May Be [poem by Agnes Neale]

[Editor: This poem by Agnes Neale was published in Shadows and Sunbeams (1890).]

May Be.

There was a time when memory meant for us
Only the promise of another day;
When every night was bright with golden stars,
Made brighter by the splendid Milky Way.
We had no Past, our lives were all “to be” —
Were all to be in such a glorious wise —
Life was rose colored, dew was diamonds then,
And every flower a jewel in our eyes.

The world was all an Eden, fair and wide —
An Eden with no serpent’s ghastly trail;
Our Eves and Adams all were sinless, pure;
And not one hope of ours could ever fail;
Truth lived in every being that we met,
And friendship was God’s best and dearest gift.
Oh! youth’s illusions, fairer than the morn!
If but the future’s veil might never lift.

Are we the happier that we have more room?
Are we the nobler that our faith is dead?
The spring must die e’er harvest is, you say,
And the fruit comes not till the bloom is shed.
It may be; yet some blossoms leave no fruit
Because the rough winds smite them down too soon;
They lie in drifted heaps, unsightly, sere,
Beneath the glory of the harvest moon.

Oh! give us back the hopes that once were ours,
Oh! give us back the faith our childhood knew;
We want life’s hawthorn and its sweet wild rose,
We care not for its laurel and its rue.
Oh! is there nothing left of all the Past,
Of those dead lovely hours our eyes have seen?
Oh ! Past, oh! Present — Future, is there nought
To fill the aching void of “might have been?”

Through the still Past’s lone halls of emptiness
I hear the ghostly feet of dead joys creep;
Beside the graves of hopes that once we loved
The long slow train of mourners come to weep.
The Past is dead and withered are its flowers,
No mortal hand can give them life again;
So surely dead that to remember it
The very efiort is almost in vain.

The Present? — Well, we try to bear our cross,
Try to be brave, amid life’s care and pain;
But every day we see some blossom fall —
Our path each morn is cumbered with the slain.
The Past, the Present, hold for us no light,
No gladness that our hearts may rest upon;
We read the Present ever by the Past,
And in that lurid light we stumble on.

Is there nought anywhere; no joy to be
Wrung from the hard, stern destiny we feel
Grinding our hearts to powder with its weight,
Breaking us slowly on its dreadful wheel?
Is there nought anywhere? does God not hear?
Must this salt rain of tears forever fall?
Must the earth’s blended cry of agony —
Her million voices — rise unheeded all?

No; for God sits in heaven, and round His feet
Wheel the slow cycles of eternity;
And through the universe no sparrow falls
Uncared for by the Eyes that all things see.
The Past may be but as an empty tomb
That echoes to the footsteps of the dead;
The Present, haunted by sad memories
Trooping through heart and brain with ghostly tread;

But from the Future comes a word of peace,
A thought that bids us “suffer and be strong.”
Because the light is darkened for to-day,
Think not it will be darkened very long.

It may be that the Future holds in store
A glorious recompense for every loss;
May be that, hidden ’neath her lovely veil,
She holds a shining crown for every cross;
It may be that the fruit our hands have missed
May ripen sweetly under brighter skies;
It may be that a fairer morning dawn
Shall cheer our darkness with its splendid eyes.

It may be that a glorious flood of light
Our eyes at sunset even yet may see.
The Future holds all possibilities;
And, oh! thank God, life’s glory yet may be.
Oh! the rich promise of that hidden time,
The boundless scope of each divine “may be,”
Includes all hope, gives to us all of heaven,
Its pearly gates, gold streets, and jasper sea.

Agnes Neale, Shadows and Sunbeams, Adelaide: Burden & Bonython, 1890, pages 32-35

Editor’s notes:
This poem has an unusual structure: Most of the stanzas consist of eight lines; however, the 9th stanza has only four lines.

Eden = paradise; the Garden of Eden, mentioned in the Bible

Eves and Adams = women and men (derived from Adam and Eve, from the book of Genesis, in the Bible)

jasper = a type of semi-precious stone, commonly red or reddish-brown in colour (may also be brown, dark green, or yellow in colour; or, as a rarity, blue)

morn = morning

’neath = beneath

rue = regret, repentance, sorrow; to feel deep regret, remorse, or sorrow

sere = dried up or withered

smite = strike, hit hard; attack; hurt; injure; kill

serpent = in a religious context, a reference to the Devil

wise = way (way of proceeding), manner, fashion

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