Sir Self and Womankind.

Sir Self-Sufficient on his mule1
Went ambling stiffly o’er the ground.2
Quoth he : “ This womankind doth rule3
Where’er a fool or slave is found ;4
For she is full of craft and wiles,5
And dresses all her looks for show,6
But not her cunning nor her smiles7
Shall win a heart from me, I trow.”8
His way was through the stubble-field,9
Where mellow fragrance filled the air ;10
And from the earth’s o’erflowing yield11
The scattered fruits lay ripe and fair.12
There women laboured in the sun,13
Uncouthly clad, and sun-embrowned,14
The old, the weak, the little one,15
Upon the stony furrowed ground.16
Sir Self laughed softly as he went.17
Quoth he : “ Here nature hath her way,18
And shows no other ornament19
Than in the air and sunshine play.20
Ah ! what a sorry, sordid sight21
Doth Beauty thus unfashioned make !—22
You, city dames, to such a plight23
Would bring the binding weed and rake.”24
There came one tripping to his knee,25
Wild flowers : oh ! buy wild flowers,” she said,26
And looked into his face to see27
What answer there was to be read.28
Sir Self passed on the other side,29
While from his hand a pittance came.30
Quoth he : “ This nature hath no pride,31
Nor knoweth how to blush for shame.”32
Then onward through the village lane33
Of hovels dark, and cribbed, and low,34
Where narrow door and knotted pane35
Scant light and less of air bestow :36
Scared men and women rested there,37
And children swarmed and gambolled by.38
Quoth he : “ Among so many, where39
May modesty find room to lie ?”40
Sir Self went saddened on his road41
Toward the dimly spangled town ;42
A girl upon a heavy load43
Beside the path had sat her down :44
Will no one help you on your way ?”45
I want no help,” the girl replied,46
I bear this burden day by day.”47
Quoth he : “ This is true labour’s pride.”48
Then other women sorely bent,49
Beneath their burdens passed along ;50
Yet spoke they gaily as they went,51
Or softly hummed a quiet song :52
And some bore children, some their load53
A failing sister’s pack increased.54
Then thought Sir Self : “ With whip and goad,55
These women were like laden beast !”56
The shambling, reeking suburb through,57
There rose a mansion broad and high,58
Whence light from countless windows flew,59
And flamed a meteor in the sky ;60
And from its gates, at clang of bell,61
Came women forth, with saucy word62
And cry. Quoth he : “ Can this be well63
When women like the cattle herd ?”64
He marked the motley troop ; some gay65
With wilful burst of mirth long pent ;66
Some downcast went their silent way ;67
Some, stolid-featured, mocked content.68
But there was labour’s stain on all,69
The travailed look, the ashy skin.70
Quoth he : “ What may this folk befall,71
With crime without and want within ?”72
The gleaming town shone more and more,73
As fell the night’s mist-laden gloom,74
Till heaven’s face seemed dotted o’er75
With feeble sparks, where wheel and loom76
Went on their ceaseless whirl and swing,77
As busy hand and eager eye,78
Mid shuttle’s flight and iron’s ring,79
Their still-renewing taskwork ply.80
Dismounting from his bridled mule,81
Afoot Sir Self pursued his way,82
Where cries of mingled mirth and dule83
Marked sottish rout or maddened fray ;84
Where on each lintel sat and croned85
Old beldams, and the sluttish brood86
Of girl-folk gossiped, laughed, and droned,87
As drone the idle, laugh the lewd.88
The city hath no solemn night89
Like that which shades the dewy lawn,90
But with a lurid, ghastly light,91
Beshames the gloom, and mocks the dawn.92
Still as the restless watches wore93
Sir Self the stony footway paced,94
Till morning waved the city o’er95
Her filmy wings gold-interlaced.96
But still through all the midnight blind,97
And through the blinking of the morn,98
On every side rose womankind99
To move his pity—raise his scorn :100
One mocked her shame, one pressed along101
On some untimely taskwork bound ;102
One charmed the night with siren song ;103
One woke the day with plaintive sound104
Here fragile forms Sir Self passed by105
At toils which lordly man disdains ;106
There rose some patient, piteous cry,107
Where petty trade sought petty gains.108
And in the morning’s mist there sate109
With love that would not wince nor fail,110
Poor womankind beside the gate111
Of hospital and grated jail.112
Sir Self forsook his stubborn mule,113
And, sadly, homeward paced the ground ;114
Quoth he : “ If womankind doth rule,115
May be nor slave nor fool is bound.116
’Tis not her beauty nor her wiles,117
Nor all her looks dressed up for show,118
But something more than craft or smiles119
Has won a heart from me, I trow.”120