[Editor: This poem by Agnes L. Storrie was published in Poems, 1909.]
Love is Best.
“You ask me for my love,” she said; “your voice is full of passion,
You woo me as a man should woo, in bold and earnest fashion.
Not all the vows that I have heard of love and deep devotion
Have stirred my heart to feel the least faint answering emotion;
And I have said unto myself, ‘No man has power to win me,
Yet now I feel as if you touched some strange, new feeling in me,
I cannot send you from my side with my accustomed coldness,
I seem to fear — yet find a charm in your insistent boldness.
And yet — Why should I yield my heart unto your passion’s pleading?
I hold it as a royal gift, some high requital needing.
In days of old, such men as you fought for their lady’s favour,
And of their trophies, these, the best — their fame and honour — gave her.
Such days are o’er — brave days they were; yet life hath still some treasure
That may be won, by those who will to forfeit ease and pleasure.
You cannot buy my love with gold, nor with high power and station,
I have them all — and light they weigh, in my soul’s estimation.
Yet I would fain that he to whom I give myself for ever,
In bonds that neither Time nor Death itself shall dare to sever,
Should have from Life some laurels won, have laid some claim to Fame,
And carved on History’s ample breast the letters of his name.
There is no war in this new land, no field for brave endeavour
To right the wronged, to free the slave, and win renown for ever,
Yet Fame hath still some prizes left to give to those who love her,
There are great tasks to overcome, new countries to discover;
There is a cry for such as you — men fit for Fortune’s chances,
To cross a new land and explore its wild unknown expanses.
What if the way is hedged with toil, with hardship, and with danger?
If hostile natives bar the way, and slay the invading stranger.
What if the fate of former bands hangs like a doom above you,
Succeed where others fail, if you indeed would have me love you.
Push through your way where others pause, pluck laurels from their grave,
And where brave men have failed and died, be braver than the brave.
Then will I give you love for love, so would I test and prove you.
And know that with my hand at stake, no craven fears can move you.
And, that my promise I will keep, until you come, unbroken,
This rose-red ribbon from my throat I give you for a token.
Bind it upon your breast, my knight, ’tis but a slender burden.
Go forth and win — fear no defeat, my love will be your guerdon.”
He took the ribbon from her hand, he looked deep in her eyes,
He said, “Your task is easy with so exquisite a prize,
If this can win you, I will win, and yet I tell you clearly,
Love does not ask of love a proof, won painfully and dearly,
Ambition may allure, but never can it satisfy,
And I will prove it, Love is best ! and now I go — Good-bye!”
* * * * *
Oh, still the silent desert lies far in the unknown land,
The sunlight like a yellow pall upon its burning sand.
There is a beauty — strange, I own, in such a land as this,
That those who prize earth’s every form were surely loth to miss.
A beauty not of swelling glades, and blossom-spangled swards,
A beauty not akin to that a gentler land affords.
No mountain tops to pierce the sky, no valleys sweet with rivers,
No shadowy haunt of fern and flower, where silver moonlight quivers;
But something strange, and yet sublime, a wild barbaric splendour,
With lines as harsh and tints as crude as Nature’s brush can render.
The level plain — a waveless sea — far as the eye can follow,
Just broken there by soft grey blots of blue-bush in a hollow,
And distant hills, as dim as dreams — a hazy blue illusion,
That seem as if a breath of wind would waste them in diffusion;
And ’mid the sterile stretch of stones, as from a mountain shattered,
That lie just as grotesquely grouped as when they first were scattered,
A sudden blaze of scarlet flowers, that bear Sturt’s honoured name,
As if the land had graven it upon her heart in flame;
A blaze of colour, rich and deep, on earth’s swart bosom lying,
Like one sweet thought in a dark soul, that conquers all denying,
And over all a golden flood, a shadeless, shimmering ocean
Of yellow light grown hazy with its own lost sense of motion.
No sound of bird, no human voice to cleave the air asunder,
But deep, profound repose that holds the soul spell-bound in wonder.
In such a land as this, when day with folded amber pinions
Died, like a king surrounded by his scarlet-coated minions,
A man lay dying on the sand — his horse lay dead beside him
Just where he fell — too weak to bear the man too weak to ride him.
The last was he — one left alone — of the imposing band
That started bravely to explore a wild and unknown land.
One only left ! And he, with eyes grown dim with wasting thirst,
Watched the high dome of Heaven into a thousand beauties burst;
Saw snowy clouds flush tender pink, then glow with crimson fires;
Saw the golden gates of that fair land that holds our hearts’ desires.
He saw them open, and a flood of radiant light stream out
As if some angel presence beckoned those who stood without.
He had gone forth, and dared and done what others failed to do;
When others fled appalled, or fell, he had pushed his way through.
“If to succeed is fame,” he said, “I have succeeded well,
Yet, could they speak, a sorry tale my bleaching bones will tell.
My life is spent — no hallowed light will linger on my name;
Yet I have done what I essayed. O! empty dream of fame
That lives but by the breath of men. Alas! how vain a quest!
Death comes; I welcome him. Dear heart! I knew that love was best!”
The shadows fell, that vast, still land held silently the dead,
But on his breast love’s token glowed — a warm and living red.
Agnes L. Storrie. Poems, J. W. Kettlewell, Sydney, 1909, pages 23-30
fain = happily or gladly; ready or willing; obliged or compelled
guerdon = reward or recompense; or to give a reward or recompense to someone
loth = reluctant or unwilling; a variant spelling of “loath” (as distinct from “loathe”, being to detest or hate)
sward = a lawn or meadow; land covered with grass
swart = dark in color (as an adjective, “swarthy”)
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