like a squirrel that turns in a cage.
The more I push thinking the more I revolve:
I never get farther:- and as to her face,
It starts up when near on my puzzle I solve,
And says, 'This crush'd body seems such a sad case.'

V

Not that she's for complaining: she reads to earn pence;
And from those who can't pay, simple thanks are enough.
Does she leave lamentation for chaps without sense?
Howsoever, she's made up of wonderful stuff.
Ay, the soul in her body must be a stout cord;
She sings little hymns at the close of the day,
Though she has but three fingers to lift to the Lord,
And only one leg to kneel down with to pray.

VI

What I ask is, Why persecute such a poor dear,
If there's Law above all? Answer that if you can!
Irreligious I'm not; but I look on this sphere
As a place where a man should just think like a man.
It isn't fair dealing! But, contrariwise,
Do bullets in battle the wicked select?
Why, then it's all chance-work! And yet, in her eyes,
She holds a fixed something by which I am checked.

VII

Yonder riband of sunshine aslope on the wall,
If you eye it a minute 'll have the same look:
So kind! and so merciful! God of us all!
It's the very same lesson we get from the Book.
Then, is Life but a trial? Is that what is meant?
Some must toil, and some perish, for others below:
The injustice to each spreads a common content;
Ay! I've lost it again, for it can't be quite so.

VIII

She's the victim of fools: that seems nearer the mark.
On earth there are engines and numerous fools.
Why the Lord can permit them, we're still in the dark;
He does, and in some sort of way they're His tools.
It's a roundabout way, with respect let me add,
If Molly goes crippled that we may be taught:
But, perhaps, it's the only way, though it's so bad;
In that case we'll bow down our heads,-as we ought.

IX

But the worst of ME is, that when I bow my head,
I perceive a thought wriggling away in the dust,
And I follow its tracks, quite forgetful, instead
Of humble acceptance: for, question I must!
Here's a creature made carefully-carefully made!
Put together with craft, and then stamped on, and why?
The answer seems nowhere: it's discord that's played.
The sky's a blue dish!-an implacable sky!

X

Stop a moment. I seize an idea from the pit.
They tell us that discord, though discord, alone,
Can be harmony when the notes properly fit:
Am I judging all things from a single false tone?
Is the Universe one immense Organ, that rolls
From devils to angels? I'm blind with the sight.
It pours such a splendour on heaps of poor souls!
I might try at kneeling with Molly to-night.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:59 min read
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George Meredith

George Meredith was an English novelist and poet of the Victorian era. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times. more…

All George Meredith poems | George Meredith Books

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