Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SCEPTIC, by LOUISA SARAH BEVINGTON



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THE SCEPTIC, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Sweet were the faiths our wishes bred; cruel is faithless fate
Last Line: "if only, o eternal, our despair may soon have died."
Alternate Author Name(s): Leigh, Arbor; Guggenberger, Mrs. Ignatz; Bevington, L. S.
Subject(s): Doubt; Faith; Skepticism; Belief; Creed


SWEET were the faiths our wishes bred; cruel is faithless fate;
All things show good or evil as we love them or we hate;
If what we love is what is not, our lives are desolate.
My faith had been in knowledge, and my watch-word had been truth,
My sword had been my courage, and my shield had been my youth;
But all had failed me now, hell yawned, and I was dumb for ruth.

Dead in their will-less shining; see the great stars there above
Hang where they can, and where the sum of chances lets them, move;
And being leads to living, and all living leads to love.
And round and round and round the sky the small world wandereth,
Best loving has mere issue in some re-beginning breath
That lives in turn, and loves in turn, and ebbs away to death.
'Twas poetry to sing it once, and half a cynic thought,
By way of momentary change from liege faith firmly wrought
Round a live God who made all life, and made no life for nought.

'Twas half a pleasure, then, to toy with half-imagined doubt,
And caustic just the tinge of pain that floated in and out
Among the vast, vague mysteries we felt and talked about.
Now, loving hangs on breath of life, and life on aggregates
Of motion, gathered into point and place in complex rates;
On what there is, on what has been, on deep compounded fates.
All through the tale of man the primal parable holds true,
The story of the fatal fruit at least is ever new;
Each deadly ill that came to us, came by the things we knew.

Choose we the blind obedient path of dull security
That smiles Amen to shibboleths it has no wit to see, --
Then, peace of moral fruitlessness, and will's nonentity.
Or rather, feel for certainty, and learn of good through ill,
And purchase joy by risking woe, change safety for a will, --
There dawns a truth, there sets a faith, there mocks mute heaven still.
Oh, what is it? What causes, and what issues from this thing,
Our piteous, grieving upwardness, -- this hungry suffering, --
This worshipping of truth that pays our homage with a sting?

Thou, Man, in saddest wisest men, say, hast thou found thy goal?
Thou knowest of thyself at last, -- thy tender body-soul,
Thine origin, thy deathwardness, thy fine-drawn fruitless whole.
Thy loneliness, thy lovingness, thy ceaseless, deepening care,
Thy slow, hot tears, thy worn-out faiths, thy choked, unuttered prayer,
Thy sickened hope, thy fettered will, and uttermost despair.
'Tis knowing that has brought thee this; thine honest search for light,
Faith yielded to thine earnestness, fate ne'er opposed thy right,
So gods and ghosts just flickered out, and left thee Fact and Night.

'Tis said -- 'No ill is absolute.' Yet, surely, pain is pain;
However sweet succeeding joy, no loss is ever gain;
Whate'er it lead to, weariness just is and must be vain.
See! everywhere and everyhow ill waits on wisdom's tact!
See! all our choice just lies between good fiction and bad fact;
Dares there a prophet hinder that I lie in thought and act?
If ignorance be bliss of faith, 'tis madness to be wise;
If seeing end in blinding me, 'tis well to close my eyes;
If life be dear, and truth be death, 'tis well to foster lies.

If life be dear! There hovers mute the grimmest question hree;
Ay, truly we are all undone if life be no more dear;
Here hangs our very final hope, our most tremendous fear.
For hourly more and more of fact is called upon by life,
And hourly yield the elements with less and less of strife
Such fit conditions as shall make the world with sentience rife.
And life will know and find its way in thought and word and will,
And life will grind and grovel on, will strain and struggle still,
Till knowledge of its powers' end its purpose shall fulfil.

More life, more knowledge every day, with less and less of mirth,
New feet to tread old ways of pain on old tear-sodden earth,
Is life so dear? Since now we know, -- what know we of its worth?
Build up the faith in fantasy thou knowest thou dost need,
And pile beside it grief by grief the truths that make thee bleed,
So find the force and feebleness of that desired creed.
Liberty; loving; certainty; eternal room to be,
To live and love and work some work, effectual and free,
E'en in some great Companionship that loves thy life and thee.

This thy desire: beside it, just the rolling of the spheres,
The infinite unanswer to thy soul-deep hopes and fears,
The sinking of thy race and thee through merest lapse of years.
Truly if this be knowledge, then thrice blessed, ignorance!
Truly, if learning this for truth be meed of life's advance
The soul of man has lived too long, and overpast its chance.
Three prophets came to me at night when I was in my sleep,
They offered me, each prophet one, a purpose-clue to keep; --
For I was plagued to choose a faith amid despair so deep.

My knowledge had but mocked me when I tasted its ripe fruit,
And youth had chilled, and courage sickened to the vital root,
And truth had played me very false, and faith was numb and mute.
The first of those three prophets stood exceeding sure and strong,
I could have half believed his smile but that his voice was young,
He offered Life as faith of life, and so I knew him wrong.
The second of the prophets claimed omnipotence for Love;
He bade me help the flowers grow, and human hearts to move,
He called on all the universe his faith's firm ground to prove.

Aha! I knew the end of love; nay, worse, its origin;
The shiftless, sorry accident that things had stumbled in; --
Strong noose of fate that holds all souls to life, despair, and sin.
And then the pale third prophet spoke his quiet shibboleth,
He showed me how despairing ceased with ceasing of the breath;
I, living, could not know him false; and so I chose me -- Death.
To be, is to be fettered; and all good is liberty,
I only shall be unenslaved when I shall cease to be,
I chose my deathward way; -- the clue that leadeth to the free.

To make death swift and beautiful, to fill the world with death
That is pure death, -- mere griefless ceasing of the toil of breath; --
The stilling of all strife in peace while old earth wandereth; --
To do this loyally is worth: yet still the task is stern,
My very soul must live to do it; merit it, and earn,
Till all the death-pain be burnt out a soul has skill to burn

Ah! seeking gentle death for all, I strangely found instead
I had awakened life that loved to live, and grief had fled;
Of all I touched, lo! nothing but the pain of life was dead.

I turned me to my prophets: were there three? or is there one?
A single spirit seemed to stand -- Life, Love, or Death? -- alone.
"Whom have I served of three?" I asked, in all perplexed tone.
"Serve which thou wilt thou servest right, so only thou be true;
And call thy goal Life, Love, or Death, thou hast the self-same clue
To guide thee where new hope is won, whate'er thy heart may do."
And so I woke, and spread my helpless hands to heaven, and cried,
"Be this my dreaming true, and I will yield all joy beside,
If only, O Eternal, our despair may soon have died."








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