Quare Fatigasti

TWO years ago I was thinking

On the changes that years bring forth ;

Now I stand where I then stood drinking

The gust and the salt sea froth ;

And the shuddering wave strikes, linking

With the waves subsiding and sinking,

And clots the coast herbage, shrinking,

With the hue of the white cere-cloth.


Is there aught worth losing or keeping ?

The bitters or sweets men quaff ?

The sowing or the doubtful reaping ?

The harvest of grain or chaff ?

Or squandering days or heaping,

Or waking seasons or sleeping,

The laughter that dries the weeping,

Or the weeping that drowns the laugh ?


For joys wax dim and woes deaden,

We forget the sorrowful biers,

And the garlands glad that have fled in

The merciful march of years ;

And the sunny skies, and the leaden,

And the faces that pale or redden,

And the smiles that lovers are wed in

Who are born and buried in tears.


And the myrtle bloom turns hoary,

And the blush of the rose decays,

And sodden with sweat and gory

Are the hard won laurels and bays ;

We are neither joyous nor sorry

When time has ended our story,

And blotted out grief and glory,

And pain, and pleasure, and praise.


Weigh justly, throw good and bad in

The scales, will the balance veer

With the joys or the sorrows had in

The sum of a life’s career ?

In the end, spite of dreams that sadden

The sad, or the sanguine madden,

There is nothing to grieve or gladden,

There is nothing to hope or fear.


‘Thou hast gone astray,’ quoth the preacher,

‘In the gall of thy bitterness,’

Thou hast taught me in vain, oh, teacher !

I neither blame thee nor bless ;

If bitter is sure and sweet sure,

These vanish with form and feature—

Can the creature fathom the creature

Whose Creator is fathomless ?


Is this dry land sure ? Is the sea sure ?

Is there aught that shall long remain,

Pain, or peril, or pleasure,

Pleasure, or peril, or pain ?

Shall we labour or take our leisure,

And who shall inherit treasure,

If the measure with which we measure

Is meted to us again ?


I am slow in learning, and swift in

Forgetting, and I have grown

So weary with long sand sifting ;

T’wards the mist where the breakers moan

The rudderless bark is drifting,

Through the shoals and the quicksands shifting—

In the end shall the night-rack lifting,

Discover the shores unknown ?


Published in ‘Sea Spray and Smoke Drift’ (1867).