Sunday, November 10, 2013


An Old Man's Consolation

John Leicester Warren (1835-1895), "An Old Man's Consolation," The Collected Poems of Lord De Tabley (London: Chapman & Hall Limited, 1903), pp. 450-452:
Failure I know is poison to the young.
My lad, I share your sorrows; in my day
I've suffered much, and mastered more like these.
You see that I am old, but I am wise
In that peculiar wisdom, cheaply held,
To take the common incidents of life
At proper estimate, not overmuch
Exalted with the good, nor dashed with ill.
My days have borne no fruit as men account
The good of life, success, emoluments,
Respect in public print, and to be noised
In feeble mouths, the bubble god of the hour.
I have not even gather'd store of coin
To make these few declining years of mine
Repay the watching of my hungry heirs,
Or justify the generous hopes of those
That knew me at my best: poor have I been
Always, but never quite at starving point.
I have not blinded nature from my heart,
Refusing to the common fields and clouds
Their excellence of glory. Not in vain
For me the process of the months resumed
The cyclic renovation of their powers;
And every flower that feeds on English air
In wilding pomp is my familiar friend;
Familiar, too, the voice of every bird,
In summer's guarded greens and sounding dales.
I know not these things as prim science knows:
I never read a pompous monograph
To drowsy benches, and my naked name
Provokes not half the jumbled alphabet
To jostle in its wake upon the page
Of scientific records. I have learned
To praise the simple things before my feet.
The birds and trees and herbs and animals
Are incidents enough, and each a world
Of large experience; I have lived with these.
Oft with a townward thought on summer morns,
When all the birds are round and misted lengths
Of branchy undulation, zone on zone,
I leave in spirit the divine excess
Of nature for the discord and the steam
Of yonder seething city, picture there
Its visible nature bounded to a strip
Of zenith sky, some lean and wisping cloud.
Thence shuddering back I find the scent of fields,
And comprehend my full prosperity.
Ambition stings us in the narrow streets
To push and envy for the public prize.
Upon the mountain we forget ourselves
To greatness where no meaner thoughts intrude.

You are a boy to me. When I was young
I too had dreams, as we must all have dreams
Of making notable this microcosm
Of self above the level of our peers:
Such self-opinion chiefly fault and bane
Of school-day reputation, where I slaved
When abler men were fallow till their time,
And where the trick of memory reaped me praise,
That very essence of a school success,
In after life a mere accessory
To power of combination and the rare
And ruling gift, originality.

I found my level soon. Be witness, Heaven,
How bitter this reaction, when the boy
Beheld his crumbled idols and awoke
To scorn himself as much below his powers
As he was puffed erewhile. This was not long.
There is a strong and natural health bestowed
On youth, prevailing over shocks and falls,
Beyond the reach of morbid taint or touch
Of vicious system, still a healthful core.
I righted swiftly, chose my life with heed
And lived it with contentment and delight,
Measuring still my wishes by the power
To make them deed, contented to resign
The fruit beyond my reaching. I have found
As sweet a flavour where before my feet
Some modest berry hardly clears the soil.

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