Classic and Contemporary Poetry
TOIL, by JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY Poet's Biography
First Line: He had toiled away for a weary
Last Line: "but toil is sweeter than all things else."
Alternate Author Name(s): Johnson Of Boone, Benj. F.
Subject(s): Day; Labor & Laborers; Love; Night; Soul; Work; Workers; Bedtime
HE had toiled away for a weary while,
Through day's dull glare and night's deep gloom;
And many a long and lonesome mile
He had paced in the round of his dismal room;
He had fared on hunger -- had drunk of pain
As the drouthy earth might drink of rain;
And the brow he leaned in his trembling palm
Throbbed with a misery so intense
That never again did it seem that calm
Might come to him with the gracious balm
Of old-time languor and indolence.
And he said, "I will leave the tale half told,
And leave the song for the winds to sing;
And the pen -- that pitiless blade of gold
That stabs my heart like a daggersting --
I will drive to the hilt through the inkstand's top
And spill its blood to the last black drop!"
Then he masked his voice with a laugh, and went
Out in the world with a lawless grace --
With a brazen lie in his eyes and face
Told in a smile of glad content:
He roved the round of pleasures through,
And tasted each as it pleased him to;
He joined old songs, and the clink and din
Of the revelers at the banquet hall;
And he tripped his feet where the violin
Spun its waltz for the carnival;
He looked, bedazed, on the luring wile
And the siren-light of a woman's smile,
And peered in her eyes as a diver might
Peer in the sea ere he leaps outright, --
Caught his breath, with a glance above,
And dropped full-length in the depths of love.
. . . . . . .
'Tis well if ever the false lights die
On the alien coasts where our wreck'd hopes lie!
'Tis well to feel, through the blinding rain,
Our outflung hands touch earth again!
So the castaway came, safe from doom,
Back at last to his lonely room,
Filled with its treasure of work to do
And radiant with the light and bloom
Of the summer sun and his glad soul, too!
And sweet as ever the song of birds,
Over his work he sang these words: --
"O friends are good, with their princely ways,
And royal hearts they are goodly things;
And fellowship, in the long dark days
When the drear soul cowers with drooping wings,
Is a thing to yearn for. -- Mirth is good, --
For a ringing laugh is a rhythmic cry
Blown like a hail from the Angelhood
To the barque of the lone soul drifting by. --
Goodly, too, is a mute caress
Of woman's hands and their tenderness --
The warm breath wet with the dews of love --
The vine-like arms, and the fruit thereof --
The touch that thrills, and the kiss that melts, --
But Toil is sweeter than all things else."
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