First Duty bade me rise,
He of the imperious eyes,
And strive to gain some goal of high emprise;
He held within his hand
The scepter of command;
I read upon his brow small kindliness,
But rather, in the interlacing lines,
Stern struggle and interminable stress;
His voice betrayed no soothing or caress,
But iron urgence like that plunging surge
Which breaks on the antipodal confines
Of earth, where reef and water meet and merge.
Straightway I roused and went,
Not with the calm elation of content,
But with resolve in clutch
Wherewith I joined the grapple, mastering much,
Yet when the task was done
I was as one
Who sits and broods upon the drooping sun.
Then flushed Ambition came
And touched me with his moving mandate-flame,
Kindling within my breast
No temperate zest,
But the upmounting fire
Of an unquenchable desire.
I felt a sudden ichor in my leap
That banished sleep,
And made the longest day's meridian
Seem but the briefest span.
I that had been, in intimate wise, aware
Of myriad forms of beauty round me strewn,--
The virginal vasts of air,
The tiniest blossom underneath the noon,--
Held by this merciless thrall,
Forgot them all.
And after hours of infinite endeavor,
Grasping the fruit to find it ash at core,
I was as one who wandereth forever
A hapless waif upon a barren shore.
Last Love before me stood
In radiant masterhood,
And hasted me upon his ardent quest;
Lo, at his swift behest,
As though with pinions fleet my feet were shod!
Where'er I trod
I was companioned as with spheric singing,
Rapt period upon rapt period
In rhythm ecstatic swinging.
Yea, although skies of wrath
Menaced above my path,
And my spent breath
Sheer to the gates of Death
Led me, unweaned of will,
Hale Exultation was my comrade still!
And when my space of service-time was ended,--
Love's glorious employ,--
I was henceforth as one who is attended
By the fond presence of some living joy.