I ask myself in blank dismay,—
Ought I my little wealth to own?
Yet, should I give it all away,
’Twere but a drop to ocean thrown!
Great God! if what I dimly see,
In this small section of mankind,
Of pain and want and misery,
Can thus bring anguish to my mind,
How canst Thou view the awful whole,
As our ensanguined planet rolls
From unknown source to unknown goal
Its freight of suffering human souls?
Permitted pain!—the first and last
Of riddles that we strive to solve,
More poignant ever, and more vast,
As man’s mentalities evolve,
I hear thy victims’ ceaseless wails,
I view the path my race hath trod,
And at the sight my spirit quails,
And cries in agony to God!
Within a home for captive beasts
Whose world had dwindled to a cage,
I noted in their mournful eyes
Such resignation, fear, and rage,
I longed at once to set them free,
And send them over land and sea
To live again in liberty.
For them no more the mountain range,
The desert vast, the jungle’s lair!
Their meaner fate through grated bars
To feel the public’s hateful stare;
Poor prisoners! doomed henceforth to pace
With stinted strides a narrow space,
And, daily, gaping crowds to face.
At length I stood before a cage,
Where, guarded by a loftier screen,
Were artificial rocks, and pools,
And strips of vegetation green;
There, perched upon some rocky mound,
Or crouching on the miry ground,
A flock of waterfowl I found.
Storks, poised upon a single leg,
Stood dreaming of the eternal Nile,—
The Mecca of their winter flight,
When lured by Egypt’s sunny smile;
While ducks and geese, in gabbling mood,
Explored the muddy pond for food,
Attended by their noisy brood.
Their keeper brought their evening meal;
And instantly on broad-webbed feet,
And stilt-like legs, and flapping wings,
The feathered bipeds rushed to greet,
With snaps and cluckings of delight,
The joyful, ever-welcome sight
Of supper at the approach of night.
Yet all came not! Two stood apart,
With plumage like fresh-fallen snow,—
Two “Silver Herons,” of a race
As pure and fine as earth can show;
Amid the tumult that was rife,
These loathed the others’ greedy strife,
And looked disgusted with their life.
With closed eyes, shrinking from the mass,
They seemed, in thought, removed as far
From all their coarse environment
As sun is separate from star!
The very picture of disdain,
From all such gorging, it was plain,
They had determined to refrain.
The keeper murmured with reproach,—
“Those Silver Herons are too proud!
Why should they not partake of food
Together with the common crowd?
They eat a little from my hand,
But would prefer to starve, than stand
Besmeared by that uncleanly band.