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In an Almshouse



Oh the dear summer evening! How the air
is mellow with the delicate breath of flowers
and wafts of hay scent from the sunburnt swathes:
how the glad song of life comes everywhence,
from thousand harmless voices, from blithe birds
that twitter on incessant sweet good-nights,
from homeward bees that, through the clover tufts,
stray booming, pilfering treasures to the last,
from sleepless crickets clamouring in the grass.
to tell the world they're happy day and night,
from the persistent rooks in their high town,
from sheep in far off meadows: life, life, life,
it is the song they sing, and to my mind
the song is very happy, very good.
My God, I thank thee I have known this life,
although, I doubt not, dying I shall learn
how greater and how happier is death.

Oh beautiful and various earth of ours,
how good God made thee. Ah, I have lost much,
mine is a very grey and dim earth now,
but I can feel and hear and take in so
the joy of present beauty to my soul,
and then I see it there. O strange blurred mists,
that mean the sky to me, my twilight eyes
discern no more than you, but I see more;
I see this gold and glowing sunset spread,
and break the pale blue sky with flashing clouds,
I see the shadows soften on the hills,
and the green summits brighten one by one
and purple in the nightfall one by one.
Oh, seeing can be done without the eyes.

Are those St Mary's church-bells in the town?
How far sound spreads to-night! St Mary's bells,
chiming for evensong. I would the way
were not so over long for feeble limbs,
and that the pathway and the still canal
had not so like a glimmer in the dusk;
for I could gladly feel the peace of prayer
among the others in the quiet church,
with silent graves seen through the open door,
and rustling heard of slowly stirring leaves.
And then 'tis pleasant too to hear the rhythm
of scholars' English and of words in books:
'tis like the voice of some rare foreign tongue
familiar once and loved, that, howso heard,
takes the glad ear with sweetness of old wont.
Oh, there's no sermon now so trite and crude
but makes for me a sort of literature:
'tis my one echo now from that far world
where books are read and written, my world once;
I listen as one listens, note by note,
to some great symphony one knows by heart,
played powerlessly, uncertainly, with change
and thinner chords to suit a learner's hand,
listening with pleasure part for what there is
and more for what there should be and what was
when long ago one used to hear the strain:
I seem to love words now because they are words.

Not that I'll call our Vicar's sermon words:
no, no; he loves his God and loves his poor;
he makes his life one task of doing good;
can such a man speak idly? What he does
is proof to what he urges, his week's life
soul to his Sunday preachings, his shown faith
the key to his expoundings; one may learn
from such a man more things than he can teach:

Alas, the busy patience of his life,
eager and resolute for little things,
strenuous on petty labours, which no voice
shall ever herald past the parish bounds,
which maybe those who see them do not see,
and those whose gain they are know not for gain,
does it not twit me with my languid years
drifted along expectant of a day
when all my world should thank me I had waked?
My world--ah, after all, a lesser one
than I discerned when I was of it still,
my world of men who learn and teach and learn,
and then have only learned and taught and learned--
my world that has forgotten me, a waif
floated away from it on too rough tides,
left spoiled and stranded to drop piece by piece.

Ah me, the difference: I have not known
what envy means unless I know it now
when, in my helplessness, sick, blind, and poor,
past all fulfilling now, with nought fulfilled,
I see our Vicar, with his cheery look,
hurried and overladen with small cares,
glad in his work because it is his work.
And he'll not envy me my garnered lore,
stored up for moth and mildew; what to him
is any wisdom but to work and pray?
the denizens of our rustic market town,
which ignorant strangers take, and break our hearts,
or just a village, know no Tübingen,
have never heard of varying codices,
love, or love not, the Christ of Luke and John,
and have no guess of Renan's; to their minds
belief and unbelief are simplest things,
mere Yes and No, and God must side with Yes,
as kings must with the loyal. B
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:12 min read
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Augusta Davies Webster

Augusta Webster born in Poole, Dorset as Julia Augusta Davies, was an English poet, dramatist, essayist, and translator. The daughter of Vice-admiral George Davies and Julia Hume, she spent her younger years on board the ship he was stationed, the Griper. She studied Greek at home, taking a particular interest in Greek drama, and went on to study at the Cambridge School of Art. She published her first volume of poetry in 1860 under the pen name Cecil Homes. In 1863, she married Thomas Webster, a fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. They had a daughter, Augusta Georgiana, who married Reverend George Theobald Bourke, a younger son of the Joseph Bourke, 3rd Earl of Mayo. Much of Webster's writing explored the condition of women, and she was a strong advocate of women's right to vote, working for the London branch of the National Committee for Women's Suffrage. She was the first female writer to hold elective office, having been elected to the London School Board in 1879 and 1885. In 1885 she travelled to Italy in an attempt to improve her failing health. She died on 5 September 1894, aged 57. During her lifetime her writing was acclaimed and she was considered by some the successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. After her death, however, her reputation quickly declined. Since the mid-1990s she has gained increasing critical attention from scholars such as Isobel Armstrong, Angela Leighton, and Christine Sutphin. Her best-known poems include three long dramatic monologues spoken by women: A Castaway, Circe, and The Happiest Girl In The World, as well as a posthumously published sonnet-sequence, "Mother and Daughter". more…

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