OH ! wind that whistles o’er thorns and thistles,
Of this fruitful earth like a goblin elf ;
Why should he labour to help his neighbour
Who feels too reckless to help himself ?
The wail of the breeze in the bending trees
Is something between a laugh and a groan ;
And the hollow roar of the surf on the shore
Is a dull, discordant monotone ;
I wish I could guess what sense they express,
There’s a meaning, doubtless, in every sound,
Yet no one can tell, and it may be as well—
Whom would it profit ? the world goes round !
On this earth so rough we know quite enough,
And, I sometimes fancy, a little too much ;
The sage may be wiser than clown or than kaiser,
Is he more to be envied for being such ?
Neither more nor less, in his idleness
The sage is doom’d to vexation sure ;
The kaiser may rule, but the slippery stool,
That he calls his throne, is no sinecure ;
And as for the clown, you may give him a crown,
Maybe he’ll thank you, and maybe not,
And before you can wink, he may spend it in drink—
To whom does it profit ?— We ripe and rot !
Yet under the sun much work is done
By clown and kaiser, by serf and sage ;
All sow and some reap, and few gather the heap
Of the garner’d grain of a by-gone age.
By sea or by soil man is bound to toil,
And the dreamer, waiting for time and tide,
For awhile may shirk his share of the work,
But he grows with his dream dissatisfied ;
He may climb to the edge of the beetling ledge,
Where the loose crag topples and well-nigh reels
‘Neath the lashing gale, but the tonic will fail—
What does it profit ?— Wheels within wheels !
Aye ! work we must, or with idlers rust,
And eat we must our bodies to nurse ;
Some folk grow fatter—what does it matter ?
I’m blest if I do—quite the reverse ;
‘Tis a weary round to which we are bound,
The same thing over and over again ;
Much toil and trouble, and a glittering bubble,
That rises and bursts, is the best we gain ;
And we murmur, and yet ’tis certain we get
What good we deserve—can we hope for more ?—
They are roaring, those waves, in their echoing caves—
To whom do they profit ?—Let them roar !
Published in ‘Sea Spray and Smoke Drift’ (1867).