[Editor: This poem by Agnes Neale was published in Shadows and Sunbeams (1890).]
The Best Crown.
The sunset had faded in flashes of splendor,
And twilight’s soft shadows were veiling the skies,
When down from the stars dropped the spirit of slumber
And laid her cool touch on my light-wearied eyes.
And, lo! I had taken a journey to starland,
Where wand’ring lights flame on their measureless flight,
And I saw as I gazed in bewilderment round me,
I had taken my stand in the court of the night.
And before me, spread out as it were for approval,
Lay crowns that were glittering like circlets of light;
Their rays were caught up and flung back like a rainbow,
And dazzled with splendor my wondering sight.
Then the queen of the night spoke in accents as silvery
As her own lovely beams when they fall from the sky,
And lie like a dream on the blossom-strewn meadows,
Or whiten the space where the lake waters lie.
“See, mortal,” she cried, and the glittering treasures
“Were touched by her long slender fingers of light,
“One crown of these three shall be thine for the wearing,
But which must be chosen forever to-night.
“Here is Wealth,” and the diamonds that flashed in her holding
Were lying deep down in their sockets of gold;
“The wearer of this shall be lord of his fellows,
Before him the world’s proudest portals unfold.
“Here is Fame.” Ah! the chaplet was fair to my seeing,
With its leaves and its blossoms of purple and red.
“The fame of the wearer of this lives for ever;
His name is undying,” the silver voice said.
“Here is Honor and Duty,” the queen whispered softly,
And lifting the crown added never a word;
While the stars seemed to pause and stand still for my choosing,
’Mid a silence so deep it might almost be heard!
I turned from the crown on her finger with loathing,
For sure, such a thing was by mortal ne’er worn;
It was clumsy and rough, with no leaflet or blossom,
And twisted all rudely with briar and thorn.
I lifted the circlet of Wealth; but, oh! horror,
The gems turned to blood drops, the diamonds to tears;
Its gold, like a glittering serpent, entwined me,
And crushed all the light from the slow weary years.
I took up the chaplet of Fame, but its laurels
Were turned into dust, and lay crushed in my hand —
“If my name must be written for ever in ashes,
’Twere surely as well it were written in sand!”
“Give me Honor and Duty!” I cried, and oh! wonder,
The rough dingy crown was all changed to my sight;
Fresh leaves, set with diamonds for dewdrops, clung round it,
The sharp cruel thorns burst in blossoms of light.
* * * * * * * *
Then with a deep drawn sigh my sleep was broken;
And through my dream I knew that God had spoken.
Agnes Neale, Shadows and Sunbeams, Adelaide: Burden & Bonython, 1890, pages 27-29
ne’er = never
rude = primitive, raw, or rough, or in an unfinished state or natural condition (not to be confused with the modern usage of “rude” as someone being discourteous or ill-mannered)
Old spelling in the original text:
[Editor: Changed “circlet of wealth” to “circlet of Wealth” (capitalized the “w”, in line with the usage in the rest of the poem).]
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