Life

- 1862-1937

Life, like a marble block, is given to all,
A blank, inchoate mass of years and days,
Whence one with ardent chisel swift essays
Some shape of strength or symmetry to call;
One shatters it in bits to mend a wall;
One in a craftier hand the chisel lays,
And one, to wake the mirth in Lesbia’s gaze,
Carves it apace in toys fantastical.

But least is he who, with enchanted eyes
Filled with high visions of fair shapes to be,
Muses which god he shall immortalize
In the proud Parian’s perpetuity,
Till twilight warns him from the punctual skies
That the night cometh wherein none shall see.

More by Edith Wharton

Belgium

Le Belgique ne regrette rien

Not with her ruined silver spires,
Not with her cities shamed and rent,
Perish the imperishable fires
That shape the homestead from the tent.

Wherever men are staunch and free,
There shall she keep her fearless state,
And homeless, to great nations be
The home of all that makes them great.

Chartres

I

Immense, august, like some Titanic bloom, 
   The mighty choir unfolds its lithic core, 
Petalled with panes of azure, gules and or, 
   Splendidly lambent in the Gothic gloom, 
And stamened with keen flamelets that illume 
   The pale high-altar. On the prayer-worn floor, 
By worshippers innumerous thronged of yore, 
   A few brown crones, familiars of the tomb, 
The stranded driftwood of Faith’s ebbing sea— 
   For these alone the finials fret the skies, 
The topmost bosses shake their blossoms free, 
   While from the triple portals, with grave eyes, 
Tranquil, and fixed upon eternity, 
   The cloud of witnesses still testifies. 
 

II 

The crimson panes like blood-drops stigmatise 
   The western floor. The aisles are mute and cold. 
A rigid fetich in her robe of gold, 
   The Virgin of the Pillar, with blank eyes, 
Enthroned beneath her votive canopies, 
   Gathers a meagre remnant to her fold. 
The rest is solitude; the church, grown old, 
   Stands stark and grey beneath the burning skies. 
Well-nigh again its mighty framework grows 
   To be a part of nature’s self, withdrawn 
From hot humanity’s impatient woes; 
   The floor is ridged like some rude mountain lawn, 
And in the east one giant window shows 
   The roseate coldness of an Alp at dawn.

Experience

Like Crusoe with the bootless gold we stand 
Upon the desert verge of death, and say: 
“What shall avail the woes of yesterday 
To buy to-morrow’s wisdom, in the land 
Whose currency is strange unto our hand? 
In life’s small market they had served to pay 
Some late-found rapture, could we but delay 
Till Time hath matched our means to our demand.” 

But otherwise Fate wills it, for, behold, 
Our gathered strength of individual pain, 
When Time’s long alchemy hath made it gold, 
Dies with us—hoarded all these years in vain, 
Since those that might be heir to it the mould 
Renew, and coin themselves new griefs again. 


II

O Death, we come full-handed to thy gate, 
Rich with strange burden of the mingled years, 
Gains and renunciations, mirth and tears, 
And love’s oblivion, and remembering hate, 
Nor know we what compulsion laid such freight 
Upon our souls—and shall our hopes and fears 
Buy nothing of thee, Death? Behold our wares, 
And sell us the one joy for which we wait. 
Had we lived longer, life had such for sale, 
With the last coin of sorrow purchased cheap, 
But now we stand before thy shadowy pale, 
And all our longings lie within thy keep— 
Death, can it be the years shall naught avail? 

“Not so,” Death answered, “they shall purchase sleep.”