What Might Have Been [poem by Agnes Neale]

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

What Might Have Been.

To every life some disappointment comes,
Each heart some grief holds sacredly its own;
All lips have closed above some secret pain,
Some sorrow they have breathed to God alone.

No human barque has ever sailed life’s sea
That did not at the outset spread her sails,
Looking for Hope’s bright sun to gild the way
And Love to speed her on with genial gales.

And none have ever reached the other side,
Who looking back across the stretch of years
Have failed to find, however smooth the way,
That love and joy were less than pain and tears.

And each heart looking at some special spot,
Some point in life most clear to memory’s ken,
Has sighed to think of all that might have been
If only something had been different then!

If only disappointment had not come,
If friends had been the same the whole time through,
If those most trusted had not failed us most;
What might have been if they had but been true!

If love had but been all we thought it was,
And those we loved all that they seemed to be,
How much of joy we might have known on earth;
What might have been in crossing life’s rough sea.

O broken trust! O weary wasted lives!
O hearts bowed down while yet life’s tree is green!
Ye are not lonely; every human soul
Has mourned in secret for what might have been.

There is no life that has not some regret,
There are no eyes that sorrow have not seen:
We all have somewhat in the past to mourn;
We all cry wearily “It might have been!”

And to the latest day of latest life,
“It might have been!” will be the soul’s sad cry;
A grief that never will be ended quite
Till we with folded hands and still lips lie.

But, when we reach the dim far bound’ry line,
And our pale lips receive earth’s latest kiss;
When all of life grows faint and indistinct,
Its grief or joy, its agony or bliss;

When our tired feet have crossed the silent stream,
And paced the bright sands on the other shore;
When we have taken our last look of earth,
And all the pains that trouble us no more;

When God has wiped away the latest tear,
And welcomed home His weary ones at last,
With all the happiness of heaven to come,
And all the griefs of earth for ever past;

When we look through the pearly gates, and see
For what a world we are exchanging this,
We shall not grieve for all that might have been,
We shall be satisfied with all that is!

Agnes Neale, Shadows and Sunbeams, Adelaide: Burden & Bonython, 1890, pages 40-42

Editor’s notes:
barque = (also spelt “bark”) a small sailing ship in general, or specifically a sailing ship with three (or more) masts, in which the aftmost mast is fore-and-aft rigged, whilst the other masts are square-rigged

boundary line = (in the context of death) the border between life and death

gild = to cover something with a thin layer of gold, gold leaf, or a gold-coloured substance, or to make something look that way (an archaic meaning is to make something bloody or red)

ken = knowledge, perception, understanding (also means “know”, particularly as used in Scotland)

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