Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DIGNITY OF LABOR, by LEVI BISHOP



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DIGNITY OF LABOR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Genius of toil! Our verse indite / and blaze along each line!
Last Line: To feed, and warm, and cheer, and bless the world.
Subject(s): Labor & Laborers; Life; Muses; Nature; Work; Workers


"Is not this the Carpenter?" -- MARK vi. 8.

Genius of toil! our verse indite,
And blaze along each line!
O, give it wing and give it might,
Creative power divine!

Thou source of plenty and of wealth,
Spirit of toil, now tune the lyre!
Fountain of peace, contentment, health,
Spirit of toil, our song inspire!

But can this humble theme, or ever dart
Celestial fires, or move or warm the heart?
Can sober fact, and dry detail
Of daily drudgery, avail
To raise the human mind, or soul
From earth towards its heavenly goal?
The Muses love heroic -- battle songs;
But can they sing of bellows, coal and tongs.

In truth; for while in rich Homeric strain,
They sung Achilles on the Trojan plain,
They also sung, for that heroic field,
The work of Vulcan on Achilles' shield.
The process simple; glorious the design,
Such as can spring alone from hand divine.

Thus, while the heavy stone is laid,
And column, arch and beam --
Although for pile of lofty grade --
The toil may humble seem:

Yet as the work progresses high,
Held firmly by mechanic power,
The fair proportions charm the eye,
Of stately palace, dome or tower.

Nor stop we at the works of man,
In our poetic story;
Our theme extends to nature's plan,
To nature's lab'ratory:

At least, examples here it draws,
From nature's works and nature's laws.

The mellow tint, the blended shade,
Of leaf, and blade, and flower,
By fingers all divine are made --
By the Almighty power.

By work, the buds and blossoms shoot,
That load the autumn tree with fruit;
From natal to the mortal hour,
All nature feels mechanic power.

By work, the glorious sun was lit on high,
And hung resplendent in the blazing sky.
The planets whirling on their poles,
In system that forever rolls;
The ocean, air and sod;
The worm, and the leviathan,
His image -- the immortal man,
Are master works of God.

By work, the comets blaze, and shoot, and flee;
By work, the earth was lifted from the sea,
The sky spread out so clear;
The mountain sprung from earth's convulsive throes,
By work divine the universe arose,
From chaos wild and drear.

Nor even here the glorious subject ends;
To moral, and religious, it extends.

By toil, and pain, and groan, and death,
Was man's salvation wrought;
In faith, by works, the preacher saith,
Must Christian life be fought.

The work is life-long, and from day to day,
In this, the sure, but straight and narrow way.
And in one universal plan,
'Tis work must form the moral man.

Yes, work may fire poetic pen,
And elevate its strain,
As well as aught of human ken,
In heaven, or earth, or main.

And who true happiness would know,
Or who would fill a worthy part,
In any place, or high or low,
Must work with body, mind and heart.

The intellect must lead the van,
The muscle must perform its share,
The heart must lead the social man,
For all affection centers there.

The cheerful swain,
That plows and sows his fields,
With hopes of plenty and of future gain,
Such as prolific nature yields;
Who tills the soil his God has made,
And toils at his command,
Goes whistling home at evening shade,
A monarch of the land.

Who plies a loom, or lays a keel,
Or makes a broom, or rims a wheel;
Or drives a team, or digs a ditch,
Or dams a stream, or takes a stitch;
Or lays a pipe, or "runs a mill,"
Or sets a type, or "drives a quill;"
Or swings a sledge or flail;
Or lays a brick, or tans a hide;
Or drives a screw or nail;
May lift his head in honest pride,
And boldly say:
I work, create, increase the solid wealth,
For which the idle play,
And win, by art, chicane, or stealth.

And yet, though strange, if well we scan,
His art may wrong the artisan.

With sooty -- sweaty frock,
With heavy -- callous hand,
He frames the cunning lock,
He molds the solid band --

That holds from toil, in rusty guard
Or vault, its fair and just reward.
The art, the skill, the taste, we may commend;
The fault, if fault there be, is in the end.
Nor artist blame in this assertion;
The blame is found in the perversion.

And furthermore; the hard-earned fruits of toil,
The golden streams of luxury, the spoil
Of business and of trade, before which all,
As to a charming goddess, bow and fall:
The shining merit of a prince or duke;
The very golden calf of Pentateuch; --
Whence comes it all? To whom does it belong?
To him who works, whatever else is wrong.
By craft the social system is deranged;
By working men that system may be changed.
However much their efforts may be slighted,
They have the power to see the system righted.
The social balance but adjusted well,
No miser, more, would golden counters tell.
Then equal all would public burdens bear,
And equal all the fruits of labor share.

And now, let's take a promenade,
And note of work a lower grade.

The humble -- modest "hand"
That cleans the filthy street,
May proudly take his stand,
And worthily compete --

With him that rolls and spatters by,
So lordly seated, swelling high,
With livery, coach and four;
The one is honest poverty;
The other glittering bankruptcy,
All rotten at the core.
From labor all;
No matter what or where,
Or high, or low, or great, or small,
Or excellent, or base, or plain, or fair.
The ship that plows the ocean wave,
The palace that has seen a thousand years,
The lofty stone that decks the grave
And marks the spot once bathed in tears;
The creature comforts -- luxuries of life,
The products of the teeming soil;
All come from weary strife --
From honest toil.

A term of years, let labor cease;
Let work be at an end;
Let those who live by wit increase,
Till all should thus depend.

Then how would swelling pomp and pride,
The strutting fop and painted fair --
Those floating bubbles on the tide,
Collapse to what they truly are!

The idle thousands, with their sordid gains,
The race itself, that honest toil sustains,
Would mourn, and weep, and wail;
Would rush by myriads into myriad graves,
O'erwhelmed beneath oblivion's chilling waves,
And no one left to tell the tale.

The man who justly views the scope of things,
And is not borne away upon the wings
Of ignorance, or prejudice, or pride,
Will take these sober maxims as his guide:

In labor, is true dignity.
In honest toil, benignity.

They touch our theme in all its ranges,
In its innumerable stations --
Its vast variety and changes,
In all its toiling occupations.

And from the ever working mass,
In social system all complex,
None are exempt of any class,
Or any rank of either sex.

Or if exempt, it still is but the drone;
Work, is the rule, from cottage to the throne.
Work, every station should embrace,
From skeptic to confessional --
In private and in public place,
The unlearned, the professional.

And women, too, the rule must share;
Her destiny is written there.

Woman! the fairest work of God!
Or servant, maid, or matron wife;
How sinks her heart beneath the load,
Of toilsome, painful, weary life!

But, says the lordly stoic, since the fall
We grant her no concession;
She justly sighs and suffers, one and all,
Because of her transgression.

But such is not her proper sphere;
Thus mournful speaks her nature, too;
Behold her, man, your mate and peer!
Yet sorrowful, she toils for you.

The implements of work to wield,
Was made the sturdy arm of man;
The gentler sex, that arm will shield,
From painful toil whene'er it can.

Lord of creation! proudly such,
Pity the sex, so tearful, sad;
Be not forgetful over much,
You have a mother, or you had.

Relieve her load, so heavy -- weary;
Her frequent sufferings beguile;
And cheer her pathway -- often dreary,
With kindly heart, and word, and smile.

Creative labor is of mind, and heart,
And soul, as well as of the hand;
And thought, reflection, letters, science, art,
Are brothers of a working band.

The one upon the other acts,
In generous co-operation;
Where theories unite with facts,
In ever-happy combination.
In union their perfection lies,
If aught is perfect 'neath the skies.

While muscle, mental, moral, thus we sing,
And from them all the fruits of toil we bring;
From works of Adam in his garden pent,
To those that proudly span a continent,
Where every blow is worthy of a line,
As kin to those that spring from hand divine;
Explore creation's utmost bounds, to find,
None can exemption claim, of human kind;
While thus we catch the soft angelic strain,
And gather flowers from all the golden train
Of pure intelligence; and virtue, too,
In ever charming smiles our verse may woo;
And while our theme, in each and every part,
Glows with the fires that move and warm the heart;
Yet blows of working men, now strike the lyre;
And these alone, may well the Muse inspire.

O then ye millions, ye who bow and sweat
Beneath your toil, for many a weary hour,
Stand forth -- ye have not boldly stood as yet --
In all the grandeur, glory, of your power!

Let muscle, with the moral blend,
Improve the mind, improve the heart;
Let social to religious tend,
And fill on earth a worthy part.

The gifts of body and of mind,
Are lent by wisdom from above;
Aspire to be what God designed,
Let culture every gift improve.

This end to reach the way is plain;
From daily toil -- an hour of leisure;
'Tis justice wrung from sordid gain,
A small per cent from bloated treasure.

The remedy pursue, be men!
Reduce your daily hours from ten
Of weary all-exhausting weight,
To healthy, cheerful, nine or eight.

Nor let these precious hours away be cast;
The sands of time are running -- flying fast:
Eternal ages in the past are rolled;
Our lives, eternal ages, yet unfold.
The life of man -- a point of time,
A note in one eternal chime.

Though health may bloom, the end is ever nigh;
Then well improve the moments as they fly.

And yet this life's a battle-field,
Of sturdy blows, and sighs and din;
Where sloth must to the active yield,
Where bad must lose and good must win.

Nor is it all -- this life below,
To that to come -- a short prelude,
Where all may rest from pain and woe
In glorious beatitude.
In time we find unerring test,
To fit us for eternal rest.

Then stand ye forth, I say again;
Be firm, but just, ye working men!

He who creates should ever hold command:
Then "league" your forces, all your powers combine;
In unity behold your strength to stand!
United "strike," success shall then be thine.

Industrial train! that saw the dawning ray
Of first creation; that, from age to age,
Has steady swept along the grand highway
Of circling years; where each historic page --

Is written o'er and o'er with hopes and fears,
And soothing smiles and bitter -- burning tears!
How groan thy pond'rous cars beneath the freight
That toil produces! Vast -- incumbent weight!
The richest streams from earth's remotest bound,
By thee are poured in one incessant round
Of sparkling beauty, 'mong the eager throng,
That share thy spoil, and would thy stay prolong.
Then still move on, with banner broad unfurled,
To feed, and warm, and cheer, and bless the world.





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