The Saddest and the Gladdest.
“What is the saddest sight you’ve seen in all the wide, wide world?”
Thus asked a damsel dainty, dreamy eyes and tresses curled.
“You write of battles, girls and gold, of old Coolgardie days,
Of operas, tragedies and love, of peace and passion plays,
You paint the world in printer’s ink, you show the palace proud,
The silence of the spinifex, the roaring London crowd.
You blow the hot sirocco and the Arctic blizzard keen,
But what, of all remembered, is the saddest sight you’ve seen?”
From off Australia’s sun-kissed scenes, I swung my vision back,
To Christmas Eve in London when the fog-bank hovered black;
The shop-lights drizzled on the pave, and shuffling from their sties,
Emaciated urchins wolfed the banquet with their eyes.
No stocking hung upon their cots, no footman followed round —
A pack-horse for their purchases — in vassalage profound.
“O for a hundred mints of gold,” I cried within my soul,
“That I the want and misery from off their lives might roll.
O, for a million toys to fling amongst that huddled heap,
Whose only dolls are dying babes, whose Santa Claus is sleep.
A paradise in purgat’ry, a heav’n within a hell,
The saddest sight that ever on my helpless vision fell.”
The sweet blue eyes in pity dimmed, but asked she through her tears,
“What is the gladdest sight you’ve seen in all your long, long years?”
“The gladdest sight,” I answered her, “within this world of ours,
In city camp and sounding sea, on plain or cloud-capped tow’rs,
I also saw in London, in a ward where women lie,
Where nurses softly tip-toe, and the new-born lift their cry.
A smiling wife and mother held her first-born on her knee,
While timidly a coster came his baby boy to see.
A dozen pounds of swaddling clothes, and something half asleep,
’Twas hers, and his, their very own, to nourish and to keep.
And beneath the heavens’ splendour, where the human tide has swirled,
No gladder sight remember I in all the wide, wide world.”
Edwin Greenslade Murphy, Dryblower’s Verses, Perth, W.A.: E. G. Murphy, 1926, pages 73-74
Previously published (with some differences) in:
The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 9 July 1911, p. 6